Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Days 6 and 7

Waking up in the Holy city seemed so much different than I had ever expected. Maybe it had something to do with how much more difficult it was to get there than I was expecting. It may have had something to do with the complete "surrealness" of the whole situation; I had always heard and seen pictures of Jerusalem, read about the holy sites in the scriptures, but I had never imagined that I would ever actually be there and when I woke up on the morning of day 6, still a bit exhausted from the adventures of day 5, I really could hardly digest the fact that I would finally see these places with my own eyes.

The hotel had a buffet breakfast which consisted of all kinds of things that we had never seen before and tasted about as good as they looked (which was NOT good). We played around with the raw egg concoctions and stale hard-as-a-rock pancakes for a while before we set off, on foot, to the walls of the old city. Less than 10 minutes later, we arrived at the Damascus gate (first picture).

"Old" really is a great way to describe the old city. It's walls gave an ancient aura and as soon as we walked inside the walls, you could easily imagine the place just as it must have looked 2000 years ago. The streets were narrow and crowded, winding and connecting with other roads every 30 feet or so and much of the city has been covered by roofs and tunnels which have been erected and sort of meshed together over the centuries. Shops line up and down the narrow streets selling all kinds of religious icons and symbols from 3 major world religions and it seemed that everyone in the streets was so traditionally dressed in their specific religious clothing and the contrast between the various theological groups seemed to enrich and really give a feeling to the Holy city that would not be there otherwise.

We walked up and down the streets for a little while, spotting the Via Dolorosa containing the stations of the cross (where the Catholic church has traditionally believed Christ carried His cross) until we were directed to the Western Wall (or Wailing Wall--the last wall remaining from Solomon's temple). Men and women enter the site in different sectioned off locations so we split up, uncle Will and I placing paper caps on our heads which were required to enter the grounds, and walked straight up to the wall, watching people pray and stick rolled up pieces of paper containing their prayers in the cracks in the wall (Fifth picture). We watched, undisturbed, until a rabbi came to us, blessed us, and then demanded money, complaining when I gave him something that it wasn't enough. I admit that a part of me was really bugged by this as it seemed such a contradiction to me that we were asked to be respectful when entering these religious sites and yet, as soon as we entered them, we were heckled and almost schemed by the very people that asked for respect in the first place. Then again, I don't know exactly how I would feel in tourists from all over came to my holy sites and took pictures of me while I tried to worship, which seems a lot more disrespectful to me now as I type than it did in the presence of an angry swindling rabbi.

We walked around to the other side of the wall where the Dome of the Rock is located with its mosques and well kept grounds surrounding it. We stood in line, pushed around by every child in Israel who seemed to be on a field trip to this corner of the Old City, until we made it through the metal detectors and got into the beautiful grounds. The sixth picture is a picture of the Dome which is built over the rock which Christians, Muslims, and Jews all believe in their own way the Messiah or Christ will come and set his foot down when he comes again (or for the first time). This picture was taken just minutes before we were all kicked off the grounds for prayer time.

After a while we took a taxi up to the BYU Jerusalem center which was absolutely gorgeous, sitting on the Mount of Olives, overlooking the Old City (7th picture). They really could not have gotten a better location. We took a tour and and got tickets for a concert that would be the next day (at the center) and left notes for a couple of friends that we knew were on a semester at the school.

That night Uncle Will and I decided that it would be a good idea to go walk around in the old city for a while, although it was very dark and getting pretty late. I think we were becoming desensitized to danger, which is not a good thing, and we set off leaving Grandma and Krishelle back at the hotel to rest. I have to admit that I was a little freaked out walking down the very dark, mostly deserted streets, and I think Uncle Will may have been too because we were both walking pretty fast, checking over our shoulders every now and then as we went. We walked from one corner of the city to the other in record times, cutting through dark, really cool but scary looking alleys until we emerged into a really massive outdoor Jewish concert with a choir, orchestra and fireworks. We watched that for a while and then quickly walked back through the city, passing a couple of massive rats fighting at which point I turned my quick walk into a full sprint, leaving Uncle Will behind who didn't even notice I had left him until I was about 20 feet ahead (don't worry, just another thing they all teased me about for the rest of the trip).

The next day was better than the previous. We started the day at the Garden Tomb grounds which were very near our hotel. It was beautiful and so so peaceful there. I think we could have stayed there all day. The grounds contain the hill which many believe to be Golgotha or "Skull Rock" where Christ was crucified (second picture) as well as the Tomb (9th picture). The Tomb was really neat; we walked inside it and on the door was a sign that said "He is not here, He is risen" carved in wood. The tomb itself was pretty large and empty.

After the Garden Tomb we went to Gethsemane and down into the cave below the garden which many believe is where Christ actually went to pray but the Catholic Church has said is the place of Mary's tomb. Either way, the cave was really deep, dark, and interesting. The Garden itself was small but well kept and beautiful. We knew there was a Russian Orthodox church nearby that I really wanted to see so Grandma, Uncle Will, and Krishelle waited while I ran up a very steep hill for about a mile, searched around for a while and then finally ran back (it took me about 30 minutes) only to find that Krishelle realized that we were right next to the church right after I left them (you couldn't see it through all the trees). The church was very beautiful and we barely made it before they closed (3rd picture).

We did some souvenir shopping and saw more sites until we were all pretty smelly and tired and we went back to the hotel to get washed up and ready for the Israeli Jazz concert back at BYU. The concert was fun and we found out while there that one of Grandma's long lost cousins is a senior missionary there and they were tearfully reunited after 50 years.

The whole day was unbelievable and I knew that night when we went to bed that it was far and away my favorite day of the trip so far. Part of me felt like it could have stayed in Jerusalem forever and I couldn't believe that we would already be leaving the place the next morning, off to our next adventure with nothing more than an unofficial plan in mind (the sr. missionaries at BYU couldn't believe we were embarking on this trip alone by the way. But I learned that when Uncle Will is with you, you don't need a travel agent or a tour group to have fun and stay safe. . . well maybe to stay safe, but where is the fun in that anyway?).


  1. There are a couple of things about this post that I would like to clarify. The rat episode wasn't scary -- it was really quite entertaining (like watching American Gladiators). I've learned that Eli can move at a speed I've only seen vampires move in movies (which is really, really fast -- like from one point to the next, 50 feet away, in less than a split second -- so fast that you don't even notice his legs moving). Also, when you travel with "Uncle Will" you are ALWAYS safe!!! And, if you weren't, I would probably take a bullet for you, so don't worry. Besides, how exciting would a trip to the Middle East really be if you had a licensed tour guide shielding you from all the behind-the-scenes hassles???

  2. Well after I explained to Uncle Will the reasons I did not want to hang out with the rats, mostly dealing with the Black Plague, which I was positive these two specific rats carried, I think it was quite clear why I ran at the speed of vampires.

  3. Wow, what a trip! I have enjoyed reading your updates! All I can say is I'm glad I had a translator while I was in Ukraine and being my first time overseas it took a long time to get comfortable walking the streets by myself, even knowing the translator/ facilitator was only a cell phone call away.

  4. what a trip man! i am soooo jealous!!

  5. Realyl enjoying your wonderful writings about the trip.....xo Mom