Journal 6 from Israel

Hello,

This journal should cover the month of August when my mom, brother and sister came to visit.

My brother didn’t come on the same plane or even the day as my mom and sister. This was mostly because of ticketing issues. I picked him up on Friday evening and we went to a concert with some friends of mine here. The performer was Rami Kleinstein. He’s a popular Hebrew singer here in Israel. Ask any Israeli (and many foreigners even) about him and they’ll be able to tell you who he is.

If you were to go to the concert of someone this well known in the states, what would you expect? Lot’s of people. Expensive tix. Parking headaches. Well the tix cost 70NIS (~$20). The audience was probably 300 people. The place has probably ten rows of seating space. Of, course, parking wasn’t a problem.

The show was excellent. Rami is a very dynamic performer. You could tell he was having a great time. His band was pretty excellent, particularly the two precussists. At one point they got out big plastic 50 gallon drums and beat on them. One of them did a solo on an African drum. Very cool. I have since bought his greatest hits CD. It’s my first Hebrew CD.

The next day (Saturday), I went with my brother, Richard to downtown Haifa to get some food. It’s called “downtown” not because it’s a big center of industry, or has a bunch of shopping but because it’s DOWN from the rest of Haifa. Being predominately Arab (AKA not Jewish) the area has stores that are open on Saturday. We were met there by a buddy of mine, Alex. He lives in the area and showed us the proper places to shop.

Later in the day, we drove to Tel Aviv to pick up Jovan and mom. My apartment was suddenly converted from an empty apartment with two bedrooms that I don’t use to a full house.

On Sunday I went to work. I had decided that taking several long weekends would be more effective than taking one block of time off. Since I live 15min on foot from one of the busier parts of Haifa they had plenty to do during the day.

For the first weekend, I had wanted to show the family some of the more significant parts of Israel. On Friday, we went to Jerusalem and checked out the old city, via dolorosa, the church which supposedly contains a piece of the stone used to close Christ’s tomb, the western wall. On the way to Jerusalem we a bit of car trouble.

The city is higher in elevation than most of Israel (except the north). On the way up the car ran rather hot. I noticed this first when the AC wasn’t working so strongly. I kept an eye on the gauge and pulled into a gas station and let it cool a little. I had to put several liters of water into the radiator. This wasn’t looking good. I had just gotten this car the week before.

Intel supplies all workers here in Israel with transportation to work. It pays for taxis and busses for people below grade 7 and issues a company car to 7 and above and relocatees. Intel wanted to sell off a bunch of cars and buy new ones. My old one, being on deck to get sold, was replaced with a newer one.

Anyway, I put water in the car and prayed. Since we were just outside the city, I figure we might as well see what we came to see and worry about the car later. I kept a close eye on the temp.

We checked out the obvious tourist spots in the city and in the afternoon discovered that we were hungry. I didn’t want to eat in the old city since it seemed a bit dirty so suggested we find someplace else to eat. Big mistake.

You’d think that, having lived here for 4 months, I would have realized that places close on Saturday. Jerusalem, the most religious of all the areas, is obviously no exception. We spent two hours driving around trying to find an open restaurant. We finally found an open stand that sold not so fresh falafel. yum.

We had originally intended to go to the Dead Sea the next day, but the weather forecast for the area was 45deg C. (113F) We decided to not go there and do something local instead. As it turns out, it got to 47C (116F)

The next morning, we again went to downtown since mom and Jovan hadn’t been there. I didn’t mention it before, but it’s actually pretty nice. Lots of little shops. Vegetable stands. Sort of a mini Hay Market. Afterwards, we went to Daliyat Al Karmel which is a touristy village just North East of Haifa where you can buy hand made art stuff, knick knacks, and my personal favorite sight in Israel… BAWPs (that would be Big Ass Water Pipes) I saw one that I will definitely have to buy and bring back. The thing was a good 4ft tall and had six tubes coming out. I’m sure it would be quite a conversation piece. The thing can be had for $20-30 so what will I have to lose.

Mom and Jovan bought two nice summer dresses (not that there’s much summer in Germany) from a guy that gave them a good price “I’m only doing this because it’s you. My cousin.” yeah yeah. The guy probably still made a killing.

Afterwards, we went to Michal’s parent’s place. (remember Michal from when I got hurt?) We just kinda hung out and discussed what there is to do in Israel. It was kinda wierd (to me anyway) for them all to meet.

