From Toronto to Jerusalem, with love

This post is part of my Israel travel series Scrolls from the Holy Land: Travel stories | Photo gallery

Finally I start narrating the story 🙂

20 December: Canada to Israel

Someone told me that El Al (एल आल) terminals are always located at the end of the airport, because they need elaborate security arrangements. El Al is the national carrier of Israel and being a direct flight (12 hours), I preferred it. Indeed, being the only non-Jewish, non-Canadian passenger on the plane, I was given a special treatment (expectedly). They took away ALL my baggage including my laptop and didn’t return it until the plane started to board. Since I was left for 2 hours only with my passport, boarding pass and the e-ticket, I dutifully read all of them at least thrice and then started watching people. Later the security person scanned my body in such detail, touching me in places I never knew existed on my body (it was difficult to control giggling and other body reactions) 😛

Have you seen the guy that falls asleep on chairs or at some obscure corners of the airport? I’m usually that guy, but I spent 33 hours almost without any sleep. The El Al seats are designed for maximum discomfort, aided by the firm and thick pillows, the usefulness of which is still a puzzle for me. There were so many kids on the plane, and since I hate kids, a nasty application of those pillows crossed my mind but then the cute attendant served some wine and things were okay. The movie “Darjeeling Limited” on the big central screen was interesting enough. My neighbor had plenty of questions and I attempted to answer them, but then I gave up because the movie was too stereotypical of India (snake charmers and elephants, you know)

21 December: Israel

I reached Ben Gurion (बेन गुरीयन) airport after a journey of 12 hours. The landing was really jerky (and my neighbor snorted phew, how typical Israeli) but the passport control and entry was surprisingly fast. My passport has been stamped by Israeli Visa and immigration now, which effectively bars me from entering any Islamic country in the future! (अरेरे…)

Israel smells different than Toronto. The weather was really good, around 15deg and quite sunny. The landscape and the feel (including chaos on roads) reminded me a lot about India, specifically the city of Indore.

Airport to Jerusalem:
It is confusing to navigate from the airport to Jerusalem (सर्वसाधारण उच्चार “जेरूसलेम्” असा आहे.), and here’s what I did: Go to Level 2 of the airport and exit from the sign marked ‘Buses’. Once you are out, cross the street and walk left for some distance until you spot bus stops. Bus #5 takes you to Airport city from where there is a connection to Jerusalem (and other major cities). Bus 947 will bring you to Jerusalem Central Bus Station (CBS). Ticket 20 NIS.

New Israeli Sheqalim (NIS) – referred simply as Shekel (शेकेल) – is the official currency of Israel. Approximately, 1 USD/CAD = 4 NIS and 1 NIS = 10 INR.

Shabbat:
Shabbat (शब्बात) is the Jewish holyday holiday and it lasts from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset. Literally, ‘Shabbat’ means ‘a day of rest’ in Hebrew (हिब्रू). A Jewish ‘day’ starts with sunset (exactly opposite to that of the Hindus). The phrase ‘sabbatical’ originates from this word. Weekend in Israel is on Friday and Saturday. The implication of Sabbath is that everything in Israel (specifically, Jerusalem) stops on this day. This includes shops, buses, everything. I will have more interesting details later (in the same sequence that I learnt them).

By the time I reached Jerusalem CBS, it was 15:30 and Shabbat had begun. This meant that the whole city virtually shut down. The crowds and chaos on the street barely 10 minutes back had gone and everything had a deserted look. The only way out was to hire a taxi, and just like one would expect in India, the taxi drivers had complete monopoly to decide their own rates (demand-supply economics). Little did they know that I was born with bargaining skills!

Taxi drivers – same all over the world?
I paid the cab driver and was supposed to get 10 NIS in return. I was unfamiliar with the currency and too tired to check what he gave me. Later I got to know that the driver returned me a 10 Agorot coin instead of 10 Shekels (That’s like giving you a 10 cent coin instead of a 10$ one) ….. hehehe! Anyway!

This post is part of my Israel travel series Scrolls from the Holy Land: Travel stories | Photo gallery