As most of our trip ideas, Israel came up mostly because of cheap flights. But there is more into it. There is no visa needed for EU citizens, flight time from Budapest was just under 3 hours and compare to Slovakia’s -15 degrees Celsius in Israel was pleasant 20+ degrees in the beginning of January.
During the whole flight I was thinking whether I should have my passport stamped by custom’s officer or not. Once you get an Israeli stamp into your passport you cannot enter countries such as Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq which are not the most visited countries right now anyways, but Iran is also one of those countries and that is a place I really want to visit in the future. Thankfully nowadays there are no passport stamps in Israel. Instead an Israeli passport stamp you get a small ticket when entering Israel as well as leaving which leaves no evidence in your passport.
Once we landed at the Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv we headed to Budget car rent office and picked up our ride for next few days. With no time to spare we drove our Hyundai i10 1.0 liter with automatic transmission to Jerusalem. Thankfully we were just 2 of us otherwise the car wouldn’t even move. Our Airbnb host couldn’t live in better area. Regarding the distance to the old city and neighborhood itself it was great but parking the car it was a whole other story. After I circled all the one way streets at least 5 times I started to get very angry. Not even our small Hyundai i10 couldn’t fit anywhere. But finally after 20 minutes I was able to find a spot. Since we only had 2 days in Jerusalem from which 1 we planned to go to Dead Sea there was no time to buy a parking ticket and we just left the car parked in the zone for residents only which at that time we didn’t know about.
When we got to Jaffa gate in the old city, we suddenly got this amazing feeling when it is hard to believe you are in such amazing place you only know from TV. I and Maria basically never hire a guide unless we do couchsurfing and our host is kind enough to show us his/her city, so neither in Jerusalem we did. But I have to stress that without a guide you have no idea about the whole place. We were fascinated by all the religions in one place but we didn’t really have a clue what were all the holy sites. The coolest thing about Jerusalem is the fact that within few minutes you can cross Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Armenian quarters and see all these different people living in one place.
Our first place to visit was a Western wall in Jewish quarter. To be able to enter this holy site you have to pass screening process just like at any airport. Western wall is divided into part for men and part for women. To be able to enter and approach the wall you have to wear Kippah or Yarmulke which can be borrowed for free in the entrance. It was pretty strong experience being there and witnessing how people pray and stick small papers with prayers into wall.
Then we headed towards Temple mount which is located in the Muslim quarter but we were stopped by 4 bad ass American heavy armed soldiers and told that the site is closed and opens only at specific time. Well, I didn’t argue with those dudes and we walked deeper into Muslim quarter. Basically the whole old city except for its holy sites is just one big market. We spent 2 nights in Jerusalem from which first one was Thursday but for Jews it was Friday and second night was Saturday in Israel. End of the week and seventh day in Israel is Shabbat which is Judaism’s day of rest which means no public transport, no shops, restaurants, neither markets open. It is time to rest and stay at home and it starts already after Saturday’s sunset. In our case it started in the evening on Friday January 6th which is holiday of three kings. We had a chance to compare Friday night to Saturday’s Shabbat night in Jerusalem and I must say it was a huge difference. All the main streets were empty, almost no restaurants open, the old city basically whole closed and we couldn’t believe that we were walking on the same streets like day before.
I could hardly imagine to live in such city where for almost 36 hours there is almost nothing to do. While we were wandering around the city of Jerusalem we noticed many tourists trying to figure out what to do or where to go on Saturday night. Even if you do find an open restaurant prepare yourself to open your wallet wide. I didn’t expect Israel to be so expensive in all aspects.
Another holy site I will mention and we even queued for it in the line was Tomb of Jesus at the Church of the holy sepulcher in the Christian quarter. You have to wait in the line at least for 20 minutes to be able to enter the Tomb of Jesus with other 2 or 3 people literally for a few seconds and then forced out like in some amusement park. But at least we got inside. On the second night as we walked in Christian quarter I found all the Christmas decorations to be a little too much for such place but I think it is just matter of my style.
There is definitely another place to visit while in Jerusalem and it is Mount of Olives. I recommend going in the morning as the sun rises you get a stunning view of Jerusalem. There are also plenty of churches to visit as well as very old Jewish cemetery. We did spend only an hour there and paid only one entrance for Pater Noster church. The rest of sites we visited were free of charge.
Jerusalem was really amazing and special place to visit and for all the believers around the world it is definitely a must-visit once in a life time, but for us 1 day and 2 nights were actually just right amount of time to spend there. I still didn’t mention our parking ticket for 25 Euro which we had to pay later at the airport and which we used later as an excuse behind our windshield so the police know we got one already. Jerusalem really is a unique place to visit but considering really high prices of everything in the city, lack of entertainment during Shabbat and people with no smile on the face I cannot imagine myself living there.