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Israel 2009 - 2010 Archives

December 26, 2009

Israel

Ha! This one snuck up on me! Seriously, we booked the tickets in September and I did nothing since then to prepare, except try to contact our former guide, who unfortunately, we could not hook up with. Then we thought, we'll do it all on our own, but again that time crunch and lack of time tod do any serious planning, left me in a pickle. So I contacted Allison at Best of Israel travel agency, and worked out an itinerary, along with a guide that I'm hoping floats everyone's boat. It certainly looks really good on paper, so I thought I'd share it with you (shoot, now I'm wishing I moved it from my other computer to my netbook). Let me go check and see if it's still online...

Okay it's not on-line, so I'm going to give you highlights. By the way, we went through a couple of iterations on this itinerary because originally we were moving a round a bit much (five hotel changes). Now we're down to three which we prefer.

To start, we're flying Continental. We'd been saving miles pretty much since our last trip to Israel and were able to snag four first class tickets. Going out we're flying non-stop from Newark to Tel Aviv but coming home is the snag - we leave Tel Aviv at 5:30am (so we have a 2:15am pickup at our hotel), and we fly to Amsterdam where we have an eight hour layover. Yes, we have access to their club (showers and all) and yes I hear it's a great airport to have a layover but eight hours is a bit much. Currently though we have a reservation at Anne Frank's house (from 11:30am to 12:30pm), so hopefully we'll feel up to it and that will work out. Then we depart Amsterdam about 5:30pm and land at JFK (the other fly in the cake batter), at 8:00pm. It will be over 24 hours of traveling by the time we get home. The price we pay though for first class. The good news though is it didn't break the frequent flier bank and we still have 400K miles in the account.

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December 28, 2009

Flight and Arrival

What to say about flying first class? It’s really flipping unbelievable the service and comfort level between coach and first, especially on these long flights (this one was about 10 hours). First the seats are so much wider and softer. They recline in so many different levels and have feet rests. Not to mention, more comfortable pillows and blankets.

Then there’s the lovely, magical console we had on the flight. It pops out of the arm rest and had a million choices of movies, TV shows (so many movies, I never got to the shows but did hear tale that they had the first and second season of Dexter), and games (didn’t make it to those too). I did watch Julie and Julia (which I thought funny and adorable, though Julie was a bit self-absorbed for sure), Legally Blonde (sort of – I fell asleep during this), Annie Hall (I fell asleep during this too) but then restarted it and fast forwarded it to finish; I ended with Sound of Music (though it ended just as they arrived at the music festival because the plane was landing). It was funny because I had just commented, on the way to the airport, that I had not seen that movie in a while and I love it.

Finally, there’s the food while not fabulous is at least abundant. They start you off with a four-course dinner (yes about midnight), which had four choices and before landing had a plentiful breakfast. Oh, and did I mention the champagne offered before take-off and the free flowing alcohol during the flight (don’t worry Mom, I just had a single glass of champagne)? Anyway it was all good and I purposely only slept about three hours.

Landing was smooth and only about five minutes late. We were through immigration easily enough and waited a nominal amount of time for our luggage (enough for me to take out 1200NIS from the ATM). Then through Customs, and out into the arrival area in search of our driver. We had some difficulty finding him (basically we couldn’t), so after three attempts, Chris and Becky (probably mostly Becky’s doing), got change for our shekels (along with a diet Coke), called him and we found him by a bookstore. He really wasn’t the driver but the dispatcher who led us to the mini-bus that would take us to Ein Boqeq along the Dead Sea and our first stop. Funny but he had them bring a mini-bus (not kidding, like 14 rows) for the four Americans because he thought of all the luggage we would have; he was shocked by our four checked bags and four carry-ons. He didn’t believe we were Americans.

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Trying to Figure Out How to Find Guide

We met some traffic on our way to the dessert and had to stop for gas as the driver thought he was going to Jerusalem and not the Dead Sea. It was a long, boring ride as it was pitch black by now, so nothing to see. It took about 2.5 hours – not great after the flight but what can you do?

