I awoke bright and early in my Old Jaffa hostel during my first full day in Israel! Since my tour guide would arrive by 7am, there was no time for me to get breakfast at a local restaurant. The seasoned traveler in me understood that it was imperative for me to pick up a breakfast meal option during the previous evening. Thus the prior evening, I had purchased a halwa pastry at vegan-friendly bakery “Piece of Cake” (Piece Of Cake Bakery). The sales staff are familiar with which items are vegan. Some vegan items are on the shelves, while others are kept in the glass display case. My halwa pastry was wonderful! The sweet treat was a nice size portion.
En route to Jerusalem, our tour guide brought us to an interesting cafe for mid-morning snacks and beverages. The Elvis Inn (Elvis Inn Cafe) is a popular tourist stop. The restaurant offers freshly made sandwiches, beverages, and snacks. The sitting area is surrounded by Elvis Presley memorabilia. I settled on a falafel and hummus sandwich with several toppings(salsa, greens, veggies) in a pita bread. The falafel and hummus were really tasty! The pita bread was amazing: much fluffier and fresher than in our own supermarkets abroad!
We arrived in Jerusalem within a couple of hours of leaving Tel Aviv and the highway restaurant snack stop. Our guide led us to the top of the Mount Of Olives to experience the panoramic view of Old Jerusalem and what a spectacular view it was! The incredible vista includes the Temple Mount of the Old City. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam have roots here. The golden Dome of the Rock is where Jesus was presented as a baby in the temple. Arab tradition states that this commemorates prophet Mohammed’s ascension into paradise. The Temple Mount is the holiest site in Judaism where God’s presence is revealed. The first temple built by King Solomon is thought to have resided here, then demolished by the Babylonians. King Herod re-constructed the Temple. During the Second Temple period, it functioned as an economic center of the city. The Mount is significant to Christians because Jesus spent time in the Temple as a boy, spoke out against corruption of those who used it for their own monetary gain, and prophesied its destruction in the year 70. History holds that it stands between the biblical mountains Mount Moriah (where Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaiah) and Mount Zion(where the Jebusite fortress was founded). The Jebusites had settled the city prior to the conquest of King David and thus the city was originally known as “Jebus”.
Moving on from the Mount Of Olives, our group left the tour van and proceeded to walk into the Old City Jerusalem. From a distance, we could see the Church of All Nations. The location is believed to be built over the rock where Jesus prayed in agony before he was betrayed by Judas and arrested, on the night before his crucifixion. The church, completed in 1924, is the third one erected on this site. Adjacent to the church on the foot of the Mount of Olives, is the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus went to pray with his disciples, the night before he was crucified.
The Church of the Dormition is thought by Christians to be the location where the Virgin Mary “fell asleep”. A Byzantine church built on this site was destroyed by the Persians in AD 614. The current church was constructed in the year 1910.
Our guide pointed out the Jerusalem Archaeological Park to our right. The exhibit contains a wealth of archaeological artifacts from the period of the first and second temple such as giant stones that fell from the Temple Mount during the destruction of AD 70, the original steps of the 2,000 year old gate, and the Herodian street. Even Bronze Age Canaanite structures are found in the park.
King David’s Tomb was the next stop on our agenda. His tomb is located on the first level of the building, while the Room of The Last Supper is located on the second level. David is noted for being the second king of Israel and according to Scripture, the Messiah would be descended from him. Christians, Jews, and Muslims rever David and Jesus.
We made our way through Old Jerusalem’s Zion Gate into the Jewish Quarter. Winding alleys and narrow streets with white stone facade homes and businesses greeted us with every step.
As we wandered through the streets and narrow alleyways, we noticed that many homes and businesses bear a “hamsa”symbol plaque or carving. The outstretched hand symbol signifies protection against evil.
