And now the final entries:
8. Go to a Museum
(Sorry, I couldn’t come up with a clever title for this one!)
I’m not sure who keeps statistics on such things, but I’ve heard that Israel has more museums per capita than does any other country in the world. (Okay, when adding links I found that these guys apparently keep such statistics, or at least report them.) And whether or not that is true, Jerusalem definitely has some of the most significant museums in this country that is full of them.
There are, of course, some great specialty museums, such as the Underground Prisoners Museum in the Russian Compound or the Begin Center next to Yemin Moshe. But by far the two most important and well done museums in this city are The Israel Museum and Yad Vashem.
The Israel Museum is a national treasure, featuring a world-class archaeology section, a unique section on religion and a very solid art collection. For many people, however, the two highlights of the museum are the massive 50:1 scale model of Jerusalem during the end of the Second Temple Period and the Shrine of the Book, housing the 2000+ year old Dead Sea Scrolls. They are quite a sight to see, and one of the most significant archaeological finds of the 20th Century.
Yad Vashem is a museum of a completely different sort. Dedicated to memorializing the horrors of the Holocaust, it is by far the most comprehensive and effective museum of its kind. Comprising various different sections, there is the museum proper and a plethora of different memorials, in addition to an educational wing focused on research and teaching the subject. The museum was completely redone a few years ago, and is a much more effective, moving and contemporary museum, exploring the development of the Holocaust and how such a horrific event could have ever taken place. And the many memorials each are moving and significant in their own way.
In addition to the many other museums in Jerusalem, a visit to each of these two is essential on any visit to the city… and to Israel in general.
9. Get Lost
Jerusalem is a city built on a number of hills, so almost no street continues going straight for very long. Additionally, to make matters more confusing, many streets change names at random intersections, so even though you are on the same street, it doesn’t seem the same based on the street signs. Compound this with a number of older neighborhoods that were built with no real city planning involved and you have a recipe for confusion when trying to find your way around in this city.
And that’s a good thing!
What better way to experience and get to know the character of a city than by simply wandering its streets? Sure, if you have somewhere specific to get to, it’s not the greatest. But in those cases, our public transport system is decent (sorry I can’t give it more praise than that), and in a jam, taxis are actually relatively inexpensive. Plus, if you get to know a few of the major arteries and how they connect to each other, you should do fine once you hit one of them.
So where would I recommend you wander aimlessly? The neighborhood of Nachalaot is a great starting point. I call it a neighborhood, but in reality it is a collection of 32 “micro-neighborhoods,” built for different groups of people between the late 1800s and the 1920s or 1930s. It offers an amazing blend of different cultures, and the windy alleyways are easy to get lost in — exactly the point of this little adventure. But luckily, the neighborhood isn’t that big, so you can’t go that far before you run into one of the major streets that hems in the neighborhood. Thus, your wanderings won’t eat up a whole day. Other good areas for this type of exploring include Bakaa, Katamon, Talbiye, Rechavia and of course the Old City.
So please… Get Lost!
What, you ask, is a Mangal? Why, it’s just the national pastime of Israel!
Yes, that’s right, I’m talking about good old fashioned grilling. Israelis may love firing up their little BBQs even more than their American friends, and may only be surpassed in their love of charred flesh by South Africans and their “Braais.”
Jerusalem is simply full of parks both large and small, and nearly any grocery store sells small portable (and quasi-disposable) charcoal grills for your mangaling pleasure. So choose a park, buy a grill and some coals, bring along your favorite meat, fish or vegetables (if you must) and mangal away like a true Jerusalemite! Kebabs are among the most common accoutrements to cook on a mangal, but really any meat will do.
So why do we call it a mangal? It appears to be a holdover from the Ottoman era, and is based on a Turkish word for a brazier of coals. There are actually a number of Turkish words that are now used colloquially here in Israel, and mangal is just another of them.
As the old joke goes, there’s really just one difference between a barbecue and a mangal. At a barbecue, the chef is wearing a shirt.
So take your shirt off (only recommended for men), and mangal like a true Jerusalemite!
Bonus: Give Blood
Unfortunately, there is always a need for blood donors in Israel, because often need blood more than other nations. Luckily, however, Magen David Adom (Red Magen David is the Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross) facilitates blood donations, and accepts them from most tourists. (Alas, British tourists may not donate due to latent fears about Mad Cow Disease.)
There is a mobile blood donation unit in the center of town most weekdays. You can find it at the top of Ben Yehuda Street, on King George, parked in the plaza in front of the Mashbir department store.
What better way to say thanks for all of the wonderful experiences you’ve had in Israel then by giving something back and helping to save lives?