The security going to Israel wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. We got to the gate way too early, and then about a half hour later, we had to vacate the area while two special security officers did a sweep, and then had everyone go through a procedure whereby they swabbed a little paper over the belt buckle, shoes, and hands, and the paper went into a sensor, which presumably checked for explosive residue. Once we arrived in Israel we did go through a minor security screening, but it wasn't much more than asking us what the purpose of our visit was, and checking passports and pictures.
|The ramparts of the old city of Jerusalem|
Our hotel, the Dan Panorama Jerusalem, was huge and had lots of American church tour groups. I was a little surprised by the atmosphere. Here we are, in a place that's very exotic for us, and we're surrounded by really friendly church groups from the bible belt! We were upgraded at no cost from a family room to a suite, which was nice, and gave us plenty of room.
One of the things that I looked forward to every day we stayed there was - the breakfast buffet! I'm not exaggerating when I say it was the largest and most varied breakfast buffet that we've ever seen. And not your standard breakfast buffet dishes, either - there were many different types of salad, lots of hummus, a HUGE cheese selection, many different fish dishes, plus the items that you'd expect at a breakfast (cereal, different breads, eggs). But no bacon, of course, everything was strictly kosher! No meat at all, as a matter of fact. I don't understand all the ins and outs of when something is kosher or not, but mixing meat and dairy is not kosher.
|Breakfast buffet at the Dan Panorama|
One pleasant surprise was that there were lots of water fountains everywhere! In the airport, in museums, around the Western Wall. It reminds me of what things were like in the US before this mania for drinking bottled water got hold.
We put up a bunch of pictures from Israel on our picture website, http://ericandsylvia.com/pictures/2013/02-10-2013-israel/, they cover most of what we did. So here I'll just jot a few quick notes:
- I've been carrying a little Swiss army knife everywhere, through airport security, for months. Nobody ever found it. At the security for the Western Wall, for the first time ever, it was found. They let me keep it, though.
- There were LOTS of youth groups all over. At Ein Gedi Nature Preserve there was a huge group of schoolgirls, and also a large Birthright group (the organization that brings young adults with a Jewish heritage to Israel for all expense paid trips) with armed guard.
- Masada was very impressive, a stunning location, and ruins scattered all about. We could have spent much more time there, didn't even see Herod's castle. I wonder what happened to the 2 women and 5 children who survived the mass suicide? At the food court area at Masada, there was a group of Palestinian kids (were they actually there to visit Masada proper, or because it was the only food in a long stretch) who were not very friendly, we sat at a (very long, plenty of room) table where some of the girls were sitting, they immediately got up and walked away.
- So many soldiers walking around with machine guns! They were all over the Old Town of Jerusalem
- We got stopped at a roadblock on our way to Masada. A female soldier with a couple male soldiers stopped us (they were stopping everyone) and said, very casually, "What's up?" Eric didn't really know how to respond, I said, "We're headed to Ein Gedi'. She said "Have a nice trip", and that was it.
- I assume it's for military reason, but in Israel Google Maps does not have anywhere close to high resolution photos like they do everywhere else we've been. You try to zoom in, and it's completely blurry. Plus, you can't download offline maps for Israel.
- Eric and Kenny (Peter and I had already gone back to our hotel) had stones thrown at them by some teenagers that they were taking pictures of as said teenagers moved what were probably stolen goods through the city walls. Eric created put some pictures up: http://ericandsylvia.com/pictures/2013/02-10-2013-israel-stoned/. Luckily they weren't hit, but it was scary.