Jerusalem: The Holy Capital

Anand & Madhura Katti are mesmerised with the Israeli capital’s cobbled stone lanes infused with modern streets.

Jerusalem, the holy land said to be the origin of Judaism, Christianity and Islam is an intriguing city. Segwaying through Israeli capital’s modern streets as well as through the hilly old city’s cobbled stone lanes is a fun way of seeing the city. The fact that Segway, the novel battery operated mobility was invented by Dean Kamen a Jew, adds to the excitement.

Segway ride

The sun was still bright as we reached the historic Jerusalem railway station close to the old city at 6. The railway connecting Jaffa and Jerusalem ceased operations in 1998 and the place has transformed into a busy entertainment and shopping quarter. Naphtali of Smart Tour was waiting at his shop there and gave us basic instructions on balancing and riding the segway. It’s simple.You get-on and stand at the centre of the base platform holding the handle with two hands. All the manoeuvring is in the handle-push forward and it moves further and keep it straight to stop it. Pulling it back is not advisable. One can always take an easy, round-about turn to go back. The exciting ride began as we put on our helmets and took a few small circles around a pillar. It was then a follow-on of the mini train that was taking children on a fun ride.

<strong>Smart Tour Segway at old Jerusalem rail station</strong>
Smart Tour Segway at old Jerusalem rail station

Once hands-on, we wade through the footpath, cross streets and move in and out of Teddy Park. Crowds of people from afternoon were no longer there and the musical flash fountain had stopped for the day. Then it’s a test to our newly learnt skills as we climbed the steep ramp way up to the Jaffa Gate, a few kids on bicycles adding hurdles in between.  Ottoman Turks had built the wall around the old city in 16th Century and Jaffa gate is one of the eight remaining gates to the walled city.

Old city, walled city

Earlier in the day, we had entered through the gate to experience that pious route of Via Dolorosa, the path where Jesus Christ was taken on the cross. Guide Theodora explained that there are four quarters-Christian, Jewish, Armenian and Muslim, inside the walled city. Stoned structures along the narrow lanes are some old residences, hotels and also two schools. We passed through the imposing structure of Tower of David. The Market Street and David Street have many shops selling souvenirs, rosaries, ceramics clothes, jewellery and traditional perfumes. The courtyard filled with visitors was the Church of Sepulchre, the holiest place for the followers of Christianity. The stone platform inside was where the Christ breathed his last and buried at the tomb, now covered in a small enclosure inside the Church, before rising again after three days.

<strong>Church of Sepulchre</strong>
Church of Sepulchre

The weather was getting pleasant and breezy in contrast to hot summer day of July. Jerusalem’s height at 650 meter above sea level and surrounding Judean mountains give it a moderate climate in otherwise desert surroundings of Palestine. We segwayed away from Jaffa gate to the only square in Jerusalem to rest and absorb the panoramic view of the walled city on one side and the modern  buildings on the other. According to guide Theodora, Jerusalem doesn’t have many squares unlike Tel Aviv which is full of squares-one leading to another. Israel allows Segway to use sidewalks, pedestrian ways and on roads where there are no sidewalks. Our journey continued on the sidewalks of King David Hotel, the magnificent pink stone structure of the signature property of Dan Hotels, an indigenous Israeli company that plays host to visiting top dignitaries to the country.

Dome of the Rock

Old city is only a 15 minute walk from the legendary King David Jerusalem hotel. The Western Wall in old city is the most sacred place for the Jewish people. It is the exterior part of the Dome of the Rock, considered one of the top three sacred sites in the Muslim faith. The gold covered Dome is the most significant landmark in the bird’s eye view of Jerusalem.

Another unique feature of the Israeli capital city is that Jerusalem though it has all the administrative buildings, museums and offices of state importance, all embassies, except the American Embassy are based in Tel Aviv, its commercial capital situated on the Mediterranean Sea at just an hour’s drive away.

<strong>Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem old city</strong>
Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem old city

Our last stop was at a white windmill next to a cross road was a good photo opportunity before leaving the segway after an exciting two hour ride. Most shops at the station complex had closed and the only buzz remained at the restaurants. We walked a few yards to Hachatzer restaurant for dinner.

The restaurant run by a Mediterranean chef serves kosher food that conforms to Jewish dietary law. Kosher broadly restricts milk products being used along with meat dishes. Fresh tomato and onion salad tasted good with hot garlic and herb bread. Fish fingers on a bed of greens and goat meat had subtle spices. We were intrigued to know what replaced milk and cream in the tasty ice cream and butter in the yummy hot chocolate fudge served as deserts.  That was the chef’s secret. Israeli’s do love their dairy products and variety of these finds their place at the breakfast table. Sumptuous breakfast buffets include choice of yoghurts and cheese along with breads, jams, preserves, nuts, juices, fresh fruits and vegetables.

Visit to Goat farm

Israeli’s modern obsession with yoghurt, like anywhere in the world, could be observed at the goat farm on Mount Eitan in Jerusalem’s Western outskirts. The organic dairy farm founded in 1970 is under the second generation owner Omer Seltzer. A dairy science technology graduate from the US prefers to use traditional methods of making yoghurt and cure cheese in naturally cool caves at his farm to retain nutrition.

<strong>Omer Seltzer with one of his goats</strong>
Omer Seltzer with one of his goats

His keen observation even identifies the change in flavour according to seasons and the type of foliage that his 200 Anglonubian goats eat. People drive down, mostly during weekends and holidays to purchase fresh yoghurt and cheese and have a picnic in the natural environs amidst olive, carob and other trees. Sipping tasty thick yoghurt devoid of strong smell like those processed in a big mechanical dairy drew a pleasant end to our tour of Jerusalem.

Useful Info:

Visa: Indian nationals have to obtain Israel visa from the nearest Israel Embassy or the Consulate before travelling to Israel.

Getting there: EL AL, Israel Airlines operates 4 times-a-week direct flights between Mumbai and Tel Aviv

Hotels: There is a wide choice of hotels in different categories to suit different budgets.

Helpful websites: www.goisrael.com , www.elal.com/

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