Holiday: Israel – Day 5 (2020)

Reading time: 4 minutes...
8.15am: The View from Room 706!

It’s our last full day here and if the weather forecast is to be believed, it won’t be a day for anything outside!


A quick look through our guide-book offered some indoor-alternatives, so we dressed accordingly and headed out into a very grey day. We were umbrella-less due to ours self-destructing during yesterday’s adventures with the elements.

But hey! we like living on the edge and with hoods and beanies on standby, our plan was to re-visit the Jewish Quarter (mainly because it included places where we could seek refuge inside!) including the souqs and various museums. This 116,000 square metre area lies in the southeastern sector of the walled city, and is home to around 19000 residents. On the map, it looked like it was easy to get around (or so we thought – see later!) ๐Ÿค”

Once outside, the old city looked (and felt) very different in the damp and the cold – and the rain got worse as the morning progressed. We headed in the now-familiar direction of the Western Wall and then further than we’d been before in the direction of unfortunately named ‘Dung Gate’.

No s*** Shylock, it’s Dung Gate!

With Dung err, done, our first stop was the Jerusalem Archaeological Park. There are lots of Roman remains and a unique Herodian shopping street from the late 1st century BC. According to iTravelJerusalem, it’s “one of the Jerusalemโ€™s top tourist attractions due to its historical and archaeological significance and, of course, its beauty”. But first we had to actually gain access to it! The crappy weather didn’t help, but the poor signage added to the challenge, together with various padlocked gates! There was no obvious reason for it to be closed, but it certainly looked like it was! ๐Ÿ˜ค
We asked a nearby security guard, who helpfully pointed us in a particular direction. It helped (sort of), but it only gave access to a small part of the whole site.

Photo #1

In the end, we simply gave up! – but at least we got TWO photographs, just as the rain eased temporarily!

Photo #2

Onwards and upwards, as they say! We headed deeper in to the Jewish Quarter and as we did so, the weather returned to the drizzle variety!

Into the Jewish Quarter

As we passed another Security Guard, a nearby signpost confirmed that we were on the right road…

The reconstructed Hurva Synagogue. More information HERE

We carried on walking, as the rain got wetter!

We eventually stumbled across The Cardo. A site originally laid-out by the Romans but these days it’s a well-known historic Jewish shopping arcade in the old city. Completely under cover, it instantly felt attractive, and we spent a bit of time looking in the brightly coloured shops proudly displaying their wares.

Another surprise was that in amongst the shops was a deep excavation revealing part of the history of this location.

Ahh, refreshments!

Our first pit-stop of the day offered “the best coffee in the old city of Jerusalem”. It didn’t feel very Jewish inside, and we realised we had somehow wandered into the Arabic Quarter. Still, the coffee lived up to the advertising, and we stayed a while, as I took time to fully appreciate the actual volume of a ‘large Americano’ served here (err, VERY large!) ๐Ÿ˜

West Cardo – Part of the old Jewish shopping street

A short walk later, we appeared to have returned to the Jewish Quarter, where we spied some more old ruins.

Next on our ‘voyage of damp discovery’ was a real Jewish Bakers. In the photo on the left, you should be able to just make out a Baker working with his industrial-sized oven.

Five minutes later, we discovered The Four Sephardi Synagogues in Hakehuna Street. It was now pouring down, so a perfect excuse to wander inside. Fully restored in 1967, this complex consists of the Yochanan Ben Zakai Synagogue, the Istanbuli Synagogue, the Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue, and the Emtsai Synagogue. In spite of its uniqueness and the biblical rainfall outside, we only stayed a short while because there was a celebration going on inside, and the music volume was set to ’11’!

The Wohl Museum was next for us (located in the Herodian Quarter) within the Jewish Quarter. During city re-development work in 1967, the remains of several large Herodian houses were discovered. These were found 22 feet below the current street level!

Although it was just another excuse to get out of the rain, it proved to be fascinating visit! The un-assuming entrance revealed a deep excavation, uncovering some seriously old buildings and their contents, some dating back 2000 years! The houses contained ritual baths and cisterns to catch rain (would have been great today!) from the Roman era.

