Israel | Moon Travel Guides https://moon.com Trip Ideas, Itineraries, Maps & Area Experts Thu, 16 Nov 2017 23:16:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9 https://deathstar-650a.kxcdn.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/cropped-moon_logo_M-32x32.jpg Israel | Moon Travel Guides https://moon.com 32 32 125073523 How Israel Celebrates Hanukkah https://moon.com/2016/12/hanukkah-in-israel/ https://moon.com/2016/12/hanukkah-in-israel/#respond Thu, 22 Dec 2016 19:25:40 +0000 https://moon.com/?p=52729 In Israel, the two most widely-practiced traditions celebrating Hanukkah are lighting menorah candles and enjoying two special fried foods: fancy donuts and potato latkes.

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Israel’s interpretation of how to celebrate Hanukkah (the transliteration and Romanized spelling is also written as Chanukah and Hanukah) is vastly different from the American interpretation. There is generally very little to no gift giving, with the exception of perhaps a dreidel or a little bit of gelt (chocolate or real money) for the children. There are a couple of consistent Hanukkah traditions in Israel that are widely practiced: lighting menorah candles and eating certain types of fried foods.

Lighting one candle a night for eight nights on the menorah (which this year falls between December 24 to January 1 on the Jewish calendar) is a widespread practice in Israel. It represents the rededication of The Temple, the holiest site in Judaism, during a Jewish rebellion in 164 B.C.

Menorah displayed in a window. Photo © Ron Zmiri/123rf.

Menorah displayed in a window. Photo © Ron Zmiri/123rf.

Today, those who are religiously observant in Israel light the candles one by one and display the menorah in the window. Traditions vary based on the family, and sometimes the menorah is placed somewhere inside the house. Ancient menorahs had seven branches and were used as a sort of symbol of a portable temple during the years that Israelites wandered in the desert. The modern version has nine branches: one central or side candle is used to light the other eight. Each night one additional candle is lit until all nine candles, either wax or olive oil lamp, are burning. First-century Jewish historian Josephus Flavius dubbed Hanukkah the “festival of lights,” and the moniker has remained until modern times.

The oil used in the ancient menorah is at the root of why modern Israelis use fried food to celebrate Hanukkah. Two specific fried foods are popular during the weeks leading up to Hanukkah: fancy donuts and potato latkes. Latkes are typically prepared and eaten at home with family, but donuts are sold everywhere in Israel starting in mid-November.

Jelly-filled donuts are traditional, but fancier donuts are also common around Hanukkah. Photo © Genevieve Belmaker.

Jelly-filled donuts are traditional, but fancier donuts are also common around Hanukkah. Photo © Genevieve Belmaker.

The Israeli version of a donut for Hanukkah is a small dough ball with filling and frosting on top, but without a hole in the center. They are sold in shopping malls, bus terminals, cafes, and coffee shops, and even as part of street bazaars in some places. Some versions of the donuts include fancy decorations on the top and rich fillings that range from jam to chocolate to different flavored fillings. They generally cost about $2.50 each.

Topping-laden donuts are also abundant in Jerusalem. Photo © Genevieve Belmaker.

Topping-laden donuts are also abundant in Jerusalem. Photo © Genevieve Belmaker.

Hanukkah is a bit unusual among Israeli holidays in that only schools are closed for a portion of the holiday, unlike many other holidays which commercial and government functions also shut down. It has little noticeable impact in daily life, but if you’re out after dark and walking in the streets, you can see many menorahs lit up in windows, truly making it feel like the festival of lights.

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Where to Shop for Gifts in Jerusalem https://moon.com/2016/12/gift-shopping-jerusalem/ https://moon.com/2016/12/gift-shopping-jerusalem/#respond Thu, 22 Dec 2016 19:17:39 +0000 https://moon.com/?p=52713 If you have one or two goals for gifts before you set out shopping in East Jerusalem you’ll succeed, but you also need to be open to exploring until you hit on something amazing.

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In Jerusalem, effective shopping is all about picking the right starting point. If you want knick-knack souvenirs or you start out where cheap clothes are sold to locals, you can easily waste time and energy. Worse yet, the end result could be something along the lines of: “Oh whatever, I can’t take this anymore!” as you purchase some cheap knick-knack gift that you bought out of sheer exhaustion. Not only are these types of gifts either overpriced or made in China, you’re better off buying something at the airport.

When you go on the hunt for gifts in eclectic East Jerusalem, don’t be afraid to get creative. East Jerusalem is fairly accessible and walkable once you’re oriented and have a good rally point. To avoid wandering off in the wrong direction, start from the intersection of Salah e-Din Street and Sultan Suleiman Street on the eastern side of the Old City. It’s easy to find on Google maps, everyone knows it, and it intersects with another major road on a roundabout. You can reach the intersection from the Old City’s Herod’s Gate or Damascus Gate very quickly. From the Salah e-Din/Sultan Suleiman intersection public transportation and taxis are very close, West Jerusalem’s city center is a walkable distance (though on the long side), and there are numerous places to eat a meal or get a snack. Most importantly, it gives you access to a wide variety of shops.

If you begin from the roundabout and go northeast on Salah e-Din, you’ll come across a number of shops that sell everything from tennis shoes to falafel, mostly geared to locals. There are also a couple of money exchange storefronts. Try to gravitate toward the stores that look like candy or spice shops. Inside you will find a fascinating world of all kinds of regional spices, including local custom blends.

A spice shop in Jerusalem. Photo © Genevieve Belmaker.

A spice shop in Jerusalem. Photo © Genevieve Belmaker.

Spice and candy shops engage in a certain degree of competition over their unique “blends” of spices for different purposes. They will also gladly give you a custom mixture on the spot based on your preferences. If packaged properly for safekeeping during return travel, spices are one of the most affordable, authentic, and interesting gifts you can bring back to friends and family. They are also very lightweight and a great conversation piece about the tastes and smells of your travels.

