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One final visit to the Wall

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Not quite such an early morning – but a really interesting one which started even before I had really left the hotel. The Sephardic House is extremely well situated for a quick stroll down to the Wall. Strange how, biblically, … Continue reading

An early start on the Temple Mount

I had promised myself an early start and that’s what I had – breakfast at 7am and straight down to the entrance to the Temple Mount aiming to beat the tourists on the first day access was possible for a week. That worked and I was among the first up the ramp. But I was disappointed! I had hoped for the kind of activity I had seen there in June: men sitting in small groups, reading the Koran together, but there was just one man going through the ritual of prayer. And, periodically, the skies were grey! It didn’t augur well.

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Praying at Haram-al-Sharif

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The Dome of the Rock

It’s not even possible to get unusual photographs of the artwork as all the tiles are above shoulder level, so I wandered around the outer walls after I had finished getting the shots I could, only to be met a security officer resting under the trees near the Golden Gate telling me that this area was out of bounds to tourists. I thought it was quiet! ‘Now you know why’, he said!! However, I had a couple of views of the Dominus Flevit chapel as I walked and it was good to see the Mount of Olives at its best.

Saddest, I think, was that only Muslims are allowed access to their places of worship for fear of attacks. I saw no such reaction in the Christian or Jewish holy sites, though I’m sure they could equally justify such an action.

Walking across to the Lion Gate I arrived at the Via Dolorosa, near the Church of St. Anne and walked along gently hoping to find groups carrying a cross. I found a photographer carrying two!

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Crosses to be carried by tourists

Just before the turning to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre I was hailed by a shopkeeper who declared himself English and said he worked for the Qatari royal family. It made me wonder how many other shopkeepers here lead double lives! I chatted to him again later in the afternoon. I wonder how serious his offers were!

Midday seems to have become a time when I have needed to kill an hour or two in the hotel either writing this blog or enjoying a siesta but then I’ve gone out again about four and that’s when I’ve caught some of the interesting moments at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, so today was my last visit there- last afternoon visit at least! We’ll see what tomorrow morning brings- maybe I’ll go back.

On my way back to the hotel I had stopped at Joseppe’s weaving shop again. The lady serving there was a great model!

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Traditionally dressed to sell traditional clothing

At the Church today was a large group of Coptic tourists, covered in white cotton they filled the courtyard and were greeted warmly by the of other denominations.

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pilgrims

So back to the hotel via the Armenian Quarter and a slight detour to the room of the Last Supper and King David’s Tomb. Once again approached by a man full of stories I let him show me around and was glad I had done as he had a few insights that were new to me, including the origin of the symbol I have wondered about.

David’s Tomb is a traditional synagogue hewn from the rock. Walking back towards the Old City though I noticed the pockmarks in Zion Gate: result of the War of Independence.

A pizza in Hurva Square and I was ready to collapse. Just a few more hours to enjoy the city in the morning and then it’s home to the rain!!

 

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Another day in the maze of Jerusalem’s Old City

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I remember my mother, having read the diary I wrote during my first visit to Jerusalem in 1978, saying, ‘It feels as if you’ve been somewhere special’. She was a gifted singer one of whose favourite sacred songs was “Holy … Continue reading

There’s still more to see (or see again!)

I’m old enough to have to look at photographs I’ve taken each day to remember the order in which things happened – for example I forgot to tell you that on my first venture out of the hotel I found a jewellery shop called Moriah where they take bits of the Temple Rock from excavations and make stunning pieces of jewellery: maybe a tree of life pendant or a map of Israel shape with a diamond placed exactly where Jerusalem is. What’s not to love about such an original idea from such a special place?!

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‘Take a Piece of Jerusalem Home with You’

In some ways this third day might be considered a waste: I wanted to get to Damascus Gate to see what the markets were looking like and back to the pottery – the latter would be done on my way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for the processions in the late afternoon. So I set out along the Cardo and made my way through the Muslim souk – also hoping for photogenic groups on their way to the mosque for the festival celebration. Most Muslims really don’t like having their photo taken but on this trip, as in June, I’ve found one or two willing to cooperate. A few have wanted photos with or of their children. And then there’ve been the NOs!

