Istanbul IV: Taksim Square, Asia, and the Grand Bazar

To catch you up to speed check out earlier posts about my trip:
My travels around Israel
Istanbul I: Exploring The City + Suleymaniye + The Blue Mosque
Istanbul II: Topkapi Palace
Istanbul III: Hagia Sophia and the Cistern

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Well, it’s time for the last trip post. I know it took forever to get through it all, but it’s helpful having all this info saved incase I plan a trip back. And hopefully, it helps you with your trip planning as well.

For this last post (and basically our last day of the trip) we crossed a lot off the Istanbul to do list. One place which had been in the news when we were planning our trip was Taksim Square. Here we were mapping out our time here and yahoo’s front photo was the riots right here in this square.

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You’d hardly know it though! There were no signs of riots or any unrest, but there was a strong police presence.

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Toward one end it was much more crowded, but this area is clearly a more modern section of Istanbul with lots of shops.

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After exploring Taksim Square we met up at the dock where all the ferry/taxi boats come in. I think the ride cost us a dollar or two each, and we got into a boat which took us to ASIA! My uncle insisted that since I was the only one who’d never been, I had to touch Asian soil and Im glad we did this. It was super cheap and didn’t take much time. Plus it gave us a 10 minute boat ride on the Bosphorus.

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We even got to see the water-side of the Palace.

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The bridge where Europe and Asia meet here.

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I was disappointed there wasn’t a “Welcome to Asia!” sign. All I wanted was something that said “Asia” that I could point to and it was hard to find, but we found it.

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Once on the Asia side, we went for a short walk and decided there was more to see on the Europe side, so we hoped onto another ferry which took us back closer to our hotel.

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Another BIG thing in Istanbul which I haven’t talked about yet is the Grand Bazar! You can’t miss this place, and it’s truly unique.

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Here’s one of several entrances above.

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Not only is it a market indoors in a maze of passageways without windows, it’s also got an outdoor section. Above you can see the cats on the left. Cats are EVERYWHERE in Israel and Turkey. The whole trip we always had a cat within eyesight if we were outdoors.

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Here’s the inside of the market. It’s not packed with people, but it is packed with merchandise and vendors. Everyone talks to you as you walk around. You can’t just browse here. For fun I was looking at knock-off (or fallen-off-the-truck) handbags to get a sense of the pricing. Just by looking, the vendor, was throwing out numbers and “facts” about the bag. Knowing I didn’t want it, it was fun to see how low he would go with the price, especially as I walked away.

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Thankfully I didn’t really need anything, so the pressure was off me to buy anything. I bought one little soy sauce dish for the equivalent of a dollar. I probably over paid, but it was worth a dollar to me. And now I have something from the Grand Bazar!

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I actually really enjoyed the building where the market is held. So much stone and tile work. I wouldn’t want to be in here during an earthquake or fire (as exits are NOT easy to find).

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Another fun treat in Istanbul is the baklava. It’s so good and fresh from these bakeries spread around town. It was a fun treat in the afternoons to pop in for a piece of baklava.

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More kitties.

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One of the treats I bought for myself and as gifts for others is some soap. Brian, who I was traveling with, has some Aleppo (Iranian) soap that he got in Istanbul his last visit and he raved about it. This type of dried olive oil soap is very moisturizing and a specialty for this region. As someone with many soap allergies, this soap is completely natural and I love it. Buy soap when you visit.

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On our last night we walked along the water by the bridge.

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The next morning we said goodbye to Erica as she continued to tour around Turkey, and we caught our plane back to the US. I flew from Istanbul to Germany to Denver (where my uncle andI parted ways) and then on to LAX, where I took one of those ride-share shuttles o my house (about 2 hours later). Phew, it’s exhausting even thinking about it all. But it makes you really see how small the world is. How with a days worth of energy you can be on the opposite end of the world, that’s pretty miraculous.

Well this trip was amazing and I still feel like there’s so much to see in both countries. It’s also opened up my eyes to the beauty of the Middle East and how different everyday life is in other parts of the world. Well here’s to hopefully more travel in the future!

Istanbul III: Hagia Sophia and the Cistern

To catch you up to speed check out earlier posts about my trip:
My travels around Israel
Istanbul I: Exploring The City + Suleymaniye + The Blue Mosque
Istanbul II: Topkapi Palace
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After seeing Topkapi Palace, we high-tailed it over to Ayasofya (or Hagia Sophia) hoping to get find a short line. All the popular historical sites are walking distance from each other, so it makes this jumping around pretty easy. We also used the metro system once while we were there, and it was pretty easy and handy.

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Above is the Hagia Sophia from the mid point between this mosque and the Blue Mosque. See how close they are?

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You can see this former mosque (and church) is currently being repaired. It’s no longer a mosque and instead a museum, so they charge admission. When telling people I went to Istanbul, everyone asks about this place. I liked it, but I also really enjoyed the Blue Mosque and the Suleymaniye Mosque a lot. In fact most of us agreed the Suleymaniye was our favorite Mosque. It was quieter, less crowded, up on a hill with beautiful views and the building was equally as gorgeous and well maintained as the Blue Mosque. Be sure to visit the Suleymaniye.

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Back to the Ayasofya. Once tickets were purchased we made our way in.

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Just as we got inside, my camera said “card full” so of course I was freaking out and furiously erasing earlier blurry photos and unfortunately some video so I could photograph this day’s sites.

