Friday, February 24, 2017

Our Trip to Israel- Traveling

Wednesday, February 22nd- Thursday, February 23rd

Mat & I left upstate New York 9:30 AM. We drove to Boston, where we would catch our first flight to JFK. About an hour from Boston, we parked our car with my brother's sister-in-law; then we took the Commuter Rail to the airport, which was quite the adventure- switching four different railways and lastly getting on a shuttle bus to Boston Airport. We finally arrived at the airport at 5 PM, checked in, made it through security quite quickly, and enjoyed delicious clam chowder, scallops, and crab salad at Legal's seafood restaurant. The best clam chowder I have ever tasted! If you are ever in Boston airport, be sure to stop there because the food is amazing and the prices are very reasonable.

Our flight from Boston to JFK took off at 7:30 PM. It was a short flight on an incredibly nice plane! This was the first plane I had been on that had personal tv screens on each seat so you could watch movies or listen to music. Being used to flying with one or two littles, this seemed like such a relaxing flight!

Once in JFK, we only had about an hour before we caught our flight to Israel at 10:50 PM. Nothing could have prepared me for what a 10 hour overnight flight is like. Matt has made quite a few long flights for mission trips and work trips, but this was my first time. Even though I've gotten used to lack of sleep with littles, this was tough. We hadn't slept well the night before our trip, and then only slept about an hour on the flight. Matt was able to get some work done on the plane and watched some Harry Potter in Hebrew, and I watched a few movies as well (not in Hebrew :) We were surrounded by Jews on our flight, which was really neat. When we flew over Europe and the sun began to rise, the men were standing and walking around the plane praying and chanting. And, throughout the flight, I saw Jewish women clutching their open Bibles, with their eyes closed, whispering prayers. There was hardly any English spoken; nearly everyone on the flight was speaking Hebrew.

We landed in Tel Aviv, Israel at 4:30 PM Israeli time on February 23rd (which would have been 9:30 AM US time on February 23rd, since Israel is 7 hours ahead of the US). After going through customs, getting our luggage from baggage claim, and exchanging our dollars for shekels, we decided to catch a Taxi to Jerusalem. The fresh 60 degrees air and the sight of palm trees and white stone greeted us from the moment we stepped out of the airport. One of the first things I noticed as we walked outside was the smell of this beautiful country. Israel has a very distinct smell- it is impossible to describe, and it not a bad smell. Quite the opposite, actually. It is like a sweet mixture of spices, and I feel that I will remember it when we step out of the airport when we move here in a few months and that, in the midst of all of the other changes and uncertainties, it will be sweet and familiar and comforting.

We had an hour drive before we reached Jerusalem, where we would be spending the week. I could hardly keep my eyes open, but I tried to force myself to stay awake as I stared out the taxi window at the scenery surrounding us. Everything in Israel is so beautiful- the people, the buildings, the flowers and greenery growing in the cracks of staircases and walls. We passed fields of lush greenery, buildings of white stone, tall white cement apartments, run-down buildings, Yellow Gas Stations. The driving was not as crazy as I had imagined it to be, and the ride was uneventful and relaxing, especially with the windows rolled down letting in the fresh air. As we neared Nachlaot, Jerusalem, the roads became more and more narrow and crowded. We passed school children, families, women with strollers, young adults with grocery bags, Orthodox Jewish men in costume, boys with yamakas, and various other people. One thing that stood out to me right away was the colors of Jerusalem. Nearly everyone here wears dark colors, namely black. There is not much patterned clothing, mostly solid neutrals. I do not consider my clothing to be either bold or bright, but in the sea of black contrasted against the white stone buildings, I feel like I stand out like a sore thumb. This was not something I had thought about prior to coming to Jerusalem.

By the time we finally reached the AirB&B apartment where we are staying, we had been traveling over 24 hrs, and I felt exhausted and ready to collapse and burst into tears- which was exactly what happened! All I wanted to do was get a warm shower, put on comfy pjs, and climb into bed. When I turned on the shower, however, the water felt like ice running over my hands. No hot water? We soon realized we had to set a timer to heat the water half-an-hour before we would need to use hot water. Even after only one day here already, this has become an easy routine. However, in that moment, I felt very overwhelmed and out of place. It seemed this incident was like one tiny glimpse of the huge culture shock that awaits me when we move here in August. I sat on the bathroom floor and cried. I began to question what we were doing here, what we were thinking when we decided to move here, wondering how our family would adjust, and feeling anxious about all of the unknowns in our future. But Matt was so patient and gracious to me in that moment, reminding me that when we are tired, everything gets out of proportion and it is normal to feel overwhelmed and unsure of things. After giving me a change of clothes and some aspirin for the pounding headache from exhaustion, he convinced me to get out of the apartment and walk around Jerusalem to experience the Old City.

So, that's exactly what we did. With our map in hand (our phones don't work, so we have no other means of direction), we headed to the Western Wall, Matt's favorite place in all of Jerusalem. We wondered through the narrow streets of the market, through the loud and bustling Mahane Yehuda (the large market), through the bright lights and loud music of Mamila (the outdoor shopping mall), stopping often to ask people to point us in the direction of the Old City. I took everything in- all of the sights, sounds, smells. The feeling of busyness in the air, the sounds of unfamiliar languages being spoken all around me (although I was able to catch a few words, thanks to Matt's habit of speaking Hebrew to me at home), the smells of unfamiliar spices coming from tiny hole-in-the-wall (literally!) restaurants and food stands. Everyone we spoke to was helpful and friendly. The people here seem direct, but very warm and kind. After wondering in and out of tiny streets and alleys, up and down several staircases, through the long market streets, we finally made it to the Western Wall. It is such a momentous sight- with the stunning golden Dome of the Rock in the background, the beautiful, tall stone wall, the quiet stillness that builds as you walk closer and closer towards it, and the sight of devoted Jews praying, walking back and forth, and touching the wall. I am sure we will visit this site many times while we are in Israel.

It was getting late, so we grabbed something to eat at a restaurant right near the Jaffa Gate, overlooking the Western Wall. Matt got Chicken Schwarma in a Laffa and I got Falafel. Both were incredibly delicious! After we finished eating, we made our way back to our place. We were actually lost for the last half-hour or so, unable to find the specific street where our apartment is. But after wondering around a bit more and talking to several different people and even a taxi driver, we finally found our way back home. It was a fun way to spend our first night in Jerusalem, and I am glad Matt convinced me to get out and experience everything. It gave me an appreciation for the culture and the beauty of Israel. Rather than focus on the differences as overwhelming and discouraging, I have decided to learn about them as much as I can and embrace and appreciate them. The most exciting cultural difference that I am so eager to learn about is the food of Israel. I'll share more about this in the next day's post, though.

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