The months passed - albeit very slowly. The trip was purchased and information was exchanged. Then began the waiting game. (We purchased the trip in September and had to wait until February to go.) But it was worth the wait.
(The book given us by the tour company.)
We read as much as we could about Israel and watched several documentaries about it, including one at the IMAX theater in Fort Worth about Jerusalem, which I recommend for anyone who has the chance to see it.
Finally the day arrived. We were allowed one 50 pound suitcase and one carry-on bag per person. The suitcase could be no larger than 62 inches in total dimension. Do you know how difficult it is to for a woman to pack for a 10 day trip given those restrictions? Arden ended up putting some of her things in my suitcase (mine was larger) and I came in at 47 pounds total. At least on the way there...
Our flight from DFW was scheduled for 1:30pm on Monday, February 23rd. On February 22nd a weather front came in that promised freezing rain and sleet overnight. We packed everything and drove with Arden's dog to a hotel in Fort Worth because our driveway goes up at a 40 degree angle to the street and last time we had ice and sleet we couldn't get out for three days. We would have stayed over by the airport except we had to board Arden's dog (Allie) the next morning before we left - if the vet office was even open because of the weather.
I must say I was more concerned about the weather and us getting to the airport than Arden was. Usually it's the other way around but she was calm and collected this time.
Monday morning dawned with 3/4 of an inch of sleet on the ground. We woke up at 6 so we'd have plenty of time to drop Allie off and get to the airport. We took Allie to the vet office at 8 and our journey officially began. It was 35 miles from our hotel to the airport. It took over an hour to get there because our top speed was about 40 miles an hour. Less than that in most places. The good thing about the bad weather was that most people took the advice of the weather forecasters and stayed home. There was minimal traffic.
We made it to the airport safely and parked in remote parking. While waiting for the shuttle another couple from the church arrived. We knew them by sight but not by name (our church has over 5000 members on the books) and we introduced ourselves. There were 36 total church members going. We just hoped everyone was able to make it to the airport.
When we got to the United Airlines check-in area we were greeted by Julie, the pastor's secretary, and Dr. Bill Tolar, a retired professor of Biblical history from the Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. Dr. Tolar was going along with us as our subject matter expert on the Biblical history of everything we were going to see. He has been to Israel over 70 times in the last 40 years and knows as much about it as our local guide.
Everyone made it to the airport. Our flight was only delayed half an hour and we finally boarded what turned out to be a sardine can without the liquid and headed for the beautiful city of... Newark, New Jersey, for our connecting flight.
We got to Newark on time, at 6:00pm, and our flight to Tel Aviv was scheduled for 10:45pm. Over four hours at the Newark airport. What fun. The highlight of that period of time was sharing a lobster sandwich at a restaurant called "The Lobster Pot" in the international terminal.
Since we were headed for Israel and Israel isn't ruled by political correctness, Israeli security officials secured the gate area from which we were departing and searched our carry-on bags and searched each of us with a metal detector, even though we were still inside the secure area of the airport. They don't play when it comes to the security of airline flights. Oddly, I didn't feel insulted, violated or profiled, as some overly politically correct Americans might have felt.
We met a young Jewish man in the airport who had been visiting the States and was on his way home to Tel Aviv. We talked to him for a while. He was a college student and was most impressive. Before we got on the flight he told us we were welcome to visit him in Tel Aviv any time and that his home was open to us. He had purchased a power converter to charge his cell phone (Israel uses 220 electricity instead of 110) but it wouldn't plug into the 110 outlet. Since he couldn't use it in the airport and didn't need it in Israel he gave it to me. I asked him how much he wanted for it and he said "It's a gift for visiting my country." Where would you find an American college student like that?
We boarded the plane for our 11-1/2 hour flight to Tel Aviv. If you've never been on a flight that long you're missing out. Just think - over 11 hours sitting in nearly the same position, relieved only by standing up or leaning your seat back the entire four inches. Yup, that's better.
I slept off and on - dozed is a better word. They fed us two meals - dinner just after we took off and breakfast about six hours later. Meals and movies were free - one good thing about an overseas flight.
We landed in Tel Aviv about 4:30pm on Tuesday. One problem of a 10 day trip to Israel is that you spend two full days traveling to and from there. So you're really only in country for 8 days.
We got through passport verification and customs fairly quickly because we were in a group. Outside we gathered at our bus and met our Israeli tour guide, Yair (pronounced Ya ear). Yair is 36 years old, looks like he's 25 and is intelligent and funny. He reminded me a little of Adam Sandler. He has a degree in history and another in archeology and is extremely knowledgeable in Israeli history. He had to go to school for two years just to become a certified tour guide. We couldn't have asked for a better guide.
We got on the bus and began an hour and a half trip to our first hotel in the city of Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee. We stayed at the Gai Beach Hotel and our patio overlooked the Sea of Galilee. The hotel was nice and our view wasn't awful.
We were advised not to try to sleep before dinner since it would merely prolong our jet lag. Dinner was at 7pm in the very large hotel dining room. They had just about everything you can imagine that was kosher. It was served buffet style. Israelis are very big on fresh vegetables and there were at least 20 different kinds of salads, many made with couscous, barley, egg plant, etc. There were cheeses and various types of cold fish. Yogurt, roasted garlic cloves, peppers and onions were also included.The meats were chicken and beef. I was hoping for lamb but never got it. And they served humus with every meal.
We had a brief meeting following the meal to discuss the next day's itinerary then went to bed. As tired as we were it was amazing that we couldn't sleep well. But such was the case. We got what sleep we could but the alarm went off far too early.
Breakfast was also served buffet style. Oddly, we found many of the same foods on the breakfast buffet that were on the dinner buffet. Israelis don't eat meat for breakfast and Jews and Muslims don't eat pork at all. So for breakfast you get eggs, bread, cereal, yogurt... fish and salad. I kid you not.
Look closely. The first picture is of the fish and the second the salad. That's the breakfast buffet. I must confess I stuck to eggs, bread and cheese for breakfast. I just can't imagine eating fish for breakfast.
Our first day took us to the Northern most part of Israel to Ceasarea Philippi and the headwaters of the Jordan River. I will talk about that and post more pictures in part 2.
To be continued....