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This late morning timing made for excellent light in the structure. I love the yellow of the light and the blue of the stonework.

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An important note is that this building wasn’t just a mosque but also a church. It was a church in 360 (it’s crazy old), and then a mosque from 1453-1935.

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It’s such an unusual architectural mix, to see the layout and structure so iconic with mosques and yet there are jesus murals and mosaics all around.

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After leaving the museum, we made a quick stop at another site from my tour book, as it was just across the street. We went to the Basilica Cistern. It was pretty inexpensive and worth seeing at least once. This is how water was moved throughout the city and was built in the 6th century.

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It’s a great place to take photos as it has a Venice water-ways feel to it. You just walk the paths, take photos and look at the koi fish below.

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There are 2 Medusa heads as part of columns in here. Since this was underground, built by slaves in the 6th century, and not meant to be seen as a museum, but as a functioning part of the city, when it was built they recycled these old Medusa heads to be part of columns within it. They weren’t even placed right-side up- they were just put in because their dimensions fit the bill. It’s a popular spot to photograph down here.

The Cistern is also seen in several movies (James Bond + Inferno) and written about in novels.

Next up: My LAST post of the trip, as our time here winds down. I’ll cover Taksim Square, The Grand Bazaar, and oh yes, my first trip to ASIA!

 

Istanbul II: Topkapi Palace

To catch you up to speed check out earlier posts about my trip:
My travels around Israel
Istanbul I: Exploring The City + Suleymaniye + The Blue Mosque
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For this post I’m focusing on Topkapi Palace. While Istanbul has many palaces, the palace is the one to see. It’s where the Ottoman Sultans lived for 400 years.This is such a prime site to visit in Istanbul, that we decided to start our day early here in an attempt to avoid the crowd. You can see above, we were the only ones with this idea.

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The patterns and textures in this palace are unreal.

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We decided to buy the entrance fee as well as a ticket to the Harem, which our travel book said was a highlight. And how often do you get to see a Turkish Harem?

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Some rooms seem to have no purpose other than to show off all sorts of patterns. So pretty.

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Of course a Harem has lots of beds.

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They are all about the patterns! Even down to the last detail.

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After exiting the Harem we walked the grounds, saw the royal jewels (amazing) and then had to continue on to cross more off our list.

Next up: we beeline it over to the Hagia Sophia, which is also a prime tourist destination. We wanted to go the day before, but the line to get in was so long we skipped it, so today we aimed to get there as early as possible.

Istanbul I: Exploring The City + Suleymaniye + The Blue Mosque

To catch you up to speed check out earlier posts about my trip:
My travels around Israel
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Last I left off, we were taking off on a Turkish Airlines flight and heading from Tel Aviv, Israel to Istanbul Turkey. Now it was about 80 degrees in Israel (even in November!) so I was wearing a long thin skirt, hot pick tank top and thin cardigan. We get off the plane in Istanbul and I notice that everyone in the Turkish airport is wearing dark pants, dark thick winter jackets, and big black scarves. Everyone was in dark gray or black. Um… I clearly didn’t pack for the weather of Istanbul. Since most of our time on the trip was to be spent in Israel, I packed for the desert. I’ve made a huge mistake. In the passport line, there were 100 people and I was the only one in colorful clothing and not in a thick jacket. Crap.

We arrived midday and took a car service to our hotel  in Ortakoy (wear I promptly layered up anything I had packed with long sleeves. We were starving and walked down the hill (Istanbul’s very hilly) to the water and ate at the Hanedan Restaurant over looking Bosphorus. 

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It was strange to think we were a quick 2 hour flight from Israel, and yet the weather was SOOO different. Everything was different. Israel is the Middle East, Turkey is very European (and Asian). Istanbul is a city in two continents, which I did not realize until we arrived. We spent most of our time on the Europe side (since it has the main city attractions) but I will talk about a quick trip we made to Asia in a later post. 

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Since this city is so hilly, there are beautiful views everywhere. Every restaurant we ate at the entire time here, had excellent views. 

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After our late lunch, the sun started to set (it was around 3:30p) so we decided to walk along the river and explore the city by walking until dark. 

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This is the view looking south into the touristy/historic section of Istanbul. See all the silhouettes of the minarets and mosques? So pretty. Plus in the evening (and several other times a day) they do the call to worship. It’s really beautiful and after a few times of hearing it, you get used to it. In fact it’s like a clock, as the singing alerts you to what time it is. It’s also helpful as a tourist because after the call to worship, the active mosques will be closed to tourists for about 20 minutes. So when you hear the singing, you know you have 20 minutes to get to where you want to visit. 

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This is at the Dolmabahce Palace. There are many palaces in Istanbul. 

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Not only does Istanbul still have pay phones, but they are all different animals! Too fun! What a photo op! 

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We walked well until after sunset (which happens so early). It was very beautiful and very very cold. 

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I was telling our friends Brian and Andy about my secret stair walks when we spotted these not so secret stairs. Up we go! 

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We meandered up and downstairs just exploring. It was a fun first taste of the city. 

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We passed many beautiful mosques and walked through Sanatkarlar Park (which was a little sketchy, so don’t hang out here alone after dark). We meandered into shops and a beautiful art gallery. 

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We made our way back down the hill to the main road and Tophane-i (Ali Pasha Complex Mosque), and caught a cab back to the hotel. We had 8p dinner reservations at the top of our hotel at the Meze Restaurant and we all needed to warm up. 