For loved ones who don’t cook much, continue on Salah e-Din Street toward the American Colony hotel. It’s a good 15-minute walk, but the two shops in the prestigious hotel’s front courtyard are full of surprises. One is a very upscale antiques shop, and the other is a book shop full of fascinating English titles on the region and English-speaking staff, called The Educational Book Shop. The American Colony is a great place to take a rest and have a coffee, too. There is also an ATM just outside the hotel gates that accepts foreign debit cards (not easy to find in East Jerusalem) and you can easily get a taxi here or ask the hotel concierge for recommendations on shopping tips.

If you don’t make it that far or want to stay closer to the Old City, The Educational Book Shop has another location on Salah e-Din Street that features a cozy upstairs cafe with coffee/tea and some baked treats. At either location you can find almost any type of book on the region, including children’s books.

Shops in the Old City are close together and easy to browse. Photo © Rostislav Glinksy/123rf.

Shops in the Old City are close together and easy to browse. Photo © Rostislav Glinksy/123rf.

Travel along Salah e-Din Street toward the Muslim Quarter of the Old City and you will discover a wide variety of places to buy gifts, though many are geared toward tourists. Just on the other side of the roundabout from Salah e-Din, enter through Herod’s Gate. Take the first two lefts to Antonia Street, follow that to Sha’ar HaAyarot Street, then turn left to the Austrian Hospice. There are signs for it and everyone knows it, so don’t be afraid to ask. From the intersection of the Austrian Hospice, any direction will lead you to all manner of spice, rug, jewelry, and scarf shops.

A left turn and straight south from this location will lead you to the best shops. Once you’re in the Old City, remember to bargain! There will be plenty of shops with religious trinkets, but beware that some places do sell items made in China (especially scarves), but they are usually labeled as such or the shop owner will tell you if you ask where it’s made. Most scarves sold in the Old City are actually made in China or India.

Colorful trinkets can be found in East Jerusalem. Photo © Genevieve Belmaker.

Colorful trinkets can be found in East Jerusalem. Photo © Genevieve Belmaker.

If you’re looking to spend more on gifts, there are numerous high-end jewelry shops that sell antiques, Judaica, and upcycled jewelry featuring pieces of polished Roman glass near the Roman colonnade. Always ask for a certificate of authentication when buying antiques and a receipt for VAT (tax) reimbursement that you can redeem at the airport when you’re leaving.

If you have one or two goals for gifts before you set out shopping in East Jerusalem you’ll succeed, but you also need to be open to exploring until you hit on something amazing.

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The Mount of Olives: My Most Memorable Experience in Jerusalem https://moon.com/2014/04/the-mount-of-olives-my-most-memorable-experience-in-jerusalem/ https://moon.com/2014/04/the-mount-of-olives-my-most-memorable-experience-in-jerusalem/#respond Wed, 16 Apr 2014 17:32:33 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=12093 Jerusalem expert Genevieve Belmaker shares her experience of visiting the Mount of Olives for the first time—and the inspiring impact it had on her.

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View from the Mount of Olives. Photo © Eve Chafarnski/123rf.

View from the Mount of Olives. Photo © Eve Chafarnski/123rf.

While I was working on Moon Jerusalem & the Holy Land, I explored nearly every corner of the city. As a resident, it was easy to spend a few hours each day in a different part, and even when I wasn’t working, I’d go on adventures with my family. Our mission was always to find something engaging, interesting, or fun to do. We’d often spend the whole day exploring the Old City; every stone there has a story to tell, which never ceases to amaze me. Sometimes we would go to one of the city’s beautiful parks, such as the sprawling Wohl Rose Garden next to the Israeli Parliament. On the weekends, it felt like we had Jerusalem to ourselves, as most businesses are closed and religiously observant people are typically not out and about. That was always a good time to wander the streets and have a quiet meal at one of the few open restaurants.

The Mount of Olives had been on my list of places to visit for some time, but there always seemed to be something else to do or look into.My most memorable experience in Jerusalem by far happened on an early autumn day. The Mount of Olives had been on my list of places to visit for some time, but there always seemed to be something else to do or look into. That day, however, my son’s daycare was closed, my husband was at work, and the weather was gorgeous—the timing seemed just right. I strapped my son into his car seat and drove off into the hills of Jerusalem in search of what’s considered by many to be one of the holiest places in the city.

Though the route to the Mount of Olives is fairly well marked, the city’s eccentrically arranged streets can lead you a bit astray. There are points that are technically on the Mount of Olives but are not at the top. Luckily, my GPS led me up and up and up through winding streets and an Arab neighborhood or two until I reached a dead end. There, the Seven Arches Hotel faced what was arguably the most magnificent view in town. It was a clean and neat place, but looked like it hadn’t been renovated since the 1970s. I explored the hotel for a bit and discovered there was no café to have coffee in, so I decided to go outside instead to look at the vista just across the street.

This is the spot where I truly saw Jerusalem for the first time. Below me, the oldest Jewish cemetery in the world sprawled out across the landscape, overflowing with rocks left by visitors on headstones. Beyond that were the newer parts of the city. The most magnificent sight visible in the near distance was the Old City.

From the Mount of Olives, I saw Jerusalem’s Old City come alive in all its splendor. I stood there awestruck, and I recall my mouth even hung open for a moment in shock and wonder. That view, that moment that I got to share with my son—I almost didn’t want to breathe for fear everything would evaporate like a mirage.

The most striking thing by far was the Dome of the Rock as it glowed golden in the late afternoon sunlight. The city walls seemed to radiate the heat they’d absorbed throughout the day. The expanse of the entire Old City was visible, with the rest of modern Jerusalem spread out around it in every direction, contrasting its antiquity.

Luckily, I had timed my visit between busloads of tourists. Aside from a man waiting to sell camel rides and photographs nearby, my son and I were alone. In that moment, it seemed like we had Jerusalem all to ourselves, and something very strange happened: I wept.

