Crossing into Israel was… interesting, to put it lightly. Once actually at the Israeli border, which was a bus ride removed from the Jordan exit border, the process to get into Israel was confusing, never explained, and in many ways felt like a personal attack. Luckily, the process went fairly smoothly, and I was not detained for three hours of questioning, unlike Juanita (my friend from Dahab) when she crossed into Israel. I was assaulted with questions, asked firmly and accusingly: WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE OF COMING TO ISRAEL? WHERE ARE YOU STAYING? DO YOU HAVE A RESERVATION? HOW LONG WILL YOU BE STAYING? DO YOU KNOW ANYONE IN ISRAEL? ARE YOU SURE YOU’RE ONLY GOING TO JERUSALEM? WHERE ARE YOU GOING AFTER ISRAEL? HOW DO YOU KNOW THIS PERSON IN CAIRO? ARE YOU SURE YOU DON’T KNOW ANYONE IN ISRAEL? And then, finally, OK, CAN I STAMP YOUR PASSPORT? I replied ‘Yes,’ and was through immigration. I collected my bag, and then waited for my Polish friends to also make it through. We exchanged some money, got on a minibus headed for Jerusalem, and opted to stick together. The bus dropped us off and we walked a few minutes to a cheap hostel recommended by the guidebook. It was easy to find, but once there we discovered that the prices were double what was quoted in the book. I think that what happens quite often in the case of a recommendation like this, is that the hostel knows that it has guaranteed business, so raises the prices and/or rests on their laurels, and the quality of service degrades. We decided to stay, despite having to pay more than anticipated. Once our bags were left in the room, we left in search of food. After eating, we entered the Damascus Gate into the Old City and walked around for a while. We stopped at a sweet shop, and then for coffee in order to get a well needed pick-me-up before we began the free tour that started at 2:30PM.
The tour was extensive, and we covered a great deal, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, allegedly built at the location where Christ was crucified. One dome of the church marks the spot of his crucifixion, and another marks where he was resurrected. I do not say ‘allegedly’ to cause offense to anyone, I say this because this is not the only place in Jerusalem that claims to be the site of Golgotha. We saw the four quarters of the Old City: The Jewish Quarter, The Christian Quarter, The Muslim Quarter, and The Armenian Quarter. We saw the Dome on the Rock, and visited the Wailing Wall, or the Western Wall, as it is also known. By the end of the tour, we had seen a great deal of the Old City, and it was dark out. We went for a drink with the group from the tour, and then went and got cheap pizza… there is little in Jerusalem that IS cheap. Afterwards, we headed back to the hostel and called it a night.
On Wednesday, I decided to head to the Dead Sea; the weather was poor, but I hoped to be able to swim. As I was unsure whether the weather would allow for me to take a dip, I decided that I would visit the first town on the Dead Sea, which is called Qumran. The other towns are bigger, but take far longer to get to. Monika and Gregor warned that the place where they had gone took three hours to reach, and I didn’t feel like investing that much time. I arrived in Qumran, and went to the visitor center. I toured the grounds where a great number of ancient scrolls were found, which is what Qumran is known for. I asked if I could swim, and one woman told me no. Another man told me that I could if I walked down to specific beach areas, but he told me that he thought they would be closed and the whole area would be dangerous due to the severe weather that they’d had. I was disappointed, but headed to the bus stop to wait for return bus to Jerusalem. Once back, I took the bus back to the hostel, from where I planned on getting a mini-bus into Bethlehem. The buses were a mess, and it took me ages to finally get back. By the time I finally returned, it was nearly getting dark, and I was exhausted, so felt that a trip across the Palestinian border into Bethlehem wasn’t the best idea. I ventured out in search of food, and spent a quiet night in the hostel.
On Thursday morning, I woke around 5:30AM, gathered my things and got a taxi to the bus station to begin what would prove to be a very long day of travel, with the aim of getting to Cairo. The bus left at 7AM, and headed for Eilat, the border into Taba, Egypt. The bus arrived just shy of noon, and from the bus station I got a taxi to the border, where the fun began… but I’ll talk about that in the Egypt entry.
The Damascus Gate from the New City into the Old City
The sweet shop… god, I could have eaten everything in the place
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The cross you see on top of the dome marks the purported location of Golgotha.
The Wailing/Western Wall
A view of the Mount of Olives
The Dead Sea
Egypt week one up next…