I took the next day off and we intended to see some of the northern parts of the country. Again the car overheated. Over the course of the day, I must have put 20 liters into that radiator. We did see the Sea of Galilee though. We wanted to see some other stuff too be we ended up going to Jordan park right along the Jordan river.

When you think or the word “river” what kind of pictures come to mind? The Mississippi. Going over Niagara falls in a barrel. Maybe some of the things in Yosemite? Well, some of the smaller streams in Yosemite are more impressive than any of the views of the Jordan that I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seem it wider that maybe 20ft across.

In spite of this, you can still go canoeing, which is what Richard and I did. It was quite relaxing, actually. Most of the time, we didn’t even need to paddle.

During the week, the people at work replaced the radiator. The plan for the coming weekend was to go to Jordan. Jordan is an Arab country which is most of Israel’s eastern border.

The other morning, Intel had a special breakfast. “start your day with a smile” They called it. Pretty amazing. Usually, the breakfast consists of tomatoes, cucumbers, bellpeppers, dairy products like yogurt, cottage cheese…. On this morning, they lots more. Cereal. bureckas (sp?) which are kinda like filled croissants, blintz, eggs. Great stuff.

That wasn’t the most notable part of the breakfast, however. It was the conversation that made the morning truly memorable. We started off with a discussion of the stranger rules of Judaism. (aren’t they all?) Apparently, a married, male Jew can screw whomever he wants as long as the woman is either his wife or not someone else’s wife. If she ain’t married, you can do together whatever you like.  Because of this, orthodox Jews (you know the dudes in the black outfits) are an important part of the prostitution market. Who would expect it? Sounds like being Jewish is the way to go.

Did something stupid and you’re in the doghouse? Wife is pissed and won’t give you any? Just go somewhere else. It’s all acceptable. The wife, of course, has only one option…. the husband.

Once we finished that topic we moved on to war and military stuff. I think the way we got to this one was when Leor mentioned that he just finished reserve duty. I think I mentioned it before all Israelis go into the army for a couple years between high school and college. After that men are required to continue with reserve duty until about age 40. (I think) Well Leor was made for the army. He totally enjoys going.

I believe he’s in a special unit kind like the green berets and when I look at him I think of Richard Marcinko. This is a reference that only 3 people getting this journal would get but I’ll comment that Marcinko is an ex-navy seal who wrote a book about his experiences. The dude is nuts. So is Leor.

Now I remember why we got on the topic: Airport security and where is it most extreme. Leor explained to us that no matter how tight security it, he could still do some damage. He then proceeded to pull out his pen. At least I thought it was a pen, but if you pull off the top, you’ll find a knife. My friend Ari trying to bust out the Rambo knowledge commented on how the blade was triangular which for some reason (which I would call BS on) makes the wound worse. Leor rebuffed him by commenting that if you twist your wrist just right when you stab someone, all that won’t matter. Triangular wounds are irrelevant.

Next he told us a story about how they were playing with one of their automatic rifles that fires 1000 rounds a minute. The truly skilled operators we able to shoot one round at a time. Why go through the trouble of designing it to shoot 1000/minute when you’re just gonna shoot one at a time? Also, on one day, they had been allowed to shoot as much as they wanted. One of his buddies shot 6 boxes (you know the big metal ammo cans you see at surplus stores?) by connecting the chains end to end.

Ari again kicked the knowledge by asking, “didn’t he have to replace the barrel?” When a gun like this fires, it’s common for it to get hot enough to melt the barrel. He was right. Leor agreed that he did this several times.

Freaks!

So that weekend, I went to Jordan with my family. The border is about an hour and a half away but wouldn’t you know it, the car got hot again. I thought they fixed that. In spite of all that, we made it to the border. I can take the car out of Israel so we just needed to park it anyway. The first stop of the trip was Petra. I didn’t know at the time why we were going there other than that everyone that had been there was amazed. First we took a bus to Ahman and then a taxi to Petra. I takes about 3 hours to drive between the two cities; it was the first time I’d sat in a taxi that long. The scenery along the way was interesting though. Picture this: you’re driving along for 3 hours and whenever you lift your head to look out the window what do you see? rock and a whole lot of nothin. To the left: nothin. To the right: nothin. Makes the drive from San Jose to LA seem interesting and exciting. I wasn’t able to read the signs since they were in Arabic (how rude) but I wonder if they have a middle east equivalent of Little and Big Panoche road like they do along the 5.

