Israel Day 4 - Jerusalem

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October 27th 2017
Published: February 13th 2018
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This morning, The Israel Museum, home of the Dead Sea Scrolls and a large sculpture garden (I have a confession – I have a sculpture fetish). We needed to take a bus across town. The bus system in Jerusalem is complicated; there are separate Jewish and Arab buses. We set off up the hill to the nearest Jewish bus stop. We thought we’d located it; a sign and a bench and some bins (quite a lot of bins with hindsight), but the bus sped past and stopped 100m further up the road. We were sitting at a recycling centre. Second time lucky, we caught the bus to the museum. Upon arrival we discovered an added bonus; an exhibition by the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei.

Each piece was accompanied by a detailed description of the thought process behind it. A fun game – look at the work and try to guess its meaning; a prize for the person who is closest. We were having so much fun, we didn’t realise we were following the wrong route and standing on a lush carpet which looks like a stone floor. It was an exhibit and and angry security guard gave chase. We hastily removed our shoes and took our guess. (Soft Ground – a replica of the floor of the Haus der Kunst, designed when Ai Weiwei was invited to show his work at the aforementioned gallery, which was formerly patronised by Hitler).

We made our exit through the excellent Sculpture Garden, and on to the piece de resistance, the Shrine of the Book, home of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It turned out, the scrolls on display were in fact replicas. Nevertheless, there was an equally fierce security guard chasing away would-be photographers. It was a challenge I couldn’t resist - I waited until he had chased someone through 180 degrees and struck.

The return bus trip took forever; it was Friday afternoon, almost Sabbath and everyone was rushing to travel/shop/eat before sundown ie not rushing at all as the traffic was gridlocked. Having mastered Jewish buses, it was off to the Arab Bus Station for a bus to The Mount of Olives. This time we had a different problem: We are British, we don’t know how to queue. The bus was already there when we arrived, but full so we had to wait for the next one. When it arrived, we were at the front of the queue. When it was full, we were second from the front. I’m not sure how this happened but it was obviously an epic fail. We waited for a third bus, determined to adapt our boarding techniqe but with limited success untill an elderly gentleman intervened and said something to his fellow travellers which caused them to take pity on us and let us onto the bus.

The Mount of Olives, besides offering spectacular views across Jerusalem, is where Jesus spent his final days. I’m not particularly religious, but went to Sunday School as a child so was interested to see places which featured in the stories I was told as a child. Basically, any site mentioned in the Bible, now has a church on it. But we started our visit with a mosque; The Mosque of the Ascencion, where there is a stone allegedly containing Jesus’ footprint made as he ascended from heaven. While we stood wondering how on earth it looked like a footstep, pilgrims threw themselves at it, showering it with kisses.

We worked our way down the mountain, past a selection of churches; Dominus Flevit, where Jesus Wept, a church in the shape of a teardrop. Pater Noster, where Jesus taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer, where a courtyard is lined with the words of the Lord’s Prayer in every language spoken by Christians. At the bottom, a church built over the Tomb of the Virgin Mary.

Finally, the Garden of Gethsemene. Here little has changed since Jesus’ time. Some of the olive trees are over a thousand years old so there is a (admittedly slight) possibility that they were there at the same time as Jesus (cue more pilgrim kissing and the like). Next door is the Church of All Nations. Our Mount of Olives church extravaganza was complete.

We headed back through the old city, planning to purchase food and beer en route to the hotel. There was a party atmosphere with many thousands of Jews heading to The Western Wall to celebrate the start of Shabbat. We stopped to watch a while. We reached the supermarket just after sundown. Rookie error; it was, of course shut. Consolation – another trip to the Families Restaurant. We ate are our hummus whilst pondering the unfortunate placing of the Tea & Coffee sign at the shop opposite.

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