SHORT BREAKS: 48 hours in Jerusalem

It's so apt it's obvious: there is surely no better place to celebrate the millennium than the Holy Land. By Rhiannon Batten
Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
WHY GO NOW?

Over the forthcoming year, special events will mark the holy occasion throughout Israel (political developments willing), many of them in Jerusalem (for details call the Israel Government Tourist Office on 0171-299 1111). Don't be put off if you're not a believer; it's a fascinating place to visit. Just be warned: if you'd rather celebrate the big day to the sounds of Israeli trance music than to quiet prayer, postpone your trip until after the Millennium, since 31 December is a Friday, the Jewish sabbath. Otherwise, start your Millennial weekend at the nearby Dead Sea, joining hands in a "Circle of Life" around the water's edge (details, 00 972 9 835 9494).

ICING ON THE CAKE

At the end of the afternoon, pay NIS5 (80p) to take the lift up to the top of the YMCA tower (21) and watch the sun kiss the city's golden stone buildings goodnight. It's not the cheapest of rides but it's a lot more reasonable than staying at one of the rooms here. This is no ordinary YMCA, but a rather glam hotel (YMCA Three Arches Hotel, PO Box 294, 91002 Jerusalem, 00 972 2 569 2692) with double rooms from US$145 (pounds 90). If you want to make an evening of it - or recover from your vertigo - there is also a pleasant restaurant on the YMCA terrace.

CULTURAL AFTERNOON

Take one of several buses that go to Yad Vashem (20) (00 972 2 644 3400, open Sundays 9am to 4.45pm, free) and bring yourself back to the real world with an afternoon at Israel's most important memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. This deeply moving site begins with the Way of the Righteous, dedicated to gentiles who helped the Jews, and leads you on into the Historical Museum, which horrifyingly depicts how a third of the world's Jewish population perished. Beyond is the Hall of Remembrance and, tucked away, a Children's Memorial, where several large mirrors and clever lighting give you with the illusion that you're floating among little stars.

BRACING BRUNCH

As a hangover cure, you could probably do worse than stuff yourself silly with a Roman-themed feast at The Cardo Culinarium restaurant (19) (21 Habad Street, Jerusalem 97500, 00 972 2 626 4155). Lunchtime menus cost US$17 (pounds 10) for the Legionnaire's favourite, US$20 (pounds 13) for Mark Anthony's Delicacy or US$25 (pounds 16) for Julius Caesar's Special - and, if your head can take it, the side orders include beer (US$2.50), jugglers (US$150) and harpists (US$200). Afterwards, walk off your excesses with a peek at the remains of the colonnaded Roman street from which the restaurant takes its name.

SUNDAY MORNING

Not surprisingly, there are plenty of interesting religious buildings in Jerusalem (and the synagogue at the Hadassah Medical Centre (17) even has stained-glass windows by French artist Marc Chagall) but one shrine you should not leave without visiting is the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum (18) (00 972 2 670 8811, open Sun 10am to 5pm, adults NIS30, soldiers NIS15). The Dead Sea Scrolls, with their tiny and immaculate script, were discovered in caves at Qumran in 1947 and are thought to have been made by a sect of Jewish Essenes around 2000 years ago. Today you pass through the appropriately cave-like entrance to view a reproduction of the Great Isaiah Scroll, suspended in a giant spinning top.

DEMURE DINNER

Judging by the photos on the walls, everyone from Frank Sinatra and Richard Burton to Maggie Thatcher appears to have wined and dined at Mishkenot Sha'ananim (15) (Yemin Moshe, 00 972 2 625 1042). It may well have been the (mainly French) food which drew them here, but the almost unbroken views (through a giant window) across to the Old City are worth booking a table for alone. The oversized menu includes the kind of retro dishes that wallpaper* magazine might dine out on, including Steak Diane or Filet au Poivre Vert for NIS136 (pounds 22). If you have more wholesome - and less expensive - tastes, try the excellent vegetarian restaurant, Nevatim (16), at 10 Ben Yehuda Street (00 972 2 625 2007) in West Jerusalem.

