Jerusalem Day 5

Tue, 24 Jun 2008 04:55:54 +0000

Jerusalem Day 4 Index Jerusalem Day 6

After enduring three days of other people's sabbaths, today was mine. I took it easy today.

I started off the day with breakfast at a cafe just next to the hostel, which I'd avoided up till now because they didn't seem to have an English menu. But I pointed and said "one of those", and got a pastry cheese thing. Probably of the same ilk as the one I had with egg and sauce yesterday, but somewhat less crammed full of stuff. It still spread flakes of pastry everywhere.

The only bit of touristing I had planned for today was visiting the Israel Museum. It's being completely rebuilt and almost all of it is closed until 2010, but what the hell, I thought I'd give it a go anyway. Also, getting there requires a bus journey, so that would be a fun little challenge.

And the bus journey was indeed something of a challenge. I endured the security queue to get into the station (and yet, plenty of conscripts carrying M16s were allowed in, so you have to wonder what they're checking for). But after a lot of wandering, I realised that you only go inside for inter-city buses. Local buses leave from outside. I had no idea which direction I was supposed to go, and the first bus I got on turned out to be going the wrong way. Eventually, I found my way onto the correct bus.

The museum isn't a building but rather a "campus", on the hill next door to the Knesset's hill. Given that almost all of it is closed, I thought the 42 shekel entrance fee was a bit steep. That does include an audio guide, though. I like audio guides: you can switch them off.

The first thing I went to was the model of second temple-era Jerusalem. It's a massive thing, maybe ten metres across, built of rock and stationed outdoors. It's also highly speculative. Oddly, the speakers on the audio guide seemed a little snooty about this: "We assume that this is why the builders of the model put David's tomb here, although there is no evidence whatsoever to back this up". It also flatly contradicted the film from yesterday in a couple of places. Given those caveats, it was pretty nice to see Jerusalem laid out so clearly, and get a taste for life in that era.

The second piece that was still open was the "shrine of the book", which is where they keep the dead sea scrolls in the possession of Israel.

It really is meant to be a shrine to the Torah, rather than just a museum. I find that a little odd, since these are the apocrypha of a cluster of Jewish heretics rather than the canonical Hebrew laws, but they are the oldest copies of these books in existence. The Isaiah scroll certainly is pretty impressive. But actually the Aleppo codex, also stored in the shrine, has the more interesting history. They're still looking for a bunch of missing pages from the codex, a situation that unfortunately reminded me of the BBC looking for the missing episodes of Doctor Who. Sublime, meet Ridiculous.

Having done those two bits, the remaining pieces of the museum were "discovery centres" and exhibitions of modern Jewish art, none of which I really felt needed to be visited. So I got on the bus back to the station.

I bought my ticket to Eilat. I've decided to go via the Dead Sea and have a go at floating in it, if I can. That may prove challenging, since I'll need somewhere to shower afterwards and somewhere to lock up my bag. I'll also want to at least partially dry off my wet clothes on a rock or something. If I can't find these things, I'll content myself with photographing the thing.

I had a couple of things to buy, and I'm quite pleased with myself for finding them. I got a cheap pair of thongs, which look like they'll be lucky to last the rest of the trip, but are necessary for the Dead Sea because of the sharp salt crystals. I bought a clip for my handbag, which is important to guard against pickpockets in Cairo. I got a padlock, which may be useful to keep my bag safe tomorrow. And I got yet another replacement pair of sunglasses, because I dropped my current pair and the frame broke. I think that's now my sixth pair of the trip, averaging about EUR 3 a pop.

For dinner I went to the Arab quarter and found a decent-looking restaurant. I got some meat on skewers, some salad from the salad bar, and a plate of hommus with flatbread. I think that was my most representative and successful Jerusalem meal yet, and for once I didn't make a mess trying to eat it.

So tomorrow I finally leave Jerusalem. I've been here a long time, and haven't done all that much touristing, but I'm satisfied with the visit. In the meantime, Dad tells me that the bishop of Sydney and friends have chosen today, on the Mount of Olives, to split the Anglican church. Presumably they felt Jerusalem was such a potent symbol of the benefits of sectarianism and fundamentalism (and Belfast and Beirut were already booked out). How depressing. This city is probably the least welcoming place, I've visited, which is a pity, since it has so much to offer. I haven't seen the half of it. But I'm glad I spent as much time here as I did.

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