I have been very bold with my blogging recently. So bold that I havent done any. The main drawback from this is that a lot of time has passed since our trip to the Holy Land and I have forgotten most of the small details of the days we spent there. Luckily I only have 2 more days to recap so hopefully I wont have to make up too much stuff. Better start where I left off so as not to confuse. Day 6. Our second last day:
There was a slight change to today’s plans which was made towards the end of yesterday. We were gonna attempt to get to the temple mount to see the Dome of the Rock. Everyone agreed that this would be a fantastic experience so we were more than happy to go along with this plan. Sadly, however, this change meant that we had to get up super early. The Dome of the rock is only accessible to tourists until 11am, after this only Muslims are admitted to the Temple mount for praying. So we were called out of our beds at 6 to be on the bus for quarter past 7 and in the queue for half 7. (Just because it is sunny and has a foreign currency doesn’t mean its a holiday!!!)
I should also point out that we were wearing what I presume Israeli’s would have called: our winter clothes. As the sight of naked human flesh is not allowed on the temple mount, we were told that we would have to wear long trousers and long sleeves. How would we survive in the dreaded heat of Jerusalem? Well, fear not, as our tour guide reassured us that the weather forecast was awful and it was to be rainy and cold. What great luck for us!!
As you have probably guessed, this was a dirty big ugly lie. It was the hottest day since we arrived in the Holy Land. And it wasn’t even 8 am yet. Uh oh!
But still, we were undaunted. We were gonna get there early and kick this queues ass!!! So we got off the bus at the Mughrabi Gate and joined the queue to enter the Temple mount. In the queue we got to see some of the early morning characters that inhabit Jerusalem such as drum players and, of course, more soldiers to play with.
We also came across what I can only presume was the scene of a bitter telephone call breakup.
So we stood in the queue in the blistering heat and we waited. and waited. and waited. The queue moved very slowly and after about an hour we passed through the arches of the Mughrabi Gate. We were making great time apparently and would be at the Dome of the Rock before we knew it! Huzzah!
While we were queuing, we heard an almighty racket coming from somewhere close by. It was the sounds of shouting, singing, drums and the worst musical instrument known to man, the saxophone. What was that symphony of madness and where was it coming from??
It turned out to be a Bar Mitzvah that was passing by the queue on their way to the wailing wall. The pageantry of the occasion and the joy on the faces of the 13 year old boys and their families as they went by was really great to see. At home all we seem to think of these days is how much money we are going to get at our religious ceremonies. I was tempted to have another confirmation to raise funds for Christmas this year but my granny wouldn’t let me. Spoil sport.
Our tour guide told us that you can tell how wealthy the family was by the amount of musicians their parade had on the way up to the wall. Just drums was the basic package available and apparently the saxophone was the most expensive instrument to have playing to you on your way to become a man! We only heard the saxophone once. (thank God)
In between Bar Mitzvah’s we also had a visit from someone who I can only presume is an important Jew in Jerusalem. Whoever he was he told us he loved us so we loved him too.
By now the heat was almost unbearable and some of us had to resort to desperate measures in an effort to escape its wrath.
But we were nearly there. Our goal was in sight. It would all be worth it right??
Sadly no, it was not meant to be. On the stroke of 11am, after 3 and a half hours of queing and with the entrance in sight, the doors to the Temple mount were closed and the queue dispersed. I say ‘dispersed’ as though it was very civilized but no, instead it reminded me of that part in the lion king where Simba gets caught in the stampede of wildebeest and gets his father killed. Silly Simba.
We were close. But not close enough.
After a mornings queuing it was decided that we should stop off and get a cup of tea while we decided what to do next. And where else to get a cup of scald than in an Austrian hostel. Here we met a nuns dog. A loveable fella which we named Brian.
The view from the rooftop of the hostel gave us a chance to see Jerusalem from yet another one of its many angles.
After our break, we took a trip to visit St. Anne’s Basillica. This church was built over a grotto where the crusaders believed to be the birthplace of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The church is also famous for its acoustics and a lot of choirs come here on pilgrimage to sing and chant but never shout. You aren’t allowed do that in the church. The priest said so.
The next two stops on today’s agenda were places where cameras weren’t allowed. Strangely enough, I was quite pleased to hear we had to leave our cameras on the bus. It was good to be out and about and seeing things through my own eyes as opposed to from behind the lens. Sadly this means that I have no photos from the two sites. They were Yad Vashem: the Jewish holocaust museum and the Holyland model of Jerusalem.
