We have been in Israel over a month and have hardly been out of Tel Aviv. There are centuries of history here just waiting to be explored and we are finally ready to head out looking for more adventure. We sign up for a free tour billed as New Jerusalem Tour. After an 8am sculling lesson we take the one hour express bus to Jerusalem’s central bus station. We have done minimal research on this city but are ready to just feel our way around and explore. We walk from the bus terminal heading for the Mehane Yehuda market which is popular with locals and tourists alike. The markets more than 250 vendors sell fresh produce, fish, meat, nuts, spices, wines, liquor, clothing and more. The color and bustle of the market place is accentuated by the vendors loudly calling out their prices. There are also many restaurants and bars mingled among the stalls. The market used to be heavily guarded because of several terrorist attacks during the second Intifada. The last attack was in 2012. We did not notice any security.
We stopped for lunch at Lucy’s Ethiopian Restaurant. We opened the front door and entered a very dimly lit room with only three people sitting at tables with no apparent wait staff. We chose our own table and waited. Someone, presumably the chef and waiter, finally came and asked for our order. No menu, just vegetarian or beef. We opted for vegetarian. While waiting for food Jim got up and helped himself to a couple of Ethiopian beers and opened them with a bottle opener sitting on the bar. The food was good but we have had better in Ethiopia and even in Boston.
After lunch we had another hour to wander the city which we found to be surprisingly beautiful with a modern overlay on very old buildings. In contrast to Tel Aviv which is so new and utilitarian, Jerusalem is very old with a much more European feel.
We met up with our tour group at the Jaffa Gate and discovered to our surprise that this was going to be a tour of the old city. Oh well, every time we go out it turns into an adventure. Our guide is Allan and when he starts to talk he has a Scottish accent. He is wearing a Yarmulke though and not a kilt so it should be an informative tour.
After a brief introduction we proceeded through the Jaffa gate and into the old Holy City where we visited the Jewish, Armenian, Christian and Muslim quarters. Everything is very old with the exception of the Jewish quarter which has mostly been rebuilt since 1967.
It was abandoned after the war of independence in 1948 and then resettled and restored after the six day war in 1967. The restoration and subsequent archaeological excavations exposed artifacts and structures that date back 27 centuries.
The population of this quarter is almost entirely religious, split between orthodox and ultra-orthodox in their black frock coats and top hats. The highlights of this 2.5 hour tour was viewing the western wall, aka wailing wall, walking through the Arab shuk and viewing the church of the Holy Sepulcher. While viewing the western wall we were also amid a group of people setting up for a surprise marriage proposal.
Going through the shuk was very reminiscent of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.
While standing in front of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in a tiny plaza we were surprised to have a tractor and trailer drive slowly into the crowd and on into the church, part of ongoing renovations.