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Behind the Scenes in Jerusalem: 2 Tours That Reveal Hidden Jewels in This Ancient City
The rich history and different quarters make #Jerusalem best explored with the expertise of a guide. We learned how to barter in #markets and then #cook some local #food & drink with a guided #cooking tour. Although it was hard to follow what was going on, the results were delicious!
In 2007 we had spent 3 days in Jerusalem with family. Fast-forward to 2013 and we find ourselves at the Abraham Hostel with a world of opportunities before us. Anything you can imagine you will find at their tour desk. Two tours we had not done before jumped out at us from the desk for our time in Jerusalem.
Market Cooking Tour
As if spending the day climbing a fortress, hiking to waterfalls and swimming in the Dead Sea were not enough, we spent a short 54 minutes napping before getting back up and meeting our Market Cooking Tour in the lobby of Abraham Tours.
Funnily enough 4 girls from our group were also from Perth, Australia and holidaying here during university semester break. Our tour guide was very animated and a great communicator. He led us through the streets on a small walk to the Shouq (Mahane Yehuda Market).
Our walk around the market was fascinating and there was so much more to it than what we had seen the previous night. He showed us how to barter, what to buy and where to buy it. Everyone had a turn purchasing and holding our groceries… The only mystery, what we were actually cooking?
The only mystery, what we were actually cooking?
My kids loved this, as our wandering through the market provided lots of taste tests including fresh rice crackers popped straight out of the machine.
We walked back to the hostel with our arms laden with fresh ingredients, ready to commence cooking in the communal kitchen.
My 4-year-old daughter was determined to help and while cutting a capsicum, with what I thought was a butter knife, managed to slice her finger. I missed a lot of the cooking as her screams filled the hall. My poor daughter had never seen so much blood and every time she looked at her finger, she cringed, covered her eyes and started to wail all over again.
The staff were amazing, someone came with cleaning solution and a band-aid. Another one with chocolate brownies and an orange juice, but Daddy saved the day with his laptop and a movie.
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After Mia had been reassured her finger was not going to fall off I managed to get back into the kitchen. I was quite confused as to what we were making and how it was being made. There was lots of preparation going on, chopping vegetables, juicing lemons, cooking eggplants, but there was no clear beginning and end. I think this could be easily solved with a handout sheet on the dishes we made and how they can be re-created later. This was especially apparent when we sat down to eat and the guide produced this amazing rice dish that I had not even seen him preparing!
Once everything was done we set the table and sat down to share our meal together. The salads were delicious and simple, the bread soft and fresh. It was a lovely communal meal.
The salads were delicious and simple, the bread soft and fresh.
We all helped to clean the dishes before Josh and I took our exhausted, and very emotional little girl, up to bed.
Free old City Walking Tour
The Old City in Jerusalem offered a free walking tour with experienced guides who ask for nothing, well almost nothing, just a little tip at the end, which we were happy to give because of the fine service provided.
A lovely volunteer from Abraham Hostels escorted our group to the Jaffa Gate which was about a 15 minute walk. There were several tours running each day, 9am and I think ours was around 11:30am. I recommend taking the earlier one as it gets hot and there was not much time to stop and buy water or ice cream, although we did manage both (Josh says there’s always enough time for ice cream!).
Like most tours the whole process only goes smoothly dependent on the guide. Our fellow was very nice and talkative, a little brisk considering the children, but he had a whole group of people with him so that was understandable. We were told the pram would be impossible to push due to numerous steps along the way and were given permission to leave it in the information centre at Jaffa Gate.
Thus started our 2.5 hours around the city covering all 4 quarters: Christian, Arab, Jewish and Armenian. It was fascinating and fabulous, but exhausting and hot, especially with two little children. The pace was quite fast and I struggled keeping up with my two wee ones in tow. We did see some fascinating places that we wouldn’t have found without the guide. The tour would be perfect for young adults, teens and adults alike. Personally, I would suggest you skip it if your kids are under 5 unless you are wearing a baby carrier. There were lots of stairs and, being the middle of summer, it was pretty hot. But we saw a lot of unique parts of the Old City and learned a few fascinating stories.
We did see some fascinating places that we wouldn’t have found without the guide.
My favourite was the Turkish king who ordered 2 engineers to oversee the rebuilding of the walls, and later executing them after they completed it due to a perceived mistake they made. However, the mistake was later found to be false and the engineers were restored to a place of honour by being buried at the Jaffa Gate. Too bad he couldn’t bring them back from the dead.
Please be careful about going on a Saturday (as we did) since the uphill walk back to the hostel, after the long tour, pushed us all to exhaustion. Any other day you could simply catch the tram/train back.
There is more to do than these 2 tours in Jerusalem. In fact, there is a whole array of opportunities including day trips outside of Jerusalem. While staying in Jerusalem we managed a day trip to Masada/Ein Gedi/Dead Sea, and also Bethlehem, before utilizing their brand new Hop-On-Hop-Off tours to travel to the north of Israel. Read more about that trip in the next post.