My Weekend of Free Time in Jerusalem - Part 1

To those so inclined to read this...

This past weekend was our first full weekend of free time here in Israel. At the last second I decided to travel with Michael Flowers, one of the other volunteers, to Jerusalem so that the taxi ride would cost less for both of us. Once we finally got in the taxi (about 45 minutes after it was at the hotel) we then picked up a third member to the party at one of the neighboring towns. I think we picked her up at Afula, but it could have been Haifa. We then continued east until we got to Bet She'an and then turned went south. This course of direction led us straight through the area known as The West Bank.

The entrance check point wasn't a big deal at all - we just drove straight on through. The change was immediate and easy to see as I went from the area just outside of the WB where there was a gas station and a small shopping area to the area just inisde of the WB where there was an old gas station no longer in operation (it was being used as a place to shoot from from the looks of the make-shift barrier and gun terret sitting on the roof). We continued at a pace of about 60 km per hour, drifting left and right as the road led us around a few curves but always keeping close to parallel with the Jordan River. After about 30 minutes (and 4 more gun terrets - these covered in cammo) we stopped at a rest area with sign almost entirely in Hebrew and only a few in Arabic. It was clear that the taxi driver had probably been stopping at this place for a long time and wanted to help out a friend's business. Once I got a Nestle watermelon popsicle (in the shape of an actual watermelon slice, but it tastes like slightly sour honeydew melon for the rine) we once again continued on, this time talking a little more with the third passenger since she found out I had two years of Arabic at school and was interested to conversing with me. I've now forgotten her name, but she lives in Jerusalem. She was excited to know that one of my teachers was Palestinian and kept asking me questions about my Arabic teachers. In return for essentially keeping her entertained, she would point to various landmarks or places and would tell us in English what it was and its significance.

One example of this was when we went through Jericho, surrounded by banana trees and palm trees. She also showed us the Dead Sea but it was hard to focus on it because we turned in the opposite direction of it at the same time. This meant we were finally heading to Jerusalem. It was right when we got outside Jerusalem that we came to a long line of cars - many of which were being searched for any suspicious goods or items. The woman suddenly turned to me and asked me if I had my passport. I told her I did but that it was in the trunk with my luggage. Both she and the driver immediately began discussing what to do and eventually decided to just go through without showing our passports and to hope for the best. Of course, everything was just fine. The driver dropped us off just inside the Jaffa Gate (known as the gate that foreigners from the west come through though I'm not sure if they mean in ancient times or just modern times).

Michael and I found our way through the maze of covered streets, past the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and eventually found ourselves at the Hebron Hostel (Hebron meaning "old city"). For 40 NIS a night we stayed in the dormitory with restrooms and showers provided. We had already decided to go to the Western Wall (Wailing Wall as it was known in the past) to take pictures, pray, and enjoy the surroundings before the beginning of Shabbat (Sabbath). The view from the Western Wall plaza of the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall both in the picture help to provide a visual of what this city is truly like. The Jewish people dancing in circles and praying excessively for the start of the Sabbath was an experience I will never forget. That night we went and found a true pizza restaurant where we had pepperoni pizza. After that we decided just to head back to the hostel since most places were closing anyway and to get up early the next morning.

Saturday found us heading to the Avis car rental place. Please begin laughing now if you can already see where this is going... Michal said he checked it multiple times, which is true, and that the internet kept saying the Avis should be open from 8 to noon on Saturday. The problem is, however, that in Jerusalem nearly 80% or more of the city shuts down in order to properly honor the Sabbath meaning that once the taxi drove us there, we were then forced drive back toward the Old City but then switched midway and had him drop us off at the Mount of Olives lookout point. Originally I had planned to walk from the hostel to the top of the Mount of Olives and then back down, but that it only because the map is incredibly deceiving until you actually get there. My morning consisted of hiking down the side road of the mountain stopping at each of the various churches along the way. Each church was designed to help remember something that tradition dictates was located there at one time or another. These included Mary's tomb and the Garden of Gethsemene.

Once I reached the bottom I then had to begin the trek up the side of the Old City. Thirty minutes later up the side of a virtual cliff I was able to stop and eat some lunch at a cafe next to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Since my computer is just about out of power, I will stop at this point for now and will continue with my adventurous weekend as soon as I possibly can.

- Tommy Archer

Comments

  1. Tommy,

    My name is Ben Wiggins and I graduated from Samford in '93. I have been to Israel 3 times including my last trip in late May/early June. Our church supports a private Christian school in Bethlehem and we send teams twice a year. It looks like you are at the end of your trip but if you have time, go to Bethlehem and ask the taxi driver to take you to Akawwi Restaurant in Beit Jala right next to the Nativity Hotel. The owner of the cafe is Bashir, tell him I sent you. He is a dear friend.

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