For our second full day in Jerusalem, I planned a tour of the Old City. There are many tour groups available for this, and I decided on one that had been highly recommended online. It is called Sandemann’s Free Tour of the Old City – the tour guides work for tips, and you pay what you feel the tour is worth. It was an overview of the four quarters of the Old City, and I chose this rather than a religious tour since I thought it would balance out the heavy and emotional tour the day before of Maaras Hamachpeilah (Cave of the Patriarchs).
We got there just in time, and joined a large and very diverse group of participants. As our tour began, a bar mitzva procession came by, accompanying a young man who was turning thirteen to the Kotel with singing, clapping, and music – we clapped as they went by along with them. We started our tour with the Armenian quarter, then continued to the Jewish quarter. Since the tour was only three hours and covered all four quarters, it was by necessity a brief overview of the main points in each quarter.
At one point, the girls and I slightly diverged from our tour, so that we could privately tear kriyah before descending to the Kotel (Western Wall).
From there our group continued to the Moslem quarter, where people can freely enter without a security check, since it isn’t necessary. It was at this point that our guide stopped for a lunch break, and when the two other visibly Jewish people left the tour. This wasn’t my idea of a fun place to stop, though as the girls and I stood on the side of the corridor watching people pass while we waited, we enjoyed people watching.
From there we continued to the souk (outdoor market), which I walked through quickly and didn’t stop to take a picture in. I really could have, but the passage was narrow and the group was spread out, and I didn’t feel very comfortable with so many Arab men close by on all sides, especially with my girls with me. We continued from there to the Christian quarter, and headed back to Jaffa gate to end the tour.
As much as we enjoyed the many sights and sounds of the Old City (and there were many), and appreciated walking through the areas we did, we didn’t find the tour a worthwhile use of our very limited time. It was a good overview, but at the same time, it was so shallow and lacking in detailed information that the girls kept spacing out when the guide was talking. Even though I paid attention to everything, I didn’t really feel I got much out of it, either – it felt dry to me. Also, it was so impartial that it was almost meaningless. In hindsight, I would choose a tour that covered less physical ground but more history and explanation of religious significance. In this tour, holy sites were pointed out, but just as something for a tourist to see, not to experience or feel emotionally connected to, and this left me feeling somewhat detached from everything we were seeing. I’m not a touristy kind of person – I like to see and experience real things, not view them from a detached distance.
A this point, I wanted to return to the Kotel for mincha (afternoon prayer service), and I went the way the guide told me – right through the souk. Dd16 was very anxious and kept telling me to go another way, and I told her there were other Jewish people there and we’d follow them. But suddenly all of the other Jewish people weren’t there, and I wasn’t sure where to go, and it’s not comfortable to not know where you’re going in a place that makes you uncomfortable to start with. But just then someone came by, and hearing me ask the only other Jewish person in sight how to get to the Kotel, told me he was going there and to follow him. That was great – I was able to relax then since he obviously knew where he was going.
When we got to the plaza area, we called home. Ds12 had been excited about the idea of seeing us via the live Kotel cam, so I asked dh to wake him up because I knew he’d be disappointed if we didn’t. He woke up and called us back a few minutes later, and while the girls went to the Kotel for mincha (afternoon prayer service), I spoke to him and he described what he was seeing on the computer screen, so I could get a sense of exactly what area the camera was capturing. He got excited when he told me he could see dd14 go by, and showed the other kids who were awake as well – it’s amazing how technology made it possible for him to see a sibling 5500 miles away in real time!
When dd14 finished, I gave her the phone and told her she could talk to ds, and that I’d stand in the exact spot that I knew would be visible, so he could see me (I was the only one of us who knew what it was). But she got so involved in talking to him that she forgot to mention it and he wasn’t looking at the computer, so they didn’t end up viewing me on-screen. I’m glad they enjoy each other so much!
From the Kotel, we went to do some gift shopping in Meah Shearim. I looked for two olive wood stores that I remembered, but only one was still there, and someone working there was smoking, which caused me to leave fairly quickly. (I have a strong aversion to cigarette smoke.) I found what I was looking for, and since I wanted to get it personalized, was told to come back the next morning. When I explained that I wouldn’t be in Jerusalem the next morning, the person who worked there offered to stay open late to finish my order, which was very nice of him. We had a couple of hours to wait, so we walked to the Machane Yehuda shuk again – it was nice to go somewhere we had been and know how to get there, what buses to take, etc – for me this trip has meant constantly figuring out directions and locations, so it was nice to really be able to relax.
At the shuk I wanted to get some dried dates for one of our Shabbos hosts (we had bought some the night before that were wonderful, and the girls liked how the person we bought from told us to take one of each to sample before we chose which kind to get). Dd14 found some skirts the night before (she’s wearing one in the picture above), which she had very much been hoping to find, since she prefers long, flowing skirts, and it’s challenging for her to find what she likes at a good price. The four skirts she got were each 30 shekels, which at the current conversion rate of about 3.7 shekels to the dollar, is somewhere close to 8 or 9 dollars each, so it was a good deal even though the owner wasn’t willing to negotiate at all.
After finishing at the shuk, we walked back to Meah Shearim (we did a LOT of walking that day, almost seven hours straight, and my feet in my wonderful new Earth shoes were really hurting – I didn’t take enough time to gradually acclimate myself to the shoes as recommended, so parts of my feet and legs were exercised by the shoe incline that wouldn’t be usually used much) and picked up my order. We finally headed back to the apartment, and after doing some stretching exercises, I fell asleep pretty quickly, while the girls stayed up late making funny videos of themselves.