Today we woke up without a schedule for the first time since we left home. A much needed break from the routine of hurrying through breakfast to get on the bus. Bittersweet as we lose our daily dose of Yonatan’s teaching and the fellowship we’ve shared with the group.
At breakfast today we sat with Anna’s cousin Virginia- Anna was the lady who fell in Nazareth at the beginning of our journey. She told us how amazing America Israel Tours has been throughout this ordeal – sending an AIT representative to be with Anna at the hospital and how they have truly been there every step of the way. This is a huge thing to be grateful for and a good witness to the people who want to do a tour in the future. And a good reminder that buying trip insurance is an excellent investment!
So for our first day of freedom we decided to walk to the Mahane Yahuda Market. It was row after row of beautiful spices and fruits and candies and nuts and halva. Endless colors and textures and smells. We tried samples and ordered juice and walked and walked.
Then we decided to head over to Old Jerusalem. Along the way we got exasperated by our attempt to purchase a train ticket for our ride to the airport tomorrow. Multiple attempts to locate the holy grail of a Rav card left us a bit frustrated. We ended up talking to a guy who said the new fast train isn’t reliable enough yet and that we should ask our hotel to book us in a “special taxi” –a shuttle. We are planning to share a ride with our new friends Charlie and Madeline Burns. More about that later.
We entered the old city through the “New Gate” — we came upon a nice man who said he would like us to see his wife’s gallery. She is the only female shopkeeper. And he has a jewelry shop. Well you know we are a little leery of being hustled but sure enough he took us to meet his wife, a lovely British lady who sells art from local artists. She was so nice and she wanted to see my art which I have in the Art Market back home. She has a cat that hangs out at her shop and of course that got her and Savannah talking about feeding every stray cat in Israel that we encountered. The best part was that there was a watercolor print of that cat overlooking Jerusalem! Savannah is now the proud owner of her first piece of art!
As we left the gallery we forgot to turn left to go see her husband’s jewelry store but he caught us and turned us back toward his shop. He fuses ancient glass into beautiful jewelry and I bought a set for a Christmas gift. I am fairly sure it’s all authentic.
We had a good discussion with this couple about the concept of a “tourism mafia”. This is the thing where tour guides get a percentage of sales from prearranged visits by tour groups. This goes for restaurants and gift shops. There is a whole system designed to provide “discounts” to tourists. These coupons are tracked so the tour guides get a cut of the business it brings in. I think for restaurants this makes sense because of keeping to a fairly tight and rigorous schedule. The group sticks together and the food is done quickly. For shopping, though, it seems like a rigged system. Shop after shop sells the same exact items -/ very “cookie-cutter” souvenirs of low quality and lacking originality. Of course we bought some trinkets and gifts as any tourist does. It’s just a bit manipulated. And from what we heard it seems the little shop in Bethlehem is owned by some extravagantly wealthy families. I don’t know if it’s true but that’s what we were told.
Anyway, after shopping til we were ready to drop, time to eat. I have Schwarma and falafel coming out my pores so I really wanted something different. We sat down at one restaurant that’s upstairs over the market in the old city. We were not there but a few minutes when the guy told us if we weren’t part of a group we would need to move to another table. Grrr. So we left. We ended up going to a place Savannah ate at yesterday when she was rebelling against the tour system. They had shrimp and fries with a salad. Super expensive but again I could not think of eating schwarma or falafel.
We found our way to Jaffa gate and walked to “Cat Square” to sit and have tea and coffee. It was lovely. But then I realized I didn’t have enough shekels and they didn’t take dollars!! So I had to go find a change place and exchange a few dollars. Grrr.
Savannah fed multiple cats with the fish she took from the breakfast this morning. She has quite a routine of keeping scraps from our meals to feed the strays.
We made it back to the hotel and weary as we were thought it would be lovely to go to the pool and sauna to relax and revive. So we got our swim suits and robes and headed down to the pool. Closed. Ok let’s try the sauna. Can’t find it. No one is around in the spa area so we explored. We came out and a Ukrainian lady was at the front desk. She didn’t understand English. Sign language worked well enough and she took us to the sauna. A cold cold room with no controls and no steam. We went to find her and she was watching tv! So we just left and headed back to our room. Apparently Leonardo does not open the pool in the fall and apparently the spa is only an idea.
Another frustrating thing we encountered today was mentioned earlier — trying to get an affordable and reliable trip to the airport! Everyone we ask has a different idea. I had asked AIT what to do before we came on the tour and they said the hotel would get us taken care of. Well the hotel does not have a concierge and the guy Savannah talked to yesterday said it would be 350 Israeli Shekels for a taxi! That’s about a hundred bucks. Heck no. Yonatan said to ask for a special taxi (shuttle) and that it should be no more than 30 IS each. .. and so did the guys at the info place we talked to today. We really wanted to take that new fast train as it’s free but no one trusts the service time on that. So we went back to the hotel front desk and told the guy we need to arrange a shuttle for us and two others from our group. He says it’ll be 67 IS each! He tried calling to make the reservation but couldn’t get through. He said to check back in a couple hours and we were then told it’s confirmed! Goodness. Makes me wish we had just gone home when everyone else did tonight and it would have been all taken care of!
So here we are. Our last night in Jerusalem is underway! We have met so many lovely people. We have been blessed with such great care. Having Yonatan as our guide was such a blessing-/ we always felt safe and cared for. We never had to worry about anything because he knew exactly what to do in each situation. It’s bittersweet for sure. So thankful that we had this opportunity and I will always pray for the peace of Jerusalem and blessings on the Christians who are bound to live separated from the rest of the world in Palestine.