Jerusalem is certainly an interesting place. Now that maybe stating the obvious but there’s something very contemporary happening and it’s hard to ignore. The city’s millennials are redefining it with one of the coolest underground movements since the hipster take over of Shoreditch in London.
Ein Karem in Hebrew translates to Spring (Ein) of the Vineyard (Karem) and I have never come across a more be fittingly named place than this. The picture perfect village sits in a valley southwest of Jerusalem surrounded by rolling hills and spectacular views. Getting here from the city centre takes just 20-30 minutes by car.
What Makes it so Special?
Church of St. John the Baptist
So, it’s believed that John the Baptist was born in this village. A Franciscan church has sat at the holy Christian site of the Church of John the Baptist since 1674. Inside there are mosaic floors and a cave believed to be the exact place of birth of the saint. The church sits atop a small hill surrounded by pine trees.
Ein Karem does indeed have a very important spring that gives the village its name. It is believed that Mary (mother of Jesus) stopped here to quench her thirst before she climbed up the hill to visit her cousin Elisabeth (mother of John the Baptist).
Why is it so Pretty?
Walk around the narrow winding slopes and it’s all dainty limestone houses, magical gardens and brightly painted doors. Houses have a typically Middle Eastern aesthetic and are low buildings with flat roofs which, in the past, were used as another room for sleeping, drying fruit and clothes.
Pretty decorated gates lead to small entrances through whimsical gardens. The houses are a few hundred years old and were first built by Arabs. During the War of Independence in 1948 most of the Arab community abandoned their homes and the village.
New immigrants from Morocco, Iraq and Yemen were settled in the abandoned village because others thought it to be too old-fashioned. They craved for a more modern way of life in the city. The immigrants however, started to build what is today an enchanting little community.
As well as its old-world charm Ein Karem also boasts art studios, cafes, shops and a boutique hotel and is home to a community of artists. The village attracts millions of visitors every year from all over the world including Israel itself.
Is There Anything Else?
Sisters of Zion Abbey
Any walkabout around Ein Karem will bring you to the Sisters of Sion Abbey also known as Notre Dame de Sion. It was once an orphanage and is now a retreat which accommodates visitors in two houses set within its breathtaking garden. You can book yourself a very serene stay here if you wish.
The convent sits on a hill-top. So it offers spectacular views over slopes carpeted with wild flowers, wide open lush green spaces, native pomegranate groves and a luscious green valley.
Ein Kerem is a mystical, alluring place away from the noisy, modern metropolis that will simply take your breath away. No visit to Jerusalem can be complete without a visit here to this captivating place.
I can think of a million reasons why everyone must travel to Jerusalem at least once in their lifetime. It is the only place, I’ve visited, where I felt my existence align with the truth of what was and what is. The first wave of consciousness was so precise I could pinpoint the moment when it occurred – inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as I stood next to the presumed tomb of the burial and resurrection of Jesus. It had dawned on me that Mary Magdalene (a woman whose life has intrigued me all my life) may have taken the exact steps I had just taken and stood where I now stood. The second wave rushed over me as I poised myself on a flat roof overlooking the Temple Mount. Its walls running from Mount Moriah, the very place where Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son, to Mount Zion. The ridge of Mount of Olives glimmered to the left of me and the Garden of Gethsemane was behind me. A mellow, euphoric Islamic call to prayer drifted over the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives containing over 300,000 tombs. The sun burned into my skin and I squinted my eyes to stop myself from weeping under the immense burden of undeniable realisation. It’s impossible to visit Jerusalem and not be profoundly moved by it. It is simply impossible.
On my visit I was fortunate enough to have the service of a guide, Shelly Eshkoli, who incidentally happened to be a scholar. Her subject of speciality? Biblical women. Life is all about being at the right place, at the right time but more importantly with the right people. On our walk across the court of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre Shelly informed me that the Byzantine period was a time when women were not respected. The intention amongst scholars and society alike was to elevate the status of men. Hence the role of Mary Magdalene in the life of Jesus was trivialised and her character fired upon and called to question. In 2016 Pope Francis elevated the status of St. Mary Magdalene signing a decree formalising her as an Apostle of the Apostles.
