Tag Archives: tour

Rosh Hashana 2014

Bowl of almondsThis week is Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. The upcoming year is special because it is a shmita year, a sabbatical year, the seventh year of the agricultural cycle where according to the Bible the land in Israel is to be left fallow. So in the next few days we are taking time to work in the small garden beside our house in Jerusalem, pruning the grape-vine and fruit trees, clearing the vegetable bed, harvesting, planting. At other times we can sit under our vine and fig tree as recounted in Micah 4:4.  We discovered and harvested the almonds on our almond tree. Our pomegranates are ripe in time for the holiday.

Maya Pomegranate Sumsum

It wasn’t the easiest year. The fighting between Israel and Hamas caused a sharp drop in tourism, I had some cancellations and only one day of guiding over the summer. We had two sons who were in Gaza with their army units. But now tourists are coming back and I’m guiding.

We wish you dear friends, subscribers, readers of my blog, would-be clients, travelers to Israel, pilgrims, a Shana Tova, a very good year. May your year be as full as a pomegranate with blessings, health and happiness.

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What to see in Jerusalem

What to see in Jerusalem and Not Hire a Guide

I’m often asked by people who are planning a trip to Israel what they should do if they have a couple of days to see and experience Jerusalem. Of course, there are many answers, it really depends on what you are interested in. Assuming that this is your first visit, you’ll probably want to start in the Old City so here are my recommendations – note some sites charge an entrance fee.

First, drop by the Tourist Information Center at Jaffa Gate, in the Old City and get a free map and a list of sites to see; say hi to Jennifer, she’ll help by marking sites on the map for you and answering your questions. Then walk around, exploring the 4 Quarters, Armenian, Jewish, Muslim and Christian.

Another possibility is to take the Ramparts Walk starting at Jaffa Gate where you actually walk on the walls built in 1537 by the Ottoman Turkish sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent – looking in gives you a birds-eye view of the Old City, looking out gives you a view of the new city.

In terms of churches, I would visit the Church of the Agony/All Nations and the Garden of Gethsemane outside of the city walls, re-enter the Old City at Lions Gate, visit the Church of Santa Anna, a Crusader church with incredible acoustics (try singing Amazing Grace or other liturgical melody). Continue and you will come to Station I of the Via Dolorosa, follow the Via Dolorosa counting 8 stations to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the holiest site to Christianity, where Jesus was crucified and buried and according to Christian tradition rose again, stations IX to XIV are at the Church.

Walk through the Arab shuq and take a right at the Cardo to get to the Jewish Quarter. Visit the Wohl archaeological museum to get a feeling for Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period, in the time of Herod and Jesus. If you are interested in more archaeology, then visit the southern wall excavations at the Davidson Center; there is also a movie that describes life at that time.

Visit the Western Wall, the holiest site to Judaism, write your prayer on a paper and tuck it into a crack in the stones of the wall. Try to reserve a Western Wall Tunnel tour in advance, either on their website (if you know some Hebrew) at http://english.thekotel.org/VisitorInfo.asp?id=1 or you can call them at (02) 627-1333 between 8:30-17:00.

It’s worth taking a guided group tour of the City of David – exit the Old City through Dung gate, take a left and then right and the entrance is on your left. If you have “water” shoes and aren’t claustrophobic, you can even walk 45 minutes through Hezekiah’s Tunnel with water up to your knees (you’ll need a flashlight which you can buy at the site or use your cell phone), which is quite an experience.

You might want to walk up onto the Haram el Sharif to see the Dome of the Rock and al Aqsa mosque (the third holiest site to Islam) close up (the Muslim Waqf won’t allowed you to enter them unfortunately) but if so you’ll have to do it in the morning and it takes between 1/2 and 1 hour to pass through security at the entrance to the Western Wall Plaza. Make sure you have no religious articles, prayer books or Bibles and no Swiss Army knife, etc. with you – they will be confiscated.

The new Israel Museum is open after extensive renovations and it is now much easier to find your way (for more information check out my blog entry) – the Archaeology wing has been completely redone, the Ethnography section has been expanded and called Jewish Life and the Art gallery includes a new section on Israeli art. The museum includes the Shrine of the Book, where the Dead Sea Scrolls and other artifacts from Qumran are on display. From the same period, the Holyland model of Jerusalem is now housed on the museum campus. If the weather is cooperative, walk around and enjoy the sculpture garden. If you’re interested in archaeology, you can also visit the Rockefeller museum (on the same admission, there’s even a shuttle bus) which will get you back to the Old City.

For an overview of Jerusalem, there’s a red double-decker bus that takes you for a 2 hour audio tour (explanations in 8 languages) of the whole city:
http://city-tour.co.il/ntext.asp?psn=8375

The Arab shuq/market and the Mahane Yehuda market are great places to get a feel for Jerusalem. There’s the Ben Yehuda Street pedestrian mall, called the Midrahov, and at the bottom Zion Square and the pubs, restaurants and boutique galleries in Nahalat Shiva. There’s live music at the Yellow Submarine in Talpiot.

