Jerusalem, the golden city

Jerusalem is a city with a siren call. Lusted after by many religions and nations over thousands of years, it is still a beautiful, spiritual, and disputed city.

Jerusalem, the golden city

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Amanda on July 18, 2001

The old city is a fabulous place indeed. You can spend weeks here, soaking up the atmosphere, watching the devout of many religions at prayers, and visiting some of the most beautiful, special places in the world. Top places within the old city are perhaps the Wailing Wall, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Al Aqsa mosque. The Mount of Olives is also a fascinating place to visit, with a great view of the city as well.

The whole city, even the modern blocks of flats in West Jerusalem, is built from a honey coloured stone that catches the light and warms the whole atmosphere.

There are a number of good day trips out of the city, too. Israel’s a small country, and Jerusalem handily in the middle of it. Places to visit include the Dead Sea, Galilee, Tel Aviv, Caesaraea, and Armageddon. You can visit these and stay in Jerusalem, or tour around, either is possible. ${QuickSuggestions} You do have to be careful in Israel at the moment. There is some risk of problems, but neither side in this dispute ever targets tourists, it appears - bombs go off in Jewish towns such as Netanya and Tel Aviv, or in the West Bank. You can minimise any problems – take advice about where to go – don’t head off cheerfully in a hire car to Ramallah (West Bank), for example. There are many fascinating places in the West Bank, such as Jericho. That town was fine when we last went, but check local advice for that kind of trip before you head off. See the entry about security in this journal for more information.

My boyfriend, with whom I write and photograph, and who will write some of the entries for this journal, is Israeli, and was born in Tel Aviv. He will therefore be writing from his perspective, and I from mine; the difference between a native and a tourist. ${BestWay} The bus system is Israel is fantastic, - clean, regular and cheap. It makes travel around Israel very convenient. It’s also easy to hire a car, which we did – when I spent 10 days in Israel with the rather surreal combination of my boyfriend, his mother, my mother, and me, we hired a car. The driving is er….. assertive, to say the least. Being able to swear fluently in Russian seems to be an important skill, but adhere to the basic road rule of he who dares wins, and you’ll be fine.

Around the old city of Jerusalem, walk; it's both the best choice, and often your only option anyway. The streets are narrow and compact, which makes it perfect for strolling around. Taxis are easily available outside the old city, and tend to congregate around the main gates, so it'll be easy to find a cab for your journey back to the hotel, if that's what you want.

Ein Gedi Guest House

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Amanda on August 13, 2001

The Ein Gedi Kibbutz hotel is a peaceful haven. The kibbutz has set up and runs a hotel on its own land, creating a luxury series of one-story rooms, separated from each other by paths, cactus, and small trees. In a dry area of the country, the kibbutz has somehow created an oasis of green, mostly from tough, frugal plants that suit the environment.

The accommodation is cool, clean and inviting. Each room is set in its own small semi-detached building, with a front door, bathroom, and bedroom. There are televisions, a kettle, coffee, and mugs, and phones in each room. The rooms we stayed in were tiled throughout, making them cool and perfect for returning to after a dip in the swimming pool. The pool itself is a large, outdoor effort, set just behind the main row of hotel buildings, with a life-guard on duty. It is available to all guests, closing in the late evening. We visited in November, and the pool was still warm and pleasant to use.

The price of the room includes breakfast and dinner, which is useful as there aren’t many other dining options nearby. The restaurant keeps Kosher, which means that meals contain either meat or dairy products, but not both, and there is no sea-food or pork available. Meals containing dairy products (breakfasts) must be eaten off the provided trays, rather than straight off the table, and you can’t have milk in tea or coffee at dinner, although they provide a milk-substitute powder instead. The food is very good, featuring lots of salads and vegetables, which are very good in Israel and great in the hot weather that is a pretty permanent feature of this part of the country.

The staff all speak excellent English, and there is a programme of entertainment in the evenings for guests who wish to attend. While we were there, that included a demonstration of belly dancing. The kibbutz also offer guided walks around both the area and their own Desert Plants gardens, which several guests told us they would recommend.

Ein Gedi is on the Dead Sea, which can either be seen as a day-trip from Jerusalem, or you can stay at this hotel overnight, meaning a more relaxed visit. Either way, the hotel is a peaceful, friendly, altogether lovely place to stay. You can most easily get here by car, but the country’s impressive bus system will drop you at the foot of the drive up to the Kibbutz. The hotel runs mini-buses to and from the Ein Gedi spa resort on the coast of the Dead Sea.

