City of David's Tower

The City of David and the Tower of David are 2 distinct sites in Jerusalem.  

The iconic Tower of David wasn't actually built by David: The name comes from the Byzantine Christians who for a long time believed the site to be the palace of King David (the second king of the Israelites).  The Tower of David sits in a big fortification near the Jaffa gate that was used by different conquerors over time.  The entrance fee included a brief, entertaining, cartoon history of Jerusalem, and a wonderful view of the area. 

The City of David is where David built his capital after conquering Jerusalem.  Over time, it disappeared from view and is now an active archeological site.  There are a lot of ruins in the area, but one of the most interesting area is Hezekiah's Tunnel. 

According to the Bible, King Hezekiah prepared Jerusalem for an impending siege by the Assyrians, by "blocking the source of the waters of the upper Gihon, and leading them straight down on the west to the City of David".  Now you can walk through the 500m+ water tunnel.... in pitch darkness.  At some points, the water goes all the way to your hips (Jen's hips)... :)!  It was a fun experience!

Church of Holy Sepulchre

325 years after Jesus's death, the Church of Holy Sepulchre was built by Queen Helena, over the location where she believed that Jesus was crucified and buried. 

With the Lonely Planet's help, we made our way through the various niches to follow his last footsteps - the final five (of 14) Stations of the Cross:

  • Station 10 - The location where Jesus is said to have been stripped of his clothing
  • Station 11 - Where Jesus was nailed to the cross
  • Station 12 - Where Jesus died on the cross
  • Station 13 - Where Jesus's  body was taken down and handed to Mary, and the Stone of Unction where the body of Jesus was cleansed.

Lastly, we made our way to Station 14  - The Holy Sepulchre (the tomb where Jesus was laid.. or what's left of it) 

We thought that Jesus was buried in a cave/cavern!… apparently, over time, pilgrims took momentum rock piece from the cavern until it was all gone.  What you find here now is a marble slab covering the rock where Jesus's body was laid to rest.

We also learned that the Church of the Sepulture cannot be renovated due to the "Status Quo" agreement which states that everyone who owns part of the church, must agree in order to make any change to the church.  Since they can never agree, the wooden "Immovable Ladder" still sits above the main door of the church, and has been there since the 18th century!

Why was a ladder up there in the first place?  Apparently, long ago, the different religious orders argued about who should have the key to the Church.  They arbitrated by visiting a Judge... who decided to gave the key to a local Muslim family.  The family decided to charge for opening the doors, and since the churches did not want to pay, they put up a ladder and went in through the window.  When the Status Quo agreement was signed, the ladder happened to be there!  …(we think they leave it there because it makes for a nice tourist story ;))

Mahane Yehuda

Ofri and Niv recommended that we check out the Mahane Yehuda Market.  

We went there on a Friday, so it was SO much fun!!  It was INSANELY busy with locals swarming the vendors to make all of their purchases for/before Shabbat (Saturday) - the Jewish day of rest, where all forms of work are prohibited according to Jewish Law.  For strict followers, even cooking / lighting flames / using electricity is even prohibited, which is why they do all of their shopping and cooking on Friday :).

The market was awesome with so many new and interesting foods to see and sample.  We tried one of Ofri's favourite desserts called Halva, which Jen really loved (probably because it's made from sesame seeds and is full of sugar).

We also really enjoyed a giant bagel that you eat with a spice called Zaatar.

Lastly, we all met up with Ofri's cousin for lunch (at a yummy Hummus restaurant, of course!) and then went to his place for coffee and Baklava.

Thanks to Ofri and Niv for yet another great day!

Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum

If you ever have a chance to visit Jerusalem, a visit to the Holocaust Museum is a bit out of the way but is a definite must!  The museum is amazingly well done and very historically informative (about WWII in general, not just about the Holocaust).  

We spent a couple of dollars to get the audio guide and expected to be here for about an hour or so... 4.5 hours later, we realized the time had to hurry through the rest since we didn't expect to be there so late (and hadn't eaten all day)!  

You can't take pictures inside the museum, so you'll just have to take our word for it and go check it out for yourselves.  Admission is free so you've got nothing to lose!!

The Old City of Jerusalem

To finish off our trip to Israel, we spent our last weekend in Jerusalem with Ofri and Niv.  

Wow, such an incredible city!  There is SO much to see, learn, and experience.  Such an ancient city with so much history, where do you start…?  Fortunately, Niv found a free walking tour, which we all thoroughly enjoyed!  

Here's a summary of a few of the major events that occurred here:
  • World Creation: Ok, maybe it didn't actually start here, but apparently the Jewish people believe that the Rock Under the Dome was used to create the world
  • The Mount of Olives - where Abraham nearly sacrificed his son to prove his faith to God
  • David, the first Jewish king who built his city here
  • 586 BC - Persians (now-day Syrians) took over the promised land
  • 63 BC - the Romans took over the promised land
  • 30 AD - Jesus was crucified and died here
  • 570 AD - Mohammad ascended to heaven from the Rock Under the Dome (Note that there was no Dome at the time)
  • 638 AD - Muslims took over the promised land
  • 1099 - Crusaders took over the promised land
  • 1917 - the British came
  • 1948 - Israel was created

Here's the Jerusalem history cheat-sheet that our guide showed us.  Really interesting, but… way too many names and dates to remember!

