After spending a couple of hours in no-mans land between Jordan and Israel, we arrived in Israel and made our way by bus to Jerusalem on Friday morning.
I pictured Jerusalem to be this city that was so full of magic and history that it would be like stepping back in time. My first impression was that it was quite modern and clean but then I thought to myself “it won’t be like this in the old city”. After arriving at our hotel we thought we should go change our money and get some food. We were told we should go “quickly as it’s Sabbath and everything will be closed soon”. I thought this would be one of those times when ‘everything’ actually just means the shopping centres and restaurants, cafes and supermarkets would still be opened. Turns out that isn’t the case in Jerusalem. They take the Sabbath very seriously and before we knew it everything around us was closed and I still hadn’t had lunch. Mark had eaten a kabab but after weeks in Turkey and then Jordan I just couldn’t stomach more BBQ meat. On the way back to our hotel we stopped by a supermarket that remains open during Sabbath and bought some food thinking we would go out and eat dinner later at one of the few restaurants that don’t close. I don’t know what happened but we laid down while we waited for a movie to download and BAM! 4 hours later I woke up to a half downloaded movie and a rumbling stomach. Mark woke up shortly after me and being half asleep suggested that we eat the 2 minute noodles we bought as a snack for dinner. I quickly agreed and while waiting for the water to boil, I reflected on how quickly our circumstances can change on the road. One minute we are tanning by the pool at our resort on the Dead Sea and the next minute we are eating 2 minute noodles for dinner in a hotel in Jerusalem during Sabbath.
“The Sabbath is commanded by God. Every week religious Jews observe theSabbath, the Jewish holy day, and keep its laws and customs. The Sabbath begins at nightfall on Friday and lasts until nightfall on Saturday.” – Wikipedia.
The Old Town in Jerusalem still opens on Saturday’s so we wandered down there the on Saturday morning and it was here that I expected to see an old city swathed in history and religion. I saw more of a restored city filled with cheap market stalls and tour groups. Our whole experience in the Old Town was completely underwhelming. Nothing seemed sacred and the large masses of people pushing everyone else out of their way just ruined any sacred atmosphere that may have been present. We left after a few hours of walking around really disappointed in what had become of one of the most sacred places in the world for Jews, Christians and Muslims alike.
One good thing that did come from our day in the Old Town was that while we were out our movie finally finished downloading so we watched that after yet another dinner of 2 minute noodles. It was a really interesting movie and would highly recommend it to those who don’t mind reading subtitles in a film. It’s called Dheepan and is about a soldier leaving Sri Lanka for France with a random woman and child to try to start a new life there.
After a rather underwhelming time in Jerusalem we were hoping Tel Aviv would cheer us up – after all it’s right by the beach! Getting to our hostel there was a fairly simple experience with just a bus and taxi from Jerusalem. Once inside the hostel we met a few of the workers there and a whole bunch of volunteers. At first I thought they were volunteering in Israel and were just staying at the hostel for a few days but I quickly learnt I was wrong. They were volunteers at the hostel, which meant they worked there and in return got a free bed. After a couple of hours observing these ‘volunteers’ I realised that they didn’t actually do much work and I could quite easily assume that the cleanliness of the bathrooms were thanks to them. I’ve never seen so much grime and soap scum on a set of taps before in my life – they really needed to invest in some Jiff or maybe methylated spirits would help. You must be thinking “ohh but Bianca why would you shower somewhere that was so dirty, that’s just gross”. Well my loyal readers, please don’t judge me when I tell you this but I did not shower there for the 2 days that we stayed and I still felt I was better off than simply being in those bathrooms, let alone showering in them. Hostels are very interesting places. I’ve stayed in a couple of good ones before but generally they really push me to my limits. I just can’t find it in myself to be interested in everyone’s story on how they “are trying to find themselves”.
We spent as much time as we could away from the hostel and walked around Tel Aviv and spent time at the beach. It was too cold and windy to be in the water but it was nice to be outside catching the sun at times when the clouds weren’t too strong. After 2 days we were leaving the hostel to spend a day/night at a really nice hotel. The first thing I did when I got there was shower, then second thing was to go spend the entire day by the pool. It was a really nice way to end our time in Israel especially because our last day was also Memorial Day and at 8pm a loud siren went off for 1 minute to remind everyone to stop and remember all of those who had lost their lives for Israel.
Before arriving in Israel we had been told that we would get questioned crossing the border and the process could take hours. This didn’t happen to us on the way in as we had been told but it did happen on the way out. The process to leave Israel was so ridiculous that by the end we really couldn’t see the benefit of it whatsoever. Firstly, when we arrived at the airport and walked over to our check in desk there was a line and security a few meters in front. After waiting in this line for over half an hour we get to security where they advise us they need to ask us a few questions. Obviously we said “sure, no worries”. I’ll add a few of the questions we got asked by one security team officer and then again by a superior officer.
Q: “Where are you going?”
A: “Athens and then onto Madrid”
Q: “How long are you in Athens for?”
A: “We aren’t staying there, it’s for transit”
Q: “How long are you in Spain for?”
A: “ummm 8 days.” Neither of us could remember at this stage so I didn’t take time to pretend to count the days on my hand.
Q: “When do you go back to Australia?”
A: “Not sure, we are travelling for 12 months”
Q: “How do you know each other?” I was a bit shocked at this question
A: “He’s my boyfriend”
Q: “How long have you been dating for?” Now at this question I simply wanted to walk straight onto the plane and leave Israel and all of it’s ridiculous security questions behind but I thought to leave I would need to answer
A: “6 and a half years”
This was the end of the questioning by the first officer. He then took our passports and gave them to his superior who held onto them while she questioned the man next to us.
While we waited I tried to listen in to what she was asking him so I could be prepared for when she was ready to speak to us. In the end she asked us pretty much the same questions we had already been asked along with questions on where we had been prior and what we did in Israel. I’m glad we weren’t the man next to us though. He was asked what time he got to the airport and what he had been doing in the 45 minutes since he arrived. He had to calmly tell her that he had been waiting in line to be questioned. The look on her face gave the impression that she didn’t even believe him.
I was simply dumbfounded by the entire process on leaving Israel. We learnt quite a bit while in Israel though but I’m glad we are no longer there and made it to Spain. Bring on Europe!