Last week my Israeli visa came and shortly thereafter I was on a plane to Ben Gurion Airport. During the past month, the warnings about security and the difficulties of entering the country have been playing on my mind, but, as it turned out, all of my concern’s were needless. It took me less time to get through security than it did when I visited Canada earlier in the year (Who said Canadians were friendly?). Tzvia (The Programs and Educational Coordinator) picked me up at the airport and shortly dropped me at my new flat in Jerusalem – a nice smooth start.
Currently, I’m sharing the apartment with Eric, another student who has come here from Australia and is in the last month of his nine month term. When we begin work on Sunday (the working week here is Sunday-Thursday), Eric will start handing over the projects he’s worked on during his time here, and so the cycle of students continues.
On Friday morning Tzvia, Eric and I went into Jerusalem and they helped me sort out the boring essentials like phone contracts, shopping and public transport – things that are a godsend to have help with in a foreign place. We also got breakfast and I had my first taste of Israeli cuisine. I had a dish called Shukshuka, which is poached eggs in a tomato sauce with chilli and onions – good food that’s defiantly very different to what I would normally eat. Having completed the essentials, Eric and I returned to the flat with the plan of cycling to the old city later for some site seeing.
Our apartment is a few kilometres from Old City and it’s a hilly few kilometres at that. It’s also worth noting it’s about 25 degrees here at the moment so the ride was rather uninviting! We made it though in good time. Eric knows his way around the city, so I could just follow him, and on the way he pointed out sites and shared interesting facts, making cycling a nice way to view the city.
Seeing the Old City for the first time was incredible; photographs fail to do it justice in terms of its scale. We locked our bikes up near the Jaffa gate and proceeded on foot. The Old City is divided into four sections: Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian. Each section therefore has a totally different feel to it. The Muslim section was definitely the most interesting; the narrow streets lined with market stalls selling everything from spices to knock off gucci feel totally surreal. Walking around here it began to sink in how far from home I am culturally as well as geographically.
Many of the sites in the Old City we visited were packed with tourists, understandably so. Sadly this makes them difficult to photograph as people are always in the shot. When we entered the Church of the Redeemer luck was on my side and it was empty. I had time to set up my camera and take a long exposure before anyone else entered the church.
Our trip around the Old City only scratched the surface of what there is to see and I hope to return many times during my stay, hopefully when it’s a bit quieter. I was unable to visit Temple Mount as it’s only open to tourists at certain times due to its religious purpose, another treat for another day! After leaving the Old City we cycled up the Mount of Olives to watch the sun set and grab a few more photos, closing out an interesting and exciting first day.