If you’re staying in Tel Aviv and fancy a day trip to Jerusalem (sounds like the name of a Nottingham pub), my overriding advice would be to ensure you’re fully conversant with the Israeli public transport system.
The hotel reception advised us of the bus number and stop details. We set off early, heading for the Azrieli Tower complex where we’d been assured it would be obvious where to catch the 480 bus: we were advised not to use the central bus station as it was grim and full of pick-pockets. It was a 20-minute walk, but on arrival, we found a bus stop bearing the number 480 and thought ‘how easy is this’. There were varying views on whether the buses ran every 10 or 30 minutes so at 9.10am we began to wait.
Numerous buses came and went, a female soldier feinted in front of us and we were constantly asked for directions. An hour passed, and we realised something was amiss. We checked the bus stop sign for what seemed like the 100th time and noticed an owl next to the number and deduced we were waiting for a night bus.
We spent an age over coffee considering options, and eventually decided to walk to the central bus station. This was initially floors of ‘tat’ shops but we negotiated our way through them and upwards to the information desk on the 7th floor. Here we were told that we should take the 405 bus which would be leaving shortly. Having found the gate, it closed in front of us as the bus was full, so we waited 20 minutes. The 50-minute trip was good value at 16 Shekels/£3.20 each, although we wondered whether we’d make it when the bus chugged very slowly up a gentle, but very long hill.
On arrival in Jerusalem, it was unclear how to get to the Old City and a wide-boy taxi driver asked for 75 Shekels for what we knew was a short distance. So, we found a tram, eventually managed to establish how to buy a ticket and where to get off (a one-way ticket was 9 Shekels each).
Having got off at City Hall with a tour group, we followed them to Jaffa Gate. At tourist information a helpful American Jewish lady proffered a map and told us of a free two-hour tour, but we wanted to wander at our own pace, as by now it was 1.30pm.
Number one on our list was the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Christian Quarter, reached by wandering through narrow, marble paths lined with traders selling all manner of goods. However, we were in no mood to shop as it was threatening rain, so we ploughed on to find the entrance, thankfully without a huge queue. Inside, what is the universally recognised site of Jesus’s crucifixion, we found all manner of worshippers milling around. Many were knelt in prayer, others taking photos, queuing for access to other areas and amongst all this, was a step ladder. The outside of the church was clad in scaffolding and this is because of the unending disputes between the many factions over rights and ownership of the church. On returning home we shared this experience with a Jewish friend, who informed us that this holiest of places is also known as the Church of the Holy Stepladder.
On exiting, the rain had started, and we took shelter in a nearby café and revived ourselves with ubiquitous falafel, hummus and salad.
Next was the Western (wailing) wall. This was again reached through tight alleyways made narrower by all the tourist shops on either side that took us into the Jewish Quarter. Our bags were searched before we could enter the plaza from on high. This was a good place to take initial photos before descending into this holy pilgrimage site. Here the male and female pray in different sections of the same wall, separated by a long divide. A second division separates those that can go up to the wall to pray and post messages and those, like ourselves, who watching and photograph the distinctly garbed men in black with flowing beards and high hats. The weather was still wet and many of these holy men were not averse to covering their hat and heads with supermarket plastic bags.
By now, it was thundering ominously, and we reluctantly decided to call it a day. This time, we negotiated the tram with ease and then found the elusive 480, which dropped us off at another bus station in northern Tel Aviv. In the absence of finding a bus or taxi, we walked back to our hotel. Thankfully the rain had abated here, but we found out the following day that the thunder in Jerusalem had turned the city into a mini-Venice.
By the end of the day, I’d walked 16,000 steps equalling 10 miles! I think that next time, we’ll stay in Jerusalem.