Once we arrived, we checked in easy enough and then went for a walk to the market across the street (McDonald and a café there). We bought some bottled water (the tap water in the hotel is not drinkable), then spied another “strip mall” down the way and walked over there. We found a small café/restaurant where we settled in for a quick dinner (pasta for Sammi, omelet for Becky, Greek Salad for Kim and an appetizer platter for Chris) followed by some pretty decent gelato then back to the hotel and bed about 9:30. Oh, and don’t even ask about the “entertainment” in the lobby – too funny. It feels a bit like the Catskills here. Those of you in the “know” will understand.

December 29, 2009

Masada Monday

Ah, Monday morning, we woke refreshed … not! Chris, Becky and I woke about 1:30am and didn’t fall back to sleep until about 4:30, while Sammi woke at 4:30 and apparently never fell back to sleep (a fact she would not let us forget throughout the day). I woke the next time about 7:20. As breakfast is only served in the hotel until 9:00am, I figured I’d better get going as it could take the girls almost until 9 to get ready on a bad morning.

Out of the shower, Chris moves slowly as Sammi gets in the shower and Becky remains semi-comatose. Finally, we’re all out the door and down in the breakfast room by 8:15 or so, not too bad. We all scan the buffet and settle in with some simple selections (eggs for Kim, some sort of grit-like dish for Becky, some cookie cereal – can’t remember the name now – for Sammi, and a whole bunch of stuff for Chris). Three of us power through two pots of coffee (left on the table) and one fuels up with chocolate milk before we’re out the door and waiting in the lobby for our guide.

Yes, if I haven’t mentioned, we hired a guide again for this trip. We were going to do it on our own this time but neither of us had the time to put into the planning/research needed before hand and we didn’t want to “wing it” for fear of not giving Sammi the experience she deserved. Our instructions said our guide, Moshe, would arrive after breakfast – we weren’t sure what that meant but we waited.

I also have to tell you, Becky had an issue with us being in the desert and our guide being Moshe. Her thought, “the last time Moshe led people through the desert, they were lost for forty years.” Turns out though, our Moshe knows his way around (and if not, I can now tell you that route 90, goes all the way from Eilat to the northernmost reaches of Israel, so if you want out of the desert, follow I90 North (i.e., keep the dead sea to your right). Anyway, Moshe came in and introduced himself to us and we were off.
We headed north to Masada, getting acquainted as went. Moshe drove us around in a 7 passenger van, like the one we used on our last trip. It’s not far to Masada, and before you know it, we’re parked and heading upstairs to get our tickets. On our last trip, we took the tram to the top and Sammi wanted to climb the snake path this time, so that was first on our list.

Masada
Masada

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December 30, 2009

Tuesday's With Morie Abraham

I was up at 6:30 in the morning and so took some time to update my blog while everyone else slept. At 7:30, I dragged their sleepy butts out of bed and we were down to breakfast by 8:10 where we met up with Moshe. By 9:00 we had our bags loaded, had checked out of the hotel and were speeding down route 90 making a quick stop at Ahava to get Becky some creams we hope will help with her “swimmer’s” skin and Sammi a mud mask.

We sped on to Genesis Land arriving about five minutes late. Two other families (one from Australia and another from England with seven children) were there for our 10 o’clock appointment, one just arriving a moment before us (we saw them pull in) and a third family (from NY) arrived after us, so not too late by Israeli standards.

Desert
Desert by Abraham's Tent

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December 31, 2009

Camel Drinking Coca Cola

Thought I'd share this from our adventures Wednesday while I'm working on blog entries.

