Tuesday, 24 November 2009


Last weekend was my trip to Jerusalem. Crikey, I've got so many photos and so much happened. Two days is obviously not enough to see such a place - really two weeks would be more appropriate. I will have to return at some point, though I'm not sure when.

Getting there was not as simple as Tel Aviv, due to my hitchhiking-failure (it was too early really). In the end I caught a bus rather than train, which in itself was quite good because I got to appreciate some more of the scenery around Bet Shemesh. I was also sitting close to some young yeshiva students from America. It was interesting listening to these talmud scholars in the making discuss their activities and life there, which was clearly very much the same as teenage male life everywhere.

I arrived in the New City and took a stroll in the direction of the Old City. These designations indicate the new Jewish development (largely since 1948), and the older area which is divided between Muslims, Jews, Christians and Armenians, and exists as a walled complex since - I think - the 1600s or so.

This road was actually King George St. I admire these culture-hackers' proficiency though, it looks perfect until you see the edge of the slightly-askew sticker.

Like I say, the New City is very new. It became almost tiring after a while, to be in a place where all the architecture comes from the same 60 year period, and is all still shiny and undamaged by time's arrows. That said, the architecture is still very nice, and distinctly modernist.

I liked this - slightly polemical? - map.

I dropped into a couple of souvenir shops, both of whom instantly swooned as I was their"first customer today!" and "business very slow". They offered me a generous discount in order to guarantee my custom. I was impressed, and the at first place I bought a couple of nice things and found a handmade amulet with a hexagram and a large amount of hebrew text. I asked him what this meant but he was somewhat coy - I suspected it was some kind of protection charm.

I began the walk to the Old City, stopping only briefly to stroke several stray cats.

Despite the wealth and sophistication of the New City, there are frequent reminders of how new - and unprepared-for - it was. This motorway seems to hang in midair above a deserted construction site which they haven't got around to covering up yet.

This is the approach to Jaffa Gate. The name is really quite amusing these days, it makes me think of newspaper headlines: Prime Minister questioned over Jaffagate cake-or-biscuit scandal!

I had planned my movements quite well. I had a basic map in my Lonely Planet Guide, and was heading toward the Tourist Office to get a proper detailed map, as well as ask questions about location specifics.

Frustratingly, Jerusalem had different plans. Ones that didn't include making my weekend easy. On strike for what, I wonder?

A backpacker I mentioned this to noted that 'tourism' is really one of those public services that the authorities could let strike indefinitely - they would not be met with an ever-increasing pile-up of foreigners queuing for advice, unlike rubbish collection or teaching where disputes are resolved with promptness.

Inside the Old City.

After the Tourist Office I happened into another very sparkly souvenir shop, which had a steady stream of multinationals outside it. I stopped to admire the window display and was quickly accosted by a young Armenian man who was enthused to inform me that I was his "first customer today" and because "business very slow" I would get a special 20% discount. Wankers, I thought cynically. I enquired about some prices and he asked me where I was from "England! You get special 30% discount - I can tell you not rich American!" He was correct, I was not. I spent nearly twenty minutes in the store, during which the price of a particular ornamental knife dropped from 1800 shekhels to 550 and he repeatedly assured me that he was giving me a much better pice than he usually charges because he liked me and I was a young English student. He also ordered for me a very strong and peculiarly earthy tasting Turkish coffee, odd but quite pleasant. This was in no way an attempt to ingratiate me, just a part of his "traditional Armenian hospitality!" he said, always with one eye on the door.

The shopkeepers were beginning to piss me off so I went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This was a nice place, but I was feeling too tired (and indeed quite wired from that Turkish coffee) to really appreciate it. Here are some pictures.

I wondered around the dense, frantic markets in the Old City some more, ignoring stallholders' attempts to start conversation. I was disappointed to discover the entire Temple Mount is closed to non-Muslims on Friday and Saturday, though I should have known.

I was staying at New Palm Hostel, just outside Damascus Gate. This is in an Arab area, the difference between here and the New City is quite astonishing.

I was kind of worried by the outside of the hostel. It was the cheapest I could find at 45NIS per night. However inside was like the Tardis (sort of) - freshly marbled walls, everything smelling new, shiny and very upmarket.

They proved to be an incredibly relaxed operation. There was only one key between us for the room, meaning that it could never be locked. The receptionist didn't ask for any money, and defused every question with a hand wave and "don't worry, don't worry".

The dorm room was by far the best in Israel, in fact I think the best hostel room I've had anywhere. The beds were smooth, solid pine, comfy mattresses, non-peeling non-stained wallpaper, and a friendly German room-mate. Couldn't believe my luck.