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Since it was chilly we sat indoors instead of on the terrace. More excellent views and a delicious meal.

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The next morning we decided to start our day at one of the many famous mosques, the Suleymaniye Hammam

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It was so quiet here. We were the only tourists for a while. 

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Since it was cold and I was wearing basically all the clothes I had packed, I had a hoodie on which was handy at the mosques. Women have to cover their heads and I didn’t bring a scarf (since I knew I would buy one while I was there- why pack one?). You also have to remove your shoes outside and you can see we (tourists) are restricted to certain areas of the mosques. Tourists men and women stay together, although if we were members there to pray, women have a tiny section in the back and the men get all this floor space above. It’s like this at all the mosques. 

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We walked through the Grand Bazare (more on that later) and then made our way to the back side of the Blue Mosque to a special lunch spot. 

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What beautiful walkways. It’s so European compared to the winding pathways of Jerusalem. 

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Above is the view of the Blue Mosque from our restaurant spot at Seven Hills. Even though it was cold, we had to sit on the outdoor patio level. How could we miss out on looking at these buildings. 

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Here’s the view of Ayasofya from the restaurant. 

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The Blue Mosque, above. 

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This is the inside of the Blue Mosque… it’s more red than blue- false advertising! It’s beautiful in here. This is also an active mosque (unlike the Ayasofya. 

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Prayer time was ending as we were allowed in after lunch. This was a beautiful yet very crowded mosque. You wouldn’t know it from this photo, but the tourist section is packed with people.

This evening we ate a special dinner at the Sunset Grill and Bar. It had beautiful views (like all the restaurants), it was a delicious meal and it was fun to be with good company. 

My next Istanbul post will be about our time exploring Topkapi Palace Museum

 

Israel XIII: Last Day in Israel

To catch you up to speed, check out these earlier posts about my trip:
Israel I: Modern Tel Aviv
Israel II: Jaffa (the Old City)
Israel III: Modern Art and Bauhaus Architecture
Israel IV: Caesarea and Haifa
Israel V: Acre (Akko)
Israel VI: The Sea of Galilee
Israel VII: Golan Heights
Israel VIII: Nazareth
Israel IX: Masada and the Dead Sea
Israel X: Old City Jerusalem at Night
Israel XI: Old City Jerusalem Daytime Part 1
Israel XII: Old City During the Day Part 2

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After 12 posts, we’ve finally caught up with my last day in Israel, which also happens to be Thanksgiving. We woke up in Jerusalem and spent the day there before cabbing it to Tel Aviv for a Thanksgiving feast at Orna and Elle on Shenkin St. with our friends Brian and Andy. Jerusalem is about 45 min to an hour from Tel Aviv, of course we left in the late afternoon traffic and it took us 2 hours. But we made it and had a lovely night with good friends. But let me step back and tell you how I decided to spend my last 5 hours in Jerusalem.

My uncle had a work meeting, my sister decided to take a day tour to Bethlehem, and I was free to see whatever I wanted to see. I decided to stay in Jerusalem and cross more items off my to-see list. At this point I’d seen so many sites from other religions, but not many from my own upbringing. Here’s a map of how I spent my day:

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I got all packed up and then walked from our hotel into the Jaffa Gate of the old city. I just love these pathways.

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I walked through the old city and excited through the Damascus Gate.

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The above photo is from the outside of the Old City looking at the Damascus Gate.

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Just outside and north of the Old City is the Garden Tomb. At Sunday school as a kid, this is where we were told that Jesus was buried and then resurrected.

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This is a small lovely site. It was so peaceful considering beyond the walls is a bustling city. Everything about this site is donation based. Even using their audio walking tour guide was free. Everyone working here was so nice and considerate. The whole vibe of this place was so different from all the other religious sites that I had seen. No one was kissing where Jesus touched. No one was selling religious trinkets. It was just such a lovely peaceful place.

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These above markings are what help indicate that this is the site of the tomb described in the bible. The only bummer is that on the other side of this fence is a bus depot, so it’s smokey and loud at this edge. It’s quite a juxtaposition to be looking at these Biblical markings from Jesus time with buses pulling in and out right below it.

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This is the tomb where Jesus body was placed and then gone the next morning.

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Since I was the only one at this portion of the garden (there were tour groups spread around the different garden stations), I couldn’t tell if it was okay if I went into the tomb. So I tippy-toed in hoping not to get yelled at.

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It was so interesting being inside the tomb. Wow.

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I went back into the Old City and cut through the Muslim Quarter to the Lion’s Gate.

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It’s hard to tell that the Lion’s Gate exit is a steep decline.

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This is the land on the east side of the Old City.

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This is the Church of Gethsemane. This was on the must-see list for Israel.

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It is so beautiful, but know that the tour buses empty out here, so it’s always packed with people.

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The Garden of Gethsemane sits to the north of the church, and is where Jesus and his Disciples prayed the night before Jesus was crucified.

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Inside the church, I wasn’t willing to wait in the long line to touch the place Jesus sat. Instead I sat and a pew and took in the space. The mural on the wall shows Jesus sitting on the rock that everyone touches. I’m sure in Jesus time, this area was all rocks so how is this rock “the” rock? It’s the same with all the religious spots.

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More of the garden.

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Right by the garden is the Grotto of Gethsemane.

