Notes from the Road: Israel

January 11, 2009 at 6:53 am

I’m on the last leg of my traveling adventures, and this is by far the most exciting, interesting, beautiful, and anxiety-ridden leg! Right now, I’m sitting in my hotel room in JERUSALEM. Yes, that’s right, in a land where people have been waging war for thousands of years, and the government is currently fighting a war to the bitter end, I’m visiting for a conference! Well, actually it’s a week-long workshop at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on improving the prediction of global warming.

The conference starts tomorrow, so today the students met at breakfast and discussed sight-seeing plans. We had hoped to travel as a group today, but budgets, safety concerns (or lack-there-of for some German students) and general destination goals left Rachel and I to head for the Old City on our own.

This turned out to be a great decision. The Old City is walled and crawling with security, police, check points, and guys (and girls!) with very big guns. We’ve had our bags riffled through, gone through metal detectors, been physically patted down and questioned so many times in the last two days that it’s really becoming commonplace.

So this morning, Rachel and I were in a 4000-year-old city, the site of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the ancestral home of Judaic people, a cultural center for Islam, and what were we most excited about? That’s right, THE SHOPPING! Ohmygosh. King David street runs down the center of the city is a beautiful, busy, amazing bazaar, full of people and things from around the world. There were beautiful oriental scarves, decorative Arabic daggers straight out of Aladdin, chess sets carved by hand in India, spices piled in barrels on the sides of the street, beautiful jewelry from Africa and people everywhere calling out prices, haggling, and doing business. It was so cool.

Walking the King David Bazaar

After walking the bazaar, we paid admittance and spent a couple of hours exploring the archeological park in the northwest corner of the city. We ended up directly below the Al Aqsa Mosque when the noon prayers were called. I’ve never heard a call to prayer before, much less one in city where several thousand devout Muslims live, and it was amazing. Rachel took some video to record it, but the whole experience was ethereal. As we were down in a park, we were sitting in a lovely garden listening to the voices come over loud speakers in the minarets and hearing the distant responses echo through the Islamic quarter (which we didn’t visit). The pigeons roosting in the ancient temple walls were sent flying each time the calls rang out. It was so cool.

The Old City

So, a good first day in Israel! Aside from getting “war prices” from the vendors, the battles of the south seem so distant, it’s like they’re in another country. Life here goes on as normal, or as normal as it can be in a place like Jerusalem.