The Israel Detour

I left Israel and I am back in Amman (Capital of Jordan). Rod and I parted ways as he is continuing his trip in Israel for a while. It was nice to travel with someone for the last 10 days or so but it was time for me to resume my trip. We might meet again in Lebanon to have a beer or two (it would be the 4th country we have a beer together!) and catch-up on our latest stories.

The invisible man

Israel was not planned in my itinerary because Syria and Lebanon (Among many other Arab countries not including Egypt and Jordan) have not recognized Israel and hence do not let Israelis or people that visited Israel inside their borders. But I found out that there was a way to not get any proofs of this in my passport if I was going from Jordan to Israel and back through the King Hussein bridge border crossing. You can read this very complete report if you want to know more. Anyway, it worked as explained and my passport does not show anything. It is like I always have been in Jordan.

Some thoughts


One striking (and saddening) thing about Israel but especially Jerusalem is the omnipresence of weapons. You can see people wearing guns everywhere from the long riffle on the shoulder to the handgun in the back of the pants. It is also not rare to have armed security guards at restaurant or club doors. All these create a climate of tension and I did not like the feeling.

We actually experienced the result of that tension many times. In old Jerusalem, as we were walking on Via Dolorosa, we happened to walk just behind a group of little Jewish kids being escorted by an armed man. This guy was looking around frantically and starred at us many times. I guessed it was time to back-up and stop to let them go! Or, while visiting the Mount of Olives, we met a group of young bully Palestinians kids that demanded for some baksheesh and then reverted to throwing stones at us after we had declined.

Even if I understand that the situation is very complicated and I don’t exactly grasp all of it, that is one of the reason I did not feel like staying longer. Hopefully, the situation will get better and everybody will live in peace and mutual respect soon.



I will not talk to much about Tel-Aviv. We stayed there for 3 days. It is a nice clean town with a lot of beautiful people that go to the beach and party hard. It was very sunny and warm all the time. It has great large beaches with very fine white sand, a very nice restaurants selection and a lot of bars and clubs.

On the cultural side, there is the Yemenite district with its narrow streets that is very animated on Tuesdays with the market. A bit South of Tel-Aviv, the city of Jaffa (now part of Tel-Aviv) offers a place a bit more interesting with a tiny Roman amphitheatre and Saint Peter’s church. Saint Peter is a very nice little church that is very well presented and exhale a great peaceful feeling. Definitely recommended even if you are not Catholic.

I did not really like being in Tel-Aviv because it reminds me too much of San Diego or Cap d’Agde for that matter and it is not really what I am looking for in this trip. I had a good time still and it would be unfair to knock down the city. It has a lot to offer if you are looking for a laid back vacation. But then, why go to Israel for that?

The Holy City


Jerusalem was definitely interesting. Rod and I visited the old city back and forth over three days and it is a very impressive place. Petra was a great place to visit but it is a dead city while old Jerusalem is still inhabited and that makes it so much more impressive.

Some of the streets covered with shops catering to the locals (butchers, grocery stores, tailors…) and the other catering to the mass of tourists (souvenirs and whatever the tourists would want to buy) are bustling with activity while some other streets are just quiet and peaceful with just some locals minding their business or going home.

Old Jerusalem is also critical because of the 3 major holy sites it houses and it is sometimes like if every stone was of most importance to one religion or another (at the end, it might be better than when two or more religions fight over the same stone!).


The church of the holy sepulchre is a major sacred site for Christians. It is a very impressive monument that exhale a lot of spiritual power. Also, even if it is not always perfect, the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox and Syriac Orthodox churches all live together peacefully there.

Hiring a guide was more than rewarding as it would be difficult to make sense of all the rooms and places of worship on one’s own. He was stinking like a dead rat though and I stayed as far as possible during the whole time trying to never face him so as not to take the risk of smeling his rancid breath!


We spent some more time around the church after the tour. My favorite places are the holy jail and the little Jacobin chapel located behind the Educule mainly because they were the quietest parts while being quite important spiritually.


Since we already had seen 5 of the 14 stations of the Cross, we also went around and visited the other 9 stations located on the Via Dolorosa (a street of Old Jerusalem that is supposed to mark the path Jesus walked with the cross after his condemnation). Only one advice, try to not come on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday as it is more difficult to visit the holy monuments on these days ;).

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The Kotel or Wailing Wall or Western Wall might well be the holiest monument for Judaism. From a pure architectural standpoint, it is just a wall so there is not much to see but this is not really what matters. I went there twice. First on Saturday (Sabath for Jews) and it was impressive to see so many people there. The second time was the day after as part of a tour of the city and it was quieter. I realized that I don’t know enough about the Judaism and especially rituals since I could not make sense of everything that was going on there.


The Temple Mount is a disputed site that houses two holy Muslim shrines today: the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. The Dome of the Rock is an Islamic monument located on a sacred site to the three religions. It is an impressive monument that is usually a symbol of Jerusalem. Both monuments are closed to non-Muslims. It is a bit sad but after reading more about the situation, I kind of understand.


The rest of Jerusalem is more like a Western city. On Saturday night, we assisted to something that looked like a Frat party with more Americans than I had seen in months! The fact is that on many occasions, it felt like all the American Jewish college kids had descended on the city.

Where is the bank?

 On Friday, I passed into Israel and made my way towards Jerusalem where I settled at a hostel in the old city.

After going through the immigration officer, recovering your bag and going through custom, the first thing you need to do is usually get money in the local currency. This time, I did not need to do it at once as Rod exchanged his Egyptian pounds he had left and I did not want to exchange the Jordanian dinars I have left since I am going back to Jordan soon. So, I borrowed some money from him and planned on getting cash from an ATM as soon as we would get to Jerusalem.

Once arrived in Jerusalem, we walked into the old city and found a very nice (except for the curfew and some other rules) hostel to stay at. The next step was to get money so we started going around in the old city and could not find any bank or ATM here. I asked to many shop keepers about that and they confirmed the fact: No ATM inside the old city! You have to go out and walk a bit to find one.

Alright, so after having lunch, we went on and exited North by the Damascus gate in the search of a bank. I think we might have walked more than 1 hour in streets bordering the old city but could not find any banks. Asking the locals proved not easy as they either did not understand me (how do you say “Where is the bank?” in Hebrew yet?) or they just did not know where there was one close by! We had come to the conclusion that people in the old city do not use banks and keep all their money under their mattress!

Anyway, since Rod had enough Shekels for 2 for the day, we decided to postpone the money hunt and resume our visit of the old city and neighboring vicinities by hiking to the top of the Mount of Olives and strolling around in the streets of the old city after getting back in through the Lions gate.

We actually gave it another try later in the evening by going in the other direction once out of the Damascus gate but without any more luck. Whatever! Rod still had enough money and worst get worst, I could change some of my Jordanian dinars :).

Yesterday, we decided to resume our search after visiting the Wailing wall and the Church of the Saint Sepulchre as well as some of the other stations and one of the church where the last supper might have taken place. We got out by the Jaffa gate and started walking North on Jaffa street as many people had told us there were banks up on that street. The added benefit being that it was in the direction of what is called the new city that is the animated part of town so we could check it out!

We walked for like 10 minutes: no sign of banks. And  with all the shops closed on Saturday, there was no way to ask people.

We continued on walking for like 5 minutes more and here it was: A bank!!! I have never been that happy to find a bank with an ATM.


And it has never been so hard to find one in any city I travelled to before! I usually just need to get out of my hotel and walk for 2 minutes maximum before I find one. But not in Jerusalem if you are in the old city.

Funny hey!?