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I also really enjoyed this place. It was not crowded at all, which is good because it’s a tiny room buried below. This is supposedly where Judas betrayed Jesus and the guards found him here.

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Next to the grotto is the Tomb of the Virgin Mary.

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The tomb is at the bottom of these stairs. It’s very smokey in here from all the incense.

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I continued up the hill (right next to Mount of Olives).

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I stopped to see the Church of Mary Magdalene. Several female saints are buried here.

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Afterword I headed back into the Old City where I saw this grafiti. Religious graffiti.

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I had to stop into this tiny pastry shop which came highly recommended. It’s called Zalatimo’s and it’s at the south east corner of the Church of the Sepulcher. It’s right at the bottom of a stairwell that connects the market level to the upper level of the church. It’s a one man operation, he makes one item (mutabak), and it’s been passed down for generations. Stop in this place if you can find it and chat with him while he bakes. He only spoke a little English, but we managed to have a conversation which was fun.

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After picking up this treat, I headed back to the hotel where my Uncle and I check out and headed for a very quick trip to the Israel Museum. Above is the roof of the building which contains the Dead Sea Scrolls. So interesting.

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There’s also a scaled model of the Old City of Jerusalem (not as it currently is). Look how large it is compared to the people.

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It was a very short stop, and after 45 min we had to head off to Tel Aviv. I really look forward to coming back to Israel at some point. I enjoyed it so much that I know Ill be back. If I had more time I would have walked the top wall of the Old City, visited where the last supper supposedly took place and I would have gone to Bethlehem.

Thanksgiving dinner was a lot of fun back in Tel Aviv. We all had an early wakeup call in the morning, as we headed to the airport with Andy and Brian to take off to Istanbul, Turkey! The adventure continues!

Israel XI: Old City Jerusalem During the Day Part 2

To catch you up to speed, check out these earlier posts about my trip:
Israel I: Modern Tel Aviv
Israel II: Jaffa (the Old City)
Israel III: Modern Art and Bauhaus Architecture
Israel IV: Caesarea and Haifa
Israel V: Acre (Akko)
Israel VI: The Sea of Galilee
Israel VII: Golan Heights
Israel VIII: Nazareth
Israel IX: Masada and the Dead Sea
Israel X: Old City Jerusalem at Night
Israel XI: Old City Jerusalem Daytime Part 1

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Here’s the map again, to help you follow along our path. The last post took us with our guide through key Muslim and Jewish sites. This post takes us through Christian/Catholic sites and the celebration of the first night of Hanukah.

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We started this portion of the tour at the Church of St. Anne, which is the birthplace of Mary. It was very calm and peaceful here.

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It has a beautiful church (known for it’s acoustics), gardens that surround it, and even these ruins above of where the church used to stand. Again, there are so many layers to this city.

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Mary was born in the Muslim Quarter, so while on the grounds it was fun catching this shot above. Look at all the men’s brightly colored clothes. I thought it was funny, because the women where dark colored wraps and yet look at all those colors she’s working with.

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This is inside the church. You can see the ceiling curves which helps it get its great acoustic sound. It’s not uncommon to have choirs and singing tour groups stop in to rehearse in this space to enjoy the sound.

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Down in the basement is an area dedicated to Mary’s birthplace. Just like everything here, it claims to be “the site of her birth” but it’s hard to really know after all this time.

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From here we walked the Via Dolorosa, which also begins in the Muslim Quarter. See the map above.

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Walking the walk…

 

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This is supposedly where Jesus touched, and you can see many peoples hands have touched the same place. This is right around station 5.

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Here we are at the last station, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. All along the walk you can see Catholic groups singing and reading from the bible as they walk. It’s a busy path.

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I touched on this before, but the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is owned by many catholic sects. For example, above is the portion owned by the Ethiopians. They don’t own within the church, but this is a monastery just outside of it. According to Wikipedia, the Holy Sepulchre is owned by the Eastern Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, and Roman Catholic Churches, with the Greek Orthodox Church having most of the ownership, and the Coptic Orthodox, the Ethiopian Orthodox, and the Syriac Orthodox have lesser responsibilities. There are strict rules about who can pray where within this space. And even who should enter from which entrance. It’s strange.

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Above is the Golgotha Altar. There was a long line to crawl in this space and reach your hand to touch the alter through a small opening. I did not wait in this line, since Im not Catholic.

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Above within the church is the stone that Jesus was supposedly laid on. All day people come and hug/rub it. It’s weird, although clearly means something important to all the people who do this. My guide book said that the “real” stone was damaged in a fire and this stone is a more current replacement stone.

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Our guide took us into a corner room where you can clearly see the damage from the fire. A smaller religious sect owns this room and doesn’t have the money to repair it. If they accept financial help from another religion in the church, then they would have to share ownership. It’s very political, but it was cool to see an untouched part of this church.

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Our guide wanted to show us a view of the Old City from a hillside, so we exited through the Jewish Quarter which gave us a glimpse at the preparations for the first night of Hanukkah.

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After our tour day finished, we relaxed and then decided to head back into the Old City to explore the first night of Hanukkah.

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It was so beautiful seeing all the lanterns outside the homes. Walking through the alleys and walkways lit by candle. I can’t express just how beautiful it was.

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And there are no tacky menorahs here. They were all so pretty and artistic.

