Jerusalem: Day 2

We got an earlier start today.  Our tour host had found out that there was literally a shipload of tourists coming in that day on a whirlwind tour of Jerusalem and Bethlehem and she wanted to beat the crush.  

Breakfast was a hotel buffet.  Good stuff by and large, not the continental style I’m accustomed to in the states.  A selection of sliced salami and cheese, pita and other breads, scrambled and hard boiled eggs, and potatoes.
We were taken by bus up to the top of the Mount of Olives, and began our walk down the steep hillside at the Church of the Ascension.  As with many of the places we had and will see, this one dates back to a Byzantine church, was made into a mosque in the seventh century, was destroyed in the crusades before being rebuilt by Muslims.  This one has the added distinction of being the only place where a Muslim mosque is shared each year with Christians of all denominations.  The Muslims allow the Christians to gather there on Ascension Sunday (usually in May) for worship.  The building itself is rather small, and inside there is a small square of ground with the alleged footprint that Christ left as He ascended.
We started walking down the hillside, joined by hundreds of other tourists.  We stopped at an area overlooking a massive Jewish courtyard, and could stare across the Kidron Valley at the Eastern wall of the Old City as well as the Dome of the Rock atop the Temple Mount.  We stopped on the grounds of the Dominus Flevit church, where Jesus is believed to have paused on his descent to Jerusalem to weep for the city (Luke 19).  
We reached the base of the Mt. of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane.  There are a few pockets of protected olive trees, though it’s fairly certain that they aren’t the ones that were standing in that place when Jesus wept there.  Instead there is the massive Church of All Nations built on the site of a destroyed Byzantine church.  
Then it was time for lunch at a small restaurant in Bethlehem, the Christmas Tree Restaurant.  We enjoyed falafel and schwerma pitas before boarding the bus to go up to Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity,  built over the site of Jesus’ birth.  At this point, we were ushered via a second guide to the side of the main (and growing) crush of people waiting to duck into the grotto where the location of the manger and Jesus’ birth are said to have been.  Our tour leader had connections, and it paid off in a much shorter wait in line.  I felt a little guilty about this, and at one point there was a bit of a complaint from some of the people nearby, but it passed quickly.  
Afterwards we went to a gift shop, then it was on to Shepherds’ Fields.  Finally we returned to the hotel for a little downtime before dinner.  Dinner seemed to be a bit of a remix of last night’s dinner, but it was still tasty.  
After dinner, and a failed attempt to Skype with my family, I headed out with our guide.  We went back to the Damascus Gate.  Shahdi brought me to a building built by the Austrian government in the late 19th century to commemorate a visit to Jerusalem by Franz Joseph.  We went up to the rooftop for a nice view of parts of hte Old City – or as nice a view as can be had at night.  The sounds of music and laughter from the Muslim-dominated area was a stark contrast to the silence in many other areas of they city because of it being the Jewish Sabbath.  
A plan to grab coffee at the cafeteria in the building (now a hospice and hostel, among other things), didn’t work out, but we were able to grab something to drink at the Jerusalem Restaurant not far from our hotel.  I had Morrocan Tea as we listened to a man singing and playing the the oud.  It’s a large-bellied guitar like instrument with ten strings.  A younger man played a type of Arabic drum.  It was a great evening, and a nice final night in Jerusalem.  

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