Flying to Israel requires extra security measures. Before we could board our flight out of Zurich we had to go through an interview process with Israeli officials. The person was very friendly and we had no issues entering the country. After arriving we took a taxi with an exceptionally aggressive driver from the airport to Jerusalem which is a little less than an hour away.
On our first evening we walked from the hotel down to the Mamila shopping area and right through to the Old City through Jaffa gate. We had a quick look at the chaos of the market stalls lining the narrow streets before heading back outside for dinner. We ate at Kedma with a view overlooking the city walls. I had roast goose while Leanne had beef bourguignon. As we sat there we could here some chanting and a group of young military members marched along the outside of the wall. There is mandatory service in this country when people turn 18, and military presence is everywhere. What we found disconcerting was the carelessness with how some of them manage their guns. For example as the group was marching down the outside of the wall, one of the people in the front was lifting his gun in the air and dropped his ammo clip on the ground. Elsewhere we had seen young men and women swinging their weapon around carelessly.
The following morning we went straight into the Old City. We attempted to negotiate the maze of streets on our own and made our way through numerous corridors and eventually to the Western Wall. I had to don a borrowed yamaka to approach it. It is separated for the men in the large area on the left and for the women in a smaller area on the right. During our wanderings we realized that it would be difficult to get the most out of seeing Old Jerusalem without some help. We joined a walking tour that led us through the four quarters (Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Armenian) and provided great explanations of the believed, historical significance of everything we saw. The tour was also worthwhile in that it brought us to rooftops, and to nooks that we would not have found on our own. It was a long hot day for us and we felt we had accomplished a lot within this world wonder. In the evening we went to the new town and dined in a fantastic restaurant called Dolphin Sea. This was on a Friday night and as the evening approached the city cleared out, most businesses closed and public transportation stopped. Shabbat is from Friday evening until Saturday evening. Vehicles are blockaded from entering residential areas occupied by ultra-orthodox Jews. There is an interpretation of the rule, though shall not start a fire during the Shabbat, which leads some to believe they cannot use any electrical switches. So at our hotel the elevator was set to Shabbat mode, where the buttons were no longer in use and the elevator automatically stops on every floor continuously during the 24 hour period.
On the Saturday we arranged for a driver and went to the Mount of Olives. It has an incredible view looking over the old city and holds numerous spots of religious significance. It was packed with tourists not observing the Shabbat. We then went to the Israel Museum to see the Dead Sea scrolls and the huge array of artefacts discovered throughout the region. Our driver offered to take us to visit nearby Bethlehem on the West Bank, but doing so required going into the Palestinian Territory that has been literally walled off by the Israeli government. While many people make this journey, we have our own rule that if the Canadian Government advises people not to travel to a region we are not going to ignore the advice. Bethlehem fell within the travel advisory so we did not go, opting to head to Tel Aviv that afternoon.
Tel Aviv is a stark contrast to Jerusalem. Much of it is modern and it is a beach city. We wandered down the promenade to the Tel Aviv Port and had a late lunch overlooking the sea. That evening we walked through the bustling streets and all the shops and outdoor cafes. The next day we walked across the entire city to the area of Old Jaffa. It was a beautiful walk along the coast, but hot and humid. The area around Old Jaffa has been restored and filled with art galleries. We walked up and down the steps between the old port and the top of the hill. We then wandered through the old area, past the flea-market. At this point we were very uncomfortable in the hot afternoon sun. We had some ice-cream and took a taxi back to near our hotel, where we went for lunch at a recommended local hummus place. We ate with locals and loved our meal. In the late afternoon we relaxed on the rooftop of the hotel. We enjoyed the sea breeze and watched the sun set over the Mediterranean Sea. Returning back to the streets we found a fantastic restaurant and enjoyed our last night in Israel. We had to leave for the airport at 3:30AM for our 7AM flight. Security at the airport is substantial and it took a while to get through, but we had no problems. We took a very short flight to Cyprus, which is where we are now.