Monday, March 29, 2010

Day 6: Jerusalem

Today was exhausting but I got to see a lot of really interesting things. I woke up early because I knew I had a very full day ahead of me. They are all on a Jewish pilgrimage to the holy land. It is interesting how Jerusalem is divided up. Like I explained yesterday, Jerusalem is everyone’s sacred land, so it has been divided into four quarters. I met my new friends in the Jewish quarter. There are two gates into the Jewish quarter, one by the Western Wall (Kotel) plaza called Dung Gate and the other is called Zion Gate. I actually made some cool friends who also go to UNC by running into students wearing UNC t-shirts at the Western Wall. I ended spending the remainder of the day with this group. The Western Wall, called Kotel or the Wailing Wall, is really cool to observe because so many people put little notes with prayers, wishes, and desires in the cracks of the walls.

Many people will come up to the wall and kiss it or put their hands on it as they say a prayer.

The wall is important to the Jewish community because it is the only remaining standing structure from the Second Temple after the Romans destroyed it in 70 C.E. It built to be a means of protection around the temple. After my friends had finished their prayers, we went to the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) Cemetery. My friends told me that every person in Israel must serve in the IDF after graduating from high school. I was shocked to find out that women are required to do so as well. However, men have to serve for three years while women only have to serve for two. As a result, all adults know what it is like to serve in the military, and Israel always has a sufficient army. Because of the huge number in the military, the IDF has created a cemetery for all those who die while in service. Personally, I find cemeteries to be unnerving, but I managed to take a few good photos.

After we finished at the cemetery, we got on a bus to go out towards the Dead Sea and Masada. Although there is a cable car that will carry you to the top of the mountain, we all decided to hike and get our exercise. At the top of the mountain are the ruins of King Herod the Great’s palace. Some of the walls and paintings have been restored but it is absolutely beautiful to walk through and see a great view of the Dead Sea from high up on the mountain. After photographing as much as I could, we began our hike back down the mountain to the Dead Sea. This sea is located between Israel and Jordan. It is called “dead” because it is so salty that it cannot support any life. The salt will keep you afloat if swimming in it. We waded out into the water to experience this floating effect. It was cool to almost sit on top of the water. After playing in the water for a little bit, we started to cover ourselves in the mud of the Dead Sea because it is supposed to be great for your skin. Kind of like going to a spa!

After sitting out in the sun for a few minutes, we got back in the water to try and rinse off. Along the shore there are several showers to wash the mud and salt off. I went over to one and pulled the handle down but the water smelled horrible and burned a little. I found out soon after that the showers are sulfur showers to help get the caked mud and salt off of your body. Once all my friends and I were all clean, we got back on our bus and headed back towards the city. I am exhausted and have had a full day! I can’t wait to see what Istanbul has in store for me tomorrow!!