A Travellerspoint blog

Israel

Jerusalem

Upon arriving in Jerusalem, I went straight to the hostel. Jaffa Gate Hostel has a great location for those visiting the Old City. It is right inside the Jaffa Gate at what I'd consider the beginning of the "tourist zone." It has hot water and is cheap (like 1/10 the price of the hotels next door.) Those are the reasons I decided to stay there. However, I probably wouldn't stay there again.I can't speak for all rooms, but mine had a serious moisture issue. The walls where the stone had been covered were peeling. The shower was so moldy I was glad I had shower shoes, or I wouldn't have used it, but not so moldy that it was worth finding another place to stay since it was late at night. The room had one light, which meant being able to see while showering or using the toilet was a bit disturbing to any roommates that were sleeping. It was a very short walk from the hostel to the Kotel (Western Wall). I enjoyed the ability to sleep in an still be able to make it to Rosh Hodesh services on time. The whole purpose behind my trip to Jerusalem was to pray at the wall with the Women of the Wall. Click the link for more info, but the short (and over-simplified) version of the story is that the Orthodox Rabbanut has decided that they own the wall and don't want other types of Jews to practice their traditions at the wall unless those traditions are the Orthodox ones. This meant women weren't allowed to pray out loud, put on prayer shawls, or read from a torah scroll. Women are currently allowed to pray out loud and wear prayer shawls, but they still can't read from a torah scroll. For me, the most exciting part of the prayer session this month was that there was a separate group of Orthodox girls praying and signing out loud, and even dancing. Last year, that would have been unheard of and looked down upon, if not vocally booed. Due to the work of Women of the Wall, there were men on the other side of the gender partition who were participating in the service with the girls. Everybody was praying peacefully together as is their tradition. Fabulous!

From there, I wanted to go to the Dome of the Rock. However, it was shut off to the public. The police presence was stepped up, maybe because it was the week of Jerusalem Day, maybe because it was Friday, maybe for some other reason, I don't know. There were Israeli police blockades all around the area and they were only letting in people who were there to pray.

So, instead I wandered around the market, visited the Lutheran Church, and then made my way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is supposedly the place where Jesus was crucified and is buried. It is huge and beautiful, with many different chambers to explore. For those with asthma or other breathing issues, be aware that the main chamber is thick with incense and might cause lung problems to those who are very susceptible to those types of issues. The main chamber contains something important where people were lining up to visit. I didn't have a tour guide to tell me what it was, but it was clearly the centerpiece. The side chambers each had extravagant altars where people could pray and light candles, but they weren't so extravagantly covered that the stone didn't show through. Without a guide, there's about 20 minutes of wandering you can do, and then there's nothing else to see. Probably next time, I ought to figure out what's what before I go or listen in on one of the tour groups.

From there, I walked down Via Dolorosa. This is the route that Jesus supposedly took with the cross. There are several different "stations" along the way that are labeled with numbers. Each station is where a different specific moment during the walk with the cross took place. For example, some of the stations are the places where Jesus stumbled. Others are places where different people interacted. They were relatively easy to follow through the market, and I saw some tour groups that were stopping at each one. The market it walks you through is very much a tourist souvenir market. If you're interested in buying religious items, shawls, candle sticks, antiquities, and items made of silver, this is the place.

I exited old city through the Damascus Gate to head to the newer part of town, and was stopped by a police blockade. They were happy to let me out, but I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to get back in to get my stuff. They assured me I'd be fine, so I went and then came back by the Jaffo Gate. I didn't have any problems, just as they said. I was tired and thirsty, so I actually stopped just inside the Jaffo Gate where some guys were selling fresh juice and a lady was playing harp. Lots of people were stopping to listen, but I don't know if it was because they were tired and hot and wanted shade, like me, or if she was actually good.

I dropped my stuff at my cousin's house, and we headed out to the Mahane Yehuda Market. The market is not a touristy souvenir market like the market in the old city is. It is a food market that is completely packed on Fridays because everybody is preparing for Shabbat. By the time we were there, prices were dropping by the minute as vendors were trying to finish their sales and go home. This is where locals go to find incredible cheeses, ripe berries, and fluffy challah. I wasn't hungry, but am easily tempted by all the bakery stands. I ended up having a delicious nutella pie and some knaffe. When we were done buying food for dinner, we headed in for the night.

Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Church of the Holy Sepulcher


Damascus Gate

Damascus Gate


Lutheran Church of the Redeemer

Lutheran Church of the Redeemer


Market

Market


Inside Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Inside Church of the Holy Sepulcher


Main area of Church of Holy Sepulcher

Main area of Church of Holy Sepulcher

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

Manara Funicular

Today, I took a drive up to Metulla, a point that is right on the Lebanese border. In fact, there is a nice lookout point where you can see into Lebanon with your bare eyes. I was enjoying the view and just chilling there, when a bunch of people came to have a loud ceremony, so I left to find another quiet place. Just past Kiryat Shmona, I saw signs for a funicular, so that's where I went. Manra is actually a very interesting place that I need to go back to with friends sometime. It's sort of like an active amusement park. They had trampolining, mountain biking, a climbing wall, some sort of go-kart rollercoaster, a bunch of hiking trails, and the funicular. I just rode the funicular all the way up. For those who don't like heights, this might not be for you. However, for those who like seeing towns and farmland from above, you would enjoy it. At the top, there is restaurant, snack shop, and some nice places to sit, as well as some trails. I just chilled and enjoyed the scenery for a while, before heading back down and heading home.