Tuesday - Part II

The girls were tired and Becky felt a bit off about visiting Bethlehem, so they opted to stay in the room while Chris and I went. For us to visit though, was a convoluted, not scary, not nerve-racking but maybe nerve jarring process.
Bethlehem is part of the Palestinian Territory, so our guide cannot go there. Instead, he drove us to one of the checkpoints in the wall separating the Territory from Israel. There, he called someone and a young man came through the checkpoint to get us. I’ve never been to Checkpoint Charlie but thoughts of that wall, and that checkpoint immediately came to mind (except here there were no guard towers with guards with guns, actually, now that I think about it, I didn’t see any solders – except the lone guy in the guard booth checking credentials, nor did I see anyone with guns). He whisked us past the credential checkpoint, down a long ramp and into an area filled with a few vendors (bread, some good looking fruit, and that Middle Eastern sweet I can never remember – Havla?), into his cab. From there he drove us into Bethlehem proper (never realized it was so close to Jerusalem), and parked at the bottom of a wide, set of stairs. We got out of the cab and he told us to climb as a guide was waiting for us at the top.

Again, this was a bit surreal, as now we’re being handed-off a second time, to a guide whom we do not know what he looks like or even his name. We climb though and soon, through the crowds, a man appears and waves to us. We are the people he has been waiting for, he was told seven, and he already had five (a family from California), so now we’re ready to start. I’m sorry I do not remember his name.

Let me back up here to talk about this for a minute. We were visiting the Church of the Nativity. I’d been 23 years ago when it was still under Israeli control and honestly, was not impressed. I found it unkept and manger square a bit cheesy. I warned Chris about this because my memory recalled the poor state of the church being blamed on the constant in-fighting between the Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholic churches as to who got to do what with regard to control of the church. He still wanted to go.

Fast forward to the present. Let me tell you right now, December 29th is not a day you want to visit this church … ever. Here’s why – five days after the Catholic Christmas Eve is when they do an annual cleaning of the church, basically between the Roman Catholic Christmas and the Greek Orthodox Christmas (I think the Armenian one is later in January). Every year, apparently, a fight breaks out between the Greek Orthodox monks and the Armenian monks (so much so, that apparently both groups bring in reinforcements from other monasteries for this day) and on Tuesday, we walked right into the middle of the fray. No kidding, there were bloody monks, police and everything amongst huge crowds of pilgrims and tourists.

Catholic Church
Catholic Church/Sanctuary next to Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

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January 1, 2010

Wednesday - City of David

Wednesday is already a blur. Isn’t that pathetic? I know. But Tuesday night gave me such horrible sleep (Yes that was me on Facebook in the middle of the night) that I along with the rest of the troops were dragging most of the day. I do not know why the jetlag hit us all so hard this trip.

Anyway, we dragged our sorry asses down to breakfast, which again while plentiful, wasn’t anything to write here about, so I won’t. Oh, wait but they did have champagne.

Moshe arrived just before nine and we hit the road for the City of David. We didn’t visit the City on a previous trip, and Moshe mentioned it wasn’t one of his favorite sites but overall we’d give it a thumbs up. I think the site frustrates Moshe because there’s so much yet to be discovered but unable they are unable to access it because it stretches under people’s homes. And though they’ve been offered 10 times the worth of their houses to sell, they won’t.

view from city of david
View Across Valley from City of David

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January 2, 2010

Wednesday – Camel

Moshe and the camel
Moshe and the Camel

After leaving we left the City of David, we drove across the valley to the Mount of Olives. Although we had previously visited the Mount, Moshe promised us a site worth seeing. He wasn’t wrong. Along the way, he popped into a market and procured a litre bottle of Coca Cola. I posted this before but thought I’d share it again for consistency in the timeline Wednesday.

Wednesday - Ammunition Hill, Lunch, Davidson Center

After Mount of Olives, we drove back across the valley, and visited Ammunition Hill. That’s another thing I have to note about this trip, while we’re seeing ancient history, we’re also learning a lot of recent Israeli history too. Ammunition Hill is no exception. During the 1967 war, the Jordanians occupied this hill in the north of Jerusalem – it was their police station. Apparently, it’s always been said that Jerusalem will fall from the north – not necessarily meaning the enemy will be from a northern nation, but from a northerly direction – it’s the least fortifiable area. So this area was highly strategic and many Israeli soldiers died during the battle to take it, and subsequently Jerusalem. I will be honest here, after the night we had, and given the cold, rainy weather we were enduring, I think we were all rubber-necking during the presentation.

