Okay – quick update b/c, as we’ve discovered, things in Israel work on Israel time, which means the Business Center with Internet access in the hotel isn’t necessarily open from 8 until 8:30 as advertised. As a matter of fact, we’re not exactly sure when it’s open contrary to what the front-desk says. So this is an e-mail update to the blog, written off-line, and quickly uploaded because we only have dialup access at the moment.
Speaking of Israel time, did I mention, that as before you travel to Italy, and check strikes, you should do the same for Israel. There’s nothing like landing and the first words you hear once you deplane are, “You are not going to be happy to hear this but you cannot get your luggage.” Actually, all things considered, we were very lucky. As part of our tour service, we had “VIP” airport service in Ben Gurion. Normally, that would mean we would be met near immigration and ushered through there and Customs with an escort; it’s supposed to speed the process. In our case, do to a baggage handlers strike, our escort met us at the plank-way, whisked us into a waiting van on the tarmac and drove us to the Lost and Found ahead of all the other exhausted travelers. What we found out at Lost and Found was basically … nothing. They didn’t take any information and only gave us a phone number to call in order to check the status of our bags the next morning and sent us on our way.
We got cash from the ATM (receipt in Hebrew – very cool), met our driver and our escort bid us farewell after commenting, “I hope you have your luggage before your return to the states.” Great. Okay – we’re in the van, and though we have no clean clothes, yes for the first time, we didn’t pack a change of clothing in our carryon bags, we’re on our way … we think. Why did the driver follow the road to Tel Aviv instead of Jerusalem? Hmm, maybe he knows some shortcut. After all who am I to question? But as we get closer to Tel Aviv, question we do only for all of us to realize, the driver was told the Renaissance Tel Aviv not the Renaissance Jerusalem. No biggie, a u-turn, and we’re on our way – again.
About 7:30, we finally arrive at the Renaissance Jerusalem. Check-in goes smoothly, and we head up to our two adjoining rooms, after the front desk clerk tells us the strike may last days, great. We have no bags to unpack, so now what? We try to get in touch with the tour agent, to see if the guide will be able to take us back to Ben Gurion at some point to get our bags. We’re having no luck with the phones. We want to call the states, but can’t The number AT&T gave Chris to dial the states did not work. Oh this is looking real good. Then, the phone rings, in the kids room, yet answer it they do not do, so Chris makes a grab for it and it’s Esther, the tour agent!!
Okay – we now know our guide’s name, he will meet us in the morning at 8:30. He will do whatever we ask, though she wishes we wouldn’t use our time in such a manner but what to do? She does tell us though that it’s not a full strike but a slowdown and the latest round of negotiations was making progress. See these aren’t strikes like Italy, the ones that last a day or four hours, these are like US strikes. They last, and last, and last.
Not much left to do but get the kids some dinner. Afterwards, Chris dials through most of the different set of number for information and Delta at the airport trying to track down the progress of our luggage. At 9:00, they still haven’t unloaded it. We watch Bridget Jones 2, in English, with Hebrew subtitles. Becky and I try to figure out which word is “F***” in Hebrew. At 10:00 Chris calls again, our luggage has been unloaded and we can get it! Chris, in a wave of determination and resolve I have not seen him apply to anything accept his running, heads out, with 700 shekels in his pocket. Two hours later he returns, with all four pieces of our luggage!
Anyway – other than the luggage fiasco, which ended okay and cost us about 400 shekels (less than $100), all our travel worked fabulously. We caught an earlier flight to Atlanta (for fear of Thunderstorms), the girls reacted as we predicted they would when they realized we were in First Class – Becky quietly overwhelmed, Sammi jumping up and down, squealing, and everything else ran smoothly.
Our guide, Besha (Beja – I need to have him spell it for me in Hebrew) is great, a really nice and interesting man, hand-picked for Chris. Like Chris, he’s a runner. As a matter of fact he’s one of the top runners in Israel – nice body ;).
We had a great day today – which I hope to get into more detail about later but we covered Mt. Olives, David’s Tomb, the place of the last supper, the garden of Gethsemane, the Jewish Quarter, especially the Cardo, where we made some serious contributions to the economy, the Kotel – but we’re going to insert our prayers on Sunday, the Arab quarter where we found some of the best baklava ever, the Christian quarter, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Afterwards, we headed to the big food market in Jerusalem, whose name escapes me now. Love this place – the most amazing chocolate croissants, good Schwarma, Falafel and fries, (yeah, yeah, it’s all about the food for me), and after our 8:30 am departure this morning, we returned to the hotel about 4:00. Tonight we’re heading to Three Arches for dinner (in the YMCA), and tomorrow we’re on our own. We’ll give the kids an easy day, with a slow morning and the Israeli Museum in the afternoon, then Havdallah and dinner with Mike’s Dad and wife.
Sunday we start early at 7:30 – on tap – Yad Vashem, a tour of the tunnel that King Hezekial (I think) used to link Jerusalem to its water spring (in case of siege), and a tour of the tunnels under the Western Wall.