I count myself fortunate indeed to have been in two of the great cities of the world within the space of a few weeks, Rome and Jerusalem. For a man who’s not entirely enamored of travel, as I told my new friend in Jerusalem, that’s quite an accomplishment — and a blessing. I was prepared to make a travelogue of Rome, since Marcia and I went there on a long-awaited vacation. As I related in my earlier post, my trip to Jerusalem was business-related, and might have wound up being all business had it not been for my friend, who we’ll call Oz (not his real name). Oz rescued me on my last night and gave me a tour of the Old City, and an adventure as well.
Unfortunately, I didn’t bring a good still camera for this journey, having mistakenly left it in my other bag. Fortunately, Oz brought along his camera and took a few shots as we went along. I’ll pop them all into the post and provide a short travelogue. We started at the Jaffa Gate, which features the impressive Citadel, and then tried to figure out what I’d most want to see. The first choice was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Since this was after 10 pm, I didn’t expect it to be open, and it wasn’t — but I did expect to find it. It took us a couple of tries to figure out where it was, but we were successful in the end, as you can see:
The streets of the Christian Quarter were quiet. Most stores had closed hours earlier, but a few remained open, mainly groceries and an occasional souvenir shop. Families walked through the streets, which were remarkably clean and well-tended. At that time of night, Jerusalem conducts its maintenance work to avoid interfering with the tourists (or the tourists interfering with its work, whichever way one wants to look at it), and narrow trucks rumbled down the narrow stone streets. The stones that paved the streets were slippery from centuries of use, and I had trouble keeping my footing a couple of times, even with rubber-soled shoes. Christian Quarter Road was mainly flat, but as we turned right onto Al-Khanqa and proceeded onto Via Dolorosa, the streets turned into a nearly endless series of steps downward.
We entered the Muslim Quarter and turned south on Al-Wad Road, where young boys played soccer in the street while their parents chatted nearby. The Old City mainly stayed quiet until we hung a left at Al-Khadiya and made our way to the Temple Mount area and the Western Wall. As we passed through security at the entrance, we could hear a lot of celebratory noise, the loudest we’d heard during our entire tour. We came across long tables full of food and Israeli soldiers crowding around them, laughing and talking. Oz and I squeezed through the crowd, and while he may have been as tempted as I was by the delicious spread, neither of us had the nerve to ask for a plate. As it turns out, the IDF unit had just graduated with a ceremony at the Wall, a tradition that Oz explained to me when we finally made our way past the troops. They sang and ate the entire time we were there, but we just missed the ceremony; a patrol was taking down the standards and the rope line when we got to the plaza.
The wall was completely lit, and a decent-sized crowd had gathered for prayer. As I related before, Oz and I washed our hands as required and I donned a yarmulke in order to make our way to the Wall for prayer. The effect of the quiet prayers, with the IDF’s celebration fading into the background as we approached, was somehow both eerie and entirely appropriate for the occasion. After my warm welcome and my own time praying at the Wall, Oz and I took a few pictures of each other at a respectful distance from the Wall. I’ll post the ones Oz took of me:
Afterward, we walked toward the end of the complex to see the Temple Mount from the front, on its southern end. It’s dark, but the pictures still capture the beauty of the site:
These pictures came from a short piece of video I shot, intending to pull stills from the clip. I think they turned out rather well, considering. This one looks back at the Western Wall from the south. The lights of the prayer area are clear towards the north end of the Wall:
This picture shows the south end, the front of the Temple Mount:
After we took these, Oz and I decided to walk around the Old City to get back to the Jaffa Gate, since it was getting late and I needed to leave Jerusalem in just a few hours. Unfortunately, we ran out of sidewalk and had to walk on short brick retaining walls to stay out of traffic. We didn’t make it back to the Jaffa Gate, but instead caught a cab about halfway around to it and rode back to our hotel. We had a wonderful time on our all-too-brief adventure in the Old City, and I learned one thing: I will return to Jerusalem to see it all.