Time for lunch. We were on day four in Israel and had yet to have a falafel sandwich, so Moshe took us to “the best” place in Jerusalem. Falafel is like pizza, everyone knows “the best.” Moshe’s place didn’t suck either. And surprisingly, they had really good pizza too (Sammi had that). Oh, and another funny thing has happened in the past few years, all the falafel sandwiches seem to have gone “fat.” What’s that mean, you wonder? Well by Rutgers you have these food carts (referred to as “roach coaches”) and they make a sandwich “fat” by putting French fries on them. And so it is here too, the falafel and shwarma sandwiches all seem to have fries on them.

Re-fortified, it was time to head over to the Davidson Center for our 2:00 appointment (and a much needed bathroom break. You know the axiom when traveling, if you see a bathroom, use it). The Davidson Center sits along the southern end of the temple mount (south of the Kotel), and gives you a glimpse into life during the second Temple period (up through the Roman conquest of Jerusalem), specifically we saw a computer simulation (think Sims City only for ancient times) that focused on what a person did/saw as they went to the second Temple to make a sacrifice. It was pretty cool. But what really solidified it for us was visiting the ruins afterward, and seeing the ruins yet knowing what they looked like some 2000 years ago.

view southern wall
View of the Southern Retaining Wall of the Temple Mount

Robinson's Arch
Robinson’s Arch, Southern end of the Western (aka Wailing) Wall

Wednesday - Church of the Holy Sepulchre & Baba

From the Davidson’s Center, we wound our way through the Arab quarter and market (a rabbit warren of streets filled with stall after stall of tee shirts, jewelry, chess sets, dried fruit, herbs, etc), to the Christian quarter and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Along the way, we noted several of the actual positions of the Stations of the Cross. Within the church itself, are several more stations, including the position where Jesus was crucified, laid down when removed from the cross, and buried.

Mosaic
Mosaic

Now we’d been here before, but Chris wanted to return, so we did. With him, he brought three crosses, one his father owns, one his aunt owns, and one his mom owns (I think all hang above their respective beds). There’s not a blessing per se, but people take their crosses and touch them to the stations and that’s what Chris did (oh, and luckily Moshe knows the man controlling access to burial section so he got Chris in quickly). Chris also prayed in the chapel while we were there.

Oh, I have to say too, that Moshe did a thorough tour of the inside of this church; we were in there for probably an hour. But one of the many cool things we saw was the burial place of the two thieves crucified on either side of Jesus, something that helps to confirm the location of Jesus’s burial.

After leaving the church, and navigating the market again, we emerged outside the walls to the old city and walked back to the van. At this point, we were supposed to visit the Mahane Yehuda market but my group was spent, between the lack of sleep and cold, damp weather, I feared they’d get sick, so we headed back to the hotel instead.

Baba

Chris went to lie down and the girls and I went to hang in the lobby. We spoke to the young man at the front desk about restaurant recommendation and he suggested Baba, in the German Colony, for some Israeli food. He made a reservation for us and after rousing Chris, we headed over there.
It’s not a far walk from our hotel, maybe 15 minutes, but it is cold and misty rain, so we walk quickly (of course we all forgot our umbrellas). The German Colony looks like a young, hip place with lots of restaurants. We find Baba easy enough and are seated right away. It’s nothing fancy but has a decent menu (like twenty different kinds of hummus toppings) and it’s warm, so we’re happy.

We order some hummus with minced lamb for the table (the pita bread is hot, thick and excellent by the way), and Chris and I order the spicy Moroccan sausage, Becky the Baba wings (a cross between sweet and spicy) and Sammi, well, they were out of chicken nuggets, so she just had the garlic flat bread (think garlic naan) and an order of French fries. That and some beer and I’ll have to see if I have the bill somewhere but we had good filling food for not so much money.

