Holy Jerusalem and the nearby cutting edge beach party city of Tel Aviv are a compelling and vibrant mix as I discovered on a recent weekend visit. No trip to the Israeli capital would be complete without a drive to the Mount of Olives for a panoramic view of the city. For the perfect Jerusalem experience, throw in a day in the Old City, with its famous “Wailing” Wall, and a walk through the Armenian and Jewish Quarters to the recently restored Cardo (the Roman road) and Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Hardy types will enjoy this way of exploring the ancient cobbled streets. Segway tours are certainly demanding in Jerusalem’s hustle-and-bustle, not to mention the uneven pavements. Surprisingly, I’ve never experienced the calm thrill of a futuristic segway before, balance not being my greatest skill. They’re easy to master but what no-one tells you is they’re also pretty painful on your feet. I’m guessing it has something to do with a lack of circulation caused by motionless feet. Once I’d figured this out, things became a lot easier as I factored in plenty of stops to wiggle my toes. There are several tours on offer, but the classic one passes many of the city’s famous sites, taking you through the luxurious Yemin Moshe and Mishkenot Shannanim neighbourhoods. They provide a fun take on Jerusalem with plenty of interesting stories shared by the guides.
Photo courtesy – Eliyahu Yanai
I also recommend a tour of the actual City of David or ancient Jerusalem, much of which is located on a narrow ridge south of the present day Old City. There, you’ll see ongoing archaeological excavations as well as fortifications, elaborate water systems, Hezekiah’s Tunnel, the Pool of Shiloan and a newly opened visitor centre. If rocks aren’t your thing then part of the tour allows you to descend into a 2,000-year-old water drainage system. The exposed drainage tunnel measures 800 metres (2625 feet) long and a metre (3 feet wide) so this isn’t for anyone suffering from claustrophobia. It was an altogether different experience, involving lots of crouching down and wading through water above my knees. My trousers and shoes got soaked!
If like me you find it difficult to visualise how the City of David might have looked, then The Israel Museum has an excellent model of the city during the Second Temple Period (530BCE
– 70AD). The detailed 1:50 scale model, covers nearly one acre and recreates the topography and architecture of ancient Jerusalem at its peak in 66 CE, shortly before its destruction by the Romans.
I’m not sure what the ancient Jewish people would make of “The Rabbi and The Gypsy Lady”, now jamming in Jerusalem. Rabbi Tomer, a guitar playing orthodox rabbi, and Alexandra Kamarit, AKA The Gypsy Lady, are one of Jerusalem’s most recognisable and talented busking duos.
And not to be left out, even Tel Aviv has a rockin’ Rabbi.
Tel Aviv is a funky, modern, 24-hour city with great restaurants and famous beaches. At one end, you’ll find Jaffa on its cliff top, one of the most important ports in the ancient world. An old sailor’s curse, the equivalent of “Go to hell!” was “Go to Jaffa!” as the port had a dangerous reputation, thanks to the huge rocks at its entrance. Today, Jaffa’s claim to fame is the city’s best hummus, served at Abu Hasan on Dolphin Street. But it would be true to say that every other cafe proudly proclaims having the best hummus in town. Wherever you end up dipping your pitta, the hummus you’ll come across is a far cry from your average grainy supermarket brand.
Between the Jaffa hilltop and Kedumim Square, you’ll find The Wishing Bridge with the 12 astrological signs on the railings either side. The bridge is built at the location of an old fountain that was once a wishing well. According to local legend, if you hold onto your zodiac sign and make a wish, it’s supposed to come true. Let’s hope Pisces delivers for me!
All photos taken by Petra Shepherd, unless otherwise stated
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