City Breaks

A Shabbat Experience in Jerusalem

I am fascinated by trying new things; I just can’t seem to get enough. This spring, I expressed my fascination by trying out a near-complete vegan diet with my husband during the Great Lent and visiting Jerusalem just before Easter.

I visited Jerusalem 7 years ago, but it was only a half-day excursion from a 2-week vacation with my mom in Egypt. Half a day was most definitely not enough; so this time, I decided to go for 3 days with my husband.

The itinerary:

  • A flight from Paphos to Tel Aviv
  • A transfer from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem
  • 3 nights in Jerusalem
  • A transfer from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv
  • A flight from Tel Aviv to Paphos

The total budget for two people was 390 EUR (excluding food costs and taxi fares):

  • 143 EUR – airplane tickets
  • 231 EUR – accommodation
  • 16 EUR – transfers from/to airport

We could have saved 45 EUR had we booked our tickets a bit earlier and were more flexible with our dates, but spending a bit more on airplane tickets meant that we would save quite a bit more in accommodation, so in the end we ended up actually saving money by doing this (everything is situational).

Accommodation:

For our trip, we searched for accommodation that was close to the Old City but on the Jewish side of town rather than the Arabic side (we were a bit concerned about safety), had a private bathroom, and, of course, was as cheap as possible.

We went with The Jerusalem Little Hotel, which seemed to be an upgraded version of their parent hostel business. Generally I try to avoid staying in hostels and hostel-like hotels because I prefer the more relaxed and calm atmosphere of family-run hotels; however, this time we made an exception, as the prices for accommodation in Jerusalem were pretty high.

So, here is what he had for 80 EUR a night:

Pros:

  • Great location, about 10 minutes walking distance to the Jaffa Gates and Machane Yehudah Market.
  • Cool, helpful, and friendly staff.
  • Heater in the room (my favorite part).

Cons:

  • Our room was a 12 sq. meter room in below average condition- intensely different from what was advertised on Booking.com. To be honest, this was something that I would have expected to get back in Crimea for about 5-10 EUR a night. Our Rome hostel-type accommodation for 34 EUR per night was much better than this.
  • 1.5 blankets. Technically 2, but only one of them was large enough and the other seemed to be for a child. So, 1.5.
  • The absence of a dresser and hairdryer, and only one towel for the two of us.
  • The bathroom was super tiny and had an open shower and a jerry-rigged door lock.
  • There was a complete lack of sound isolation. During our first night there was a birthday party somewhere in the hotel, so we weren’t able to fall asleep until about 4 a.m.
  • The breakfast was very poor- they only served bread (with 4 types of spreads), eggs (that we didn’t eat), a simple vegetable salad, and some milk/tea/coffee. So far, this was the poorest breakfast I’ve ever had at a hotel.
  • Last but not least, poor-working Internet. As a freelancer, this is usually a very bad thing. However, luckily (at least for the sightseeing part of my trip), my MacBook charger died so I was unable to work during my stay. If I had to work, though, it would have been the same wifi situation I had in Prague– which would not have been good.

Needless to say, I would rate this hotel low- 4 out of 10. When we plan our next trip to Jerusalem we will research very thoroughly to find somewhere else that matches our criteria for a similar price, but if we are unable to, we may just have to book a room here.

Sightseeing:

Our primary goal for visiting Jerusalem was to visit several of the Christian sites, like the Via Dolorosa and The Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Also, as our trip included a Shabbat day (a Jewish day of rest, which happens one day a week) we planned to visit the Machane Yehudah Market and the Western Wall in order to experience some of the local traditions.

Our first day was devoted to wandering the streets of West Jerusalem and people-watching. As well, we made sure to visit several local shops and bookstores, try humus and falafel in a Kosher cafe, and experience the atmosphere of the overcrowded market before it was all closed for Shabbat.

Machane Yehudah Market in Jerusalem on Friday

In the evening we went to the Western Wall and saw local students perform festive dances and many well-dressed Jewish people praying; it was a beautiful and unforgettable cultural experience!