Ein Gedi Guest House
Ein Gedi, Dead Sea
Jerusalem, Israel

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Amanda on July 30, 2001

Jerusalem has no shortage of religious sites, but the Church of the Sepulchre is regarded as the most important Christian location. It is within this deceptively large structure that the last five stations of the cross lie and where Jesus was put to death. The first church was built on the site by the Roman emperor Constantine in 348 AD. The church was destroyed and rebuilt several times but the structure which exists today was built by the Crusaders in 1099.

The small entrance conceals the true size of the church , and as you enter, the vast 11metre high Rotunda quickly absorbs you in it's spacious and cool atmosphere. Here you will find groups of pilgrims from around the globe creating a cacophony of prayers in numerous languages and of countless Christian denominations. But rather than the noise and bustle detracting, it adds to the Church's special atmosphere as the centre of Christendom. The religious conviction of the pilgrims who have made the journey here for thousands of years, often in the face of extreme hardship and danger, creates a thick air of spirituality which lingers like the incense and the echoes of pilgrims' prayers.

The Church, like many sites in Jerusalem is best appreciated after a number of visits at different times of day. Early in the morning, before the hoards arrive, you can find solace in the Church's quiet alcoves, and watch the beams of sunlight shine through the windows of the Rotunda, and strike the Holy Sepulchre itself in the middle. Later in the day, it best to move up to one of the balconies and watch the devotees as they make the final steps of their pilgrimage and finally rest with their heads against the stone of the Unction, in floods of tears. And in the evening too, the Church has its own distinct character as a weary host who must sleep so as to be fresh and ready for his guests the next day.

Holy Sepulchre
Christian Quarter
Jerusalem, Israel
+972 2627 3314

Eating Out in West Jerusalem

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Amanda on July 30, 2001

The centre of new Jerusalem, not far from the Old City's Jaffa Gate bustles energetically as a rich mix of European and Middle-Eastern style. The pedestrianised area off Zion Square offers fantastic food at reasonable prices, where Middle-Eastern cuisine can be enjoyed with Parisian chic as you sit in the open air, seeing and being seen.

Along the main pedestrianised Ben Yehuda Street, buskers fill the evening air with violin solos, arias and traditional Yiddish music from Eastern Europe. The standard of musicians is generally very high, and some of them have been part of the local scenery for a number of years. The large scale immigration of Russian and Eastern European Jews to Israel, which occurred soon after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, brought classical musical talent of world-class caliber with it. Israel already had numerous highly prestigious orchestras and opera companies and the new arrivals often found it hard to source work. So rather than wait to be called to the stage, many made the street their stage and as you walk through central Jerusalem in the evening be sure to catch these impassioned classical melodies.

Despite McDonalds and other burger chains to trying enter the Israeli market, the country, and Jerusalem in particular, still has its own distinct fast food. Falafel in pitta bread is Israel's official dish, try it with an assortment of salads and sauces. Shawarma is equally popular if you are in a meat eating kind of mood. This is a dish of meat slices in pitta bread, not dissimilar to a Turkish Kabap, but with the choice of Turkey or Lamb. The food which locals really rave about, however, is Humus. The easiest way to start a heated argument in Jerusalem is to say so and so's does the best Humus in town. Everybody has their favorite place and they guard its reputation fearlessly. The best thing is to ask around, then let your taste buds do the thinking.

Eating Out in West Jerusalem
West Jerusalem
Jerusalem, Israel

The Wailing Wall

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Amanda on July 25, 2001

Walk up, touch it, feel the rough texture of thousands of battles, hear the echoes of millennia of prayers, see the honey yellow glow of past civilizations. Then step back, take a seat, and feel its presence, feel that which is beyond words and confined to the world of the spirit. Bask in its radiance and majesty, so unexpected of a wall of stone.

The wailing wall is the last remain of the Jewish Second Temple, destroyed by the Romans in 70AD, and as such is the holiest Jewish site in the world. It has significance to Muslims too, not only does it stand adjacent and supporting the al-Haram from which the Profit Mohamed ascended to heaven, but it is also considered to be the site where he tethered his horse before his flight.

The sheer size of the wall is outstanding, dwarfing the large esplanade at its foot. Thousands of devotees come to the wall for prayers, and on Sabbaths and religious festivals the esplanade spills over with religious fervor. The Wall is also believed to be a direct point of communication to god, and the gaps between the gigantic stones, which make up the wall, constitute God's post box. Religious Jews write down their prayers on slips of paper, leaving them between the rocks for God to read. These papers are removed every so often, and buried carefully, as it is forbidden to treat them with disrespect.