The Jewish Holocaust museum is actually the second most popular tourist attraction in Israel, next to the Western Wall. I found it strange to be in the holocaust museum in Jerusalem. As a history teacher I found some of the exhibits to be as fascinating and awe inspiring as they were harrowing and sad yet at the same time I couldn’t help think that there was an air of hypocrisy about the whole thing considering the current tensions between Israel and Palestine. When we were looking at the exhibits dedicated to the horrific ghettos of Nazi Europe, I couldn’t help to think of the high walls and the army presence that we had seen placed around Palestinian cities such as Bethlehem. It was sad to see such double standards taking place on the stage that is Jerusalem and I was left hoping that maybe the memories of the holocaust, which is being kept alive by places like Yad Vashem, would help lead to an end to Palestinian/Israeli conflict.
The most breathtaking and harrowing part of the museum, for me, was the Hall of names. The Hall of Names is the Jewish People’s memorial to each and every Jew who perished in the Holocaust. The main circular hall houses the extensive collection of “Pages of Testimony” – short biographies of each Holocaust victim. Over two million Pages are stored in the circular repository around the outer edge of the Hall, with room for six million in all.
The ceiling of the Hall is composed of a ten-meter high cone reaching skywards, displaying 600 photographs and fragments of Pages of Testimony. This exhibit represents a fraction of the murdered six million men, women and children from the diverse Jewish world destroyed by the Nazis and their accomplices. The victims’ portraits are reflected in water at the base of an opposing cone carved out of the mountain’s bedrock. The sheer volume of folders each containing thousands of names was absolutely amazing to see and really brought the whole thing home.
After lunch at the museum, we visited the Holyland model of Jerusalem which is a 1:50 scale-model of the city of Jerusalem in the late Second Temple Period.
My favorite part of this place (and quite possibly the whole trip) was when a crow landed on one of the walls surrounding model Jerusalem. The crow dwarfed the town and looked out upon it before leaving the wall, swooping over the temple and landing on the roof of a house to the west of the town. I’m sure the tiny Jerusalemites who dwelled in the model town were terrified. At this stage, a second crow appeared over at the Eastern wall. These crows were clearly enemies and the two giant beasts flew towards each other in the mini Jerusalem skyline. The townspeople didn’t know what to do. I think I heard one man proclaim that he was going to run to Bethlehem for help but I may have just imagined it. Or misheard him.
The crows battled for dominance of the city. both felt that they deserved to be called giant crow king of Jerusalem. Eventually, the second crow fled. Leaving the original giant bird of prey to perch atop the temple and gaze at his newly defended kingdom. Never had the Old Testament been so alive!!!! (I’m pretty sure there is something in there about a giant birdlike creature somewhere!)
Upon leaving this museum, the moment we had all been waiting for came. I havent mentioned this but we had been told that we would be allowed to go off into Jerusalem shopping after we had done all of our educational trips for today. So all during the queue for the Dome on the Rock, in the Austrian hostel, St. Anne’s Basilica, The Jewish Holocaust Museum and the holyland scale model everybody had been looking forward to getting out and spending all their hard earned cash. It had been coming all day, actually all week. This was it. Shopping.
My main purchase was a juicer. Inspired by the roadside juice stalls that were seen and sampled all over the Holy Land I decided that I wanted to squeeze my own pomegranates and other fancy fruit at home. When I got home to Ireland with my juicer I decided to make myself a lovely orange juice. The morning after our return, I set out to the shop bright and early to buy some oranges. How many oranges make a glass of orange juice? I dont know….lets try 4. I cut the first orange in half and placed it in the juicer. Wham…instant juice More than I expected. This is the best thing I have ever bought. Second half of the orange in. Pull the lever….Bam….bye bye juicer. The handle flew off in the air under the immense pressure created either by my intense muscles or an ultra strong half an orange. Israeli produce at its best. They saw me coming.
Bouyed by our shopping trip and delighted to have an authentic Israeli juicer in my possession, the final stop of the day was to the Church of Ecce Homo. This church, situated on the Via Dolorosa gets its name from the words spoken by Pontious Pilate upon his presentation of a scourged Jesus to the crowds gathered to see him condemned to death.
The church contains one arch of a Roman gateway, which has a further arch crossing the Via Dolorosa outside. Traditionally, the arch was said to have been part of the gate of Herod’s Antonia Fortress. While we were there we were brought down to an underground part of the church which was home to the oldest known part of ground in Jerusalem. One that had been proved to go right back to not long before the time of Jesus! You could even see the markings from games Roman soliders used to play to pass the time.
So there ended another day in the Holy Land and our last day sightseeing in Jerusalem. Only one more day to go before we had to get back on the plane and go home. Hopefully it won’t take me as long to write the next blog!