I was genuinely moved. I had saved this part of my research until after I visited the Mount of Olives myself, so the only thing I knew was the story of Jesus looking at that same view some 2,000 years earlier and lamenting the coming destruction of the city with tears. After being there in person so many years later, that page of history somehow seemed easier to imagine.

To this day, my memory of that afternoon (especially the view) moves me. It inspires me. It fills me with awe and wonder. Most of all, though, it makes me so terribly sad for all those who will never see it for themselves, especially those who refuse to go to the region because of disagreements over current political and ideological struggles.

On top of the Mount of Olives, I had a glimmer of understanding about the eons of struggles Jerusalem has faced, as one conquest after another has swept through and turned it to ashes. It is such a beautiful prize, yet it is still unconquered.

It remains, as I hope it always will, the city I saw that day when I said to myself, “This place belongs to the entire world.”

Map of Jerusalem City Regions

Jerusalem City Overview

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A Guide to Free Saturday Tours in Jerusalem https://moon.com/2014/03/a-guide-to-free-saturday-tours-in-jerusalem/ https://moon.com/2014/03/a-guide-to-free-saturday-tours-in-jerusalem/#respond Sat, 29 Mar 2014 17:21:58 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=11437 Saturday is one of the best days of the week to go on a free tour in Jerusalem. Here's a list of interesting free tours, including the German Colony Tour and the Muslim Quarter Tour.

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A road in the Old City leading toward Jaffa Gate.

A road in the Old City leading toward Jaffa Gate. Photo © Brian Jeffery Beggerly, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Saturday is one of the best days of the week to go on a free tour in Jerusalem. Most of the city shuts down and doesn’t start opening again until late Saturday evening so there is very little foot and vehicular traffic. It’s also a good chance to explore some of Jerusalem’s neighborhoods (for detailed tour listings by type, go to www.itraveljerusalem.com).

Several types of three-hour-long Saturday tours depart at 10am from Safra Square (24-26 Yafo St., 02/531-4600, free).

  • The Explore Ethiopia Tour explores Eliezer Ben Yehuda’s old neighborhood (he was instrumental in reviving the Hebrew language) and also goes through the Russian Compound, Beit Anna Ticho, Ethiopia Street, Bnei Brit Library, and Beit Tavor Street.
  • The German Colony Tour takes you through the neighborhood built by German Templars at the end of the 19th century and includes a route from King David Street down through Emek Refaim Valley.
  • The Hanevi’im Tour takes visitors through the history of Hanevi’im Street and its ties to the British, Germans, Italians, and Ethiopians. Some of the buildings on the tour help tell the stories of famous leaders, ambassadors, doctors, poets, artists, and hermits.
  • The Kidron Valley Tour explores the burial grounds of the Second Temple period, the Kidron River and its streams, and the story behind four rock-hewn graves here. The route goes through Jaffa Gate, the Jewish Quarter, Dung Gate, Kidron Valley viewpoint, and Kidron Valley proper.
  • The Muslim Quarter Tour takes you from Damascus Gate in the Old City to the Western Wall.
  • The Rehavya Walking Tour includes national institutions in the Rehavya neighborhood, including a monastery and the President of Israel’s home.
  • Sandeman’s New Europe Free Jerusalem Tour meets just inside the Old City’s Jaffa Gate by the tourism information stand (8:45am and 11am Fri., 8:45am, 11am, and 2pm Sat.-Thurs.). Look for the guides in the red Sandeman’s T-shirts; guides might encourage you to tip them.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Jerusalem & the Holy Land.

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Understanding Jerusalem’s Restaurant Culture https://moon.com/2014/03/understanding-jerusalems-restaurant-culture/ https://moon.com/2014/03/understanding-jerusalems-restaurant-culture/#respond Fri, 28 Mar 2014 14:23:31 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=11439 Dining out in Jerusalem is a fun diversion and there are some genuinely wonderful gastronomic experiences to be had, but deciphering the unique rules of Jerusalem restaurants is a challenge. Here is a basic primer from author Genevieve Belmaker.

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Tables line up against the edge of a balcony with a view of the city lights spreading to the horizon.

Rooftop dining at the Notre Dame Hotel. Photo © Elaine, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Dining out in Jerusalem is a fun diversion and there are some genuinely wonderful gastronomic experiences to be had, but deciphering the unique rules of Jerusalem restaurants is a challenge. The following is a basic primer.

  • Closed for Shabbat: This means several things, chief among them that they are probably kosher (but not always) and close sometime on Friday afternoon anywhere between 3pm-5pm and usually reopen on Saturday evening around 8:30pm. The times vary a bit by season, but Shabbat is generally from sundown on Friday evening until three stars are out on Saturday evening.
  • Check: You will never, ever get your bill in a restaurant in Jerusalem, or Israel for that matter, until you ask for it.
  • Coffee Shops: Due to the strength of several national chain cafés that also serve as coffee shops, the presence of simple coffee shops or espresso stands is non-existent. You can get a good latte (or cappuccino as locals call them) almost anywhere, though. Ironically, the best coffee is not served in the chain cafés.
  • Kosher: The kosher system dictates keeping dairy and meat separate, and kosher restaurants serve either milk or meat (which includes fish). Kosher certification is officially issued and has degrees of strictness. This means you cannot get a cappuccino in a kosher meat restaurant.
  • Restrooms: A cup with handles next to the restaurant’s bathroom sink is for religious hand washing (not drinking) and means you are in a kosher establishment. Some places will have a special sink with a cup in the restaurant itself.
  • Security: Watch out for the security fee that some places tack onto your bill. It is only a few shekels, but you can ask to have it removed if you spot the number of diners times a small shekel amount equals the fee. It is easy to spot even if you can’t read Hebrew.
  • Service: It is not unusual to have no specified waiter or waitress, especially if you are in a busy place. Feel free to call on any staff member you see.
  • Tipping: The tip is almost never included in the bill, and there will be a large note in English on the bottom of your bill indicating that. 10-15 percent is a standard tip.
  • Water: There is a major shortage of water in this part of the world, so you have to request tap water and usually you have to request refills as well. Try asking for a bottle of tap water.
  • Wi-Fi: Almost every single restaurant and coffee shop in Jerusalem has free wireless Internet, just ask.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Jerusalem & the Holy Land.