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A typical ‘No’!

But no threat of No from those in the souk when I was looking down at them or from the Orthodox Jew on his motorised scooter who simply isn’t aware of the camera.

Better luck in the souk, though with the man in the coffee shop telling me all the problems in the Middle East were my fault because I happen to be British – but that Trump is worse than the Brits were….and another who was sitting reading the Koran despite the activity around him.

and, of course, the market traders:

All before coffee and strudel at the Lutheran Hospice and a view of the rooftops from its roof.

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Then back to the hotel for a breather before what was to be an inspiring afternoon.

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The courtyard was fairly quiet when I arrived and my eye was drawn to a conversation taking place in one of the corners: a tour guide was getting very animated in describing the importance of the place to his clients. The crosses behind him made it particularly noticeable.

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Moving inside I was struck by the fact that the church was busy but the steps up to Golgotha were shut off and a somewhat ferocious young man was shooing everyone away saying ‘closed for half an hour’. Caught on the quiet and asked politely what was going on he explained that there was about to be a procession: the daily procession led by the Catholics was about to move through. Later, I was to see them at the Tomb.

A little later, the Armenians came through, equally impressive sounds and more impressive garb. The colour in these image doesn’t really do justice to the spectacle. They need some work!

For me, what was most important was to hear the church resounding with unaccompanied chanting so right for the environment and to hear praise being offered in a place so redolent of a museum and yet central to the faith of so many.

I wish I could easily bring you those sounds!

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Walking the Old City

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One of the things I love about the Old City of Jerusalem is its size: it’s easy to get everywhere and the longer you walk the more shortcuts you find. Apparently Thursday and Monday are the busiest days at the … Continue reading

Back in Jerusalem (so soon!!)

Had you asked me in May whether I expected to return to Israel after my June visit, I would probably have said ‘No’, but then I found a project to work on and decided that, to get the bee out of my bonnet, I needed to return sooner rather than later. Fares were reasonably priced and there were a few clear days in the diary, so here I am enjoying the delights of the Holy City again.

I decided to stay in the Jewish Quarter and that’s one decision I have not regretted. Within a couple of hours of surfacing after a five hour middle-of-the-night flight I met Udi, the first boy to arrive in the Old City after the ’67 war. He is now an artist who trained in Edinburgh and runs the ‘Blue and White’ Gallery in the Cardo: I recommend a visit if ever you’re here for both the art and the chat. You can find out more about the gallery at¬†http://www.blueandwhiteart.com/wp/

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Udi working in his gallery

And then there was the young man named Josepe who was taking down the sign for his specialist weaving shop because he didn’t like it! His shop held a wide range of tallith made to traditional designs but would also work to order.

Walking through to the Christian Quarter and David Street I was not surprised to find myself outside the place where I seem to have eaten falafel every day I was in Jerusalem in June: so did so again! Because I had been able to get into my room very early it was almost lunchtime anyway and I was ready for something: overnight flights to Israel, whether BA or El Al come with dinner at 11pm but no breakfast! Not even a wake-up coffee.

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Lunch

I could tell I wasn’t going to manage much more but did make my back to the Sephardic House where I am staying via the Western Wall – it’s such a magnet to me! There I had another interesting conversation with a black American lady who asked me to take her photograph. She said that, as a Christian, she believes we are called to pray at the Wall as it is the most sacred place in the world. ‘To Jews’, I said. ‘No, to Christians, too’ was her response. I DO find it has an attraction but really only because of what it has witnessed, not because of what it is. She wanted me to take a photo of her hand writing a prayer which she would then place in the Wall.

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Writing a prayer

Families were arriving with the ubiquitous buggy and rather more children than might be considered the norm in the UK these days -but it’s always good to see how often it’s the Jewish father pushing the buggy and controlling the little ones.

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Then it was up the steps past the Wohl Museum to the hotel and another rest!

There’s always something to see along the way. On this occasion it was beggars, a busker, a crazy Australian trying to convert everyone to his weird ideas and not wanting me to sap his energy by taking his photo and a couple of budding Rabbis having a seemingly intent conversation at the end of the school day.

