We arrived at Jerusalem by train from Tel Aviv. The journey takes much longer than by car (2.5 hours versus 1.5 hour) but it gives an unique opportunity to meet local people and to see a nice piece of the country through the window of the train drifting slowly through the valleys of Israel.
Israeli railways offer comfortable trains and the tickets are very cheap (one-way ticket from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem costs approximately 8 euro). However, security checks are obligatory for everyone. therefore, arriving at the station 5 minutes before departure may end up in missing your connection.
The railway station of Jerusalem is located in the suburbs of the city. Taxi drive to the city centre takes 15-20 minutes and costs 12-15 euro.
Accommodation – Dan Boutique Jerusalem
Honestly, our selection was driven by availability of beds during the busy Passover Holiday Period. At the end of the day, the choice turned out to be OK in terms of compromise between location, comfort and the price. As in every ancient city, modern and spacious hotel properties in Jerusalem are quite rare unless one wishes to try King David at 1,000 euro per night (2-3 bus stops from Dan Boutique).
Dan Boutique is located on the Hebron Road connecting Old Town with Bethlehem. Local supermarket is located few steps from the hotel’s entrance. The nearest restaurant can be reached within 10 minutes walking distance and it is located in the leisure & entertainment complex created by revitalisation of the old train station complex in David Remez Street. The complex offers variety of cultural events, shops, snack bars and restaurants and looks very popular among the locals.
Old Town can be reached within 20 minutes. Bus connections are very convenient to get to all districts of Jerusalem.
Our triple room was very comfortable. Also, the hotel was doing its best to prepare nice breakfast. However, (almost) all hotels in Jerusalem offer kosher food only throughout the year.
The Old Town
Well, certainly I don’t intend to describe any architectural or historical monument we have seen in the Old Town of Jerusalem because I could not afford the cost of additional space on the server to upload it all.
It is enough to say that we spent 1 full day and 2 afternoons and we did not feel saturated by the amazing impressions we experienced there. Starting from the Wailing Wall and mixing up with the crowd of Jewish pilgrims…
… then walking through the ancient streets of the Moslem District, the market and following the steps of Jesus Christ on Via Dolorosa (the Way of the Cross) up to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre built on the place of Golgotha (Calvary)…
… then moving to the Jewish District of the Old Town…
… and ending up at the Walls of the Old Town.
The Temple Mount
Access to the Temple Mount is restricted. Except of morning hours (not for us), the access is limited to one hour in the early afternoon (starting 12:30 PM in the Winter and 1:30 PM in the Summer). The queue starts building up 1 hour earlier. The access point is located between the Dung Gate and the Wailing Wall.
After the security check by Israeli police which is very selective (Bible Books are withheld in the deposits while Jews in orthodox dress are admitted thus resulting in the daily riots in the Temple Mount area) the non-Muslim visitors have to climb up the wooden ramp to get to the place. Upon arrival, the tourists are visually scanned by Muslim locals. The dress of my wife which was OK at the Wailing Wall was questioned and she was requested to cover her cleavage. Therefore, it is advisable for female tourist to have a scarf with them. Anyway, uncovered legs (for women and men) and arms (for women) are a no-go.
While being on the Temple Mount we experienced the riots when the group of orthodox Jews entered the place with their small children. The group was immediately surrounded by few hundreds Muslims and the Jews – escorted by the Israeli armed forces – were pushed out to the exit as accompanied by loud exclamations in Arabic. When it started we were just in front of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the situation was very dense. According to the Muslims we talked to, it happens almost every day.
Contemporary Jewish Jerusalem
On our last day we decided to experienced the real Jewish Jerusalem which was belonging to Israel prior to 1967. We took the bus from the hotel to the Mahade Yehuda Market (Passover Holidays were over :-)!) and we spent few hours there to enjoy our coffee in one of the shops and to admire the Middle Eastern character of the place which offer an unique mixture of Arabic and Jewish food specialties exposed on hundreds of stalls and shops.
On the bus we experienced a situation which shows how Israelis are prepared to react to security risks. On one of the bus stops a young man dropped the large textile bundle to the bus through the second door. As long as the bus was stopped all passengers remained calm. After 1 minute everybody got nervous. As typical Europeans myself and my wife moved towards the back of the bus. After another 30 seconds one of the passengers alerted the bus driver about suspicious package in the bus and the driver left his cabin to check the bundle. At the same time one of the older passengers queuing in the front to buy his ticket confirmed the bundle belonging to him and explaining it was his son helping him to load the “cargo” to the bus. After all, we realised with my wife how quickly Israelis react to any potential security risk in the public area.
From the Market we walked half an hour to Ben Yahuda Street, a pedestrian passage with plenty of shops, restaurants and coffee shops – much different from contemporary shopping centres available worldwide. By the way this is the best place in Jerusalem to find cosmetic products made from Dead Sea minerals, at attractive prices.
Be careful if you demand VAT return documents if you shop in Israel. The customs services at the airport are quite bureaucratic and they check every stamp and signature on the form. Our applications were rejected because they were signed but not stamped by the shop:-).
Ben Yahuda Street ends in the Zion Square. From there we recommend to take HaRav Kuk Street to reach Ethiopian Street to visit the Orthodox Ethiopian Church.
At the end of Ethiopia Street you will reach the border of Mea Shearim district, the most orthodox Jewish place in Jerusalem. The banner will make you think twice before walking further. The legends say about buckets of slops poured out from the windows on the visitors who do not follow the modest dress code required by the district’s inhabitants.
Unfortunately, my wife had her legs fully covered. However, she was wearing tight-fitting leggings. We found solution for it. She covered her legs with the rainbow-coloured scarf. We don’t know what was worse: the leggings or rainbow colours.
Anyway, Mea Shearim is one of few places in the world were we felt not welcome. On top of usual Israeli restraint we saw a clear message in the eyes of local inhabitants saying: you are just tolerated here, not more not less. On the other hand something was pushing us inside of the district and we soon realised what was it.
Being Polish born long after the end of World War II we are aware that the streets of our towns looked differently prior to Holocaust. The city of Warsaw was full of mini-districts populated by Polish citizens of Jewish origin making their neighbourhood unique and different from other parts of the city. Nowadays, we know it only from books and old pictures. Mea Shearim is the place which helps your imagination to convert the pictures from historic books into reality. We felt like time travellers taking the time machine to travel back to Warsaw of 1937 and landing in the middle of Nalewki Street which does not exist anymore since extermination of the Warsaw Ghetto by German occupation troops in 1943 and the re-construction of the city with the completely different network of streets.
When walking on Mea Shearim Street we wanted to take pictures in one of traditional Jewish shops offering devotional articles. We asked for the permit and… it was not easy :-). First we heard that they don’t want the pics to be published on Facebook. After having ensured the shop owners that we don’t have any accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. we got the permit and the shop owners was willingly posing to the camera with us. Probably they found us similar dinosaurs :-). From respect to the shop owners we don’t publish these pics here.