AN APERITIF

In terms of style, the bars of the American Colony Hotel (6) can't be beaten. In the summer, sip Carmel wines in the garden and, in the winter, throw back shots of Arak in the den-like Cellar Bar. The most impressive feature of the bars, though, is the extraordinarily comprehensive drinks list - you can order just about everything from pisco sour (around pounds 4.50) to Aquavit (around pounds 4) and then ask to see the separate cigar menu. If you prefer your drinks a little less smooth, take your pick from the lively cafes along and around Ben Yehuda Street - which is a handily close to Moshiko's Shwarma (14). A shwarma (the local equivalent of a doner kebab) will cost you NIS16, or pounds 2.50.

TAKE A RIDE

Jump on one of the hourly buses from Egged Central Bus Station (13) to Ein Gedi (NIS54, or pounds 8.50 return) by the Dead Sea and spend the journey soaking in the spectacular desert scenery. At Ein Gedi Spa (00 972 7 659 4813) you pay NIS49 (pounds 8) for an afternoon of serious pampering: float on the Dead Sea, bathe in sulphur pools, take a dip in the freshwater pool and treat your skin to a mud bath - just don't forget to catch the last bus home at 6pm.

LUNCH ON THE RUN

While you're near Damascus Gate (12), take time out between sights to quench your thirst with a cup of freshly squeezed orange juice (NIS4, or around 60p) or pomegranate juice (NIS5, or around 80p) and to fill up on a giant ring of sesame-covered bread (NIS5) or a slab of poppy-seed cake (NIS3) from one of the Arab bakeries.

TAKE A HIKE

If you only have a morning to explore the Old City, start your stroll at Lions' Gate (8) and follow the Stations of the Cross along the Via Dolorosa and up to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (9), thought to be the site of Christ's crucifixion. Amongst the hustle and bustle of the Old City, narrow, twisting streets are packed with shops and sights. Make sure you see the Western (Wailing) Wall (10) with crowds of people stuffing tiny prayers through its cracks, and the spectacular Temple Mount (11), or al-Haram al-Sharif (the `Noble Sanctuary'), where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son as a test of faith. Finally, make your way to lively Damascus Gate (12) and walk along the city ramparts before leaving the Old City at Jaffa Gate (2).

CHECK IN

Jerusalem is packed with places to stay but next year it's probably best to book ahead. In West Jerusalem, the Jerusalem Inn Guest House (3) (6 HaHistadrut, 00 972 2 625 1294) is clean and convenient, if a little overpriced at US$44 (pounds 27) a single. Nearby, the Jerusalem Sheraton Plaza (4) (47 King George Street, 00 972 2 629 8666) has a swimming pool and comfortable doubles from US$180 (pounds 110); at the top end of the scale, the King David (5) (23 King David Street, 0800 731 2789) has doubles from US$380 (pounds 230). For atmosphere, try the American Colony Hotel (6) (PO Box 19215, Jerusalem 97200, Israel, 00 972 2 627 9777) in East Jerusalem. This former pasha's palace offers opulent gardens, grandiose decor and sophisticated facilities from US$185 (pounds 112) a double. Alternatively, St Mark's Lutheran Hospice (7) (St Mark's Road, 00 972 2 628 2120), is an immaculate, peaceful and budget option, with both dorm beds and a few doubles, in the Old City.

BEAM DOWN

El Al (0171-957 4100) flies from Heathrow, Stansted and Manchester to Tel Aviv, and British Airways (0345 222111) has services from Gatwick and Heathrow. For scheduled fares you can expect to pay around pounds 250 return and for charter flights (try Pullman Holidays, 0171-630 5111) about pounds 200. From Ben Gurion airport outside Tel Aviv, there are regular buses (around pounds 2.75 single) and sheeruts, or shared taxis (around pounds 6 one way), which take about an hour to reach Jerusalem. Alternatively, you should find a three-night package for around pounds 300, including flights and accommodation, from an agent such as Superstar Holidays (0171-957 4300).

GET YOUR BEARINGS

Jerusalem, sacred to Muslims, Jews and Christians, can be divided into two areas: East Jerusalem, which includes the Old City and the Mount of Olives (1), and West Jerusalem, which includes modern shops and businesses, pedestrianised Ben Yehuda Street and, beyond, the suburbs. Jerusalem's taxis are expensive but there's no real need to use them. Most of the main sites are within a fairly small area, and should you want to go elsewhere, getting around by bus is a joy - the buses are clean and regular, the bus drivers friendly and journeys cost a flat fare of NIS4.50 (70p) . For general information, contact the Tourist Information Office just inside Jaffa Gate (2) (00 972 2 628 0382).

Comments