On our second day, we went to the Old City.

Early Morning in Jerusalem

If you prefer to see things without crowds of tourists, my advice is to start sightseeing as early as you can because by around 12-1 p.m., the tourist groups from nearby countries visit so most of the streets (except Armenian Quarter) look like a metro station during a peak-hour. For this, we went early and were able to accomplish our goal of visiting the Via Dolorosa and The Church of the Holy Sepulcher!

The Holy Sepulchre Church

As well, we were able to see the museum in the basement of the Notre Dame Of Jerusalem Center, the Prison of Christ, and several different churches. Of course, we could have visited many more sights, but I enjoy the simplicity of walking and smelling the roses rather than running frantically from one sight to another.

Our final day, Sunday, surprised us with rainy weather, so we had a cozy last day of buying tea and souvenirs at the market, spending several hours in a cafe, and then heading to the airport 3 hours early, as instructed by the air company (early check-ins seem to be a unique yet prominent procedure of the Ben Gurion Airport — expect several security checks, a lot of random questions, and to spend a lot of time in a duty free area).

Dining:

Similar to our experience with accommodation, the prices for dining in Jerusalem made us think twice before ordering meals. It was not as expensive as Lugano, but it was definitely more expensive than in Cyprus. Luckily for us, we had not been eating eggs or meat, so we were able to save some money and not have to spend 30-40 EUR for a meat dish.

Humus at HaMandateHaMandate – Humus: This place seemed to be very popular among the locals.

We visited on Friday just before the Shabbat because it was one of the few places where we could get a seat right away. They had live music, a nice patio area, easy-going staff, and, of course, amazingly tasty dishes.

We tried their famous humus and falafel, and both dishes were great. We will definitely be back next time!

Bolinat: We visited this place mainly because it was one of the only places open during the Shabbat. To our pleasant surprise, it was a rather nice bar for socializing and hanging out with friends.

We ordered two salads; one with tofu and one with sweet potatoes. Our only complaint was the size of the portions — expect to get a lot of food (perhaps share one menu item and see how you feel).

Versavee: Versavee was a nice restaurant on a quiet street in the Old City. It was a great place to relax after a day of adventure and excursions, and the staff was very friendly. They didn’t allow us to order the cheese platter during lunch time, which was a bit of a bummer, but the huge Greek salad and the lentil soup were very tasty!

Chakra: Visiting this restaurant was the highlight of our gastronomic adventures in Jerusalem.

Dinner at Chakra JerusalemWe had originally planned for panoramic dining, but at the last minute our hearts lead us here. Phew, what a great decision that was!

The magic at Chakra starts the moment you walk in- the amazingly welcoming staff made our evening unforgettable. Beyond that, they give you many dishes “on the house.” Beyond that, the food was so delicious and the atmosphere was so warming and nice. It was a perfect place to treat your better half, even after years of being happily married.

Our dinner of two starters, one main dish, one dessert, and a bottle of Cinzano cost us around 130 EUR.

Tmol Shilshom: The management of our hotel gave us two coupons for breakfast and coffee at this cafe; we couldn’t resist so we spent several hours there during our rainy Sunday. This place was a freelancer’s paradise: it had unbelievably good Internet (even while streaming videos), and a great, relaxed atmosphere.

 

My favorite part of our meal was definitely the salep with caramel and bananas. I had heard about this drink in several Turkish series, and have always wanted to try it- hooray for making your dreams come true!

Final notes:

Next time we visit Jerusalem, we will make sure to spend the whole weekend in the Holy City and to give ourselves some extra days to visit the Dead Sea and the Bethlehem. As well, we will make sure to bring enough extra cash to buy some local goods, such as natural loose leaf tea (I bought Masala and Bedouin, yum!), spices, and Argan oil from Morocco.

Visiting Jerusalem during the Shabbat was a fantastic idea- we were able to both experience the traditions of local Jews, and visit the major Christian sites. We are very satisfied with our trip- it fully met our expectations!

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