Thankfully today was the day we got to leave our hotel in the Dead Sea- we almost left last night but we toughed it out. We gathered some food for our stomach and began the 2-hour trip to Jerusalem. The drive continued to be pretty and we were very thrilled to have virtually no traffic as we made our way from Point A to B today.
We parked the car right next to the Jaffa Gate of the old city and as we were walking to the gate, stumbled upon one of our favorite activities- a free walking tour. We determined that we had enough time to participate and ended up getting paired with a Jewish couple from East Cobb (ATL) that was putting on lots of pressure for Debbie to move to ATL (it was very funny).
The tour guide was great- we made our way through the four quarters and learned a little bit about each as we wandered throughout:
- Armenian Quarter- We started off our tour in the Armenian Quarter. We learned that this part of the city was actually the oldest and that they were the first country to convert to Christianity (vs. town, village, etc.). While it may be the smallest of the four, its stature as the oldest gives it some unique value.
- Jewish Quarter- We moved next to the Jewish quarter and saw the remnants of some of the oldest parts of the city. We saw the old main road from over 1600 years ago and could see the row of pillars on one side that were still somewhat maintained. We also learned that a large portion of the section was relatively new (built post 1970s) after Israel reclaimed part of the city in the War in 1969. We also made our way by the remnants of the first temple (1000-585 BC) as well as the 25 ft high wall that used to exist to protect it.
- Muslim Quarter- The biggest of the quarters and home to 60% of the 35k residents of the city. Ramadan had just started yesterday so it was very interesting to be walking through the quarter where so much was closed during the day but so much was there to speak of the events of each evening when the sun goes down and the daily fast ends.
- Christian Quarter- We really focused on visit on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which, not to my surprise, was likely not covered during my Birthright trip 10 years ago. Traditions say that Constantine’s mother (Helena) built a church in this location as she apparently discovered the cross that Jesus was crucified upon and wanted to build a church to recognize this.
We really appreciated that each quarter truly had distinct and different architecture- we may not have noticed it had it not been pointed out but once you knew to pay attention, it was very clear.
After the tour ended, we made our way to grab a quick bite to eat before meandering down to the Western Wall. We were able to navigate from the Jaffa gate there all by ourselves, just with a little overhead signage and actually remembering what the roads looked like from 10 years ago.
Being at the Western Wall today, the eve of Memorial Day, was very fascinating. I suspect that the crowds were lower because there was an extensive and intense set-up going on for the ceremony physically located 20 yards away from me was a few hours later. After paying our respects and saying our prayers at the wall, we went back through the old city to do a little shopping before making our way to the vehicle.
The following few hours were among the least favorite of the trip. For those that know me well, I aim to live my life around avoiding car traffic and today, we failed badly. The 70 minute drive took almost 2 hours and then to return the car 1.8km past the hotel took another 15 minutes when you could’ve walked it at that pace if you had a hot wheels vehicle.
Thankfully, we were able to get through this painful experience, albeit, a long time later. After walking back and checking into the hotel, we grabbed a quick snack at the lobby bar before heading out to join Debbie’s cousin for the Memorial day remembrance service.
While we couldn’t really understand any of the words that were being shared either by the video stream from where we’d stood just outside the Western Wall or the stage just in front of us, there was something very special about being in a square with thousands (I don’t think tens of thousands but who knows) of people observing something together. It was very chilling when the crowd sang Hatikvah and could probably be heard across the country.
We didn’t stay for too long as it goes late into the evening but were happy to be a part of the Memorial Day observance and the Independence Day starting tomorrow night. We jumped on some electric scooters and made our way back to the hotel and called it a night.