Sunday, December 2, 2007

The journey to Israel

Someone has said that to travel hopefully is better than to arrive. Existentially they were correct, and I'm fond of quoting the line to my wife, but common sense (and hindsight) do suggest that travelling hopefully followed by arrival is the preferred experience. That is a long way of saying that I left Sydney, Australia, on Saturday at 4.45 pm, and arrived in Israel (via Bangkok) on Sunday at 7.25 am, after watching sunrise over the Red Sea and the early morning rays on the hills of Judea as we descended into the great coastal city of Tel Aviv (pictured).

The actual flying time was eight and a half hours to Thailand, plus 11 hours to Tel Aviv, with three hours in transit. I expected the transit to be uneventful, but I had not anticipated just how security-conscious El Al, the Israeli airline, can be. It seems that transit passengers (i.e. those booked through to Tel Aviv from previous ports) were required to undergo a thorough - and I mean thorough - security check, in groups of twelve.

My check took about 20 minutes, and I'm pleased to say that I carried no explosive residue on my clothes, shoes or the inside lining of my bags. Nor was there anything sinister between the US dollar notes in my wallet, or concealed in my watch, or hidden in my underwear. I'm not sure how detailed the bag searches were, but El Al staff took them all to closed rooms and said they would X-ray them. That took 15 minutes. By the look of the contents of my bags when I arrived at the hotel, they did more than X-ray. And we were more than an hour late departing Thailand. But I can genuinely say that it was probably the safest flight I've ever experienced. And the food was delicious. And all those young broad-chested Israeli men on board with close-cropped hair - probably just businessmen returning from sales conferences.

After a very warm welcome from staff and a leisurely breakfast at the beautiful Gloria Hotel with Gregor Henderson (who arrived early to catch up with family connections), I'm relaxing and taking in the sights of the Old City today and tomorrow, with the formal side of our visit commencing in earnest on Tuesday. The ancient centre of Jerusalem, not least the endless stone walls and very narrow streets, has to be seen to be believed. The hotel is situated 80 metres from the Jaffa Gate (pictured), and about 200 metres from what is reputed to be the hill called Golgotha (now submerged beneath the Church of the Holy Sepulcre, not to be confused with the Garden Tomb, a little way outside the city walls).

Oh, and the hotel has wifi, so there should be no difficulty in regular blogging. More in my next post.