My first impressions of Jerusalem

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It was just meant to be a short trip. I’d come directly from Petra, Jordan the day before. After a month in Egypt, my whole body was tired of the “travel” thing. In Jerusalem, I just wanted to see the sights and move on.

But that didn’t happen.

Something in Jerusalem captured me. Arriving at the Central Bus Station after dark, during Shabbat, it was my first time in Israel. It was a strange experience from the very beginning. During Shabbat public transportation in Israel comes to a complete stop. I’ve complained about shops being closed on Sundays in other countries, but imagine all public services and most businesses shut down on the holy day? It’s rough—especially when you’re a first-time backpacker in a completely foreign place. But you manage. You always do.

Citadel Youth Hostel Rooftop

Citadel Youth Hostel Rooftop

With my backpacker friends (picked up on the journey from the previous few days), we stuffed ourselves into a cab — hoping that the driver wouldn’t notice there were too many of us (and too many backpacks). We’d made a last-minute reservation at a hostel in the Old City (this was 2010, before Abraham’s opened). Our taxi could only take us to Jaffa Gate; there are no thru roads in the Old City. Walking through the gate at night, after a long travel day starting in Petra hours before, our walk through the Jerusalem Old City was an eye-opener.

It was incredible.

Stumbling through the streets, thankfully after the Old City markets were already shut down, I felt as if I was in another time, another world. At the hostel, we were shown to our rooftop—there were no more rooms, just some mattresses we could throw up on the roof and sleep up there. This was my backpacking adventure. It was late, we were tired and hungry. The sounds were foreign and the alleys were dark. But I wasn’t scared. The streets may have been empty of tourists at the time but the city felt strangely alive.

Jacob's Pizza

Backpacker favorite, Jacob’s Pizza, serves up pizza by the slice or the pie at backpacker-friendly prices

That first evening in Jerusalem’s Old City was a strange one. But every little encounter just made me fall in love with the place. From a quick slice of pizza at Jacob’s (delicious, by the way) to watching a football match on a bar’s outdoor projector screen. The city captured me from the very beginning.

Today, Jerusalem is one of those cities I have many fond memories of. It’s a place that has so much strange power, so much intensity, it’s a place I want to visit over and over. There aren’t many cities I can remember visiting for the first time—and none so vividly as my first night in Jerusalem. Shortly after my very first visit to Jerusalem, I put this feeling into words:

Jerusalem really is unlike anywhere else. The history, the culture, the sights. Everything about it is different. There’s an intensity in the air and you can feel people’s passion, people’s spirituality. The intensity is inside the walls, inside the people. It’s both exciting and terrifying, but all very comfortable. It almost feels like a city for everyone. Travels of Adam, 2010

Jerusalem Old City, first-time

Is there a city that you remember visiting for the first time? What kind of impression did it leave upon you?

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8 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. I totally agree. Jerusalem is the most intense, powerful city on earth. I fell in love with it the first time I visited too, and I too stayed in the Old City. I always do. I’ll be heading back later this month or next month. I really can’t get enough.

    • The Old City is such a fascinating, interesting place. It’s often pretty touristic, but there are still places of quiet to find… Never boring there!

  2. I lived in Jerusalem for a year in 1990. The mall by the old city didn’t exist yet, and overall, it was much less westernized than it is now.

    I went back to visit family a couple years ago and was amazed at how much things changed. It felt so modern, but the shuq and old parts of the city were very much the same. There is something really amazing about Jerusalem at night.

    Did you go at all to the West Bank? That’s where my family lives. It retains a lot of the feeling that Jerusalem had when I lived there. I know the West Bank has its political issues, but it is really beautiful, too.

    • Hey Leigh,
      That’s great you lived there! I ended up living in Jerusalem for a month and Tel Aviv for four. I can imagine Jerusalem looked a bit different without a Gap store just outside the Old City walls…

      And yes, been to the West Bank several times – keep an eye out on more stories form the cities I visited on my most recent visit.

  3. Another great entry Adam. I agree about Jerusalem- it is a magical city! It assails every sense- including the sense of history! Thanks

    • Glad you enjoyed it Patrick. “Magical” is definitely a word I’d use to describe Jerusalem.

  4. Never been to Jerusalem – Would love to go one day!

    • I hope if and when you make it to Jerusalem you find it as mesmerizing as i did!

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