A Travellerspoint blog

Israel

Shabbat in Jerusalem

Last night's dinner was fun. First, the hostel people have some of the guests help with dinner preparation. It's like a free activity. Anybody who wants to participate is given a knife, cutting board, and something to cut. Then, we just all sat around a table, chopping and chatting away. When everything is done, they put it all together, set the tables, and call everybody in for dinner. One of the hostel workers lights shabbat candles, somebody says the grace over the bread and wine, and the buffet is opened. If you are looking to try the types of salads and foods that Israelis eat every day, this is a very accurate representation. If you have been here and are fed the same stuff at your work cafeteria every day, the food is less exciting, because it's exactly the same stuff you eat every day. Of course, the best part of dinner is the conversation with new friends. One of the reasons I really like to stay at big hostels with big common spaces is that I get to meet all sorts of interesting people. My roommates were all hikers who decided that their tents were insufficient in the snow. While cooking, I met a woman who appeared to be in her 60s or 70s, who was travelling on her own and had just spent 3 weeks in Morocco. I met a couple who were going to Ramallah on their own today. I met a Chinese guy who was planning trips to Iran and North Korea. And, I met a young couple who had been in the north for the past week and had met a whole bunch of people who I know. What a small world!

By the time we were done chatting, it was bedtime and I was definitely feeling all the walking I did. When I woke up this morning, I was also feeling it. My feet were not happy campers, but the roads were still full of flowing water, and in a few places, unmelted slush, so I put on my boots again. I was surprised though, because my coat was way too much. Yesterday it was snowing and I needed layers of gloves. Today, a sweatshirt was a little too warm in some places. My plan was to see the Israel Museum and Dome of the Rock, but since my bag broke, I needed a new one and the shuk was the place to go, because it was the only place open on Saturday. I entered the old city through Jaffa Gate and started looking for a cheap bag. I forgot all about negotiating and am pretty sure I insulted some guy with a price too low before finally getting something acceptable. I kept going, and eventually ended up on some empty back streets where there were almost no other tourists. It was a part of Jerusalem I hadn't been to before and was very peaceful. Eventually, I made it to some tunnel that led to Dome of the Rock. Unfortunately, it's really only open to tourists on Sundays through Thursdays, and today is Saturday. The guards told me and the other couple who had gone the same way that we couldn't go in. However, I could still get a decent view through the open door, and I didn't have to wait in a long line. It's even more beautiful up close and I can't wait until I have a weekday off so that I can visit and go inside the gates. (Non-Muslims can't go inside the building, but even inside the gates looks really cool.) Next, I saw on my map from the Hostel that there were a few sights nearby that I hadn't seen, so I decided to explore them next.

Right up the road from the Damascus Gate is the Garden of the Tomb. There are some people who believe that this is the Garden of Joseph of Aramea, meaning this is the tomb that Jesus was buried in. But, as the pamphlet they give you says, what's more important than whether this is the exact spot or not is the meaning and inspiration behind the story. The pamphlet does a good job of pointing out where things may have happened and why they think so, but recognizing that it's impossible to know for sure. Also, besides the religious significance, the gardens were pretty in the snow. Perhaps in the spring when there are flowers it would be even prettier. If you're into Jesus spots or have time to spare, this is worth seeing.

Next, up the same road, is the St. George Cathedral. It is an Anglican Cathedral, so it is much simpler than a Catholic one, but still quite pretty. The gates were open and it was very calm inside, as there was nobody there.I debated sitting down to read as it would have been a great reading spot (and my feet were tired), but kept going.

Next up the road on the map was the Tomb of the Kings. It wasn't open, and all I could learn about it is that it's French, for some reason.

From there, I passed the Museum on the Seam. It looks like a dilapidated building that's been torn apart, but the signage indicated that it was open, just not on Saturday. The building itself was an interesting piece of art, with olive trees (a symbol of peace) growing from the pavement. I'll add that to my list of things to see next time I'm around on a non-Saturday.

