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8 nights, 7 flights

My Travel Writing Scholarship 2011 entry - My Big Adventure

WORLDWIDE | Monday, 28 March 2011 | Views [457] | Scholarship Entry

My stomach turns. Somersaulting and wheeling like a towel wringing itself of fluid anxiety. I smile as I realize the feeling isn’t trepidation or anxiety at all, it’s excitement. This flight marks the beginning my journey that I have ridiculously dubbed “8 nights, 7 flights”. Next to me is Karen, a bubbly and vociferous Israeli-American, her passion for Israel more contagious than the flu. A caricature of an overprotective, middle-aged mother of two, she has already offered to feed me and given me advice on my prospects with the Israeli girls. Three hours (and more than a few sideways glances from those trying to sleep around us) and she has become my mother in absentia. “Go to the Western Wall for the first time at night,” she says, “to grasp the true power of the experience”. My leaden eyelids droop as her words swirl in my head. I drift off to the sound of Karen’s jovial laugh keeping the plane awake as she watches the most recent Adam Sandler movie on her seatback TV. I arrive. The Jerusalem air is electric, charged like a summer night before a thunderstorm unleashes its maelstrom. I drink in the city walls, savoring the sight of this city I have long sought. A wave of visceral anticipation builds as I cross the stony threshold of the Jaffa Gate. The city is alive, its heartbeat the sound of hushed but eager voices telling the secrets of its ancient streets. King David Street narrows as I descend into the depths of the city, the cobblestones smooth, worn from the flow of countless footsteps echoing through the centuries. Inside the Holy Sepulchre, Christianity’s most holy site, light and sound are muffled as if submerged in a murky pool of browns and grays. The Edicule of Christ’s historical tomb is somehow ornate in its gilded simplicity. Yellow flames of votive candles flicker and sway, sending shadows dancing across the rotunda as the serrated façade of Golgotha glares from behind protective glass. Outside, the scarred and mottled face of the Western Wall is awash in a yellow-orange glow. The Jewish faithful stand face-to-face with the wall, swaying and rocking as they fervently pray. In the distance the Dome of the Rock, a golden sun in effigy, perpetually sets above the eternal walls of Jerusalem. I smile and silently thank Karen for leading me here this night. As I retrace the serpentine streets, hand-crafted melodies and animated voices mingle. Swirling and rising up with musky incense and sweet hookah smoke, the sounds and smells disappear into the night sky. A vendor’s pomegranates, oranges, lemons and limes create a cascade of colors. The essence of citrus, dates, figs and the earthy aroma of roasting cashews and almonds infuse the air, so I breathe with parted lips, tasting the Jerusalem night. I’ve got a bus and a plane to catch. Cairo beckons. That feeling in my stomach remains, but by now I recognize and embrace it as the excitement of my journey.

Tags: #2011writing, travel writing scholarship 2011

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