Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Journal of a Living Lady #357

Nancy White Kelly

After an adventuresome beginning in New York City and London, Charlie and I finally arrived in Tel Aviv at 5:00 in the morning. While the plane ticket was the prize of the essay contest, all other expenses in Israel were mine. Of top of that, the IRS gets to tax the total value of the prize package which is estimated at $5000.

Charlie seamlessly transitioned to the lead role on this trip. Now that he is grown, the dynamics of our relationship has changed. While still Mother-Son, we presently function on an adult-adult level. Knowing that Israel is a predominantly male-oriented culture, I gave him the credit card and cash to handle. Charlie didn’t take advantage of his parent’s money, but I did sense a bit of unfettered joy as he slid the card for one transaction after another

To rent a car or not rent a car…that was the question. The pro was that we could travel at our own pace when we wanted. The negative was that we weren’t sure of the geography. That turned out to be the least of our transportation problems.

We went with plan A which was to rent a car in Tel Aviv and return it in one week. My first inclination that this might be a mistake was when the car rental representative noted the many dings on the sedan that we were renting. This was to ensure that we would not be charged for previous damage when the car was returned. So many dings on a virtually new vehicle raised my internal antenna.

I signed the papers and handed Charlie the car key. Driving in modern Tel Aviv wasn’t bad, but when we arrived in Jerusalem, navigating the roads became a nightmare. Road signs were very poor and neither of us read Hebrew. Lanes were practically non-existent. Cars, only inches apart, moved ahead sporadically. Honking horns jangled my nerves. This was normal “get moving” communication for Israeli and Arabic drivers but still seemed rude to this southern lady. Motor scooters zigzagged through the tangled traffic.

After a few close encounters, Charlie made the decision to take the rental car back to the terminal and start over. I concurred. Afterwards, we rode a public bus thirty miles to Jerusalem. Charlie handed the bus driver a map. He motioned for us to exit the bus a few stops later. We had no clue which direction to walk. We stopped several pedestrians, but none spoke English well enough to understand our request for directions. In exasperation, Charlie hailed a taxi that cost us $20 for six blocks. We learned quickly that we would need shekels as the American dollar was not a popular item.

Score a minus for Day one in Jerusalem. All we accomplished was to find our modest bed and breakfast inn which was recommended by a friend. The cost was $130 a night in American dollars which is reasonable here in the states, but on the low end in Old Jerusalem. Our accommodation was a simple room with two single beds and a tiny bathroom. The surprise was that there was 44 steps to our second floor abode. We found that elevators were considered a silly, unnecessary luxury.

Walking and climbing stairs became our mandatory daily exercise. Pounding hearts and sweaty bodies hid behind two-day-old clothes. We had elected to travel light due to the $20 per bag surcharge by the airlines which adds up when you change planes eight times round-trip from Atlanta to New York to London to Tel Aviv.

Tourism is the main source of income in Old Jerusalem. Whether they like each other or not, the Arabs and Jews cooperate enough to keep the area calm enough that people continue to visit. We encountered busses full of tourists from many other countries including Australia.

We learned a lot from our taxi drivers. There are certain cities that most Jews will not go. For example, Bethlehem. There were also some sites that Jews were not permitted to visit like the contentious Temple Dome. Years ago Buddy and I were able to enter the sanctuary of the Dome of the Rock. Presently it is controlled by Muslims.

Charlie and I staked out our itinerary for the next day. It would start at the sacred sites in the Old City. Finding our way there was a challenge. What the colorful inn brochures described as a ten minute walk would actually be three miles.
The next morning I was awakened by the distant morning prayers of Muslims droning the chilly air. Breakfast at the inn was a bit unusual for us southerners. No eggs, bacon or biscuits. Certainly no grits. On the buffet were olives, onions, various non-descript greenery, a vinegary dressing, boiled eggs in the shell, and always bread. I was thankful for the toaster. I could at least have toast and jelly with my stout coffee.

One morning the toaster was noticeable absent. When I inquired about it, the Jewish owner shook his head vehemently saying, “Shabbat! Shabbat!” Apparently no electrical appliances are allowed on the Jewish Sabbath. Charlie and I had much more to learn.

Shalom, Ya'll - Part III (to be continued.)

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