No trip to Israel is complete without visiting Jerusalem. Truth be told, I really didn’t care for Jerusalem. I know. Heresy right? How can anyone dislike one of the most religiously significant cities in the world? Simple really. I utterly detest fanatics. Especially fanatics of the religious variety. And where else can you find uberly religious Christians, Jews and Muslims. Now I’m not saying it’s bad to be devout, just when that devoutness creates a rift in how you treat your fellow human being, then I think it is bad. Anyway, I digress.

So Jerusalem, the ancient holy city of the Jews. It is the capital of Israel and is undoubtably one of the oldest cities in the world. When I made my travel plans, I knew I was going to be going there. I just didn’t realise I would have to go there three times. It wasn’t such a big deal getting there so it was fine. It is about a 45 minute bus ride from Tel Aviv and was fairly cheap.

Outside the Old City in Jerusalem

Of the days I went, the first day was the most stressful. I shan’t rant about why as it is largely unimportant, just understand that I don’t take it very well when people fears stop me from doing what I plan on doing. That’s pretty much why I had to go back two more times. Anyway. Our first stop once he made it to the old city was the Western Wall. For as long as I can remember, this wall has always been referred to as the Wailing Wall. Not really sure why.

Western Wall

So there I am in front of the wall. It was oddly difficult getting to the wall the first time. I had my bag with me and when we went through the gates (men entered on one side and women entered on the other), they wouldn’t allow my bag in. They didn’t even check it. So Sam stayed out there with the bag while I checked out the wall. The second time through there was no problem and we both got in. Strange right? Well the wall was very cool.  As with the entrance, men prayed on the left and the women prayed on the right. There was even a barrier separating the two sides. To walk up to the wall, I had to put on a yamaka (also called a kippa). Next to the wall was an entrance leading to a library of sorts. There were many men inside it reading or chanting. I made sure I took the time to say my own prayer at the wall. It was an awesome experience. To be respectful, a person should never turn and simply walk away from the wall. I can only imagine the significance being turning your back on God. Instead you should walk backwards a ways and then turn around. I really enjoyed the wall.

When I was done, I met back up with Sam and we tried to find our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We trudged up this really steep hill where we ended up finding Schindler’s grave. I would have loved to see it up close, but the gate was locked and I didn’t remember to go back on my further visits. We then made it to Zion’s Gate and back into the old city. Finding the church couldn’t have been more difficult. On a positive note, I did get to see the bustling chaos of the cramped streets. Covered streets were packed with vendors and shops selling everything from spices to trinkets and souvenirs. It was very fascinating. Sam also led me through a section of the city that had been excavated to show the original level (see pictures below). They didn’t remove the old foundation, but rather simply built over it. It reminded me of a road a saw in Aachen, Germany. The road was being repaired and when the asphalt was removed, it revealed the original cobblestone roads.


Well, we finally made it to the church. We passed it the first time and ended up at the Damascus Gate. We circled back and somehow located a back way up some stairs. Before we found the main building, we checked the cistern. It was pretty cool. It was underneath the church in a natural cavern. I tried taking some pictures down there but they didn’t turn out very well. It had great acoustics though.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is widely believed to be where Christ was crucified and buried. The church is inside the city due to the expansion of the walls. The Bible states that Christ was crucified on Golgotha, which means skull (because the hill resembled a skull). From what I have learned, Golgotha was right outside the city gates. So naturally, when the city expanded, Golgotha found itself inside the city. Of course this isn’t the only location where Christ was believed to have died and been buried, but I will discuss that place shortly.

Right inside the entrance is the Stone of the Anointing (or the Stone of Unction). There were so many people worshiping there that I thought it was the tomb of Christ. Of course it wasn’t. The church was huge. There were so many places to see and explore in there. We got to see a handful of rooms, but time was running short so we hurried to Holy Sepulchre. On one of the walls somewhere in the church was etched thousands of small crosses. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was such a imposing place. We almost walked a full circle before finding the Holy Sepulchre. Naturally, there was a line. Only around 4 or 5 people were allowed in the Sepulchre at a time because it was fairly tiny. I spent a few minutes inside taking it all in. Sam took a picture of me outside the Sepulchre and we made our way back towards the Western Wall (which we both got in just fine as I stated earlier).

What was really cool was that we were able to walk along the ramparts of the walls around Jerusalem. That was really cool. It gave a great view of the city and an amazing view of the Dome of the Rock. We followed the ramparts all the way back the gate by the Western Wall, which we visited shortly before catching a bus back. On the bus back to the main bus station in Jerusalem, I called my mom. I was surprised to find that my parents, Patty, Brad and Kalinda were all there. It was kinda fun listened to their reactions when I told them I was outside the walls of Old Jerusalem.

Garden Tomb

The second time I went, I was able to go see more of the sites outside the city that I wasn’t able to do. My first destination was the Garden Tomb (see above). The site is only a short distance from the Damascus Gate. This is an alternate location for the burial place of Christ as believed in my religion (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints aka Mormons). It is a very peaceful area and very beautiful. The area is a large garden believed to be the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea. This claim is made because of the hill next to it (and interestingly behind a bus depot). Golgotha (where Christ was crucified) means skull because the hill resembled a skull. GolgothaAs you can see in the picture, the hill face does actually resemble a skull. Not to detract from the special nature of the site, but who can be sure whether this is a natural occurrence or from erosion over time. Either way, it still looks like a face. The tomb itself was very much as it appears in the church films I grew up seeing. There was also a gutter area where a stone could easily have been rolled in front of the tombs entrance. It seemed like a much more reasonable place for Christ to have been buried as it fit more with the biblical description.

