The Israelis have a saying; In Jerusalem you pray. In Tel Aviv you play.
But I saw lots of playing in Jerusalem too!
We stayed in the King David Hotel. When we returned there in the evening, the front was covered with marquees as President Obama was arriving there the day we left.
I thought his entourage would have been bossy and official with dark glasses and hands in your face, but they were all very chatty and laid-back – and good-looking!
The City of Jerusalem is divided into four quarters; Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Armenian. They mainly live separate lives. You can walk along a Jewish road, turn the corner, and you’re in a Muslim street.
We followed the route that Jesus was supposed to have taken on his way to be crucified, beginning in Palm Sunday Road, which is very steep.
I liked the tiny Garden of Gethsemane, which is full of amazing-shaped olive trees.
The church is now a Church of All Nations. The rock that Jesus sat on when Judas kissed him and the soldiers captured him is in front of the altar. It was surrounded by worshippers, but they actually leaned out of the way while still singing so that I could take photos!
We continued to the Old Town. There were a couple of soldiers on guard at the gate, but they just waved us through. As it was Thursday there were groups of families everywhere, celebrating Bar Mitzvahs with drummers and singing.
The boy who had reached the important age of 13 was carried on the mens’ shoulders, and every few yards they tossed him in the air.
We approached the Wailing Wall. It wasn’t at all what I’d expected. Men and women were segregated. I thought it was going to be miserable, but it was a celebration, not a mourning.
Women stood on chairs, looking over the fence at the men and throwing candies at them. Everyone was happy. They pushed me forward to stand on a chair.
I made a wish and forced the tiny piece of paper into a crack in the wall. It was packed with bits of paper, with more fallen on the ground.
We walked through narrow streets selling a selection of colourful items.
The men standing outside their tiny shops were calling after me and I ignored them. Then one of them rushed up and tapped me on the shoulder. ‘You dropped your sunglasses,’ he puffed, handing them to me.
The original Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built by the Emperor Constantine’s mother Helena, who apparently found the Cross there! The pavement outside is now 10 ft higher than it was.
I realised that I was standing on Golgotha, the Place of the Skull!
Inside, it’s a very complex church, with additions to the original winding off in all directions.
The exact place where Jesus was supposedly crucified is upstairs, and the rock underneath is covered with a reddish substance, believed to be Jesus’ blood.
We left the hotel, whose only guests were Obama’s entourage, and drove to the Dead Sea.
It’s 1,500 ft below sea level and is 34% salt. Nothing lives in it.
I dipped my hand in. It feels like neat washing-up liquid, all greasy. Ten minutes later, my whole hand was cramped. It was really weird.
One of our party went right in. She soon felt cramped and tingly all over.
Our next visit was to Masada. I’ve wanted to see it for many years, since reading Yigael Yadin’s book about the excavations there.
I was disappointed to see a Macdonald’s at the base, but hey ho, that’s progress!
We rode up in a cable car, passing King Herod’s three-tier palace.
Briefly, if you’ve never heard the story of Masada, 960 men, women and children lived on top of the natural fortress. They were the Zealots; the final Jewish rebels standing against the Romans.
The Roman army built their camps around the high rock, then they (or rather their slaves) built a wall right round Masada to trap the Zealots inside. And slowly they constructed a huge ramp up the side of the rock, watched from above by their prey.
Knowing what fate awaited them after the Romans captured them, the Zealots drew lots. Ten men were chosen to help to kill everyone. Then they drew lots and one of them killed the surviving nine, finally falling on his own sword.
Expecting to fight, the Romans entered the top of Masada to an eery silence. There were bodies everywhere.
A couple of women and some children were discovered hiding in a cistern and they told the Romans what had happened.
Masada was bigger and higher than I’d expected. And disappointingly there was no atmosphere; probably due to the groups of tourists everywhere.
Down in the museum, the artifices were quite moving.
The Zealots set fire to their possessions, and contemptuously threw their coins on the ground.
I was surprised to see a number of keys. What’s the point of stealing anything when you live on top of a small rock?
We travelled on to Tel Aviv. It’s quite a new city. Israel was formed in 1948, then it was invaded the same day!
We saw the place where President Rabin was shot. He’d signed a treaty with Yasser Arafat, giving the Palestinians some land; a decision that was very unpopular.
Israel’s not a very pretty country, but there’s a lot to do, the food’s good and all sourced locally, and there’s some wonderful shopping, especially in the souks.
To my surprise, you can take photos of anything, including groups of soldiers, tanks, etc. In fact they’re happy to pose for you, with a shopping bag in one hand and a machine gun in the other.
Warning; Israel’s a desert, and although it’s hot in the daytime, it’s cold at night.
Mark Twain described Israel as ‘The most miserable country in the world,’ but I completely disagree with him.
Believe me, the Israelis know how to party!
For further information about Israel, please visit www.thinkisrael.com
EasyJet flies daily to Tel Aviv from Luton Airport. Flight prices start from £89.49 per person (one-way, including taxes based on two people on the same booking). Visit www.easyJet.com to book.
We used the Servisair Travel Lounge at Luton Airport.
I love Travel Lounges because once you’re in there, everything is free, including food, drinks, newspapers, etc.
And it’s peaceful.
Servisair UK Limited
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