Day 6: The Journey to Israel #OneYearLater

Editor’s note: New content is here! I wanted to post it earlier this year, but the news cycle then was a little tricky. 🙂

Before I share to you all the wonders of Jerusalem, there’s a story to be told on the way there.

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The first is at Delhi Airport. What’s the story here? Well, remember in India, cows are considered sacred animals. For this reason, beef isn’t very popular… so what does McDonald’s India have?

Well they have this….

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Yes, that’s Paneer Passion. What is Paneer? Paneer is a cottage chess patty, with a similar but stiffer consistency as tofu, kinda like kesong putt. Crunchy on the outside and tender on the outside, it’s an unusual replacement for a beef patty.

I got it with Shake Shake fries with Piri Piri (Peri Peri?) Spice Max. The fries came out super salty, which is funny since the Paneer Passion was super bland!

From Delhi, I fly to Israel via Tashkent, using Uzbekistan Airways.

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I was kind dreading this leg because of all the horror stories about Tashkent airport, and I’ve never flown a plane by a former Soviet State. Stories of zero english and tourists being taken advantage of were prevalent all over the net when they describe “one of the busiest airports in Central Asia”.

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Here’s the description of Tashkent from TripAdvisor: “I have never been so disgusted and repulsed as a traveler in an international airport as I was in my short stay at Tashkent international airport”.

YIKES!!!

Eventually I get to Tashkent and what do we have here! A new wing! Much nicer than what I was expecting! There was free wifi too, so my 4 hour layover wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.

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I stayed a few hours, did some email, and and boarded my flight from Tashkent to Tel Aviv. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was, and I discover that the airline I was flying was actually pretty decent. 😉

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Finally I arrive at Israel, Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. Ben Gurion is one of the highest security airports in the world, but since I arrived quite early (5:35AM!) and there wasn’t a lot of people, I breezed thru relatively quickly.

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A common thing people ask is how Israel handles passports. Israel happens to be one of those places that is not popular to a certain segment of the world, and you may be denied entry in those countries if they find out you are a friend of Israel.

So to avoid this trouble, Israel DOES NOT stamp your passport. What they do instead is give a separate immigration card. I was told to make sure not to lose the card or I might have problems leaving. Here’s how it looks:

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On the way out of the airport, I decided to do something first: get some online internet. Unlike India, this wasn’t a fully guided tour, so I needed to find my way around. I found a place selling prepaid  data SIMs. I got a 4 day unlimited data plan, on a Nano SIM even! I don’t remember the exact price but remember it was relatively cheap, about P600 ($15).

Since i didn’t have airport pickup this time, I had to find my own way to Jerusalem. Taxi was one option, train was another, but the most cost effective option is to take a shuttle bus. Here’s a video (care of Abraham Hostel):

I watched this video prior to Israel so I knew what I had to do. Perfect since i was actually staying at Abraham Hostel. I found the bus, paid the shekels, got on board, and then that’s where the story started taking a bizarre turn. 

For some strange reason, it took a LOOONG time for a shuttle to leave. I guess because I took my time in the airport exploring and getting my data SIM I missed the window when a lot of people were taking the shuttle. There wasn’t a lot of people in the airport. 10 mins passed by. 15 minutes. 20 minutes! 30 mins passed by and we were still waiting! Why weren’t we moving? That’s when I found out because our shuttle wasn’t full!

The driver, an old man in his 60s and 70s started asking people to ride with him. He was unsuccessful since a lot of people were going another way. Finally, he seemed to lock on to this one guy. He took some time trying to convince him.  Our shuttle was going one way, this guy was going another way. At the end, the driver agreed to bring the guy the other way after he dropped all of us.

The trip from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was just a little over an hour, but it took a bit longer since the shuttle dropped people off on the suburb. Suddenly, at some point, we heard shouting. I’m not sure, but I think the drive was reneging on his promise to bring the guy the other way. They kept shouting and yelling at each other in a mix of English and Yiddish, and you can tell the rest of the people in the shuttle were getting uncomfortable. 

When there was about 5 of us left, the young guy went down, and the driver ran after him!! They started yelling at each other in the streets, and started causing a commotion, everyone on the street stopped to watch, and a crowd formed!

This went on for 15 minutes and the rest of my bus mates started looking at each other. One of them called a friend to pick him up from where we were. An old woman next to me said she’s never seen anything like this her whole life, and she’s lived here for 15 years. I was actually considering ditching the shuttle where it was and grab a taxi.

Just when I decided to pick up my bags, go down, and do exactly that, it looks like cooler heads prevailed. The driver and the young guy went back in, looking like they’ve made some kind of agreement. After almost 3 hours, I arrived at my hostel for what should’ve been a 45 minute trip. WOW. My India trip was perfect, and looks like my Israel trip didn’t start the same way. Imagine all that time lost!

This wasn’t my first mishap for the day. The second mishap was when I arrived at Abraham Hostel. The check0in went well, but it turns out the Market Tour which I wanted to join and was really looking forward to wasn’t happening that day (see my previous post describing it here). They decided to do a Hostel Party that day since they had special guests (some festival was in town) so they went with that as their event of the day. Argh.

Oh well…. I guess I have some time to explore the nearby area… and guess what I discovered?

Wow…. Jerusalem was a much more beautiful city than I thought. 

I’ll leave it there first, and tell you the story in the next post 🙂

Leo

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