up until today, we’ve had a bit of a relaxed schedule here in jerusalem. we’ve been waking up fairly late, and since the sun sets really early here, we’ve also been ending our sightseeing fairly early. although we’ve seen quite a bit of the city by now, there’s so much to see here that we still have a lot left. so today, we actually wrote down a schedule of things we want to see, set our alarm, and got up early. we groggily stumbled out of our hotel and went to the first part of our plan: the dome of the rock. the hill where it is located has a lot of religious significance… it is the hill where abraham was going to kill his son isaac, it is the hill where the second main temple of judaism used to sit, and it is the hill where mohammed went up to heaven. currently there is a huge courtyard on it with a very impressive looking mosque covered by a golden dome. unfortunately, non-muslims aren’t allowed to go inside the mosque, but we did walk around the courtyard for a brief time until we were kicked out.
our next stop was the mount of olives. this is the mountain where christians believe that jesus rose from the dead. also, at the bottom of the hill was the garden where jesus was betrayed. after checking it out, we started the long steep hike up the hill. finally, exhausted, we got to sit down and enjoy the view for a while. a huge section of the hill up there is covered by a jewish cemetary. jews believe that when the messiah comes, all the dead will rise and go to mount moriah (the temple mount) to bejudged. so, if you get buried on mount of olives, you’ll be one of the first people in the queue. unfortunately, this cemetary has gotten some serious damage during all of the wars that israel has been through. it was really sad to see lots of tombstones smashed to pieces, garabage everywhere, and everything in total disarray…
after scrambling back down the hill, we walked in to the city through lion’s gate and followed via delarosa (the alleged path that jesus carried his cross down on the way to his crucifixion). the via de larosa has 14 stations where certain events happened to jesus (for instance, he met his mother, or he fell, etc) and each station is marked with a number until you end up at the church of the holy sepulchre where there are the last 4 stations. this church is quite breathtaking inside. lots of gold ornamentation and tons of fancy lanterns and incense holders all over the place. people all around us were on their knees praying, holding each other, practically crying. old ladies walked by clutching candles, father’s down on their knees showed their children how to cross themselves. it was quite a sight, and in a way i felt really awkward being there just to check it out and take photos.
Station of the cross number 4
the next thing on our list to see (after mac and cheese at the hotel!) was the damascus gate. this is one of the more interesting gates leading into the city. to get to it, you have to walk deep into the muslim quarter and it is what separates old jerusalem from east jerusalem which is the mainly muslim section of the new city. the muslim quarter is definitely the most bustling quarter. people are everywhere, it’s crowded and hectic, everyone’s yelling and selling something whether it’s vegetables, sweets, clothes, or whatever. it’s defintely a real change from the mellow and fairly tranquil christian quarter or the serene jewish quarter.
the last thing on our schedule was to go see the holocaust museum, but unfortunately we didnt have time, so we’ll have to see it another day. after taking care of some errands, it was time to eat. seeing as we were in israel, we had really hoped to eat at a place serving jewish food. unfortunately, for some bizarre reason, unlike middle eastern food which was everwhere, jewish food was practically nowhere to be found. we had heard about this one place online, but when we went down there, the menu was actually not inetresting, and they were not very friendly to us. so, we left and were super disapointed.. we would never get our jewish food! well, after spending quite a bit of time searching for something else, we somehow randomly stubled upon a jewish restaurant/deli! this place was semi-famous, and the people had first opened it in 1759 (in another location). so we went in and the food was really really good!! great matzo ball soup, tons of fresh meats… we ate so much, that we barely survived.
as if we hadn’t woken up early enough the day before, we woke up even earlier today. natasha had told us to go see Masada, which is this awesome overlook by the dead sea, and the best time to go see it was during sunrise. so we rented a car the night before, set our alarm for 3am, and when the alarm went off, we barely managed to peel ourselves out of bed. Masada is actually not that far from jerusalem, but unfortunately, the lady at the rental place told us that we couldnt take the rental into the west bank (which ended up not being true) so we had to make this enormous loop and ended up not getting to masada till way after the sun was up. we were so pissed that we had gotten up so early for nothing, but the view from masada was still really really cool! this area has been called the grand canyon of the middle east, and the terrain is awesome. also, randomly enough, after walking around a bit we started hearing loud trance music… tuens out some people were setting up a sound system and stuff for what looked to be an outdoor rave!! so random!
after hanging out for a bit, we set off to go see the dead sea. btw, driving the rental car around was really fun. i havent driven my car in over three months, so the couple of times that we’ve rented a car out here, it’s really been exciting. plus, it’s just fun to drive around a foreign country. driving in each country is really different, and it’s kind of a little adventure to drive anywhere. we soon got to see the dead sea, and then descended down the road till we were at about 400 meters below sea level… the lowest point in the whole world (that isn’t underwater). near the dead sea, there were all these evaporation ponds and you could see these huge piles of salt and mineral deposits.
we kept driving and eventually got to a place where you could go swimming and had shower facilities etc. apparently, although the dead sea water is extremely good for your skin, if you dont wash it off immediately, it can be extremely harmful. so, finally we got to swim in the dead sea. it was sooo cool! now i always wondered how big of a deal this dead sea could be.. i mean, yeah sure, you float on the surface, but dont you float on the surface of any body of water if you lay back? what’s the big deal?! well, when we got in, we could instantly tell that it really was different here. if you lift your feet off of the ground, they instantly bob upto the surface all on their own. it’s actually difficult to pull them down. it was a really really bizarre feeling to be floating there. so much fun! afterards, there is this mud nearby that you are supposed to rub all over yourself cause it’s good for your skin. everyone was walking around over there, and putting mud everywhere till they looked like freaks. we decided, why the hell not, may as well be dorky and go do it as well…
after the dead sea, we drove back to jerusalem. on the way, as we drove through the west bank, caryn pointed out all these sad pathetic looking “homes” all over the hills. these homes were totally shanty towns, a bunch of sticks propping up a sorry looking excuse for a roof, with a bunch of clotheslines outside. it was prety depressing to see that people out here were living like this. from what i’ve read, a lot of palestinians cant really get any work, and the work that they do get, is mostly manual labor, dishwahsing, and other crap jobs. we wondered to oursleves just how many people out here live like this…. *sigh*. the more and more i learn about the palestinian/israel situation, the more it seems like a never ending horrible shite situation. the palestinians live w/ crap jobs, and no homeland, and the israelis live in constant fear and have to have constant vigilance. what a life. israel is such a fascinating country… so much natural beauty, religious monuments, modern technology, vibrant cultures on one hand, and yet so much conflict, strife, danger, and fear on the other.