In order to revive the deciminated tourism industry, even for just a bit, a large number of tours in English are being offered this Chol HaMoed Sukkot week by the AACI Tourism Project. On Sunday, we took a delightful 3-hour walk with tour guide Laura Nelson-Levy. Her tour was billed as "The Old City Four Quarter Tour for Kids." Laura was a wonder. She had 4 or 5 families with the kids, ranging in age from 2 to 11, greatly outnumbering the adults. Armed with a briefcase-full of yellowing archive photographs, maps, diagrams and postcards, Laura did an impressive job of speaking to the kids on their level and keeping it interesting for the adults too. There were a number of rest stops and snack breaks, and even time for a visit to the Old City's solitary and somewhat run down playground.
We started in the Armenian Quarter, stopped in at a church that was in full session, reverberating with other-worldly chanting that was just begging to be turned a Euro-trance dance hit. We hiked up on rooftops, walked the length of the Cardo, peered into pits, pondered ancient rocks, and gazed longingly from an overlook onto the Western Wall. We ended with a walk through the now quiet streets of the Christian Quarter until we reached the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Interestingly (though unfortunately not surprising), of the predominantly religious group, no one - except us - was interested in going inside. So we continued on as a private tour to view the stunning art & architecture of the Church.
The whole of the Old City seemed subdued, quiet, calm. It has been years since I've walked in the Muslim Quarter. We felt somewhat apprehensive going without a guard and a gun...after all, Arafat's headquarters is being besieged again in Ramallah, thousands are protesting in Gaza, the UN is making resolutions. But we felt safe. Maybe it was the closed-circuit cameras - over 300 of them at a cost of $5-15,000 each, Laura explained - positioned throughout the Old City, peering down at us, invading our privacy while presumably increasing our safety. Were the cameras judging our choice of ice cream back at Jaffa Gate (I had an ice cream Snickers bar...it was yummy).
Unfortunately, all the cameras in the world haven't been able to bring back the tourists' cameras to Israel. Hence, devoted and professional guides like Laura Nelson-Levy are not making ends meet. If you're looking for a guide, and especially one who knows how to speak to multiple age groups (Laura has six kids of her own), why not drop her a line: email@example.com.