Israel & jordan 2018
So I’m not sure how I settled on Israel and Jordan. Yes I’ve wanted to go Israel and especially Petra in Jordan forever. The problem is that I’m always a bit hesitant to go someplace on my own that doesn’t use the same alphabet as me. But being a traveling gay I’m on a number of gay travel emails and I saw one for Israel and Jordan ending in Tel Aviv for Pride. So I was like, I’m in. But my friends had gone on a Jewish gay trip and that sounded sort of interesting, and after some internet sleuthing I found a trip run by an Israeli gay tour company.
The flights over were fine, but a 100% different. I flew United to Brussels and had used a global upgrade to get a lie flat seat in business class. Which was great and I did managed to use my CPAP to get a couple of hours of decent sleep. I had a relatively short 2 hour layover in Brussels and then an Air Brussels flight to Tel Aviv. Wow. Air Brussels was basically RyanAir. I grumbled when I had to buy a Coke Zero, but when I asked for just a glass of water and was told they don’t offer water and I needed to buy a bottle, I was a like WTF? Anyways, I landed in Tel Aviv and while passport control was a little bit of a zoo, once I got through a rep from the travel company was there and after I got my bag she hooked me up with a driver (a taxi driver) to drive me to Jerusalem. The driver was trying to talk about Israel on the drive, but I was basically brain dead after the flights and he was a soft speaker with a challenging accent, so I sort of nodded my head as we drove to Jerusalem.
When we got to the hotel it seemed like it was deserted and the staff greeted me with a warm Shalom Shabbat. I ended up coming a day early (Saturday) since the tour didn’t officially start until Sunday night, so I was checking in during Shabbat. I went up to my room, quickly showered and unpacked, and then headed to my traditional sunset cocktail. According to the research I did, the best place for a sunset cocktail was the rooftop bar/restaurant at the Mamilla Hotel which was just a 10 min walk away. So I headed down the street and the town was deserted. But I made it to the rooftop bar and restaurant and was handed the Shabbat dinner menu. Which was limited to say the least. But I did manage to order a tasty roast beef sandwich and a Cosmo to watch sunset. And it was spectacular. The hotel bar overlooks the Temple Mount which is really quite stunning. After dinner, I headed back to the hotel and of course with the sun set, Shabbat was over so the streets of Jerusalem were packed with people. Loud people. Thank goodness for ear plugs. I went to sleep as I had a busy day ahead of me.
So I think most people left the US on Saturday to start the tour on Sunday. I left the US on Friday because I wanted an extra day in Jerusalem. I’ve got a super religious Aunt who was telling me about all of the places to go and the tour I had didn’t cover them all. So I figured I’d just join a half day tour of Jerusalem to see some extra stuff. Which I’m glad I did, as it was definitely interesting. About 30 minutes after the pick-up time, a taxi driver comes to pick me up to take me to the bus which is already on the Mount of Olives. Um. Okay. It works. The Mount of Olives is where Jesus first sees Jerusalem and weeps. And it really does offer a great view of the city and to provide some perspective of the Old City vs the New City. Only time for a quick 10 minute photo op and then Lauren our tour guide is sheparding us onto the bus and then we are off to the Old City. So this tour quickly becomes a little bit of a goat rope. There are 40 some odd people from various countries and Lauren is not exactly patient trying to herd people around through the Old City of Jerusalem. But he explains the four quarters of the Old City (Jewish, Christian, Arab, and Armenian) and shows us where the major focal points are: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Western Wall, and the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount. And then we are off into the warren of small alleys filled with shops and already crowded with tourists like me. Oh, and I have I mentioned the heat. It’s hot and I’m wearing pants. Not my ideal touring conditions. Lauren stops a couple of times to explain various points along the Via Dolorosa (which means The Way of Sorrow) which is the route Jesus took carrying the cross to the hill outside of the original Jerusalem where he was crucified.
Eventually we make it to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which is the most important location for Christians. This church is built on the location of not only Golgotha (the hill where Jesus was crucified) but also the tomb where he was buried and raised. So it’s kind of a large church with around a dozen smaller chapels inside. We make our way inside and it’s a zoo. Just packed. And just inside the doorway is a marble slab that sits on top of another rock that Jesus’s body was laid on after he was brought down from the cross. Lots of people are kneeling, praying, and touching it. Some are also placing crosses or icons that apparently become blessed once they are laid on the marble. Lauren keeps us moving explaining that the church is run by four different religions who don’t necessarily get along. Like there have been fights between priests. Nice. And that it’s an active church still so there are services all the time which I think must be challenging with all of the tourists in there. We make our way to the Tomb. So it was originally a cave where Jesus was laid, but they built a small structure over it to protect it. The line is crazy and apparently you only get 5 seconds inside. We don’t have time on this tour to go in. We go to see some of the smaller chapels and then as we leave Lauren is like, “Oh, that line (of people) is to go see Golgotha where Jesus was crucified. Again, no time on the tour to see that.
Then it’s off via the warren of alleys to the Western Wall. We go through security (hot Jewish guys carrying machine guns) and we approach the Western Wall. Now EVERY TOUR BOOK TALKS ABOUT APPROPRIATE CLOTHING FOR THE WESTERN WALL! I only mention that because there are a pair of French ladies in tank tops and tights. And the religious police go crazy and I guess Lauren had told them multiple times to put their wraps around their shoulders and upper arms. So a little bit of drama ensued. He ended up taking all of the women to the women’s section of the Wall while we headed to the men’s section. I grab a kippah (like a yarmulke) and approach the Wall. Since the Muslims control the Temple Mount, the Western Wall is the closest you can get to the original Jewish Temple of Jerusalem so that’s why it’s so important in the Jewish faith. It’s fascinating looking at the Wall and the people praying. I get a small piece of paper and I write a prayer and stick it in the wall. After we visit the Western Wall, Lauren takes us back to the Jaffa gate which is where I said farewell and walked back to the hotel for a disco nap and to meet my roommate, Caio, from Brazil.