Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

I slipped off my shoes and stepped over the threshold of the Barbur Gallery. Tucked into the backstreets of a residential neighborhood, with a community garden at its side, it hardly seemed like a hotbed of political activity. This avant-garde gallery, the first of its kind in Jerusalem, hosts film screenings, plays, Israeli art showings, panel discussions, and art classes. Yet moments before, Caron Lipchin, our guide from Jerusalem Art Tours, had commented that the gallery is often the subject of controversy.

“The powers that be don’t understand the need for an avant-garde gallery and they give them a lot of trouble, especially over the people who are allowed to speak. Jerusalem is starting to accept the gallery but occasionally officials close them down. Then there is a demonstration and they’re allowed to open again.”

It may look unassuming, but the Barbur Gallery in Jerusalem is a controversial art gallery in Jerusalem that city officials continuously try to shut down

It may look unassuming, but the Barbur Gallery in Jerusalem is a controversial art gallery in Jerusalem that city officials continuously try to shut down

The most recent skirmish came about when the city learned about an event scheduled with Breaking the Silence. This non-profit organization records testimonies from Israeli veterans who have witnessed abuse toward Arab Palestinians during their service in the occupied territories. Since the soldiers’ experiences are often at odds with the official government line that such incidents are rare, it was not surprising when the city tried to squash the event. The gallery is located in a public building and their lease prohibits any political activity. The city petitioned the courts to shut it down for breach of  lease but so far, the gallery has escaped closure by arguing they are being denied freedom of expression. Read More

Roman road known as the Cardo Maximus in the Old City of Jerusalem, lies many feet below the existing ground level

Click on title to view photo in large format. In 1969, excavations below the present day street level in the Jewish Quarter of Old City of Jerusalem revealed what appeared to be an ancient Roman road and a row of Corinthian columns. To determine its significance, researchers turned to the Madaba Map, a floor mosaic in the church of Saint George at Madaba, Jordan. The most detailed portion of the Byzantine mosaic map is a depiction of Jerusalem. The colonnaded boulevard is clearly shown on the map as the main north-south artery in the city, a street that Romans would have named the Cardo Maximus. Read More

Sunset over the Dead Sea in Israel. Swimming in areas other than designated beaches is very dangerous, as the shoreline is littered with sinkholes that can open up unexpectedly and swallow everything.

Click on title to view photo in large format. I was mesmerized as we drove along the shores of the Dead Sea in Israel. I had swum in its waters, but only at a spa where Dead Sea waters were piped in. Just like the stories I’d long heard, it was impossible to sink in its super-salty water. But I had longed to dip my toes in the real thing. Those beaches looked so inviting.

When I couldn’t stand it any more I asked our tour guide if we could take a short detour to do just that. He explained that access to the Dead Sea is limited to a very few beach areas that are deemed safe. Swimming in areas other than these designated beaches Read More

The timing couldn’t have been worse. A day before I arrived in Jerusalem to attend the Travel Blog Exchange Conference (TBEX), my right knee went out. I have no idea what caused it. My knee had acted up like this once before. One day I was fine, the next I couldn’t climb stairs. That time, it had taken weeks to heal. But I didn’t have weeks. Jerusalem Tourism had invited me on a four-day press trip following the conference and it wouldn’t reflect favorably on me if I backed out.

The Dead Sea, seen from atop Masada, the mountaintop fortress built by King Herod between 37 and 31 BC

The Dead Sea, seen from atop Masada, the mountaintop fortress built by King Herod between 37 and 31 BC

On day one of the press trip, our group was dropped off on top of the Mount of Olives. After learning about the Jewish cemetery on the slopes of the mountain, we began a long climb down into the valley. The path was so steep that even handrails bolted into the rock walls didn’t provide enough support. My knee ached by the time we reached the bottom, but the worst was yet to come. We passed through Lion Gate and into the Old City, with its dark narrow alleyways and uneven walkways. Every step up and down was an agony. I wouldn’t have lasted the day except for my fellow travel bloggers, who walked alongside me, providing an arm or a hand whenever I needed it. Read More

Worshipers at Western Wall in Jerusalem pray and stuff prayer-filled notes into cracks in the wall

Click on title to view photo in large format. When I posted on Facebook that I had seen the Western Wall in Jerusalem, my friend Judie messaged me right back. “I hope you put a prayer into a crack in the wall.” I had no idea what she was talking about, so I turned to my guide. “If you write a prayer on a scrap of paper and shove it into a crack in the wall, your prayer is guaranteed to be answered,” she explained. “Of course, there is no guarantee when it will be answered,” she added mischievously.

Both Jews and Arabs consider the Western Wall in Jerusalem to be a holy site. King Herod built the wall to shore up the steep hillside known as Temple Mount. This allowed him to create a massive platform at the top, upon which he built the Second Jewish Temple. When Herod’s temple was destroyed by the Romans in AD 70 during the First Jewish-Roman War, the wall was the only Read More

Shuk in the Old City of Jerusalem offers goods mostly aimed at tourists

Click on title to view photo in large format. A street inside the Shuk in the Old City of Jerusalem. The shuk, or market in English, operates in the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Quarters of the Old City. Goods hawked in the Christian and Jewish Quarters, like those in the above photo, tend to be aimed at tourists. A wide selection of leather goods, scarves, pashmina shawls, backpacks, T-shirts, and trinkets are on display. Visitors to the Muslim Quarter, however, will find a market that is reminiscent of an ancient Arab shuk. Everything and anything can be purchased within its narrow, winding alleyways. But bring your best bargaining skills, because haggling is an absolute must. Read More