We had left the night before Jerusalem purposely free - and experiement for my overly organized self to find comfort in NOT having every detail planned. We had thought we would look for somewhere in the Galilee, but then thought we would get closer to Jerusalem so we could start on the city as early as possible. We hadn't had enough of the Mediterranean yet, so we settled on Ashdod, especially when Frommer's suggested the best seafood restaurant - Idi's - was there. We really like this city. It felt full of energy, and we enjoyed walking along the beach. But where are the hotels? We just assumed that they too, would be along the beach, but we couldn't find them. Finally a kindly local directed us to one, emphasizing that it was a place to spend no more than a night. He was right, it was kind of "modest", but then again, we appreciated the 300 shekel price. Idi's I thought was good, but wouldn't rate in the best, but then again I'm still in the glow of the meals we had at the Auberge Shulamit in Rosh Pina. We want to go back there again and see more, especially since there seems to be some good archeological digging going on (as if that is unusual for Israel!)
Driving into Jerusalem was not nearly the nightmare I expected. Personally I did not find Israeli drivers as aggressive as I would have thought. Chicago is much worse. There is so much construction happening in the city that the traffic crawled, but this is not all bad when you don't know where you are going. We stayed at the Austrian Hospice, which is a lovely hotel - right in the middle of things in the Old City, which means either groups of Old City or teenagers, or soldiers are always hanging out on the front porch. Well, what to say about Jerusalem. It is compelling, overwhelming, beautiful, sorrowful, joyful, embracing, and frightening all at once. The market atmosphere is very free wheeling, and hard to get used to for this shy American. But the sites are something to behold. We went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which again I felt a bit of let down. I guess I just don't find these kind of places as spiritually moving. But the Western Wall has got to be one of the most compelling places on earth. That sense of holiness from the active worship happening all the time is incredible. I wasn't able to get close enough to touch the stones, which would have been incredible. Imagine touching stones from 2000 years ago - but just middle aged by Jerusalem standards! The most spectacular was the City of David tour. Hezikiah's tunnel is not to be missed. I didn't grasp how long it was, until I was in the middle of it wondering how long it could possibly go on. This should be done on the second day in Israel because that cold water really rejuvinates tired feet. I was mesmerized as our tour guide showed us the staircase up to the temple, which was only uncovered two years ago. Talk about spiritual - to walk where people first said the psalms on their way to worship. Seeing the Temple Mount itself is very eye opening. I knew it was both "high" and "big", but until I saw it for myself I didn't understand what that meant. What does this mean that I as a Christian get the most spiritual feelings at the Jewish and Muslim sites? Hmmm. Three days was not enough to see all that we wanted, but three years probably wouldn't have been either. On a personal note, I told my husband I couldn't possibly not have dinner on the King David terrace, just so I could pretend we were doing a scene from the movie "Exodus". It was a nice little, expensive meal and I was glad I could say I was in a landmark hotel.
Our pentultimate night we spent in Bethlehem, which was an adventure. It probably should be posted in the West Bank forum, but I'll note it in my last post, and then our last day in Jerusalem.
Thanks for all of your nice comments on my posts. I know I'm probably sounding like a second grader who is impressed with just everything I saw. But frankly I don't think even a jaded tourist could come away from a first trip to Israel with any different feeling. Lisa