Sunday, January 01, 2006

More on Israel

It’s New Year’s Day, 2006. There’s a lot of topics I could write about, but it’s high time I write about our – my wife Lucia, our six-year-old son Eldar and myself - recent visit to Israel, 12-22 December while it’s still reasonably fresh in my mind. My approach will be a day-to-day rundown.

12 December: Our introduction to Israel began at the Budapest airport where we arrived three hours before takeoff, as per instructions from the travel agent. There we met a large group of travelers, Hebrew, Hungarian and Russian speakers among them, and an Israeli security detail: armed guards dressed in black and friendly young people who moved among the queue interviewing travelers about who they were, the nature of their trip, where they’ve been and about their luggage. I was asked questions by a young pony-tailed man who said that he had – like Lucia and I - practiced Vipassana meditation. When he asked if anyone else had handled my bag, I had to tell him that it had been borrowed from a friend and that I’d picked it up from his office and that it had been handled by the receptionist and possibly others. Hence I had to follow him to a back room reserved for El Al Airlines where I had to empty the large rucksack and watch it get taken into another room. Some minutes later it was brought back to me, thoroughly disassembled. The man who actually took the bag apart was not visible and the friendly young man hadn’t been watching closely, but did his best to help me put it back together just the same. The tough part was figuring out which direction to insert the metal slats which comprised the pack’s backbone. When it seemed the pack was back together, he rushed off, back to the group of travelers. I then tried to lift the pack by its straps only to find that it had not been put back together correctly, that the straps themselves had to be looped through the support slats and I had to take it apart again, all this before repacking it. Mind you, it’s still pretty early in the morning and I’m a bit jittery about time considerations. Fortunately, a Russian woman was also in the room and had been watching me and had some helpful pointers about how to put the bag.

Finally I got back to Lucia and Eldar and was a bit miffed, not about the whole security thing – I felt that was necessary and was grateful for it – but for the lack of consideration by the guy who took my bag apart and by the lack of effective policy on the part of the airline to promote and impose such consideration.

Once on the flight we were further turned off when we found that what we had been led to believe on the phone was a dairy/vegetarian meal had an omelet for the main course; egg being something we don’t normally eat and wouldn’t consider being a “dairy” product. But fine, I thought, remembering that at Kosher “dairy” diners in New York eggs are served. So dairy means something different to Israelis. We’d order strict vegetarian for the trip back.

We arrived in Tel Aviv and moved fairly smoothly through customs and passport control. The airport was spacious, modern and attractively laid-out with a lot of comfortable seating. Complete with indoor palm trees. We moved fairly smoothly through customs and passport control.

No one to meet us except a taxi driver. Not exactly a friendly guy, but he kept coming down in price the more we insisted on taking the bus. Eventually he drove us all the way to Bethlehem in Galilee for around EUR 40, which we were told was and an exceptionally good price.


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