Goodbye Israel!

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As I write this, I’m sitting again in the United First Class lounge at Frankfurt International Airport.  We took a 5:30am (Israel time) flight to Frankfurt, and we had a 12:00pm (Frankfurt time) flight to Dulles in D.C., but it was delayed an hour.  I swear this airport wants to trap us here.  Anyway, we made our way to the United lounge after deplaning and were allowed once again to slip into the First Class section of the lounge.  We also got another one-hour T-Mobile Internet card for free, and you will read this blog post shortly after my time begins and I hit the publish button.

Since I wrote my last blog post, we moved to our third and final hotel.  We left early in the morning on a long drive with several stops.  Our first stop was a tree-planting excursion.  We each dug out soil and placed a small sapling inside; we then recited a prayer.  In Judaism, this ritual honors loved ones past and present.  After we left the tree-planting site, we drove to the city of Haifa, where our guide stopped the car so we could get out and take in a beautiful view of the Mediterranean Sea.  Our next stop was the ruins of Caesarea, where the seat of Roman power lies in excellent condition.  We saw an aqueduct, a theater, and a coliseum, and it was easy to see the shape of the ruins and imagine what they looked like long ago.  After we left Caesarea, we drove to our third hotel in the city of Tel Aviv.

Once there, we said goodbye to our guide, who had taken us all over Israel for the past week, and checked in.  We didn’t have much time before dinner, so we freshened up and then went out into the city.  We easily found our restaurant – which miraculously had free Wi-Fi, as did many places along the route.  We took a taxi back that night, as we were stuffed from the meal.  Unfortunately, our Tel Aviv hotel charged $20 for a day of Internet.  I bought the access and started it right after we got back from dinner.  That way, it would expire just before bed the next night – our last night in Israel.

The next morning – our final full day in the country – we enjoyed an excellent breakfast by the beach, and then set off for our day excursion at the Palmach museum.  The museum featured an interactive walkthrough of rooms set up to depict events in the life of Israel’s first defense force.  It was interesting to see the genesis of both the state and the army chronicled in such a non-standard fashion.  After we got back from the museum, we went to the beach for a little while and swam in the Mediterranean.  We only had limited time after the beach excursion, so we went down to the pier, where our dinner restaurant was located.  Amazingly, the pier featured almost-ubiquitous Wi-Fi access.  We were very tired from a full day of events, and we knew that we would get back to the room around 9:30pm and have to wake up at 1:30am the next morning (this morning) for our taxi.  I managed to get a fair amount of sleep anyway, and I also slept this morning on our first flight.

That’s about it from Israel.  We will arrive in Washington, D.C., at around 5:00pm today Eastern time.  Look for Twitter updates – and maybe more photos on this blog – in the coming days.

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Lots of Rest, Photos, and Fun

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Since I last posted, I’ve recovered from my sickness and gone on two days’ worth of excursions.  Yesterday, we drove from our first hotel to our second, stopping at several places along the way.

Our first stop was a large mountain city where several chronological layers of archaeology were on display.  We saw ancient bathhouses, entrance gates, palace bedrooms, and even horse stables.  We walked down into a passageway that was used to ferry water into the city from the outside.  Our second stop was an old synagogue where the floor mosaic had been mostly preserved.  The chamber containing the mosaic included a video depicting the story of its creation.  The last stop before we reached our second hotel was a series of pools, where we relaxed for an hour before continuing on our journey.

When we reached the hotel, I was dismayed to discover that the Internet was only available for a high price.  An hour of Wi-Fi here is equivalent to five dollars.  How unbelievable is that?  I understand that this place prides itself on rural living, but charging for one’s connection to the outside world is ridiculous.  Anyway, I bought four hours.  That should last me until we leave tomorrow morning.

Today was our first full day at our second hotel, and we spent most of it out in the country.  Our first stop was an old Jewish city, where we toured two synagogues of contrasting Jewish sects.  We also bought a new menorah, for what I believe was too high a price. (But the merchant was very nice, so maybe it all balances out.)  Our second excursion today was a long Jeep tour of the Golan Heights.  We saw various fruits and vegetables, some of which our Jeep driver picked and gave to us.  We also drove past several bombed-out Syrian bunkers from “back in the day.”  After our jeep tour, we met up with our main Israel trip guide, and she took us to a hill overlooking Syria.  It was my first view of the country. (Historical note: even though the conflict is over, Syria is still officially at war with Israel.)

Right now, I’m sitting in the room writing this blog post with the Internet turned off (to save precious connection time).  The rest of my family is off on a kayaking/rafting trip—that’s not really my cup of tea, and there wasn’t an opportunity for photography, so I stayed behind.

