Yesterday marked the first day of my little trip down south, a four day excursion to see new things and do new things – at least while I am still a civilian. The day’s destination: Jerusalem! However, getting to Jerusalem is a journey in and of itself – the early waking, the peach cobbler breakfast, the train ride to Tel Aviv, the getting situated, the train (or bus, I usually take the bus) to Jerusalem, etc. I reached Tel Aviv in good time, as indicated by this dingy clock in the train station:
As soon as I boarded the Jerusalem-bound train in Tel Aviv, I leaned back and peered out the window, ready to see what I’ve been missing each time I chose the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem bus line instead. It was the tumultuous rise and fall of the mountains just outside of Bet Shemesh, and the Soreq River that runs beneath the train, crossing under a sturdy bridge. It was truly scenic. The only downside to the train ride was that I ended up in somewhere known as “Malcha Mall” (the official name to the mall is Jerusalem Mall) – in southwestern Jerusalem. The biggest mall in the Holy City, Malcha has tons of places to shop in and eat at but it is not near any of the places I initially wanted to visit. So I bought my falafel lunch, ate it and hit the road, heading for the Central Bus Station. The first thing I did was buy a ticket to the Jerusalem Light Rail, the electric train that runs through some areas of the Holy City. This was my first time riding it… and I rode it to the Jaffa Gate of the Old City.
There, approaching the Old City I couldn’t help but lose myself in a photographic frenzy – I snapped and snapped, this is the best that came out (I’m not sure why the sky looks so grey):
Once inside the Old City I headed for the Israel Ministry of Tourism information office and was directed to the correct location to purchase a ticket to walk the ramparts. Something I’ve always wanted to do, the Ramparts Walk turned out to be very rewarding but at the same time, very tiring. I climbed the stairs with excitement and began my walk – a totally different perspective on the Old City unfolding before my eyes.
As the city walls continued, the walk became harder and harder – the uneven surfaces and the intense stairways not helping much. The soldiers who historically roamed the walltops, throughtout the generations, must have been made of sterner stuff. Regardless, the views from the wall really does change how the Old City looks (click on: map). Here, just above the Damascus Gate, I sit and observe:
All this was just the northern side – the Ramparts Walk is actually comprised of a longer northern walk and a shorter southern walk. At the end of the northern walk, where the Lion’s Gate on the eastern wall is, we (I had picked up some fellow wall-walkers along the way and impressed them with my “knowledge” in the tourism field) reached an observation point – the end of the line. To our surprise and enjoyment, the muezzins started up and pretty soon there were fasting Muslim men and women making their way to the mosque, urged on by the song of the muezzin. Here is a short video clip of the experience:
After watching for a few minutes we turned back and descended all the way back at the Herod’s Gate (be sure to consult map). With my water bottle long dried up in the hot Jerusalem sun, I advanced on a peddler/shopkeeper who sold large bottles of water. The Arab merchant informed me that since I do not speak Arabic… he cannot sell me anything. Fun!
After finding an alternate water source and parting ways with my new companions, I headed for the second half of the Ramparts Walk, the southern side. Here, just at the beginning, the Tower of David:
And here, just a little bit along the way, a pictorial show-piece, looking more like old time Bavaria than the Old City:
After descending at the Dung Gate, basically having done 80% of the total wall walk (all that was offered) and taking somewhere beyond the three-hour mark, I headed inside the City for an obligatory visit at the Kotel. Here, in all its splendour and glory, the Kotel:
After the Kotel is when things started getting hairy. With the sun setting rapidly, a few friends of mine wanted to meet up closer to the “centre of town” so I was determined to hop on one of the buses and meet them there. In spite of my iron resolution, no buses seemed to come – and even the taxis became elusive as the mainly-Muslim drivers wanted to head home to eat their Ramadan dinner. Finally, after some thirty minutes of waiting and meandering from bus stop to bus stop, a bus – no, THE bus – came. I was oh-so fortunate to be included on the bus, albeit the guy who has to watch out that when the doors open he doesn’t fall out. I felt like I was on those crowded Indian trains where the passengers hang from wherever they can.
As I made my way out of Jerusalem, after some quality time with my old friends, I snapped this shot of the Jerusalem Bridge of Strings where both people and the light rail make use of the arc over the traffic. (Sadly, night-time photography is usually ill-received by my camera):
Back in Tel Aviv, nearing midnight, I happened to have missed the last bus offered to the area I needed and was then forced to share a taxi with some other Tel Avivians to get back to my hosts. Always an adventure!