Israel: Random Observations

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Everywhere throughout Israel are roadside stands, and little restaurants, with a huge fruit press. Huge piles of fresh oranges, pomegranates, and many other kinds are simply sliced in half and hand squeezed in the press. Delicious! I want one of these presses but they don’t fit in my backpack…

People in Israel, by and large, are very welcoming and kind. Arriving at the Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv, we were told to go outside, cross a road and find a local bus stop for the bus ride to the hotel. We couldn’t find it for the life of us. Kees asked a taxi driver but he just tried to talk us into taking the taxi. A passing man stopped and asked “How can I help you?” He then proceeded to ask around, take us across the road and walked us to the bus stop. He shook our hands and was off.
As soon as we got on the bus, I asked the driver where we had to get off. He didn’t know. Instantly four or five people on the bus called out “Don’t worry! We will help you!” They whipped out cell phones, punched in the address we needed and each kept an eye on us to tell us where to get off the bus. I just hoped they agreed on where we had to get off… Many of them asked “Where are you from? Ah! Canada. So far away! So beautiful! I have a cousin in Montreal!”
We have to grin when we listen to people talking together. Using hands and arms, they can have very intense discussions and it sounds to us, as if they are always in a heated argument.
If you plan to travel to Israel it might be useful to know that you can get an entry visa upon arrival at the airport, at no cost. However, if you leave the country via a land border, i.e. driving into Jordan, it will cost you 110 NIS (New Israeli Shekels) per person (about US$ 35.-). When you leave Israel by air, there is no exit fee. Entering Jordan at Aqaba did not cost us anything but the exit fee was about 5 JD (Jordanian dinar or US $7.50). 

Israel is very expensive. Eating out, even groceries are much more expensive than in most other places. Perhaps the cost resembles that of Australia, where we also found daily living to be very expensive. Public transportation is the exception in Israel: we found it very reasonable.

Internet is readily available everywhere. And, unlike Australia, is free in hotels, restaurants, even on the long distance bus!

Israel in the north is much more lush and green than the arid, rocky south. The south is warmer but, to us, much less attractive.

We were surprised to learn that orthodox Jews do not serve in the Israeli Army, even though this is their own country. Arabs do not serve, which might be understandable in terms of politics and religion. This leaves a relatively small section of the population that has mandatory military duty.

In Jordan we were told that many people have canceled plans to travel there, since the troubles in Syria and Egypt. In daily life, we notice little or nothing of the conflicts in and around Israel. However, while we were here a partial mobilization had been called and there was military personnel on almost all buses going to and from their stations. We see the odd military helicopter patrolling the shore, but not much else is noticeable. I  sure hope peace prevails for all countries in this region.

Along major highways, signs are bilingual or trilingual – in Hebrew, Arabic and English. But in most other places, they are only in Hebrew. My first reaction when we arrived, was that we could have rented a car to drive around. Traffic is fairly civilized, although some drivers are crazy and lines on the roads seem to be mere suggestions. But the further we traveled around the country, the more we realized that streets often don’t have names, and that many signs are not decipherable at all. It would have been very difficult to find our way around, unless you have a very good GPS.

Our Arab taxi driver in Jerusalem heard that we were born in Holland. “Alles goed!” he yelled while gripping the wheel and swerving through traffic. (‘all is well’) Each question or concern we had, he waved away with a hearty “Alles goed!” So now that’s what we say when we’re not sure how something is going to work… alles goed!

Language: we’ve picked up very little here in the way of language. Some in Hebrew, some in Arabic.
‘Shalom’ and ‘Salaam’; ‘To da and Shukrah” for thank you.

We are staying south of Tel Aviv, in Bat Yam, right now, and not many speak English. Even the restaurant menu’s are in Hebrew only. We have no idea what we order but ‘beer’ seems to work in all languages. Tonight I asked for white wine. It came in a large glass, more than luke warm, it was very warm. I asked for ice. No ice. Did I want cold wine? Well, then they had red wine for me. It was ice cold. Tradition! 

My favorite airport moment: an Orthodox Jewish family walked by us. All dressed in black and white. The father had long corkscrew curls and wore a black hat, the mother long black skirt and white shawl. The little boy spotted the punk ahead of me in the check-in line. He stopped and his mouth dropped open. He stared at the blue mohawk and earrings, the black lace gloves and studded jacket. A wonderful cross-cultural moment.

We have had a fantastic adventure traveling around Israel and into a small corner of Jordan. We have met such nice people and seen many amazing places. Tomorrow we leave for Turkey.

Shalom, Israel.

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