As far as stressful airport entrances go, this was a flight that was definitely up there! For some reason, the traffic was stupidly bad in Vienna and we had (also stupidly) decided to get an Uber to the airport. We were sat in stand-still traffic deciding what to do for what felt like ages. Eventually, we managed to stick it out and arrived at the airport, rushed through to the gates and found ourselves being questioned thoroughly by Israeli police! We were separated and asked all these questions about how we met (meeting in Morocco didn’t go down too well), where we’ve lived, who we might know in Muslim countries, etc, etc. It’s funny how under pressure, both of us stuttered on our answers even though it was obviously all true! Either way, we managed to get on the plane and were literally the last ones on.
We were visiting Jerusalem at quite a tricky time; Trump had just announced that he was to be moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognising Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital, and in turn, infuriating Palestinians. We had read loads on it. We had been glued to the news in the days prior to our visit. We really weren’t sure whether travelling to Jerusalem was the greatest idea we’d ever had or not!
We flew in to Tel Aviv and jumped on a mini-bus that were aplenty right outside the airport that waited until it was full and then left to Jerusalem. It took about an hour in total and the bus dropped us off at our hotel, which was useful as it was gone midnight at this point and we had no idea where we were or where our hotel was. It was also eerily quiet as well. We stayed at Harmony Hotel, which was actually perfect for us. It was very conveniently located in the Nahalat Shiva neighbourhood; walking distance to so many of the sights, including the Wailing Wall, the Old City and the markets. There were also lots of eating places and bars around here. They had a free happy hour with lots of lovely nibbles to snack on as well as wine. We went in December so it was a bit too cold to make the most out of their outdoor section, but it looked like it would be lovely in the warmer months. The hotel itself had a great reception area and breakfast. The room we had was a little dated and rusty, but it did the job and we knew we would just be here to sleep anyway.
Friday, we were up and out early. Because of Shabbat, the Jewish day of rest, most places shut their doors at 2pm. We explored the crazy, spice-filled markets and tried various freebies that were presented to us. We walked to the Old City and walked for, what felt like, miles but only actually had seen the Christian Quarter and the Armenian Quarter. We climbed up to viewing points to look down on the Wailing Wall (or Western Wall) with the famous golden Dome of the Rock glistening next to it. As a tourist, you can go up to the wall but be respectful of the culture and don’t venture into the section that is meant for the opposite sex. Wear clothes that are appropriate for prayer, even if you are not intending to pray.
When the shops shut their doors, we decided to venture over to the Garden of Gethsemane and then climb up to the Mount of Olives where we received spectacular views of the city. We rested there for a while, taking it all in, whilst sat next to a camel. We got a taxi back to our hotel in time for happy hour. We struggled to find somewhere to eat that evening. I had serious high hopes for the food in Jerusalem since I adore Israeli food. However, in the winter months and it being Friday, not too many places were accessible to us. We eventually found a very nice Italian that happened to be open, although I can’t remember for the life of me what it was called. I would LOVE to come back here in the summer on purely a foodie trip and definitely not on a Friday or Saturday!
On Saturday, we called the taxi driver who took us home from the Mount of Olives and he kindly took us on a trip to Bethlehem. Bethlehem means ‘House of Bread’ in Hebrew’ and ‘House of Meat’ in Arabic. Our guide was great- very knowledgeable and, even though he was Palestinian, had no issue with relaying basically the whole of the Bible to us on the journey. We went to 3 places on the trip. The first was the Shepherd’s Field. We were able to walk around the cave where the shepherd’s hung out and the garden around there were very pleasant as well. The second place was the Church of the Nativity. This was very impressive and looked fantastic with the ginormous Christmas tree outside. We were a bit concerned about protests here but it was absolutely fine and there was no trouble. We were able to walk around the church, see the manger area and the grotto. There were some building works going on in preparation for Christmas day, but nothing too intrusive. The last place we visited on our trip was the Chapel of the Milky Grotto. There were more than enough paintings or models of Mary breastfeeding Jesus. Not being religious and already pregnant, (apparently young women trying to conceive come here to help them along), I’m not sure we would have come here if it wasn’t for our guide…
We were dropped off in the Old City once again, this time able to explore the Muslim quarter and the Jewish quarter. We just missed a bit of trouble and encountered a smashed up shop in the Muslim quarter. The area was quickly swamped with TV cameras and Israeli soldiers. This was the only trouble relating to the embassy that we witnessed. We knew there was a lot more trouble going on in Gaza, but we were quite a journey away from there. Other than that, there were a lot of soldiers about, but that was absolutely fine and everyone we came across- Palestinian or Jewish Israeli, were so friendly and helpful.
Because it was Saturday and most places were shut for Shabbat, we managed to find one restaurant that served international food that was well rated, called Link. We sat outside in the December sun and gobbled up delicious gourmet burgers. It was a family-friendly place and quite large with an excellent outdoor seating area. That evening, we went to a couple of bars that were in the area before retiring back to our room at our hotel to get ready for our flight back to Vienna the next day. It was a great long weekend and I would love to return to Israel and visit more places- Tel Aviv looks a lot of fun, and it would be awesome to visit the Dead Sea but from the opposite side to where we were previously in Jordan. Whilst we hear so much terror on the news about the country, we found Jerusalem to be a place where many different people from many different cultures are able to live together, relatively peacefully. Apart from the interrogation before boarding our flight(!), the place was so welcoming and very charming indeed.
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