Sunday, February 5, 2017

Israel Travelouges: Arrival in Jerusalem, At Machane Yehuda Market, Local Experiences


Arrival in Jerusalem

Some practical info for the start: the central bus station of Jerusalem is close to both Machane Yehuda Market and the Old City of Jerusalem so if you want to visit these first after arrival you can do it easily. When you come up the escalator you will find yourself in a shopping center where most of the names of the shops are written in Hebrew only but people are usually friendly and helpful and you can ask around if you need something. You might meet someone first who doesn`t speak or doesn`t want to speak English but it should not discourage you because you will find someone surely after couple of failed attempts who can help you out.

There are public bathrooms in the shopping center but they work only with shekels. On the ground floor there are lockers too close to the entrance which do not accept every kind of credit cards (at least mine was not proceeding to payment after I picked a locker and chose credit card payment) therefore for both bathroom and lockers it is good to have some cash with you. I brought dollars with me because I have read on many other blogs that this is the easiest way to exchange money. If you exit the shopping center and turn left after a couple of blocks you will see a bank after which there is a money exchange.

They check your bags at the entrance and exit of the shopping center and there are some policemen stationed in front of the mall. Light rail and bus stops are opposite the exit and you can purchase tickets for the light rail at ticket machines for ten shekels (approximately one and a half euros). One ticket is valid for a single trip and you can validate it on the train. If you are not too tired and decide to walk this is the distance you have to count with: Machane Yehuda Market is two light rail stops away from the bus station and Jaffa Gate (City Hall stop) is one more stop away from the market.

At The Machane Yehuda Market

I had some funny adventures with the light rail. Although I know it now I remembered it wrong then: I though that I will be able to buy tickets from the driver. Luckily I asked from a woman standing next to me if I could possibly get tickets from the ticket inspectors standing one meter away in front of us. When the answer was no a fun limbo started. My co-traveler thought that I should not worry because they will take into consideration that I am a tourist and I would get no fines. A guy standing on my left suggested on the other hand that I should get off quickly at the next stop but rather at "a more distant door because they would catch me if I try to get off where we were now". I chose a mid-solution and got off quickly at the next stop at our door while saying bye to my light rail crisis-group members. I bought a ticket from the machine and arrived one stop later at the market. Or at the place where the market was supposed to be. I did not understand immediately how the place works.

There is no main entrance at Machane Yehuda Market, it is more like a labyrinth of main streets and side alleys on both sides of a big walking street. The market spaces consist of vegetable and fruits stand plus some shops and are covered mostly with some tent-shaped plastic roof. The Shuk is not a fully tursitic market although tourists like to visit the place. Locals do their daily shopping here and are sometimes annoyed of tourist like I was who might accidentally block their way while trying to take a photo of something. They express this with angry looks or sometimes they just push you aside. Overall people do not pay attention to you as a tourist being there at all but you should prepare for this couple not so cheerful individuals who might not be the kindest people you have ever met. I read it somewhere that it is better to ask people before you start to take photos and videos here. I followed the advice and everyone who I asked agreed. I can say it in general that I felt safe here walking around and taking pics.

Most of the vegetables and fruits were familiar to me. The two things I liked the most were the way thow fruits and vegetables were arranged on the stands (they put the goods somehow in a nice geometrical way on top of each other) and I also liked the spices and local tea mixes made of dried fruits. I bought some from the cinnamon apple and from the cranberry-fruits mix as a souvenir which I have drunk already many times at home since then. About the spice and tea stands shortly: since all tea and spices are in big piles next to each other and the indication of prices might be somewhat confusing,  it is better to ask already while tasting how much hundred grams of the tea or spices cost what you liked. Then when you deide for the ones you are going to buy you can say exactly how many grams you will take and avoid misunderstandings. Also, it is good to walk around to compare prices a bit and not let too pushy sellers distract you attention.

Local experiences

I landed by accident at a small inner yard-like square what you can see on the photos as I was searching for a place where I could get a smoothie. I asked the owner of one of the restauranst who said that they don´t have smoothies and recommended me some freshy pressed fruit juice instead of it what this friend was selling near them. I even got some sahblab as a present to the pomegranate juice what I bought through him when he asked me if I know what it was and if I would like to try it. Sahlab is a sweet pudding-like drink made from warm milk, rose water and orchid powder (or conrnstarch) with pistachios, shredded coconut and cinnamon on the top. I really liked it and my pomegranate juice tasted real good too. One interesting thing was that they grilled the pomegranate slices first and made a juice from them only after it. The average price of a fresh fruit juice or coffee was ten shekels in Jerusalem which is approximately two and a half euros.

I was a bit exhausted and full of new impressions so I did not notice immediately that there was a backgammon club just behind the juice stand where I sat down to drink the juice and eat the sahlab. It had the same owner who I bought the pomegranate juice from.  First I went to take photos around the square but I was too curious and went back there and asked the owner of the place (the younger guy with black beard on the left side of one of the photos) what those men were playing and if he thinks they would mind if I watch them play a bit. He did not speak so much English but he invited me in and told to the men I guess that I will watch a bit. It got clear to me only a bit later that there were actually no women at this place at all and it was a sort of man cave for local elders lol. They reminded me of my grandpa and of my Mom`s uncle who liked to play chess a lot and they were not too much bothered by me standing there.

I did not want to be impolite but I was already thinking how I should drop the "Can I take some photos?"-question when one of the men looked at me, pointed at the camera and said smilingly that I should take photos of them. This is how you can see that photo of them now hehe. All this was a great experience to kick-off my stay in Jerusalem. Later I went to the other side of the market and took the tram to Jaffa Gate where we met with my group to visit the Mount of Olives.

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