Postcard #90: Jerusalem

Postcard #89: Paris

48 Hours in Jerusalem

Many tourists come to Jerusalem typically for one or two days, longer for Christian pilgrims wishing to follow the footsteps of Jesus and for Jews visiting what remains of the Second Temple, the Western Wall, for the festivities of Passover, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah or to have a Bar Mitzvah. We’ve been to Jerusalem a couple of times but it never ceases to amaze us. On a recent trip we had 48 Hours, enough to squeeze in a few sights without feeling rushed.

Jerusalem, a holy city for the three major monotheistic religions of the world: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The magical sky over Mount of Olives

Divided into four quarters – Jewish, Christian, Armenian and Muslim – the Old City and is a labyrinth of alleys and tiny streets. You can easily get lost, which could be great for discovering off-the-beaten paths, but if you have limited time I suggest to get a detailed map and study it. Even then I bet you’ll still get lost. During this trip, we focused on the Jewish and Christian areas, mainly visiting the Cardo, Kotel and Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I was travelling with my five-year-old daughter and wanted to take it easy, connect with our spiritual side, observe the locals and pilgrims, and immerse ourselves (albeit in a short time) in the local environment. We even found a nice and cute playground where she could play with local children.

The vibrant Kotel with the Western Wall and a view of the Dome of the Rock

Children praying at the Western Wall. While it is the holiest site in Judaism, many Christians also pray here.

Pilgrims and local Christians at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site venerated as Mount Calvary (Mount Golgotha) where Jesus was crucified, died and buried.

The Cardo in the Jewish quarter where you can find Judaica and other Jewish souvenirs

While the Old City is in itself a big market, it’s touristy. As we didn’t need any more souvenirs and trinkets, we preferred to visit the local one, Mahane Yehuda. Located in West Jerusalem, it’s only three stops by Light Rail train from the Old City or a 15-minute walk from posh Mamilla Mall. At Mahane Yehuda we stocked up on roasted pistachios (unsalted but there are others to choose from), spices, herbs, tea leaves and the likes. The prices are fixed, the stall owners even give you something extra, and you don’t get annoyed by pushy sellers like in the old city. There are also several little restaurants in the market serving delicious dishes using fresh ingredients (there in the market, after all) and Israeli tapas.

Herbs and spices at Mahane Yehuda market

Sweet and juicy strawberries

We stocked up on roasted/unsalted pistachios from this stall and the seller even gave my daughter a free pack of popcorn.

Traditional halva for your sweet tooth

There are many museums in the world with important collections dedicated to Christianity and Islam. But there is only one Jewish state and where else can we learn best about the traditions and culture of the Jewish people than in the Israel Museum. From prehistoric animals that roamed the Holy Land to its ancient civilizations, this museum is well curated and definitely worth a visit. It’s biggest highlight? None other than the famed Dead Sea Scrolls. The ancient Israelites were the first to truly embrace the concept of a one true G-D and Judaism became the precursor of the two other major monotheistic religions: Christianity and Islam. It is incredible to know that the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament, written almost 3,000 years ago remain mainly unchanged and the Dead Sea Scrolls are proof of that.

The Dead Sea Scrolls displayed in the Israel Museum

A detailed model of ancient Jerusalem during the Second Temple period

Mamilla Hotel – ♥♥♥♥♥
11 King Solomon Road, Jerusalem 94182
* Location, location, location! Just right outside Jaffa Gate, you’re only a stone’s throw away to the Old City. We have previously stayed at the American Colony Hotel close to Damascus Gate but as we didn’t like its neighborhood and surrounding area so much, we looked for alternatives. Mamilla has all the amenities you’re looking for in a five-star hotel and several restaurants to choose from. Our favorite? The Rooftop, which has an incredible and amazing view of the old city. In addition, if you are a non-resident and invoice your restaurant meals to your room, you are exempt from paying Israeli VAT (18%). Although service in general could be improved, the staff was very friendly and even gave my daughter a coloring set as a welcome gift. Mamilla is on the pricey side but for 48 hours it’s the perfect choice.

Our “studio” hotel room at Mamilla with a unique bathroom design, glass walls!

Windows of Jerusalem Vacation Apartments – ♥♥♥♥♥
Agripas 40, Jerusalem 94301
* Hotels in Jerusalem can be quite expensive, especially when you need two or more rooms and are staying longer. So if you are a family of four or more and want to make the city your hub for touring Israel, I suggest this apartment complex. Located in the west part of town it is just two stops by Light Rail train, or 10-15 minutes on foot, to Jaffa Gate. It is also only a couple of blocks away from the Mahane Yehuda market where you can buy fresh produce and ingredients to cook yourself. Windows of Jerusalem has several apartments to choose from, all with an amazing view of the city. On a previous visit we rented a two-bedroom apartment for a week and were very satisfied.  Our flat was very spacious with all the amenities we needed, including a fully equipped Kosher and non-Kosher kitchen.

A view of Jerusalem from our apartment rental

Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv is about an hour’s drive to Jerusalem so to save costs my daughter and I took the sherut, or shared taxi, that brought us directly to the hotel. Each person costs 65 Israeli shekels (USD 17.00), a fraction of what you’d pay with a normal taxi or hotel transfer, which sets you back around USD 75.00 per way. In Jerusalem, you can get around with the Light Rail train, basically the city’s tram system, bus or taxi. But as I couldn’t figure out the bus system, not to mention that the destinations were mainly written in Hebrew, we took a cab where a Light Rail was not available.

In Israel, Jewish men and women undergo compulsory military training.

Until my next post … take care!
Save the bees, save the environment!

Read: Jerusalem: The Holy City
Read: The Western Wall
Read: The Magical Sky Over Jerusalem

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