Sunday, 18 June 2017

Day 7 - ‘Free’ day - walking the walls of Jerusalem, Hezekiah’s tunnel, getting lost

Another retrospective writeup, though as I try to relive the memories it may become written as if in the present.

There were several options possible for the day, including visiting the Israel museum, the holocaust museum, walking the city walls, visiting the city of David ruins, Hezekiah’s tunnel to the Gihon spring or just generally walking round the city. Chris had wanted to do the tunnel, and the wall walk also seemed a sensible plan, so finding ourselves ready to go a little sooner than the suggested start time, we go a taxi from the hotel to the Damascus gate, then bought tickets for the wall.

I’m wondering a little what to write about the actual walk. It’s just what you might expect: you’re high up on a wide stone wall, looking down on roofs and into people’s back gardens. There are areas of steep stone steps and metal railings, the occasional fortification used by the Jordanian army during the first war in 1948. In places there is barbed and razor wire to discourage uninvited guests, and the roofscape consists of water tanks and heaters, plus in many cases a certain amount of rubbish plus the occasional cross or Islamic cresent. Sometimes the view is good, peering down into street scenes or catching interesting individuals passing beneath, while sometimes it’s just squalid.

The wall walk is in 2 halves, norther and southern, and we tackle the northern first, from the Damascus gate to the Lion gate before lunch, then making our way across Jerusalem, picking up the southern route afterward.

We started out with Nick, who we’ve known vaguely for a long time. He wanted a chance to take pictures properly too, and he came equipped with 2 Fuji XT-2 bodies plus standard, wide and super zoom lenses and a bunch of other kit. It becomes obvious fairly quickly that we need to separate so that he can take his time. About half way round we are caught up by some other members of the group who started off after we had, taking the tram into Jerusalem from near the hotel (more on this later).

Eventually we complete the walk and head off for lunch to Israel’s answer to Starbucks - Aroma - which we were told was so successful that it put starbucks out of business there. Lunch is a sandwich and a bottle of drink for the equivalent of £10/CAD15 each.

After lunch we go our own way, heading up to the south section.

Sunday afternoon seems to be a day for schools to go out on field trips. The school children here are some of the most obnoxious I have met anywhere, elbowing and barging passers-by, walking at and blocking tourists, generally behaving with a sense of entitlement I’ve never experienced in children before - God help Israel if this generation don't change before adulthood. We run the gauntlet of the school parties to access the steps up - the day is hot again, and there’s no shade on this part of the wall.

This section has generally less exciting stuff to see, although the views over the Kidron valley are OK. Once we reach the end point we make our way back to the area around the old city of David and buy tickets for Hezekiah’s tunnel.

The tunnel itself is cut through solid rock for around 533 meters, is wide enough for a man that isn’t fat and in places so low as to require me to duck uncomfortably, a lack of lighting requiring that walkers take a torch as they wade through the water that varies between ankle and mid-thigh deep - all fine then. ;-) 

Unfortunately we get stuck between a group of teenage schoolgirls, screaming and throwing water over each other, and a group of students in their late teens & early 20s who shout & sing. The girls frequently stop, which makes for discomfort when standing in a tunnel that feels about 4 feet high, and by the time we reach the zigzag section that marks roughly half way, we are ready to stop.

Eventually daylight is seen in the distance, and we emerge at a pool of siloam (possibly not THE pool of siloam).

There are 2 options for travelling back at this point - either past the pool and up on the road, or via a tunnel that runs back up the hill to the CoD - though the signage doesn’t express it like that. By happy chance we decide to take the tunnel - probably part of the Roman-era sewer system that ran below a wide stairway & ramp that went from the temple area to the pool at the bottom - and get a much better sense of how the 2 might have been connected 2000 years ago over the roughly 600-800 meter distance. After this we walk past some of the CoD ruins, out into the current city & carefully read the map to negotiate our way to the Damascus gate again.

At this point we then make a mistake - trying to use the tram system to get back.

We caught the tram in the right direction after getting advice from the local tourist information centre, alighting at Ammunition hill.

Where is Ammunition hill????

A quick search on the maps on my phone suggested that the Ambassador hotel was just a few hundred yards away, but the location suggested turned out to be the main police depot for the area. A passerby can’t help us either, and in the end we try to use a combination of phone and tourist maps to navigate us to something we might recognise.

Now before the obvious mockery, we are usually pretty good at this kind of thing, finding our way to all sorts of places in foreign lands.

Not this time.
We walk for an hour before discovering that we are on the Jericho road, about level with Jerusalem, but to the east side. Along the route we pass many landmarks that we've seen from the coach, but none of them allow us to place our location. After our experience a few nights before I pray for a merciful taxi & and lo and behold a man walks out of a café and gets into the driving seat of a taxi right beside me, but when I ask for the Ambassador hotel he holds up his hands and shakes his head.

So we do it the way we’ve had to so much now - we figure it out ourselves.
Having finally found where we are on the map - where we REALLY are now - we navigate gradually back to the Nablus road that we should have been on. A hotel receptionist on the way is able to direct us (incorrectly as it turned out) to the Ambassador, and after around another 20min we finally get back, sweaty, sore of foot and exhausted.

The relief is huge.

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