Had a 15-minute train ride from Schipol Airport to the city center, walked to Vondelpark, took a long nap on the grass, woke up, purchased a king-sized cone of pomme frites (slathered in sauce, of course), ate it next to a canal while tourists waved as us from boats, and then returned back to Schipol.
After an exhausting while, we managed to find our way into the city, and then- after much much more trial and error- we made it to Colin's advisor's flat, which was graciously offered as a place for us to stay for a few days while they was out of town.
The few days spent in Tel Aviv did us some good, being able to take the time to re-cooperate from jetlag and to orient ourselves to a new country. We spent most of our days in Tel Aviv walking: exploring supermarkets, the shuk (market), the seaside, the ports, Old Jaffa, etc. By the time we were through with it all, we had walked the entire length of the city along its coast, and then some.
In looking up information online regarding the issue of security and taking pictures of the American embassy, I came across an opinion that I wholly agree with:
This sort of thing always strikes me as the stupidest kind of ad-hoc "regulation" possible -- and usually created by people who don't know how else to make things seem "secure". Two gaping problems: first, attempting to stop people from knowing something that is accessible to all (the information contained in a picture of a public place), and second, relying on stopping them by having gun-toting goons look for the only the most obvious sign that it is happening (someone holding a big camera).
What do they think, that the average person who takes a picture is doing it for "intelligence gathering" purposes? And that someone who really wants the picture won't be able to get it by surreptitious means? Do they check everyone's bag and person for hidden cameras? How about if I just don't hold the camera up to my eye, or set it to take pictures automatically? I guess that's not a threat, then?
ok, there is something (although very weak) to the idea that if you enforce something like that, it will be that much harder for someone to really take a picture for nefarious purposes. But still, who do you think is going to be smarter/better at it, the person looking for traditional threats, or the person trying to come up with new ways to defeat them?
in general, this type of "rule" is silly.
There's much more of this type of security theater that goes on throughout Israel, such as with the 'security checks' at the central bus stations of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Entering and exiting each station can be a nightmare at times- imagine if prior to being allowed to enter or exit the building, that the (pardon my French) clusterfuck of people at Port Authority have to go through metal detectors, and that their luggage have to go through xrays or be opened up/searched.
It'd be a crazy clusterfuck, right?
Well, it's not any more orderly in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, either. If you're lucky there'll be the semblance of a line going on, but chances are it'll be a crowded free-for-all.
But hey, sacrifices and inconveniences have to be made to make everyone safer, right? The country does have many enemies, and is interested in its self-preservation and the safety of its citizens.
Yes, sure, although I see little point in hoisting my luggage onto a small podium, walking through a metal detector, waiting to see if anyone actually wants to check my luggage- still on the podium- and finally just retrieving it and being on my way since it's clear that no one really cares to check, seeing as how 60 other passengers are shoving to get past security that same instance to get to their terminals and make their connections. It's such a dog and pony show.
Not that all the security efforts in Israel are pointless, to be clear. To a certain extent, I understand why Israeli airport security needs to be tight, and they do a decent job in that it didn't feel like sham-security (though it was long and tedious for sure, and included having my luggage completely taken apart and of multiple things going through multiple xrays and of me going through multiple lines and through a fair amount of questioning).
And, when we witnessed a street in Jerusalem shut down entirely because there was a piece of abandoned luggage at a light-rail stop, I thought they did a good and quick job with its investigation and with getting the street opened back up.
As a side note, coming home from my internship today I saw the usual horde of cops inside my subway station stationed at their table ready to "randomly search" people, so it's not like NYC is that much better.
Legend/history (as recorded by 1st Century CE historian Josephus Flavius) has it that in 74 CE, the Romans laid siege the mountain. After spending months building a ramp and battering ram to breach the fortress, the Romans finally broke through to find that the 960 Jewish inhabitants of the fortress has taken their lives the night prior, choosing death rather than slavery to the Romans.
Staying in Masada for a few days, we used it as a home-base for exploring the Dead Sea region.
Next stop, walking to the Dead Sea:
We had plans to hit up the three of the holiest/religious sites in the Old City:
1) The Western Wall (aka Wailing Wall), the retaining wall King Herod built to surround Temple Mount and the ancient Temple. Since the precise location of the ancient Temple is not known, the wall is a remnant of the time period and has become a holy place by proxy to the Jews.
We visited the Western Wall a few times, including once at sundown on Friday night to watch people welcoming the sabbath. No photo-taking on the sabbath, so there are no pictures, but it was a great night for people-watching. Everywhere you turned were folks in fabulous outfits and soldiers with guns (who are actually everywhere in Israel, so it wasn't that much of a spectacle, except there were certainly more of them hanging out in the Plaza that night- also, they were singing and being merry).
