If you look at Jerusalem on Google maps, there is a dotted line running through the middle of the city. This line represents the old border between Israel and the West Bank. Before coming to Israel, I had only a small understanding of the complicated politics between Israelis and Palestinians. I knew that for safety, we were not supposed to venture into the West Bank. After reading more about Jerusalem, we realized that there is not a wall or fence between different parts of Jerusalem as there are in other places. There are invisible divisions between Arab and Jewish parts of Jerusalem, and a big difference in infrastructure because East Jerusalem was under Jordanian control until Israel won it back in the Six Days war (1967). To make a long story short, there were several places I wanted to visit in East Jerusalem, including the Mt. of Olives, Garden of Gethsemane, and the BYU Jerusalem Center on Mt. Scopus. When we searched for hotels in the west Jerusalem (the “safe” part), they were all SUPER expensive, and the hotel closest to all of the places we wanted to visit was half as much as the other hotels. So, that’s how we came to rest our heads at the Mt. of Olives hotel, right at the top of the Mt. of Olives, only steps away from where it is believed Christ ascended into heaven following his Resurrection.
I was a little nervous about safety staying at this hotel. Those worries were unfounded. However, it was not a nice hotel and I would not recommend it either. We crammed ourselves into a tiny room, but didn’t end up spending much time there except sleeping time. There was a small park nearby and all the kids went crazy when they saw Landon and Owen with their straight, soft, blondish hair. They kept touching their heads and picking Owen up. We grabbed some delicious schwarma from a nearby stand and ate it in the park. Right before Austin and I went to bed, I heard a loud sound and then water. There was water dripping from the vent in the ceiling onto Landon’s bed! Fortunately it was at the foot of the bed, so we put a towel there to catch the water and went to sleep.
Breakfast at this hotel was a typical Mediterranean breakfast- cucumbers, tomatoes, tuna salad, bread, hard boiled eggs, and chocolate cake. Yum! We were the only non-Arabs there. Because where we were staying was a primarily Muslim area, calls to prayer were loud and started early in the morning! The boys were up for good so early that we were able to get ready for church and eat breakfast before 8:00 am! That gave us a few hours to explore before church. We decided to try to make it to the Garden of Gethsemane.
To reach the Garden, we walked downhill south along the Mt. of Olives. On our way, we came upon this amazing view of the Old City of Jerusalem. As we saw later on, it is quite a crowded place with tourists normally, but with our early rising children we had beat the rush and had it almost all to ourselves. It was amazing to just stand here with the morning sun illuminating this ancient city with so much religious and political history. I could imagine Jesus having this view when he warned his apostles about the destruction of Jerusalem, and mourned the wickedness of the city (Matthew 24).
Unfortunately, since we were there so early, there was no hiding from the tourist trap vendors. This man put a carved camel in Landon’s and Owen’s hand and then wanted to take a picture of us with the camels, and then wanted Austin to fork over the money for them. I thought it was a nice touch that there was also an actual camel to ride and take photos with next to the vendor. We’re hoping to be able to ride camels in a desert instead of a street in Jerusalem, so we declined the camel ride. That’s the story of why we have two carved olive wood camels. I hope the boys treasure them forever!
If you’re visiting the Garden of Gethsemane, I think it’s worth the short drive/hike up the Mt. of Olives to this lookout point. It is directly across from the Temple Mount and Old City, so it was a perfect photo opportunity and vantage point study the location of sights in Jerusalem. I can’t recommend the Mt. of Olives hotel, but we could not beat the price and location in a city where it is very hard to get from place to place by car. The Chapel of the Ascension is very small and very plain, and is not worth the trip in my opinion. There are so many other things to see and do in Jerusalem, I would do those first.