Tel Aviv & Jerusalem
My trip to Israel wasn’t planned. It was a last minute change from my original itinerary while I was in Europe. I am glad I made the change because I’ve always wanted to visit Jerusalem. The current situation in Jerusalem was a bit unstable. There was a terrorist bombing four days before my visit. I booked a tour, which included sightseeing inside the Old City Wall of Jerusalem.
The custom and passport control went by with a breeze. I decided to stay in Tel Aviv during my short three-day trip to Israel. I booked a hotel, which was in walking distance to the beach. The Yam Hotel Tel Aviv was a nice boutique hotel, and just a five-minute walk to the beach/waterfront. It had a good review from TripAdvisor and was within my budget, so it was easy for me to choose this hotel.
I spent most of my afternoon and evening just walking around the waterfront and enjoying the majestic sunset. It was still hot when I went there, but it was breezy at the waterfront so the heat didn’t really bother me much. People are very active because you see many people jogging until the evening.
The food was great, and since I love seafood, I was on a mission to find a good seafood restaurant, and TripAdvisor and Yelp were a good source for me. Finally, I found one to dine in and I had a feast for a King. I ordered an entreé, which came with a free array of side dishes. I felt like I was in a Korean restaurant because they usually give you a lot of side dishes with your order. In addition, I ordered a local beer, which was absolutely good and complimented my food. My table was outside the restaurant facing the beachfront, so it was a very ideal place to relax and end the day.
Once back in the hotel, they also had a happy hour with unlimited wine and some snacks and finger foods. Since I usually got back to the hotel late, it would almost be at the end of happy hour. The trick was to make friends with the staff from the beginning and they will take care of you for the rest of your stay. So, one day when I arrived and they were already cleaning up the area, I asked if I can still have a glass of wine, fortunately, they said, “yes”. They said I can’t bring a bottle outside, but they can pour it in a glass. They gave me three glasses of white wine and a few snacks.
The following day was my tour to Jerusalem. It was about two-hour drive from Tel Aviv, where I stayed. Our first stop was a panoramic view of the whole city of Jerusalem. The guide pointed out some important landmarks, which contributed to the rich history of the city.
City of Jerusalem
On our way down to the old city, we stopped quickly at a gift shop. The passengers were not as excited about the shopping, as they were about the fact that the owners of the shop still spoke Aramaic, which was believed to be the language of Jesus. The owners did not disappoint by sharing some words of wisdom in Aramaic. Afterwards, we headed down to the old city of Jerusalem, parked our van, and started walking towards the main gate.
One church, which was memorable to me, was the Basilica of the Dormition. This is where you can see the Dormition of Mary. It was a beautiful small church and there were stairs leading to the lower level of the church and in the center you could see a statue of Mother Mary lying down. It was believed that this was the place where Mother Mary died or fell into “eternal sleep” and went to heaven.
Dormition of Mary
Statue of King David, who built the Old City of Jerusalem
The old town Jerusalem is approximately a one square kilometer walled area. It houses towering walls, ancient buildings, and rich history. It was built by King David and divided into four quarters, namely the Armenian, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim quarters. The Armenian quarter was the smallest and the Muslim was the biggest.
The Western wall is where the “wailing wall” is located in the Jewish quarter. The wall is considered sacred and a holy place for the Jews. Once in the area, the women were separated from the men for worshipping, with a little barricade in the middle. Men have to wear a Kippot before they can go in the Western Wall. Hats and caps are acceptable, so I didn’t have to wear a Kippot to pray. The whole place is holy, and I advised women to wear appropriate clothing because people inside the wall will shout at you and get your attention, just like what happened to two women in our group. Once inside, you will see people praying and touching the wall, and leaving small notes. I did both.
Western Wall (men’s side)
A quick selfie after praying and putting a small note
The Muslim quarter is the biggest quarter and houses many mosques, temples, and different markets selling different kinds of products. Bargaining is widely accepted here if you are planning to buy something.
Random Mural depicting old time versus modern time
In the Christian quarter, you will find the “Via Dolorosa”, which is the final walk of Jesus also known as the Station of the Cross. In addition, you will find the Church of the Holy Sepulchre or Church of Resurrection.
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is probably the most visited site inside the Christian quarter. It is free to go in, but keep in mind that they don’t have electricity inside. They use candles and natural light to illuminate the whole area. Once inside the church, you will see the stone of anointing where you see people gather and pray by kneeling down and touching the stone.
Just behind the stone is a big painting of the crucifixion, anointing, and burial of Jesus Christ.
Facing the painting, if you turn right, you will see some stairs, which lead to the crucifixion side. Once upstairs, you’ll see a small area and a lot of people paying respect and praying. There are long lines just to touch the site.
Site of the crucifixion
Going down the stairs and back to face the painting, and once you turn left, after a couple of minutes walking, you will see the burial site of Jesus Christ. There is a big “housing” of the site and you will also see very long lines of devotees waiting to get inside.
The picture above is the main entrance of the burial site. The amount of people who can go in is strictly limited to four, so you can just imagine how long the lines can be. I personally did not go inside, so I can’t provide information on how the inside looks.
After our tour in the Old City of Jerusalem, we head out to the Dead Sea to finish our day with a nice swim. I have been to the Dead Sea before but it was in the Jordanian side. It is nice to see Jordan from the Israel side.
Overall, I talked to plenty of people who were hesitant to visit Israel, particularly Jerusalem, because of safety issues. I mentioned earlier in this blog that there was a terrorist bombing a few days before I did the tour. To be honest, I was skeptical and thinking of canceling the tour right after I heard the news, however, once I arrived in Israel and experienced how safe the place was, I decided to go ahead and visit the places that I always wanted to visit. Of course you will see an increased police presence in the area, and you will go through different checkpoints within quarters, but I didn’t feel scared or threatened while I was inside, and there was still tons of tourist flocking to the area.
You still have to use your good judgement when visiting a place. If you have a doubt, by all means don’t go. That being said, I am glad I did not cancel my tour because I learned so much about Old Town Jerusalem.
TIP: If you are leaving Israel and heading to the airport, make sure you have extra time before your flight. Even before you check in, there is a passport control, where they have to interview every single traveler. It was not bad, especially if you are not hiding anything. It took about five minutes with my interview, and once cleared, you go ahead to the counter to check in and the rest is pretty much the same as in any international airport.