My last day in Israel and the Journey Home

January 18th-19th, 2012

After a long night out in Tel Aviv, we were all tired.  By the time we all went down for breakfast, it was nearly time to get everything on to the bus and tour a little bit of Tel Aviv and Yaffo.  I had my regular breakfast of coco puffs and decided to add some bread and butter to go along with it for a change.  We all seemed a little sluggish, which I wasn’t if it was from the night before or because none of us really felt ready to leave.

Following breakfast, we loaded the bus up with our stuff on to Yoav’s bus, but got on to a different one.  Based on labor laws, we couldn’t be on Yoav’s bus during the morning, because he would be driving for too long throughout the day.  We headed to part of where Tel Aviv had grown to become a really big city.

When we got off of the bus, it was really bright out and probably the warmest it was the entire time we were there.  I don’t think anyone particularly appreciated how bright it was, but at least it was warmer.  We started walking around, but this part of the tour was a lot less talking from Nadav and a lot more just looking around.

After a little bit of walking, we found a set up steps where Nadav has us sit down and we learned a little bit about the citrus industry that helped build up this area long ago.  Most of the oranges that had once been here had moved north of Tel Aviv, but now are slowly moving south to parts of the desert that are being turned green.  Real estate is a big part of where agriculture takes place in Israel in the same way it is in the US.

While we were sitting down, a stray cat jumped up on my lap and Jennie next to me.  The cat was very friendly and clearly wanted attention.  Usually Nadav would enjoy this kind of thing, but he sort of laughed about it.  Lucky enough for me, Meagan got a nice pictures of “my new bestfriend” sitting in my lap.

After we got up, Nadav pointed out to us a mural of some of those who had helped truly build up the Tel Aviv of today.  The cat followed us a little longer until we started walking further up the road.  Meagan offered me one of those wet napkins things my grandma used to take from Atlantic City and I cleaned my hands.  Can’t be carefully enough when it comes to stray cats in Israel.

From here, we stopped and checked out what was once one of the largest houses in the city that is having some work done it.  We then headed towards the main drag that we were on the night before.  It looks a little bit different.  One thing I hadn’t realized the night before was how close the first bar we went to was to the place where some of the major discussions for Israeli independence took place.  While Nadav explained the significance of this, a group doing a scavenger hunt took some pictures of a couple random things that our group could do including one or two people who could tough their nose with their tongues.

Walking further down the way, we checked out two giant and beautiful mosaics and stopped to use the bathroom.  At this point we were all already dragging, but the show had to go on.

Finally it was time for lunch and we headed to the market.  I joined up with Eric and Carly and did some shopping first.  Carly had to get a t-shirt for her boyfriend back in the states.  At markets like the one we were at, t-shirts aren’t too hard to find, so we didn’t have much trouble.

We walked down the aisles of the market looking at all of the cool knick-knacks, fresh fruit, fresh meat, fresh fish, and jewelry.  It was something you just don’t see in the states that I don’t think we could fairly describe.

Carly and I decided after some shopping that it would be a good time to start looking for lunch.  We looked at one place just off the market, but noticed the whole menu was in Hebrew, so we decided to continue on.  In the middle of the aisle we were walking down, a man was giving out samples from the restaurant that he worked out that had everything we wanted and after taking a taste; we knew it was the right place.  The fact that the man said that it would also only cost us 40 sheckles for the two of us (a little more than $10 American), we couldn’t say no.

The restaurant was tiny with seating for just four people.  We sat down and ordered shawarma and Cokes in class bottles as we admired the tiny restaurant.  The man who took our order spoke great English and was happy to come by to talk to us as one of the other men there cooked our food.

After about fifteen minutes, our food was delivered, mine with everything on it and spicy, Carly’s a little bit more plain.  We both looked at our food and smiled.  I felt a little bit like I was discovering something brand new or delicious or like I was Anthony Bourdain enjoying something fresh and delicious.