Lucky for us, the rain stopped just as we needed to walk back to the hotel. We had Thursday off, so we didn’t arrange any wake up calls to let everyone catch up on their sleep.

Ooh, almost forgot. Wednesday night we had been scheduled to see the light show at the Tower of David (just inside the old city by the Jaffa gate) but the rain made them cancel it. We did not try to reschedule.

January 3, 2010

And on the Fourth Day, They Rested

I know G-d rested on the Sabbath, but we rested on Thursday … sort of. Everyone but me (up at 7:30am) slept in until almost 10:00am. By the time we got out the door and moving it was probably after 11 (yes we missed breakfast but I did manage to snag a cup of coffee in a “to go” cup from the dining room before they shut down).

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View of Old City Toward Jaffa Gate

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Friday

Friday morning we woke on the early side as we had to pack, get breakfast and check out of the hotel. Other than having to wait about 10 minutes while a couple in front of me checked in, check-out went smoothly and we were able to use the one credit card left to our name.

Did I mention that? On Wednesday, I lost my wallet. It had less than 100 shekels ($25) in it but still having to contact the states and cancel credit cards was a pain the ass. Luckily Chris had the one credit card with him, I didn’t bring so we’re able to use that. In the future, we’ll each carry one card and leave some in the safe of the hotel or something. I’ll also leave the cards of the hotel in which I’m staying in the wallet in case someone finds it. Yes, I believe I lost it and it was not pilfered.

Anyway, all went smoothly and Moshe was there with the van, waiting. We loaded up and headed out to the archeological site (Tel Maresha) where we would do “Dig for the Day.” Along the way though, we made a quick pit stop at a gas station/diner where the owner has quite an Elvis Presley fetish.

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Elvis Presley Diner

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January 5, 2010

Saturday

We’re in a routine now. Getting up, heading to breakfast about 8:30 and meeting Moshe in the lobby of the hotel 9:00. Oh wait, though, this is Saturday, so let me backup a bit. We’re staying in the Hilton in Tel Aviv, which is about as American as you can get, including American price gouging (did I mention it costs $22 a day here for wireless Internet per computer – we have three with us, don’t ask and $6.50 a minute for calls to the US? Oh and prices are given in American dollars). Anyway, we stay here because we got two rooms for free for five nights and we get free breakfast and cocktails included with that. So, at 8:30, we meet in the Honors lounge (now on the Mezzanine level because of hotel renovation), have breakfast and then go.

So at 9:00 we piled into the van and were off. We were heading up the coast today, with plans to stop in Haifa at the Bahai Gardens, Akko at the Crusader fort and Caesarea at the ruins of Herod’s Roman city. Of course, all good plans… actually, we stuck to it pretty good except we bagged Akko and decided to stay in the car a bit further and head up to Rosh HaNiqra on the border of Lebanon (don’t worry Mom, everything was fine). Actually, Rosh HaNiqra was on our original plan but when we decided to stay in Tel Aviv rather than have a single overnight in Haifa, we bagged it as being too far a drive but Moshe thought it worthwhile, and I had never been. Since he was willing to drive it, we were willing to ride it.

One thing I want to note about Moshe, well really, he could be an entire entry alone, but one thing, is when we’re in the car, he gives a running commentary of things to see. The history in this area is so prolific (from Jaffa a city that existed 8000 years ago), to the recent (a battle during the 1967 war), there’s really always something to learn or to keep us engaged (well, except for Sammi who sits in the back of the van and has taken to bringing her computer with us and playing Sims because her DS died – they can’t be charged here).

As we were nearing Haifa, about 50 minutes into the ride, we heard from the back, “Are we there yet?” so rather than drive straight up to Rosh HaNiqra and working our way back, we decided to stop in Haifa first to break up the drive and visit the Baha’i Gardens first.

From what I understand (and I’m not taking the time to do some research now) the Baha’i are a relatively new religion, started in Iran (aka Persia) who believe in beauty and something else that escapes me at the moment. Let me tell you, they ain’t kidding. Those gardens are some of the most beautiful, most perfectly manicured, I’ve ever seen.