I managed to grab these photos BEFORE I saw the CCTV watching me ignoring the ‘no photography’ signs! ๐Ÿ˜ฏ

As we left the Museum, a short walk later, we realised that we’d come full-circle, and we were back at The Western Wall (albeit ‘up a level’).

Al Buraq – A unique dining experience

In spite of our diving in-and-out of buildings all morning, we were both quite wet, so we looked for somewhere close to eat. It was approaching 1pm, so for us, it was perfect timing. Conveniently located near the Western Wall Tunnels, Al Buraq looked like it might be a good choice.

Err, it wasn’t! ๐Ÿฅบ

The food so far, during our short time here has, on the whole, been good, but today WASN’T one of those days. Almost zero customer service combined with a Salad that looked like it was more at home in the archaeological finds from the Museum earlier, we ate at speed mainly because we were hungry! The Salads lived died to fight another day, and remained on the plate (no doubt ready for the next poor souls!). They didn’t take plastic and the bill was a hurried creation scribbled on a nearby piece of paper! Oh, dear! ๐Ÿ˜ฏ๐Ÿ˜ฏ

We left as quickly as we arrived, and for the last time walked back through the Souq, Jaffa Gate and finally Jaffa Street on the way back to the Hotel.

It’s been a great break, just slightly marred by the weather today. We’ve spent five days here, but we reckon it could be done in four. Prices seem cheap compared to the UK, but eateries are a tad tricky to find (unless you like soup!). Language was never a problem – everyone speaks English – and the Souqs are quite lay-back with no assertive sales techniques to encourage you to buy that teapot you always wanted! ๐Ÿ˜

All that’s left to do now is pack and get ready for our flight back tomorrow

Shalom Jerusalem! ๐Ÿคฉ

All the photos from this holiday
(and none of my chat!)

Holiday: Israel – Day 4 (2020)

Reading time: 4 minutes...
The Hall of Names, Yad Vashem, Israel

The weather forecast for today, Wednesday, is not so good! In a word: ‘showers’! In another word: ‘cold’! Time then, to discover more of Israel, but from the inside of somewhere! ๐Ÿฅถ๐Ÿฅถ

To maintain our sense of adventure (but mostly to dodge the showers!) we’re diving again into the world of Jerusalem’s public transport system. We’ve already experienced Trains, Planes and Automobiles

So today, we tried the Tram (or Jerusalem Light Railway – JLR – to give it its official name here). Opened in 2011 after much delay and over-spending (sound familiar??), it features just a single line each way (east-west, totalling 23 stops). and and it’s popular too, serving 130,000 rides per day.

We boarded at nearby Jaffa Street heading for Mount Herzl (currently the final stop until the planned extension goes ahead). It cost us 5.90 Shekels (ยฃ1.29) for a single ticket. Super-cheap! ๐Ÿ‘

On launch, JLR was free to use, but there’s now a paid ticketing system that’s operated through machines at each station. Alternatively, you can purchase a CityPass card (a sort of Jewish ‘Oyster Card’).

A few caveats: the machines are fussy about bank-notes – nothing bigger than a 20; there’s a maximum number of coins that can be used for one ticket purchase (15?); it didn’t seem to like our visa card, and absolutely no trying to pay the driver; There’s probably an App too, but we didn’t see anyone using one.

Once on-board, just to keep us on our toes, there’s also a ‘ticket validation system’ where you must get your ticket ‘punched’ using the machines near the doors. Ticket Inspectors were everywhere, so it’s not worth hiding in the toilets!! (mainly because the Trams don’t have them!) ๐Ÿค”

Yad Vashem

What’s our destination today? Unlike yesterday and the day before, no scaling any heights for us, we plan to keep our feet firmly on the ground and so we headed for Yad Vashem, the Museum and Monument that perpetuates the memory of the 6 million+ Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. Built in 1953, it’s incredibly popular and well-supported.