Lunch time had arrived for our tour group. Fortunately for me, the Quarter Cafe Restaurant (Quarter Cafe Restaurant) where our tour guide brought us for lunch was vegan-friendly. Diners select items from a cafeteria-style buffet. Prices are reasonable. The manager at the restaurant was very familiar with the vegan diet requirements. I feasted on falafel, homemmade Jerusalem hummus with whole chickpeas, tabouli salad, Israeli salad with tahini, carrot and sesame salad, cabbage salad, and wheat bread. A refreshing strawberry, banana, and apple juice accompanied my meal. My vegan lunch meal was really delicious! Nothing beats fresh, homemade food in its region of origin! The Jerusalem hummus version consists of whole chickpeas on top. Another plus was that the dining area overlooked a breathtaking view of the Temple Mount!
After a hearty and tasty meal, we headed to our next destination. The Wailing Wall is a small part of the western portion of the walls surrounding the Temple Mount. This western segment of the wall is the holiest site in Judaism, outside of the Temple Mount itself. King Herod The Great is believed to have built it. Jews come here to pray.
The excitement was building as we headed towards our next destination! Our group arrived at the gates of the much anticipated “City Of David” underground tour in Old Jerusalem. King David left Hebron about 3,000 years ago to arrive at Jerusalem.
We encounter multiple cave rooms and tunnels. Eventually we arrive at a darkened small nook with flowing water. We have reached Gihon’s Spring! This was Jerusalem’s main water source for over 1,000 years. King Hezekiah’s 2,700 year old water tunnel was an impressive accomplishment.
My day was far from done! The evening was beckoning me to explore Old Jaffa Port and then proceed to central Tel Aviv for more vegan food encounters! First up was a local juice cafe in Jaffa. “Juicy” (in the Jaffa Flea Market area) displays colorful and plentiful fruit selections. I opted for a smoothie with mango, melon, pineapples, and dates with soymilk. It was wonderful.
On Jaffa’s main street a clock tower proudly stands, surrounded by shops and restaurants. The tower was built in the early 20th century to commemorate the silver jubilee of Ottoman Sultan Abd al-Hamid II’s reign.
I proceeded to make my way towards the oldest and most historic neighborhood of Old Jaffa, making a brief stop at the stunning beach. Speaking of Jaffa’s port location, Every child knows the bible story of “Jonah and the whale”. This one of the reasons for which Jaffa is recognized.
One of the first landmarks that presents itself in Old Jaffa is St. Peter’s Church. The towering brick facade and belfry makes this the largest and most unique structure in Jaffa. The church was built here because of Jaffa’s significance in the bible. Saint Peter raised Tabitha (one of Christ’s followers) from the dead in Jaffa. Thus the church is dedicated to him.
Thanks to outstanding public transportation, it was convenient and cost-effective for me to take a city bus into central Tel Aviv for dinner. Restaurant dining for dinner meals seem to occur at a late hour in Israel. It is not uncommon to find diners eating between 10pm and midnight. Taste of life (Taste Of Life Restaurant) is a vegan restaurant offering organic, homemade, natural, low sodium meals by the Hebrew Israeli community. The meal prices are quite reasonable. Menu items include comfort foods such as pastas, veggie burgers, quiche, and stir fries.
Before going back to the hostel, I had to make one more stop. The staff of Village Green Restaurant(Village Green Restaurant) had kindly offered to prepare a couple of breakfast items for me, so that I would have something for to eat prior to the next day’s early morning tour pickup time. The restaurant had asked me to arrive by 10pm to pick up my pastries. The all vegan restaurant is a popular breakfast spot. I purchased a carrot muffin and savory spinach and cashew cheese pastry with two spicy sauces for my next day’s breakfast.
What an exciting first full day I had in Israel! I enjoyed my tour of the underground excavations at the City of David; Old Jerusalem’s Jewish, Muslim, and Armenian Quarters, the Christian biblical sites, the Wailing Wall, and my time exploring Old Jaffa. Israeli’s fairly recent declaration of vegan-friendliness was definitely living up to its reputation! I called it a night and waited in eager anticipation for the following day’s tour of Christian biblical sites in Old Jerusalem and more vegan-friendly dining!