Day 2 in Jerusalem: Making Wishes Under a Black sky
On my second day in Jerusalem I finally went on the free walking tour of Jerusalem’s Old Town.
The weather was hellish still. It poured with rain for most of the day and it was freezing. The sky was as dark as the ace of spades all day. The tan I had worked so hard to get quickly turned into wind burn. My shepherd skin, double layered fake Ralph Lauren hoodies and Adidas gym trainers were the best protection I had against the elements.
I walked with a few others from our hostel to the meeting place by Jaffa Gate. Our guide was a local called Danny and he was excellent. Just like Jerusalem itself, there was a mix of nationalities represented in our group and I quickly became friends with two girls, one from England and another from Germany. First matter of business was a group photograph. Not only did I not get to hold the sign but I ended up at the back partially obscured by someone. Clearly I am still bitter about this. First time in my life I have ended up in the background of a photo. My fake hoodies too fabulous f0r you Sandeman?
The Old Town of Jerusalem is incredible. Within the walls lies a labyrinth of different religions. While looking at a statuesque church you can hear the Muslim call to prayer while men in traditional Jewish wear walk past.
First stop on our tour was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Ordinarily during the tour you would view the church from the outside but as the weather was so bad we got to look inside – score! This church is an important Christian pilgrimage site as it is said to be where Jesus was buried. One girl asked if Jesus was still inside the tomb and everyone laughed. Danny explained that Jesus was obviously not still there as he had risen again. I whispered to the girl that I was wondering the same thing. Everyone else must have studied for this tour or were doctors in religion. They all nodded along as Danny spoke and asked well thought out probing questions. I wished I had paid more attention in R.E and hoped no one asked me any questions. The church is also home to the Stone of Anointing which it is said to be where the body of Jesus was prepared for burial. I watched people kneel and kiss the stone. I was shocked to see people putting their shopping bags and other belongings on top of the stone too. It happened a few times. I wonder if people were blessing objects inside the bag? Seemed a disrespectful way to treat an object of such important historical significance.
Next up on the tour we paused outside a white home painted in brightly coloured markings. Danny explained that this meant someone from the family had visited Mecca. I had never heard of this tradition before and the pictures looked so pretty and created a carnival like vibe. Going to Mecca is a great honour for a Muslim and I think this is a lovely way to celebrate the event.
We stopped for some street food. I was eating a freshly cooked breakfast pizza when a woman from our group who I had not spoken to walked right up and took my picture without saying a word. It was uncomfortable. Somewhere out there a stranger has a photograph of me shovelling carbs into my wind burnt face. “She must think I’m Britney Spears” I said to my new friends.
We walked to the Western Wall, more commonly known as the Wailing Wall. To enter the tunnls that lead to the wall you and all your belongings have to go through an x-ray machine like at an airport. Security was extremely tight that day as I later learnt that there had been clashes between some Muslims and Christian tourists that morning. Apparently it is not normal to see soldiers in riot gear. The strong military presence in Jerusalem is intimidating but obviously deemed necessary. I had seen the Wailing Wall on television before and it was not how I was expecting it to be. It is much shorter in person and sectioned off from the rest of the town. The women and men are separated, with the women using a much smaller section of wall. People write notes and place them in the crack of the walls. I didn’t hear any wailing but there was a lot of silent rocking. I wrote my note and stretched on tippy toes to find a spot to squeeze it in. I didn’t want to disturb anyones praying so I didn’t loiter by the wall for long. I don’t identify myself with any one religion. I pray to whoever will listen.
It is incredible how the different religions fit into such a small space. To get to the Dome of the Rock, where the Muslims believe the Prophet Mohamed ascended to heaven, you have to enter by a wooden bridge located over the Western Wall. With people’s passion for their own religion and intolerance of others it is inevitable that problems will forever occur in this over cramped area.
After a walk through the Armenian Quarter we concluded the tour at the Tower of David. I had heard of Sandeman’s before and always presumed their free tours were a scam. I was proven wrong as the tour really was excellent.It is a brilliant way to get a feel for a new city. Danny was never biased by his own religion or politics. He was knowledgable and an excellent speaker. He only mentioned tipping once and he never took us anywhere he could have got commission from. By the end of the morning I was much more knowledgable about the history of Jerusalem and had ticked off many of the important must see sights. And I had made FrIenDZeeeezzzzz!