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Planning a Trip to the City of Nazareth https://moon.com/2014/03/planning-trip-city-nazareth/ https://moon.com/2014/03/planning-trip-city-nazareth/#respond Thu, 27 Mar 2014 16:34:26 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=11440 Nazareth is an important city to both religious Christians and Arabs, and its main draw for visitors is religious sites. Genevieve Belmaker tells you how to get there and what to see.

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Lights glow amongst the buildings clustered on the narrow hilly streets of Nazareth.

View of the city of Nazareth at dusk. Photo © Elaine, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Nazareth is an important city to both religious Christians and Arabs, and its main draw for visitors is religious sites. Built up the side of a mountain, Nazareth’s streets become increasingly steep and narrow the higher up you go, and it is an incredibly difficult city to navigate. With a predominately Arab population, Nazareth is also home to good Middle Eastern restaurants, an Arab shuk (outdoor market), and an old city region.

Map of Nazareth, Israel

Sights in Nazareth

The Old City Market

In the course of visiting sites in Nazareth, you’ll find yourself in the Old City, which includes a market (04/601-1072, board@nazarethboard.org, 9am-5pm Mon.-Fri., 9am-2pm Sat.) and a grouping of about 100 very impressive Ottoman period homes. You also might come upon the 18th-century Saraya or Government House (top of Aliyah Bet St.), built by a famous governor of the Galilee in 1740 as his summer home and currently undergoing renovations to become the Museum of Nazareth.

Nazareth Village

A careful recreation of life in Nazareth during biblical times, Nazareth Village (5079 St. in the Old City, opposite the French Hospital, 04/645-6042, 9am-5pm Mon.-Sat., last tour at 3pm, adult NIS50, child NIS22, senior NIS34) is something similar to a living and breathing museum with guides in period dress who lead you through what life was like 2,000 years ago in Nazareth.

Basilica of the Annunciation

The Basilica of the Annunciation (southwestern corner of the Old City, 04/657-2501, 8am-5pm Mon.-Sat. Oct.-Mar., 8am-6pm daily Apr.-Sept., modest dress, free) is one of the largest churches in the Middle East. It is a bit difficult to find it on your own, as it’s located about halfway up the mountainside of very steep and narrow roads. It’s best to reach it with a tour group or via a taxi.

The Catholic church was established in 1969, and built on the site of what is believed to be the Virgin Mary’s original home. The cavernous, two-story church engulfs a cave and the remains of previous churches, including a stone wall behind the cave from a 12th-century Crusader church. There are two stories to the church, with the upper level overlooking the main worship area.
One of the most engaging and dynamic features in the church, on the walls and throughout the massive courtyard surrounding the building, is an extensive collection of mosaic paintings from all over the world, each depicting scenes of the Virgin Mary with baby Jesus.

St. Gabriel’s Church

One of the loveliest among the many churches in town, the Greek Orthodox St. Gabriel’s Church (Paulus VI St., 04/656-8488, 8am-noon and 2pm-5pm Mon.-Sat., free) is just at the entrance to the city as you are coming from the north. This is the spot where, according to the Greek Orthodox tradition, Gabriel announced the future birth of Christ to the Virgin Mary. The church has a high, arched ceiling, and between the colonnades the ceiling is painted with religious images against a blue backdrop.

Church of Saint Joseph

The Church of Saint Joseph (northwestern corner of the Old City near the Basilica of the Annunciation, 04/657-2501, 8am-5pm Mon.-Sat. Oct.-Mar., 8am-6pm Mon.-Sat. Apr.-Sept., free) is said to be built over the carpentry workshop of Joseph, Jesus’s father. The Franciscan church now on the site was established in 1914 over the ruins of older churches and the lower level has an ancient water pit, mosaics, caves, and barns from ancient Nazareth of the 1st and 2nd centuries BC.

Roman Bathhouse

The beginnings of the Cactus souvenir shop in 1993 brought with it the discovery of the Roman Bathhouse (Mary’s Well Square under the Cactus souvenir shop, 04/657-8539, 9am-7pm Mon.-Sat., NIS120 for private tours of up to four people), a 2,000-year-old bathhouse under the shop. Excavations have revealed underground heating tunnels, a hot room, and furnace. The tour fee includes refreshments.

Megiddo National Park

One of Israel’s several UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Megiddo National Park (Megiddo and Yokne‘am Junctions on Rte. 66, 04/659-0316, 8am-5pm daily Apr.-Sept., 8am-4pm daily Oct.-Mar., last entry one hour before closing, NIS27) surrounds the ancient ruins of the biblical town Megiddo. A historically strategically important city that went from ruler to ruler throughout the ages, it is today a national park that makes for a relatively easy hike. Abandoned after the Persian period, Megiddo is identified with Armageddon, the scene of the battle of the End of Days according to Revelation 16:14-21. The park includes a souvenir shop, a museum with an audiovisual presentation, and guided tours by reservation. The site is good for visits year round and it takes about one to two hours to tour it.

Mount Precipice

Just about 1.5 miles outside of Nazareth is Mount Precipice (second exit off Rte. 60 south out of Nazareth), also known as the Mount of the Leap of the Lord, one of the city’s highest points. Mount Precipice is where the people of Nazareth took Jesus to be thrown off the cliff. There is a viewing platform to see the landscape below, and at the same spot is the Cave of the Leap, a 50,000-year-old cave that has the remains of 13 human skeletons and over 15,000 artifacts from the Stone Age.

