Jerusalem has always been a place that fascinated me. I went to a Catholic school and read all the bible stories so the idea that you could actually visit places names in the bible was just something that had always intrigued me.
Arriving into Jerusalem though, I knew there was so much about this area I knew nothing about.
Like there’s stuff you hear on the news but somehow, it just never seemed quite clear exactly what was going – especially so from a passive onlooker’s point of view. This trip was an opportunity to find out more in person and to actually get to explore places I’d known about since I was a wee bairn.
In Jerusalem, we checked into the Mamilla Hotel – welcomed with fresh ice-cold lemonade (tart and thoroughly refreshing), we dropped our bags off in the rooms and without skipping a beat, headed upstairs to the rooftop terrace overlooking the city, impatiently eager to get a glimpse of the city we would be exploring in a lot more depth tomorrow.
By this point, it was very nearly time for dinner so a quick shower and change of clothes later, we headed over to Notre Dame Rooftop – another spot with views over the city and a brilliant place for some sundowner drinks and dinner.
Notre Dame Centre (where the rooftop restaurant is) actually used to be a spot built to house for French pilgrims coming to visit Jerusalem on their pilgrimage. It’s a rather grand building and is still very much used as a stop for pilgrims, albeit now as a hotel.
So here’s the first thing I learned, starters here are huge. It’s plate after plate of so much fresh deliciousness that you’d be forgiven for thinking this was your main meal.
^Like that photo above isn’t even the whole starter, it’s probably just about half of what eventually arrived at the table. We pretty much ran out of space on the table before some stuff had to be cleared away to make room for others.
We made the rookie mistake of diving in too eagerly before being told that it was probably a good idea to pace ourselves for our mains and desserts which were still very much yet to come. 😄
For mains, we went for the steak and chicken…
…finishing things off with Kanafeh for dessert. (This very quickly became my go-to dessert – not even ashamed to admit I had several of this for breakfast the next few days. *licks lips*)
Thoroughly stuffed and surprisingly exhausted, I pretty much went to sleep as soon as we got back to the hotel.
The following morning, after filling up on the amazing breakfast at the Mamilla (seriously, the food here is so good – judging from photos of my round tummy later on, perhaps too good, some might say? 😄), we headed out to explore Jerusalem.
We started off at the part of town right next to our hotel that used to be the border between Jordan and Israel, back when the old city of Jerusalem used to be in Jordan. Here, you can still see the old wall that was the border.
We swiftly carried on towards the Jaffa Gate, one of 7 gates into the old (walled) city of Jerusalem and a site worth checking out, in and of itself.
The gate doesn’t have nearly the same use as it did before (there’s now a road running right next to the gates for cars to drive through but you definitely get a sense of its grandeur as you walk through it.
The other thing that gets you as soon as you step into the old city of Jerusalem is how historic it is. Buildings dating back to centuries ago beckon you to explore them and ‘secret’ alleyways with promises of ice cold lemonade (it’s a thing here and it’s seriously good) call out to you.
We decided to head up to one of the best viewpoints in the old city of Jerusalem itself – the Tower of David.
The tower itself is an absolutely beautiful spot in the city, right down to the ruins in the middle of it and has seen several changes over the years, the way it exists right now dates back to the Mamluk and Ottoman periods in Jerusalem.
We quickly traipsed up the stairs to the balcony at the top which offered 360 views over the city!
There are 4 parts to the old city – there’s the Christian quarter, the Jewish quarter, the Muslim quarter and the Armenian quarter.
There’s no real demarcation for the most part between the quarters either, you could turn down a street and suddenly find yourself moving from the Armenian quarter to the Jewish quarter without so much as a sign announcing this.
I guess this kind of took me by surprise as I had no idea 4 religions (the Armenians are also Christians but from what I remember, it’s a distinctly different branch of Christianity) co-existed in Jerusalem.
It was also at this point our guide Mati started to point out how Jerusalem is an important pilgrimage site for not just one religion, but for multiple. In fact, the Bible and the Quran share quite a fair bit of overlap (The Jewish faith also uses the Bible but only the Old Testament whereas Christians use both the Old and New Testament).
This is definitely a great place to start your visit to Jerusalem as it truly sets some context as to the layout of the old city and what to expect as you make your way through it. Signs up here also point out some of the most important sites to visit in the city and it’s just really helpful.
We spent a little longer here getting out bearings in the city before eventually leaving the tower of David, in search of all that Jerusalem had to offer.
More of all of that in the next post!