EARLY in the morning I was woken up by the bright light of the sun rising over Jerusalem. This was my first view of the city in day light and my oh my did it ever deserve the title of Holy the way I was seeing it. I only wish I had mustered up the energy to reach for my camera and try to capture that incredible moment, but instead I used all the strength I could find to roll over and hit Ryan on his mat next to me so he could catch a glimpse of his own. It was very special for this to be the first thing I saw in the morning, but I was far from ready to get up so I quickly let myself fall back asleep.
When we did get up we each got ready for the day, moved our bags to the luggage storage area, and hit the town with our map. I thought it would be cool to head to the Mt. of Olives but with the twists and turns of the narrow streets we quickly didn't know where we were. We stopped in the covered market area and bought some pastries for breakfast. Eventually I realized we were on the Via Delarosa. This is the road that they claim Jesus carried His cross along. I had read that today it can be hard to imagine what it was like when Jesus was alive because it is so commercial. But the book I was reading also said that during the time of Jesus the street also was where all the shops were and that although everything has been made more modern and the street we walk on is actually 3 layers on top of the streets of the past that the Via Delarosa is a good representation today of the equivalent of what Jesus walked down a couple thousand years ago. I think that is interesting.
Eventually we found where we were on the map and found our way to the "Lion's Gate" where we left the city walls and were directly across from the Mt. of Olives. We were planning to go on the free tour of the city at 11:00 so we didn't have time to hike to the top of the hill but we took a lot of pictures from outside the walls in a cemetery that lined the outer wall. It was interesting that all the gravestones were in Arabic. On the Mt. of Olives across from us we saw the Jewish Cemetery that is the largest Jewish Cemetery in the world that is still in use. And by in use I mean they still bury people there because I suppose all cemeteries are still in use seeing how I've never heard of removing bodies and turning the land into something else... bu you never know.
Once the photo opp was over we walked along the outside of the wall. I wanted to see the next gate, The Golden Gate. This gate is very special because although it was built as a gate it is filled in and cannot be used as an entry or exit point into the Old City. This is the gate that people believe that Jesus will enter the city through when He returns. It also stares out at the Mt. of Olives. As we rounded the wall we came to the Dung Gate which originally was made out of dung but today smells and looks normal. Then came the Zion Gate.
We weren't even able to approach the gate before a man came up to us and asked what we were looking for. And then without warning he is offering to show us how to find the sites on Mt. Zion and having us follow him. I thought it was sort of weird because we hadn't even told him what we were doing, which was simply exploring, and off we went with him. First he took us to the Church of Dormition believed to be where the Virgin Mary died. He took us through here very quickly. Then to the Tomb of David. The tomb is divided in half for women and men to be separated. So this man took Ryan to his half and directed me to enter on my half. It was another in and out. Next stop is the room of the last supper (or where they say it was). So the man led us there, pointed to where they think the table sat, and then said to follow him and he'd take us into the Old City for the rest of the tour. By this point we had figured he would probably be looking for some kind of a tip and I was prepared to give him something for this 15 minute walk that we could have done by ourselves. But we had no interest in going into the Old City with him because we were going on a free tour in half an hour. So we told him we had to go. He said okay for just this part it was 250 shekels each. That $65... WHAT?! And he said that for the whole thing it is 500NIS. Heck NO! Ryan told him he had not asked if we wanted a tour, he had not said how much it cost, and that we weren't giving him all that money. At first when he was leading us there we honestly thought he was just being nice and pointing us in the direction of the sites. So then he started asking how much we did want to pay him. But he was very disinterested in any small sum and ended up just walking off. It was like we were back in Egypt all over again. Argh! I just hate the feeling when people are trying to take advantage of you. So then we wove our way out of Mt. Zion sites and followed the wall until we came to the Jaffa gate to meet our free tour.
The free tour ended up being fine, but not great. When we went on our first free tour in Amsterdam I was sold on these. I thought they were the best thing every because the guides work more for your money than if you pay up front. After doing several in very different cities I realize that it can also just depend on your guide. I didn't feel the guide we had in Jerusalem was as funny and interactive as some others. I also recognize there is a lot of information and a lot to see in Jerusalem but all the same it was just a fine tour. And he kept plugging his tour in the afternoon to the Mt of Olives, which cost to go on and I got tired of his advertisements for that.
