It takes less than an hour to drive from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but this proximity is deeply misleading. In the course of 42 miles, you change cultures and travel centuries. Tel Aviv was founded in 1909 and is a vibrant secular metropolis, one that is part of the modern European and Mediterranean world. Jerusalem is deeply religious, embedded in the Middle East and has been continuously occupied since 2,800 B.C.
The first part of the drive is across a hot flat plain, past Ben Gurion Airport and the nearby city of Lod. Then the highway starts to ascend into hills speckled with olive trees and scarred by ravines. Jerusalem lies at an elevation of 2,475 feet. On the western outskirts of the city are the offices, ministries and apartment buildings that have sprung up as the Israeli capital has expanded. But soon enough you come to the Old City, with its traditional low-rise buildings and walls of golden stone.
For many years, the two primary places for affluent travelers to stay were the King David Hotel and The American Colony Hotel. The former is a large (233 rooms) resort-like property, constructed from pinkish stone and set amid extensive gardens overlooking the Old City. Its public areas are imposing, as befits an establishment that functions as a state guesthouse for visiting dignitaries. Delegations and motorcades come and go, and you feel yourself to have a temporary walk-on part in the political machinations of the Middle East.