I had wanted to sit and just ponder a while, but after a nice conversation with some Germans (in german as well) I bought the map I needed (as I had accidentally left my map at the apartment in Tel Aviv) and made my way to the Mount of Olives. I walked along the outskirts of the old city and was pleased to locate (from a distance naturally) the BYU Jerusalem Centre on the side of the Mount. I’m by no means a fan of the University, but as it is associated with my church, it was still cool. Church of All Nations

There is much to see on the Mount of Olives. My first stop was meant to be the Church of All Nations, but I got confused and ended up going into the Tomb of Mary. It was an unexpected find, but still very nice. You have to walk down a ton of stairs before you enter and go down some more stairs. The link I’ve added shows a ton of pictures of the site. Hundreds of not thousands of lanterns (or whatever they are) hang from the ceiling giving a cluttered feel above you. The actual tomb area is quite small, big enough for only a couple people at a time. It is an interesting site so it would be only a small detour to go down and see it. I mean it is right next to the Church of All Nations.

Garden of GethsemaneIn the courtyard of the church is the Garden of Gethsemane. This site is significant as it is where Christ prayed and then bled from every pore. The garden itself is filled with ancient olive trees. Olive trees can live for hundreds of years. I wouldn’t be surprised if most of those trees had been around when Christ was there. If only nature could speak with words we understood.

Inside the absolutely stunning church is the stone believed to be where Christ actually prayed. My feeling about this place are the same as my ones with the Jordan River when I was there. The church holds prayer circles where people can kneel around the stone. I’m sure for those people it is a hugely affirming experience and I’m not here to knock it. It just seems a bit over the top for me. I’m having a difficult time figuring out a good way to explain myself right now. I love going to the sites and experiencing a bit of history, but an object is not what was important. It was the action and its symbolism that is important. Christ could have prayed in a closet or been baptised in a bathtub and it wouldn’t have mattered. It’s the reality of what he did, not where he did it. Like I said, I’m not here to knock what others feel or decide to do. I just find it weird. IMG_2357Here you can see a group of people around the stone. The rock is pretty big as well. I strangely felt no real desire to go up and touch it. I was content with simply seeing it.

My next goal was to make it to the top of the Mount of Olives to get a panoramic shot of the old city. I had seen this beautiful painting of Christ sitting on a hill overlooking the old city and I decided I wanted to have a picture like that. Of course I went the wrong way and walked up the wrong road. I made it to my destination well enough, I just got a lot of strange looks from the Arabs living in that area. The view was incredible. I’m not posting a shot of it because my panoramic shot had to be taken in like five shots as I don’t have a nice camera that can take it in one. It was also later in the day so the sun washes out the shots. Oh well. It was simply spectacular to see it from that side.

I walked back down the hill and made my way to the Dome of the Rock. As luck would have it, I was too late to see it. All I could do was head back to Tel Aviv and try the next day. I almost didn’t though. You know that feeling where you’ve already tried a couple times and had no luck so you really don’t want to give it another go? That was exactly how I felt. Thankfully another feeling trumped those thoughts. I kept thinking, “What if?” I didn’t want to live with the thought that I didn’t even attempt a final time. So I did. I went there a bit earlier (as I heard it was open for a shorter time on that day). Of course this time I thought it’d be fun to walk from the main terminal to the old city. I didn’t realise how far away it was nor how confusing the roads could be. I liked it though. There were lots of really cool looking building there. Plus I really got a good look at the people. There was a large population of Jews (not sure if the were Haredi or Orthodox) in the downtown area and there was another large population of Muslims to the east of the old city and all over the Mount of Olives.

Dome of the Rock

It took me about an hour to make it to the old city and then i had to quickly find the entrance to the Temple Mount. Of course I couldn’t find it, nor could I understand totally what the guards were saying to me. Come to find, the only working entrance on that day (or period for non-Muslims) was next to the Western Wall. It took a few false leads and a better explanation from a guard to figure it out. Well, I made with very little time to spare. It was such an amazing experience being there. The Dome of the Rock is one of the major holy sites for Islam. It houses the rock believed that the prophet Muhammad was translated on. It is such an incredible building. To be truthful, it was the highlight of my entire trip. I even had my moment with it (where I gently put my hand on it and take it all in. Kinda weird I know). I just wish I could have gone inside to see the stone, but naturally non-Muslims are not allowed inside.

My last part of the trip lead me back up to the top of the Mount of Olives to attempt a better panoramic picture. Because it was earlier in the day (still afternoon though), I figured the sun would be high enough to not wash out my pictures. Yes they turned out much better. I’ll drop on at the end of this post. The only other things I say were a quaint little Greek Orthodox Church and Absalom’s Tomb. It is located at the base of the Mount just below the Jewish cemetery. I would have loved to see it up close, but I didn’t see anyone by it and I wasn’t sure if I could. Next time I’m there I’ll just go see it anyway.

Religious or not, Jerusalem is an incredible city filled with a rich history. I am grateful I got the opportunity to see it as well as the other places I was in Israel. For religious people, it really is worth the trip. It was an adventure I will never forget 😉



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