After my time in the Netherlands it was time again to board a plane and head somewhere else. Somewhere different. It was time to begin the journey to Israel. Why Israel? Well, there are a number of factors that are involved in this. Though I admit I am not a particularly religious person, the country is seeped in a considerable amount of history which became one of my primary draws. Not the only draw, of course, as back in 2006 while traveling from Guatemala to Mexico, I met a couple of Israeli’s and we stayed in touch. It is ironic that this year I have visited friends in two countries that I met in the same year (Doğan & Nichola from Turkey and Roi & Guy from Israel). Also, this year would be a good year to visit Israel as next year I must renew my passport, and since there are numerous countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia that either refuse entry or extra scrutiny for people who have Israeli stamps in their passports, this was the time to go.
After arriving in Athens and checking into the hotel, I set out for the one site I really wanted to see in my 15 hour layover — the Parthenon. The Parthenon, of course being a temple located high above the city of Athens situated on the Acropolis. The temple was dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena with whom the people of Athens considered a protector. It is believed that the construction of the great temple began in 447 BC and was completed approximately 9 years later, in 438 BC; although decorations of the Parthenon continued until at least 432 BC. In the 5th Century, the Parthenon was converted into a Christian church and was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, then again after the Ottoman Turk conquest in the 1460′s it was converted into a mosque when a minaret was built. Just like everything else I try to visit, in good fashion, the Acropolis was closed by the time I got from my hotel near the Airport to downtown. So, the resulting image was the best that I could view of this magnificent classical Greek structure. Once could have imagined what it must have looked like in its time, a sight to behold.
The Parthenon, or at least what I was able to see of it.
The following morning I awoke at 0300 and headed towards the airport, for what must have been one of the stupidest ideas in the history of man. I was to board a SWISS International Airlines plane to Zürich where I connected to Tel Aviv. Now, I bet you’re sitting there scratching your head wondering what on earth would possess someone to fly 1000 miles in the opposite direction only to fly 1700 miles back. Well, originally the plan was to spend my additional two weeks in Greece. Having already “boughten” the ticket to Greece and changed it two times already I didn’t want to change it again so I purchased a second ticket from Athens to Tel Aviv. Surely you must be thinking that there are other airlines that fly between Athens & Tel Aviv that would make more sense. The short answer is this: I would either have to depart at 1:00 am and arrive at 3:00 am on the Sabbath or I would have a 16-18 hour layover in yet another city. So I choose the path of least resistance.
A view of Tel Aviv
Landing in Tel Aviv is where all of the fun begins. As soon as I am off the airport I am stopped by a security official. “Please let me see your passport!” After asking a few questions, such as “Where are you going?”, “Do you know anyone here?”, “Why are you here?”, “Where are you staying?” — I was deemed good enough to pass to the next point. The immigration hall. What a mess. There were at least 8 or 9 flights landing all at the same time and the lines were from here to Tokyo. It was a Russian Immigration nightware all over again. I probably waited in line for about 45 – 50 minutes and then as I approached the immigration officer was asked lots and lots of questions and each answer I gave brought a whole new line of questions. “Where are you coming from?”, “Where are you going?” “Why are you here?”, “Why are you traveling alone?”, “Do you enjoy traveling alone, do you not get lonely?” — my answer of “I enjoy the freedom to come and go where I want without having to deal with other people” just got an eye roll. As she was thumbing through my passport I could see the questions mounting. “Where do you work?”, “What do you do?”, “How long have you been there?”, “You have traveled a lot recently, you must make a lot of money, which means you can support yourself while traveling?”. Finally after 20 minutes of questioning, I was stamped into the country and could proceed to get my baggage and then out. Fortunately, I was met at the airport by Roi and taken to my hotel. While I was checking into the hotel he went to pick up Guy and Dana and then we went and took a nice long walk through the city and then they bought me dinner to celebrate my birthday. It was good to see them again and their bundle of joy.
My friends Roi & Guy’s baby, Dana
Welcome to the State of Israel (מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל), a relatively young country located in the Middle East along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean. It has borders with Lebanon in the north, Syria in the northeast, Jordan and the West bank in the east, Egypt and Gaza on the southwest. Israel is the world’s only predominantly Jewish state and is defined as a Jewish and Democratic State by the Israeli government. The modern state of Israel was declared in 1948, but traces its history and religious roots to the Biblical Land of Israel, also known as Zion. In November 1947, the United Nations was in favor of partitioning a portion of Palestine, proposing the creating of a Jewish state, an Arab state and a UN-administered Jerusalem. The Partition was accepted by the Zionist leadership but rejected by Arab leaders, and on May 15, 1948, just one day after Israel declared independence, neighboring Arab states invaded.
I spent the first couple of days wandering through Israel’s second most populous city, Tel Aviv-Yafo (מְדִינַת יִשְׂרָאֵל) or more commonly just Tel Aviv, which sits on the Mediterranean Sea. Tel Aviv is a very young city of only about 100 years. The primary draw to Tel Aviv would be its beaches, though I did not spend any time there. I found it a nice city to get acquainted with the life of Israel. There is just to the south of the city the ancient port city of Jaffa, which I found to be quite lovely.
The view of the port of Jaffa.
Jaffa is often referred to as the oldest sea port in the world, as archaeological evidence shows the Jaffa was inhabited some 7,500 years ago. Jaffa itself sits on a hill, which rises to a height of 40 meters (130 feet) and offers a commanding view of the coastline, which in part is what made it strategically important in military history. The city of Jaffa was mentioned in a letter dating 1440 BC, glorifying its conquest by the Pharaoh Thutmose III, whose general, Djehuty hid armed Egyptian warriors in large baskets and sent these baskets as a present to the Canaanite city governors. The city is also mentioned in the Amarna letters under its Egyptian name Ya-Pho. The city was under Egyptian rule until around 800 BC.
After the Canaanite and Philistean domination, King David and his son King Solomon conquered Jaffa and used its port to bring the cedars used in the construction of the First Temple from Tyre. The city remained often in Jewish hands even after the split of the Kingdom of Israel. During the Roman repression of the Jewish Revolt, Jaffa was captured and burned by Cestius Gallus. The Roman Jewish historian Josephus writes that 8,400 inhabitants were massacred. Pirates operating from the rebuilt port incurred the wrath of Vespasian, who razed the city and erected a citadel in its place, with so installing a Roman garrison there. The city was also inhabited by Alexander the Great and Napoleon Bonaparte of France. On March 7, 1799 Napoleon I of France captured the town in what became known as the Siege of Jaffa. The city was ransacked and scores of locals killed. While many more died in an epidemic (plague) that broke out soon afterwards.
Street Art near Jaffa (a pano shot combining 5 photos)
The Old Opera Theater, Tel Aviv as seen from my hotel.
Today I arrived in Jerusalem, where I will spend the next 3 days wandering around the many twisting, turning streets and visit the many ancients sights, including the Temple Mount, The Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and much more.