Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Israel Take 2 - Day 7

Sadly, our time in the Galilee was at and end and with much reluctance we ate our final breakfast on the cabin patio, packed the car and headed for Jerusalem.

On the way, we passed through Haifa to drop off some of Branson's things (including a much appreciated cooler!) and Tel-Aviv to pick up a few things we had forgotten at our previous hotel before heading over to the airport to drop off our car, by now lovingly nicknamed Slow-mo, due to being rather underpowered and so slow going up the many hills. After a bit of confusion (drop off at the central car return place or the terminal itself?) due to not a little misinformation (suggest avoid renting from Avis in Israel), we finally got little Slow-mo successfully returned. 

Since it was still rather early in the day, we decided on the scenic if somewhat longer option of taking the train, which in part still runs on the route established by the British Mandate. Weaving back through the hills after leaving Bet Shamesh, it was a beautiful ride and gave us a feel for the terrain upon which Jerusalem is set.

Unfortunately, the train station in Jerusalem is somewhat of a trek from the rest of town, but, being a train station, taxis were easy to come by and a short while later we found ourselves on the plaza in front of the externally impressive Jerusalem International YMCA, nicknamed "The Three Arches". Impressive and majestic on the outside, it was to prove an excellent launch pad for the next couple of days - close enough to easily walk to the Old City and yet also an easy walk to the more interesting areas of the New City. What makes it affordable, however, is that the room interiors could generously be described as "shabby chic" and have definitely seen better days (the bathrooms had clearly not seen enough bleach). Still, it was clean enough and as we would find out over subsequent days had an amazing breakfast buffet included in the room rate. 

After settling into our "shabby chic" triple room, it was off to do a bit of pre-sunset exploring. First taking in the Montefiore windmill set in the beautiful Bloomfield gardens to get a bit of perspective on the city. From there, we walked over to the Jaffa Gate and so into the Christian Quarter of the Old City. The sun having just set we decided it might be a good time to catch the much storied Church of the Holy Sepulchre without enormous crowds. I was completely blown away. At once warren like with all the different chapels and alcoves dedicated to Christ's last moments on earth and first few moments of his resurrection, it simultaneously has a sense of grandeur and ceremony that I haven't experienced anywhere else. Standing under the central dome looking at the diminutive chapel housing the spot St. Helena best guessed held the tomb of Christ, I couldn't help but feel the awe and humility of literally a thousand years of pilgrim hopes and tears. The twinkling candies in the fading daylight felt almost magical. 

The boys however, kindly reminded me that unless I wanted to spend the night locked inside the church, it was probably best to move on. Now properly evening, our bellies spoke up to remind us that more earthly needs should be seen to. And so we made the shot jog into the Armenian Quarter to the justifiably popular Armenian Tavern for dinner. Stephen and I had never had Armenian food before and our taste buds were in for quite the treat! At once a fantastic fusion of flavours we'd had in other cuisines and yet wholly its own thing, we loved every bite. We shared a mezzo like plater for starters and then spent quite a while relishing our mains (I had a vine leaf & beef soup that was to die for) paired with a really rather excellent Pinot Noir made by Trappist monks just outside of Jerusalem at Latroun (itself of significance in modern Israeli history). I'm definitely going to need to find both the wine & an Armenian restaurant when we get back to London. Simply too good not to have in my life regularly.

From there it was an easy if rather cold stroll through the Jaffa gate and back to our hotel to plan the next day's adventures. It was also when we started seriously assessing the situation in the West Bank and reluctantly came to the conclusion that it was probably not a good plan at this point in time and unlikely to significantly improve before Sunday. Despite my disappointment, it did mean we had another full day to devote to Jerusalem, and so we re-arranged our plans accordingly.

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