The faithful stand, dwarfed by the massive stones too high and sheer for them to climb. Their hands often grasping the cold stone, bodies rocking back and forth, whispers, cries and wails of joy, anger, love and sorrow. The wailing wall.

Wailing Wall
Old City, Jerusalem
Jerusalem, Israel

Safety in the Old City

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Amanda on July 25, 2001

Jerusalem has never been the safest destination on the map. It has been a flash point for confrontation for millennia and, the way the peace process is going, will remain one of the world's more volatile places.

The danger to tourists, however, is not as serious as many assume. Throughout the recent disturbances in Israel and the Occupied Territories, tourist have not been targeted. Serious fighting or rioting which happens from time to time also tends to be localised and can be easily avoided. The key is to seek local information and take heed of advice. There are also daily television and radio news programmes in English, French and Russian. Generally, trouble spots are effectively cordoned off by the authorities, and there is little risk of getting mixed up accidentally.

In general, the recent troubles have occurred in East Jerusalem and many areas of the Old City. Consular advice suggests that these areas should only be visited in daylight and in an organised group. It should also be noted that there have been a number of disturbances around the al-Haram and the Wailing Wall on Friday evenings and extra care should be taken at this time. Unfortunately, the al-Haram complex is frequently out of bounds to non-Muslims, due to the risk of disturbances, and there have been occasions where the complex has been closed to all visitors.

If you are misfortunate and find yourself threatened by violent demonstrations or rioting, it is best to make it clear that you are a tourist and disinterested in the dispute. You should then seek help from any police or army personnel in the area, failing that, ask if you can take refuge in somebody's shop or house.

You should also be aware that there have recently been a number of bomb attacks in public areas and on buses. Jerusalem has not been affected by this as much as some other parts of Israel, but the risk remains.

Standard consular advice is to avoid crowded areas. How one can do this while on holiday is not clear but travellers should be aware of this warning.

Old City of Jerusalem
Inside The Walls
Jerusalem, Israel

Mount of Olives

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Amanda on August 29, 2001

The Mount of Olives features heavily in Jewish and Christian traditions. Overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem, it offers splendid views. One can easily imagine how in biblical days this was a spot to which people could withdraw from the bustle of the city and literally look at their lives from afar. From here Jesus ‘beheld the city and wept over it’ (Luke 19:41). It is no wonder that this hill should be considered somehow closer to God.

Various religious monuments are built into and onto the Mount, not least the Tomb of the Prophets, believed to be the burial site for the last three Old Testament prophets. Further down the hill is the Chapel of the Ascension, holy to the Christian faith as marking the spot of the ascension of Jesus to heaven 40 days after the resurrection.

Today, the Mount of Olives is most known as perhaps the holiest of Jewish cemeteries, which has been in use for over three thousand years. This site overlooking the Old City is such a desirable final resting place that the graves are now crowded together down the hillside, creating a rather unusual atmosphere of expectation and excitement. The expectation is, according to the Jewish faith, for the coming of the Messiah. As available land is quickly disappearing, discussions are taking place on how further numbers of devotees can be accommodated in the cemetery. Interesting proposals have included double-decker burials and vertical graves.

The Mount of Olives is a simple bus ride from a number of places in central Jerusalem and well worth a look and a wonder. Make your visit early in the day so that you can enjoy the panorama in the glow of the morning sun and without having to share it with too many (living) people.

Mount of Olives
Mount of Olives Road
Jerusalem, Israel
Not applicable

Ein Gedi Spa (1)

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Amanda on August 28, 2001

Dead Sea mud is famous throughout the world for its cosmetic properties – go to any big department store or spa resort, and I’d put money on you being offered products that contain it. The good news about being in Israel is that the mud is available everywhere on the ground around the sea, instead of being sold at £50 a pot! There are several places around the Sea with huts and bathing facilities, but one of the best is the Ein Gedi Spa, which is owned by the nearby Ein Gedi Kibbutz. The group I was with (my mother, my boyfriend, and I) was staying at the guest-house owned and run by the same Kibbutz nearby, but it’s equally possible and feasible to come to the Spa on a day-trip from Jerusalem.

