Well, the title kind of says it all.
I have to admit, I didn’t love Jerusalem. Those of you who read my initial Middle East trip announcement may recall that I already wasn’t feeling very drawn there, even in the planning stages. Yet, when you travel to Israel, you just kinda have to. It must be in some sort of unofficial Traveler to Israel Handbook, no? And so I did.
Jerusalem was the first stop of my trip with Vibe Israel, and I figured if anyone could make me fall in love with this place, it would be this modern, trendy non-profit that aims to show a fresh side of Israel to the world, outside of religion or politics.
Of course, Jerusalem might just be one of the hardest places in the world to discuss, without talking politics or religion. Is there a place on Earth that is more significant to so many different groups of people?
Still, we were off to a good start — I was impressed right from the get go with the group Vibe had assembled. After a lively welcome dinner at modern Menza, getting to know my fellow travel storytellers and our hosts, we set off early the next morning for a tour of the Old City with Daat Travel.
Photos by Vibe
The Old City, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is pretty much the place to be when it comes to sightseeing in Jerusalem. There’s something of incredible significance here to so many major world religions: the Western Wall for Jews, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for Christians, and the Dome of the Rock for Muslims.
While the first two were on our itinerary, I was bummed to hear that the third was not. I had been quite eager to visit the visually striking Dome of the Rock, but having done zero research, didn’t realize the restrictions on opening time and the documentation needed. If you do plan to visit, be sure to do some planning ahead of time.
Of course, I was humbled by the history of these sites and how much they mean to so many people. Pushing through the incredible crowds at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, some of them in tears, our guide explained that there are Christians who wait their entire like to come to this place. It almost made me feel guilty, just winding up here by chance, like I wished I could have given the moment to someone for whom it would have meant so much more.
I’m not a religious person today, but I grew up going to Sunday School and it was surreal to see the stories I grew up watching Veggie Tale versions of come to life.
True story: I can sing the entire Veggie Tales opener from memory, and as a strict abstainer from all scary movies or other media, if I ever accidentally see a horror movie preview or get tricked into accidentally watching something frightening, I will comfort myself by watching Veggie Tales on Youtube before bed. It’s like, what true evil could exist in a world where tiny little vegetables teach children morality lessons through the arts of storytelling and song?
Any other Veggie Tale fans in the house? Please assemble in the comments.
But enough about me and animated food. I did a double take when the guide pointed out a spot on a stone wall where Jesus supposedly rest his hand while making the long walk to his crucification; today, it’s been worn down by pilgrims who too, brush their hands there.
It’s like it hit me for the first time that regardless of what significance you attach to them, many of the stories of the Bible truly happened right here — and I say that as someone who has been to The Holy Land Experience in Orlando. (One of our most treasured family traditions is roasting my mom for the time she brought us to a Biblical theme park in Florida. Talk about commercializing something sacred!)
Photos by Vibe
Speaking of theme parks, there were moments when the Old City kind of felt like one. While some parts of the market felt very authentic and almost like going back in time, others were overflowing with tacky t-shirt vendors.
I know that this is a complaint of many visitors to Jerusalem. To me it was fairly entertaining — we laughed and/or marveled at the existence of many of them in passing — but I absolutely preferred the more traditional parts of the market. In fact, running around here with my camera and my new friend Becky was probably my favorite part of visiting the Old City.
That and the hummus. In Israel, hummus is considered a full meal, and I loved the lunch where we ducked into one of the side alleys and were served a feast of several different versions of it.
Photos by Vibe
After lunch, we were off to the Jewish Quarter, where we split off by gender and donned scarves in order to leave our wishes in the Wailing Wall.
This was a moment I was very grateful to be with Vibe. Had I been on my own, I would have probably been too intimidated to approach the wall — fearful of being unintentionally disrespectful by participating as a gentile at what is widely considered the most religious site in the world for the Jewish religion. But our warm and welcoming hosts encouraged us to graciously experience it, and I’m glad we did.
Fashion side note: Many of you messaged me about this dress on social media and on my recent blog post — I bought it specifically for my Middle East trip, hoping it would be the perfect balance of cute and modest. For Jerusalem, I clipped the bottom with a small safety pin so that it would stay closed from below the knee. In the evening, Jerusalem was surprisingly chilly — you won’t mind having a bit more clothing! Elsewhere in Israel, I just wore my usual.
After the wall, the guide gave us the option to keep going in the Old City or head off to explore a more contemporary side of Jerusalem. I was the sole voter for leaving ASAP, ha ha.
I can’t help it — these kind of travel days of looking at religious historic sites just don’t tend to set me on fire the way days spent cast away in beautiful pockets of nature or exploring modern cities with pulsing urban energy do. I don’t even really watch TV shows or movies set in what I jokingly call “ye olden days” — no Game of Thrones or Downtown Abby for this girl.
One of the most common travel questions I’m asked is why I haven’t traveled more of Europe, and I guess this is a big factor.
Photos by Vibe
Objectively I know that these places are beautiful and I see the joy they bring to other people, but they just don’t do it for me. As someone drawn to bright colors, bold patterns and clean lines with my photography, I don’t feel very inspired visually.
I really felt like Daniel on Shitt’s Creek this day, with everyone in my group geeking out over everything cobblestone, and me in the corner freaking out that , “I’m just really struggling with the AESTHETIC of this place?!” (Schitt’s Creek fans also please assemble in the comments.)
Photos by Vibe
The bottom line is, not every place is for every person and that’s just fine. I can’t really understand why some people are obsessed with looking at old buildings, some people can’t understand why I was obsessed with looking at rainbow rock sculptures in the desert. The more I travel, the more confident I become in accepting what I like and what I don’t, and not being embarrassed if it doesn’t fit the normal mold.
Everyone else I was with was pretty much drooling over Jerusalem’s Old City, so I definitely accept that I’m in the minority on this one. Luckily for me, Israel is so much more than religious historic sights — which is something I think a lot of people aren’t aware of. But if you stay tuned to my trip, you definitely won’t be one of them.
In the end, my favorite parts about my time in Jerusalem were the people I spent it with… and the food we ate. Our second night we had a fabulous dinner at Valero, which was super hip and trendy, and along with Menza is well worth bookmarking for any future trips to J-town (no? we aren’t calling it that? mkay.)
Photos by Vibe
I’m sometimes a little bummed when I don’t fall in love with a place — it almost makes me feel like I’m letting someone down. And believe me, whether it’s Ho Chi Minh City, Semuc Champey, or Jerusalem, when you don’t fall for a popular travel destination, someone is going to think less of you for it.
And sure, with only two nights there, I certainly did not experience all Jerusalem had to offer. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be back someday. But I won’t be rushing there — there’s too much else on my Israel bucket list to attend to.
Where To Stay
For high rollers: We stayed at the contemporary Herbert Samuel Jerusalem, which had a great view from the breakfast restaurant and was centrally located.
For budget travelers: We also took a tour of Abraham Hostel, which was vibrant and fun and a great place to take tours, meet other travelers, and stay on a dime.
Have you been to Jerusalem? Are you into “ye olden days” sightseeing?
Many thanks to Vibe Israel for hosting me on this trip.