Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Day 1 in Jerusalem, Jerusalem Day

I woke up at a normal time today, around 9am.  Today was a travel day, but I had no train booked, could leave Tel Aviv for Jerusalem on my own schedule.  I asked a man who works at the hostel what was the best way to get to Jerusalem, he told me to take a Sherut from the central bus station.  A person staying at the hostel also offered advice on the best way to get to Jerusalem, then he said he would join me, today was Jerusalem day and he wanted to go.

The hostel guest who joined me on my trip to Jerusalem is from Argentina, he planned to spend the day at the beach, but changed his mind and decided to go to Jerusalem for the Jerusalem Day celebrations.  He told me there would be a lot of people dancing in the streets.  The Argentine had been to Israel three times and speaks Hebrew, made the trip to Jerusalem much easier than if I had gone myself, he knew how to catch the Sherut, where the Central Bus Station was, etc. If I had gone on my own, I would have figured it out, I always do, but was nice having someone with me who knew the system, saved me time getting to my destination.  

We arrived at the Central Bus station around 11am, found the Sherut, I put my luggage in the back and found a seat.  The Sherut reminded me of the minivans used as buses in St. Lucia.  The Sherut driver waited for the bus to fill up before we departed for Jerusalem. About an hour later, we were in Jerusalem.  I went to my hostel to leave my bags, and the Argentine booked a room for Sunday at the hostel.   

The Argentine I met at the Chef Hostel in Tel Aviv acted as a tour guide, he had been to Israel before, he knows Jerusalem and how to get around the city. Our first stop after I dropped off my luggage was the Mahane Yehuda Market down the street from my hostel. We looked around the market, sampled a few things, I will have to go back later this week to buy a few things.  

Lynnae at Mahane Yehuda Market 
After the market, we went to buy lunch.  We found a Falafel place, the Argentine had been there before and recommended it, I ordered the Chicken Shawarma, it was delicious.  The Shawarma was better than the Shawarma I bought in Tel Aviv yesterday, but it sat on my stomach and zapped a good amount of my energy for a few hours this afternoon, while my body was digesting it.

We headed to Jerusalem's old city after the Shawarma lunch. From what I had already seen of Jerusalem, I preferred it to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem has more character than Tel Aviv.  Walking up to the gates of the old city was impressive, I saw the wall surrounding the city, as we crossed the intersection leading to the Jaffa Gate.   I started taking pictures, the Argentine told me it would get better as we got closer, the view did.  On our way to the Jaffa Gate a Palestinian man approached us, he invited us to a Jerusalem day event, he said it was all faiths, Christian, Muslim, Jewish. 

The Palestinian told us some of his story.  He asked me where I was from, I said Arizona,he asked Phoenix? I said yes, right outside of Phoenix, a city called Mesa.  He said he had been to Phoenix, traveled to the US 26 times, to 44 states, each time without a passport.  He said he had traveled around the world without a passport. His story reminded me of the Palestinians plight, a people without a homeland.  He has taken the Palestinian struggle in stride, is making efforts to build peace between the Palestinian and Israeli people.  

Me & Palestinian Peace Maker Outside Jerusalem's Old City
After we entered Jerusalem's old city we went to the ceremony at the Tower of David.  The ceremony was a performance by an orchestra, with beverages and the Mayor of Jerusalem had a reception line, greeting and taking photos with attendees.  I got in line, took a picture with Jerusalem's May, then sat down and listened to the music.  We all expected the mayor to give some remarks on Jerusalem day, but he did not, an usher came around and told everyone, the musical performance was the extent of the program. 

Lynnae with Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat & his wife Beverly Barkat
After meeting the mayor and listening to the performance, we walked around the Tower of David, looking at the amazing views of the city from atop some of its highest points.  We then went out and explored the old city, the Jerusalem Day celebrations had not begun yet, we thought we may have missed them.  We saw some students leaving the old city,  some people were streaming in.  The Argentine asked me which section i wanted to see, we decided on the Jewish section of the old city.

On our way to the Jewish sector, we stopped at different sights along the way, there was a church, some cafes, and other sites.  We ultimately went to the Western wall, the most sacred place in Judaism.  There was a security checkpoint to get to the wall, the instructions said one should be dressed modestly before entering.  My Argentine friend told me the customs, he said I could write something on a piece of paper and leave it in the wall, he showed me the women's side of the wall.  I picked up some of what to do by observing those around me, walk backwards as you leave the wall.  There was a language barrier between me and the Argentinean man, I interpreted writing something on a piece of paper to mean, writing a prayer, that's what I did.

Lynnae at the Western Wall
We went to a cafe in the Arab sector of the old city after the Western Wall.  We had walked a lot, it was a hot day, was time to take a break and relax, I got a lemonade icy drink.  We talked to the owner of the cafe and sat there for at least an hour I would guess.  The Argentine explained many of the Arab shops were closed, some of his explanation was lost in translation, but it comes down to the continued struggle between the Palestinians and Israelis was my take away. 

We spend some time walking around the Arab sector, taking pictures, we were waiting for the evening when more Jerusalem day events would take place.  We went to another cafe, my Argentine friend needed to charge his camera, he bought a cappuccino too.  As the sunset more and more students streamed into the old city, with their Israeli flags.  I saw groups of Black Israelis, a sight I do not usually associate with Israel, not what we see on TV in the West. 

Two Black Israeli Teenage Girls
Jerusalem day really began when the sunset over the old city, I was sitting in the cafe watching streams of young people come into the old city through Jaffa Gate. The young Israelis were chanting, flying the Israel flag, singing songs, it was a festive atmosphere. There were people of all ages in attendance at Jerusalem day, families with small children, elderly, the students seemed to be in the most festive spirit.

Israeli Teenagers Streaming into the Old City through Jaffa Gate

We went to Jerusalem's City Hall for the Jerusalem Day concert featuring singer Noa and Israel's Philharmonic Orchestra.  The crowd was singing along to Noa's music, I did not understand a word, I do not speak Hebrew but I enjoyed the music and the atmosphere   We stayed for part of the concert and then returned to the Old City for the Western Wall celebrations.

Noa & Israel's Philharmonic Orchestra 
The celebrations were winding down by the time we made our way back to the Western Wall.  There were still a lot of people dancing, a festive atmosphere, and the band was playing its last couple of songs.  I watched the celebration, tapped my foot a little to the beat of the music, I couldn't help but feel the energy in the crowd.  I took some more pictures, then we left the old city.

Israeli Teenage Boys Celebrating at the Western Wall
We left Jerusalem's Old City, my Argentinian friend was heading back to Tel Aviv, I was heading back to my hostel.  The streets were full of people leaving the Jerusalem  Day celebrations, I stopped and bought a Falafel wrap on the way back to my hostel, my hostel is a straight shot from Jerusalem's Old City, along the Tram line.  I took a few more pictures of the festivities, ate the best Falafel I have ever had and walked back to the hostel.  

I checked into my hostel room after midnight, I am in a mixed dorm, that means men and women. In my room, there are three men from Australia and me, I make it a mixed dorm. The all female dorms were full, I met a couple of the Aussie guys and they seem like nice people.  I am up and it is past 4 am in Israel, my hostel mates are out partying, I have no idea why I am not tired, it is late and I had a full day.  I am going to get some sleep, tomorrow will be more low key, I may go on a free walking tour of the city, I will definitely sleep in late, no rush to wake up early tomorrow morning. 

Day 1 in Jerusalem, Jerusalem Day Photo Album

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