I don’t know if I’ve explained this well enough from all the other entries I’ve made from my trip, but everything in Israel I ate was pretty much fresh.  The concern about farm to table isn’t such a big deal, since the whole country is so small.  Before taking a bite, the owner who had talked to us before let us know that to eat it, to make sure to be careful, because he had stuffed it so much that the pita might break.  

The first bite of my shawarma had so many flavors it’s hard to really do it justice.  Both of us took pictures of our food, because it was one of those meals you wanted to remember.  Mine was layered with a couple French fries, fresh tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, onions, some kind of hot, spicy sauce, and a tiny bit of humus.  This was by far one of my favorite meals of the entire trip.

We sat and enjoyed our meal, happy to have found an incredible bargain where we didn’t expect one.  The owner came and talked to us more and told us about his trips to the US and gave us a menu to take with us inviting us to come back.  We sadly let him know we were leaving later that day, but if I ever return, I have every intention of visiting the same spot again.  I think about the taste of that shawarma often and the perfect mix of fresh, spicy goodness.

Being done eating, it was time to do a little more shopping.  We looked at more jewelry, happened on some chocolate hamentashen, which Carly was happy to buy.  A couple minutes later, we walked into a store that looked a little bit like the American store Claires if it also included a tattoo parlor inside.  Carly found some earrings made from guitar picks.

We decided to wander around a little bit towards where we had earlier seen from really cool looking graffiti.  We took pictures of different images from around the area and window shopped for a little bit.  I noticed a little convenience store and went in looking for a snack for the bus ride.  After doing a lap around it, we both decided not to buy anything and we started heading back towards the meeting point.

We got back and started looking for a bathroom and ended up spending 15 minutes walking the wrong way before we finally asked someone for some directions.  The bathroom was strange as it was set underground almost like you were walking down to a subway or something.  It was fairly clean considering it was a public bathroom.

After returning from the bathroom, I noticed some other members of our group sitting around with Mike who had apparently lost his passport sometime between then and eating lunch.  Everyone freaked out, but thankfully it was found with in about 15 minutes or so.

We waited another couple minutes here before walking up the road to meet Yoav with the bus.  We loaded on to the bus and started heading back to Jerusalem for the Birthright Educational Fair.  This meant a nice long bus ride and a nice nap.

After a bit of naptime, we arrived in Jerusalem at the Educational Fair and we were one of the first groups to get there.  We loaded off the bus, walked through the security there, and went up to see what was going on.  It was like a College fair, only it was different opportunities to come back to Israel for free or inexpensively.  I focused on opportunities that were educational where I could get a graduate degree.  I talked to a woman there about an MBA program near Tel Aviv that sounded interesting.  After about twenty minutes it started to get crowded and I was pretty much done talking to people there.  Thankfully, it was pretty much time to go fairly soon after I went to the bathroom.

We exited the building, got back onto the bus and waited for about fifteen minutes and weren’t entirely sure why.  A van pulled up behind the bus with a bunch of brown boxes.  These turned out to be the t-shirts and sweatshirts we had ordered.  Not going to lie, that sweatshirt is now one of my favorite ones that I own.  From the fair we, had to head back to Tel Aviv again for dinner, which meant naptime!  Hooray for MOAR NAPS!

We all started to wake up, as it was time to get off the bus and walk to the place we’d be having dinner at.  It was a nice Italian restaurant, which worked out really well, because frankly I was really craving Italian.  We took over about a quarter of the restaurant in tables as we all sat down.

We spent about an hour before we ate talking about what I think you would call take-aways from the trip.  These ranged from friendship, spirituality, and so many other things.  We all agreed that we had an incredible time and collectively thanked each other.  A woman sitting near us asked if she could talk to us as a group.  She told us about coming to Israel and moving hear and getting married.  This was another time we were welcomed home and she invited us to return again and again and again.  I think that was something we all wanted to eat.  We sat for a minute and food finally arrived and we tried not to think about the fact that our trip was coming to a close.

After finishing dinner, we walked to a jazz concert that was pretty close by.  It was a cute little venue with all Hebrew Jazz.  There is something kind of cool about the sound of Jazz in Hebrew, but all of us were exhausted and nearly falling asleep in our seats. Following the concert, we walked over to a spot that overlooked the Mediterranean.  At night, this is one of the most beautiful views you will ever see.