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Baha'i Gardens

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Sunday

Sunday, Sunday, what did we do on Sunday?

That’s the problem with these trips, days start to blur together. Okay, we know Moshe picked us up at 9:00 because he does so each morning. Ah, first we went to the Ayalon Institute. I was nervous about this as it was an underground bullet factory used by Jews pre-Independence (they had arms but needed ammunition for the upcoming war). I feared the girls would be bored.

About five minutes after we arrived in the small gift shop area, they led us to another building where we saw a movie on the factory and the War for Independence. Have I mentioned that the Israelis are really into the audio-video presentations? Every site we visit there seems to be a movie or computer presentation or something, which actually Sammi enjoys much more than walking through museums.

After the movie (which some late arrivers disturbed – the problem with audio visual presentations), we were led on a tour. Okay – let me tell you a bit of background. Prior to the War for Independence (not ours, Israel’s), the British controlled Palestine and were severely limiting the ability of the Jews from arming themselves for the war everyone knew was coming. That’s why they had secret facilities for building guns, and in this case bullets.
The machines used in this facility were purchased in Poland before WWII and actually sat in a warehouse in Lebanon until after the war when they could finally sneak them into the country. The factory itself was on a working, agricultural kibbutz located right near a British base. It took three weeks, but the Jews dug a hole atop the hill on which the kibbutz rested, lined the hole with cement walls and subdivided it. They then located a secret entrance under the laundry of the kibbutz, and another larger entrance under the oven of the bakery (they only used this latter entrance to get equipment down to the factory). Forty five former members of a Jewish scout group were recruited to run the factory. While they lived on the kibbutz (but pretended to work off-site), they would sneak down into the factory each morning and leave each evening. Two women worked in the laundry and only one knew of the existence of the factory below while the other didn’t. Actually most of the members of the kibbutz did not know about the factory under their feet. The factory workers referred to them as “Giraffe” because they could see what was high up but not what was right under their feet. As time went on though, more and more members did eventually find out about the clandestine and dangerous operation that existed beneath them. Once Israel declared its Independence, the factory was moved above ground to Tel Aviv and the scout members left to form their own agricultural kibbutz a short distance away.

Anyway, after the movie, we were taken down to the actual factory below ground, which was really cool to see after learning about it from the movie. I think the entire visit lasted about an hour.

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Underground Bullet Factory - Ayalon Institute

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January 7, 2010

Schipol, Iple, Glad I'm Home

Okay, we're out of order again, but I just need to write about yesterday's adventure (that's a nice word for it), while it's still fresh in my mind.

We had booked our tickets using Frequent Flier Miles that we have with Continental. As you know (if you've been following along), we had a non-stop flight from Newark to Tel Aviv on Continental on December 26. But for our return flight, we couldn't get a non-stop, and ended up with an eight hour stop over in Amsterdam. Not the best of alternatives, but we were flying First Class and we figured that was enough time to head into the city for lunch and to visit the Anne Frank House (I had purchased tickets ahead of time).

So on Wednesday January 6th at 2:00am Israel time (7:00pm January 5th for those of you on the east coast), we left our hotel in Tel Aviv (after getting about 3.5 hours of sleep), and headed to Ben Gurion airport. Security there was tight but really it seemed pretty much what it had been on our previous trip.

At 4:50am Israel time (9:50pm January 5th EDT), we boarded our KLM flight 462 from Tel Aviv to Amsterdam. But wait, we're supposed to be in first class, we're supposed to have big comfy seats in which we can sleep but there are no big comfy seats I can see. Just normal rows of coach class seats. Yes, first class on this flight would be normal coach seats (with the middle seat free), and a gauze curtain separating row 5 from row 6. This was not what was pictured on the plane map on the KLM site when we chose our seats! Oh well, after getting over my initial disappointment, I settled in for the flight. The service was still first class though, and my three travel companions managed to sleep. I did not, but they brought me this cute, portable entertainment device (there was no entertainment on this five hour flight), on which they had a selection of about a dozen movies. I watched Love Happens (don't waste your time), and, oh shoot, my brain is fried. It was a Bruce Willis movie ... got it Surrogate. Oh, but then they collected the device for landing and I had like five or 10 minutes left so I don't know how it ended!