It only took us around 20 minutes to get there plus a fifteen-minute walk downhill once we exited the Tram (it’s well signposted!)

On arrival, it became clear that there was plenty to see here, and consequently, it’s perfectly possible to ‘make a day of it’. Having said that, we were there for just over three-and-a-half hours and we found it quite moving and emotionally draining.

Click above for a larger version
Click above for a larger version
The Museum

Our first stop was ‘5’ – The Holocaust History Museum – a triangular shaped construction where the exhibits were assembled in a zig-zag fashion. It’s not the prettiest of buildings inside, but maybe that’s the point!?

My photographs here don’t really do it justice, as they only capture a small proportion of what’s on show! Why? Well, there didn’t seem to be many other people taking pics, and then I found out why not! A firm tap on the shoulder from an official, about an hour in, reminded me that I shouldn’t be taking ANY photographs at all!! Ooops!!!!!๐Ÿ˜ฎ

Even if you only have a casual interest in the Holocaust, you are bound to be impressed by the exhibits here….

A mix of static displays, film archive, AV displays and (very) detailed information boards have probably one of the most (if not, THE most) comprehensive collection of materials we’ve ever seen in a Museum (and we’ve seen quite a few!).

The displays were endless and what for us, made it feel even more real, was the filmed interviews with survivors, and also the clothing on display – shoes and tunics of the dead! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ Most definitely NOT for the faint-hearted with nothing censored. ๐Ÿ˜ฅ๐Ÿ˜ฅ

For many of us, the 1993 film: Schindler’s List has, in recent years, been a dramatic reminder of the Holocaust. What brought it all home here was the actual list itself on display!!

THE Schindler’s List: Click above for a close-up

Of course, there were many others who helped the Jews during the WWII, and also on display was a comprehensive catalogue of others who saved the lives of many Jews and their families…

But perhaps the display that was guaranteed to cause the most jaws to drop was the final exhibit: The Hall of Names…

This is an area of permanent record cataloguing the names of all the Holocaust victims…

…the work is ongoing and consequently, some shelving remains empty until more information is uncovered…

It felt like the most appropriate way to end our journey through the Museum.

On leaving, the weather forecast had come true. It was cold… VERY cold and it was raining quite hard. We quickened our pace and took a look inside the nearby Hall of Remembrance

The Hall of Remembrance

The names engraved in the floor are the sites of the 22 Nazi murder sites – extermination/concentration camps. The flame burns continuously next to a crypt containing ashes of victims brought back from the extermination camps.

The Pillar of Heroism

The weather got worse! Next stop: The Pillar of Heroism commemorates Jewish resistance during the Holocaust.

The Coffee of Reflection!

Phew! What an experience!! We spent some time over a coffee reflecting…
For us to spend as much time as we did here, surprised even US! There is so much to absorb, even if you spend most of your time (as we did) in just the Museum. If you’re in the area, this place should be on your list!

So far, on our mini-break in Jerusalem, this has been the place with the most WOW FACTOR! ๐Ÿคฉ

A quick walk back to the Tram stop where we only waited a matter of minutes for our ride back to the Hotel. It turned into a really wintery day here and so much of a contrast to the previous few days. A good day to be inside then!!!

More photos of the holiday so far
(and none of my chat!)

Looks like tomorrow is another cold and wet one, so I think we’ll do something indoors again – see you on the other side! ๐Ÿ™‚

Holiday: Israel – Day 3 (2020)

Reading time: 4 minutes...
Our car-rental turned out to be very OTT! ๐Ÿ˜

A slightly earlier start to today as we have a list of places to visit including our continued trek around more of the old city walls that we started yesterday.

On our planned itinerary today…

  • Temple Mount
  • The Dome of the Rock
  • Dome of the Chain
  • Al Aqsa Mosque
  • The Central Souk

Luckily, the weather is much-the-same as yesterday with only a slight chance of rain.