I walked back up Neviim street and passed a bunch of buildings that had signs on them indicating that they were something important. One was an old Children's hospital, one was something Russian, and one was Ethiopian. There was a small tour group that was stopping at each as the guide explained about them, but it was not in one of the languages I understand, so I didn't stay to listen. Finally, it started to drizzle a bit and I was by the hostel, so I went it and collapsed onto one of the couches. I wasn't quite ready to leave yet, after all, I still hadn't been to the Israel Museum. However, I also wasn't fully over the fever I had this week, had hiked over 12 hours in the past 2 days, my feet hurt, I needed a nap, and I didn't want to get back north too late. I decided that the smart thing to do would be to catch some sheiruts back instead of keeping going, and for once, didn't immediately reject the smart thing to do, but instead actually did it.

Prepping Shabbat Dinner

Prepping Shabbat Dinner


Snow all gone

Snow all gone


Shuk

Shuk


Dome of the Rock

Dome of the Rock


Damascus Gate

Damascus Gate


Garden Tomb

Garden Tomb


St. George Cathedral

St. George Cathedral


Museum of the Seam

Museum of the Seam


Russian Building

Russian Building

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

SNOW!!! in Jerusalem

Snow. In Israel, this is a relatively rare occurrence outside of the high mountains like the Golan. But, every few years, Jerusalem gets some as well.

I was planning on coming to Jerusalem anyway, but the threat/promise of snow made me want to come even more. Yesterday, they were closing the roads and then reopening them and then closing them again, so I had ot take the train in, in order to guarantee an arrival. When I got here, there was a light dusting (1 cm maybe) of snow on the ground and sticking. VERY COOL. However, that meant that most Israelis were (smartly) not driving. They don't know how to drive in the snow, so it's smart not to. There were very few cabs available at the train station and everybody was trying to see if somebody was going in their direction so they could split one, trying to see if the cab drivers had cab-driving friends who they could call to come pick people up, and trying to convince the drivers to come back after their dropoffs. Despite the cab shortage, people were generally behaving themselves and not pushing or fighting over the cabs. I got one (shared) and we got on the way to my cousin's house. There was virtually nobody else on the highway, but as soon as we got near somebody, they switched over 3 lanes and cut us off in the process. WTJ? Why would anybody on a big empty road intentionally drive near somebody else when they don't have to? And cutting somebody off in the snow? Seriously, if you can't drive in the snow, stay off the road.

I slept at my cousin's house and got up nice and early to go participate in the Women of the Wall prayer session. It was quite a trudge through the snow. About 5 inches had already built up on the ground and nobody had cleared anything. The sidewalks were no good, so the few people who were out in the street were literally walking down the middle of the street where the car tire paths were. A few streets looked as if they had been plowed, but very few. I passed a couple of people making snowmen, snow angels, or having snowball fights. It was so fun to see. When I got to the Kotel, some people had already built a snowwoman in the plaza, but it was pretty empty. I have never seen it that empty before. Also, there were more women praying than men, which is something I've never seen before. When I joined, some of the boys on the men's side shouted their standard "shut up" in Hebrew to us, but then started throwing snowballs over the dividing wall at us. I have also never had snowballs thrown at me at the Kotel before. After the first few though, one of the guards and some of the husbands made the boys stop. The service continued and there was a Bat-Mitzvah. This was the first time I had ever been snowed on during a bat-mitzvah ceremony. It also hailed a little, but the winter weather just made everything more special and unique. I am willing to bet that the number of people who can say it snowed during their bat-mitzvah at the Kotel is countable on 1 hand.

Afterwards, most of the nearby shops were still closed. I think a lot of people decided that opening late for an early close was not worth it and just stayed closed all day. I ate at the one falafel place that was open, and it was the best falafel I've ever had, probably mostly because I was so hungry from the hike through the snow.