So we got to Petra and relaxed a little. Took showers at the hotel and then walked down to the local village. We find a nice little cafe to have dinner and sit down. The waiter comes over and takes our order. Very nice guy. I tried ordering a beer, but he responded that in Jordan (as a Muslim country) allowed alcohol only in hotels. Hmmm. So we ate.

Now, during our meal, one of the locals came by from time to time to borrow my mom’s lighter to lite his cigarette. After we finished, he sat with us for awhile. Really nice guy. Very entertaining. Then it dropped. He offered his services as a guide. He could show us Little Petra. He’d provide a nice meal. All we had to do was show up. We asked about the main part of Petra. A number of people at home in Israel mentioned that Petra was fantastic. I had also heard that going into the main gate was expensive. Something like $20-30/person. It had to cost that much for a reason, I figured.

But we humored him. He told us all about the great places he’d show and how we’d get a nice unique experience. How much? I asked. You’ll have a great time. Yeah, but how much? At this point I’m thinking back to the people in the old city of Jerusalem. I give you very good price. For you, my friend, I give you discount.

He wanted $100. It would be cheaper than admission to the main city, but…. We agree that we would sleep on it and that he’d call the hotel in the morning. In the end, we decided to take our chances with the main city.

Now at this point, I had no idea what Petra was all about. I only knew that everyone said to go there. It’s the highlight of any tour of Jordan. We got up the next morning and went to the main center of Petra. As part of admission, we were required to get a guide for the four of us, but it was cheap. Maybe $5.

So we’re walking along this path. We see camels here and there. There are a bunch of other tourists though not too many. Slowly, I realize that the walls along the path are going up and that we’re walking into a canyon. We very quickly reached a point where the canyon was maybe two meters wide and 10 or 15 deep.

Can we say WOW! The colors along the walls were great. The rock was so smoothe. There were ancient burial tombs dug into the walls. Simply amazing. The trouble of going to Jordan definitely paid off. How could I have even considered skipping the main city.

But wait there’s more. We’re walking down the canyon when around the bend, there appeared a larger structure. When we see it clearly and as was explained by the guide the ancient Romans had dug “The Treasury” out of the stone. It looked like many other Roman building with the columns and all that. BUT IT WAS DUG OUT OF THE ROCK! The didn’t build it. They didn’t move large stones causing lots of discussions about how technologically advanced they were. It was simply a huge sculpture and it was beautiful. There was no option of starting over.

This more or less marked the end or the guided part but it didn’t end without a photo op for my brother and I. We took pictures of each of us sitting on a camel. Very exciting! Jovan, my sister, while taking the picture commented that she finally gets to see me sitting on myself. She’s commented before that I walk and look much like a camel. I’m not sure I agree, but I’ll let you decide.

Being the marathon tourists, that afternoon, it was time to move on. We were to be in Jordan for three days. This was the second with one more to go. Amman was the next destination. Yes, we passed through there on the way to Petra, but we didn’t really see anything. Another cab ride with nothing on the left and nothing on the right.

The hotel stayed at in Amman was totally clueless. It was nice. It was clean. But…. First problem was that our two rooms were on opposite sides of the hotel. Us going there was not a surprise. In fact, the rooms were already paid for. The reason they gave us was that since our last names weren’t all the same that we would want to stay together. When I mentioned that we were paid for together they didn’t get my point. Add to this that we had trouble finding the room. It was a nice enough hotel that someone should have shown us to the room. Another thing was that the breakfast hours ended at something like 8am. What’s that? We’re on vacation. I’m not gonna get up that early just because the hotel has a stupid policy.

We went to our rooms and I decided to get irate. I returned back to the desk and asked to talk to the manager. He was a little more helpful but not much. I repeated many of the same arguments I’d made to the first guy. In the end, he agreed to arrange cheap transportation around the city for the day on a site-seeing trip, breakfast at 9 delivered to our room as well as free lunch. I figured that he probably wasn’t really losing anything but it felt good to act irate.

So folks, this is where I ran out of writing energy. Like I said, I just want to get these things sent. To make a continuing story short, we saw Amman the next day. That evening, we had dinner at a place where we saw a number of women with their faces covered.

The following weekend, we went to Sharm El Sheik in Sinai. Very nice.

If anyone would like to hear about these portions of the trip, let me know.

Sorry,

Miles

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