Our first stop today was Temple Mount and so we took the shortish walk on foot along Jaffa Street and then David Street, heading for the Western Wall (where we visited yesterday). From the Western Wall, we passed though security (it’s spot-the-cop out here!) and then across the rather frail looking wooden walkway to our destination.

Don’t look down!

After passing though another police checkpoint, we arrived to a very large flat area that stretched-out in front of us… This was Temple Mount.

Temple Mount

Celebrated as a holy site by Christians, Jews and Muslims alike, its construction was started by Herod. It’s a flat plaza that also includes three large structures: al-Aqsa Mosque, the Dome of the Rock and the Dome of the Chain, all of which we plan to look at. The whole area is, religiously speaking, a very sensitive one! For a start, part of the reason for our early start today was down to NOT being a Muslim. As a non-believer, we’re only allowed access to the area between the hours of 7- 10am and 12.30-1.30pm.

I guess for us, the restricted visiting made it all feel a bit plain and ordinary, but at least it was the home of some beautiful buildings – including The Dome of the Rock.

The Dome of the Rock

Initially completed in 691โ€“92 CE at the order of Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik during the Second Fitna on the site of a Second Jewish Temple, it was completely destroyed during the Roman Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE. The original dome collapsed in 1015 and was rebuilt in 1022โ€“23. The construction is one of the oldest extant works of Islamic architecture.

Why is this place so important? The Foundation Stone and its surroundings is the holiest site in Judaism. Though Muslims now pray towards the Kaaba at Mecca, they once faced the Temple Mount as the Jews do. Muhammad changed the direction of prayer for Muslims after a revelation from Allah.

Adjacent, was its ‘baby sister’, The Dome of the Chain.

The Dome of the Chain

Part Treasury, part Chapel, some architectural elements that have been used actually date-back to pre-Islamic times, but it’s widely accepted by both Arab and Western scholars that the Dome of the Chain was originally built in 691 by the Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik. The Umayyad design of the building has largely remained unaltered by later restorations.

By comparison to its neighbour, it’s quite plain to look at it from the outside. Unfortunately however, in keeping with the strictness of the immediate area, non-Muslims aren’t allowed inside! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

Well, at least there was a museum here we could visit. Its open door looked welcoming, but as we entered, we were discouraged from going any further. We’re not sure why, but maybe it was the non-Muslim ‘thang’ again! A real shame as it contains over 600 handwritten copies of the Qur’an spanning six eras.

Al Aqsa Mosque

Another stunning building from the outside, but again, that’s all we were allowed to see, unless we changed our religion! ๐Ÿค”

The Central Souk

Absolutely no historical significance to our next stop at all! ๐Ÿฅฑ, just an opportunity to rest our feet and get something to drink. Luckily, no entry restrictions based on our belief system (unless you believe coffee and tea are evil!). Enthusiastically named ‘Restaurant of Peace‘, it was probably the cleanest, most colourful establishment we’ve visited since we’ve been out here.

The owner couldn’t do enough to make us comfortable, and who, in between squeezing his pomegranates and slicing meat for the next kebab sale, began by ensuring that we both had cushions to support our backs! Now that’s what I call service!!!! A genuinely nice person! ๐Ÿ˜ Good tea and coffee too! (just 25 shekels – about a fiver!)

We could have stayed there all day, it was soooo comfortable, but Jerusalem waits for no-one and after some more wandering…

Up the Empire!

…we decided to squeeze in an extra location – The Tower of David and the Jerusalem Citadel.

The Tower of David/The Citadel

Click for a larger version

Located near the Jaffa Gate entrance to western edge of the Old City of Jerusalem., it has a commanding presence. What we saw today dates to the Mamluk and Ottoman periods – previous constructions having been destroyed during the presence of the Crusaders. Just 80 shekels (ยฃ17.50) in total for both of us, it promised dramatic views across the city…

…and it certainly lived up to its promise!

