[Tour of Israel: Day 0] All The Airports!

PRELUDE: I left Chicago for Rome on an Alitalia flight on Sunday at about 16:00, Central time. The journal picks up from when I woke up after an extended nap on the flight toward Rome.

Monday, June 5, 2017 (יום שני. 11 סיון)

I didn’t sleep well on the Italy-bound plane. The neck pillow that Dina gave to me wasn’t particularly comfy. Nevertheless, I still managed to sleep about 4 hours. The watch read that 6+ hours had elapsed when I got up to use the lavatory, and I fell asleep yesterday after 2 hours had elapsed (i.e. right after midnight Italy time). My Algerian seatmate also went to the lavatory after me, and I could see morning light from the window.

Nevertheless, I managed to sleep for another hour, and after I got up, I got a pastry with chocolate and black tea and orange juice. We were less than 800 kilometers from Rome at that point, but it got a little bit turbulent. We chatted about the land forms and measurement systems. Skipping past more details, the plane landed after 8 hours and 42 minutes in flight.

The landing was smooth, and I got to exit first despite being in the last row… ramps from all left-side exits were rolled out, and so I got to take the rear exit, taking the ramp down to the tarmac! Then, I boarded a shuttle in order to ride to the terminal. I wonder if this is common at other international airports, rather than getting off the plane directly to the terminal? Once we got inside the terminal, chrome walls led to stairs and an escalator, and I opted for the former.

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I proceeded to Concourse E through a few more halls. My gate was not assigned yet! The time was 08:05, and the monitor claimed that the gate would be assigned at 08:15. After waiting the 10 minutes, the gate was E-18, which must be שער-חי (the Gate of Life)!  I then activated WiFi, which was free in this airport, and checked in on Facebook and also checked my e-mail. After using the loo, I sat on a comfy red couch and waited for boarding. There was a log jam at the jetway, but I still easily got to Seat 29D for my Alitalia plane going to Tel Aviv.

The plane was full of hispanohablantes! They were on an Italy/Holy Land pilgrimage. Before we took off, my journal got updated, and I am now at THIS word! While in flight, I plan to daven שחרית (the Jewish morning prayers), though I might have to make the שמונה עשרה (Shmoneh Esrei/Amidah: the Standing Prayer) into the ישיבה (Sitting Prayer)!

But 18 minutes (there’s that number again!) after push-off, we were still waiting on the tarmac! While I waited patiently, I noticed some mantra being chanted by several nearby passengers, involving Santa Maria and Jesus. Maybe I should have written this paragraph earlier, though: as soon as I wrote this line, we got clearance and we were then off! I waited a few minutes after take-off before I took out my סדור, תפילין, ותליט (prayer book, phylacteries, and prayer shawl).

And I did daven, by muttering and singing the liturgy softly. As I expected, I was unable to stand when it was time for שמונה עשרה, but when praying in an improvised situation, these situations still happen. It is more than what I do on most mornings anyway. The davening was still meaningful anyway. I wonder if the hotel will have a daily מניין (minyan: quorum of 10 Jewish adults needed for public prayer)?

As I finished davening, food appeared–a yogurt, apple muffin, fruit salad, and a sandwich with non-pork meat. I ate everything but the sandwich, and also had Coke and tea. As the 1-hour-and-25-minute mark passed, we were alerted to being in Greek airspace, but were not required to sit down. My aisle seat gave me no chance to see the scenery, unfortunately. אלה חיים (C’est la vie).

A few minutes later, my two seatmates got into the long loo queue and invited me to briefly look at the window and see the islands in view. It was a pretty sight indeed. Afterwards, I read a few chapters of Alienora’s Long Leggety Beasties, reading about teachers’ escapades and the Bottom Set. I had to go to the lavatory, but the Security Restriction on Standing near Israeli airspace was invoked, leading to an uncomfortable endgame of this flight, and sufficiently distracting me from reading. The emotions were probably a contributing factor to my distraction too!

Once the plane docked after 2 hours and 52 minutes, and a brief taxiing period, I made a beeline for the rear lavatory. This made me lose my spot in line, but I had no time limit. Just like the last time that I was in Israel 6 years ago, the deplaning led to an escalator, which I ascended to find a ברוכים הבאים לישראל (Welcome To Israel) mural on the elevator wall. I took an awkward selfie with it. Exiting to the hallway above the gates and the duty-free mall, I continued down the long ramp that led toward the passport control. The time was 14:22 in Israel as I passed the clock that represented the intersection of the inbound and outbound ramps.

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And then, I was directed to Queue 25, which just may have been the SLOWEST LINE IN EXISTENCE! The good news: after this long wait, there was no wait for my bags once I found מסעו (Belt) 8. Before going through the customs line which just let me pass the “Nothing to Declare,” I took a selfie at Smile Tourist Services, just like 6 years ago (well, back then it wasn’t a selfie, but taken for me by one of my fellow travellers). I noticed, as I saw the “Exit” sign and the large sliding doors, that the clock read 15:02. Not bad timing!