We landed at Schipol early about 9:15 am Schipol time,10:15am Tel Aviv Time, and for those of you playing our game, 3:15 am January 6th EST. At this point, we'd been traveling 8.25 hours. We headed for the Crown lounge.

A note here, there are signs in Schipol for "lounges." These are not the first class lounges. We think these mean areas within the airport where people can sit and relax - and they're pretty nice (comfy chairs). So we had to follow the signs for airline lounges - it was a ten minute walk.

Another note, as I mentioned, we originally had planned to visit the city but when the crotch bomber attacked (thank you Colleen - love that name), and we heard stories of heightened security, we decided to not go. Of course, when we checked in at the lounge, the attendant there suggested we visit the city during our layover. When we commented on the timing because of security she said, "Oh, no. You could go. Nothing has changed." Huh? We glanced at Sammi though, who assuming we weren't going wore jeans with the hugest holes in them and flip flops on her feet. Not exactly conducive to walking around in 32 degree temps. So we decided to stay at the airport.

We shopped, we ate a bit, we drank, Becky slept in the quiet area of the lounge, we played Rummy cube and at 3:45pm Amsterdam time (4:45pm TA, 9:45am EST), we made our way to the gate for security check and boarding. That's another thing you should know about Schipol. I do not know if you go through security when you arrive at the airport (i.e., after check in but before boarding as in the US), but I do know at the very least, you go through security as part of your boarding procedure.

Of course, though we were there when they told us to be there, at 4:00pm, they did not start security until 4:25pm.

We were the first to go through, and let me tell you, I got more action from that security guard then I've seen from Chris lately. I don't think there was a spot on my body that she didn't touch. They also searched my bag. We limited ourselves to only one carry on (checking two bags each) and there were signs saying, only one carry-on would be allowed, but we did notice a handful of people with two - so not sure what is up with that.

After the four of us made it through security, we sat in another area (think bullpen) that's closed off from the rest of the airport and waited to board the plane. The girls and I watched the security and it seemed every single person was patted down and/or wanded and every bag was hand-searched.

At about 5:10pm Amseterdam time (6:10pm Tel Aviv, 11:10am EST), we boarded. At this point, we'd been traveling for about 15 hours.

Then we waited, and waited, and waited. Oh, I should tell you it started to snow about 3:45pm. On the plane, at about 6:00pm (we were scheduled to take off at 5:45pm), the cabin announced that the airport was closing for 3.5 hours because of the snow. There was, maybe, at most, two inches on the ground. Apparently the Netherlands do not get much snow, nor do they know what to do with it when they get it (this from the Dutch gentlemen behind us).

You have no idea how upset I was, but as the cockpit said, "It's okay though because it gives us time to finish boarding the plane!" Huh!!! We were supposed to take off at 5:45 and there were people still in security at 6:15pm.

At 7:00pm (1:00pm, EST), they announced that the airport had managed to open a runway and as we had just finished boarding (7:00pm!!!!!), we were going to push back from the gate and get de-iced and get in-line for take off but this could take a while, because so many planes were waiting to take off and land.

It went quick though, and we were hopeful (apparently they padded the flight times by 90 minutes, so there was still a chance we could get in close to on time). At 7:30pm, the snow had stopped, we were getting de-iced and things look good. Until...

We moved over to the line for the runway, and sat there. And sat, and other planes passed us by, and we sat some more.

At 8:00pm (2:00pm EST), the cockpit got on to tell us our Flight Navigation Computer had failed, and they needed to replace the computer and reload the software and that it would take an hour and we had to return to the terminal.

Oh, one plus to KLM (and only one), did I mention that they at least turned on the Entertainment System? So at least we had watched UP (again) while we were waiting. I think Beck can quote the entire movie.

At 8:15pm (2:15pm EST) the computer was fixed and the software was loading but uh oh....

Because of our delay, one of our pilots was going to go over his shift time and we needed to get a new one, but he was on his way. Chris thinks this was a lie. He thinks because of the problems with the navigation computer, they needed to get a navigator on the plane. I think, that at 6:00, when they told us the airport would be closed for 3.5 hours, they knew the pilot was going to be over his shift time, so why didn't the summon a new pilot then? Either way, things got squirrelly. He was at the airport and should be on the plane shortly.

At 9:00pm they told us he just arrived at the airport, and should be on the plane in 10 - 15 minutes.

At 9:25pm they told us he was on his way to the airport but because of the snow (stopped now for 2.5 hours), there was a lot of traffic and he had just arrived at the airport. Huh? How many times does it take a KLM pilot to arrive at the airport?

At 9:55pm (3:55pm EST), the pilot arrived and about 10:15pm, over five hours since we'd boarded the plane, 4.5 hours since we were supposed to depart, 21 hours into our travel day, we departed Amsterdam.

The flight was uneventful, luckily, from that point on. And at 11:15pm EST (6:15am Tel Aviv Time), 26 hours after we left our hotel, we landed at JFK. It took about 10 minutes to get off the plane, It took us about 10 minutes to get through immigration and another 10 - 15 minutes to get our luggage and get through Customs (there was actually a line) and about midnight, we piled into the van sent to pick us up.

At 1:15am EST (8:15am Tel Aviv time), on January 7th, after over 30 hours of travel, we walked into our home, to one happy dog, who proceeded to lick all of us and piddle on the floor.

It's good to be home.

January 13, 2010

Monday, Again

Mood
Type of Day

I think this picture of me, perfectly sums up our last “touring” day, unfortunately. I should have known when Beck snuck into the breakfast room ahead of Sammi, rolling her eyes, and whispering, “She’s in a mood” that today would not be a good day. But Sammi had woken in snits before and had managed to pull it out in time for our touring to start, so I had hopes; I was wrong.

Our day started with a visit to a Druze village atop Mount Carmel. We made the mistake though of taking some slower, back roads to our destination, which only dragged out the time we were in the van and accentuated Sammi’s foul mood. So bad, that even the prospect of shopping didn’t relieve her doldrums. Oh well, Becky and I got into it, purchasing two pashmina (one for each of us), and some Druze glass plates for us and friends, and a few other chotchkeys.

Druze Fabric
Druze Fabric

After strolling through the town, checking out most of the stores, it was time for lunch, some falafel and fries at a local establishment within the town filled us nicely before we piled in the van and headed for another non-Sammi friendly destination, Tishbi Estate Wineries. Ah, let’s face it, by this point in the trip, Sammi was just toured out, and no promise of hanging on the beach or walking around Tel Aviv (sans van) our last day, could convince her to cut us all a break.

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February 1, 2010

Tuesday Again

Lest you think we ended our trip on a sour note, don’t fret (well, actually we did, but you can read about that here), we still had one more free day in Tel Aviv to spend time together.

Originally, when Sammi talked about this trip, she requested four things, hiking to waterfalls (we missed this), the Dead Sea, climbing the snake path of Masada and shopping. So Tuesday was our last opportunity to do some shopping, and trust me, Tel Aviv accommodates.

We didn’t want a late start like we had on our free day in Jerusalem, so everyone made sure I got them up and we were out of the hotel by 9:15. We took a cab over to the Carmel market. On Tuesdays and Fridays, on the street next to the Carmel market is also the Nachalat Benyamin Art & Craft Fair. We had visited it on Friday but Sammi wanted to return to get more gifts for her friends. When we arrived though, the crafters were just setting up, so we dove into the Carmel market (food and house wares), instead, which was much less crowded and therefore much more enjoyable, than Friday.

Candy Assortment at Carmel Market
Candy Assortment at Carmel Market

Pomegranate Juicer
Pomegranate Juicer

Continue reading "Tuesday Again" »

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