Recalling Shakespeare’s famous line in Hamlet, “Get thee to a nunnery!” we figured that a convent might be one of the safest places to stay in Jerusalem. In a January search for reasonably-priced, well-rated church house accommodations in Jerusalem for an April visit, the Franciscaines de Marie on Nablus Road near Damascus Gate in East Jerusalem, and an easy walk to the Old City, was about the only one left.
The nunnery was relatively cheap — $80 a night — and the staff was friendly and helpful.
This photo of Franciscaines de Marie is courtesy of TripAdvisor.
The room, while frills-free except for in-room wifi, was a good size with a decent shower bathroom and was cleaned every day. Breakfast is very generous. We were also invited to dinner the first night when we arrived after seven p.m., which gave us an especially warm welcome. It was excellent to be able to reach the Old City almost immediately by walking five minutes to enter Damascus Gate. In only 10 minutes, we could walk up Nablus Road to dine at the historic American Colony Hotel, a favorite of diplomats, movie stars and international leaders because it has long called itself “an oasis of neutrality” in the Arab-Israeli conflict. We found the bookstore on the grounds of the hotel to be particularly outstanding, and enjoyed conversing with the shop’s Palestinian-American owner, Munther Fahmi, and learning of his fascinating story.
The neighborhood around Damascus Gate, a historic dividing line between Palestinian and Jewish sections of the city after the 1967 war, was a bit edgy. When I walked from the nunnery to an ATM to withdraw shekels, I was apparently followed. A man with a glass eye who looked like Fagin from Oliver Twist shoved some postcards of Via Dolorosa in my face; I said I wasn’t interested in purchasing them. In broad daylight while a half-dozen people witnessed, he tried to grab my smart phone from my shirt pocket. I slapped his hand. Then he stuck his other hand in my front pocket where my wallet was. I slapped it, said loudly, “Get your hand out of my pocket,” and just about punched him. He slithered away without succeeding at stealing anything.
Relating this minor incident to taxi drivers in Jerusalem gave me a sense of the pungent racism and confirmation bias that permeates the city’s various factions. A Jewish taxi driver, assuming the robbery attempt was perpetrated by a Palestinian, cursed the Arabs. An Arab taxi driver presumed the robber was Jewish, and cursed them. Neither seemed ready to acknowledge that there is almost no genetic difference between Arabs and Jews, that they are essentially the same ethnicity.