A land of milk and honey
As we flew down the coastline of Israel and over the bright lights of Tel Aviv my heart could have burst with excitement! After a long day of flying from Portugal to Israel via Cologne with a random German airline we arrived in the promised land.
It was after midnight and we were expecting it would take like 3 hours to clear immigration and customs since the Israelis at ben gureon airport are notoriously strict. However, we got grilled for approximately 3 minutes before we were waved through the gate with a cheery ‘enjoy your holidays’! Oh happy day! Not so fortunate though was an Arab looking dude who got nabbed just before the exit and then an Aussie dude we met who had no plans in particular and didn’t really know what there was to see in Israel! Needless to say that didn’t go down so well with the Israeli immigration officer and he got to have a special chat in a special room.
A quick train trip to some part of downtown Tel Aviv and a short taxi ride and we promptly checked into the dodgiest hotel we have ever stayed in! Upon opening the door I immediately commenced a ten-point bed bug check followed by a shower in thongs. The place is clean enough, but old and rundown and well actually pretty gross really. It can’t all be grandeur in the Promised Land I suppose. We flopped into bed and set the alarm for 11am. At 8am however there was a terrible knock on the door! I woke up all hot and confused but who was it? Sue and Andrew have arrived!!!!
We haven’t seen Jono’s parents for just over 7 months and we are so looking forward to seeing Israel with them. For some crazy reason they’d decided 3 hours sleep was enough so we all walked down to the beach for a lovely breakfast and a delicious coffee (I could cry, they actually make good coffee here) with a view! It’s so exciting catching up! So many things to hear about and share!
The day was glorious, so sunny and hot, my goodness it’s humid here! We walked from breakfast along the beach to the Old Town of Jaffa. We wandered round the old town markets where they sold so many beautiful eclectic things I could have spent the rest of the trip money in 2 hours.
We were planning on catching a bus to Jerusalem that arvo but a taxi driver suggested we take a small mini bus instead as its quicker and easier. The trip was hilarious. We were all crammed in and the Israeli guy next to Jono wouldn’t shut up. He then got into a mad heated argument from the back seat with the driver including many gesticulations and much spitting! In front of me was a cool German man called Michael who worked as a freelance photographer and could travel when he wanted, lucky man!
We checked into our Airbnb apartment just out of the walls of old Jerusalem and immediately went for a falafel – amazing!! How I love freshly made falafel, I could wax lyrical about it for hours! It’s Andrews birthday today which is super cool and what better place to celebrate your birthday than in Jerusalem! We went out to dinner at Machneyuda’s on a recommendation of the airbnb guy and it was one of the most amazing meals ever, so delicious and a really, really entertaining and cool place. Machneyuda’s In a cool neighborhood and it was a very fun meal, you could see into the kitchens and the staff would dance while cooking!
Not wanting to pike out early on such a day we caught a cab into the old town and had a midnight wander to the Western Wall! So amazing to see it for real after seeing so many photos! The sloping streets (David St) down to the wall from the Jaffa Gate were deserted and all the shops shut up but when you got to the Western wall or the ‘Kotel’ there were plenty of people still there praying!
On the way home Andrew asked the taxi driver a question, which went on and on till we were all giggling, and Andrew gave up… Try asking an Arab guy who doesn’t speak English why a Jewish guy at the western wall would have asked him for a coin!
It’s stinking hot here and so we made a plan to avoid walking around in the heat of the day. Day 1 of this plan we found ourselves walking the southern ramparts walk at 12pm! The views over the city and valleys were awesome and since it was a Monday morning there were bar mitzvahs everywhere!
All these different groups of families with boys having their bar mitzvah all made there way down the streets to the Western Wall. So much mad music and dancing, I didn’t realise Jews did drums! As we got to the wall, I stood on the chairs on the ladies side and joined the mothers, sisters and friends in peeking over the divider to see the boys reciting their Torah passages while the women threw lollies on them.
I had a bit of a ‘pinch yourself’ moment when we sat down for a casual coffee with Sue and Andrew and I remembered we were in Israel, in Jerusalem, next to the walls and the citadel while the guy at the next table was reading the Jerusalem post!! Stoked!!
I was pretty hot and tired but we charged onwards and went in to visit the Tower of David museum at the Citadel. Jono surprised us all by taking the longest to peruse the exhibits. It was pretty awesome, its housed in the medival guard rooms of the Jerusalem Citadel and was full of cool models and pictures.
At an epically late lunch time we could be found laying in the grass in the shade of the Northern wall eating a falafel. Andrew took on the meat swarma and survived! Loving the falafel and delicious eggplant here!
We walked on down to the garden tomb, the place where they have found a tomb similar in design to Jesus’ tomb and is outside the walls of the city in an area that fits the description of where Jesus was buried after his crucifixion. We were just planning on moseying around but a small tour was starting and so we joined in and I am so glad we did. The guide was a Swedish Christian called Bertyl who made the experience about a thousand times more special with his wise words.
I learnt quite a few things, firstly, that Mount Moriah, which is the mountain that the Temple Mount now stands on, is where in Gen 22 v 2 God asked Abraham to take Isaac to be sacrificed. Mount Moriah continued right up to Golgotha where Jesus died. So on the same mountain that Isaac asked “where is the sacrifice”, God provided a sacrifice for all of us.
There’s a bus depot next to the Garden tomb just a stone throw away from the walls of Jerusalem. If you squint you can make out a skull in the rock face. Saying this proves its Golgotha (place of the skull) is pushing it a bit I think.
The most important thing though is summed up beautifully by Byrtl. He said “is this really the place Jesus died and was buried? The truth is, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that he did die and he was buried. But he is not here, he rules from a throne in heaven and I want him to rule in my heart as well.” Amen.
After a stop in a very non-touristy Muslim area (where we stood out like sore thumbs) for olives and crackers we walked down to the Garden of Gethsemane. It was a pretty olive grove at the base of the Mount of Olives with a chatholic church next door. I’m sure it’s not the real garden that Jesus prayed in before his death but it was still impressive to think about it as we wandered through the olive trees.
From the little road next to the garden we began the climb up the Mount of Olives. I tell you what, it’s harder than they make it sound in the bible! This is the hottest piece of real estate in Israel, I have no idea how much a grave plot costs here but I bet it’s a small fortune! The western side of the Mt faces Jerusalem and the Temple Mount and is covered in graves. It is the oldest continually used cemetery in the world and there are graves there that date back 4000 years! People want to be buried here because as it says in Zechariah 14:4 “In that day His (Jesus) feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west, making a very large valley; half of the mountain shall move toward the north and half of it toward the south.” I guess when Jesus returns they want to be front and centre.
We arrived in time for an awesome sunset view. Watching the sunset over Jerusalem from the Mt of Olives is something I have wanted to do for years and it was so special to share it with Sue, Andrew and Jono. We sat eating olives on the Mount of Olives feeling pretty happy with ourselves.
Seeing as we had walked around all day long we felt determined we should push through and walk home as well. It was a long way down the Mount, picking our way through the multitudes of graves in the twilight, through the Kidron Valley and home after having circled the entire old city walls in one day! We were so exhausted when we got back to the apartment we all decided we must have walked at least 20kms!! Sadly for this dream Jono felt the need to Google map our path and informed us we’d only done 11.5kms, we were shattered. What an amazing day in an amazing place. So exciting that it’s only the beginning of our time in this awesome country.