Day 2: The Old City

On the schedule for today: the Old City of Jerusalem with its multitude of commemorative churches, and Bethlehem. We enjoyed a delicious breakfast at our hotel, and they even made pancakes to order for Jeremy. I appreciated that the hotel offered a range of breakfast options. It wasn't all an Arab breakfast (cheese, cucumbers, pita bread, za'atar, etc.), nor was it a boring continental one. They even had an English-style toaster. I used it just for fun, even after an employee came over and showed me the "real" toaster.

Here it is, kids: the BYU Jerusalem Center, perched on Mt. Scopus. This picture was taken from near St. Stephen's Gate.

From our hotel, we walked around the Old City walls from Herod's Gate to St. Stephen's Gate. In Arabic, this gate is called Miriam's Gate, so we made sure to get a picture of our Miriam in front of her gate. We also got a picture of her in front of Damascus Gate. Sadly, there was no Palmer Gate in Jerusalem to complete her name.

Our first stop was St. Anne's Church, built on the site of what is said to be (I'll be using that phrase a lot) the home of Mary's parents. It is also very near the healing pools that are mentioned in the New Testament. I thought the ruins of the pools were very interesting; Miriam enjoyed running up and down a handicap access ramp. To each his own.

At the Antonia Fortress, we saw 1st century paving stones. We also almost fell asleep in our seats from listening to our guide. When you're involved in a group tour as we were, the Israeli government requires you to hire a guide. I am not much of a guide person anyway, and this guy reinforced that attitude. The thing is, I can't quite put my finger on what it was about him that was so incredibly mind-numbing. One of the students put it better than me when they said that "he must have learned only the boring facts." I think that's true. Jimmy (that was his name) could - and did - speak for 30 minutes at a time about seemingly nothing, and then one of our professors would get up, spend 30 seconds expounding on the site we were currently visiting, and have a greater impact on our experience.

(In his defense, Jimmy did improve over the course of the tour. I wonder if someone said something to him.)

We saw this Arabic graffiti along the Via Dolorosa. Note to self: figure out what, exactly, it says.

At one point along the Via Dolorosa, we pedestrians were caught between two lanes of traffic trying to negotiate a one-lane street. A shopkeeper ushered us out of the way of the mayhem - and right into his souvenir shop. Very sly.

These piles of be-lighted goodness were spotted on the way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. I have no idea what they are. However, since they're on display next to those hideous balls of syrupy fried dough, I can only imagine that they are some kind of derivative related product.

In the basement of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the walls are etched with the marks of thousands of pilgrims who have come before. At the time we visited, there were at least several hundred people in the building with us. We were warned about this beforehand, and it was at this point that I realized what was happening. It is very difficult to catch the feel of a place when it is crawling with tourists, even if the vast majority of them are respectful and worshipful. It's hard to get past the pomp and gaudiness and ceremony and disputes over which church owns which site and figure out what was supposed to have happened there. If for no other reason, I enjoyed the Church of the Holy Sepulcher for what it actually was: a lot of really old churches built on a site believed to be sacred. That alone is something worth admiring.

Day 3: Temple Mount and miscellany

Day 2: The Wall, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem again