Nine things to do in Jerusalem
Jerusalem: It evokes picturesque sunsets and co-existence paradise, but sometimes, the reality is a touch different than what the tourguide said it would be. Too often, I meet people who are fresh off a Taglit-birthright Israel program, and in their last days in the country, they are desperate to make the most of what limited time they still have. And for people who have travelled to all the historic sites, to all (and I mean ALL) the museums, eaten all the hotel food and spent countless hours asleep in buses, their last days implore them to seek the ‘real Israel experience’, that ten days could not satisfy.
So here are nine things to do, in Jerusalem, for those who need to get amongst it.
LIE IN THE PARK
Jerusalem has some beautiful parks for such a condensed city. In and amongst the Jerusalem stone walls, lie parks large and small for your picnicing, lazing and gazing pleasure. Check out Gan Ha-Pa’amon, Gan Ha’atzmaut and Gan Saccer to see the ‘real’ Jerusalemite: kids with guitars practising their Stairway to Heaven, large families of Charadim and Muslims alike park their Mangal (a small portable BBQ) and spread out over the expanses of grass, starting football games and lavish lunches. On Friday afternoons, five piece bands play to the delight of Arak fuelled university students, and after midnight, they are replaced by deliquent teenagers, too young to buy alcohol in bars, but not too young to get high and stomp around the shrubbery and sandstone. During the week though, the parks are fantastic; if you like Georgian Barmitzvahs, Chinese tour groups and flashers that ask in a few different languages if you want to take a peek. This park-plonker says ‘hell no’.
RENT AN APARTMENT
Getting into the rent market is hard work for any young person, but try renting an apartment in Jerusalem. Scouring the anglo websites for rooms to rent, viewing hole-in-the-wall apartments above the shuq, paying outrageous real estate agent fees, dealing unsuccessfully with noisy neighbours, woken at 4am by the cries of stray cats, calling the cops on your landlady’s mentally disabled son, and being asked by your landlord if you can spot them a few hundred dollars for the weekend, a few days after you paid him three thousand dollars rent. All this and more awaits you in your search for a home in the holy city of Jerusalem. Happy hunting!
GO TO JEFF SEIDEL FOR SHABBAT
A short balding man in glasses and a suit ‘n tie comes into my bar every Thursday night, trawling for young Jewish tourists. Before you jump to an ovious conclusion, let me introduce you to a Jerusalem Legend. Jeff Seidel. Every week, without fail, he hosts young kids at his home for Shabbat, some good food and a little inspiration to boot. He also runs tours to Poland and heads a centre for Jewish outreach. If you bump into him at the Kotel, or in the bars and pub area of Nachalat Shiva in town, make it a point to spend a weekend. Guaranteed good times your grandma will approve of.
STAY WELL CLEAR OF ZOLLIS. OR RIVLIN STREET.
If you don’t like drunk screaming Americans with attitude looking to score, just don’t do it. That’s all.
LEARN TO DRIVE
This is only for English and Australians. Just when you thought sitting in a bus as a passenger was death-defying, try getting behind the wheel of a left-hand driver car, on the right hand side of the road. Get past the five minute mark, wait til the terror-shakes subside, and you might just survive the harrowing experience of going around a round-about, struggling to remember if you give way left or right, and then realising that there are no road rules in this crazy city, and the best you can hope for while driving around is that there are no other cars on the road. Throw in peak hour traffic that starts at 11am and doesn’t stop, signs in a language you can’t read, and angry Service taxi drivers who drive like they are being chased by the cops, and you’ve got an Israel experience like no other. You’ll be thanking the gods you managed to get out of the car and onto the plane.
GO TO POLITICAL STUDENT GROUP STREET PARTIES
The Birthright Mega Event is a spectacle to behold, with thousands of young Jews from all over the world drinking on buses before converging on the convention centre in the centre of the city to hear speeches from philanthropists and hear ‘Yachad’ sung live by a troop of gorgeous looking Israelis. Did I mention it’s the highlight of the ten day experience? Bah. If you really want to know how to party, be at the Bolinat Bar on Friday afternoons to dance your ass off to some serious hardcore house, drum ‘n bass and dub step in the middle of the street with 2000 young Jerusalemite uni students, all in aid of getting a political party representing students into council. Tip: Don’t wear white, because the apartments lining the streets are filled with drunk Israelis with water guns, ready to target the girls who are stupid enough to wear something see through. and get to know Arak with Lemon Squash (see ‘Arak is for the fearless’ for more details) and Goldstar. As they say “I dont believe in the Labour Party or the Liberal Party. I just believe in Parties.”
ARAK IS FOR THE FEARLESS
Like Sambucca with a rocket up its ass, Arak, an Israeli made liquer will stick a rocket up your ass, before sending you into an alcohol fuelled daze that will end with tears, lost clothing and vomit. Often not your own. It is the drink of choice for young Israelis and is cheap. Dirt cheap. Disregard the warning, and give it a go. Satisfaction guaranteed. Tip: Try it with Lemon and mint in a slushie, or take it in a shot for a quick ‘n nasty intoxication.
GET LOST IN THE ARAB QUARTER IN THE OLD CITY
If there is one thing completely forbidden on an organised trip, it’s venturing into the Old City alone, and its definitely being alone in the Arab Quarter. Which sucks while you are on tour, because some of the most interesting food, bazaars, people and architecture is all in the AQ. Whatever, you are free now, so go crazy! Make sure to eat humous at the tiny cafe next to the water fountain, and enjoy the complementary strong black coffee and baklawah. 200 metres down the road, is some of the best antique shopping in the city, and make sure you ask for Barakat for some great deals. Hot Tip: Stay away from the main strip shuq that leads down to the kotel; it’s full of scammers and is a tourist trap – “Lady, you want shopping? Lady, Ullo Lady!” Just make sure you have a knife slipped in your boot, and get out before dark.
LEARN YOUR SQUARES
Meeting friends in Jerusalem happens in large open plazas, but make sure you know which is which, because it can get confusing. There is Kikar Tzion or Zion Square, at the foot of Ben Yehuda Street, and it is filled with beat-boxing buskers, bus loads of tourists wearing shorts and sneakers, snapping photos of everything, and seminary kids, taking advantage of a public place to surrepticiously flirt with the opposite sex. Language: American. Next up is Crack Square. Yep, there’s no need to translate that one. It is at the top of Rivlin Street (see ‘Stay well clear of Zollis. or Rivlin Street’ for more details) and is filled with some of the harder drug users in the city. It also has a great vegetarian restaurant right next door. Yum yum. Language: Street cred. Finally, we have Kikar Chatulot or Cats Square. Ok, this is my favourite place, because you can get really cheap cabs here to my place, but mostly, drunk Israelis converge with families out for dinner and heaps of stray cats at the bottom of yet another tourist hot spot, not least because of the great pottery and jewellery stores. Language: Dollars Only.