Explore the German Colony: for a local movie theater from the British Mandate period with restaurant/pub check out the Smadar; for artistic films, check Cinemateque. For music, dance and theater try the Mabada. There are plenty of places to eat in this neighborhood (including my house 8-))

All this without hiring a guide, but to be fair how about reading my post, Why hire a guide?

Finding a guide at the last minute

In Hebrew there’s an expression daka tish’im which means at the last minute. I’ve been able to help people who realized at the last minute that they wanted to see a particular site – the best way to do that is to hire a guide who can arrange everything. One couple hoped they would get to visit Herodium, King Herod’s palace/fortress in the desert but it was the day before they were leaving. They searched on Google and found an article I’d written and contacted me. I picked them up at their hotel, drove them to Herodium and guided them. This is what they had to say:

The tour of Herodium was awe-inspiring, largely because of Shmuel Browns, our guide. He is highly knowledgeable, and comes equipped with graphic documentation that fills the gaps of what one sees. He gave us a taste of the detective work of archaeologists. Further, Shmuel is very professional and a real “mensch”.

A businessman was flying to Zurich, Switzerland in the afternoon, but at the last minute he had the morning available so he contacted me to take him around the Old City before his flight (I ensured that we were back in time to meet his taxi to the airport; alternatively, after the tour I can take you to the airport, I’m a licensed chauffeur). So if you have limited time but want to have the fullest experience while here in Israel (good reasons for hiring a guide) I can guide you for as little as ½ day. The tour will be personalized to your interests and you can book at the last minute. If you’re staying in Jerusalem then phone me at 02 561-0785 or 053 280-6537 when you wake up and tell me what you’d like to do, then you can go for breakfast. If I’m available, I’ll meet you within the hour to start your tour.

Here is what one traveler who hired me shared on TripAdvisor:

First off, I made the very grave error of only booking a private tour guide for one day. That caused me a lot of stress while on vacation. I did a lot of research prior to my departure and based on the forum discussions I decided that one day of touring with a guide would be enough and decided that I was enough of a ‘seasoned’ traveller to be able to guide my party on my own.

The other reason I was swayed away from hiring a guide was the costs involved. I’ve used private guides in China and Africa and the costs for a private guide were very very inexpensive compared to guides in Israel – I had a hard time justifying the $500. per day.

Boy was I ever wrong and was I ever sorry for having listened to the feedback that you can do Israel on your own with a good guide book. This was not the case for me or my travel companions. We found we really needed the professional assistance of a guide for there is just so much a guide book can teach you. Few sights have good signage telling you where you are and what you are seeing or much historical reference. The cost of a guide definitely reflects what you get, an organized and informative visit to a land filled with a very rich narrative history!

If you decide at the last minute that you really do need a guide whether for one day or a week contact me. You can hire an expert, licensed guide at the last minute and for less than $500. per day.

Map of Mahane Yehuda Market

You can tell a lot about a city by whether it has an outdoor market and Jerusalem has a great market. In 1982 for a book called “Israel Sprouts: A Vegetarian Guidebook (to Israel)” I drew a map of Mahane Yehuda to help people find their way around. I scanned that map and added a lot of new information so that it better reflects Mahane Yehuda today – it’s not just a fruit and vegetable market with shops selling dried goods. It has gentrified and there are restaurants and cafes, designer clothes shops, health food stores, artisan bakeries, shops that sell imported cheeses, fine wines, chocolates, halva.

In the 5 years that the map has been on my website, it has been viewed more than 6,000 times. The map is © Shmuel Browns, you are free to use it for personal, non-commercial use as long as you do not modify it. If you have corrections or suggestions please contact me by email.

To help organize the information I’ve separated the information into 3 maps and color coded them, one for restaurants, one for gifts and one for food shopping. To get your FREE copy of the latest maps I’d appreciate it if you would subscribe by entering your email address in the right hand column under FOLLOW BLOG – then just send an email to mahane.yehuda.map at gmail dot com. With these maps in hand you’re ready to head out to explore the shuk on your own or contact me for an insider’s guided tour of Mahane Yehuda. Have fun exploring the shuq.

Some ideas about things to do with the help of this map:

  1. Mid-morning and you went out without breakfast – check out the health food stores on Agrippas Street, buy some fresh fruit, like pineapple, star fruit, kiwis, mangos; try a bureka, a filo pastry with cheese and/or spinach.
  2. Want organic? There is organic produce and products at TevaNet on Agrippas and an organic restaurant on #1 Agas Street, note that Agas is called Banai at Mahane Yehuda Street.
  3. Picnic? Head for one of the stores like Basher or Zedkiyahu and pick up an assortment of cheeses & salads. Get artisan breads at Teller. Wine? Fruit for desert. Walk down Agrippas Street (west, away from town) to the park, Gan Sacher.
  4. Snack – felafel (in our family, the favorite is the brothers Levi on the corner of Mahane Yehuda and Agrippas Street). For hummus try Rachmo, Agas 1 or Azura.
  5. Feel like eating something else – Ichikadana is a vegetarian Indian restaurant on HaEshkol Street, Topolino is a cozy, Italian restaurant, both are family run.
  6. Looking for a present for loved ones back home – check out handicrafts at Roza, pottery at Pri HaAdama, Moroccan crafts at Rika.