Zippori National Park

About three miles west of Nazareth is the well-laid out Zippori National Park (2.5 miles east of Hamovil junction on Rte. 79 between Hamovil junction and Nazareth, 04/656-8272, 8am-5pm daily Apr.-Sept., 8am-4pm daily Oct.-Mar., last entry one hour before closing, adult NIS27, child NIS14), which is home to the ruins of a Crusader castle, foundations of a Byzantine church, and an excavated 4,500-seat Roman amphitheater. It is also home to several mosaic floorings, including the Mona Lisa of the Galilee, a remarkable depiction of a woman made from mosaic tiling. There is a visitor’s center at the entrance. As you leave the park you can explore the water channel and cistern.


Getting To and Around Nazareth

By Car

Nazareth is located just under two hours north of Jerusalem by car. Most of the drive is along Highway 6, which skirts the West Bank. It is about an hour and 20 minutes from Tel Aviv, also mostly along Highway 6.

Driving within Nazareth is an incomparable nightmare, unless you are accustomed to extremely steep, narrow streets that are sometimes not clearly marked as one-way. Using a GPS in Nazareth to navigate can make matters worse because certain parts of the city are so tightly packed. Nazareth Illit, or Upper Nazareth, and the Old City area have many of the more troublesome streets but also many of the major sights. If you must drive to Nazareth, park near the entrance to the city and take taxi cabs to your destinations.

By Bus

Getting to the center of Nazareth, near the Basilica of the Annunciation, from Jerusalem by Egged bus (bus 955, NIS42 one-way) is just under 2.5 hours. From Tel Aviv, it takes three hours (bus 702, NIS37.5 one-way).

Once in Nazareth, you can take city buses to get around. But it is always best to ask for specific information at the front desk of any hotel in town.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Jerusalem & the Holy Land.

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Jerusalem History: The First and Second Temples https://moon.com/2014/03/jerusalem-history-first-second-temples/ https://moon.com/2014/03/jerusalem-history-first-second-temples/#respond Wed, 26 Mar 2014 22:19:23 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=11434 No visitor to Jerusalem can escape hearing references to the First Temple and the Second Temple. Learn more about the historical time periods when two different massive Jewish temples stood approximately where Al Aqsa Mosque is now located.

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Visitors line up against the high stone wall in prayer.

The Second Temple courtyard, also known as the Wailing Wall, the Kotel, or the Western Wall. Photo © Des Runyan, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

No visitor to Jerusalem can escape hearing references to the First Temple and the Second Temple, which refer to historical time periods when two different massive Jewish temples stood approximately where Al Aqsa Mosque is now located. Both temples were destroyed, and the main remnant is the outer western wall of the Second Temple courtyard, where people flock from all over the world to pray (known as the Wailing Wall, the Kotel, or the Western Wall).

According to Jewish traditions, both temples were destroyed on the 9th of Av on the Jewish calendar.According to Jewish traditions, both temples were destroyed on the 9th of Av on the Jewish calendar. Every year, those destructions are marked by the day of mourning called Tisha B’av. There are several other tragic dates in Jewish history associated with Tisha B’av. But, because of its relation to the destruction of the temples, the plaza of the Western Wall is filled with throngs of Jewish mourners every Tisha B’av (in August).

During the First Temple period (1200-586 BC), the First Temple was built in 1000 BC by King Solomon after King David conquered Jerusalem and made it his capital. The Temple was destroyed in 586 BC by Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon, when he conquered Jerusalem. There are scant remains of the temple on the south hill of the City of David. Evidence of the conquering and destruction of the city can be found in the Burnt House and the House of the Bullae.

From the First Temple period, in 701 BC, there are significant remains of preparations made by King Hezekiah when a siege on the city by Sennacherib King of Assyria was imminent. Those remains include Hezekiah’s Tunnel and the Broad Wall in the Jewish Quarter.

The beginning of the Second Temple period (586 BC-AD 70) is marked by the return of Jews to Jerusalem from their exile in Babylon in 538 BC. They were allowed to return under an edict issued by Cyrus King of Persia. By 515 BC the reinstated Jewish residents had completed building the Second Temple.

The time of the Second Temple is divided into different periods: the Persian period (586-332 BC); the Hellenistic period (332-63 BC); and the Roman period (63 BC-AD 324). In 37 BC, King Herod enlarged the Temple Mount and rebuilt the temple with the consent of the public. During the Roman period, in AD 70, the Second Temple was destroyed, along with Jerusalem, by Titus’ army. It was also during this period that Jesus was in Jerusalem. He was crucified about 40 years before the destruction of the city.

There are significant archaeological remains from the Second Temple period, including the Kidron Valley tombs, the Western Wall, Robinson’s Arch, the Herodian residential quarter, numerous other tombs, and walls.

BCE (Before Common Era) and CE (Common Era) are used throughout Israel and are numerically equivalent to BC and AD, respectively.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Jerusalem & the Holy Land.

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Via Dolorosa: Following the Last Steps of Jesus https://moon.com/2014/03/via-dolorosa-following-the-last-steps-of-jesus/ https://moon.com/2014/03/via-dolorosa-following-the-last-steps-of-jesus/#respond Wed, 26 Mar 2014 18:20:23 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=11436 Via Dolorosa is a numbered trail that winds through the Old City, marking locations of significant moments during Jesus’ journey bearing the cross he was crucified on. Here's a detailed list of the various locations along the trail.

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Next to the entrance of a church a square of stone stands out from the rest with a handprint shaped impression.

The old square stone here is said to bear the handprint of Jesus. Photo © Michael Panse, licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.

Via Dolorosa is a numbered trail that winds through the Old City, marking locations of significant moments during Jesus’ journey bearing the cross he was crucified on. It begins in the Muslim Quarter and ends in the Christian Quarter, and pilgrims frequently kneel in prayer at different stations.

