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The following is a summation of our 10 day tour throughout the country of Israel.
We were gone for a total of 13 days – but let’s all just take a moment to acknowledge that traveling to the other side of the world takes at least a day and a half. Yes? Okay. Moving on.
Our journey began with waiting for a bus in a parking lot for about 2 and a half hours. Turns out there was a miscommunication between the dispatch and the bus driver and we left an hour (or two?) behind schedule. So the 25 travelers and a handful of family members and wishful thinkers hung out in the parking lot. Nervously pacing, checking and double checking luggage, and raiding the church kitchen for leftover chicken and semi-stale rolls. Finally, the tardy bus and driver arrived, we shouted our goodbyes, loaded up our luggage, listened to the driver’s safety spiel (what is this? A rocket powered bus?) and headed toward the airport in San Francisco… Where, upon arrival at the main terminal, we found out that mere seconds before we got on line for the check-in counter the entire Turkish Airlines system had gone down. Everything was down. All the computers at their tall desks, the check-in program, the website, everything was nonoperative! So… again, we waited. And waited, and waited… One by one the people waiting between the black guide ropes and silver stanchions dropped to the ground and nestled in beside their bulging luggage. People in our group broke out playing cards and turkey jerky. Myself and another member of our tour were having a ridiculous conversation in an equally ridiculous interpretation of an Italian accent when I suddenly noticed that the group of international high-schoolers ahead of us all were carrying Italian pass-a-portes! Oops… sorry…. #awkward. “Would you like-a some spaghetti?”
Eventually, when we all realized that our flight just wasn’t going to be leaving at the originally scheduled time, the server for all of Turkish Airlinedom came back online and within minutes we were speed walking our way (Wheeeee! Moving sidewalks!) from one end of the terminal alllllll the way to the other end! Of course, our flight was taking off from the furthest gate possible, just to make things fun. We stopped briefly to fill our collapsible water bottles – these Vapur water bottles were more than worth their weight in…water! – and purchase a loaf of bread with some turkey breast hidden inside, which Ryan and I split once we made it to our gate. The airline had pushed the scheduled time for take off back an hour to make up for the crazy delay. We had just enough time to sit, eat our “sandwich”, and use the lavatory before the announcement was made and we were boarding our flight to Istanbul, praying that we wouldn’t miss our connecting flight.
The flight was fairly uneventful save for the fact that before the flight even took off the electrical system for the seat back entertainment centers went down and they never bothered to reboot them… not for the whole 14 hours of that flight. Not a great day for Turkish Airlines… Needless to say, the travelers in our group spent quite a few stir crazy hours up in the air. Some of us slept more on that flight than any other flight we had ever taken before. Ryan and I both had this amazing pillow.
When we finally touched down in Istanbul we found out that our flight had lost its gate due to being over an hour behind schedule. So we off-loaded in the middle of the tarmack by way of those old-fashioned staircase, like Gerald Ford or Richard Nixon. The chilly, damp night air was a blessed relief after fourteen hours of the stale, recycled atmosphere of the metal passenger tube. We all crammed into a few airport trams and were delivered to another terminal way over on the other side of the airport. We quickly located an arrival/departure board and discovered we hadn’t missed our connecting flight! But it was leaving soon! Cue Ryan and I running thru the airport to tell the flight to “Waiiiiiiit! There are 25 people coming from a delayed flight!”. We were somewhat familiar with the Istanbul airport – having spent many hours in it as we passed thru 4 times on previous trips to Jordan and Ethiopia – so we knew enough to not get lost or turned around. And once again, our gate was on what felt like the furthest most opposite terminal from where we had been deposited. We made it with 20 minutes to spare, although the language barrier made it difficult to relay the message that there were 23 other people rushing to make it from the other side of the airport. We kind of got the message, “Get on or stay off, we don’t care.” We didn’t want to board without our whole group so we chose to wait. Eventually, our whole group made it and we began the boarding process. I handed my ticket to the sentinel of the gate and as he passed the bar code under the scanner it emitted a buzzing noise that can only mean “error”. The gate attendant sighed exasperatedly and made marks on my ticket with a ballpoint pen, as he explained to me that the flight had been overbooked and he was manually reassigning my seat. I didn’t really care as long as I got on that plane! I headed thru the doors only to find myself…outside. This wasn’t the gangway to the airplane…we were being squeezed on to yet another transport bus. The doors hissed shut, we all swayed as the bus lurched forward, and as we rode along it began to dawn on me…Wait a minute… are we heading back to where our flight landed? Yes, yes I believe we are. Oh, yup, there is our previous airplane… oh, and, uh-huh, right next to it, our future flight getting ready to go! Yes, folks, we had been offloaded and driven to the opposite end of the airport so we could run back thru the airport and be re-delivered to where we started the whole mad dash. I think someone was having a bit of fun with us, no?
Okay, sorry, loooong story short. We finally made it to Tel Aviv; where we met, for the first time, Shimon Zemer, tour guide extraordinaire and all around amazing fellow. He welcomed us, loaded us on to the tour bus that would be our home for the next 10 days and pointed us towards our hotel. When we arrived we got our first taste of the mad luggage shuffle that would become quite familiar to us; we heard him use the word, “schlep”, for the first of many, many joy inducing times; and had our first taste of Israeli hospitality, which took the form of: a plate of cold cuts, olives, cucumbers, and bread rolls. Thank the good Lord there was also fresh juice, and water… which I promptly spilled all over the table linen… can I blame that on jetlag as well? And with a rushed “good night” to those still left in the dim light of the hotel dining room Ryan and I headed off to find our room and more importantly the bed. I fell asleep distantly aware of the sound of waves crashing on shore.