Jerusalem. My first visit to the religious and historic epicentre to around a third of humanity that is Jerusalem. A mere four days to explore a place of religions and so many forms of faith.
Historically a place of crusaders, traders, pilgrims and shifting supremacies and today an ancient and modern city of not far short of a million people.
I travelled light but with heavy expectations of what might lie in store. Staying at modest accommodation within the Old City, up narrow, busy but somehow serene alleys, just seemed apt.
Atmospheric thoroughfares with names like David, Al-Attarin, and Dier Al-Sultan were everywhere, the names of the seven gates of the Old City from the time of Suleiman such as Herod’s, Damascus, Jaffa and Silwan conjured up half remembered lessons from Sunday school and my nominal Scots Protestant upbringing.
I spent most of my time wandering the alleyways and markets of the Jewish, Armenian, Christian and Armenian Quarters and for an amateur photographer it is a pure joy.
Every step and turn brought new wonders. Churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, and shrines, just too many to mention but most from the very earliest days of our religions. But also, friendly people, endless historic curios and market traders, restaurants and welcoming coffee shops and bars. Great Wi-Fi in virtually all of them by the way.
I got up early for the unlocking of Holy Sepulchre Church, sought the rooftops for stunning views and sunsets over the city when the church bells or the imams were calling the faithful to prayer. I visited the Western Wall at the start of Shabbat to witness the faithful in their devotions. It touched something very deeply and is nothing short of remarkable. I am sure it would be the same for any visitor, whether traveller, history buff, amateur photographer and whether of faith or not.
Beyond the Old City, there is vibrant, modern Jerusalem with food markets, cafe culture and modernity to rival anywhere and I spent a very happy day exploring.
Venturing further afield I swam in the Dead Sea, visited Herod’s stunning mountain palace at Masada and went looking amongst the Judean desert rocks, where David hid from King Saul, for Ibex at En-Geti. I was shown an oasis where you can stand under a waterfall to cool off.
There is just so much I could say about how much I enjoyed this trip. The history, the friendliest of people, a welcome ability to just wander, stop for a coffee or a beer and watch people of all faiths, and none, go about their day.
If pushed for a favourite moment, I would say wading through thigh-deep cold water in Hezekiah’s tunnel. Carved by hand under the City of David in ancient times, it emerges at the Siloam Pool where the bible says Jesus cured a blind man and the experience will remain with me always. A more serene place you will not find.
I cannot recommend this magical, wondrous destination strongly enough.