The Trip to Jerusalem

After spending two nights in Eilat, I decided to head to my main destination in the country: Jerusalem. It was easy to get there from the central bus station, I just needed to take the 444 bus. There are four buses leaving daily, the first one leaves at 7 in the morning while the last one leaves at 5 in the afternoon. The schedule is different during the Shabbat so check the website for the schedule before heading over to the bus station. A one way ticket costs 71.50 NIS. That’s about 19 USD. It’s quite pricey for a one way ticket especially after coming from Egypt, but everything’s more expensive in Israel. It’s possibly the most expensive country I’ve been to. That’s still cheaper than taking a direct shuttle service which costs 25 USD on the average. I took the 2:15 PM bus and I arrived in Jerusalem at around 7 PM.

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Jerusalem is a city that’s rich in history. And there are just so many notable sights, a week probably won’t be enough to see everything. Most of these sights also have a lot of religious significance so you’d see a lot of people doing pilgrimages at any given time during the year.

The cheapest hostels seem to be within the old city. It would be really convenient staying inside since most of the attractions are there. Also there are a couple of tram stops just outside its walls so these hostels should still be easily accessible via public transport. From the central bus station, a single journey tram ticket costs 5.9 NIS.

I allotted one full day to go sightseeing. I stayed at a hostel just outside the old city, about a 5 minute walk to the Jaffa Gate. From here the first notable attraction is the Tower of David Museum. It was recommended by a fellow traveler so I decided to check it out. An entrance ticket costs 40 NIS. The museum itself is quite interesting, it gives a detailed account of Jerusalem’s history. If that’s not something you’re interested in, then the price of admission would seem a bit steep. The place arguably offers the best views of Jerusalem. I’m not sure if that would justify the cost of 40 NIS if you’re not interested in the various exhibits.

Next I went to the Western Wall, named as such because it is the western support wall of the Temple Mount. It’s probably the most famous attraction in Jerusalem. Also known as the Wailing Wall, this is the holiest site where Jews are permitted to pray. The holiest site for Jews is actually the Temple Mount which is behind this wall but they are not allowed to pray there. To be able to get close to the wall, one should wear the proper attire. For women, shoulders and legs should be covered. If one is not properly dressed, there are shawls provided near the wall. For men, in addition to covering one’s shoulders and knees, they should also wear any form of headgear. Disposable kippahs are also provided a couple of yards from the wall for those who aren’t wearing any hats. Males are separated from females by the way. Males enter on the left side while females enter on the right side.

I went before noon and it was very crowded. I’ve been told that it’s especially crowded on Mondays and Thursdays because a number of families hold the Bar Mitzvah (a Jewish coming of age ritual for boys) on those days. The number of people crammed in front of the wall would have been fine if most of the people in the square were there to worship or were there for the Bar Mitzvah. But  majority of the crowd were obviously tourists. I dunno, it just seems really off seeing so many tourists crowding a place of worship, and it seems very disrespectful to the Jews who were there to pray. Since the entrance to the square is free, clearly the Israeli government doesn’t need to generate money from this place. It would be best to restrict entry to a few tourists at any given time to maintain a solemn atmosphere. I don’t want to generalize because there are non Jewish people who meditate and pray in the area. Many even insert notes containing prayers and wishes on the spaces between the rocks in the wall. I went back in the afternoon and there were notably less people. I guess all those tours bringing busloads of tourists are scheduled in the morning.

Since the Temple Mount is just behind the Western Wall, I decided to visit that next. There are many entrances to the Temple Mount, but non Muslims can only enter through the Mughrabi Gate. If you’re already at the Western Wall, you can’t miss it. Facing the wall, you’ll see what seems to be an elevated wooden walkway on the right. That leads to the Mughrabi Gate. If you’ll be coming from elsewhere, using navigation apps would only confuse you because those apps would lead you to the nearest gate, and chances are the nearest ones are those that only Muslims can enter. When you walk around the old city, you’re bound to encounter streets being manned by soldiers especially in the Muslim quarter. They’re there to keep non Muslims out. If you’re using a navigation app, look for the Western Wall instead. Once you’re there you’ll easily spot the Mughrabi gate. Like the other attractions in Jerusalem, entrance is free. You have to observe proper attire though. Similar to the Western Wall, shoulders and knees should not be exposed for both men and women. If you’re not in proper attire, there’s no need to worry. They will lend you some cloth to cover your shoulders and knees right after you enter the gate.

Now you can’t just enter the gate at any time, it only opens twice a day for about 1-3 hours so you have to time your visit. I wasn’t aware of this at first, good thing I was by the Western Wall just as the gate was about to open. It is open from 8:30 AM- 11:30 AM and from 1:30 PM to 2:30 PM. During the winter though, it opens from 7:30 AM -10:30 AM and from 12:30 PM- 1:30 PM. Take note that it’s closed during Shabbat (Fridays and Saturdays). I’ve been told that Jerusalem as a whole is pretty dead during Shabbat so it’s best to head elsewhere unless you want some peace and quiet.

The Temple Mount is sacred to Christians, Jews, and Muslims because this is said to be the site where Abraham brought his son Isaac to be sacrificed. For Muslims, this is also the site where Muhammad ascended to heaven. Thus, the entire site is heavily contested. Giving Jordan special guardianship of the mount seemed to be a sort of compromise to prevent violence.

The Temple Mount houses several structures, none of which tourists can enter. Each building is really beautiful  from the outside though, it’s well worth falling in line just to see them up close. Perhaps the most spectacular one is the Dome of the Rock. It’s the building with the golden roof, and it is easily one of Jerusalem’s most recognizable landmarks.

Inside the Old City you’ll encounter a lot of Christians doing some sort of procession along a predetermined route. This route is called Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrow) and it marks the 14 stations of the cross. The first station is at Via Dolorosa Street in the Muslim quarter. You head west through 8 stations until you reach the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which houses the remaining stations. This is the reason why this church is always packed with people. It is believed to house the two most sacred sites in Christianity:  the site where Jesus Christ was crucified, and the site where he was entombed and resurrected. It may not look like much from the outside, but inside the architecture is mind blowing. I’d say it’s worth a visit even if you’re not a Christian.

I’d recommend ending the day with a short hike up the Mount of Olives. This is believed to be the site where Jesus Christ ascended to heaven, so you’ll see a lot of people doing pilgrimages here as well, particularly at the Chapel of the Ascension. Again, even if you’re not a Christian it’s still worth checking out because you get spectacular views of Jerusalem at the top. Here you’ll also see the world’s oldest cemetery that is still being used.

Jerusalem has so much to offer, the city is simply bursting with history. Though it’s possible to see as much as you can in one or two days, it would be best to take your time immersing yourself in the city’s rich history and culture. Jerusalem is simply amazing and it has so much significance, no wonder it’s the world’s most contested city. Any country would be proud to claim this city as their own.

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