Israel: Day 17

Today was a very uneventful (i.e. boring) day. I stayed at home, because as I mentioned yesterday, museums and other places would be closed today due to Shavuot. I didn’t know what Shavuot was until a few weeks before arriving to Israel, when I was trying to  find out all possible information about Israel, local customs, holidays, etc. Now I know that Shavuot starts seven weeks after Passover, and marks the anniversary of Jewish people being given Torah on Mount Sinai.

The entire day I have been fighting the urge to take a nap and instead get some work done. Well, I have only been partially successfull. I didn’t take a nap but I didn’t get a massive load of work done either.
All these holidays and weekends are not really helping me, as they only remind me how much I miss my family, and the smallest one the most, my dachshund Bella. I’ve got nine more weeks to spend in Israel, and even though I have been having a very nice time here, I dearly miss my family. I miss playing with Bella, I miss Bella barking at me to give her a treat, I miss Bella humping my leg (yeah, she likes that), I miss all those puppy kisses, I miss taking those amazing naps with her, when she is snoring loudly and sleeping contently.

Life is ruff

So naturally, every time I see a dog in Israel, I get super-excited. I have noticed there aren’t many dogs in Israel, I’m not sure why. Maybe because it is too hot here? I know that Bella wouldn’t be thrilled about the local weather. I have seen so many many cats though, I’ve also seen one cat and her five kittes made their permanent home at a nearby alley. I am not a huge fan of cats (allergy), but I am even less fond of stray cats. I’m just hoping that none of those stray cats I’ve seen here will sense my fear and attack me or something!


Israel: Day 16

Ok, so I may be a little bit more critical today than usually.

I was thinking what activity I could do today, as the Jewish holiday of Shavuot starts tonight, so just like on Shabbat, buses stop running and stores, museums, etc. close around 2-3ish.

Inspired by the positive reviews on Trip Advisor (fake news!), I decided I would visit the Monastery of the Cross, which is not far away from my place, only like 35 minutes of walk.

So I got there, and I paid my 15 NIS entrance fee. The gentleman who was manning the entire place couldn’t speak English well but he told me that everything was written in both English and Russian, which technically wasn’t wrong but…

So this is apparently “everything”

If “everything” means one single sign, then yes, everything was in English and Russian. In my humble opinion, if you have people pay money to visit the place, and if you have a “museum” sign on the door, then I would expect maybe some notes, explanations, or a little map.

The “exhibition” consisted of cca 10 rooms max, most of them fairly empty. I was the only visitor at the time as well, so as I was walking into the small underground rooms by myself, well, I am not going to lie, I was scared as the whole atmosphere was a bit creepy. Some doors were open, and some were closed, so I figured the open ones were part of the exhibition. The closed doors, well, I wasn’t sure if I should try opening them. After I saw the other rooms, I was very quickly done, so I was just thinking is this it? (this is why you should have a museum map, so that people know where they can go or otherwise label the doors properly). In the end I tried opening one of them, it made a horrible noise, so I jumped in fear and let it go (I felt like I was part of the Hostel movie…). I don’t want to say that the place was completely awful, I think the monastery building was actually quite pretty and old, and there’s some interesting background, but it feels very empty. Apart from the nice building and some decorations, there’s not much to it.

I spent less than 15 minutes there, so that’s one shekel per minute…Money not well spent. Perhaps I just should have bought some chocolate instead.

Israel: Day 15

I’ve officially been here for more than two weeks now! I think I’m finally getting used to finding my way around too (I hope I don’t jinx it now!).

The main activity for today was meeting one professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJI), Mount Scopus Campus (if I am not mistaken, HUJI has three other campuses as well).

I had a meeting planned at 12:30, but I left the flat unnecessarily early to be there one hour early. That was very good thinking, as the bus journey took 20 minutes more than it should have (the journey took almost an hour in total), as there were so many many traffic jams!

The professor was really nice and told me a bit about the history of the campus and showed me around, and all I can say is that the Mount Scopus campus is truly beautiful!
I did a little bit of walking and I visited the botanical garden (National Botanic Garden of Israel) that is part of the campus.  I saw some really pretty flowers and wildlife (i.e. some fish and a frog), the view of the Arab villages from the campus is also spectacular. The professor was telling me that you can even see the Dead See from there, but as much as I was trying, I couldn’t see it (well, I blame my bad eyesight).