Metulla

Metulla


Manara Funicular

Manara Funicular


Manra funicular fun area

Manra funicular fun area

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

Be'er Sheva Science Park

We went to the Beer Sheva science museum. The museum has two parts: inside and outside. Because it was hot, we started with the inside part in hopes that the outside would be nicer more towards evening. There are several floors of displays, all of which are in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. The English has some misspellings and awkward sentences, but was generally very good. The museum covered a wide variety of topics from simple machines to nuclear medicine. The only display that I found to be a bit biased or less-than-scientific was the agricultural display. Otherwise, the content was accurate and clear. In general, the displays were video or audio and seemed very computer-based. Unfortunately, there were very few displays where you could just walk up, figure out how to use them, and see science without a lengthy introduction. Most were unnecessarily digital and complex and the "digital" part didn't always add anything. On the other hand, once you were willing to listen to a long explanation, many were games you could play with another player. Of course, if you went by yourself, there were many exhibits you couldn't use without asking a stranger for assistance. We also saw a "laser lab" demo. It was a good introduction to some light concepts, but I think it was mismarketed. If they called it a demonstration, I'd say it was an excellent demonstration. As a lab though, I'd expect it to be hands-on and experimental, and it was neither. Outside, most of the displays were large, playground-style, interactive displays. These were much better, in my opinion, as you could just walk up to them and intuitively know what to do without an explanation. Several were "team" activities where you really needed at least 3 people, but there were also several you could do by yourself. If you've got a day to kill in Beer Sheva with multiple kids, especially ones who are more interested in listening to digital audio, playing on computers, and watching tv than science, this would be a good, educational activity. For people who love more traditional hands-on science museums, I might skip it unless you have nothing else to do or are really interested in paying a lot to watch science movies.

Inside Beer Sheva science museum

Inside Beer Sheva science museum


Beer Sheva Science Park

Beer Sheva Science Park

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

Lag B'Omer pilgrimage to Mt. Meron

Lag B'Omer is a Jewish holiday that falls in the spring, 33 days after Passover. (Lag means 33.) It is the only day between Passover and Shavuot where joy is allowed. Of course, why joy includes weddings and shaving your beard to the super-Orthodox, I don't know. What I do know is that one tradition for Lag B'Omer is for hundreds of thousands of people (mostly Orthodox Jews) to visit the tomb of a famous Rabbi (Rashbi, which stands for Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai) in Meron. Most of the Israelis I asked about going said that it was a crazy idea and that I'd have to be stupid to go. However, none of them had ever been, so I decided that they didn't really know what they were talking about and that it would be a great idea to go. The first part of my journey was just figuring out how to get there. The only information I saw on the internet was that police were going to turn away all private vehicles and that only buses were allowed. Otherwise, there were no special bus schedules I could find. So, I just went to the central bus station in Karmiel to wait for one of the regular buses to Meron. The adventure began there. There was a large group of Orthodox Jews also waiting, but not as large of a group as I expected. When the bus to Meron came, it looked relatively full, but there were a few seats left. The driver let someone off, and did not open the doors to let anybody on- big mistake. The Orthodox men stood right in front of the bus and wouldn't let it leave. So, the bus driver started to back up to go around them. They then followed the bus back and stood right at the front of it, their own little protest. The bus driver was not happy, and after a short shouting match, called his boss. Meanwhile, some of the Orthodox also pulled out their phones to call someone, and the poor passengers who were already on the bus were further delayed from their destination. Eventually, after at least 10 minutes of arguing and phone calls, the bus driver relented and allowed some of them on, but of course more wanted on. It took a guy in military uniform physically barring them and a woman on the bus shouting at them that there was no more room to get the incoming flood of people to stop. It was quite the scene and I wanted no part of it other than just laughing. The bus left. Each bus that arrived, the Orthodox flooded the driver and asked if he was going to Meron. In one case, they even tried to bribe a driver to take them to Meron, even though his line went nowhere near there. Finally, a correct, but full bus arrived and they flooded on. At the same time, a different bus driver arrived with a relatively empty bus and I finally made it on to a bus, and even got a seat. Meron is only a few minutes from Karmiel, so it was a relatively short and uneventful ride. There was a bit of a delay as there were several private cars that were trying to get past the police checkpoint, despite the "buses only" signs. The buses let us off at the entrance and then the real fun began. Everywhere, there was a flood of people. Unlike the angry people arguing to get there, these people were joyous. As I walked the streets, I saw people singing, dancing, and praying. There were street vendors selling everything from shawls and light-up toys to bibles, ritual hand-washing cups, and portraits of famous rabbis. Everywhere I turned, I saw action, hubub, and excitement. I wandered up the hill, from whence a stream of humanity was flowing. Despite going in the opposite direction as the mass, I wasn't particularly jostled, and people were certainly allowing me to move in that direction. The building containing the tomb is at the top of the hill. Just outside the tomb were throngs of people praying and lighting candles. Just a bit past it is a large plaza where hundreds of men were dancing to loud, upbeat music as hundreds of spectators enjoyed the sight. Of course, I wanted to join in the dancing because I think doing is more fun than watching, but I also recognize that just as not everybody gets to march in the thanksgiving day parade in New York, not everybody gets to dance in the plaza for Lag B'Omer in Meron. Either way, I enjoyed watching the bonfires blaze, the dancers dance, and listening to the joyous music. It was pretty much impossible not to be uplifted by the energy and happiness that filled the air. Past the plaza, people had set up a kind of "tent village." There are pilgrims who come well before the holiday to Meron, and they made their own place to stay. Some of the tents were traditional camping tents. Others were more like frames with blankets. Some even had furniture in them! The plaza and tent village marked the edge of the festival activities, so I turned around and headed back down the hill, stopping to check out several stands along the way. The only negative thing I have to say about the festival itself is that there weren't nearly enough trash cans for the amount of people handing out fliers. The streets were coated in papers like it had just snowed information.