Going through the circle to the reception area, there were lots of onlookers on the perimeter of the barrier. I walked around looking at signs, intentionally avoiding KAKAO to gain more steps. Then, near KAKAO, I met שרון ודקל (Sharon and Dekel), who were the trip organizers from Kenes Tours (but not the guides). We chatted, and I checked in to Israel on social media. This trip may be much different from six years ago, since I will have access to social media unlike last time. How will that make my experience different, or will it?

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The time dragged on, and I decided to save money and just wait (my other option would have been to take a NESHER shuttle to the hotel). Near the seating area, I got a potato boureka at La Farina while waiting. I also saw several תגלית (Birthright Israel) groups starting with awkward אחים שמחה (Happy Brethren/Achim Simcha) circles. That gives me some good memories of six years ago! It was quiet at other points of the afternoon, which I guess was a good respite for a long day.

After taking a bathroom break, I chose to daven מנחה (the afternoon service/Mincha), since I had nothing else to do now. After I davened, I learnt that there was a synagogue on the upper level, but had trouble finding it, until someone asked me, “?אתה מחפס משהו” (Are you looking for something?) I responded, “?איפה בית-בכנסת” (Where is the synagogue?) and he pointed me in the correct direction–the other escalator was what I needed to take. Their davening happened at 13:15, so I missed nothing given that it was currently 17:15. The waiting continues! The airport reception area quieted down after the אוטובוסי-תגלית (Birthright buses) left. Eerily quiet, in fact…

The Lincoln crew started with the Watches, whom I didn’t recognize off the bat, and thus there was mutual ribbing about that fact. A custodian later gave them grief for putting their feet on the seats. Eventually, I returned to the circular barrier around the exit from customs to wait for the Greenfield, Corens, and Hamicksburgs. I forgot to write when they arrived. The photo evidence suggests it was around 19:00. As they arrived, I headed toward the opening in the circle, ready to give the football official’s “Touchdown!” signal.

After a bit of recombobulation, we took our tour bus to Jerusalem, and our driver’s name is זכריה (Zachariah).  There are more seats than people, so we can sit pretty much anywhere! My seat on the right side made it hard to get road pictures with the impending darkness, but the pitch of the bus contributed too. We took Highway 1, which included the path where I saw the “Jerusalem 20″ sign in 2011. There was no “Wakey-Wakey” lecture this time from ניצן (Nitzan), however! I failed to get a picture of that sign this time– so it goes.

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Going through Jerusalem, we saw several Magen David Adom motorcycles, narrow streets, and poor driving. The drive eventually led us to the Dan Panorama after we had passed Sacher Park, the Central Bus Station, and the Light Rail bridge, among other places. At the Dan Panorama, we got juice, key cards, and access codes to the wireless Internet there. I lost the Elevator Guessing Game as each party member dispersed to their room in order to unpack or decompress. My room was 601, and starting tomorrow, I will share it with Seth.

After unloading and charging my phone, I ascended via elevator to קומה שמונית (Floor 8), but the Corens were not ready. I saw the swimming pool there (open only from 08:00-18:00, so the door was locked) and went downstairs to my room, only to get a call: proceed to the lobby. I met up with the Feldmans, and the Hamicksburgs. Nanci was having trouble getting WiFi access, and Nancy had trouble in that her suitcase did not make it to Israel: it was in Madrid! Hopefully these glitches don’t derail everything.

We met up with Nancy & Charlie’s son, יהושוע (Joshua),  and ascended רח’ קרן היסוד (Keren HaYesod Street) to find a restaurant, settling on פיצה גבינה ועגבניה (Cheese and Tomato Pizza). We got cheese, olive, and pepper pizzas. Mine was good when I added chili peppers. A mini-glass (which was plastic) broke with Coke, and I talked with יהושוע about possible venues to daven שחרית tomorrow since we have a relatively late bus departure. There are several options: I could go to ישורון (Jeshurun) or קהילת מורשת ישראל (Congregation Moreshet Israel). The former is Orthodox; the latter is Masorti (i.e. Conservative).

This restaurant was actually across from the Plaza Leonardo, which triggered obvious תגלית memories. Our walk back to the hotel ended around 23:00. I returned to חדר שישה מאות ואחד (Room 601), found the desk light switch below my power adapter, and partially unpacked clothes and stuff. I also Tune-Inned to רדיו לב המדינה (Radio Lev Hamedina) and caught up to here at 23:50. Time to go to sleep–the vacation begins in earnest tomorrow!

>> TO BE CONTINUED

===========================================

(Dirty?) Thirty: 13 days

Nebraska Regional: 47 days

Semester Kickoff: 79 days

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