Friday, May 18, 2007

Jerusalem, 26.04.07

Oska, Benka and I are all by ourselves in the old city. For a very moderate price you can walk on the city walls, and we buy the tickets and start from the Jaffa gate to the northeast.

The views are really nice. After a little while, however, Oska gets all paranoid, as he usually does if he hasn't slept well or had enough breakfast or something, and starts whining that we are entering the Muslim part of town and should leave immediately. The map in fact says that we are entering the Christian part of town, but when did facts ever stop Oska? He sees a mosque somewhere, too.

At some point he sees some construction being done on the wall and a couple of Arab workers, and says that we should go back now, because the way is closed and there are Arabs. It takes some convincing to get him to believe that there is a passage left for tourists, and that the Arabs, while somewhat suspicious in general, usually do not go to work every day with a bomb, just in case.

Finally we convince Oska to continue, and one of the Arabs, instead of turning into a fire-breathing dragon actually smiles and moves some of his construcion stuff out of our way.

We get down at the Damascus gate and on El Wad, which actually is full of Muslims, but this totally fails to impress Oska. Or the Muslims, for that matter.

The tourist guides generally say that the Muslim quarter is safe except For fridays, and we did not go there on Friday, but in general all the people (Jews, Arabs, Druze and even Hebrew-speaking Chinese) whom we met in Israel were pretty nice to tourists, much nicer than I expected. Israelis have a reputation for being somewhat rude and having bad service, but I just found them to be rather direct, more actively so than for example the Finns. You start talking to them and you really get to know what they think about everything, in more sincere detail than you have probably wanted, but I wouldn't say that they are rude about it. The service in the restaurants is much like in Finland, somewhat reserved but friendly, and they don't try to cheat you on the check.
The only places with really weird service were little Arab shops in Jerusalem's old city, and the juice stands in Eilat: the former had salesmen chasing after people and whining that they should buy something, while in the latter the vendor was usually absent as such, drinking coffee around the corner with a friend or something.

The juice stands are great, by the way. If you can find the damn guy who is supposed to sell the juice.

We (or rather I) shop a bit. Benka and I talk about how we should answer "where are you from?" with "Russia" if we want better prices, but it's really unpleasant to call oneself a Russian. I second the feeling. I buy a necklace from an Arab shop, and the guy promises me big discounts if I let him put it on my neck. He is funny, so I let him. He clearly has problems with balance though, and keeps falling on my tits. Heh.

In the Muslim quarter you are supposed to haggle, in the Jewish quarter all the prices are listed, but the end result of haggling is always pretty much the same as the listed price of similar items. There are no miracles in the world of markets.

There is a lot of school groups. Quite a few of them have an armed adult or two. I notice that the Arab school system has uniforms, while the secular Jewish doesn't. The Arab system also seems to be gender-separated. The kids from the religious Jewish system are absent altogether. Probably studying Talmud instead of going to field trips.

We visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre again, and this time Oska believes that tourists are allowed there. The church features Golgotha and Christ's tomb. There is a line to enter the tomb, and the people leaving it seem to touch some candle flame with their hands. There is no screams of "ouch", though.

The Church of the Redeemer is closed for lunch, but after it opens we climb on the tower, and the views from there are really great. The problem with all the views, however, is hamsin, a hot wind from the desert that makes everything look misty.

At some point we buy one of those elongated bagels from some Arab (not the same one who promised to love Oska in Russian the day before). The bagel is clearly an infidel bagel (tastes more like a baguette than like a proper bagel) but the green powder he gave us to put on top of it is really good. It's called zatar.

We make out way to the new city, to Ben Yehuda street. It is much like pedestrian downtown streets all over Europe, and I like it.
We try the local shawarma. It's quite good and you can have fried eggpant and french fries in it. A word of advice: they sell shawarma on a pita or on a lafa, and lafa is the way to go. It's like pita, but bigger, softer and better.

We find an ice cream place and sit there. While sitting we see a guy with a huge grenade launcher and a baby carriage.

There are a lot of armed people everywhere anyway (for some reason soldiers on leave tend to carry weapons), but that's the only time we see a grenade launcher.

One thing I am wondering about: Israel is full of heavily armed teenagers but they have somehow managed not to shoot up any schools so far.

We take a cab to Yad Vashem, which is quite far. The annoying thing about Yad Vashem is that there is a very rigid order to the exhibition, and not enough clues as to where the beginning is. Once we find the beginning, it's quite good, but I liked the Holocaust museum in DC better. Yad Vashem has two things that the museum in DC doesn't have though: the avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations, and the Hall of Names.

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