2018 was a busy old year. After starting it with four months travelling around South East Asia, we then managed to make our way to Europe for the end of summer, spending a great month or two in the Balkans before settling down in our new home in London.
Before the year was out though there was still time for one more trip; a whistle-stop nine day adventure through Israel & The Palestinian territories, starting with a few days in Jerusalem.
The Road to Jerusalem
The thing I feared most prior to our visit to Israel was travelling through Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, which has the reputation of being one of the most challenging airports in the world to get through.
Based on what I’d heard, I was expecting airport security to detain everyone on our flight for several hours of questioning before we were allowed in the country, particularly if we had plans to visit the West Bank (which we did). However, we cruised through seamlessly, with airport security deciding against giving me a full cavity search. This probably wasn’t a bad decision considering how much food I put away for Christmas Dinner three days earlier.
Israel doesn’t have a great deal of friends across the world at the moment, so thankfully it’s been common practice or a while for visitor’s passports not to be stamped; we were given a blue piece of paper on entry and a pink one on exit. As a result, there is no proof at all that I visited Israel or the Palestinian Territories….well, aside from the 1,000 photos on my phone, two dozen instagam and facebook photos, five blog posts, and large ceramic chip and dip bowl with ‘Made in Palestine’ on which is sitting on my kitchen table….
The Old City
The Old City of Jerusalem is as good a place to start as any. Despite only being a kilometre square in size, this area is a hugely significant place for Jews, Muslims & Christians alike, with many religious sites impeccably preserved thousands of years later, and pilgrims of each faith generally worshipping respectfully side by side.
The Old City is divided into four quarters, with the Jewish, Muslim & Christian communities taking the main three slices of the pie. Seemingly nobody knew what to do with the last bit so it was given to the Armenian’s, who, a bit like the younger of four brothers in the bedroom lottery, only ended up with about 10% of the space.
As you’d expect with any Middle Eastern old city, the centre is packed with cobbled streets, markets, and the sweet aroma of spices.
Temple Mount / Dome of the Rock
Temple Mount is arguably one of the most significant religious sites that there is. For Old Testament fans, it is said to be here where God gathered the earth to form Adam. Within Temple Mount is the Dome of the Rock, which must be one of the most photographed buildings in the world! Inside here is the Foundation Stone; where it is said that Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac, and that the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. Pretty cool.
Temple Mount also contains the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which is one of the oldest in the world. Muslim’s take this area pretty seriously; we got told off a few times for standing too close together (‘No touching!’) or for speaking too loud; there’s a large armed presence here as well as this is a spot that has seen demonstrations in the past.
Mount of Olives / Garden of Gethsemane
Just outside of the old city to the East of Temple Mount is the Mount of Olives. There were a number of cool churches in this part of town including the Dome of the Ascension (said to be where Jesus ascended to heaven), Tomb of the Virgin Mary, and Church of Mary Magdalene.
There are some pretty spectacular views in this part of town into the old city, with the iconic Dome of the Rock never far from view.
Rounding things off in this part of town is the Garden of Gethsemane, famous of course for being the spot where Jesus is said to have appeared to Mary Magdalene after rising from the dead.
The Church of the Holy Sepulctre
Back inside the Old City in the Christian quarter is the Church of the Holy Sepulctre. This was a place that I didn’t know much about prior to the trip so I was pleasantly surprised.
As well as some amazing architecture, this is the spot that many believe that Jesus was crucified, buried and rose from the dead.
The photo below is believed to have been Jesus’s tomb; as expected the queue’s were pretty hectic but it was definitely worth the wait! A real mind-blowing spiritual experience.
The Western Wall
Also known as the Wailing Wall, the Western Wall is right next to Temple Mount. This ancient wall has been around for thousands of years, and usually has a large number of pilgrims praying, reciting scripture or entering their prayers into the cracks of the rocks.
Fascinatingly, this is right on the border of Temple Mount, so within 100m of devout Jews worshipping at one of their most sacred sites, you’ll be able to find devout Muslim’s at the Al-Aqsa mosque worshipping at one of their most sacred sites.
Tower of David (Citadel)
The Tower of David is huge, and is one of the first things that we saw on entering the Old City through Jaffa Gate. Apparently, this once belonged to King Herod a couple of thousand years ago, and I reckon he’d have had a decent view of the City from up there.
About twenty minutes out of the city is Yad Vashem, which is the Jewish Holocaust Museum. There are so many artifacts here that it takes three to four hours at least to go through the museum. Due to the sensitive nature of the topic, photo’s weren’t allowed in most of the museum, but rest assured that it was an eye-opening day.
Overall, Jerusalem was one of the most culturally rich cities that I’ve been to. Regardless of what faith (if any) you choose to follow, you can’t help but be impressed by how well preserved a lot of sites are here and how much history there is. The food and hospitality was on point as well – a great first impression of the Middle East!