I wanted to go to Jerusalem after meeting so many people in Jordan that had come over from Jerusalem saying it was a must see, especially being this close. Since I had come to Jordan a few days early, I figured I had done everything I was aiming to do, so I had 4 days to ‘spare’ where I could make the trip over. Since I was already in the south having spent the night at the Bedouin camp, I figured I could go across the easy southern border into Israel. I met a couple from France at the camp and they agreed to share a cab with me to the border, which gave me some comfort as to not knowing what to expect when doing the crossing—especially alone.
Our cab driver sped through the village and out to the main road where we were going at a great speed. We finally reached the border at Aqaba and were dropped off. Here we walked through an unassuming border control where no one else was. We literally had to ask where to pay a departure tax, because no one was stopping us from just walking through. At the end of this walkway, we were stamped out of Jordan and had to walk about 50 meters to the next entrance, which was Israel. It was crazy to see a border like this, to actually physically walk through to another country.
When entering, I was asked all sorts of questions as to why I was coming in, what I do, how my work functions, how my application on facebook works. I think they’re trying to see how I react and how detailed my answers are to know what my purpose is.
After a quick interview, security screen, stamping into Israel, we were on our way to the other side where we shared another cab together to the bus station to get to Jerusalem.
I was under the impression the bus ride was just 3 hours, but it turned out to be 5, and not only that, but it wasn’t departing for another 2.5 hours. This made me extremely relieved that I had come in a day earlier than expected, and was able to spend that time going across into Jerusalem.
The ride through Israel was beautiful as we passed the deadsea half way up, and the mountains on the side was really nice. Finally, we started having to weave through roads that began looking like a city, and I opened up my phone to see on the map where we were—the outskirts of Jerusalem.
We arrived at the bus station, and I was trying to coordinate if I could stay a day early with my Airbnb host, which was a mess, so I went to a hotel for the first night. Amazing technology allowed me to get on the light rail into the city, search for a hotel on trip advisor, book the hotel with my credit car, map it on Google maps, saw that my blue dot of current location was quickly approaching the hotel, and got off the train at the next stop to check in literally minutes after my booking. It was really impressive.
After a long day I was able to walk around a bit and get some dinner before turning in early for a good night’s rest.
The next day, I checked out and went to my Airbnb host’s place. This was an utter disaster that I won’t go into. However, I left my stuff there while I went around the old city on a free tour. The tour through the quarters was incredible, and I liked my guide so much that I opted to do the Mount of Olives tour by the same company, the same day right after this tour. The old city is a walled part of Jerusalem that exhales history at every corner. The stone streets, the close alleyways, the buildings towering around you scream history, and holy. Walking through the streets learning about various details about this holy city was a great experience. Finally, we got to see the dome of the rock, the most famous view of Jerusalem, the golden dome on the temple mount. It was exciting to see this epic view of the world’s most fought over land, land that shares the same footsteps of the most influential religions of the world.
After the tour ended, I boarded the shuttle for the continuation of the Mount of Olives tour. This tour took us to the mountainside that faces the eastern border of Jerusalem and gives you great vistas down to the holy land below. Again, there were so many interesting secrets shared as to why things were built the way they were. One of the interesting things about this mountain, the mount of olives is where they believe the return of the messiah will be, so on the hillside is a Jewish cemetery that all tombs are facing feet toward the temple mount. It’s extremely expensive to be buried here, but according to tradition, this hillside would be the first awakened. And as such, to help aide you in your walk to the temple mount, you must be placed feet first so you can simply just sit up and walk straight ahead.
After the tour, I was exhausted taking in so much information, sights, sounds, beauty, that I headed back to the Airbnb host to see if my room was ready. Long story short, this smoke filled, disgustingly dirty place was not fit for staying, so I opted to leave and he helped me find another place, thankfully. I got an apartment that was located about 10-15 minutes walk from this place, so still in a handy location, near the shuk.
I was relieved the day was over and got settled in my place and went out for dinner at some of the best fish and chips I’ve ever had, per recommendation.
