Wednesday, 6 November 2013

The Smiths in Israel Part One: Jerusalem!

Israel was, in a word, amazing. It was a place I had wanted to go since my Dad started travelling there for work over 10 years ago, and he promised to take me one day. As a non-religious person, I've always been fascinated with different religions, and so interested in experiencing a place like Jerusalem, where three of the major religions of the world come head to head on a day to day basis. I've wanted to float in the Dead Sea, where it is impossible to sink. I've been excited to see a country that is less than 100 years old - but at the same time, one of the oldest in the world.

So when my parents decided Dad would take me to Israel to celebrate my 25th birthday, I was over the moon. But it was ten times better than I could have ever imagined - probably partially due to my lack of knowledge about the area (so American, I am).

When we arrived in Tel Aviv, it was to a beautiful sunset. Dad and I drove our cute little Hybrid rental car to where we were staying. My parents surprised me with a gorgeous two bedroom flat, with a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean Sea! The flat was so fantastic, and it was a surprise to me that Tel Aviv is on the sea, and not just any sea - the one that Sarah was on the other side of!!

The first day we were there, we went swimming in the sea, and Dad re-taught me how to body board. When we caught a wave that unceremoniously dumped both of us headfirst into the sand, we decided we'd had enough! We went for a morning stroll along the beach front to the old town of Jaffa. Jaffa is 3500 years old! Once we arrived, we went for lunch in the first of many delicious restaurants my Mum had looked up and recommended. In the 35 degree heat, we had delicious calamari, salads, frozen drinks, and I introduced my Dad to halloumi! We then rented bikes and rode back after exploring the town and old port.

The next day we headed an hour on the motorway to Jerusalem. We entered through Jaffa Gate, and climbed to walk around the walls of the city. There were some incredible views up there, and we got to see the city from above. We passed schools of waving kids, nuns hanging their washing to dry, and mosques, synagogues and churches.

The walk ended at Damascus Gate, which is the entrance to the Muslim Quarter. We walked through the old market streets - this was my favourite area of Jerusalem, I think because it was the most authentic. Most tourists don't go to these streets, but they are really missing out. Stalls of spices, friendly Arabic people, and hole-in-the-wall schwarma stands - we had one of our favourite meals here.

We then headed to the Wailing Wall, or technically the Western Wall - this was something I've wanted to see for over ten years. It was just as majestic as I'd imagined - I went into the women's side and marveled at the spectacle. Ladies sobbing and rocking back and forth, praying next to the wall, because its the closest they can get to the Muslim-controlled Temple Mount. I came prepared with my own wish to put into a crevice of the wall, and got a nice tourist to take a photo of me touching the wall without disturbing any worshipers (the first Westerner I asked said she wasn't good at taking photos so wouldn't do it for me).

My Dad had to wear a yamaka to enter his side, which was just adorable.

We then went on a fantastic underground tour of the old city - the Wailing Wall is actually only one third of the Western Wall of the original boundaries of Jerusalem, but thanks to build up over the centuries, it is the only bit that is visible above ground. The history down there is incredible, and I definitely recommend doing the tour if you visit!

We were lucky enough to catch the two hour completely un-signed window that the Temple Mount is open to the public - after a 30 minute wait, metal detector and patdown, and photo ID check (thank goodness I had my paper temporary driver's license!) we ascended, where we promptly found out that Dad's uncovered knees were not acceptable up there. Dad had to purchase a pashmena, which was stylishly fashioned into a skirt. That's fashion, people.

The Dome of the Rock was just absolutely beautiful. The thousands of blue and intricate tiles, the huge gold dome - just amazing. Such a shame only Muslim people are allowed inside to see the actual rock, but it was fantastic to see it from the outside. Dad and I pulled our usual maneuver when told the time was up and we had to leave - said 'oh, okay yep on our way' then sped off in the other direction!

Afterwards we again wandered the endless market streets, and after a refreshing DC break, got ourselves to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This is Jerusalem's Christian headquarters, as it's on the location where Jesus Christ was allegedly hung on the cross, laid down afterwards, was buried in the cave and rose up afterwards. All conveniently in one little space! So as such, there were tons of Americans - it was like Harrods in Knightsbridge up in there! People were kissing the slab of wood and hole where the cross was, and it was a huge grand church - though, when competing with the Dome of the Rock, it could have been more extravagant!

The next thing we knew, they were stopping everyone from leaving - we rushed upstairs to get a good view of whatever was about to happen. The head of the church came in with some very important-looking people. Two of the crowd below got really excited (the rest of us were just perplexed) so I ran down to find them after we were all let go. Through very broken English, and the lovely excitable woman getting shushed by a church official, we learned that it was the 'Greek Barack Obama' - the Prime Minister of Greece making a national visit! It must have been very cool for them, as we would have FREAKED if we saw Obama there!

We decided we'd seen enough of Jerusalem for one day, so we left the old city and found a lovely cafe to recharge with foccacia bread and a beer while watching modern Jerusalem go by.

Finally, we got the car and headed up to the Mount of Olives to catch a view of the city at nighttime. This was one of the scariest things we did all trip - the Israelis are crazy drivers, and this drive included a three point turn on a VERY busy road, a two way street that had only enough room for one car at a time and was ALMOST COMPLETELY VERTICAL, ridiculous traffic, people walking out in the middle of the road for no reason, and my Dad doing a donut in a car park to try to beat a coach to a parking spot. White knuckled moments for sure!

But the terror was worth it, as the city truly looked stunning from above just after sunset.

On our way home, going through a town, the hundredth man who crossed the road with no warning smiled at us and waved as he went past, as if he was sense our panic. But hey, Dad managed the whole trip not hitting one person - and only swiping two car mirrors haha (with no damage caused!).

I'm going to have to split this post in two because there was just SO much to write about Jerusalem! Tune in next time for the Dead Sea, Masada, Haifa and the rest of our holiday!


  1. Excellent adventure - can't wait for Dad to win the lottery so that Sarah and I can experience Israel first hand! ;D xxx

  2. It looks so beautiful over there, for years I thought I would never want to travel but in the last 5 years I have had a bug to travel... I just need to start saving :)

  3. Looks amazing but I have to admit that I had myself in giggles thinking that where you said Jaffa Gate I read Jaffa Cake..... Hysterical images in my head..., apologies.
    Lovely post ;)

  4. Lovely post and it looks amazing there ....


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