I then wandered around the old city and towards the old train station. Just seeing the city covered in snow was gorgeous. It looks like a completely different place. I also got to see so many kids who were clearly playing in the snow for the first time. And, I got to see what passes for boots in Israel. Israeli snow boots are just regular shoes with plastic grocery bags over them. I saw so many people with grocery bags on their feet- people of all ages, ultra-orthodox and not. I can't help but wonder what kind of traction that gives them and whether it really keeps the water out or not. Plus, how do the bags not tear? Or maybe they do. In any case, it was quite the fashion.

As the sun came out, I started to notice that the sky was no longer leaking, but that the trees were. The snow was melting almost as quickly as it built up. By the time I had moved to the hostel, the streets were mini-rivers and the sidewalks were mini-rivers flowing under a pile of slush. I love the snow, but not the slush so much. I had plans for dinner, but I did want to make sure that I was good for lunch tomorrow, so I headed over to Mahane Yehuda market. Most of the stalls had clearly not even been open today, just like most of the stuff in old city. A few stalls were open, though, and I got some good deals because it was close to the end of the day. Towards the end of the day, people just want to go home, and since the bread won't be good on Sunday when they reopen, they're willing to sell it for anything. I got some reasonable deals when I first got there, but on my way out, people were shouting "1 shekel. Everything 1 shekel." I got a bag of about 10 fresh pitas for a shekel (about a US quarter). I also got some cheese from about the only place open that had it, some olives from about the only place open that had olives, and debated getting produce from one of the two produce stands that were open, but decided against it. Despite almost all of the shops being closed or close to it, there was a bar that had quite a lively business going. They were blasting music and people were dancing in the street, basically in a big shallow pool at this point. I got back to the hostel, got a little more settled, and got ready to go back to the Kotel. I had heard that there are tons of people there at sundown on Friday nights, like a big party. But ,it was pouring rain when I got to the door. I have no issues with tromping around in the snow, sliding a bit through the slush, but just being wet to be wet is not my thing. I turned right back around, ditched my wet clothes and boots, and changed into dry, warm pants and regular sneakers.

I'm here at the hostel, meeting interesting new people and waiting for Shabbat dinner. I had seen it advertised last time I was here, and was curious, so I made plans to do it tonight.

Snowman

Snowman


Kotel and Dome of the Rock

Kotel and Dome of the Rock


Old City Jerusalem

Old City Jerusalem


Old City Walls

Old City Walls


Sultans Pool

Sultans Pool


Snowman

Snowman


Israeli snowboots

Israeli snowboots


Kotel Plaza

Kotel Plaza

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

Yoga. MMMMMMM.

Yay!!! My bff's sister came to Israel this weekend! Unfortunately though, it was raining. For many Israelis, that means not even leaving the house as if they're made of sugar and will melt. For us, that just meant more indoor activities.

We started at Yoga class. We both have done what I'll call "fitness yoga" in the states. This is yoga with a lot of standing positions, yoga that focuses on strength, balance, and flexibility. This is not what we got at Prana Yoga College. The yoga there was what I'll call sleepytime yoga. Not what we were expecting, but still fun.

The entrance is a bit hard to find as it's at the back of a building. You'll know you're there by the pile of shoes out back. Enter, and the greeting area looks like it was decorated by some hippies. It's calm, and they offer you tea. They had a free class, but we took the class with live music. The class is in a back room that is also decorated in a very hippie manner- large swaths of fabric hanging from the ceiling, buddhas, Asian wall hangings. Up front, the musician was playing flute, drums, something that sounded almost like chimes, and who knows what else. The music wasn't rhythmical at all, and it wasn't workout music. It was what I'd describe as relaxing white noise. It fit in very well with the class. Mostly, we were on the mats on our backs. There was a lot of stretching. There was a lot of breathing. There was a lot of closing our eyes. We did stand up at some point, but then we did more stretching and breathing. Finally, she had us on our backs on our mats, with a pillow under our head, a log pillow under out knees, and a blanket over our bodies. We were told to close our eyes. I'm thinking naptime. It felt very slow and relaxing, if a tad boring for somebody active like me. So I was utterly surprised when she told us our 2 hours were over. It did not feel like the class was half that long, but the clocks outside agreed with her. All in all, if you're into relaxation stuff, I highly recommend this. If you're looking for a workout, not so much.

