Tel Aviv, Then Cali

Our layover in Tel Aviv is about seven hours, so we decide to enter into the city for a walk and some dinner before continuing on to Los Angeles.  We find a great spot called the Social Club where we split several appetizers and enjoy a couple cocktails.  Upon returning to Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Airport, we again get asked the usual questions including the purpose of our visit to Israel, if we have family living in Israel, what synagogue we belong to, if we speak Hebrew, and all the questions about our bags being in our possession since we packed them.

The quick fifteen-hour flight home involves a little more stretching than I had hoped.  I sit on the aisle next to two very friendly Jewish grandparents.  Before we even took off, I see pictures of all their grandchildren and learned what everyone was up to and where they were all living.  The one trait many grandparents share that concerns me is their relatively small bladders, and this fear was realized as I get up over at least a dozen times to let them reach the bathroom.  But alas, I am able to get some sleep on the plane and the fifteen hours don’t last as long as they could have.

I am now sad that the trip has come to an end, but I am also happy that I had this chance to spend time with my dad while exploring a new part of the world.

Jordan Border Crossing, Part II

We enter back into Israel between Aqaba and Eilat, right on this corner of the Red Sea that brings together Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia.  Our car is not allowed to cross and thus we do it by foot.  After several passport checks, a couple more security scans, and a lot of questioning, we are allowed to reenter Israel and make our way to Eilat beach front resort.

Along with being a busy port, Eilat happens to be a very popular resort town on the Gulf of Aqaba.  With its attractions, giant IMAX pyramid, and enormous hotels, the only thing the city lacks to make it Israel’s Vegas is gambling.  The view from our hotel room is incredible as we look over several countries just by looking across the Gulf.

While in Eilat, my Dad and I have a fun dinner at Eddie’s Hideaway, and then continue on to check out some of the night life at Paddy’s and later at the Three Monkeys.  Eilat is a city that attracts lots of tourists, but mainly Israeli tourists; thus, although there was a tourist vibe as we walked around the city, the tourist vibe did not detract at all from the Israeli vibe.  The following day, we visit the Aquarium, one of the better-known attractions, before having one last snack and heading to the airport to take us to Tel Aviv and eventually back to Los Angeles.

No Crowds

It is always nice to travel when there are fewer tourists and shorter lines; however, the circumstances that lead to this trip’s smaller crowds are not happy ones for Israel and the Middle East.  In the second half of last month, well over 1000 Palestinian rockets were fired at Israel.  Specifically, both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv were targeted for the first time since the first Gulf War.  In addition, there was a bus bombing near the end of November in Tel Aviv injuring 28 Israeli civilians.

In Jordan, many tourists were probably dissuaded because of the recent clashes over the rise in fuel prices.  Also just last month, people in Amman were calling out for an end to the regime.  Confrontations between protestors and police had led to at least two deaths.

Because of this turmoil, this trip was a game time decision, but because things seemed to have settled down enough in the last month, my Dad and I decided that we would continue forward with our travel plans, and so far, we couldn’t have been happier that we did.  Also, both countries have felt incredibly safe even though we’ve seen our fair share of semi-automatic weapons strapped to the back of soldiers walking the streets.

Hopefully one day, peace in the Middle East will be a reality.  These are beautiful countries filled with lots of stories and so much to see and learn.

King’s Highway

Leading from Egypt to Damascus and referenced a couple times in the Bible, the King’s Highway has been traveled at least a couple times over human history.  It served not only as an important passageway, but also as a critical trade route and later as a Christian pilgrimage route.

Today, as we make our way from Amman to Petra, making many stops along the way.  We venture to the top of Mount Nebo, the spot where Moses was allowed to see the Holy Land, but not allowed to enter.  We explore Madaba, the “City of Mosaics” and its very accurate mosaic map of ancient Palestine on the bottom of St. George’s Church.  My dad and I, as to not disappoint, spend a while so that we could memorize this map.  And near the end of the day of driving, we run around the Crusader of Castle of Kerak with its underground galleries, rooms and secret passageways.