The next day I spent walking around the old city again, seeing the sights in more detail. I slept in a bit just to relax from the strenuous day prior. I enjoyed my breakfast getting fresh pastries from the shuk that’s located just 5 minutes from where I’m staying. After a delicious breakfast and fresh juice, I started my way down to the Old City.
When I arrived, I made my way through the Jewish quarter with its kosher restaurants and jewish stores showcasing jewelry, menorahs, and all sorts of items used in religious activities. And within a moment, you’re in the Muslim quarter where there’s fabrics, old coins, lamps, scarves and the like. Then winding down the hill, you go through the Christian quarter finding crosses, religious paintings. It’s really a journey through religion all the way down to the temple mount.
I had been told time and time again I needed to wake up really early in order to have an opportunity to visit the temple mount. And what I’ve learned before, is mostly, things are not always as people say. So instead of waking up early and making myself tired for the day, I decided to do my own pace, and find myself down at the western wall, witnessing all sorts of people celebrating bar mitzvas, praying and nodding while verbally saying various prayers. I donned my kippah and wrote my own prayer to place in the wall. The men and women are separated at the wall, and there were all people from the spectrum. Westerners, jews, tourists, alongside one another while the ultra jewish wore traditional clothing. One thing I saw that I’d never seen before is little boxes that they would wear on their heads and arms, where the leather straps would literally tie around their necks and down their arms. Apparently there is a written prayer in these boxes that they are constantly reminded of by having it tied to their heads and arms.
After a little visit, I noticed people going up the wooden bridge to the temple mount, so I asked where the entrance was, expecting to see a horrendous line. To my surprise, it was completely empty, if not eerie, walking through this little wooden structure up above the western wall into the temple mount, a place that jews do not dare enter as it’s completely controlled by the muslims.
This was extremely surprising to me, as I was under the impression that the whole reason there was a conflict was about this area, it being sacred, if not a crossroads of religions where only jews got to visit. But to the contrary, it seems to work well. The muslims are the only ones allowed to enter the mosque here, and the jews view themselves as too impure to visit the rock which lies beneath the mosque, so it seems like a win win. What I didn’t know is all the struggle, strife, and reason for conflict that simply lies just miles away to the east.
Afterward, I went to the ticket office for the tunnels of the western walls tour. I got my ticket for later in the afternoon, and came back and had the most amazing tour of all the tunnels underneath the old city that showed the amazing structures beneath the city during the other temple periods. Our tour guide Alex, was amazingly informative.
That night, I went back to the old city to look at the night light celebration. They had erected all these various light structures around the old city that had paths that you could go and see the old city lit up at night. It was really beautiful.
The last day, I decided to head back early in the morning in case I had any trouble at the border. After careful consideration, I opted not to go through the King Hussein Bridge back across, which is the closest border, yet the hardest border to cross for various reasons. So instead, I went 2 hours north through the Sheik Hussein Bridge crossing over.
After the two hour ride on the bus from Jerusalem, we were dropped off with other soldiers in the middle of nowhere, however, in this nowhere was a McDonalds. It was crazy, the building didn’t even look open, it looked abandoned, but it had the golden arches above. I saw another westerner and decided he was probably going for the border as well, so we met up and had lunch together.
Neil was studying for his PhD on various middle eastern issues, and he was a wealth of information about the current situation in Israel/Palestine. He was really informative and nonjudgmental for my questions, so I’m thankful for being able to have someone that’s very knowledgeable that I could ask. Fluent in Arabic, French and Hebrew, he proved to be very handy throughout the entire process leaving Bat She’an down to the border, leaving Israel, riding the bus to the Jordanian border, and then getting us a taxi for our ride back to downtown Amman.
While we were inside Jordanian immigration, we met up with another foreigner who was going to down town as well, so we all went back to Amman together, sharing the costs which was great.
That night, I went to a great café for dinner, and ended up spending all the money I’d saved from sharing transport on some great new shirts :)