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Such fun getting lost in the pathways. At one point we heard singing and gutar playing, and followed it to see a group of teens celebrating with song in an alley all together. I couldn’t take a picture because it was an intimate religious moment to walk into. But lets just say it will all stick with me for life. Such a great night.

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Santa’s were starting to come out too.

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We decided to have dinner in the New City this night at Touro which was a lovely walk down the street from our hotel. The food was excellent and our waitress helped us plan our next days activities and we wined and dined.

Israel XI: Old City Jerusalem Daytime Part 1

To catch you up to speed, check out these earlier posts about my trip:
Israel I: Modern Tel Aviv
Israel II: Jaffa (the Old City)
Israel III: Modern Art and Bauhaus Architecture
Israel IV: Caesarea and Haifa
Israel V: Acre (Akko)
Israel VI: The Sea of Galilee
Israel VII: Golan Heights
Israel VIII: Nazareth
Israel IX: Masada and the Dead Sea
Israel X: Old City Jerusalem at Night
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The last time I left off, I arrived back from my day trip to Masada and the Dead Sea to explore Old City Jerusalem as the sun was setting. After a super fun night of exploration, we were up early the next morning to meet our tour guide for a full day seeing the Old City and learning the history with our guide. My Uncle’s colleague recommended a private tour guide named Reuven Zusman who gives us a full day walking tour throughout the Old City. Giving tours is a very serious business over there, as you can see many guides teaching groups all over Israel. In fact Reuven said there are required classes and hours of study to maintain his status as tour guide. Reuven really knows his history. If you’re taking a trip and want Reuven as a guide, email me at lifeabsorbed@gmail.com and I can give you his info.

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Here’s the map of Old Jerusalem again, as a refresher. And another map showing some of the Old City highlights.

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We began by entering through the Zion Gate along the south wall.

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That’s my uncle in blue, and our guide Reuvan as we started our day by heading to the place that normally has the longest line, Dome of the Rock, to hopefully avoid the long lines.

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On our walk we had a great view of Mount of Olives. This is much easier to see in the daylight, verse my walk last night.

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We walked through the Jewish Quarter to get to the Dome. We had a great day for photos, as the weather was perfect.

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We lucked out and the line to get in was small, so we decided to check that off the list. Security to get onto these grounds is no joke, and it’s also why the lines take so long. They search belongings, make you walk through metal detecters and were a bit fussy if you went to fast through all the steps. They mean business, and with good reason as this is a very important site for Muslims, Jews, and Christians and could easily be a target because of it’s importance.

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It’s such a beautiful building.

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Since we were there early, I was able to take people-less photos.

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After leaving the Dome we walked through the Muslim Quarter and grabbed a fast yummy lunch at Basti Restaurant at our guides suggestion.

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I just love all these paths and walkways. I had so much fun imagining that in BC time this was their version of roads. This was their big city. I could spend weeks getting lost in the sights, smells, and sounds of these walkways.

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I really love it. Most of the photos I brought back from the trip are of these walkways.

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Our guide took us up a public (although it looks semi private) staircase that put us above the markets. The spot where we are standing is above where the four quarters meet.

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It felt like we were in Aladdin, hoping from rooftop to rooftop.

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The photo above has a cat which reminds me, there are cats all over Israel. Everywhere. My photos don’t show it, but we saw probably thousands over the two weeks.

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We made our way back over to the Western Wall (and Temple Mount entrance. We had a nice upper view from the roof.

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Our guide told us about how they were fixing up the ramp to Temple Mount when they uncovered ruins below and are now doing excavation work. This prompted me to ask, “Since all of what’s below us dates back so far, isn’t everything below us worthy of being excavated? I mean it shouldn’t be a shocker that when they dug down 10 feet that hit important ruins, since the city has been rebuilt over it’s self so many times.” Our tour guide brought up a very important point, that Israel has had many different owners in it’s lifetime, and each had a different political and religious agenda. Depending on who’s controlling Israel determines what get’s excavated. For example, why would a government of one religion want to dig up ruins that might prove that a different religion might have more ties the land? Something to think about…

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This is one of the old walls to the city at one point in time (in the Jewish Quarter). The history dates back so far, that I’m sure there have been many outer walls over that time.

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I like this photo above because it shows you the old wall down below, and many layers above it is a modern building. You have to imagine there have been many layers like this over this lands existance. Since America is so new, it’s hard to imagine this city, on city, on city development.

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Here is one of many areas where you can see how the layers of this city are built up.

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We decided to do the tunnel tour, which takes you along the buried part of the Western Wall. This was an interesting tour, yet not what I expected. I must admit it got very tight under there as we walked though the tunnels. My uncle had to duck his head the whole time, and at most times it was only a body width wide. I got pretty frieghtened midway through and then was eager to finish the tour. We did get a full history of the wall and what it would have been like back in BC times. I should note that the photo above was in a big room where the tour started, not in the tunnel itself.

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They are doing lots of excavation work along the wall (it’s of great Jewish significance, and the government is of that religious affiliation).

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Here’s where the ceiling is tall, but see how narrow the walkway is?? Coming from LA where earthquakes are so common, I was fearful and kept thinking “what do I do if it all starts shaking- Im trapped!”

Next up, I’ll share with you the second half of the day with our tour guide where we walk the stations of the cross and then we go back into the City at night to see the celebration of the first night of Hanukkah! What a great time to be in the Old City!

