Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

Hummus. Falafel. They’re two of my favorite foods, and Jerusalem is one of the best places in the world to sample them. For two days after arriving, I gorged on them at every opportunity. My first hummus and falafel fix was at the city’s mind-boggling Machane Yehuda Market. I sampled the duo at tiny shops inside the Old City and in a variety of cafes and restaurants around the city as well. But in the end, I found the world’s best hummus and falafel through a fascinating new mobile app named Bitemojo.

Billed as the “world’s first culinary city tour via app,” bitemojo is the brainchild of husband and wife team Michael Weiss and Yael Weiss-Gadish. After running food tours in the Machane Yehuda Market for years, the couple decided to take their expertise into the digital world. With the help of a smart phone and GPS navigation, bitemojo takes users on a walking tour of the city. Along the route, participants stop at six eateries to enjoy “bites” that represent a variety of Israeli food. Key points of interest along the route are highlighted, so participants can stop as long as they like between bites, but if done non-stop, most tours are designed to last around three hours.

The hummus and falafel at Ikermawi Restaurant was the best I've ever tasted

The hummus and falafel at Ikermawi Restaurant in Jerusalem was the best I’ve ever tasted

My tour had been set up especially for those of us attending the Travel Blog Exchange Conference (TBEX). Tuckered out after two hours of tramping through the warrens of the Old City, our group plunked down at a row of tables outside of Hummus Ikermawi Restaurant, located just outside of Damascus Gate. Muhammad, part of the extended Palestinian family that has operated the restaurant since 1952, began loading down our tables with food. Bowls of creamy golden hummus were accompanied by crispy, steaming hot balls of falafel. Plates of hot peppers, pickles, raw onions, and pita bread followed. From my first bite, I knew the falafel and hummus were the best I’d ever tasted. Read More

Wild Ibex wander into the botanical gardens at Ein Gedi, a desert oasis just two hours outside of Jerusalem

Wild Ibex at the botanical gardens at Ein Gedi. This desert oasis, which overlooks the amazing healing waters of the Dead Sea, is located just two hours outside of Jerusalem. Almost every afternoon, the Wild Ibex leap over the high wall that encloses the community to graze on the lush vegetation within the compound. After eating their fill, they bound back out again to wander the rocky desert landscape that surrounds Ein Gedi.

Wild Ibex are also referred to as Nubian Ibex. They are a species of goat that occupy the mountainous deserts of the Middle East and North Africa. These three (look closely and you will spot the other two lying down in the background) are easily identified Read More

Tomb of Jesus is said to be located inside the Aedicule (shrine), which stands in the center of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Old City of Jerusalem

The Tomb of Jesus is said to be located inside this Edicule (shrine), which stands in the center of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem. The original church, dedicated in 336 AD, was ordered built by Emperor Constantine. The cave where Jesus was entombed was excavated from the surrounding rock so that the church could be built around it. The hill known as Golgotha, where Christ was crucified, was also enclosed withing the walls of the church.

Over the ensuing centuries, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre suffered damage from fires, earthquakes, and riots. In 1099, the conquering Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah ordered it to be razed. A new church was built and dedicated in 1048. Since then, the church has undergone many restorations, as has the exterior of the Edicule. However, with the exception of one change Read More

From atop the Mount of Olives I surveyed the Holy city of Jerusalem in all its glory. Directly below me, white marble caskets in the Jewish cemetery tumbled down the hillside like giant rows of dominoes. We picked our way through the graveyard as our tour guide explained that a spot in this cemetery may be the most expensive real estate in the world. “Tradition holds that those who are buried here will be the first to be resurrected when the Messiah appears, so Jews from all over the world pay thousands of dollars for one of these tiny plots.” The price of eternity, however, is escalating. The Mount of Olives cemetery is fast running out of space. There are 122,000 known graves and the cemetery is 83% full. Today burial site costs a minimum of $20,000, and some sell for more than $50,000.

Jewish Cemetery, seen from atop the Mount of Olives, looking toward the Old City of Jerusalem

Jewish Cemetery, seen from atop the Mount of Olives, looking toward the Old City of Jerusalem

At the bottom of the hill our guide led us to the Garden of Gethsemane, a grove of olive trees which Jesus was said to frequent. “This is believed to be the place where Jesus prayed the night before his crucifixion,” he explained. Catholics consider it the first Station of the Cross. However, like much of the narrative surrounding the historic sites of Jerusalem, there is no consensus. Among other places, the Church of All Nations, located next to the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Tomb of the Virgin Mary both claim to be the locations where Jesus prayed on the night he was betrayed. Read More

Mountains of Halva at Machane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem, Israel. My favorite? The sugarless coffee bean.

I’ve never been a fan of Halva, a popular sweet in parts of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. To me, it has always seemed overly sweet and grainy, leaving a strange aftertaste in my mouth. So when I happened on this Halva stand inside Machane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem, I was understandably hesitant to sample their wares.

The owner was patient and encouraging, so I decided to try some just to be polite. As a coffee addict, my obvious first choice was their coffee bean Halva. I was surprised when it melted smoothly in my mouth, with none of the off-putting graininess that I expected. But it was still too sweet for me. No problem, the owner beamed. He handed me a sample of their sugar-free coffee bean Halva, and Read More

Old City of Jerusalem from viewpoint at the Mount of Olives, with golden dome of Temple Mount at center

The Old City of Jerusalem, seen here from the Mount of Olives. The Jewish cemetery is located directly below the viewing platform. On the opposite side of the valley, the Muslim cemetery snugs up against the walls of the Old City. Temple Mount, with its golden-roofed Rock of the Dome, is seen at center left within the city walls. The modern city of Jerusalem is visible on the horizon.

In the early 16th century, the Ottoman Turkish sultan Suleiman the Magnificent built the walls that surround the Old City. They stretch for 2.8 miles, rising as high as 49 feet in places, and encompass less than half a square mile. The walls were very necessary; since its founding in the 4th millennium BC, Jerusalem has has been attacked 52 times and destroyed twice. Read More