The Stone the Builders Rejected has Become the Cornerstone
It would be foolhardy to ignore the interconnectedness of the narrative of Biblical times to what IS in Jerusalem. The city is an active dig with only 10% of it having been excavated so far. So we watch in awe as the history of mankind unfolds. In the same way that St. Mary Magdalene acquired due justice today there is hope that we too may be exalted 2000 years from now.
For the time being however, we must first show gratitude for what is before us. The City of David has found a way to ennoble the stone that is rejected and it is being offered to the rest of the world. Israel’s most prominent artists have come together to create a collection of jewellery inspired by the archeological artefacts unearthed in Jerusalem. Each item tells the story of one of the most sacred places on earth. What is significant is that the glass used in the pieces are Roman glass taken from fragments of vessels and kitchen ware unearthed from excavation sites that would otherwise be discarded. The pieces are ablaze with deep colour from prolonged contact with minerals underground. Whilst they appear ethereal remarkably, it is the single thing that they are not.
Rings, necklaces, earrings and bracelets have been designed inspired from finds such as a single gold earring set with pearls and precious stones discovered in the Tyropoeon Valley excavation. It is believed to have belonged to a woman of prominent stature due to its quality and use of precious metal and stones. Another is a silver amulet upon which The Priestly Blessing from the Bible (Numbers, Chapter 6) was inscribed. It is the earliest archaeological evidence of verses from the Bible. It was found in a burial cave rolled together with another tablet at Ketef Hinnom and has been dated 7th century BCE. The list of inspiration continues in the same vain with each more captivating than the other.
It is a phenomenal collection of immense significance and one that can in no way be trivialised as mere jewellery. Every piece evokes the feeling of an offering from the past. Each has a sense of a calling to belong and to connect. I for one am humbled that I was deemed worthy to bear this message to you.
It’s that inevitable time of the year when we are collectively encouraged to reminisce on the last 12 months of our lives. Personally, I’ve always preferred to look ahead. I must however, take a moment to be grateful for an incredible year of growth for Girl Travels World. Visitor numbers to the blog increased 345% (year to date) and number of views increased by almost 300% for the same period. I was fortunate to travel to fascinating destinations and bring forth captivating stories and images which hopefully played a small part in inspiring you all to travel more. Girl Travels World social media channels (namely Instagram and Facebook) also reflected the immense growth of the blog and now have a collective following of almost 25,000. For all of this I am grateful.
Furthermore, I’ve had the opportunity to form inspiring partnerships with worldwide destinations, luxury brands and work alongside exceptional PR companies, travel writers, bloggers and journalists. 2017 also brought me the good fortune of becoming a contributing writer for award-winning TikiChris.com and Seen in the City magazines. (Thank you to my editors Chris Osburn and Natasha Colyer for taking a chance on an inexperienced writer with a gigantic dream). All of this drove me to work as hard as I could to create the best content for my audience and brands I work with. As a result my rewards were plentiful and I am grateful.
2018 promises to be even bigger and better for Girl Travels World. With several key collaborations, travel documentaries and food related ventures all in the pipeline it is exciting to look ahead. To show my gratitude for the support I’ve received in the past year I’ve rounded up my top five (short-haul) destinations which I think you will all love. I’ve been to all of these places. They made the list because they are currently vastly underrated and I believe they will trend in 2018.
Happy travelling wanderlusters! Thank you for everything.
1. Lake District, UK
2017 was the year that England’s largest national park was at long last declared a World Heritage Site. Located in the county of Cumbria it is home to Scafell Pike – the highest peak in England (YES, I’ve climbed it) and you guessed it…lakes. It’s the epitome of the picturesque green and pleasant land. Long hikes through the park are highly recommended as is summiting Scafell Pike. You will need the help of a local guide to appreciate its wilderness and enjoy the astounding beauty of its caves, caverns and waterfalls.
