In the US, Sunday is seen as the day of rest. That wasn't the case with us. Eager to see as much of Jerusalem as we could, our two car caravan (Tyler, Chad and I in one with Oded and Zenobia in the other), started the mini road trip from Haifa at 8am. We arrived at Zenobia's apartment, parked the cars, had some tea and snacks and made our way to the Old City by light rail. The light rail in Jerusalem is quick, fast, clean and inexpensive--I would definitely recommend it.
By the time we made it to the Old City it was close to noon and the walls were especially full of life on this day given the Passover and Easter holiday. I had visited this part of Jerusalem on my last trip and excitedly pointed out attractions that I remember from the midnight bike tour my friends and I went on. (Highly recommend it: it's a great way to see the city when it's quiet and calm and the biking was pretty fun too! They warn you that it's not for people who have never biked before, and it's not, but if you're like me and haven't been on a bike in a few years, you'll be ok--just take it slow until you get the hang of it. There are a few hills so consider yourselves warned but the toughest part for me was getting used to how narrow the streets are. I felt like I was bouncing off the walls and off the parked cars because the sidewalk was so narrow. Still, the views, the serenity, and the experience make it worthwhile.) Needless to say, being able to experience the Old City during the day or at night (though ideally you could do both) is essential to the Israel experience.
Back to this trip. We made our way to the Wailing Wall and split into males and females as we went to say our prayers and make our wishes. Even though I consider myself to be a Hindu, I like learning about different religions and participating in their traditions, where it makes sense and I'm invited to do so. I don't think you need to be a follower of a specific faith to be able to appreciate and feel its spiritual energy or to seek and receive blessings from their higher power. Zenobia told me that the wish I had left during my last visit was at the Mount of Olives since they remove them from the wall twice a year during Passover and Shana Tova. When I stopped to think about my last visit, I struggled a little bit to recall what all I had written on my piece of paper when it struck me and sent a warm feeling down my body. There were a few things on the piece of paper, but one of them was a desire, a hope, a wish for a change of pace and an opportunity to follow my passion. Lo and behold, I was back two months later with a refreshed mind, eyes full of hope and a desire for adventure. The signs just keep on showing up :-) This time when I went to the wall, I had even more belief and faith in the spiritual power there than before. So I closed my eyes, took a few breaths and reflected on the what had brought me to this point and what I was looking forward to for the days to come.
We reconvened with the fellas and started making our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where Christians believe Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. As eager as we were to make it to the Church, especially on Easter, I could feel the hangriness starting to sneak up on me. After a quick stop for some amazing hummus in the Arab quarter, we made our way to the Church--but not without stopping at a shop first. Believe it or not, it wasn't me who stopped! Chad and Tyler came across this cool tea dispenser that they purchased. The shopkeeper was really friendly and gave their beautiful sisters, Zenobia and I, bracelets with one-eyed beads on them to protect us. It was very sweet and the only piece of jewelry I have in Israel, aside from the watch I'm wearing. (Yes, friends, I came on this trip without wearing any jewelry or without a jewelry bag. No necklace, no bracelets--until now, not even a single pair of simple stud earrings!) Immediately upon entering, we came across The Stone of Anointing, the spot where his body was prepared for burial. People put their belongings on the stone to be blessed--the boys had their sunglasses blessed while I put down the bracelet I just received. As we made our way around the corner, we saw the crowd that had gathered to see and touch Jesus's grave as well as to witness the afternoon Easter mass. Insider tip, c/o Zenobia: there's a little room towards the left where you can leave a donation to get candles from the priest there. Below the ledge with all of the candles, you can touch one end of the grave if you don't want to wait in the 3-hour line to see the front of the grave. We opted for this option, skipping the queue to see the grave and making a donation to collect some candles that we lit for loved ones watching down over us.
After the Church, we stopped by Mamilla mall to climb up to their terrace and get a view of the city. Mamilla Mall was a frequent stop of me on my previous trip as it was the meeting point for our bike tour as well as where we parked our car as we explored the Old City on food. We also had 2 meals and a snack at the Mall given its close proximity to the Old City. After taking in the view, we headed back to Zenobia's apartment to make our way to the Jewish settlement in the West Bank that was the backdrop for her documentary. Before taking the light rail all the way back, we caught sight of the the Mahne Yeahuda Market and stopped for provisions, for the boat and for our trip to the Dead Sea and hot springs that evening. The market was coincidentally on the list of things that one of the guides from the bike riding tour, Roie, had recommended. After buying some spices, some wine, some cheese and some halva--you know, the essentials--we made our way back to Zenobia's and were off to the settlement.
The drive to the settlement went pretty quickly, probably because I fell asleep as soon as we got on the road. The settlement is a community of people who have set themselves up in what was once abandoned land. Zenobia's friend, and the subject of her documentary, has a restaurant on the settlement that follows a farm-to-table concept. Because it was Passover, there was a limited menu and no bread, but the food was still delicious. The views and company fared just as well. Another cool part of the farm was the sustainability practices in place. The cheeses that we had were made from milk that the goats on the settlement provided. There was also an olive oil factory on site. The refuse from the olive oil making process was collected and made into a cylindrical shape that they could use as a fuel source, pretty amazing! Things were pretty quiet since we were there towards the end of the day, but we were grateful to have the opportunity to have such a unique experience and meet the locals there. As a bonus, Zenobia's friend who owns the restaurant gave us a jar of homemade Dulce de Leche for the road--yum!
It was quite the day--and it's not over yet. I thought I'd end this post on a sweet note and share the rest of our Jerusalem adventure with you tomorrow. Before I go, here's a question for you: I often come across different places or traditions on my travels where I can say a prayer for someone or seek a blessing or just send someone good luck, and there are times that I know who needs the extra push (sometimes it's for myself) but there are times when I don't. If you have something or someone you want me to think of next time I come across an opportunity like that, let me know (either privately or in the comments) and I'll start sending you some good vibes.