Although, the view from the window left something to be desired.

Yeah, like - a view. Why create a window at all when the external wall of the hotel obscures any sight of outside? Why not make the floors of the inside match the external windows? What was going on with this place, which seemed increasingly like one hotel stuffed en-mass inside a completely different one?

Johannas, the friendly German, and I took a walk to the Western Wall. Sabbath was rapidly approaching (as rapidly as a day of rest can anyway) and rabbinic fervour was mounting. We watched from beneath our cardboard kippas as spontaneous activity burst from isolated groups of black-clad, enormous hat-wearing men: some sang and danced in circles, some chanted while rocking back and forth, some were trying to call their comrades over. There was no organisation whatsoever, and in a way the scene reminded me of a nightclub as groups of friends perform their own special rituals, lose each other and mingle, constantly jostled by the neighbours.

I'm impressed but also quite surprised that the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site and one which for several centuries (18 in fact) was inaccessible to them, is now open 24 hours a day to anyone and everyone of whatever background or faith. Security is tight, but once in you can do whatever you like there short of photographing, smoking or phoning on the sabbath.

This is a shot from the distance. You can see the Dome of the Rock behind it.

Johannas and I left to get drunk. After a couple of attempts we found a bar which I had read about called Hataklit (The Record). It was happy hour and they were playing Public Enemy, always a good sign. The barman was a young Israeli who had dodged the draft and did little to hide his distaste for typical Israeli politics. There was also an American and and an Australian, and we enjoyed a couple of hours of international banter.

I had quite a nice sleep at the hostel, though the third person in our room snored VERY loudly all night. I left and ate some felafel. God damn, Arab felafel and humus is MUCH better than Israeli. Sorry, but it's true. An amazing breakfast, more than I could eat plus another one of those Turkish coffees for under 20NIS. I also got my chili fix, something I'd been missing the past two weeks. Here they didn't have salt and pepper on the tables - their condiments were two varieties of pickled chili.

I had earmarked some places to visit, and there was a free tour of the Old City at 11AM. First, the Garden Tomb.

This is a site claiming to be the tomb which Joseph of Arimethea provided for Jesus. It is maintained and staffed by an English organisation, which provided the welcome relief of English accents for the first time since I left Birmingham. I felt instantly soothed. The garden itself is very nice, and also quite English funnily enough.

I walked back to the Old City through the markets for the tour and bumped into the friendly American we had met in the bar last night. We took the tour together, and it was really good.

This is an excavated Roman Street, originally 30ft wide.

Glass-encased menorah by the Western Wall

Some Mamluk architecture.

This rooftop is notable because, in the middle of an Arab area it houses a group of Jewish families. The barriers are there for their protection.

Coptic Orthodox Church, on part of Via Dolorosa, I think. The cross here is one that tourists can use to replicate Jesus' fateful journey.

These rooftop dwellings are the last property in the Old City of the Ethiopian Church. It's crazy to think that people live their lievs in these places, but then it's crazy to think that people live in Old Jerusalem itself. The city is so frantic, buzzing with activity and history, different religions and lifestyles jumbled on top of one another with barely space to breathe; a city contained within walls four hundred years old, the holiest place in the world but also somewhere you have to watch your wallet at all times.

Don't remember what this doorway was but it looks nice.

Some photos from the New City, as I ambled around waiting for the trains to start.

This is so bizarre - every brick is numbered according to row and column. It made me think of the Shi'ur Qomah, an early Jewish tradition where God's bodily parts are described, measured and named, all in arcanely inconceivable terms, by Metatron.

The main shopping plaza has some very good sculptures

Old City from outside.

View from Jaffa Gate.

Crusaders, I guess - tastefully hidden by a tree.

View from the ramparts. Usually you can walk a long stretch of the ramparts but of course it was closed for Sabbath. I did stop to chat and drink tea with the doorman though, who was an elderly Israeli who worked there 7 days a week. He was an odd chap, and sort of unnerved me by stroking my arm as he shook my hand. Really appreciated the tea though, I felt much better afterwards.

Armenian church, under repair

Two inside (the doubtless incorrectly named) King David's Tomb

There are two recent BBC articles on Jerusalem which I found quite interesting: the first is an account of life in the city, and from what I can gather entirely accurate. The second is more about the political struggle, but still makes for worthwhile reading.

Nothing else much happening at the farm. I'm working with Marc on the video or putting mud on the wall. Lucy left on Thursday so we're down to just three people now - Benjamin, Jonas and I. I'm gradually writing my PhD proposal which Philip Goodchild at Nottingham has expressed interest in.

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