A free MP3 audio file and map of the trail from the Jerusalem Development Authority can be downloaded. You can also join the Via Dolorosa procession led by the Franciscans on Fridays at 3pm from Station 1.

  • Station 1: Just inside the Lion’s Gate and marked with a round, black seal imprinted with the Roman numeral I on the wall of the street is the former seat of Pontius Pilate, who condemned Jesus to death. The station is located at the northwest corner of Temple Mount.
  • Station 2: Across the street is the Roman numeral II. Here Jesus was given his cross, whipped, and mockingly dressed in a robe and given a crown of thorns by Roman soldiers. The compound includes the Roman Catholic Church of the Condemnation and the Convent of the Flagellation.
  • Station 3: The corner of Via Dolorosa and El Wad (Hagai) Street is station 3 and marks where Jesus fell under the weight of the cross for the first time. The route then traces the western side of Temple Mount. The Polish Catholic church, the Austro-Hungarian Hospice (a hospital), and a 15th-century chapel are nearby.
  • Station 4: On El Wad Street is the Roman numeral IV, where Jesus met his mother, Mary. Between stations 3 and 4 is a short section of the Roman-Byzantine street, which was paved over the same street that Jesus walked on.
  • Station 5: At the corner where El Wad Street meets up again with Via Dolorosa is the Roman numeral V. A small Franciscan church built in 1229 marks the location where Simon bore the cross for Jesus. An old square stone to the right of the door of the church is said to bear the handprint of Jesus.
  • Station 6: Uphill is the Roman numeral VI and the station where a woman named Veronica wiped the face of Jesus. A small Greek chapel at the site is called The Holy Face.
  • Station 7: The Roman numeral VII marks where Jesus fell for the second time. Behind the black doors is a small chapel. Just beyond a massive Roman column is the Chapel of the Seventh Station.
  • Station 8: Close to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, marked with the Roman numeral VIII, this station is also marked by a stone embedded in the wall with the engraving IC-XC NI-KA , which means “Jesus Christ conquers.” The Greek Orthodox Church dedicated the station to Saint Charalampos and built a monastery behind the wall. This is where Jesus spoke to the women of Jerusalem and told them not to weep for him, but for themselves and their children.
  • Station 9: A cross painted on a stone pillar next to stairs and an archway is where Jesus fell for the third time. Adjacent to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the route here winds around the building of the Coptic Patriarchate. Nearby is the Ethiopian Church of St. Michael and a Coptic church with paintings depicting Biblical scenes.
  • Station 10: At the entrance of the Holy Sepulchre is the Chapel of the Franks, where Jesus was stripped of his clothes.
  • Station 11: The interior of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre where Jesus was nailed to the cross is station 11.
  • Station 12: A Greek Orthodox crucifixion altar inside the church marks where Jesus was crucified and died on the cross. A silver disk with a central hole under the altar marks where the cross stood, and pilgrims can be seen kneeling and kissing it.
  • Station 13: A large stone where the body of Jesus is said to have been laid and prepared for burial after he died is encased with the top open for pilgrims to touch.
  • Station 14: The tomb of Jesus and the final station of the Via Dolorosa is in the rotunda inside a small inner chamber past the Chapel of the Angel. A marble lid covers the tomb.

Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Jerusalem & the Holy Land.

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Journey through Jerusalem: A 10-Day Travel Itinerary https://moon.com/2014/03/journey-through-jerusalem-a-10-day-travel-itinerary/ https://moon.com/2014/03/journey-through-jerusalem-a-10-day-travel-itinerary/#respond Tue, 25 Mar 2014 23:53:48 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=11420 This itinerary places heavy emphasis on archaeological sites alongside new attractions and places to eat and play, and it also covers a few notable spots outside Jerusalem.

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The Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem.

The Armenian Quarter in Jerusalem. Photo © Dierk Schaefer, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Though 10 days is just enough to scratch the surface of what Jerusalem has to offer, this section maps out a travel strategy that lays heavy emphasis on archaeological sites alongside new attractions and places to eat and play. Think ancient archaeological sites in and around the Old City by day, and rooftop drinks and food overlooking the city or live music by night. It also includes a few notable places in the vicinity of Jerusalem. The time frame is divided based on the days of the week, due to Jerusalem’s limited access during Shabbat (Fri.-Sat. night).

Day 1, Sunday

After a good night’s sleep at your hotel, put on your most comfortable shoes and get ready for some serious walking in the Old City. Start from the information center at Jaffa Gate, and pick a couple of key points in the Old City to explore, but allow for lots of wandering around time, as it is one of the best activities and you’ll likely be on sensory overload.

From Jaffa Gate, you can easily explore the Armenian Quarter (mostly residential) and loop back up to the Jewish Quarter and the old Roman Cardo, which includes some high-end shopping. Keep going north to the Christian Quarter and you can see a number of churches, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Head back out toward Jaffa Gate and stop at one of the pizza shops or cafés for lunch that are just next to the information center. If your hotel is close by, go back and rest up from the noonday sun, or take in the air-conditioned shops and bookstores at modern and upscale Mamilla, at the foot of Jaffa Gate.

In the afternoon, walk from Mamilla to Nachalat Shiva, where you can spend a couple of leisurely hours exploring the shops, full of handmade crafts, before you walk to the Jerusalem Time Elevator exhibit for a 2D and sensory-enhanced trip through Jerusalem history. Stay in Nachalat Shiva for dinner to experience one of Jerusalem’s most famous and authentically Middle Eastern restaurants, Tmol Shilshom.

Day 2, Monday

After a leisurely breakfast, get a picnic lunch and work your way over to The Israel Museum by taxi or bus for a late morning museum session of antiquities and Jewish and regional history and art, including the Shrine of the Book, which houses the Dead Sea Scrolls. Directly across the way is the Bible Lands Museum, with its gorgeous ancient jewelry displays and emphasis on biblical history.