On the free tour we went to the Tower of David right inside the Jaffa Gate, we climbed on some rooftops for a view of the city (although the roof of our hostel we slept on was higher and a better view), we went to the Temple Mount and had the oppotunity to go up to the Wailing Wall (again men and women have separate sides), we went to an area where there used to be a market, we walked by a monastery, we walked by the Church of the Holy Sepulcher but did not go in, and then ended up back where we started 3 hours later. I might be missing a thing or two, but nothing really stood out to me and I was bummed about that. Right after the tour Ryan and I went back to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which was my favorite thing to see in Jerusalem after the incredible master piece by God that morning in the sunrise.
For anyone who does not know, as I didn't before I went to Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is where the last few stations of the cross are. This is where they believe Jesus was crucified, bandaged after death, and then placed in his tomb where he rose from on the third day.
As soon as you walk in there is a stone on the ground where they say Jesus' body was laid to be bandaged. People were there rubbing the stone and then rubbing their hands over their own bodies. They placed objects on the stone, they just knelt there with their hands on it while praying. It was quite a site to witness. Then further inside the church is a large box-like building thing that confused me at first and there was a line to go inside. Then I realized this is where they believe was the tomb of Jesus. When we had our turn to go in there is the stone they say Jesus body was laid on. There is another place outside the gate called the "Garden Tomb" that some say is the tomb of Jesus, but from what our A-political/religious tour guide said the most up to date archeological evidence points to this one in the church being the actual spot. In the Bible it says that the tomb, the crucifixion was all outside of the city and although at this time in modern day the Church is inside the city during the time of Jesus there is a lot of evidence that it was outside the city. Upstairs in the church is a huge rock with an alter built around it now but you can crawl under the alter to touch the rock because this is where they say Jesus' cross was placed for his crucifixion.
Jerusalem was A LOT different than I expected. There were WAY more tourists than I thought there would be for some reason. I didn't get any feeling of Israelis going about their daily life, it was all touristy. Everything for sale was geared toward tourists. It was very overwhelming. It was fascinating to see everything, but you definitely have to work very hard to try and get even a glimpse of what life could have been like during the times of the Bible. I had thought before our trip began that I would want to spend the most time in Jerusalem, but after being here for not even a full day I had had my fill.
We went back to the hostel and packed overnight bags. Our goal was to get to Masada for the night to do a sunrise hike there in the morning and then bus to Ein Gedi to hike there before swimming (more just floating) in the Dead Sea. We were running late at this point and as we made our way to the bus stop to catch the city bus to the central bus station we saw the bus we needed pulling away. We ran after it and while it was stopped in traffic we tried to get on but the driver wouldn't let us even sweating and out of breath. So we kept running to look for the next stop he would come to. The whole run was pretty much up hill and we were dying. We finally found a bus stop and waited for quite awhile debating the whole time whether we'd make it. Eventually a bus pulled up and it was the same driver who hadn't let us on. Traffic was so bad at this hour that the bus was going really slow. When we made it to the station we were 15 minutes late for the last bus to Masada. But we could still take a bus to Ein Gedi but it wasn't leaving until 8 and it was then a little before 5. So we killed time looking in an outdoor store at the bus station. We walked down the street a ways. We found free wifi which was great because I found there was a single hostel in Ein Gedi although it would not let me book online within 72 hours of our arrival. And they weren't answering their phone, but I did send them an email too. We found some dinner and then headed back to the station to wait the last 45 minutes or so at our gate. It was a lot of waiting. We both slept most of the way to Ein Gedi and the bus driver was nice enough to point up a small hill to the hostel when it was our stop. Thankfully the hostel was literally right off the highway. There is hardly anything in the town anyway.
We climbed the hill and found reception which only had a security guard at it, but he took our passports and gave us a key to our dorm. We were just thankful to have a place to sleep. Otherwise we would have been sleeping on the "beach" along the Dead Sea. I definitely would not worried about being too cold since even the air at 10pm was more than warm, but it was nice to shower and sleep on a bed in a room with air conditioning. And I slept like a rock and if I'd been on the beach I would have been sleeping on rocks which might have hindered that a bit. So it was a good night.