Travelling to Jerusalem, Israel

Navigating the cultural and religious – and even architectural – tensions of historic Jerusalem.

Travelling to Jerusalem: Israel is at its best between October and May – after that, be prepared for searing heat in Jerusalem. Back: The BCBusiness Guide to World Tr

Navigating the cultural and religious – and even architectural – tensions of historic Jerusalem.

“Don’t get Jerusalem Syndrome,” a friend warned me before I left for Israel. He described the religious fever that paralyzes some culture-shocked visitors after visiting holy sites of the world’s major religions. As I enter the Old City through a bullet-scarred arch, a fever does strike: one brought on by the over-40-degree-Celsius heat and the vague unease produced by the metal detectors and airport-style security. In Jerusalem you feel a constant tension: between cultures and religions, between old and new, and between global issues and the intimate details of everyday life.

We approach a massive, weathered wall with tufts of resilient green poking between the stones. This is the Kotel, or Western Wall, the most revered site in Judaism. Perched above it is the Al Aqsa Mosque; Muslims also claim the wall as an ancient holy site. No need to wonder why it’s referred to as the Wailing Wall. Orthodox Jewish men in tall hats and heavy black overcoats chant and rock, forelocks swinging and foreheads grazing the 2,000-year-old stones. Women in long skirts with braids peeking out of their caps sway in closed-eyed devotion and press prayer-inscribed slips of paper into chinks in the wall.

Quiet reverie proves challenging as busloads of yelping schoolchildren and tides of tour groups flood in, each of us seeking a singular spiritual moment. I reunite with my friend and we escape to the cobbled, winding alleys of the Jewish quarter. “It’s mostly Jewish-Americans who live here,” our guide explains. Down one back lane, several Orthodox men stand in the shade, lazily kicking a soccer ball. Khaki-clad Israeli soldiers line up for burgers and pizza, so young they could be on a field trip too – if not for the fact that they’re packing arms.

WEATHER Israel is at its best between October and May – after that, be prepared for searing heat in Jerusalem and crippling humidity in Tel Aviv and nearer to the sea.

CAN’T MISS A guided tour of the Old City; guide Noam Savion is fluent in French, English and Hebrew.

COOL EATS Ha’Hatzer, in an atmospheric old train station in Jerusalem, is run by a cordon-bleu-trained chef and has warm, friendly family-style service.

BEST BEDS The David Citadel Hotel overlooks the Old City and has club-level rooms, an executive lounge with business facilities and a great pool, fitness area and spa.

In a nod to Christianity, we’re guided past all the Stations of the Cross, passing along the way a riot of market stalls hawking laundry soap, figs and endless souvenir options; in the Muslim quarter, mezuzahs, crucifixes and kaffiyehs – all side by side. Due to rusty Canadian bargaining skills, my friend gets taken for a rather large sum for an inlaid-wood backgammon board. Unable to resist the irony, I buy a rosary of carved olive-wood beads that looks dusty, like it’s been hanging in this Arab-owned shop forever. 

If not for our guide, we would have walked right by the unmarked, somewhat dowdy entranceway to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site that houses Christ’s tomb. “Four different Christian denominations maintain this site. It is my understanding that they don’t often agree,” he says dryly. The Muslim call to prayer squawks from a nearby minaret as tourists snap photos of other weeping tourists prostrating themselves. It’s like seeing the Mona Lisa under glass.

Later that night, we’re eating endless platters of fusion food – sea bass in Asian vinaigrette, goose confit with coriander and honey – at a chic Jerusalem kosher restaurant, packed with a noisy group of professors from the nearby university. Though elections are upcoming this week in both Lebanon and Iraq, the mood is light and lively. A showy new Santiago Calatrava-designed rail bridge is a topic of some controversy; most of our local dining companions hate it. “It does not belong in Jerusalem,” one says disapprovingly. “It is much too modern.” When we drive out of the city, I admire the way its sleek lyre-shaped mast points a new entranceway into the ancient city. To me, it frames Jerusalem just about perfectly.

Jason Heard, show director, Interior Design Show WestMy Secret Place

Who: Jason Heard, show director, Interior Design Show West
Where: The Love Shack, Salt Spring Island Why: I’ve always loved the outdoors, and two days at the Love Shack on Salt Spring Island (yes, it’s shagedelic, with its name derived from a B-52s song) allows me time to ride my mountain bike and spend a romantic weekend with my wife. One of our favourite trails runs between Ganges and Fulford Harbour, offering great views and fresh air. After the ride, we like to stop to see how art and wood merge at Salt Spring Woodworks.