Old, Older, and Oldest

Weird faces in front of ancient ruins

Because I have read the Bible since I was a small child, and because I have studied the life and history of Old Testament prophets both at the university and privately, I had quite high expectations of seeing Israel. But Jerusalem is one of those places that no matter how high your expectations are, this city will always exceed them.

Jacob and I questioned the safety of traveling to this ever-volatile place. But because Scott, a good friend of ours and an ex-roommate of Jacob’s, was going to be there, we thought it would be the chance of a lifetime. So we changed our plans and pushed Istanbul to the back burner. And we flew out of tiny little Skopje Alexander the Great Airport, where there are only three to five terminals. Jacob and I are now of the opinion that all taxi drivers are crooks. You have to be very, very careful with them. You have to give them the exact change, make sure your luggage isn’t in the back, and be able to speak English with them to even be able to have the chance of not getting ripped off. I guess it’s a pretty stressful lifestyle though. That day we saw two taxi driver fights. We asked one how much it cost to get to the airport. He said no one would charge less than 1000 denar. We didn’t say we would go with him; we just wanted to know. Another driver comes over and undercuts the price for 800 denar. We told him, naturally, we would go with him. The first driver became furious! He threw his cigarette against the lamppost and began shouting at the other driver, who kept his composure. Luke, Jacob, and I stood helplessly by as their tensions mounted. The first driver told us, “Fine, 800!” and pointed to the door. But we didn’t want to get in the car with this furious man. Finally a third taxi driver showed up while we were arguing and we went with him.

I’d now like to put in a plug for Turkish Airlines. They say in their official magazine that they believe food makes the experience. And for a flight, when there’s not much else except the safety of the aircraft involved, I’d have to agree! Both flights we had with them that day, although only 1.5-2 hours, and one which was at midnight, were full-out meals and excellent tasting. One was a sushi salad, a sandwich, a raspberry muffin, and cherry juice. The other was chicken, fresh bread, salad, and Milka-flavored pudding. We weren’t even in first class!

We forgot about the time change in Istanbul (or rather, didn’t know there was one). Even after a six-hour layover. we ran to catch our flight, in which we were asked special questions by security because we were American. Like why are we going, what are our professions, are we in school, etc. Someone implied later that what they really want to know is if we are Muslim, because of all the terrorist attacks in Israel about 5 years ago. In any event, we passed the test, and no one even asked me about my name change from my passport (whew!)

The airport in Tel Aviv is very beautiful, and it was a nice change to have drinking fountains available again. But we had another incident with the sherut, or taxi van. We kept waiting and waiting for the van to fill up (not easy at 3 in the morning). Finally one guy gathered the others to take another taxi. The drivers started arguing. Jacob and I were left to wait for the taxi to fill up again. We were getting ready to leave, finally, when a security agent told us to enter the airport. There was some sort of threat. Great, we thought. It turned out to be some Arab runningpast a blockade, and the thing with Israelis is, they take no risks. That’s why everyone, including Israeli citizens, are encouraged to carry around machine guns.

We slept on and off on the way there. But when we pulled into Old City I got goosebumps. Surrounded by a wall put up by the greatest sultan of Istanbul, Jerusalem just feels old. I was so pumped to be there, and added to that the fact that the hostel didn’t have a room for us just yet, I couldn’t sleep. Jacob conked out on the couch while I explored the city in the early daylight hours.

The city is made of winding paths and intricate alleyways. There are four quarters: The Christian, the Muslim, the Jewish, and the Armenian.

Cats are everywhere in the Old City. Brought over by the British when they had problems with mice on their ships, when they went home, the cats stayed.

I was brought to tears looking out at a magnificent view past the city without knowing why. I just thought it was so beautiful, and I had a very special feeling when I looked at it. Later I learned this was the Mount of Olives, where the Saviour Jesus Christ suffered for my sins.


I’ve learned more in a few days about other religions in this city than I could have ever learned in a book. The Muslims have a call to prayer five times a day here. It’s very loud, and because there are several mosques nearby, they echo one on top of the other. I find it hauntingly beautiful. I would love to put up more photos of their buildings, but they don’t let non-Muslims inside. When with the Palestinian family, Riyah showed me all of the gifts her fiancee had given her, as well as her favorite outfits. It was kind of cute. She showed me ones with no sleeves, and said that she of course cannot wear them unless only with women since she is Muslim, but with a shawl she can.

The orthodox Jews dress in black and white and have one long curl on either side of their head. It was a fun experience to see them dancing to celebrate the Sabbath because most of the time they seem rather straightlaced. It was a good feeling, to know that after all the persecution Jews have experienced throughout history, that they can finally come and worship how they please with other people who believe like they do.

