If you stay in a hotel in Jerusalem, the whole act of it will seem strange, somehow. You might feel, as I did, like you are existing in two worlds at once, in a place of modern tourism, with all its careful amenities, comfy sheets, plump pillows, and Keurig coffee maker, and yet still in the past, with all its dust, limestone buildings, and sunsets streaming over the Temple Mount from your 43rd story bedroom window. You might ask yourself, as I did, how you can possibly exist in these two places at once. How can there be, you might ask, a hotel, something built in the era of modernity, in and amidst these sacred spaces? How can there be this place with a king-sized bed, a view unparalleled, stretching across the busiest parts of Jerusalem’s frenetic and sprawling city? How can there be, when you wake up to the prayer bells across the city and go to sleep with all the twinkling lights scattered across that Middle Eastern landscape?
You won’t be alone. I imagine that almost every guest who has stayed at the Leonardo Plaza Hotel since it opened in the late 1960s has been asking those very same questions. There’s a certain, delight, though, in the clash of eras. You can wake up, tiptoe out of your bed and watch the sun light up the beige buildings beneath you, like a painter running a tint over her entire canvas. You can walk for fifteen minutes through Independence Park and put your hands on the Western Wall, roll up a prayer and tuck it in a crevice, regardless of your religion. You can enter the Old City and come back out on the other side, where you’ll see the frenetic traffic of Jerusalem’s rush hour.
Many travelers have come back from Jerusalem with tales of the old and new; this is (pun intended) nothing new. Yet, when I think back to my recent trip to Israel and the Leonardo Plaza Hotel, where we spent three nights, I can’t help but feel like there’s absolutely nothing else that describes this city in quite the same way. In this case, a cliché becomes a cliché for a reason. Even the locals will tell you how funny it is to them when visitors come and can’t believe there are traffic jams, shopping malls, and modern hotels. “I think people come and still think we’re all wearing sandals and riding donkeys,” Amir, our tour guide, even told us.
Amir’s not wrong—a lot of visitors who come for religious pilgrimages do imagine this ancient city as it was, replete of cars, restaurants, shopping districts, and tourism. To me, though, that image is not entirely fantasy, because in much of the city, I did feel as if a new city had been laid atop an old one.
This is Jerusalem, though, and again: I wouldn’t be wrong. Jerusalem is a city on top of a city on top of a city. Even now, archaeologists are just beginning to chip away at the citied layers under the City of David (which itself wasn’t even discovered until all that recently). Jerusalem actually is, quite literally, the old and the new.
From the window in my room on the 43rd floor of the Leonardo Plaza Hotel, I could see all these things: the cars, the sunsets, the hills, the lines of clean laundry dangling from people’s windowsills, the tips of cathedrals, mosques, and synagogues. Inside my room was a King-sized bed, a modern bathroom with four glass walls and a rain shower showerhead; inside our hotel was a pool and state-of-the-art fitness room, a spa complete with Jacuzzi and sauna. Outside, just minutes away, was the Western Wall, the Temple Mount, the Tower of David, Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, the Israel Museum and the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Via Dolorosa, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the emerging City of David, a brand-new archaeological site just now being discovered under what was once a parking lot, a Biblical Zoo….
The list, as you can imagine, goes on.
At the time of this review, rates start at $180.00 USD per night for a Deluxe New City room and go up from there. You can book online through their online reservation system. You can also compare rates and book through agoda.com or Hotelopia.
Leonardo Plaza Hotel – Jerusalem
47 King George Street
Fax: [email protected]
Article by Kristin Winet; photos courtesy of the Leonardo Plaza Hotel.
Most gracious thanks to Weill and the Israel Ministry of Tourism for hosting our stay during this trip.