Sunday morning we work up and went for a long walk with Jessie (the puppy) through the forest close to Leda’s house. I got a better appreciation for the damage done by the fires as we went deeper into the forest than the other day. Amidst how sad that was I had the real privlege of walking alongside a very knowledgeable forager (multiple publications and counting!). We saw newly budding crocuses and tulips, I learned what asparagus, zataar and mistletoe looked like all while munching on a carob pod from a carob tree that Ricky shook some pods off for us! There are ruins all inside the forest and we saw sites like a kiln and an area for wine making. It was fascinating because we also walked essentially to the edge of the Palestinian border in which there is no wall or border crossing into the back side of Bait Iksa. I’m starting to realize just how varied the regulations are in different areas although I probably will wouldn’t feel comfortable just walking over. We saw some local gazelles running off at the end of the walk (one of the goals for the outing) and headed home as a little drizzle set in.
It was then off for my first day in the heart of Jerusalem (with plenty of help confirming my bus route from my hosts!) I made my way to the Jaffa gate at the edge of the old city. I will spare you my attempt at recapping the history as most of you, if not all, will be much better versed in all of that. But just wow, the old city was amazing!
On our tour we managed to cover the four quarters, the western wall (sadly the Temple Mount was closed for the birthday of prophet Mohammed), a view and brief overview of the Mount of Olives, The Cenacle, The Cardo, lunch at Abu Shukri, the Via Dolorosa and ended at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. I really could not cease being astounded at the significance of Jerusalem in so many ways. However, what I have enjoyed even more has been seeing the mix of culture and religions in one place and trying to better understand the interplay between all the parties. Our guide did an excellent job at orienting us to that and it is apparent everywhere in the Old City. I think my favorite point was at the junction of the Austrian hospice and one of the stations of the Via Dolorosa, there were menorahs and Israeli flags flying above, Arab shop owners keeping busy in the street and Israeli military manning their posts. It was continually fascinating to see all the different parts of Jerusalem mashed up on top of each other.
A new friend from my tour and I decided to get some gift shopping out of the way and sample a variety of yummy things throughout the stalls and shops. Im a sucker for weaving through narrow alley markets and this kept us busy for several hours. We parted ways and it was getting a quite dark so I decided to head back to Leda’s. On my way out of the old city I made one last friend with a shipowner at the edge of the Armenian section. His shop was glowing from the basement of one of the old buildings and his booming classical music filled the now empty street. I walked down the steps and asked if he was still open. Normally, he would not be, but was busy working away on last minute Christmas orders. The shop was full of gorgeously painted ceramics and I knew I found a shop in which I wanted to buy all of my gifts. He was lovely to chat with as well and proudly admitted that Obama had bought one of his pieces of which he had a miniature replica in his shop. I respected his no photo policy so I don’t have any shots but his work was beautiful and I hope to go back again some day to round out my collection! In the meantime, I started with a token mug 😉