Jerusalem Day 4

Tue, 24 Jun 2008 04:55:53 +0000

Jerusalem Day 3 Index Jerusalem Day 5

Today was a far more successful day than yesterday's debacle. I think I've finally got the hang of Jerusalem, after four days' work. It was a struggle, but I got there in the end.

The most important thing I wanted to accomplish today was visiting the Temple Mount. There seemed to be two schools of thought as to when exactly it opens: either 7:30 or 8:00. So to be on the safe side I turned up at 7:30. Nope, no go. So I went to the Jewish quarter to get a bagel. See, this in itself represents progress: with half an hour to kill, I know how to get myself breakfast.

At 8:00 I was back, and this time the gate was open.

To get to the Temple Mount as a non-Muslim, you go via the Morocco Gate, which is inconveniently placed in the middle of the Western Wall about three stories up, going nowhere in particular. To make it reachable, a wooden walkway has been erected leading down from the gate through the plaza and to one corner. I thought the entrance to the walkway was inside the plaza itself, i.e., past all the security. But it turns out the walkway goes further than I thought, outside the plaza, and has its own security. Makes sense I guess. Incidentally, you get a great view over the worshippers at the Western Wall as you go through, although I didn't feel it was appropriate to stand there gawking at them.

And there I was, finally, in the noble sanctuary. One of my fellow tourists got pinged for wearing shorts: I almost made that mistake myself, before thinking better of it. So I was free to explore. The place is actually extremely beautiful and peaceful, at least at that time in the morning. Not too many tourists about, lots of empty space, lots of trees. A great contrast to the claustrophobia of the old city.

The al-Aqsa Mosque isn't all that much to look at, despite its importance. The Dome of the Rock, however, is a real work of art. I especially like the short rows of columns at the cardinal points. They really offset the dome itself and add to its grandeur.

For some reason though, it was the third landmark that really interested me: the Golden Gate. This used to be a city gate, but was closed up by the Muslims because it's reserved for Mohammed's triumphant return to Jerusalem.

You can climb onto the battlements around there, but I don't think you're supposed to, since shortly after I'd climbed down another group of tourists got shouted at for doing the same thing. I don't think I desecrated anything, it's just too dangerous for tourists, since there's no guard rail.

So having done justice to the temple mount, I wandered back. On the way, I happened to pass the church of the holy sepulchre again (you can never find it when you want it...) Since there were now lots of tourists milling about, I thought I'd pop in to see what tourists are supposed to see. There seemed to be at least a couple of services going on. But it's hard to tell the difference between a pilgrim and a tourist, so I still wasn't clear who was having a spiritual moment and who was merely sightseeing. I took a few extra photos anyway.

I went back to the hostel to put on the laundry and have some breakfast. Then it was off to the tower of David museum. It's a fairly small place, and the emphasis is on explanatory panels and dioramas rather than artefacts. There was an introductory video, in cartoon form, giving a potted history of Jerusalem. I thought it was a bit wrong that they mentioned the Crucifixion, but not Mohammed's Night Journey. They gave the impression that the city is only holy to Muslims because they built some mosques here. Favourite quote: "The city was now holy to three religions, a flattering but rather dangerous situation." Yeah, too right.

The view from the battlements of the tower is excellent, and the ruins inside are pretty spectacular too.

The tower dates from Herodian times, although the upper part is Ottoman. The other hightlight of the museum is the model of 19th century Jerusalem, built for one of the world fairs. It's had some adventures since then, being lost in various attics and warehouses until being rediscovered in 1984. It's pretty good, and it's especially interesting to see how the Western Wall was obscured by the Moroccan quarter.

Back at the hostel, some excellent news: my Tanzanian rail ticket has finally turned up courtesy of DHL. Not only that, but my long lost memory card, with all my music and TV shows, is here too. It's not quite a substitute for my lost hard disk, but it goes a long way to restoring my comfort level.

For lunch I stopped at a tiny caff-looking place that seemed to serve an interesting pastry concoction. I ordered one with spicy sauce and egg. It turned out to be very greasy and sloppy, and not at all easy to eat without distributing bits everywhere. I've had it once, and now I never need to have it again.

Next up was the archaeological park next to the western wall. Getting there meant a walk through the jewish quarter. On the way, I turned down a passage I'd never turned down before and found a few ruins I'd never been able to locate before. In particular, the cardo, the remnants of the major Roman thoroughfare through the city. It was a long, straight, broad road running the whole way through the city, and I can't help feeling a little wistful that such an easy-to-navigate thoroughfare doesn't exist today. It'd make Jerusalem so much easier to navigate.

But then on to the park. At first it didn't look like it would have much to offer. The underground part mainly contains more panels and a few bits and pieces of artefacts. There's also several video presentations on offer, including a big one consisting of a historian pretending to be an ancient Hebrew pilgrim performing a sacrifice in the temple. It's only after you get out of that bit that it gets interesting, as you explore the ruins around that corner of the Temple Mount. In fact they go on for ever, with the occasional spiral staircase allowing you to descent into lower and more ancient levels of city.

There are huge piles of stones from the walls of the temple, still lying where they were left when the legionaries knocked them down. And although the film earlier was a little naff, it was kinda nice to recognise locations from the film and instantly know what they were used for two thousand years ago.

On the way back I thought I could stretch to getting myself some sweets from the Muslim quarter. I ended up getting some ludicrously cheap cake from a stall. It was completely soggy with syrup, and I had to suck it up more than bite off chunks. Very nice though.

I had an important task to do this afternoon: figure out what to do next. I plan to cross the border into Egypt at Eilat, but I'm not sure whether I should cross the border and stay overnight in Taba on the Egyption side, or stay overnight at Eilat and cross the border and take a bus to Cairo in one day. Wikitravel isn't much help in this regard. So I think I'll assume the worst, that I'll have to stay overnight both in Eilat and in Taba. I have plenty of time. In fact, I have so much time, that I decided to spend an extra day in Jerusalem tomorrow. I don't plan to do much, just relax and prepare myself for getting back on the road.

For dinner I decided to see what the jewish quarter has to offer. The answer is, surprisingly, not much. There were pizza and burger joints, but that's not much of a Jerusalem experience. I eventually found one crappy place offering "meat on the grill": basically, it did kebabs. But one option was a pile of evil-looking black meat products that had some gutteral name I didn't quite catch, so obviously I went for that. It was good, but I really wish kebab sellers wouldn't try to overstuff their pita bread so much. Pita bread just can't hold more than about its own volume of filling without cracking open and dribbling grease everywhere, and I can't understand why kebab sellers don't cotton on to this fact. I wish I hadn't worn my white t-shirt today. I got away with only a few small stains, but as a meal I can't call it an unqualified success.

Jerusalem Day 3 Index Jerusalem Day 5