Reflections on Being a Tourist

Anthony Crisafio writes:

This is my first time to Israel and, as much as I hate being touristy in DC and hate the tourists in DC, I have to say I enjoy being one here. We did Jerusalem this weekend and outside of the fun of getting off of the kibbutz, I loved seeing all of the sites. I didn’t bring a guide book, so we just started to wander around. I think that is the best way to do a city, just start walking with a map in one hand. We stayed right at the Jaffa Gate – the Petra Hostel, which wasn’t horrible. It was amazing having a 3-inch mattress that actually was comfortable to sleep in; it made me miss my massive bed at home. Eight of us shared a room, which was a lot nicer than when I stayed in a dorm style room by myself in Tel Aviv. It was nice being able to lock the room and not have to worry all that much.

Seeing the sites in Jerusalem was amazing. We started out Friday at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and then proceeded to walk around the old city. We explored the Muslim and Jewish Quarters and did some shopping in the Christen Quarter. I finally bought the Cross of Jerusalem that I have been wanting for about 3 months, I also got it at a great price. Haggling is great! It was amazing just sitting in the Church, I rarely feel a closeness to the Divine in a church. But while I was there it was so calm and serene. It has to rank among my 3 favorite churches – The National Cathedral in DC and the Vatican are the other two. My favorite part was the Chapel of Saint Helen in the basement, aside from the amazing artwork and the beautiful mosaic floor; it was so much cooler than being outside.

We then proceeded to start walking. We tried to get to the Dome of the Rock, but couldn’t.  Every time we made our way towards there, we got caught going to opposite way in the call to prayer (twice). We exited the Damascus Gate and tried to see Zedekiah’s Cave. Unfortunately, it was closed. One down, two no-goes. We walked around the Wall, came back into the City through the Lion’s Gate and started seeing the churches along the Via Dolorosa. It was at this point that we realized this was the second time going along the Via. Seeing the churches of all the different orthodox denominations was great. Walking into a Catholic Church right next to a Greek Orthodox Church next to a Russian Orthodox Church was very interesting for me because of my love of church symbolism and iconography. I had the chance to see the birthplace of the Virgin, the two churches that mark the first 2 Stations of the Cross along the Via. At night, after dinner in the Armenian Quarter, I got to see the Western Wall.

On Saturday, we did the Mount of Olives. We rather intelligently, if I do say so myself, took a cab up to the top and then walked back. We hit all the major, and a few minor, churches along the way and got to see the Church of All Nations right next to the Garden of Gethsemane. And then walked to across the street to see the burial place of the Virgin. We made our way back into the Old City to finish up the trip with some haggling. We were supposed to meet the bus driver at 4:30pm to get back to the kibbutz, but apparently he didn’t get the memo and thought 5:30. Well, after an hour in the hot Jerusalem sun, we finally made it back.

Reflecting on this trip, it has been one of the most moving experiences that I have had in my life. Seeing the holy sites really made being in Israel real for me. This is a country, and that was a city, that I have wanted to see for a very long time. And being able to be there and see everything was amazing. It really reaffirmed my faith and my belief in myself. In sitting with my thoughts in the Chapel of St Helen, I know that I am where I am supposed to be right now and that coming here was exactly what I was supposed to do with my life. Let’s hope I can make it back at some point in time.

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