There are luxury cottages, local inns, log cabins, hostels and bunk houses to stay in which are dotted around the surrounding area of the park. It’s a five-hour drive to The Lakes from London which means you can make it a road trip to remember.
2. Madrid, Spain
This year I realised that Spain as a country needs a revisit. It’s a destination that Brits in particular take for granted. The number one city which needs an urgent revisit is Madrid. It is the home of Spain’s bloodiest battle during the civil war and is bursting at the seams with history. Landmarks and monuments for victorious heroes as well as fallen ones are dotted throughout the city and makes for remarkable walking tours.
It must also be said that Madrid’s food resurgence is nothing short of incredible. It’s no easy feat to cling to your roots while moving forward in the name of change and modernity. But this city appears to have done it. From traditional tapas restaurants which have seen little change since the 19th century to Michelin starred gourmet restaurants the city now boasts it all. In under just 3 hours’ flight time from London you could be sipping a traditional chicken broth at the world’s oldest restaurant while picking on black label ham. Stay in five-star hotels or cool private rentals but remember to look at Madrid with new eyes.
3. Tallinn, Estonia
This Baltic capital which is home to a Unesco World Heritage Site (The Old City) is beginning to make a name for its cuisine. Tallinn is seeing a generation of young chefs reviving its restaurants by adding new twists to traditional food. With a focus on local, seasonal produce delivered directly from farms there is a quiet food revolution in Tallinn. The city hosts Restaurants Week, twice a year, to promote the variety of food available. It’s a great time to visit if you want to sample the best of what’s on offer.
The plot twist here is that this harbour town held the sailing event of the Summer Olympic Games hosted in Moscow in 1980. V. I. Lenin Palace of Culture and Sport was purpose-built with facilities in preparation for the Olympics. The brutal grey structure, now eerie, abandoned and covered in graffiti stands as a cold reminder of a not so distant past. The building was renamed Linnahall and is currently under the city council’s authority awaiting renovation and construction. Go see this part of human history before it’s changed forever.
4. Tel Aviv, Israel
Travel broadens our horizons and bring our focus back to the things which unite humanity rather than divide us. This is the lesson I learnt in Tel Aviv. I was grounded here for two days due to bad weather in London which gave me the perfect opportunity to do what I do best – explore. Tel Aviv’s promenade runs along the Mediterranean seashore and is a place for walking, jogging and generally showing off your physical prowess/perfection. All through the day joggers, yogis and sporty types practice their craft in full view of passers-by. At night, parts of the beach are floodlit for beach volleyball games.
In the heart of the city approximately 15 minutes’ walk from the promenade is Carmel Market which caters to all your street food needs and funny slogan tees. Running parallel is Nahalat Binyamin Craft Market where you can browse for ceramics, jewellery and fascinating pieces of art along a long leafy street. Under six hours’ flying time from London and all of this awaits you.
5. Nimes, France
Nimes is possibly the most underrated of all the cities on this list. It sits along the Cote d’Azure and enjoys hot summers and mild winters. It was an important city in the Roman Empire and the evidence is everywhere. A magnificent amphitheatre, Arena of Nimes, which dates back to AD 70 dominates the centre of town. Maison-Carrée, a 2000 year old temple, is one of the best preserved Roman buildings in the world and sits alongside modern museums, coffee shops and galleries.
Pradier Fountain (pictured above) greets visitors arriving by train and has been the centre-piece of the urban garden Esplanade since 1845. What is baffling about this little town is that with such perfectly preserved Roman buildings it’s yet to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. An application is due to be presented in the summer of 2018 and in my humble opinion I see no reason why it would be unsuccessful. Also, did I mention…Musée du Vieux Nîmes (free entrance) has a room devoted to Nime’s most famous export – it’s where denim was born. Go see this marvel of a town before the crowds get there.