Sip Kosher wine, submerse toes into a Dead Sea bath, while I transport your imagination, beneath your yarmulke, to Jerusalem, Israel…
The driver signaled my stop, with his pointer through the rear view. Door ajar, my traveling soles touched Israeli soil, for the first time. Hardly a recognizable bus stop, tires pulled away, leaving my pack and I between a highway, and dusty car lot. Traveling solo, my goal was to find my hostel before nightfall. My pomegranate seed size clue at the intersection, in the heat of the Middle East, was a sign pointing toward Jerusalem. Neither in Kansas, nor Epcot, locals eyed me despite wearing a shirt my sister brought from India, attempting to blend, like layers of Baklava. On the contrary, I flashed like a tourist, with a flare upon my back.
The second bus transported me to the Jerusalem station. Schedules posted in Hebrew, cultural misunderstandings hindered further assistance. With the afternoon sun setting, reality sunk in I would have to find my hostel, via foot. Survival skills alert, I circled the station for a map. No luck. I pride myself in solving puzzles, without asking for assistance when possible, nor assuming locals will, or should communicate in English. Uneasiness crept in, unsure which direction to go. I thought about my Gram, trusting her prayers would protect, and walked into the dark, exceeding my comfort zone.
After some time, unknowingly I had meandered off the tourist track, warmest passerby, a skinny black cat that spooked. Purchasing an apple and water softened anxiety until a familiar insignia, Crowne Plaza appeared on a hilltop. Entering with confidence, retinas scanned the space, spotting a map. Taking it, I walked out briskly, before the doorman had reason to confront me. Score!
A map was all I needed.
My body fading, until comfort eased into nerves surrounded by a crowd, moving toward The Jaffa Gate. Families dressed to the T strolled sidewalks, pushing wide strollers, as siblings carried youngsters. Refreshingly, chain restaurants or anything familiar was nowhere in sight. Entering the castle-like entrance, I exhaled with relief, absolutely stunned by my coordinates. I was close, barring one final obstacle…my street was barricaded by police, with guns…
My calves ached from walking a labyrinth of corridors, as if climbing a stepper in a gym, watching The Travel Channel. Expelling top mental energy, my thoughts weren’t as sharp as hours previous. Smaller cross streets became challenging to locate, young boys informed I head in opposing directions. One held my handshake uncomfortably long, until apparent I give him shekels. 4 hours of walking Israeli streets, I found my hostel, rarely this appreciative for a roof overhead.
I fell in love with the 700 year old curved stone architecture. I climbed my final incline, to my rooftop accommodation, (46 ILS/night – on that day, converted roughly @ $16.00 USD/night) was led to an available mattress, and set my pack down. My mandible dropped below Dead Sea level, in complete awe of the view. A magical moment flooded me with the reality of being right there, in The Holy City. A live band echoed through the warm breeze, folks danced on an adjacent rooftop. Savoring the moment, I stayed awake for a long time, studying the brain shaped moon. Cotton candy clouds covered stars, reminiscent of sailing the BVI.
I woke to Islamic prayers, echoing across the land at 0500. Bellowing like a megaphone an older brother would startle you with, I giggled, wondering if I could request they wait until 0600. Israeli moments later, sun rays danced across rooftop packs, and resting bodies from numerous time zones.
Venturing downstairs in the wee hours, I researched the Dead Sea, and city tours. Then cuddling into a perfect writers nook, upon a red cushion against a stone wall, inspired, I wrote.
I showered, literally, with a toilet, beneath water that never turned warm. Set out to explore, I found a breakfast nook, owner read me menu options, listed in Hebrew. Pigeons, a couple, and myself, the only motion above sedentary stones. I was sold on the omelet, sharing a plate with hummus, red cabbage, pickles, and tomatoes. Accompanied by hydrating freshly squeezed lemonade, with floating mint leaves.
A city tour led us through the four quarters, learning Muslim history while viewing symbols of Mecca. We passed a personal courtyard in the Armenian section, stunning Wailing Wall, in the Jewish quarter, and crosses for sale in a Christian marketplace.
Purchasing a salad, I ate in a square, witnessing locals, homeless and musicians. The world, despite her differences from what I witness, operates within a similar beating heart.
Following exploring the Zion gate surroundings, and viewing King David’s tomb, I returned to my hostel to rest my legs. Joining a German, I watched Obama’s Live United Nations speech. It was humbling to witness history regarding the surrounding countries, curious if the Iranian president and Obama would shake.
Overhead, police helis circled, while explosives echoed in the distance. Definitely not Sukkot celebratory fireworks, I climbed to the rooftop with naive curiosity. An employee informed if in immediate danger, sirens would alarm. Too close for comfort, but my eyes needed to be opened to a lifestyle surrounded by a hot zone. Curious how that might impact ones life, ironically I returned home with nightmares about guns.
The second night on the roof, a man on a mattress next to me slept, displaying a dolphin tattoo across his neck and forehead. Intrigued, I thought about the variety of stories and backgrounds of the 17 other travelers, on this very rooftop, who perhaps at the time were counting Israeli goats. Speaking of local animals, I slept like a snuggly lamb from Bethlehem, thanks to my Burton sleeper hoodie! (Highly recommended for any non-rev employee, excellent for napping anywhere in the world, including rooftops, terminals and middle seats.)
Despite a stressful job working the front lines of an airline, I had the opportunity to fly roundtrip/standby for $41.57 USD. Cheaper than going out to all the movies I watched inflight.
It was a trip worth all potential dangers, trumping previous trepidation to explore Israel alone. Friends; stay safe, be open to differences, and be good to one another.