Israel X: Old City Jerusalem at Night

To catch you up to speed, check out these earlier posts about my trip:
Israel I: Modern Tel Aviv
Israel II: Jaffa (the Old City)
Israel III: Modern Art and Bauhaus Architecture
Israel IV: Caesarea and Haifa
Israel V: Acre (Akko)
Israel VI: The Sea of Galilee
Israel VII: Golan Heights
Israel VIII: Nazareth
Israel IX: Masada and the Dead Sea
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After finishing our Masada tour, we were dropped back off in Jerusalem near our hotel around 4:30p just in time to find a good sunset spot. We head to one of many roof decks at the Mamilla. Keep in mind we have been in Jerusalem for almost 24 hours, and yet we still haven’t seen much of Jerusalem.

When we got into town the night before (after dark), we went straight to our hotel which was next to the car rental place. We were running only about 5 minutes behind, but that was enough time that the car rental workers, who were still at work, wouldn’t even look at us. Frustration. We knew we had the 7am Masada tour the next morning (the car rental place opens at 8 or 9) so we talked to the awesome staff at the Manilla hotel. They told us where to park it (the car rental place shares a parking lot with the hotel), we gave them the car keys and they walked over the car keys just as it opened in the morning. This means we weren’t charged an extra day. Thank-goodness for the Mamilla, which is a phrase we said several times on the trip!

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Here are the views from the Mamilla roof. Jerusalem has the Old City and the New City. The Old City is everything within the tall walls you can see above. The New City is everything else. The Old City is mostly zigzagging walkways and shops with homes up above. It’s also the traditional city when you think of Jerusalem. The New City (which is where most nice hotels are) is more like Tel Aviv in its newness.

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At this point I’ve barely seen Jerusalem, and Im so antsy to visit the Old City. From the Mamilla you can see the Jaffa gate entrance to the Old City. The Mamilla is along an outdoor shopping mall (like the Grove) which leads right to the Jaffa entrance (there are only a few entrances into the Old City).

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“A” is the hotel, and the Jaffa gate is located where the Christian and Armenian Quarter meet at the edge of the wall. To give you a sense of scale, the Old City is just under a mile high and a mile wide. It’s all super walkable.

 

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I was so excited to be in Jerusalem- I place I remember seeing as a kid via a church slideshow presentation when a couple people came back from a trip. After watching the sunset, I decide to venture off by myself to the Old City since we had a few hours until our dinner reservation (people eat dinner really late in Israel).

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I wandered into the Old City and headed toward the Armenian Quarter. I wandered with no itinerary, knowing that you can’t get too lost in a mile wide city filled with high walls. Eventually you’ll hit the wall, which you can follow until you hit a gate to exit. I had maps with me, but I didn’t want to head to the landmarks so I put the map away and just wandered.

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This site is right around where the Armenian and Jewish Quarter meet. This is on the Jewish side. There’s no real clear distinction between the quarters. There are main walking routes that run along the borders of the quarters, but there’s no big sign saying, “You’re in the Jewish Quarter”. There are several visual clues that tell you where you are (the clothing and religious markings).

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This photo was taken in the Jewish Quarter looking east. The hillside on the right is Mt. of Olives. On the left is Temple Mount and you can even see the top of the Western Wall.

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I headed down closer with the crowd, passing through security and metal detectors to find myself at the Western Wall. Here I was wandering and then BAM, Im at the Western Wall. It was a fun thing to stumble upon.

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You see above, the wall divides the mens and women’s side. The women’s side is much smaller. Also note that when leaving the wall, you’re not supposed to turn your back to the wall, so people walk backwards to leave the wall. It’s a little bizarre to watch, but so much about Israel so far has been about tradition and rituals, so I’m not too surprised.

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I should talk about something that happens throughout the Old City, especially to Americans. Venders are all over the Old City. It’s like the first level of every building is filled with trinket shops or food vendors and all of the owners sit at the entrance and try to get tourists to come in. I had been warned, and I’m good at ignoring cat-calling and when strangers talk to me. As a tourist you have to have a thick skin, and not engage in it. I often spoke French so that they wouldn’t harass me, although that didn’t really work. The best thing is to ignore it. Since I arrived just after sunset, the shops were beginning to close down.

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I walked through the Muslim Quarter and made my way to the Christian Quarter where I stumbled onto the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I’ll be back tomorrow in the daylight to see everything, but what a nice exploratory mission.

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This is the Stone of Anointing, where Jesus’ body was prepared for burial. Everyone kisses the rock (although everything I read said this was a replacement rock after a fire in the church). All around Jerusalem are people waiting in line to kiss any rock that Jesus touched. I took it a step further and made-out with all of these sites (totally kidding).

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This is the Aedicule. It’s “owned” by several religions and is said to contain the Holy Sepulchre itself as well as the Angel’s Stone which was covering Jesus tomb. This is all depending on what you believe of course. Funny story, since so many religions feel like they own this church, it’s in sections where each group is responsible for maintaining their part (ex. this wall is Greek Orthadox, this closet is Roman Catholic). And in order to keep it all fair, a Muslim family owns the keys to the church. They open and close it every day. It’s the only way to make it fair for all the religions.

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My favorite part of Jeruslaum is wandering the walkways. At night it’s so quiet when the venders shut their doors. When it’s quiet and peaceful at night, it’s easier to imagine this in Jesus times.. or with Kings riding through these streets. I know that the real streets they were on are 30 feet below under many layers of buildings but its fun to imagine.

