Sunday, 17 May 2015

Discovering Israel

Tel Aviv Yafo
Not even set foot in the plane yet, and our favourite traveller already experiences Israeli security. When flying with Elal, the Israeli Airlines company, you will have an enhanced security check from anywhere you will be leaving. In Israeli airports, this security is streamlined into the global check-in and passport check process. They will ask you many questions about your trip, your contacts, your travel companions and other things. They might ask personal questions and may want to see proof of conversation with your local contacts. They will hand search every piece of luggage you will bring and make sure you are the only person who has touched your bags before coming to the airport. This is both ways.

Upon arrival, I expected to be questioned further, but I just had one question from the passport check, and then I was out. In about 20 minutes from setting foot outside of the aircraft I cleared passport control and got my luggage. I was there. In Israel. With American soldiers (there was a US Air Force aircraft on the tarmac).

Security Check at Chain Gate, Jerusalem
If they can, they will give you tickets to scan. For example to get out of the passport control, they give you one, for the train, another one, etc. Well actually, that's the only one's I got.

We rented a really nice place on AirBnB for our stay in Tel Aviv. As I was the first of the group, I acted as an explorer. From the train station I walked about 20 minutes to the place, found the key and let myself into my temporary home in Tel Aviv Yafo.

Mosque, Jerusalem
I need to make a quick break in my story before going on. I need to set the background. I met Shalini in Cape Town in 2010 and I met Danna on a tour in Namibia in the same year. Same trip for me. So Shalini thought it might be a good idea to visit a sunny place instead of me going for a week-end to Antwerp, where she lives. A French guy called Lucas also joined us. He's a very nice fellow and easy to accomodate, except for his craving for food. Danna is living a bit outside of Tel Aviv. Her family also lives somewhere close.

Mosque, Jerusalem
So that first evening, instead of staying at the place, I went for a walk. I decided to go towards the sea to look how the Mediterranean looks from this side. I ended up in a terrace bar, the Container, where I drank my first local beers and some shots of Arak (anised liquor). The bartender told me that was for my first day in Israel. Later we moved, and still later Shalini and Lucas joined us. A while later I got a message from Danna's brother who was going to join us, and still another while later he joined us with his boss, and yet another while later, Danna finally joined us too. We had a good start into the holidays. It's been five years since I had seen these two fine ladies.

Some quick facts:

  • There are a lot of kebab/falafel shops;
  • Shopkeepers are mostly a tad gruff and unwelcoming;
  • General population seems quite welcoming and friendly;
  • There are a lot of tensions between Jews and Muslims, but that you already know.
Mosque, Jerusalem
In seven days we managed to see some of Tel Aviv and Old Jaffa, Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. During the two latter, we met Laura (Fucking Waller) the American on a pilgrimage to Israel. We took her along to the Dead Sea, and she also joined us in Tel Aviv for a couple of days. She's also a very fine lady. We also met Naima, a muslim girl from the UK who was doing a spiritual journey in Jerusalem. She only dared to go walking outside the hostel located next to a gate to the mosque for buying food. Otherwise she would either stay in or go to the mosque. 

Police are guarding the entrances of both synagogues and mosques. As our hostel was in a dead end street (except for the gate to the mosque), the police would always tell us the mosque is closed when we got back from visiting something else. Until we managed to tell them we're going to the hostel.

Floating in the Dead Sea
The Dead Sea was a pretty intense experience. First of all, you drive out into the Negev desert which is really dry. The vegetation between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is Mediterranean and looks like Southern France. But there, it was yellow-brown dryness. We passed the sea level mark and went further down. The Dead Sea lies at 429m below sea level. We floated in the sea without effort. It was quite funny. Afterwards we also experienced the mud.