Modest dress is required (no exposed shoulders or knees- for both men and women), and there is segregation of men and women when visiting the wall.
Upon entering the church, immediately in front of you is the pink Stone of Unction, where it is said that Jesus was prepared for burial. People rub it, and rub things on it (scarves, trinkets, etc) to... soak up its sanctity.
3) Temple Mount, or Haram Esh-Sharif: Failed. We weren't able to get in. We arrived to Jerusalem on a Wednesday, tried to get in on Thursday and failed (it's closed to non-Muslims on Fridays and Saturdays).
In any case, The Temple Mount is a big religious enclosure/plaza. The original Temple was enclosed there (Romans burned it down in 70 CE, around the time the whole Masada seige happened), and there's a great rock there, now under the Dome of the Rock, that is said to be where Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac. This also may or may not be where the Second Temple was built, and where Muhammad ascended up to heaven on his flying horse to meet with God. Yeah. In Temple Mount is also the El Aqsa Mosque, the third most holy mosque in the world (after those in Saudi Arabia- Mecca and Medina).
Our guidebook was a little spotty about the limited access hours to Temple Mount for non-Muslims, as were suggestions/information online-- apparently the plaza is open Sundays through Thursdays for a few hours in the morning, and then for about an hour in the afternoon (our book says 1:30pm to 2:30pm).
After asking around a whole lot, there's only one gate we could have entered from (Mughrabi Gate), which is a ramp/bridge thing from the Western Wall Plaza:
Incredibly frustrating. And to think, that years ago during peaceful days, all this was open to everybody (including the Dome of the Rock and the mosque), and that all you had to do was buy a special entry ticket for a small fee. Due to current politics though, the Waqf (Islamic Trust) has barred non-believers indefinitely from entering buildings on Temple Mount and have limited general access hours, which is something that though I understand (why have non-believers gawking around at my place of worship?), I obviously do not believe in.
Holy sites belong to God, not man-- so why does man keep the keys & lock them up?
Such a shame, considering that Islamic art and design is some of the most crazy-gorgeous beautiful stuff in the world (just think of the Alhambra), and it is a pity that we missed it.
Oh well, Colin has a snapshot of me somewhere with the Dome of the Rock in the background or something.
The rest of the time in Jerusalem had been interesting. We were in the center of a really lively part of town, on a constantly busy street which became home to tons of street performers at night. The area was littered with shops, cafes, food stalls, ice cream/frozen yogurt shops bakeries, etc. We had lots of awesome relatively cheap food (including this one totally hard-to-find, hippy, cozy soup place at night that just served soup and beer-- the soups came with a large amount of bread/butter/pesto and was amaaaazing). Pita falafel were another staple (schwarmas for Colin).
People in Israel seemed to be late eaters, with most of the dinner action happening past 8-9pm, which is the way I like it.
Everything closed down Friday at sundown though. We thought that might have been the case, though we weren't sure to what extent places would be closed, since we were outside of the Old City and since everything had been so incredibly lively during the week. Still, in anticipation, we purchased some fruit and some bread from the Machaneh Yehuda market on Friday afternoon so that we would have something for lunch the next day- very glad we did so. Everything shut down for the sabbath, and our area became a ghost town.
Despite this, there was plenty still to do in Jerusalem during the Sabbath-- for one thing, the Old City doesn't close (though the Jewish Quarter was quiet), so it was a good time to wander around the various other quarters (Christian, Muslim, Armenian).
On Friday we had gone to the City of David outside the Old City near Dung Gate.
The highlight was sloshing around Hezekiah's Tunnel, which was an ancient tunnel dug underground to bring water from the Silwan to the City of David in Jerusalem. The tunnel is long (about half an hour to walk), low (the ceiling was under 5 ft at times), incredibly narrow (like, 3 feet across), completely dark (bring a flashlight), slippery and wet (you're walking in knee-high water, after all). Not for those who are claustrophobic, and once you go in there's no turning back, as it's definitely single-file. Colin and I were stuck behind a tour group down in the tunnel, which I actually found comforting-- the guides cracked jokes the entire time.
Kind of incredible to think of how the tunnel was chiseled all those years ago, and how long it must have took.
Colin took me to the airport on Monday- he's staying behind in Israel for another week.
So, two non-believers visit the Holy Land for two weeks and what happens? Terrorist attacks in Israel, political revolution in Libya, earthquakes and hurricanes back home. Ha!
Got back home on Tuesday, had my first day of classes (6 hours!) on Wednesday, and had my first full day of my new internship at the ACLU Archives today.
Ready for a three day weekend, for sure! Too bad homework's starting to quickly pile up.