Here are some other random facts that our guide told us (that we actually remembered):

  • Jesus is actually born in -4BC… apparently some historian made a calculation error at some point.
  • Before the invention of the compass, people used East (also known as "the orient") to orient their sense of direction because it's where the sun rises every morning when they start their journey.  Therefore, the word "disoriented" comes from when people lost their sense of which way East was.
  • Concrete was invented by the Romans
  • Armenia was the first Christian nation... "after the king willed it so". 
  • The Armenian flag depicts the Turkish Mountain Mount Ararat with Noah's Ark sitting atop it.  Mount Ararat is the mountain where Noah landed after the flood
  • Only 3-4 million people can do a pilgrimage Mecca during Hajj, per year
  • Once a believer has done a pilgrimage to Mecca, men add the title al-Hajji to their name and women add Hajiiya.  They also hang a sign above the front door of their house to indicate that they have made the Hajj.
  • The Christmas Tree came from the Catholic Church who was trying to ease assimilation with the Wiccan religion (they believe in nature)
  • In ancient times, the seeds of the Carob Tree were thought to all be uniform in weight in size so they were often used as a standard of measure for both weights and lengths.
Jerusalem is a holy city to 3 major religions (Judaism, Islam, and Christianity), so the various districts and streets all had unique blends of styles and cultures.
The Dome of the Rock
  • For the Jews, the Dome of the Rock is the first rock used to create the world
  • For the Muslims, the Dome of the Rock is where Mohammad ascended to heaven to talk to god and argue about how many prayers a Muslim should perform each day.  They started at 500 and settled on 5.
  • Barak (like in Barak Obama) was the name of the horse that Mohammad rode to the Dome of the Rock
Roman Ruins in the Cardo (heart of the old city).
The Wailing Wall
  • The western wall (wailing wall), is a holy place where Jewish people go to pray.  They also write wishes on pieces of paper and push them into the cracks of the wall.
  • Apparently this didn't become a significant place until 1967... after the 6 days war.  Prior to that, Israel's territory did not encompass Jerusalem
The Outer Wall

Tel Aviv with Friends

Almost one full year ago, we started our trip in Colombia where we did the Lost City Trek and met Ofri and Niv.  After spending several days with them there, they invited us to visit them in Israel if our journey led us here... and here we are!  

Of course, our stay here was awesome!  Ofri and Niv were so accommodating and nice.. they opened their 1 bedroom apartment to us, and as soon as we arrived, they made us feel completely welcome and at home.... Thanks again guys!

We spent our first few days relaxing and doing nothing but wander the cute shops around town.  Shopping here is really cute since there are so many different boutique-style stores and very few chains.  

On the weekend, Ofri and Niv took us for a walk along the coast.  We visited the harbour, the beaches, and ended up in Jaffa (the Southernmost and oldest part of Tel-Aviv).  In Jaffa, we had an amazing Arabic lunch and tried Niv's favourite dessert called Kanafe... yum!

When we first arrived in the Middle East and Israel, our brains were still stuck in the super-cheap-Asia mindset where paying an extra 2$/night for air conditioning seemed outrageous to us (even though it was 38deg outside)!  Returning to western-world prices gave our budget-mentality a huge shock, so we had been mostly eating cereal (or other relatively-inexpensive grocery store staples) since arriving in Jordan.  We were beginning to feel malnourished from our all-cereal-diet, so, since Ofri & Niv raved about how great the food is in Tel-Aviv, we forced ourselves to splurge and get over our uber-cheap Asian budget mindsets.  Thanks to all of the great restaurant tips they gave us, we discovered and indulged in some wonderful cuisine including some delicious salads, amazing breakfast places, some of the best breads/pastries... we also got to try Ofri's favourite breakfast dish called shakshouka.  The food here really was memorable and delicious... well worth the splurge! :)  

Luckily, we also happened to be here during their Memorial Day, and Independence Day.  Memorial day is a really important holiday in Israel where they commemorate all of their fallen soldiers and victims of terrorist acts.  The following next day, they celebrate their declaration of Independence in 1948.  We went out that night to join in the festivities... the coolest part was seeing all the kids chasing and shooting each other with cans of foam. 

We were also invited to a BBQ with Ofri's family.  We were warmly welcomed with open hands and enjoyed a delicious home-cooked meal with homemade lemonade from the lemon tree in the backyard.  Lucky for us, everyone there spoke to us in English (since our Hebrew is entirely non-existant). 

Acre's Crusader City

In the glorious time of the crusades, Acre became the principal crusader port in Palestine.  Being one of the oldest inhabited cities in the region, it also saw its host of conquerers: Roman, Ottoman, Muslim, etc..  The old city had a medieval feel with fortifications, a nice harbour, and really cute old street to stroll through.  

We also decided to visit the citadel and the tunnel that the crusaders built under the city so that they could easily access the port without going through the streets.... pretty cool.. going through the tunnels feels just like in the movies when they're trying to sneak out of the city to escape an attack! :)

The Druze Moustache

If you thought you had a good stache after participating in Movember, think again!  On our way to Tel-Aviv, we stopped at a Druze Village.  The Druze religion is an offshoot of Islam that started a long time ago.  Overall, the village was pretty ordinary - asphalt roads, cement buildings... The people are what makes the village particular - the women and men wear dark blue outfits and a white head dress, and the men grow some of the most awesome moustaches!!

Beit She'arim Necropolis

On our day trip around Haifa, we stopped at this Beit She'arim National Park to see it was all about.  What attracted us was the Necropolis... a bit morbid, yes.  As you follow the circuit, you notice all of the tombs carved into the rock... they're nice, but not particularly spectacular.  

However, when you reach the last burial complex, this is were the amazement begins.  The last tomb is the largest with a 50 meter central corridor, from which numerous halls branch off and hold around 130 carved limestone sarcophagi.  It was really pretty to walk through.

Dom also discovered that it's also an acoustically perfect place to sing and listen to your echo ;)

Chocolate Making

On one of the days, Jen found a place near Tiberias, where we could learn to make chocolate!

It ended up being more about the process of moulding and decorating chocolates... and it turns out we are not really good at it!  ...but we had a lot of laughs doing it and left with a nice big sugar-hangover! :)