Walking through Jerusalem really means walking in close contact with the history of humanity and we can finally do it. Once off the train, we head to our hotel and then dedicate ourselves to the discovery of this magical place.
The first obligatory stop is undoubtedly the old city gathered in high walls and full of small intertwining streets, overlooked by sellers of handicraft products and knick-knacks. Distracted by the sparkle that surrounds us, it takes us a while to unravel our way through the narrow streets without losing track of the signs that guide us toward our destination.
The Wailing Wall, sacred to Judaism for over two thousand years, rises majestically before us and stretches for 488 meters. The large stones that compose it are visually interrupted by worshippers in dark clothes and showy headdresses, we observe them in silence as they pray, they write tickets that they slide through the chinks of the mighty stones and move swaying while praying. The believers follow one another and take turns taking their places on uncomfortable chairs for prayer. Stacks of Torahs are neatly stacked on shelves and tables, and there’s also no shortage of classic kippot – headgear – on the go for visitors and tourists. We look around curiously, we observe again in an attempt to understand – or at least savor – a little of that religiosity that does not belong to us.
The Orthodox in the city are very observant both in their habits and in their dress. Men, women, and children dress in an orderly and very chaste manner. The women wear wigs, the men have long beards and ringlets framing their faces. Of course, the city has no shortage of Kosher restaurants, there is even a themed McDonald’s.
We continue to wander before crossing the bridge that takes us to the Muslim Al-Aqsa Mosque perched on a high hill, the highest in the disputed territory between Israel and Palestine and the closest to God. The golden dome is ablaze despite the white clouds that they surround it with. Its appearance mixes cultures and architectural styles spanning numerous centuries. In the large square, there are numerous worshippers who are preparing to pray, others camp out in relaxation surrounded by ancient buildings and barren hills. In the distance, you can see the famous hill that houses the Mount of Olives.
Passing from the city center to the Mosque, one gets the impression of being transported in time, in two dimensions that coexist. Leaving the Muslim area behind us, we stroll a little further in search of a restaurant recommended by the locals and by the guide: Lina – a rather spartan restaurant that serves hummus, falafel, and other delicacies of the local cuisine. The rich flavors of the place conquer us and we leave the table full and satisfied.
We dedicate the afternoon to visiting the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus died. It is large and articulated in its various spaces that mix different architectural styles as evidence of the various historical evolutions to which the church has been subjected. Here too there is no shortage of crowds of faithful eager to pray to Jesus Christ and rub cloths on the stone on which his dying body was placed. They kneel and take turns in prayer in an attempt to obtain some sort of miracle. All this is fascinating from a folklore point of view, the real root of this blind faith remains uncertain. We are not here to judge and we observe everything with extreme curiosity.
When the sun begins to set over the old city, we cross the Damascus Gate among the crowds of locals engaged in the sale of objects, food, fruit, and vegetables in the street market that leads us to the foot of the well-known entrance to the city. As we head towards the center, we stop in the new Mamilla Mall district full of art galleries and shops. There are restaurants overlooking the hills from which you can enjoy a splendid sunset that highlights the skyline of Jerusalem. For a snack, we ordered delicious sweets and coffee in the historic Roladin pastry shop.
The following day, after a short tour outside the city, we return to the city, and for lunch, we sit at the tables of the Georgian restaurant Hachapuria. The rich dish meets our expectations: our eyes and our palate. Soon after we get lost in the central Mahane Yehuda market where you can taste the best pastries in town. In the afternoon we continue to wander around to discover the city.
In the evening we have dinner in the company of new Italian friends found during a tour in the desert. We choose a restaurant frequented by Orthodox revelers, then a rigorous Kosher dinner with plenty of plates and saucers, wine, unlimited food, and chat. Without giving up the festive atmosphere that reigns here.
On Friday morning we go as far as Yad Vashem – the Museum of Memory – where we spend less time than it would be necessary to discover all the cruelty experienced by Jews. Interviews, exhibits, and a careful reconstruction of the events are set up in this space with a minimal and futuristic design overlooking the hills. Shabbat is coming up and all businesses, including transport, will close until 6 pm on Saturday. We move to the German Colony district, a residential neighborhood with a long sidewalk overlooked by restaurants, newsagents, and florists. We sit down at Caffit, a super trendy and crowded restaurant where we order a Western meal. In the time it takes to ingest our Caesar salad, shops, restaurants, and the entire street are empty and when we arrive in the center we find an apocalyptic scenario in front of us. There is no one left on the street, except other tourists like us.
In the evening silence reigns supreme, no noise outside. No cars travel the now deserted streets for Shabbat. Not really believing that everything was closed, we only find refuge in a McDonald’s open near our hotel.
In the morning the alarm rings early and we get on the first available taxi to reach the airport. As we watch the scenery change around us from the window, we collect another splendid experience and leave a unique city behind us.
FLYING: With Ryanair, you arrive and depart from Ben Gurion Airport. In about 30/40 minutes it is possible to reach the city center by taxi.
SLEEPING: The cost of good quality hotels is around €130/150 per night, the Stay Inn Hotel
GETTING AROUND: The main attractions in the city can be reached on foot but some distances are longer and the surface metro is the most convenient solution for getting around without too much effort.
EATING: There are numerous restaurants of various types in the city, and there are areas full of different choices for all palates. Here too, as in Tel Aviv, the cost of a meal is quite high, but obviously, there are more basic solutions and well-priced street food.