It was around 5 in the morning when l arrived at Tel Aviv airport. I had a small scary moment thinking that they had lost my suitcase, because it so happens that, although they announce that the suitcases of the flight from London should be found on tape 7, it only applies if that flight is of the Israeli company, but they won’t say this.

There is a shuttle service to Jerusalem from the airport. It consists of a van with seats and a large space for suitcases that functions like a shared taxi; each one pays their fare at the end of their journey at their address, but the service does not leave the airport until all seats are occupied.

The first thing of this country that grabs my attention is the palm trees. Lots of palm trees, lined up alongside the road. What grabs my attention in Jerusalem is the building style, all around Jerusalem, both in the outskirts and in the centre, in old and new houses. They are all built with clean white stone, and all the stones are of the same size, in all the houses. Even the city wall is made of that kind of stone, just like any other building. It has been later explained to me that it is a norm, although it is not too clear where the norm comes from.

In any case, there is not a single bit of cement in sight, not a single brick, only stone. Then,from time to time, there is a kind of plaster uniting the stones, but even this is not too visible.

Perhaps because I was the only foreigner, or perhaps because I was the only one that needed to go to the old city, I am the last one to leave the taxi. We arrive at the hostel at around 9am.

As the taxi stops in front of my hostel, a man approaches us asking what we are after, and when I mention the hostel where I am staying he says he works there and helps me with my cases. After finding a room and paying for it, he offers to show me Jerusalem, but I tell him that all I want now is a shop where I can buy some food. He answers that he can show me all the cheap food stores. I am dying to take off my big shoes and rest, being as it is my 25th hour without sleeping, but figuring that we will be out only for a short time, I just leave my things there and go out to meet him quickly, to avoid wasting his time. Big mistake: time, or its concept, does not exist for certain people here.

He shows me a little shop and then he carries me along the streets of the Old City. In the map they look like normal streets but in reality they are mostly pedestrian, full of stairs, hills and shops that literally get out into the street. None of them have any food to sell, and before I realise, we are in the church of the Holy Sepulchre, which I’m both glad and dismayed to see – I had asked the good man to just show me a food shop! The man is acting as a tourist guide and I am feeling my feet burning after a 12 hour journey.

He takes me for a tour in the church until my need for a rest is big enough to stop him. I make it clear to him that what I really want is to get lost on my own in the city (although he has also made clear that he wants to be my tourist guide during this whole week, but I just hope he understands) but above all, and urgently, I need to have some food, take off my shoes and sleep.

He then takes me to a bakery where there is only a man taking bread in and out of an oven and with lots of bread on the street – no counter, no till. It looks more like a workshop. The “guide” insists that I buy a piece of bread covered with herbs and spices and I almost have to get angry to get just simple bread. I get rid of him at last and I go on my own to a little shop that I have seen before and buy oil and milk. With these goods I go to my room to have breakfast and sleep. But for some reason I can not manage to sleep so I get up, put on my sandals and go out to the street – I should now tell my friends and family that I have arrived well.

There is a computer in the vestibule of the hostel so that guests can use the internet. I ask about the conditions of use and, while I am there, I ask about telephone cards too. The boy at the desk tells me about a particular shop outside the wall, and there I head. I imagine I spend about an hour walking looking for that telephone card shop, but I do not find any.

It is, however, a good exercise to be by myself and also to get to know a bit of the outside part of the wall, and what seems to be the most westernised part of the city, judging from the type of shops.

Back in the Old City I go to the Tourism Office, where a very sweet Argentino man answers my questions in Spanish in exchange of a smile.

From there I go to the Franciscan shop, to ask about possible places to go to Mass. They sell religious things here, specially books. Most books are in Spanish.

From the Franciscan shop I go to the Christian Information Centre, but it is closed. There is a notice on the door with the schedule of all the masses and services available from the different Christian sects all over Jerusalem, and in what language they are. Catholic mass in English is available in the Church of Notre Dame at 9.30am and 6.30pm. I set my alarm clock for 5.30.

From there I head to the touristy shop where one can exchange money and buy mobile phones and electronic things among others.

As it is tiresome custom of the tradesmen, one of them approaches me inviting me to enter his shop. I say I can not, that I am in a hurry to buy a telephone card to call my mother. “Oh I wait until you finish”, he says. It takes me some twenty minutes to buy two phone cards, one for local calls and another for international calls. I had imagined that the good man would have given up the waiting by now, but there he is, standing outside, when I come out, waiting for me.

I say: “I am sorry, I need to find a telephone now”. “You can call from my shop, come I’ll show you”. I follow him to his shop, and once there he sits me down on a chair and offers me some tea. I refuse because what I want to do is make a phone call. He insists that this is just his hospitality and “I have” to drink something. He introduces me to his son, of some 12 years of age, who seems to take care of the shop when his father leaves to look for customers, and he leaves. After ten minutes of forced conversation, I tell the son that, if his father does not appear in five minutes, I am going to leave, because I do have an urgent call to make.

After another ten minutes, the father appears, talks to his son in a language that I believe is Arab, and after a few more minutes, he looks at me and says: “you wanted your tea, isn’t it?”

I tell him that I do not want tea, that I have come to his shop because he told me that I can make a phone call from here, but obviously that is not true, so I need to leave for I’m in a hurry. He says something quickly and with the best of my smiles I tell him, already from outside the shop: “No, it’s all right, thank you”. I sense him saying something behind me and I run (well, I walk quickly) away from there, quite annoyed and with my lesson learnt: the “no thank you” must be told before they have had the time to offer you to visit their shop.

I go back to the hostel to make my phone call and I dutifully tell my friends and family that I am alive and well.

Now I do go to sleep, after setting my alarm clock at 5.30pm, in time, hopefully, to go to this Catholic Mass at 6.30pm. I manage to switch the alarm off a few times without even waking up and when I do wake up I decide to set off for the church even though it is quite probable that the mass will have started by now.

The church is right next to a small esplanade that looks like a car park. So, first I need to go round a barrier that acts as a gate for cars, expecting to be asked to stop by security guards next to this gate. But they just say a mute “hello” and let me into this esplanade, and then into the church. It turns out I arrive just in time.

Once inside the structure with the aspect of a Romanesque church – but with perfectly cut white stone, just as every other building – I find myself in the foyer of a hotel. The mass is celebrated in a chapel in the upper floor, to which the access is through some lateral stairs.

The chapel is all white, and the walls have that characteristic stone. There are no benches, but wickerwork chairs, also white, all stuck to one another and leaving a walkway in the middle, so the sensation is that of any catholic church.

After the mass I approach the priest to talk to him. He explains that the whole estate is property of the Vatican State, so this piece of land is diplomatic territory and police can only enter with permission.

He also tells me other very interesting things. For example that the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 125 was even more brutal and destructive than the one in the year 70; that there are archaeological excavations all over the country, and that the reason why all buildings on the Holy Sites are dated after the year 300 is because the Christians before that didn’t have the economical or political power to build in such places, and also that before that date it was not considered ever so important to mark the exact places where things had happened because it was well known where each event took place through oral tradition. I imagine that it was neither so important to leave things for posterity, since those Christians were expecting to see the end of times themselves.

He tells me this because I have told him about my earlier visit to the Sepulchre, that it has not been very nice, among other reasons, because of the architectural structures around it, which reminded me more about the crusades and the Middle Ages, and about the present divisions between churches, than about any trace of the epoch of Jesus. Besides, there is no time or space to pray, at least at the sepulchre; it is a very small cave and the queues are long, so it is not appropriate to stay for longer than five minutes, and that is no proper condition.