‘Old city Jerusalem might be one of the most astounding places on earth but it is also equally as confusing. So it was fitting that our ride from the Jordanian border deposited us in an unmarked area of Jerusalem and we began walking hopelessly lost. Even though it ended up not being far from the old city, we wandered around for a couple hours trying to find our hostel and pretty much collapsed into a group nap time soon afterwards.
It's not an easy task to describe the old city. The whole place is a winding labyrinth of stone walls, markets, caves, walkways and religious sites, mirrored by an equally strange mix of tour groups, cultures and religious expressions. Growing up in the church didn't save us from being rebuked by the major religions. First it was inappropriate Sabbath photography at the Western wall, then entering the wrong way to the temple mount (Dome of the Rock) and finally someone thinking our baby carrier left in a church corner was a suspicious package.
It didn't take us long to realize we were some of the only independent travelers in Israel. All the important sites are clogged with tour groups unlike anything seen out of China. Given the myriad tour groups and narrow streets, it's a fast-walker's nightmare.
My favourite sites are always the obscure ones like swimming through Hezekiah's aqueduct tunnels. Aya's was definitely the Biblical zoo where her favourite animal was the dog-sized rodent. We've just spent four days in Jerusalem and now we're heading north for a couple more. Prices are about five times that in Jordan so we'll be crossing back as soon as possible to get our $3 hummus and fixins meal instead of the same thing in Jerusalem for $15.
Where do you start describing Jerusalem? A city that is thousands of years old. A city I've known about and heard about since I was a kid sitting in front of the flannel-graph board in Sunday School.
It's daunting. Maybe it's three major world religions all vying for their place (and us making faux pas all the time according to different ones!). Or maybe it's staring history in the face and feeling rather small because of it. Or maybe it's knowing that Jerusalem fits into the bigger picture of a contested land in a contested region of the world. And you know how much I love conflict. 🙂
It is a most surreal experience. Walking the cobbled streets where Jesus and the prophets walked. Sitting down for mint tea at a small road side stand. Haggling for a mosaic tile with a vendor. Catching a glimmer of the temple mount at sunset.
You can almost see history flashing before your eyes.
A highlight for me was walking through the old excavation site of the “City of David” – the farthest reaches of Old Jerusalem, then wandering through the Kidron valley and up to what everyone agrees to be the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane, and then back down to our hotel by the Via Dolorosa.
Jerusalem might look completely different now (with its high rises, fabulous infrastructure, and modern restaurants) than it did 2000 years ago, but there was something about literally walking that road that was poetic, powerful and moving.