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.