The Spa itself consists of a facilities building next to the "beach", or access point to the Dead Sea. The building is the place where you enter the Spa, park in the ample parking, and pay to use the facilities. There is a good (Kosher) restaurant and café there, and we enjoyed a cup of tea on our way in. There are separate, clean, men’s and women’s changing rooms, and lockers to put your valuables in. Having changed into a swimsuit, you walk out of the building to huge vats of collected Dead Sea mud, which you scoop out of the container with your hands and plaster all over yourself, legs, arms, face, body, etc. As the mud’s drying, you walk down the path to the Sea itself, feeling a bit of an idiot in your swimsuit and drying mud coat, and make your way to the edge of the sea.

Bathing in the Dead Sea is an amazing experience. For a start, you can’t actually swim at all, as you float too high in the water to make much headway. As you wade in to the sea, and start to float, the first thing you notice is tiny cracks in your skin you didn’t even know were there, as they start to sting a little. As you float on your back, in a semi-sitting position, you get to look at the fantastic scenery – the other side of the Dead Sea is in Jordan, with hills behind and a peaceful, relaxing vista is before you. Although there is some industry at the extreme south end of the Sea, you can’t see or hear it from the Ein Gedi Spa, and because of the high salt levels there’s little or no shipping to worry about. Most people adopt the half-sitting up position, as it’s extremely comfortable with the sea supporting your weight in this way, so you can just lean back and relax, and maybe have the obligatory photo taken of yourself reading the paper in the Dead Sea! The mud slowly dissolves off your body, and your skin gets soft and slightly crinkly with the salt.

Ein Gedi Spa
M.P.Dead Sea
Jerusalem, Israel, 86980

Ein Gedi Spa (2)

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Amanda on August 28, 2001

Once we’d done the sea-bathing thing, we rubbed off any tenacious patches of mud, and headed back to the club house. There are fresh-water showers to clean off any mud stains, and to remove the top layer of salt from your person. (Bear in mind that this is a low rainfall area, so water is a fairly precious commodity and shouldn’t be wasted.) After that, you can dress and leave, or take advantage of the tanks in the club house, which are included in the price you pay to enter the Spa anyway. We did this, so after washing off any left-over mud, we headed to the pools. They are like a series of small swimming pools, or large baths – about 15 by 15 feet, perhaps, and there are about half a dozen of them. They are filled with water from nearby thermal springs, and are the most relaxing thing I can imagine. You still float a bit higher than in normal pools or the sea, so there’s little chance of getting a mouthful of water, and you can therefore lie back and chill. The room is fairly dark, and quiet, and the tiles and décor are a relaxing blue-green colour. We spent about half an hour in the pools, and came out of it feeling stress-free to the most amazing degree. Some of the pools are mixed, and there are some for men or women only, if you don’t like bathing in a mixed-gender environment. If you want to indulge yourself further, there are massage and other beauty treatments available – it’s a good idea to ring up in advance to book these, we were told.

After another quick shower, we adjourned to the restaurant/café for a couple of drinks on the terrace which overlooks the Dead Sea. It’s a kosher establishment, and good value for money, with some good snacks/pastries served around tea-time, which is when we went there.

If you’re in Israel, you shouldn’t miss this experience. A great portion of any visit to the country involves sightseeing fascinating buildings, in hot, tiring conditions. The day’s relaxation in the Dead Sea with revive and relax you, and make you better able to enjoy the rest of your trip. For several days afterwards my skin felt amazing – incredibly soft and moisturised, and really healthy. There are a couple of things to watch out for - the high concentrations of salt in the sea mean that shaving before you go in is a seriously bad move, as you’d feel hundreds of tiny pin pricks as the salt got into fissures. On the other hand, I cut my foot shortly before going in and while it did sting, it also healed up super-fast afterwards.

It’s easy to find this place – there’s only one road along the Israeli side of the Dead Sea, and the Spa is clearly sign-posted and visible from the road, about half-way along it. The phone number is +972 8659 4222

Ein Gedi Spa
M.P.Dead Sea
Jerusalem, Israel, 86980

Walking around Jerusalem

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by Amanda on August 14, 2001

Israeli towns and cities were built to withstand the hot climate. You soon become accustomed to the abundance of air-conditioning, parasols and the easy availability of cold drinks. All this goes to hide the fact that the semi-arid Judean hills can be fatally inhospitable. In the summer, temperatures in Jerusalem frequently rise to the high 90s, which is bad enough, but once you head down toward Jericho and Ein Gedi the temperature can go over 100. In short, any travel outside towns or the main tourist sites requires some basic preparations.