 

A short trip to Petra and Wadi Rum

When I heard that friends who have lived in Israel for three years hadn’t been to Petra, just across in Jordan, I was keen to have them visit before returning to the US in July, so agreed that during my visit before they left we would do a short trip.

We left Even Yehuda where they live near Netanya before 3am and drove south to Tel Aviv where even at that time there were many room lights on in the Hilton where paid public parking is available. We parked easily and made our way the few hundred yards to the pick up point and waited with about twelve others. The bus arrived and we were away: still not really having a clear view of what lay ahead in the sense of times and opportunities.

It was still dark when the bus left Tel Aviv at 4a.m and most passengers managed to catch a few additional hours sleep as we sped south through the Negev desert to Eilat and the Yitzhak Rabin border crossing into Jordan.Instructions were clear, bags were unloaded and we walked towards the border where we were led through the formalities on the Israeli side and set on our way into Jordan – a walk of maybe 100 metres – where the Jordan tour rep was ready to see us through the Jordanian formalities.

The information about what cash is needed at the border is confusing: initially it looks as though you need $60 for a crossing fee. You do. But you also need $65 for the Jordanian visa fee if you are staying overnight as we were. Some of the group showed quite a high level of distrust when the Israeli accompanying us asked for their money, which was both unnecessary and unfair as it was clear in the literature that money was needed. However, they may have been sold their tickets by an agency and not looked at the online information. Traveller’s tip: Aways ask about border costs!

Although the bus was crowded the journey south had been smooth and painless. The hardest part of the day was waiting on the Jordanian border while our passports were taken away and checked and before we could get moving towards our destination. Time passes so quickly when you are waiting to get somewhere!

Finally, the formalities were complete and we were walking (bags ‘n’ all) to the bus which would transport us to Petra.

Our first and only stop was at a view point overlooking the African Rift Valley – looking less fertile here than in Kenya where we had seen it earlier in the year.

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Forget geology: there are puppies!

It was almost midday when we arrived in Petra and we had to wait for Nizar to pick up the tickets – three different groups comprising 54 people. We thought it would have been good to separate the two day visitors so that they could enjoy a rather more leisurely experience, but as it was everyone was together until we were dropped at Wadi Rum at about 7p.m. – just in time for the sunset!

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Petra’s smart new visitors’ centre

From the new visitors’ centre and ticket office there’s a (mainly) paved path to the Siq: the famously narrow entrance to the ancient city deeper in Wadi Musa. The fact that workers sought the shade indicates the ferocity of the heat – over 40C at the stage!

Tourists in large and small groups – even individually – oohed and aahed at the towering rock formations and, indeed, at the work of those ancient craftsmen responsible for the carvings.

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First glimpse of the famous Treasury

And then there was that first, fleeting, sight of the Treasury in the bright midday sun before the gradual reveal of its grandeur.

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The Treasury

It’s really difficult to get close to see the detail of the work when the open area is full of tourists, guides shouting to be heard over the chatter or gather their group together, children screaming and animals making whatever noise is appropriate to them! It’s essential (for many!) to take a selfie with this famed backdrop of course – even better if you’re on the back of a camel.

Walking past more ancient tombs and the colonnaded street we came to the sandman ¬†creating images of the desert in bottles using different coloured sands. He showed us how to make the camel shape and get its legs the right length. I thought of how many things I say I must get rid of at home and didn’t buy anything!

Two more stretches of caves and we reached the amphitheatre, roughly hewn from the rock and largely unrestored but still impressive and, for me, somewhat reminiscent of Caesarea forty years ago.

Our short visit was nearly over. There was no time to discover the church and the town square so we made our way back to the Treasury where we had decided we’d take a carriage ride back to the Visitors’ Centre rather than walking two kilometres uphill in the heat on the uneven surfaces. By the end of the journey at least one of my companions was wondering if that had been the right decision: it was a bumpy ride!

The picture on the right above gives a pretty good feeling of what that ride was like. Our Tanzanian drive across the Serengeti to find the honey badger had nothing on this!!!

And so we were back at the entrance. The workers were still finding shade.

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Sitting in the shade avoiding the afternoon sun

And we had been ‘on tour’ for twelve hours, in the heat, and had still not eaten lunch. That came next before the drive south to Wadi Rum.