I book most of my international trips 9-10 months out. I usually start mentally planning them over a year out. This was not the case this weekend. Israel was a last minute trip. I mean last, last, last, laaaaaaast-minute trip. I decided pretty much the day-of. I was in London on a Thursday night looking for somewhere to go for the weekend. I could get the best deal on a ticket to Tel Aviv. So that’s what I did. I had no idea what I was in for.
If there’s any place in the world you should know a little something about before visiting, it’s The Holy Land. And I flew in as a complete ignoramus, let’s just get that out of the way now.
Thanks to a fellow globetrotter–shout out to the homey Tudor Clee–I was set up with a tour guide on arrival; a last minute booking with Tamer Halaseh, who’d show me Bethlehem, Jericho, the West Bank…all areas of Palestine. Yup, my trip to Israel would allow for two more pins in the map. Again, before talking to Tudor, I was completely oblivious to the whole Israel-Palestine-thingy. I’m not a complete idiot; I can name every state in Brasil, but my Israel-Palestine knowledge simply didn’t exist. Until now.
I arrived in Tel Aviv just before sunup, and was prepared for a lengthy interview by immigration. One thing I did know–was that Israeli security is some of the tightest in the world. Friends of mine who had visited told me stories of lengthy interviews and detentions. Israelis are serious about protecting their country and employ tight screening measures to anyone wanting to visit. However entering turned out to be a breeze for me. The officer did spend a little time looking through my ultra-fat passport, and did show a couple pages to her comrade before asking me why I visited Libya and South Sudan. But that was it. Four minutes later I was in a cab, en route to Jerusalem. And for the life of me, I couldn’t get Neil Diamond‘s Jerusalem out of my head! I’d grown up with my mom playing The Jazz Singer soundtrack on her record player, and Jerusalem was one of my favorite jams. And now, here I am…on the way to Jerusalem! I was so pumped up to be coming here, especially so unexpectedly.
I arrived at The Ben Hillel Boutique Hotel around 7AM and I needed food and sleep, in that order. I quickly found out that nothing, literally nothing was open. It was Shabbat, Jewish for the “Sabbath,” and that meant even the McKosher McDonald’s was lights-out! After stumbling around the barren streets of Jerusalem for fifteen minutes, I finally discovered a small grocery store/mini mart and spent the next ten minutes stocking up for the day. Ramen noodles, yogurt, chips and water filled my basket. But what I found in the small cereal section knocked my socks off. My favorite cereal that I was sure had been discontinued was smiling at me like an old love from the past: my beloved Waffle Crisp still existed!!! I couldn’t believe my eyes, and grabbed a box and some milk and headed back to my room to feast before my nap.
After my meal, I fell into a deep slumber–much needed–before waking in the afternoon to explore the old city.
It was only about a ten or fifteen minute stroll from my hotel to the Jaffa Gate of the Old City, and soon I was inside. Incredible! If it weren’t for the gummy bears and fidget spinners for sale, I could have sworn I was back in biblical times–so surreal to be walking through the labyrinths of Old Jerusalem.
At one point, I ducked through an alley to escape the chaos and traffic of the main market and its stalls and vendors–to arrive in a square that looked like it was pretty much locals-only. I took a seat on a bench and enjoyed just people-watching. I saw kids playing and families walking together, all dressed in traditional clothes. It was a very peaceful moment and nice to be away from the tourists for a bit. I just sat, and took it all in.
What an incredible afternoon wandering the old streets of Jerusalem. As the sun set, outside of the old city (which never closes), the stores and shops started to open and the streets began to come alive. I stopped into a Russian bar, The Putin Pub, for an Irish beer, before returning to my hotel for the night. I’d need my rest, tomorrow’s trip into Palestine would require my batteries to be fully charged. I had no idea what I was in for, but there was no turning back.
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