Jerusalem is 75 % Jewish, but in the Old City, there are by far a majority of Arabs.
As we went on a tour (free provided by the city) we learned more from our Jewish guide about their perspective on God and Christ. Well, it was one man’s opinion, and there are sects of Judaism just like Christianity. But according to him, it is very anti-Jewish to even think that God has a body. Instead, he is a divine presence, not a spirit, but a manifestation that last resided in the holy temple now destroyed, except for the Wailing Wall (hence their reverence for it). Also, he described Christ as “new age” and one of many teachers who caused conflicting ideas during the time period. A troublemaker, essentially, who was killed at the hands of the Romans, not the Jews. But because of the anti-Semitism that arose from Christ’s death, the Jews have felt resentful towards this figure. Understandably, I think. They believe that the Messiah will come as a descendant of David, will ride on a white donkey, and will resurrect the dead: but that Christ was possibly one of the false Christs mentioned in the Torah, and that in any event, Jesus never wrote scripture himself so no one knows if he really claimed he was the son of God. Very interesting. I could also see this man didn’t know much about Christianity from many of the comments he was making (as he could probably divine about us and our ignorant questions of Judaism). However, studying the Old Testament does give a fairly good representation of the faith of Jews.

I placed a prayer in the wailing wall. It is interesting, because the men’s section is WAY bigger than the women’s. Our tour guide explained that the roots of Judaism (like most religions) are rather chauvinistic.

Our guide also explained in the Church of the Holy Sepulchure, built on top of the hill Golgotha, many Christian sects argue about who should get what part of the church. He told stories of how people broke out in fist fights over Christ’s tomb and couldn’t change a lightbulb from mistrust of the other denomination. Stories like these help me to understand why some people become disillusioned with religion.

This is at the Antonia Fortress, where Jesus is believed to have been whipped. Here are Roman stones carved with games upon them.

That’s Jacob wandering around in where tradition says Jesus, the thieves, and Barabus were kept in prison.

We went on a “tour” today which actually turned out to be collective transportation with no tour guide. It was still a good deal though. We saw the Qumran cave where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. The Essenes were an ascetic group who disagreed with the way the temple was being run in Jerusalem. So they took to the desert to try to live as Isaiah recommended. They are the ones credited with copying out the Dead Sea Scrolls, in which all of the Old Testament books were found, except for Esther. Too bad, that one’s my favorite. It’s also the one most disputed for its authenticity.

The caves pretty much looked like holes in the steep interface: not easily reachable, and very small.


The Essenes, very concerned with cleanliness, took ritual baths at least twice a day.


It did NOT seem likely to flood here. We saw a place for rapelling and thought Luke would like to have a go.

We went to Masada, Hebrew for fortress, which was built by King Herod. Rebel Jews, 1000 of them, took up camp here, and when the Romans approached and they knew they had no chance, they took their own lives and the lives of their women and children rather than to be slaves. It’s now sort of a rallying point for Jews in their history.

Remnants of former magnificence in King Herod’s Palace

We took a cable car up, a privilege the early inhabitants surely did not have:
Jacob being shy (yeah right)

We thought we would be later than the other two people on the tour, so I practically ran down the hill in these fancy sandals from Riyah (the 20-year-old Palestian girl) until they started falling apart! Made in Saudi Arabia, I suppose they were made for show, not steep desert mountainsides.

We drove to the Dead Sea next. Gorgeous blue in the incredible rocky, dry, and barren landscape.



Oh yeah before I forget. My favorite part of the day: I rode a camel! It was so up and down bumpy, but I loved it. The fur of the camel felt wooly and it was pretty obedient to this guy.



This was the special pose the camel owner insisted on

Back to the Dead Sea: Jacob didn’t think he would float. He thought he would defy the law of physics, and be the first man to sink! Consequently, when he did indeed float, this quickly became the favorite part of his day. I loved it too, although if you have any open cuts on your body, they sting! Razor burn included. We went out deep enough to where we could stand straight up in the water. Unbelievable!
Jacob wants to go back with really good goggles to look in the beautiful blue water, but I’d be nervous: just a drop or two in your eyes from this water that’s eight times saltier than the ocean and your eyes will be red for days. So I hear. The water was chilly at first, but there are warm spots and the mud, renowned for its healing powers, feels great. I still have salt almost like sand oozing from my pores. Doesn’t Jacob look like Batman?

Jericho is known as the oldest continuously inhabited city on earth, and boy do they proclaim it. On signs everywhere. It’s a Palestinian territory: no Israelis allowed, according to the sign as you cross the border. We visited the Mount of Temptation, which I have no idea how they know this is it, but it looks just how I pictured it: vast, rocky, and steep. Hopefully we’ll get pictures emailed to us from our friend Jasik from Poland, because our camera died. We also saw the ruins of the king who lost to Joshua in the Battle of Jericho (as in “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho”).

Kalli Hiller

Article by Kalli Hiller

Kalli Hiller is a voluntary vagabond who, with her husband Jacob, has traveled full time for the last eight years.

Kalli has written 364 awesome articles for us.

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