Finding your own Jerusalem
Vacay.ca occasionally publishes articles on destinations outside of Canada. In this article, Deputy Editor Rod Charles writes about Jerusalem, Israel — an ideal place to celebrate Christmas.
Story by Rod Charles
Vacay.ca Deputy Editor
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL — Looking for a sense of history in your travels? Take a tour of the Western Wall Tunnel in Jerusalem.
“This has all been excavated. If you look down at the ground you’re walking on, you will see that it is the original floor,” explained our guide. “Know what that means? Jesus himself would have walked on the very ground you’re walking on now.”
Sense of history? I’ll say. It’s the first time in my life I ever stopped to snap a picture of the ground.
As a man who has spent many Sundays of his life in one church or another and has always had a keen interest in historic and spiritual travel, the chance to visit Israel was a fantastic opportunity and this is especially true for travel during Christmas or Easter. No worries, though, even if you aren’t religious your journey to Jerusalem will be an enlightening experience at any time of year.
11 A.M. – Arrive at Zion Gate, The Old City
The Old City of Jerusalem is divided into four quarters: Jewish, Muslim, Armenian and Christian. The Old City is accessed at different points in the wall by several “gates” or openings including the Zion Gate, the Dung Gate, Gate of Mercy (which has been blocked for centuries and is also referred to as the Golden Gate or the Eastern Gate).
I arrived with a group of friends and entered the Armenian Quarter through Zion Gate. When I saw the Old City for the first time, my brain strained to take in as much as it could. Controlled chaos is the best way to describe this city, a clash of ancient and new, meditation and prayer mixed with hustle and bustle. I arrived at the Western Wall, where thousands of people were gathered to pray. To enter the area, everyone must go through a security checkpoint not unlike what you would see at an airport.
5 P.M. Check Into David Citadel Hotel (King David 7, Phone: 011-972 2-621-2121)
Designed by Israeli/Canadian/American architect Moshe Safdie (National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa and Vancouver Library Square), David Citadel Hotel is a 20-minute walk to the Old City of Jerusalem through Jaffa Gate.
8:30 A.M. – Back to Old City of Jerusalem
I strongly suggest you hire a guide. Having one on your first trip can be helpful as the streets are lined with thousands of tourists and hundreds of merchants each vying for your attention. It’s easy to get lost in these winding streets and alleys.
We entered at Jaffa Gate and began our day at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The church sits on Calvary, believed to be the location where Jesus Christ was crucified, buried and resurrected. So, as you can imagine, the Holy Sepulcher is a popular spot, especially during Easter and Christmas.
1 P.M. – Israel Museum, Home of The Dead Sea Scrolls (Derech Ruppin, Phone 011-972 2-670-8811)
After lunch I visited the Israel Museum. Founded in 1965 as Israel’s national museum, Israel Museum is famous for housing the Dead Sea Scrolls, along with several artifacts discovered at Masada. It’s particularly fascinating to see the Dead Sea Scrolls, words that were written in hand 2,000 years ago. Another cool thing about this museum was the 50:1 scale model of Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period.
9 A.M. — Check Into YMCA Three Arches Hotel (26 King David Street, Phone: 011-972 2-569-2695)
After leaving David Citadel Hotel, I checked into YMCA Three Arches Hotel, located on the same street as David Citadel Hotel but more budget-friendly. The Archibald C. Harte Restaurant has a lovely patio, perfect for a glass of wine on a warm night. Nothing fancy about the food, but it was satisfactory. Looking for a jaw-dropping view of the city? One feature about this hotel you will love is the 152-foot central bell tower, a must if you’re a photographer. Open from 8 am to 8 pm, it will cost you 20 shekles (about $7 CAD) per person, minimum two people to go up.
10 A.M. — Tour Bethlehem
I decided to skip out of Jerusalem for a trip to Bethlehem and a visit to the Church of the Nativity, believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ. I caught a bus near Jaffa Gate and headed for a 30-minute ride to Bethlehem. After that it was about a half-hour walk to Manger Square.
Bethlehem is in the West Bank under the control of the Palestinian Authority, so while getting to Bethlehem was easy enough, returning to Israel wasn’t. Security is challenging, with armed guards, blast windows and long lines. Keep your passport visible and expect to answer lots of questions.
Noon — Final Walk Around
I chose to spend my last day enjoying the city and buying souvenirs. I chose to visit the Pool of Bethesda, the spot where Jesus performed a miracle by helping a crippled man “pick up his mat and walk.” Later in the day I visited the Upper Room, where Jesus had his last meal with his disciples before being taken away and crucified.
5 P.M. — Time To Go Home
I met some friends two blocks away at Dan Panorama Jerusalem (26 King David Street, Phone: +972 2-569-2695) and caught a shuttle from there (75 shekels; about $26 CAD) to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport and my El Al flight to Toronto.
Word about security
Due to the political and security situation in Israel coming into the country can be intense. Your suitcase will be searched and you should expect to be asked odd and at times intrusive questions when going through security. Just go along with it and answer the questions honestly and to the best of your ability. While the security measures may at times feel over the top, I was very comfortable in Israel. At no point was I worried about my safety.