I also wasn't super-pleased with the organization of the buses outside the festival. There was no signage telling people where to go. The cops and guards kept giving out misinformation. It took me quite some time to finally figure out where the buses were actually loading. However, the nice thing was that all buses were free, and they were running a lot of shuttles to Karmiel. Apparently, if I had gone to the other side of town (by the BIG center) instead of the main bus stop, I could have gotten on one of the regularly-running free shuttles to Meron. Good to know for next time. Usually it is less then 20 minutes between Karmiel and Meron. It took us more than that just to get out of the parking lot. However, once we did, it was a relatively quick ride. I was all the way home around midnight.

Crowd at Meron

Crowd at Meron


Men dancing by the tomb

Men dancing by the tomb


Campsite area

Campsite area


Praying at the tomb

Praying at the tomb


Blocking the bus

Blocking the bus


Candles at Meron

Candles at Meron

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

Intro and catch up

As I was looking for information on the internet and couldn't find it, it occurred to me that other people may be interested in knowing about the "weekend warrior" trips I take locally. Most are hikes, but I do other stuff sometimes. Here are some of the places I went before it occurred to me to write this up:

Mt. Tabor: On Mt. Tabor, there are two monasteries and a bunch of hiking trails. One of the monasteries has a church that we went to see the inside of, and the other was closed. The trail we took circled the mountaintop and had great views. It was short and easy. At one point, we stopped where we could see the valleys below. In the book of judges, Deborah tells the Israelites to gather here to defeat an enemy army. From the point we stood at, we could see exactly what armies would have been where.

Kursi: Written in the new testament is a story about how Jesus took some devils, put them into pigs, and then herded the pigs into the Sea of Gallile. At the point where that supposedly happened, some men built a church, long ago. Today, all that remains are some ruins with mosaics. At the entrance area, you can see most of the ruins, as well as a "sand writing" device. If you take a short walk up the hill, there is also a chapel to see.

Golan: From a kibbutz, there is a steep path that leads down to some water. Most of the hillside is covered in cactus, and it is not a shady walk, but it is still pleasant.

Nevoraya: This is a forest area with a lot of hiking trails. The trail we took was relatively easy, although it could have been quite long, if we had time. It was extremely empty, maybe because it was Saturday, but we saw almost nobody else during our hike. The only place we really ran into people was at a frog pond. This pond was near a spring and there were hundreds of frogs in a tiny area. At the entrance we parked near, stand the ruins of an old synagogue.

Montfort: The English left their mark on Israel, just like all of the other colonialist powers that held the land. One piece of their legacy is a fort called "Montfort" and the nature in the surrounding area. They brought trees that weren't indigenous as well as animals. As a result, there are British fish in one of the streams nearby that is shaded by British trees. We took a path along the stream that did not go to the fort, but instead to a spring the fed the creek. There is even a little water hole where you can take a dip and have the British fish swim around you. If you're not squeamish and you sit still, they'll even come up and peck at your feet. The hike was steep in places and was a very pleasant hike, but there were a lot of people on the trails.

Cows in Nevoraya

Cows in Nevoraya


Frog Pond

Frog Pond


Nevoraya view

Nevoraya view


Nevoraya synagogue

Nevoraya synagogue


Mt. Tabor monastery

Mt. Tabor monastery


View of Kinneret

View of Kinneret


Creek by Montfort

Creek by Montfort


Golan hike

Golan hike


Golan hike

Golan hike


Golan Hike

Golan Hike


Kursi Monastery

Kursi Monastery


Kursi ruins

Kursi ruins


Words in Sand

Words in Sand

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

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