Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A little bit about Jerusalem...

I've been procrastinating in blogging about Jerusalem because, well, it's Jerusalem! There's so much to say and I haven't a sufficient vocabulary to describe it in a way that isn't cheesy.

I love Jerusalem! There's something magical about being in the holiest city in the world (if you subscribe to the prophetic religions). The new city is a beautiful modern metropolis; the old city feels like you've stepped back a few centuries. The streets are full of bubbly teens, Orthodox Jews, and young, gun-toting Israelis completing their compulsory military service. They speak English, Hebrew, Yiddish, Arabic and come from all over the world.

The first day we spent exploring the new city. This included walking through the Independence Park, the affluent, tree-lined Rehavia neighbourhood, "The Valley of the Cross" (a gorgeous park surrounding a Greek-Orthodox monastery), visiting the Israel Museum, the tastefully-exhibited Holocaust memorial and sampling kosher shwarmas (YUM!).

The Israel Museum was especially neat because it contained a huge model of the ancient city of Jerusalem as it stood in the Second Temple period about 2000 years ago, when it was roughly twice the size it is now. We also had informative audio guides explaining each notable feature of the old city from the Walls, to the City of David, the Temple Mount and the citadel.

We also made time to visit the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit exposing the lives and traditions of the Ashkenazi Jews who left Jerusalem to start their own community in Qumran by the Dead Sea. It was exciting because there was a section about the Aleppo Codex which had been found in Syria and smuggled into Israel - it's scripture I had never even heard of.

Our second day in Jerusalem was especially exciting as this was the day we visited the Old City and its holy sites. It was a short walk from our hostel to the old city wall and we followed it until we reached the magnificent Damascus Gate and started our exploration. The old city is divided into four quarters: Muslim, Christian, Armenian and Jewish and we saw all in this order.

Our first group of sites were along Via Dolorosa in the Muslim and Christian quarters.
This involved a visit to St Anne's Church and the Bethesda Pools where Jesus cured a paralytic, and we followed Christ's last steps from the spot he was condemned to death, where he was scourged, given the cross, all the way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where was crucified, where he died and was laid to rest.
The Holy Sepulcher is a massive complex of chapels and rooms divided along the 6 oldest Christian sects.

Afterward we saw the Citadel, the Tower of David, the Armenian quarter and finally our highlight: the Western Wall, the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock. The sites were full of visitors, pilgrims, worshippers and curious tourists, but we were especially taken with the Dome of the Rock which we were fortunate to see (we only had about 20 minutes before it was shut down for Muslim prayer).

In the excitement of seeing the Old City, I must give special praise to Israel's kosher shwarmas which are as spectacular as Lebanon's and worth every shekel you spend on them! We discovered a hangout called Moshekos which is a shwarma stand-meets-Subway where you get a huge selection of toppings for your sandwhich. Instead of garlic sauce they have hummus and you can stuff them with french fries, pickles, eggplant, corn nibblets, pepperoncinis, and spicy sauces. It surprises us that after all we've seen on this trip, we wrap up our evenings waxing poetically about our delicious sandwiches.

Also, we found a laundromat. Yay for clean clothes! I had been previously washing everything in the sink so the break was nice :)

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