Impressions of Israel (5 December 2009)

This morning (5 December 2009) I flew out of Nuremberg at 6:55 headed to Tel Aviv (via Munich). I wasn’t sure what to expect upon arrival in Israel. The first view outside of the airplane windows (looking down at Tel Aviv and the beaches there), I was struck by the similarities that Tel Aviv shared with many European cities I have visited: it looks like it was built in the 50s and 60s. While there are some more modern looking structures, for the most part, the looked to be about 50 years old. Conspicuous was also the ubiquity of the white buildings. This reminded me of another Mediterranean culture I have visited: Sevilla. As we approached, a bit of turbulence rocked the plane, but without incident we landed and slowly exited the plane (I was in the second to last row, so it took a while to get out).

The experience at security most likely would have overwhelmed the faint of heart – not because of the depth of the security, but rather just because of the amazing mixture of people travelling here. I ended up in the midst of two very large groups: one group had just arrived from South Africa and were apparently here for a council about child abuse, while the second (and many times larger) group consisted of Nigerian pilgrims. These Christian pilgrims wore bright lime (almost neon) green fabric with messages about Christ’s eternal mastery over the universe and a portrait of a decidedly European looking Jesus. I wonder if I will encounter them again in the coming days.

At any rate, my flight arrived at 14:10 (5 minutes late). Security/immigration/customs kept me in line until about 14:55. At this point I was finally able to get to my suitcase, which had been waiting from me and had been removed from the conveyor belt before I got there. The next step was to figure out how to book passage to Jerusalem. As it was Sabbath until sundown, neither the Israeli trains nor buses were operating. That meant I would have to rely on a taxi for the almost 1 hour drive, or ride with a special kind of taxi that they call a sherut here. Basically, this is a shuttle bus that takes 10 people to a more or less common objective. For Jerusalem, there is always interest. I booked passage and prepared for the journey. As I was waiting, the woman who sat next to me on the flight from Munich got in with some colleagues. She was Canadian. There was also a Swiss couple, another American, two Palestinians, and three Germans, making it a suitably international group. The driver was obviously an Israeli (he had his military uniform hanging in the van), but apparently was not a practicing Jew, meaning that he had no qualms about working on the Sabbath.

The ride was uneventful in the extreme. I don’t mean to make it sound like it was necessarily boring, but there was very little traffic and not a lot going on. I wonder if that is only because it was Sabbath, or if so few people here drive. My only other experience in a middle eastern country contrasted most definitely; in Turkey cars and pedestrians covered the totality of the surface of Istanbul. I had expected the same here. We’ll have to see what the next few days bring. The landscapes were amazing, though the tectonic activity implied by some of the hill structures I saw makes one a little uncomfortable.

All of the sudden we were in Jerusalem. There wasn’t a lot of warning. All the sudden, we turned a corner and there were Hasidic Jews walking around and enjoying their day of rest. Otherwise there wasn’t much activity to be found. After I made it to the hotel, my first order of business (as a fat person) was to look for something to eat. There are a few restaurants near here, but a few of them were closed due to the Sabbath. The only place that really seemed to speak to me and remain open was a little vegetarian pizzeria. I ordered a veggie calzone and brought it back to the hotel for a cozy evening.

After eating, I started to try to find any way to contact Anja and let her know that I had made it. My cell phone wasn’t working for some reason (I have since gotten it up and running) and the internet costs more at the hotel than I’m really willing to pay for it right now (which also implies that this post will be uploaded ex post facto). After several tries, we were finally able to talk on the phone.

Things have turned out to be more expensive here than I had anticipated, which isn’t great, but I’ll be able to deal with eat. At least (unlike London) I will be getting breakfast for free in the hotel. I am about to crash now though, as I am utterly exhausted from the last few short nights I’ve had. Tomorrow will be my first real foray into the city of Jerusalem. Mostly I will be in the Israel Museum, working on the Tel Dan Inscription. This will be my preparatory work for the examination that I have scheduled for Tuesday morning. Monday I will be taking a tour of Jerusalem followed by a trip to and a dip in the Dead Sea. The other days I still have free, though I hope to be able to get into the Wailing Wall Tunnels. I still have to find out if they will confirm my appointment or not.

Jerusalem, in terms of buildings and appearance, reminded me of Istanbul, only with the aforementioned lack of populace. The buildings are all of a somewhat monotone stone (sandstone, I believe). This is just a result of the material they had available I take it. More details and descriptions will have to follow.

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1 Comment

  1. Michael

     /  16/03/2010

    I finally have the time to read this…Good stuff Jonathan!


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