Afterwards, we grabbed a bite to eat near Dizengoff, since it was very close. There aren't a ton of places open on Saturday, but there are some. For dessert, we went on a Krembo hunt and eventually ate some while standing for cover in a convenience store as the rain had picked up a bit. During a lull, we went again exploring and found ourselves in an empty market. It was pretty interesting to see all of the boarded-up stands and abandoned displays with nobody selling of buying because it's Saturday. It's quite a different experience from during the week when the area is busy can crammed with people.

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

Rosh Haniqra

A short while ago, I went to Rosh Ha Nikra. This is a spot right on the Israeli-Lebanese border. They've got a little funicular there to take you down to the caves, and then once you're at the caves, that's when the fun begins.

In one, they have a short video that tells you the history and legends behind the caves. I found some of the terminology they used a bit amusing, but it was interesting to see. Where you watch the movie itself is actually inside of one of the caves that was used as part of the railway between Istanbul and Cairo when the British were there. However, it was sealed off at some point to prevent people from passing between Lebanon and Israel. There is, however, still evidence of the railroad.

In addition to the movie, you can explore the caves yourself. They are very pretty grottoes because they are all sorts of exciting colors. Some of the walls are purple, some are teal. All of them have nice echoes of the water lapping at them.

One thing we saw while we were there was that there was a kayak trip to the grottoes, so this weekend, we joined that: http://www.kayaksailinisrael.com/ It starts on a beach just south of the grottoes. You get all suited up and put into a 2-person kayak. After going over the basics for people who have never kayaked before, they let everybody get a little practice on the ocean and while getting to the grottoes. On the way, they stop every once in a while to regather and to share some of the history of the area. Then, they have you navigate through the grottoes while on your kayak and stop inside to tell some more history. The view from below is quite dazzling. Because you're in the water and not on the tourist path, we got to see some areas that we couldn't see the other week. Finally, we returned to the beach we started at. It was a great, energizing trip. I highly recommend it to anybody who is looking to do some physical activity (but not hard-core), while enjoying the sun, ocean, and history.

Rosh HaNikra Funicular

Rosh HaNikra Funicular


Rosh Hanikra Grotto

Rosh Hanikra Grotto


Rosh Hanikra from the outside

Rosh Hanikra from the outside


Rosh Hanikra grottoes

Rosh Hanikra grottoes

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

Bar'am forest

About a month ago, I visited Bar'am with my aunt and uncle when they were in town. We followed the map to get to the general area, and then followed the signs to what we thought was a hike that started at some ruins. We paid to get into the site and started walking around. There are ruins of at least 2 synagogues on site. There is also an old stone church, but it is still in use. At the time we visited, some sort of youth group was meeting there. We toured the synagogues and admired the old architecture, and then went looking for trails. As it turned out, this site was just the ruins. The trails start a few entrances up the road. We went on one of the trails and had a great view of the valley and some nearby farms.

This weekend, I went again. This time, I went on a different trail. Again, it was a great view. The forest provided a lot of cover, and it was a very nice walk.

Then, we went hiking at the Mt. Sne nature reserve. It was also a very nice hike and nice view. Here, they had signs indicating what a lot of the plants and things were, so if you want to get a bit educated on nature, it's a good place to go hiking.

Baram

Baram


Baram

Baram


Nice view

Nice view


Mt. Sne path

Mt. Sne path


Baram Ruins

Baram Ruins

Posted by spsadventures 16:00 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

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