View of Israel from Mount Nebo:

In the evening, we arrive at Petra, probably the most famous destination in Jordan excited to spend the next whole day in this ancient Nabataean city.


Jordan Border Crossing

It takes three cars, six gates, a couple bag searches, a pair of new visas, and a little patience, but we eventually make it through the Allenby Bridge – King Hussein Border crossing and enter into Jordan.  This border, which connects the West Bank and Jordan is the only designated entry and exit point for Palestinians.  Also, Israeli citizens are not allowed to use this terminal, but tourists in possession of an advance visa can enter.  My dad and I fall into this last category, and because we all may have some obsessive compulsive tendencies, I have a copy of both of our visas, my dad has a copy of both of our visas, and the driver that picked us up in the morning even has a third copy of both of our visas.  I think we were pretty well covered.

Next Year in Jerusalem

Every year at the end of the Passover Seder, we finish with the words “next year in Jerusalem,” and today, here I am in one of the most sacred places in the world.  And not only one of the most sacred, but it is also one of the most historic.  Jerusalem is a city that has been destroyed and rebuilt a dozen times, and thus it is a city that wherever someone digs, there are layers and layers of history to be uncovered.  That also means that when a project such as a new light rail gets underway, the project will take much longer than expected because creating the foundation for the rail requires digging, digging inevitably turns to excavating, and each new archeological site slows down the light rail’s progress.  I believe that the new Jerusalem light rail was supposed to take 10 years complete and wasn’t completed until 20 years had passed.

As a tourist, coming to a city that has layer upon layer of history means that there is so much to see, and if that tourist happens to be traveling with my dad, than he shall try to attempt to see as much as possible within a day.  Soon after we get picked up from the hotel by our guide Moti (short for Mordachi), my dad begins sharing his list of everything that we would like to do and see during our day together.  The guide immediately questions if this is going to be a one-day or a one-week tour.  My dad laughs and says, “one-day”.  The amazing part is that except for the sites that were closed because it was Shabbat, we made it through most of the list.  We saw the City of David, including walking through its underground water tunnels and sewers.  We walked through the Christian quarter on the Villa Dolorosa, and ended up where Christ is believed to have been crucified.  We explored the Muslim quarter, and stopped for falafel, hummus, pita and a Coca-Cola.  We put small messages into the cracks of the Wailing Wall and watched as people danced and sang as they welcomed the Sabbath.  We noted gates a plenty, each with their own historical or biblical significance.  And we partook in a very real, hands-on history lesson from Moti. I believe the purpose of religion is to build community, provide support, and bring families together, and there is a lot of Jerusalem that achieves this; however, the segregation amongst communities is equally present.  Each religion has its own quarter in the city whether that be the Muslim quarter, Christian quarter, Jewish quarter, and so forth.  In addition, when it comes time to pray and announce one’s presence, there seems to a battle for airwaves between the Jewish chanting, the Christian bells, and the Muslim calls to prayer.

Jerusalem is a very complicated place built on thousands of years of history.  Trying to cover all of it in a day is impossible, but in this one single day that left me exhausted and a bit cold from the rain, the grandeur and the importance of the city to so many people past and present becomes clear.

Father-Son Trip

Just finished my last first semester of grad school, and I’m off to make the most of winter break.  The break begins on a trip with my dad in Israel and Jordan.  After a long flight over the Atlantic and through the Mediterranean, I arrive at Tel Aviv International Airport at sunrise, figure out which train I am supposed to take and eventually wind myself through Tel Aviv before arriving at the David Intercontinental hotel at 8am.  I shower, my dad and I breakfast, and then it’s off to Jerusalem.

At the moment, my jetlag hasn’t caught up to me, but something of this whole situation reminds me (or at least reminds of the often told story) of when the five Steins were traveling in France and were not even allowed a cooling sip of water because that might delay the schedule.  I am not afraid of dehydration, but I am concerned that I might be pushing myself to still be placing one foot ahead of the other by mid-afternoon depending on where this day takes us.

Alas, I am excited to be in Israel, not worried about the overcast, slightly drizzly day, and am prepared for day one of my adventure with dad.