When you’ve had enough air-conditioning, take a quick taxi ride or a 25-minute walk to a free tour of the Supreme Court of Israel; tour starts at noon and then just hop over to the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) for another free tour, starting at 8:30am, noon, and 2pm, if you have time. After your tours, stop by the Wohl Rose Garden overlooking Jerusalem to eat your picnic lunch. The roses will stay in full bloom late into the year, and after lunch you can spend some time exploring the grounds and its approximately 400 varieties of roses.

Head back to your hotel by taxi and rest up before dinner at any one of the City Center restaurants near Zion Square. After dinner, take a stroll through Zion Square with its lively evening atmosphere, and get dessert from one of the ice cream shops or the local favorite hole-in-the-wall dessert waffle shop.

Day 3, Tuesday

Make sure you are conservatively dressed or have something to cover your shoulders and legs, but with pants that can be rolled up, and head back to the Old City in the morning (bring a flashlight). This time take a taxi to Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem, and enter the Old City through the gate where you can explore the Muslim Quarter and see some of the stations along the Via Dolorosa, where it is believed Jesus carried his cross on his way to be crucified. Continue along the Via Dolorosa to the northern side of the Dome of the Rock, Al Aqsa Mosque, and the Western Wall, holy sites to Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Just before the entrance to the Western Wall there are a number of restaurants where you can get lunch and rest before continuing.

Exit the Old City just past the Western Wall and you’ll be in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, where the City of David is located. Make sure you buy a ticket that includes a trip through Hezekiah’s Tunnel (a good activity when the midday sun is out). After traipsing through the 2,700-year-old tunnel for 580 yards to the Pool of Siloam and touring the City of David, take a rest back at your hotel and freshen up for the evening.

Before dinner, take in the sunset at the swanky Mamilla Hotel’s rooftop terrace bar and restaurant (make reservations in advance). You can stay for dinner after enjoying the view of the old and new cities, or head downstairs to try one of Mamilla’s restaurants.

Day 4, Wednesday

Start your day with breakfast at the hotel and get out early to the Mount of Olives for the awe-inspiring sunrise. Get a taxi to take you to the top of the Mount of Olives’ highest vista point, above the old Jewish cemetery, right next to the Seven Arches Hotel. From here, enjoy the incredible view of old and new Jerusalem. Take a leisurely walk down the hill and go through the Jewish cemetery, or just continue downhill to various vista points for photos. Continue downhill toward the Old City, stopping to see the inside along the way. It’s a long walk, but taxis will pass you the whole way, so you won’t be at risk of getting stuck.

When you’ve had enough churches, take a taxi to the Mount Scopus campus of Hebrew University, where you can explore the campus, see the adjacent Jerusalem Botanical Garden, and have a late lunch.

After lunch, take a bus from campus back to City Center that is bound for the Machane Yehuda market (the shuk). Ask anyone how to get to the shuk; most people will know. Once you get there, take your time and enjoy exploring the massive market with its fresh produce and delicious snacks. Make sure to stop off at one of the shuk’s many restaurants for a late afternoon coffee and then head back to your hotel with some shuk food for dinner and rest up for tomorrow.

Day 5, Thursday

Use Thursday to do some more low-key sightseeing. Start in the beautiful residential area of Talbiyeh, home to the Israeli presidential residence. Stop in the L.A. Mayer Museum for Islamic Art and check out their exhibits, then take a short walk to the Jerusalem Theatre to see if an art exhibit is up and what upcoming performances they might have during your visit. From there, take a 15-minute walk downhill toward the historic German Colony neighborhood and note the exquisite parks you pass by that are full of shady, peaceful corners.

Once in the German Colony (Emek Refaim St.), enjoy the architecture of the many beautiful, Templar-style buildings and homes. Stay in the German Colony for lunch, and hop one street over to the Railway Park and follow it in the direction of city center. Along the way you will find the newly created HaTachana train station culinary and shopping complex, built from the foundation of Jerusalem’s former main train station, which is more than 120 years old. After you’ve shopped a bit here and enjoyed the atmosphere with a post-lunch latte, continue on the railroad track park to the end and the hilly Lion Park with its beautiful fountain and pathways. Walk through the park until you reach the Montefiore windmill and the sweeping vista of east Jerusalem and the separation barrier in the distance. Continue on to the King David Hotel and the YMCA, both of which have historic architecture and idyllic outdoor seating and serve dinner. After dinner walk over to the Old City for the Night Spectacular light show near the Tower of David Museum citadel at Jaffa Gate.

Day 6, Friday

Take a taxi to Mount Zion just outside Zion Gate at the Old City, and explore Dormition Abbey and the area near King David’s tomb. If you have time, stop at the small Holocaust museum. Then go by foot or bus to City Center just uphill from Zion Square off of King David Street for the Friday Shabbat festivities, including a street fair with local arts, crafts, and food. Make sure to also explore the shops at the top of King David Street and the Bezalel Arts Academy, where the Bezalel Art Fair takes place every Friday. They sell Israeli-designed and made fashions including shoes, dresses and other clothing, and accessories. Find a spot at one of the busy restaurants in the area for lunch before things start to shut down around 3pm. If you’re interested, Friday is also the day for Jewish and Muslim religious services, which you can find at the nearby Jerusalem Great Synagogue or Al Aqsa Mosque. You must be Muslim to enter Al Aqsa Mosque during prayer time.

Otherwise, take the opportunity on Friday night to relax at your hotel as most of the city shuts down. If you’re near City Center and hear an alarm around sunset, don’t be worried: It is the Shabbat alarm telling religious Jews that the Sabbath has started. If you plan to go out to dinner on Friday night to one of the restaurants that is not kosher and remains open after sunset, make reservations in advance.