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This is just outside the Jaffa gate, just before I headed back to the Mamilla for a bath soak before dinner. You can see the Tower of David lit up.

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After the best bath I’ve ever had, we headed up to the Mamilla rooftop for dinner at their restaurant. This was clearly a special occasion restaurant. Next to us a couple got engaged. To the left of us a rock n’roll couple celebrated a birthday. And then mid meal security came through, and Tony Blair and guests took the table behind us. Tony is just to the left of my uncle in this photo. What a fun meal- it was delicious and a fun night dining with Tony 😉

Next up: We have a personal tour guide take us around Old City Jerusalem. You’ll see some duplicate photos from my night wandering, only now in sunlight.

Israel IX: Masada and the Dead Sea

To catch you up to speed, check out these earlier posts about my trip:
Israel I: Modern Tel Aviv
Israel II: Jaffa (the Old City)
Israel III: Modern Art and Bauhaus Architecture
Israel IV: Caesarea and Haifa
Israel V: Acre (Akko)
Israel VI: The Sea of Galilee
Israel VII: Golan Heights
Israel VIII: Nazareth
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This post is a photo-doozie, as exploring the Masada and the Dead Sea was so picturesque I had a hard time whittling it down. Last I left off we were in a rush to get from Nazareth to Jerusalem with enough time to return the rental car. We failed in our mission, but it all worked out thanks to the fabulous staff at our hotel, the Mamilla. But more on that in my next post.

The following morning after arriving late into Jerusalem, we didn’t explore the city at all, but instead joined a 7am group trip to Masada, Ein Gedi and the Dead Sea offered by Abraham Tours. My sister is a travel blogger (As Her World Turns) and she booked the day trip getting us a great discount too. This day trip was amazing and we all agreed was one of the best days of the trip. After driving all over northern Israel, it was so nice to have a tour guide (Alon, who was very funny and adorable) who took care of all the logistics of the day.

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Above is a general map of where we went this day.The city on the upper left of the map is Tel Aviv, for a sense of scale.

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We all met up by the Mamilla mall, a 5 minute walk from our hotel, which is where Alon arrived with a van at 7am. We all got in (12 of us?) and our day began. We exited Jerusalem through the time-warp tunnel. On one side of the tunnel is a bustling crowded Jerusalem, and the other end of the tunnel is desert. The photo above is from the desert side of the tunnel. You can see the wall marking the zone. Israel has a zone system which basically restricts who can go where. As an American, it didn’t affect me much. It’s meant to keep the peace by segregating groups of people (Palestinians and Israelis). It’s a hot button issue as it traps people.

Alon explained the zone system to us. I’m paraphrasing (and dumbing it down for my own understanding of it) but zone A would be where Israelis can go. Zone B is where Palestinians and Israelis can go. And Zone C is Palestine only. At each entrance to the zones are armed guards checking IDs. Since we were a van full of clearly westerners, the zone crossing was very easy. Alon said he can’t enter the third zone. As an American, I would be able to. It’s fascinating.

Our guide Alon was an orthodax jew who recently left his faith. That is fascinating to me because it is a completely different lifestyle that he grew up living and then at 35 (or 40?) decided it wasn’t for him. I can’t imagine at that age trying to learn what normal life is like for other people. In Israel especially, where almost everyone you see is orthodox and you’re seeing them lead a life that is so different.

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You know, just camels and Shepherds walking along the road. For realz?! This is a thing?!

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On the desert side of the “Time-warp Tunnel” you can see the edge of congested Jerusalem far off on the hillside. There really is a line where Jerusalem goes from city to desert.

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Along the highway in this desert are many Bedouin people. They live a nomadic lifestyle where the shepherd the land and move along in clans. This is really how people really still live here. It’s not homelessness, as they have several tent structures, fires going and animals to tend. It’s more elaborate and you can see kids running around and women cleaning. It’s just so different, and I love it.

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At sea level, Alon pulled the van over for photos and so people could ride camels. It was on my list of things to do in Israel and since I figured it would be my only chance, I did it. Cross that one off my bucket list.

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As the map far above shows, we took a long drive south along the Dead Sea to get to Masada (our first destination). Along the way we drove by the Qumran in the West Bank and it’s here in the photo above where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1946-1956. Yes, you read that right. It was only 60 years ago when these zillion year old scrolls were found. And they were found by Bedouins in caves up in the mountains. Who knows, there could be so many more around Israel. It’s like going for a hike and finding THE bible. Like the first bible. So crazy.

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There’s Masada above. You can see how this mountain of land stands on it’s own and why it made such a great place for a King to vacation. If anyone was going to attempt attacking, they’ed see them coming and have plenty of warning.

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Since we were on a tour and only had a set amount of time to see the top, we opted to ride up the tram instead of the hike (which is on the right of the photo). It would have been awesome to hike it but we also wanted time at the top. We decided to ride up and hike down if there was time.

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The views from the tram were incredible.

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Higher and higher we went. You can see the Dead Sea straight ahead.

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Up at the top you feel like you’re on the edge of the earth… which was so frightening for someone like me.

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We were warned that there was lots to see at the top of Masada and we ended up taking the tram down so we could spend a majority of our time exploring the top.

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It was a maze of ruins at the top, all open air. It was fun to imagine what it would have looked like as a fortress in its prime.

