Yehuda Markets on a Friday.

The ticket, successfully purchased from the Hebrew speaking vending machine, was tucked into my pocket. A symbol of my growing ability to work out what I needed to do to get around this ancient limestone city. I stood and waited with the others at the top of Jaffa Street near City Hall. The Old City at my back, the Coffix store in front with its cheap coffee in paper cups like any other world city.

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The sleek tram pulls in and stops. Score! I am standing in line with the door and like any good Australian, I stand aside in readiness to get on; ready to wait politely for the passengers to get off before I step aboard and take my place.

Wait: what’s this?  PUSH!  SHOVE!  and NO “excuse me’s”!

The scene quickly turns into a thrashing melee  inefficiently entering AND exiting the carriage simultaneously! An old lady gets left on the tram. A shout; the doors re-open, and she gets off.

Me? Well I am still standing on the road. Backpack askew, confidence dented and clearly not on the tram!

Uh hah… so this is how it is…

The trams are frequent, so next time, I am better prepared. Elbows out, head down I barrel my way on and negotiate a place where I can hang onto the overhead strap and sway in unison with everyone else like slow dancing zombies, jerking and writhing without much rhythm.

The trams in Jerusalem run on time. They are clean and modern, but forget your Anglo-centric idea of queuing!

It ain’t gonna happen!

Mind you there is no ill humour[1], no nastiness, just a sense of looking after yourself. At the same time the mum with the double-decker stroller and the three ambulant kids is at a disadvantage and she gets some help from the crowd.


My destination is only three stops away so I try to stay close to the door but at each stop I get pushed further and further into the tram. At Mehane Yehuda; I squeeze through, under, over and around the throng and pop out the doors like a broad bean being squeezed out of its shell. My backpack is stuck between two passengers but it gets propelled forward with some helpful arms. I straighten up and remind myself that if everything is like home why bother leaving the house!

Yehuda Market is a busy place. When you add to this the need to shop, get home (probably on public transport), have the house tidy, the next four meals prepared, candles lit and prayers started all before sundown and you have just elevated it to a mega-busy place! A balagan[2] in fact!

This is Yehuda Market on Fridays. While not everyone in Jerusalem is an observant Jew, many are and the need to get all the chores done before Shabbat starts is a mood changing event. Many of the stall holders must also finish their business in time to get home for their own Shabbat preparations. No time for leisurely shopping! Think grab and run!

I love the expression on the faces of the fellows buying the fish. You can hear them say…is it big enough? Too big?

The market is literally and figuratively a melting pot of culture and religion. Black-capped and hatted Haredi mix with bare-fleshed tattooed youth. Old and young haggling over the price of a whole salmon. Spice merchants vie for your attention with their great bowls of saffron[3], turmeric and paprika.

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The abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables makes a colourful display, punctuated by wisps of malodourous reminders of the fish, meat and rotting scraps that are smeared on the ancient floors. The fans on the tent-like roof don’t even bother to try to move the air.

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The foods on display may be familiar or a total mystery; the unintelligible labels not helping your decision. Is this an herb or tea? Is this pastry dessert or savoury?   How do you order coffee?  How do I know if that sign says NIS150 per kilo or per 100 g? This, as it turns out, is a very important distinction!


The nice young man with an interesting take on the metric system of weights and measures.

After several hours and a thousand images later, I have only bought a few items. Some herbal tea with chunky bits of dried fruit that I purchased from the nice young man who chatted to me in good English but who charged me ten times the price[4], some fruit, olives, bread and cheese.


A fitting lunch topped off with a freshly squeezed pomegranate juice before walking back to my apartment in the German Quarter. A good 3 ½ km walk, but with the shops beginning to close and the streets emptying it was a pleasant way to enjoy the afternoon. I was in no hurry even if everyone else was.

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[1] Apart from my own!

[2] Balagan roughly translates to a schamozzle! i.e.  a big mess of disorganised chaos.

[3] I am not sure if it really is saffron though. In Australia, saffron is about $13,000 a kilo. If those plies really where saffron they would need to be guarded!

[4] Refer to the warning above!

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