Hotel pickup/dropoff? Check. Biblical sites? Check. Tour of the Old City? Check.
So I book the Viator Old Jerusalem Full Day Tour for £39 (I notice it’s since gone up to £58) and it meets my expectations, but I still feel unsatisfied and it’s not long afterwards that I finally figure out why.
It’s not the tour itself: the guide is good, and I’m lucky that by chance I have booked it for Eid al-Adha (last day of Ramadan) so there are very few people in the markets. What gives me a nagging sense of dissatisfaction is that I didn’t really need to go on a tour to see the sights of Old Jerusalem, and that I should have instead maybe gone to Bethlehem.
Where does the Tour go?
For the view from the heights onto the Old City.
For entry to the Old City via the Armenian Quarter. The other three quarters are the Jewish, Muslim and Christian Quarters.
We saw a funeral procession of the Franciscan Brothers being accompanied by an Armenian. This is to dissuade violence between the different religious groups.
The remains of the Roman-era market place.
Separate sections for women and men to post prayers in to the wall.
Dome of the Rock
Incredibly important mosque. Why is it important? It contains the Foundation Stone which both Jewish and Muslim traditions say is where Abraham almost sacrificed one of his sons.
We only visit some of the Stations of the Cross, but there’s a good guide online if you want to see them all. We’re very lucky that this is a holiday because there are no crowds. I get a very hateful vibe though, so am glad there’s not many people around. It’s still possible to lose the group though: our guide loses three people but doesn’t stop. They do reconnect with the group later on though…
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The biggie – the church built where Jesus died.
I was curious as to what this curious metal object was in the corner of the square and asked our guide. “Oh, that’s what we use to detonate suspicious packages”. I guess I’m not in Kansas anymore…
After the church of the Holy Sepulchre, half the tour heads off to Bethlehem and the rest heads back out the Zion Gate to the area south.
King Davids Tomb & King Davids Statue
Considered idolatory, the statue is regularly attacked and defaced.
The Last Supper Room – Cenaculum
I don’t know why, but I was disappointed by this – there was nothing that tied it to the stories of what went on. Maybe I should blame da Vinci…
Or maybe it was just coming to the end of a long day…
I’m starting to get churched out now – they’re all rolling onto one. It’s a pity though, because its a nice enough church.
I see the cloisters and they remind me of the churches and abbeys I’ve been to in England and France from the 15th Century. I find the placard describing this building and it turns out its from the 14th Century. Only 100 years out…!
Garden of Gethsemane & Church of All Nations
And finally we end away from the Old City at Gethsemane.
Because of the proximity of all the sites to where I was staying, I should not have gone on this tour. The first half was good and the tour guide gave the sort of insight you want – especially into the lives of the locals and he very delicately tip-toed past thorny questions and gave good honest yet non-controversial answers. But the second half is nowhere as impactful as the first and I regret not going to Bethlehem. If I had taken my passport I probably would have been able to switch half way. Lesson learned!