Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

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

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

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

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