Then I spent almost another hour on the bus back home.
I also regretted my choice of wearing jeans, as it was so hot outside, I thought I would have to surgically remove my them from my body, they were all stuck on me.

All that bus-travelling exhausted my completely, so I called it a day and didn’t go anywhere else.

Israel: Day 14

Today I visited the Tower of David and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, both located in the Old City.

I got to the Old City, and as I am now getting used to, I was approached and followed by a man asking me all the questions, like what’s my name and where I am from. Then as I was walking up the stairs towards the Tower of David, I was again yelled at by another man from a distance (“Madam! Hey Madam”), I didn’t turn this time.

The Tower of David is magnificent! I loved the audio guide and the map of the museum – it was all very organised! I approve!

There were lots of stairs, and as I am really not fond of stairs or heights to be honest, I was holding on to the handrail as if my life depended on it.
But when I got on to the rooftop of the Phasael Tower – which is the highest place of the Tower of David – it was worth it! The views were absolutely spectacular! I took photos very, very carefully as I was scared I was going to fall down over the wall or drop my phone. The wind was really strong as well, so I was quite scared (okay, more than quite scared…I was really sad my family couldn’t be there and hold my hand!).

The museum itself describes the history of Jerusalem (including the Tower of David) throughout almost four thousand years, starting with the Canaanite period through First temple, Second temple, Roman & Byzantine period, Crusades, Mamluk and Ottoman empire, British Mandate until the 1967 war. There was a lot to take it, but it was all very interesting.

One thing I could have done without – there were many groups of school children – the very young ones weren’t too bad, although they were blocking some of the entrances and exhibitions. But the teenagers, well, they were the worst! They were running, screaming, playing music on their phones in the museum. And the nasty looks I was giving them didn’t help!

After this I strolled around the Old city – every single time I take a different route and there’s always so much to explore! – and headed towards the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I didn’t know much about the church prior to my visit to be completely honest, but I did know it was a holy site of christianity, but I didn’t know the details and what to find inside.
The church is massive, that’s what I could tell when I saw it, but when I entered, I was rather confused, I didn’t know where to go and what the stuff I saw meant. I know it’s not a museum but a church, but I think there should be some sort of guide or map or explanation or just something. I really didn’t know what was going on, and I was walking around in circle, which wasn’t easy, as the place was completely packed with worshippers and tourists. It was a bit dark, so I couldn’t see well either, but I took some photos. There was a massive queue for Aedicule (I looked up the name after I got home btw), which contains the Holy Sepulchre, I was discouraged by it, and opted to go home. (it looked like at least like an hour of queuing). I also saw Calvary/Golgotha, where Jesus was reportedly crucified.
When I got back home, I actually had to go on to Wikipedia (I know!) to understand what I saw, and now that I know better, I think I will return back to the church and take a closer look.

But before I went home, I grabbed lunch, yearning some nice veggie meal. I found a nice vegan shawarma place on google, when I got there, it turned out they didn’t have any shawarma that day, so I grabbed a vegan schnitzel, and I somehow managed to pour mayo over my shirt and trousers. They also scared living hell out of me when they said my card wasn’t working, so I had to pay in cash, but then when I went to a supermarket, it worked just fine, this really scared me, as I would be in big trouble if my card stopped working!

Israel: Day 13

Today I woke up really early (i.e. 5:45 am) as my airbnb host was really kind and offered she would take me to Bethlehem, so we set off at 7:30 (me still half asleep) and my host’s friend drove us there.

It was quite an experience. We wandered around the market – and I was surprised, when I heard we would be coming to the market I imagined a type of market you can see in Europe or here in Jerusalem, but Bethlehem’s market is actually spread out throughout the old city, and there are stands and shops in the city’s streets, so it is huge!

To be honest, I had a milder cultural shock, the market was so loud, sellers were shouting out how much their products were, then there were people selling stuff on the floor, there were live animals in the market being sold as well (as a hardline vegetarian I couldn’t bear looking at those little cute bunnies and ducklings, knowing what their fate will be) and most shockingly, there were cars driving in those teeny tiny narrow streets in the old city,  nearly missing hitting people and stands with products, and of course honking all the time, so I am really impressed they didn’t hit anyone.