Firstly, water. You should carry substantial quantities of water with you. Even if you are driving, you should carry several pints of drinking water in your car lest you get lost or suffer a breakdown. You should also ensure you have a sun hat and sunglasses unless you want to stumble around confused, and trying to see the path ahead through sore squinting eyes.

Equally important is a good map. Local villagers and Bedouin herdsmen excel at creating numerous paths across the hills, but you cannot always rely on them to be there when you need help deciding which path to follow. It is advisable to choose a route before you set out and to advise someone of your tour and the time you expect to return.

As always, good footwear is also important. The hills around Jerusalem are scraggy and an open invitation for a twisted ankle. Avoid this by wearing solid boots. Snakes can pose a hazard and boots can afford you some degree of protection.

Unfortunately, the area around Jerusalem also suffers from more than its fair share of man-made threats. Most of the areas around the city are in the West Bank, under a mixture of Israeli and Palestinian control. The risk of sporadic fighting here is high at times and you should always seek local advice before setting-off. If there is even the slightest risk of conflict, you should avoid the area, even the very latest in hi-tech trekking gear will not protect you against a tank shell. At times of uneasy quiet many Israelis will travel in these areas only if they are armed. At times like this you should exercise extreme caution and travel only with an organized tour.

Jerusalem And Surroundings
Jerusalem, Israel


Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Amanda on August 14, 2001

On the banks of the Dead sea, less than two hours from Jerusalem, stands a proud flat-topped mountain dripping with history and ideological zeal. As you look up from ground level, you can see just a mountain, but a mountain oozing with bloody history. It draws you closer and the tough climb to the top feels like a predestined pilgrimage. Or for those with a more technological approach to such things, there is a cable car which takes you almost to the top. Once there you realize why you made the effort to reach the top; for all around you, on this windswept, sun-scorched rock in the desert, is the stage of the last act of the Jewish War against the Romans. The Fortress was first built by Jonathan the Macabee in 150 BC, and then fortified by King Herod in 43 BC, as a refuge from his many enemies. Its most historical moment, however, came in 70AD when the Romans had regained control of all of Judea and destroyed the Second Temple. This was the last outpost of the Jewish resistance, where a band of men and women prepared to fight at all costs against the might of the Roman Empire.

From the top of Masada, one can see the remains of the Roman encampments which besieged the fortress for three years. Still the Jews survived on the bare mountain top. The Romans, unable to starve out the Jews, built a huge earth-ramp which still stands on the east side of Masada. The Jews, aware of the imminent attack by the Roman legions made their last act of defiance. The community committed mass suicide; only two women and five children lived to tell the story. When the Romans arrived the following day 960 bodies haunted the fortress.

Many of the remains on Masada are well preserved, giving a good sense of what it must have been like as a Jewish fortress surrounded by Romans. The beautiful views of the desert below and buffeting sand-laden wind add to the sense of isolation.

Masada is monument to courage and defiance, in Israel and elsewhere. It will be no surprise then that it is here, on this remote mountain top, that every Israeli army conscript formally joins the Israeli army.

South District overlooking Dead Sea
Jerusalem, Israel

Wadi Qelt

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Amanda on August 15, 2001

Midway between Jerusalem and Jericho lies Wadi Qelt, a 35km long crevice carved through the rocky Judean ground. This Wadi, meaning creek in Arabic, once formed the main route between the two cities. Now it is popular as a hiking location.

Once you leave the road you can walk down the steep sides of the Wadi, teaming with an array of desert life which thrives on the numerous fresh water springs. The Wadi still provides water for the city of Jerchico using old aqueducts.

This is really a place for exploration. Along your route you may find some of the caves inhabited by Christian monks some 1600 years ago. There are also ruins of ancient monasteries, Roman aqueducts, cliff-side murals and the remains of fortresses. Wherever you go, there is rubble under your feet; the remains of ancient civilizations. The one monastery still in use is the Greek Orthodox Monastery of Saint George of Koziba. Built into the walls of the Wadi, the monastery looks precarious but having existed, then been destroyed and rebuilt on several occasions, it appears happy with its mountainside perch, which it has held on to since the 5th century.

Wadi Qelt is also an ideal place for physically disabled nature lovers. There are a number of places where you can be hire a camel with a guide and be lead down the Wadi with minimal exertion. The guides will help you on and of the camel and safely take you along the rocky path, holding on to the camel's reigns so that you do not end up 5 miles away with a sore backside!

Wadi Qelt
Near Jerusalem
Jerusalem, Israel

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