More blog posts to come.

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Photos from Israel

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I’m sick today (as I was yesterday), which means no excursions for me.  While you wait for more updates on my activities, check out these photos from around Israel.

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Our First Day in Israel

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After arriving at our hotel room early this morning, we quickly headed to bed.  We needed as much rest as possible for today’s excursion: a full-day tour of the Old City of Jerusalem.  We woke up at 8:00am, ate a quick breakfast, and made our way to one of Jerusalem’s many gates to meet our tour guide.  She was a young Israeli woman who spoke perfect English, had a bilingual son, and was married to a Canadian.  She gave us a tour of the various religious quarters in the Old City.  We also visited the Dome of the Rock, the Wailing Wall, the Davidson Center archaeological site, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  There was many a great photo opportunity.  Our guide also brought us around the streets of Jerusalem, showed us the various market areas, and took us to a falafel restaurant for lunch.  We left the tour feeling very knowledgeable and very tired.

After taking a rest at the hotel, we went up to the top floor where they have an Executive lounge.  Our hotel rooms include access to this lounge, where we found food and drink, prime seating with a view, and a big-screen TV.  We ate a little bit up there tonight, and I think we’re going to forgo a large dinner because we’re so tired and just go out for dessert.

By the way, I’ll have photos from the whole day’s events up later in the vacation.

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An Arrival Fraught with Problems

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After I wrote that last blog post, we waited around for a few hours until they kicked us out of the United lounge.  We then split up: my dad and I went to the Lufthansa lounge while my mom and sister explored the airport shops and restaurants.  Later, we ate a nice, relaxing dinner, and then walked over to our gate.  Flights departing for Israel out of Frankfurt have their own secluded terminal with extra security (I was patted down for only the second time in my entire life).  The flight itself was uneventful; we slept for the most part, except for a pretty bad meal in the middle.

After we disembarked, we breezed through Passport Control and grabbed our bags easily.  That’s when I started to wonder if things could possibly go this smoothly.  So of course, things started going wrong.  First, the currency exchange machine ripped us off.  We put in a credit card to draw funds and exchange them into Israeli shekels, and the first transaction went fine.  However, when we decided to do it again, the machine didn’t give us the shekels.  We are of the opinion that the machine still charged the credit card for the money it didn’t give us.  We then went to the taxi area to get a ride to our hotel.

That’s when the second problem occurred.  We had been told that the taxi ride would be a flat fee of a certain amount, but when we had loaded up all the bags and gotten in the car, the driver told us it would be more expensive.  We would have left and waited for another one, but for two reasons: 1) our bags were loaded, and 2) the driver said all cab drivers would give us the same rate.  We didn’t fully believe him, but we were in a foreign country and didn’t want to push our luck.  So we took the ride to the hotel, jumped in bed, and feel asleep.

As I finish writing this, we just returned from a day excursion: a guided private tour of the Old City of Jerusalem.  More on that in my next update.

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Travel Hassles Can Pay Off

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As I write this, I’m sitting in the United Red Carpet Club lounge at Frankfurt International Airport.  Our flight here from Dulles was delayed several hours due to thunderstorms, so we missed our connecting flight to Tel Aviv and had to book another one.  The only problem is that it’s 11:30am local time as I write this (it will be published later, but I’ll get to that), and our flight is at 10:00pm.  That means we have an outrageous amount of time to kill before we board.  We were able to get to the United lounge, but this place closes at 5:30pm.  Luckily, we were told that we could go to the Lufthansa lounge after that.

The best part of this “my dad is a Global Services member” thing is that they let us into the First Class section of the United lounge even though we’re not flying First Class to Tel Aviv.  They have soup, sandwiches, and pizza in here – as well as the usual assortment of cookies, candies, and snacks.  The only downside is that the T-Mobile Hotspot service isn’t free – not even to Global Services members.  They gave us a 1-hour access card for free, but we’re waiting to use it until later in our stay.  That’s why I’m writing this at 11:30am despite the fact that you’re reading it much later: I’m waiting to hit the “post” button until my hour starts.

I’ll try to provide more updates as the trip continues, but you should check my Twitter page (http://twitter.com/erier2003) for all the details.


UPDATE 2:37PM: My stomach hurts.  Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten all that food in this lounge.  But it was so free!

UPDATE 3:40PM: Our free Internet card isn’t working.  It says 05-2009 on it, which leads me to believe that it expired.  Leave it to the airlines to ruin the one free thing I really care about.

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