Today was a very long walk from our hotel to the Old City of Jerusalem. According to several step-counters people wore, we walked about 7 miles today. One estimate was higher, but the other two were a bit lower, but based on how my feet feel, 7 miles is just about right.
We started walking for our hotel Garden Tomb, a short walk from our hotel. As always the Garden Tomb is a delight. The grounds are a well-kept garden and the staff guides have always been very good. What I particularly appreciate is the clear message that it does not matter if this was the real tomb of Jesus, the only this that is important is that he is not in the tomb! In fact, there is almost no chance this was the tomb of Jesus, but the Garden Tomb is a lovely place to think about the death and resurrection. We had a short communion service (accompanied by the loudest sparrow in all Israel).
From the Garden Tomb we walked up the hill to Jaffa Gate. I will admit the hill is a bit steeper than I remember. We (ok, I) stopped about halfway up the hill to catch our breath, and while I was standing there young man approached me and asked if I was leading a tour. I thought this was perhaps a tour guide trying to find a job, but it ended up being a gentleman from Serbia who is visiting Jerusalem for one day and hope to be able to join us as we visited a few sites. He ended up being a great addition to the group and we had a nice talk over lunch about history and politics.
We did the Rampart walk from the Jaffa Gate to the Damascus Gate. This walk gives the students an overview of two or three sections of the city. The highlight for me is the Hadrian-era Damascus Gate, since this shows how deep underneath the present “old city” the first and second century city of Jerusalem really is. Unfortunately the gate is not accessible as it once was. I used to be able to walk under the existing Damascus Gate and go through the the gate back up to the Ramparts. All this is locked out now.
From the Damascus Gate we headed back to visit the Western Wall. I had intended to visit the Pool of Bethesda, but we did not get off the Ramparts until noon, the site was closed. We did stop for lunch (your choice, pizza, schwarma or falafel) and an icy lemon mint drink.
The Western Wall plaza has not changed much since the last tour, although I noticed they moved the entrance to the Temple Tunnels back by the security checkpoint. The Herodian excavations are not open to the public, and the people at the gate resisted my plea for a quick look. I this this is going to be a very nice addition to a Jerusalem tour in the future.
I took the group up the steps toward the Jewish Quarter so the could buy some cold water or maybe an ice cream. Unfortunately the toilets were under repair, so several of us (mostly Zac) were in great need. After most of the group bought t-shirts of American sports teams in Hebrew, we cut back through the city to the Holy Sepulchre.
The Holy Sepulchre is one of those places your need to visit on a tour to Israel,although I am never really happy about it. It is of great historical significance, but it is also a place where many legends about Jesus are perpetuated to serve the faithful. Is the is real site of Golgotha and the Tomb? Perhaps, and there is a better chance this is the site than the Garden Tomb, but as a Protestant, I think the place obscures the truth more than is expected.
Back to the Leonardo Hotel for a great dinner, although not everyone appreciates beef tongue like I do.