Thursday, February 25, 2016

A Day in the Old City of Jerusalem and Bethlehem

Tuesday was our first full day in Jerusalem. Jenn didn't have class, so she was able to be our tour guide, which was awesome because she was so knowledgeable about Jerusalem and the issues surrounding Israel and Palestine. We slept in and got a late start, which was kind of nice. She lives five minutes from Damascus Gate, which is one of the entrances to the Old City.

First, we saw the Western Wall, which is the holiest sight where Jews are allowed to pray. We didn't go in, mainly because Mike would have to be separated from Jenn and I, but we were able to see it and take pictures of it.

We continued on throughout the Old City and it was incredibly beautiful. It truly felt like an old city. We wandered around for a bit before making our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The church has an interesting history because so many different Christian denominations have a stake in the church, therefore a lot of conflict has happened over restoration. The different groups cannot agree on how much money should be spent on different parts of the restoration, so things do not happen. There is even a ladder that has not been taken down because of this conflict!

In the church, you can find the location of the last three stations of the cross. We didn't do them in order (just wait until the next post….how's that for suspense?), but we saw them all. Our first station was the tenth, where Jesus was stripped of his clothes. A lot of people bring things to place on the stone and say prayers.

The tenth station.  People lie all sorts of things on the stone to be blessed.  I caught a rare moment where no one was there.
  Then, we saw the location of the Crucifixion (XI) and where Jesus died on the cross (XII).

The Eleventh Station of the Cross where Jesus was nailed to the cross

Our last station that day was the tomb of Christ. We were lucky because the line was extremely short. Jenn said she had never seen it that short before and she's lived there almost three years! In the first room, you can see a piece of stone that is believed to have been part of the rock that sealed off Jesus' tomb. The second room is the actual tomb.

The fourteenth station- The Aedicule.  The tomb of Christ and the final station

We headed to the roof of the church, where the ninth station is located. There was an archway with a cross on the top, and this marks the place where Jesus fell for the third time.

I definitely had different (and unrealistic) expectations of what would be at each station.  I think I expected THE cross where Jesus died.  Come on, Sarah, be realistic!  While it was different from what I expected, it was still amazing.  I think the most incredible part of the experience is just knowing that you are in the same place that such significant events took place.  Even if you aren't a religious person, these events and beliefs had such a large impact on history that almost everyone can appreciate it.

Anyways, we headed to lunch next and had shawarma before heading back to Jenn's apartment to grab her car and head to Bethlehem. Our first stop was the Church of the Nativity, which is one of the oldest churches in the world. We went into the cave where Jesus is believe to have been born. Mike thought it was underwhelming.

Spotted in Bethlehem: a Valentine's Day Hookah set

There isn't a Starbucks in Israel,d but there is a Star and Bucks

The famous cave!

The church in Bethlehem

I thought it was pretty cool. Afterwards, we went to a shop where Jenn knows the owner and he allowed us to go on his rooftop. A lot of Bethlehem is off limits to Mike and Jenn being American military, but the rooftop allowed for a great view of the city and Jenn was able to point out important locations, such as Rachel's Tomb.

We headed back to Jerusalem for a few hours of relaxation before hitting the local market for dinner and drinks. I thought our first day in Jerusalem was extremely interesting. I loved walking through the Old City and seeing all of the hustle and bustle, as well as seeing some signs of conflict and tension. I never got over the shock of being in such significant religious places and I hope that I can remember that feeling forever.

Step Count: 13,878

For anyone who is interested, this website provides a great tour of the stations of the cross in Jerusalem.  It has great explanations of how to find each station because it can be kind of tricky.