Click above for an expanded view of this road map of central Israel; the route taken by my bus to Jerusalem is highlighted in light blue. The total distance covered from Rehovot to Jerusalem is about 30 km. Just take a moment to really appreciate the settlement density implied by this map.
With my advisor out of the country and the usual Sunday seminar moved to Tuesday, yesterday seemed an ideal opportunity to poke my head up out of Rehovot and survey something. Only having time for a day trip, I decided to take a proper look around the Old City in Jerusalem (i.e. without spending most of my time in shops picking up Christmas gifts). This is absurdly easy to do as, despite Rehovot's diminuitive stature, there are no less than two inter-city bus routes directly connecting the two cities.
The Rehovot central bus station is in the Rehovot mall (every town of more than about 35 people here has a mall), about a 15-minute walk from my dorm. Generally a pleasant walk, especially if breakfast is a pastry from the bakery next door. However, a cold front blew through over the weekend, which in this case meant that it started pouring quite chilly rain about halfway there. Fine, I thought, score 1 for the weather. I put up my hood and figured I'd dry out on the bus.
[Ed. update: lest you think it's just me]
Two fields that are functionally pretty similar except for the time at which the pictures are taken, midway between Rehovot and Jerusalem (probably somewhere near Latrun). Above, a pleasant day in December. 2004:11:28 13:21:02 Below, a thoroughly cold and damp day in February. 2005:02:06 10:48:44
Israel in the rainy season is really quite a different animal from other times of year. See, from early January through sometime in February this curious liquid substance called water tends to fall out of the sky in rather large quantities with some regularity. The plants seem to love this. Not so great for the cats and people caught near the event. (My friend Naomi's advice to Israeli urban planners: "Less cats, more gutters." Very insightful. My nigh-waterproof hiking boots are still drying out from all the flooded streets I crossed.) Later this month we've planned an outing to the Negev (the southern desert), which is evidently in full blossom right about now.
Anyhow, I arrived in the Jerusalem central bus station in a reasonably dry state, and after the usual frisking, wanding, and special to Jerusalem x-raying of my backpack, the lot of us were admitted to the mall to which this bus station is attached. (Pattern, anyone?) I chalked this up as a point in my favor. However, it's worth noting that, based on past experience, since Rehovot was wet and cool, I'd been expecting Jerusalem to be dry and cooler. Not this time. It was raining here too, and cold as well.
The Old City ramparts manage to look decidedly more desolate and windswept -- and thus somehow more Medieval -- when accompanied by rain, fog, and a healthy dose of wind as well. Don't be fooled, though. I'm practically in somebody's back yard taking this shot. This is an actual, functioning Medieval city, and the population density is stupendous. 2005:02:06 12:14:58
Getting to the Old City is a matter of a quick bus ride down Jaffa Street, which I can even do without embarassing myself now that I know how much the bus fare is. The rain didn't stop, but since many of the streets in the Old City are covered, it wasn't all that bad. Although they're not especially well-covered. Sure, the merchandise mostly stays dry, but pedestrians get liberally dripped upon, and the walkways can get quite brookish. Altogether worth it, though. Not just for the sightseeing, which I'll go into in another post, but I should emphasize that genuine Arab falafel not only beats the pants off the weak Israeli stuff, but on a nasty day like yesterday was darn near one of the best things I've ever put in my mouth.
Then, however, the wind picked up and the rain turned to a lovely mix of wet sleet and hail. Observing that my coat was completely soaked through by this point, I declared lack of pneumonia to be the better part of valour, and hailed a cab to take me back to the bus station. Point and match to the weather, I'm afraid.
Pictured here, the Jaffa Gate has been the traditional point of entrance for pilgrims to Jerusalem for a thousand years or so. Archeological evidence indicates that, although the boundaries of the Old City have migrated considerably over the millenia, this particular segment of wall has pretty much always been part of the wall's route, and that there has likewise always been a gate here. The automotive traffic, on the other hand, is a much more recent feature. And might I add, the camera really makes it look more pleasant out than it was. 2005:02:06 12:18:58