Coming here now feels a bit like when I arrived in Delhi. This time, instead of the place being on alert on a rumour, the place is on alert because of actual casualties. I have to admit that the global uproar regarding the flotilla situation just two days ago has me a little bit nervous. At the same time, it should make this a very interesting time to be here.
The Tel Aviv airport is one of the loveliest that I have seen. Modern, clean and easy to get around. Naturally, one of my first experiences in the country is with immigration. Apparently, one of the requisites for the job is to be an attractive young woman; not bad for tourism. My flight landed around the same time as another vessel carrying a load of Hasidic Jews, which made for a doubly eye catching first impression of the country. (This picture has nothing to do with what I've said, but it had to be posted nonetheless).
The city of Tel Aviv is framed on one side with one of the most beautiful city beaches that I've seen and we were fortunate to arrive in time to watch the sun set. Not a bad second impression. The sunset was topped only by the fantastic dinner (I heart Israeli food) and a wild evening on a beautiful rooftop lounge (I heart rooftops and lounges).
Despite a late night, our first full day started really early. Destination: Jerusalem.
Our tour guide was excellent, walking around the old city of Jerusalem, he explained much of the history. I had heard a lot of it before, most of it was stuff that I had heard before, but somehow being here, it made more sense. Jews, Muslims, Christians. All living next to each other in their holiest of places. This place is really really significant to a lot of people.
In some ways, it felt very safe to be there - like nobody was going to do something violent because it is a holy place.
We strolled into the muslim quarter for some kick ass hummus, checked out the site of the last supper, and made a wish on the wailing wall.
Our guide was clearly used to taking religious tourists around, with questions like 'Does anyone remember what it says on the first page of the new testament?' (uh…no) and 'Who knows why the Wailing Wall is on the western wall?' (uh…definitely not me). Despite the fact that our group numbered close to 30, nobody among us could even attempt a respectable response. After we couldn't answer a question about the sacrificial lamb, he moaned 'Come on, this is like third grade trivia!'. Maybe in Israel...
It was at this point that our guide first referenced the Simpsons. Specifically the episode in which Homer gets Messiah Syndrome. Turns out that the Simpsons has resonated more than the Bible with this group.
When we got back into our tour bus, which was equipped with satellite television, we tuned into CNN. The breaking news was that kids were throwing stones at cars in East Jerusalem apparently in protest of the flotilla situation. I think this is the first time that I've been in a place and had one impression, then seen that same place on television and had a completely different impression. I'm not saying that there isn't potential for tension or shit to go down here, but it is a good reminder for me that what I see on television is not necessarily the entire picture.
We finished the evening with a tour of Jerusalem night life. Walking along the street, we came across some protesters in the street singing 'let it be'. I'm not sure what their cause was but, in any case, it seemed like there might be a better choice of songs to underscore the call for change.
Then we hit a nightclub called Constantine. The decor mimicked a church, with faux stained glass arrangements lining the walls. Only in Jerusalem!