Heading towards the Courtyard

Additionally, the site houses a Museum – aptly named The Tower of David Museum of the History of Jerusalem and was opened in 1989 by the Jerusalem Foundation. Located in a series of chambers in the original citadel, the museum includes a courtyard which contains archaeological ruins dating back 2,700 years – Naturally, I blended in perfectly! ๐Ÿ˜

That was enough indoors for us, and headed outside for the old city walls to continue our elevated walk that we’d begun yesterday

The Old City Walls (Part 2)

On at ‘2’ off at ‘3’

Although, the route would turn out to be a lot straighter than yesterday, some of the steps were challenging (take a look below)…

Eeeek! Don’t look down OR up!!! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

It was worth it (just!) for the views though…

The weather was definitely on our side, but it was very windy. We took the opportunity, to ‘drop-down’ to ground level at the next gate…

Zion Gate

We then wandered slightly back on ourselves in search of the St James Cathedral in the Armenian Quarter. We missed it somehow and ended up almost back where we started – in front of the Tower of David

Oh, and a coffee shop! ๐Ÿ˜. It seemed a shame not to go in…

Thirty minutes later, all refreshed and watered, we decided to re-trace our steps to see if we could find the Cathedral.

Almost, but not quite! We took some photos of the exterior, but we couldn’t seem to find the entrance. We spoke to the local security guard who told us it was only open from 7am until 7.30am in the morning and 3.00pm until 3.30pm in the afternoon!

We weren’t that interested! ๐Ÿค” What bizarre opening times!

With most things ticked-off on our today’s to-do list, we put on a couple of smug faces looking at our step-count for today, as well as the mileage covered…

Phew! I think we both felt every yard of our walk today! (but it was worth it!), but I do feel a McDonald’s coming on for our evening meal – purely for research and comparison purposes you understand! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Perfectly Kosher!

More photos of the holiday so far
(and none of my chat!)

The weather for tomorrow is looking damp, so we’re heading for Yad Vashem by Tram – a Museum and Monument to perpetuate the memory to more than 6 million Jews who were killed in the holocaust.

See you tomorrow! ๐Ÿ˜Š

Holiday: Israel – Day 2 (2020)

Reading time: 6 minutes...
That’ll do nicely!

Well, the forecast was a good start to our day! We slept well and headed for breakfast on floor 8 at a very relaxed 8.45! ๐Ÿ˜‰

An excellent selection to eat, setting us up nicely for the day. We set-off around 9.45am and hatched a plan to see as much of the old city as the weather (and our feet) would allow.

As the day unfolded, it was an action-packed adventure where we got a crash-course in Christianity, briefly entered the world of Monty Python, made a local taxi-driver lost for words, but most of all, enjoyed a perfect day for sight-seeing Jerusalem. ๐Ÿ˜Ž

On your marks… get set… go!

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

This was our first stop (in keeping with half of Jerusalem, it seemed!). The Church is shared by five different Christian communities – Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Coptic, Syrian Orthodox and Armenian.

If you’re a believer, then this is one of the many locations that would be on your list. We climbed ot the first floor where the crucifixion took place – The Rock of Calvary.

Inside, it was almost TARDIS-like! Each corner that we turned revealed something new (and usually very shiny!). Immediately inside however was the Stone of Anointing, where there was a queue pretty much most of the time we were there. We saw many touch the stone and then pray and we later learned, it’s where Jesus was prepared for anointing.

Just before we left, we noticed a long queue snaking around a large square construction. It was obviously popular, so we joined the masses. With the location’s equivalent of a bouncer (one very tall bearded man in black, meticulously counting us in and out, where we were let in about six-at-a-time. On entry, tt was a dimly lit space and very cramped – we could easily understand why they needed to control numbers. After some research afterwards, we learned it was the sight of Christ’s tomb – and that explained the queues.

A Candle for Denis

Our parting gesture was to light a candle for Dad/Denis whilst he recovers in hospital…

Via Dolorosa

This area is significant for Christians, known as The Path of Sorrow, and it traces the route that Jesus took carrying the Cross. Although there is no historical evidence for this, the tradition of the 14 ‘stations’ tracing trial to burial, followed by pilgrims is very strong.

