Israel Trip: Traveling Across the World
In case you haven't looked at a globe recently, let me assure you that from the middle of the United States all the way to the Middle East is a long long long distance across a very large ocean two and a half continents (6191 miles / 9963.45 km).
So, while this post may seem to be full of boring airport photos, it's an essential part of telling the story of our trip. We spent a lot of time in airports, airplanes and cars in order to get our physical bodies all the way across the world.
We met my grandparents at O'Hare Airport in Chicago on Saturday afternoon, and hoped and prayed that everything would go well at check-in and we'd have boarding passes in hand soon.
Well...it wasn't *quite* that smooth. When we arrived to check-in, Grandma forgot her cane in my Aunt Susan's car, so I headed outside to wait for it to be delivered while Grandpa, Grandma and Ben worked on checking bags and getting our boarding passes.
That would have been pretty simple, except, somehow there was a problem with one of the tickets - Grandpa's. There wasn't a ticket showing up for him in their computer. At least, that's how it looked for a very nerve-wrecking few minutes while the nice ladies at American Airlines tried to decipher the problem. After all the Alitalia hoopla and having to re-buy tickets on El Al, losing a day of our trip, and Grandma losing a LOT of sleep over the stress and continuous phone calls, I thought we might just have a major fall-apart right there at the desk before we even got started.
If I was a smoker, I'd have lit up a cigarette right there and been escorted promptly out of that airport! Thankfully, I'm not, and a piece of gum sufficed in stifling my stress attack while I waited outside to meet Aunt Susan to pick up Grandma's walking cane, praying that they'd figure it all out while I was outside.
With Grandma's walking cane in hand (after a super-fast pep talk in the drop-off lane from Aunt Susan about the letter she wants me to write to the Chicago Tribune about Alitalia, and some tips for surviving the long plane ride), I returned to the check-in desk to see a smiling Ben, Grandma and Grandpa, with four boarding passes in-hand and our bags checked. Finally.
Off we go...
Don't be fooled by the little old lady with a cane. She walks faster than me and can climb mountains...you'll see! And yes, I borrowed Ayla's suitcase. Darn thing had too short of a handle, but it did it's job as best it could!
We plodded through security at O'hare, found our gate, and then, waited. And spent some time catching up! I hadn't seen my grandparents in a while, and was excited about getting to spend the week with them. This would be their 34th trip to Israel. We were traveling with EXPERIENCE!
We had an uneventful flight to Newark, New Jersey, ate dinner in the airport, and then we headed into uncharted territory (for me)....the International terminal and El Al gates.
As we approached the international terminal, a second round of security screening caught me totally off-guard. Holding a full water bottle from dinner and wearing a bulky sweatshirt, I rushed through the line, was berated for trying to carry a water bottle into the gate, felt totally awkward in the full-body scanner, and got patted down before I could continue through to our gate.
It was a very real reminder that we were headed to the Middle East, where security risks are significantly heightened.
Once through security, I managed to relax a little bit, though I noticed the crowd we were amongst had definitely started to change. I heard more Hebrew and less English, and by the dress of several orthodox religious men and women at the gate, it was obvious that we were headed to a different country in a whole other part of the world.
Though our seats were in the VERY back of the plane (the last row actually), and we would normally be seated last, Grandma used her cane to her advantage and asked if we could get priority seating to help them get their bags stowed and get themselves settled at a calmer pace. No problem, they said.
However...as soon as they called priority boarding and we showed our passports, all three El Al employees at the desk began saying "Rosenberg & Steed!" and making big arm motions for us to move aside and out of the front of the boarding line. Evidently, something was flagged with our names to do an additional security check.
We spent the next 5 minutes talking to the Head of Security at Newark Airport (as the other passengers boarded the plane) answering questions about where we were going, how we all knew each other, where we were from, what church congregation we are a part of (??), if we had been given anything by anyone to take with us, whether we had packed our own bags, and why were going to Israel. He seemed particularly interested in Ben's motives. We think it's the beard. Actually, we can only speculate, but I wonder if we were flagged because we had bought last-minute tickets the day before.
In any case, they did FINALLY decide we weren't a threat to the flight or country and let us onto the plane. That whole experience gave me another little mini panic attack. I had a fleeting feeling of dread as I walked down the ramp to the plane and *all* the way to the back to the very last row of seats. It took me a few minutes and some deep breaths to calm down, but then, thankfully, everything was fine.
I was so worried about what a long flight it would be (10 hours from Newark to Tel Aviv), but since our flight left at 10pm EST on Saturday, and arrived at about 2:00 pm Israel time on Sunday, rather than it feeling long and boring, it felt more like a strange night of sleep. They served us dinner, I took a Benadryl, and managed to spend most of the flight drifting in and out of a light and slightly uncomfortable sleep, while listening to music on headphones to drown out any talking, babies crying, or commotion of people moving around.
The back row had only two seats (Grandma and Grandpa were in the row ahead of us), so Ben and I didn't have to share space with anyone else -- unless you count all the people walking by to the bathrooms behind us. What we thought would be the WORST seats of the plane turned out to be kind of nice. When they turned on the llights to serve us breakfast, we only had about 2 1/2 hours left of the flight.
Easy peasy -- though we were definitely plenty tired, as you can see from the puffy-faced photo of us at the end of the flight. But we made it! Our first trip across the world. :)
We were excited to see our first glimpses of Israel via the Mediterranean Sea and the Tel Aviv coastline:
Once we had landed and deplaned, we worked our way through Passport Control, found our baggage (yay, it arrived!), and met up with my Uncle Chuck and Uncle Moti, who had arrived to pick us up at the airport. It was good to see some familiar faces!
Remember how I mentioned that on this trip, things didn't always go as planned? Here's another example:
Before we left the airport in Tel Aviv, Grandpa headed to an ATM to get some cash (shekels) to have on hand for the week. As soon as he chose an amount, the ATM told him "You've requested too much." and ate his card. Gone. No one around to help. Ben had been waiting in line behind him, and promptly decided NOT to try that particular ATM. What a way to enter the country! Thankfully, Grandma also carries an ATM card when they travel, and later that night they were able to try again at a different ATM and had no trouble. But, boy would they have been up a creek without a paddle if she hadn't!
We carried our luggage to Chuck's rental car, and hopped in for the ride from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Though we were tired, we tried to soak in as much of our new surroundings as we could as Uncle Chuck narrated and navigated and pointed things out along the way.
And then we were there!
Since my uncle and several of his friends have condos in Jerusalem in the same building, we were blessed with a fantastic and comfortable place to stay, and an invaluable tour guide and escort for the week -- my Uncle Chuck.
It was a long day getting there and was not without some stressful moments, but WOW was this a cool view to greet us from the balcony of Chuck's condo as we started our adventure in Israel!
After a quick dinner out to refuel (I'll be posting about the food we ate all week in a separate post), we tried to stay awake just long enough to watch a little bit of the Chicago Bears game on the computer on Chuck's balcony before our big guided tour of Jerusalem & Bethlehem the next day.
Israel Trip Wrap-Up:
- Israel Trip: Getting Ready to Go
- Israel Trip: Layover in Chicago
- Israel Trip: Traveling Across the World
- Israel Trip: Jerusalem - The Old City
- Israel Trip: Bethlehem & West Bank
- Israel Trip: Yad Vashem & Ben Yehuda Street
- Israel Trip: An Israeli Wedding
- Israel Trip: Mount of Olives
- Israel Trip: City of David
- Israel Trip: Sea of Galillee
- Israel Trip: Kibbutz, Gaza & Shabbat
- Israel Trip: Dead Sea & Ein Gedi
- Israel Trip: The Food