We went to the Church of the Nativity, which was built over the place where Jesus’s birthplace is thought to be (it’s also in UNESCO). The church itself is split into two sections, orthodox and catholic, as I was told. We entered through the Door of Humility – the entrance has a low ceiling so you have to bend down, as in the act of humility, hence the name. I could see that the orthodox bit was getting reconstructed, which is a pity, I would have loved to see it in its regular state. We went to the Grotto of the Nativity, a cave where the birthplace of Jesus is indicated on the floor. It was really really hot inside, and I couldn’t stay long as I was on verge of roasting. But the place had quite a powerful, yet quiet and peaceful, atmosphere. We also went to another underground cave part, where there are chapels, like the Chapel of Innocents and the Chapel of Hieronymus. Lastly we went to the catholic part of the church, where I lit a candle for my late great grandmother, as I know she would have loved to come to Bethlehem and I know she would have appreciated the gesture. Outside the church there’s a nativity scene, and apparently they change it every month or so, which is quite interesting.

We grabbed breakfast at a nearby falafel place, well in my case a second breakfast as I had mine after I woke up, so I was like a hobbit having the second breakfast, and then we continued to the market, which got even more crowded (and of course louder) than before, and when we finished, we took a bus to Jerusalem.

As I apparently couldn’t cope well with the early start, I took a long nap in the afternoon (I swear I’m turning into a toddler here), and then just spent the day doing absolutely nothing.

And now the weekend’s over!

Israel: Day 12

I said it yesterday, and I will say it today again. I am so grateful for the weekend, as my feet are in a terrible state.  Therefore, I spent most of the day in my bed, originally intending to work on my thesis, but later ended up binge-watching Veep and even taking  a long afternoon nap.

I realised that somehow I am getting used to the Israeli weather, while in the first week when it was around 16’C at night, I couldn’t sleep well as I was too hot, and now when it’s around 18ish at night, I need to sleep with a blanket on. Let’s see what I’ve got to say about the weather once I get to Tel Aviv, apparently it’s usually around 20’C or more at night, and as I will be staying at a hostel sharing a tiny room with five other people, well, that should be fun. Still not convinced how I will survive those 15 nights there…

Israel: Day 11

I really don’t want to sound like Trump by calling everything amazing and fantastic, and I am fully aware I have been doing this a lot lately, but the truth is that what I have seen since I have arrived in Israel has been amazing.

So my first stop this afternoon was at Mahane Yehuda Market – the Jewish market. It is a fascinating place: really crowded, really loud, really busy and really big. I could see many people doing their shopping, perhaps stocking up for the Shabbat. There are all kinds of shops at the market, offering sweets, cheeses, kosher meat, homeware, clothing, then there are also supermarkets, cafes and restaurants. I have to say, I felt a bit claustrophobic so I didn’t linger and didn’t buy anything, it was just too crowded for me, I guess I will have to come back when the market is less busy!

I then walked (which I bitterly regretted later..) for a while, trying to kill some time, as I had a tour booked for 4:30, and I had time to spare.

I signed up for a tour called “Meet the Ultra-Orthodox Jews”. We had an amazing tour guide, who gave us insights into the belief system and customs of the ultra-orthodox Jewry and also talked about the teachings of the late Chabad rebbe. She answered all of us our questions and was really helpful and friendly. She took us to a women’s learning centre, where we all could sit down and listen to her talking and answering (many many) questions that we had.  Then she led us to a Judaica store, then to bakery (I bought a challah bread, but it didn’t last long, when I got home I realized I hadn’t eaten for 10 hours and I ate it all in one go even though it was massive. #sorrynotsorry), she then took us to an ultra-Orthodox high street and also to her own home. Many ultra-Orthodox people could be seen on the streets, first as they were leaving synagogues, and later they could be seen strolling around the streets.

It was a completely new and unique experience, and it gave me a great insight into the communities we don’t really know much about.

After four hours the tour ended, and I took a taxi home, as first of all, I wasn’t sure if it’s safe to take a bus when it’s dark, and then I definitely knew there was no chance I could walk back home for an hour. My cab driver couldn’t speak English, and at the end of the ride I showed off that little Hebrew that I can speak.

I got home completely exhausted again, and I could see that all that walking I did yesterday and today took its toll: my blisters now got their own little blisters (it’s like one big blister family!), and my feet should no longer be called feet, more like ugly pieces of flesh. I am really really grateful the Israeli weekend starts tomorrow, as my feet urgently need some rest!!