I booked the National Hotel in Jerusalem for a stay in Israel. I wanted a hotel that was in walking distance of one of Jerusalem’s gates, had good reviews, was in a safe area, and was a reasonable price. When we arrived at night, I thought I’d made a terrible mistake. The streets were crowded, dark, and narrow, cars were parked in every available parking place, people walked in front of moving traffic, signs were in English and Arabic, and Arabic graffiti was everywhere. The hotel’s parking area was small and was locked up at night.
But, inside the hotel, floors were marble, the staff was courteous and helpful, and the room was cozy and quiet. Breakfast every morning was wonderful – mostly vegetarian, cheese, tomatoes, olives, lunchmeat, tofu, pita, fresh fruit, Arabic coffee, and more – a half dozen tables full of everything you could want and more and breakfast was part of the already reasonable room rate.
Maid service was all males.
When you entered your room, you had to insert your key in a thermostat to turn on air conditioning and electricity. Since we had two keys and a never ending need to charge batteries, we left one key inserted to run the electricity while we had breakfast. When we got back to the room, the power was off, the key was gone, and there was a note saying it could be retrieved at the front desk. At the front desk, I got the speech to never leave a key to have electricity running while I was gone and they gave me the key. This policy makes sense to conserve the use of electricity.
In the daylight and in subsequent nights, we changed our minds about what seemed at first like an unsavory neighborhood. Every morning schoolgirls passed on their way to an all-girl school. We were very near the Tomb of Kings, Rockefeller Garden, the Museum on the Seam, the Awar Jerusalem College, Al Hayat Medical Center, St. George’s Cathedral, homes, hotels, and businesses.
We struck up conversations with tourists, locals, Christians, Jews, Arabs, and Muslims and everyone was friendly and had interesting stories to tell. Our favorite breakfast waiter seemed to be at the restaurant night and day. He drove in every day from Hebron, Palestine, about 20 miles away, and worked long hours to feed his family.
Stores in the area had roll-down metal doors at night like what I’ve seen in New York City and other places and like what used to be in Nashville many years ago. If shop owners didn’t have what you were looking for, they could direct you to a shop that did.
Night and day, we saw people walking in the area – old, young, couples, mothers pushing strollers. Everyone passed you with a smile and a hello or nod. A group of three very nice, hip looking, Americanized boys wanted to have their picture made with Americans and wanted to look at the picture but didn’t ask for a copy.
And the reason for booking this hotel? Herod’s Gate was a short walk of only a couple of blocks. Herod’s Gate is on the north side of Old Jerusalem and leads into the Muslim Quarter. From there, it is a short walk to the Christian, Armenian, and Jewish Quarters.