Phew! I think we just had all our Sunday School teachings crammed into this morning – time for a coffee then!

Coffee break – providing you like it black and very strong!

Just before 11am, we picked a nearby watering-hole. It was a simple set-up where coffee came in a single variety! None of your ‘Snowflake’ Gluten-free Choco-mocatinos here…

“Pass the knife please…”

…it was the sort of brew that would put hairs on your chest, and then put hairs on the hairs! – it suited me, but Ann wasn’t so keen! ๐Ÿ˜Š

Freshly invigorated by the coffee, and now finding it hard to blink, we took in more of the local sights.

The smell of spices filled the air from the many shops selling their wares.

And if you like your fruit & veg fresh and as close to nature as it comes, this area was the place! Next stop…

Damascus Gate

Half-an-hour later, we’d reach our next significant landmark – Damascus Gate. The Gate (dating back to 1537 and located on the north-west side of the city) is one of the main entrances to the old city. Inside the gate, it’s mainly populated by pedestrians (and I think that’s the intention) but every so often we found ourselves dodging ‘yoofs’ on mopeds testing the maximum speed of their machines and/or local delivery vehicles cursing the fact that the pavements were full of pedestrians!

Roman Plaza

Enough of all this ‘ground level’ stuff, we wanted to see the city from a height. Luckily, they’d built the city for tourists (!!!!) and we bought a couple of tickets (costing 20 shekels, about ยฃ4.50) that lasted TWO DAYS. Helpful if you think it’s a bit of push to do the whole walk in one go. As we were to find out, splitting the adventure was a wise decision! In addition to where we purchased the tickets for the old city walls walk, there was also an opportunity to visit The Roman Plaza close by.

In truth, there’s not much to see here – it’s more of a museum – but it was old… very old, built about the time of Emperor Hadrian. Worth 30 minutes of your time for sure!

The Old City Walls

I guess for us, this was the main event of the day. An opportunity to view the old city of Jerusalem from some height was too good to miss. Initially, the weather was perfect too – dry, slightly cool, and no rain predicted at all. As things currently stand, you can’t do the whole city via the wall, there’s a need to drop-down to a Gate at some point and re-join the wall further on, but we were up for it!

However, we’d already decided that we wouldn’t do the whole walk in a single bound, preferring to spread it across today and tomorrow. Bizarrely, the weather seemed to get hotter as we walked in the noon-day sun, so splitting the journey felt like the right move.

It was all very pleasant. It’s a bit ‘up-and-down’ as you might expect. Some steps are much steeper than others, but there are handrails everywhere and virtually zero chance of losing your balance. One other point: don’t try it with a back-pack, as some of the walkways are very narrow! ๐Ÿค”

All-in-all, we spent around 40 minutes ‘up top’ starting at Damascus Gate and finishing at Lions’ Gate soaking-up the views.

We’ll do the rest tomorrow! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ Probably!

Lions’ Gate

Lions’ Gate

For Christians, this Gate wil have extra significance. It’s the start of the traditional Christian observance of the last walk of Jesus. As you exit the gate, there’s a steep(ish) incline downhill which made our walk feel a bit easier. If only we’d realised we were going to have walk back up it later! ๐Ÿค”๐Ÿค”

Straight ahead, looking down the incline, was The Mount of Olives. Still used as a Jewish Cemetery, it was an impressive sight. As we continued our descent, a local taxi-driver accosted me with his foghorn voice with talk of: “I like you Meester”, “a special price”, “trip of a lifetime” and perhaps slightly oddly – “Fish and Chips”! I think, actually, it was the sum-total of his tourist-attracting language, and he gave-up pretty quickly, after my apparent non-interest! I think I remained deaf in one ear for about an hour afterwards! Ann calmly walked past him giving him her death stare, and non-verbally suggesting: ‘No chance mate’. ๐Ÿ˜‰

We realised, as we got to the bottom of the hill, we’d gone a tad too far, so we reversed direction and headed back inside the gate and Lion Road.