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The views from every side were incredible.

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This was taken in Harrods Palace at the most northern point.

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Above you can get a sense of scale with the people in view. There were many school groups at Masada, and I imagine everyday tour groups and school groups liter the mountain. Alon said it was a common field trip activity.

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After taking the tram back down to be back at the van on time, we piled in and headed on back north to the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve.

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This reserve features many water falls and a short easy hike (as well as a much longer hike for people who want to make a full day out of it). The group split up and went at their own pace. Some people wore bathing suits and got into the water at each of the waterfalls.

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Personally I was more interested in the wildlife. Signs around the entrance talk about what types of animals live in the area and I really wanted to see them all.

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So I was quiet and on a hunt.

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Come on animals… peak out!

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The views were stunning and this truly was a waterfall oasis in the middle of this desert.

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Here’s my uncle by the largest and final falls on our quick hike. We looped back and met up with the group where we continued on to our last destination: the Dead Sea!

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Alon explained to us that when he was a teenager, the Dead Sea used to come up to the road, it was so high. In Alon’s lifetime, the water level has dropped dramatically. It’s a big issue in Israel.

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We stopped on the road for some photos.

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We arrived at our swimming spot, which is on the north end of the Dead Sea. I completely forgot to bring my waterproof camera (it was back at the hotel) so I didn’t get any shots of us in the water. Thankfully, my sister brought hers:

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Here we all are floating together and using the mud to make masks. Check out more of As Her World Turns photos here. It was a lot of fun floating and very difficult to get your feet lowered without it spinning you around. Also, don’t get the water near your eyes! It burns!

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After we finished up our floating, mud baths, and dried off we got in the fan and headed back to the Mamilla Mall where we had been picked up 10 hours earlier. The above photo shows the old war bunkers we drove by. This was one of the most fun days on the trip and I highly recommend Abraham Tours. Try to get Alon as a guide if you can.

Next up, we get back to Jerusalem where I venture off to explore the Old City by myself at night and we also end up having dinner next to a former Prime Minister. Pretty exciting!

Israel VIII: Nazareth

To catch you up to speed, check out these earlier posts about my trip:
Israel I: Modern Tel Aviv
Israel II: Jaffa (the Old City)
Israel III: Modern Art and Bauhaus Architecture
Israel IV: Caesarea and Haifa
Israel V: Acre (Akko)
Israel VI: The Sea of Galilee
Israel VII: Golan Heights
_________________________________________________________________________

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We spent a little too much time in Golan Heights, so when we got to Nazareth we had to marathon it through the city. The map above shows you just how many sites there are to see here, but we drove through the city looking specifically for the Basilica of the Annunciation, which was on our “Top 10” list of Israel. We had time for only one site, so we knew it had to be the one from the “Top 10”. 

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At least to get to the Basilica it meant we had to drive through Nazareth, so we did get to see the city from the car. Up until now, everywhere we visited felt predominately either Jewish or Christian and as we entered Nazareth we could tell this city was predominately Muslim by the dress code. It’s funny how in every city, the clothing “gives away” the religion of that area. 

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NY Pizza in Nazareth. We had to get a photo. 

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The streets in Nazareth are winding, hilly, and narrow. We got a little lost searching for the  Bascilica. We could see it from afar (it has a huge domed steeple) but it was hard to find the streets that would take us closer to it. Once we saw tour groups on foot, we figured we were close, parked the car and started walking. 

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I love the narrow passages throughout the older cities in Israel. It feels European with a Middle Eastern flare. It’s just not something you would find in the US. Above you can see we are getting closer to the Basilica. 

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Alas we’ve made it to the Basilica of the Annunciation. This building is a Roman Catholic place where in the Catholic faith, Mary was contacted by the angel Gabriel and told she would conceive and become Jesus’ mother. This place also sits on top of where Mary lived. I should note that different religions have their different places in Nazareth where they believed this happened. For example, there is a Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation nearby in Nazareth where they believe this took place. This was our first taste of how the religions each have their own “this happened here” landmark for the same historical story. 

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In the upper level, we could hear music being played as part of a mass. On the lower level you can see this shrine set up outside of the ruin believed to be where Mary lived. 

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The reason this building was on the “Top 10” guide was for architectural reasons (the top 10 includes sites of all religions). It really is a beautifully made building. 

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From behind an iron gate tourists like myself could see into Mary’s dwelling (depending on your faith). 

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It’s so hard to envision this space as a house, but everything was so different back then. 

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You can see they built around the ruins. 

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The photo above and below are taken on the upper level, where mass is held. When we arrived the mass was ending, so we were able to enter the upper level. 

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This building is quite large and it is one not to be missed if you’re traveling through Nazareth. 

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I love that in the design of the building, they preserved the ruins that they were building over. Later in the trip we saw Jerusalem, and how in most cases things where built right on top of the buildings below. In this case they designed the building to showcase these ruins instead of covering them up. 

In Israel political power and agenda has changed hands so many times, and when a new regime takes over, their religion becomes the most important politically and it is in their best interest to cover up historically significant buildings of the other faiths that threaten their faith. This is true of all the faiths. It’s why a historically important mosque, is also a historically important church, and also a historically important temple.

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We had to get back on the road after our short Nazareth stop in order to get the rental car back to Jerusalem by the end of their working day. On we went! The next several posts will be of Old and New Jerusalem, Masada, and the Dead Sea.