Day 7, Saturday

Saturday in Jerusalem is like being in a ghost town. Very few things are open and there is no public transportation. If your hotel is near the Old City (which is open and less crowded than usual), go to the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum to see antiquities and then spend some time hanging around the Old City. This is a good day to hire a professional tour guide. In the afternoon, you can take a rental car and drive through the alpine Jerusalem Forest to the nearby idyllic village of Ein Kerem for some short hikes and lunch at one of the village’s many excellent restaurants. The restaurants are all within easy walking distance of each other, but make reservations in advance.

Then take your pick of a variety of tourist activities in the town where John the Baptist was born and the Virgin Mary visited while pregnant with Jesus (note Mary’s Well). It is a small town and the signage is well arranged, so you don’t need to plan in advance what you’ll do. However, if you plan to take one of the small area hikes in the surrounding forest to the Shrine of the Visitation or the golden-domed Gorny Monastery, wear comfortable clothing and bring water.

Ein Kerem has a surprisingly active nightlife scene (though relatively low-key), so you can also plan to stick around for drinks on the terrace of one of the restaurants later in the evening and watch the sunset and possibly enjoy some live music.

Day 8, Sunday

Take a bus to City Center and Zion Square, with its mixture of tourist shops, street musicians, and cafés, the best of which are just off of the main artery of the square. After a bit of shopping, go to the bottom of Zion Square toward City Hall and catch the light rail train to Yad Vashem and Mount Herzl. Start with Yad Vashem, which can take several hours (children under the age of 10 are not allowed in the main hall). On your way back to the light rail stop by Yad Vashem shuttle bus, visit Mount Herzl, where you can get an audio-visual history of Zionist leader Theodor Herzl.

Day 9, Monday

Take an urban walking tour around Jerusalem with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, a half-day archaeological tour, or a double-decker Egged bus tour. Whichever you choose, you’ll get a more in-depth perspective on the city and its treasure trove or historical, religious, and archaeological gems.

Then stop by east Jerusalem’s Temple Mount Sifting Project near the Old City, where you can play archaeologist alongside experts by sifting through dirt for ancient remnants and objects. After you’re done making important historical discoveries, head to the Museum on the Seam by foot or taxi for a detailed and clear-eyed look at the juxtaposition of east and west Jerusalem from the political to the historical and religious. If you have the time and energy, get tickets near the Jaffa Gate for the Ramparts Walk along the top of the wall surrounding the Old City. You’ll be exhausted from a day of walking, so have dinner either in or nearby your hotel.

Day 10, Tuesday

Use Tuesday to do anything you just didn’t have time for in the previous nine days. If you don’t have a leftover agenda, head to the edge of east and west Jerusalem and the Sherover-Haas Promenade. Take a bus along Hebron Road to Yehuda Street and hop down to the charming neighborhood of Bak’a for breakfast at the Grand Café, which opens very early and makes their own croissants and other pastry treats, and is one of the most popular restaurants in the area. Have a cappuccino with the locals at the restaurant’s wraparound outdoor patio and revel in the Jerusalem morning sun.

When you’re done, take a short taxi ride or long walk to the promenade, where you’ll get a unique vista of Jerusalem, including the Dome of the Rock. If the weather is clear, you can also see Jordan in the distance. The lengthy promenade makes for the perfect leisurely walk along a gently inclined pathway that extends all the way down the hillside. If you are there during the right time of day, you will hear the distant sounds of the Muslim call to prayer sounding out across the hills and valley. It is the perfect place for quiet reflection and introspection after days of intense touring.

For a quiet dinner and wine with a rooftop view of the city, go by taxi to the imposing Pontifical Institute Notre Dame’s four-star Roof Top Wine and Cheese Restaurant.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Jerusalem & the Holy Land.

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Tips for Shopping in Jerusalem’s Old City https://moon.com/2014/03/tips-for-shopping-in-jerusalems-old-city/ https://moon.com/2014/03/tips-for-shopping-in-jerusalems-old-city/#respond Tue, 25 Mar 2014 17:23:26 +0000 http://moon.com/?p=11438 With seemingly endless streets of shops and cavernous stalls, shopping in the Old City can be a fun or intimidating experience. Here are some tips, including the best ways to deal with aggressive vendors.

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The market in Old City Jerusalem.

The market in Old City Jerusalem. Photo © IsraelTourism, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Shopping in the Old City can be a fun or intimidating experience. In many cases, aggressive shop owners won’t allow you more than two seconds to glance at their products before pushing you to buy. It is also a notoriously expensive place for English-speaking customers, particularly Americans.

One of the great advantages to shopping in this area is that almost everything is open on the weekend.Be prepared in advance to do the dance of bargaining if you plan to buy something, which might include literally walking away to get the best price. You can bargain if you are confident, but the best bet for avoiding some serious unplanned spending is to decide in advance on your limit.

There are seemingly endless streets of shops and cavernous stalls that are open seven days a week, mostly selling very similar items. They fall mainly into the categories of jewelry, religious items, souvenirs, clothing, antiques, and food. Most visitors enter the Old City area from Jaffa Gate and turn down HaNotsrim Street, a narrow pedestrian street in the Christian Quarter.

A good approach to shopping in this area is to walk past vendors and stores, and only slow down if you are seriously interested in buying something. Otherwise you will spend a great deal of time extricating yourself from aggressive negotiations with shop owners.

Shops selling antiques and artifacts, including Roman-glass inlaid jewelry and other locally handmade items, can be found mainly in the Christian and Jewish Quarters, although such stores are scattered throughout all four quarters. Be very cautious when purchasing antiques. You will need the appropriate legal certificate to take the item out of the country, largely due to problems with grave robbers and antique theft from archaeological sites. Check with the information center about the proper documentation necessary or visit the Israeli Antiquities Authority website.

Most vendors are more than willing to take American dollars, and you can find nice scarves, sweets, and cute trinkets. One of the great advantages to shopping in this area is that almost everything is open on the weekend.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Jerusalem & the Holy Land.

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