We kept walking and Nadav directed us to where there is usually a market.  Since it was so late at night, nothing was there, so he gave us time to go head out and have some drinks and hang out.  I went with Eric and Dan as we just wandered around.

We happened upon a bar as we were looking for a bathroom and walked in.  It was somewhat dark, but probably one of the most beautiful looking bars I’ve ever seen.  We all used the bathroom and took a seat at the bar.  I ordered a Whiskey Sour and two shots of vodka to celebrate the trip as the three of us sat and enjoyed ourselves.  Eric ordered some food, which looked like something out of a food magazine.

We sat there for about an hour just enjoying ourselves, the bar, and talking to the kind bartender.  We told him where we had come from and he mentioned a trip he had made in the past to the states.  After about an hour, it seemed like it was time to go and we made our way back to where we had left the rest of the group and found them all sitting around a table at one of the first bars we had looked at.  They all wanted to head to the beach and so did we so we grabbed them.  We got half way there and stopped, because they realized they hadn’t closed their tabs.

We waited for them with other members of the group back at a gelato shop and though of different things we could do for the rest of the night.  Sitting by us, someone got a call suggesting that we join them at a nearby Hookah bar. I was game, because I hadn’t smoked any Hookah since the end of finals back in Charleston.

At the Hookah bar, we were joined by some of the Israelis who had been with us the night before.  It was cool to see them one last time and to try to relax before we had to head to the airport. I had a cup of hot mint tea and some Hookah and watched the rainfall from the sky.  At one point I went outside to talk to Michael Tal who wasn’t a big fan of the smoke.

After about half an hour, Yoav appeared with his bus and it was time to start heading to the airport.  We said our goodbyes to the Israelis for good now as well as to Jackie who was extending her trip.

Once we got to the airport, it was time to return our rental cell phones and I fumbled through my bag trying to find it.  I freaked out for a second until I finally found it.  I’m not sure if I really didn’t know where it was or was just incredibly tired. It was 3 AM at this point, so it could go either way.

We unloaded our stuff from the bus and headed inside of the airport to check our bags and get our tickets to Zurich and JFK.  We stood in line for about half an hour before we were all ticketed and gave our checked bags to have put on the plane.  We sat just outside of security as everyone finished up and said our goodbyes to everyone who would be staying behind including David, Nadav, and Sean.

We went through security, which was actually fairly quick and went to our gate.  I messed around for a minute at the food court, but decided I didn’t really want anything there and headed to the gate on the moving walkways.  Once I got there, I found the rest of our group including a few sleeping on the ground already.  I noticed I had a headache again and couldn’t figure out what it was from.  I decided maybe it was from a lack of food and bought a chocolate bar, which helped a little bit.

We finally got onto the plane and despite my every intention; I was unable to sleep the entire flight to Zurich virtually.  I was sitting next to Lisa, which was nice.  At one point, she fell asleep and I think confused me for Michael and rested her head on my shoulder.  I’m a very cuddly person, and frankly if I fell asleep on a plane, I’d probably do the same.

When we landed in Zurich, I freaked out, because I couldn’t find my passport anywhere.  I let Jen know and fumbled through my bag as we all raced towards our flight to JFK, which we were already running late to.  On the line to security in Zurich I finally found it.

In security, they had to double-check my bag, because something came up.  I had moved my dop-kit from my checked back to my carry on and had packed a full sized shaving cream since I couldn’t find a small one.  They took it and let me go on my way.  Sas was not entertained by any of this.

From here we rushed to our gate and immediately got onto our plane to JFK.  We waited and waited for Taylor who had lost her wallet and she finally got onto the plane not looking too happy.

Well that was a really long flight and when we landed we were all feeling kind of rough.  When we landed I was thankful as I had gotten incredibly restless in my seat and just wanted to stand up.  We got off the plane and started heading towards customs off the plane together.  I yelled at a lady who started letting people ahead of us who worked at JFK near customs.  Probably not the best thing to do, but she got the idea.

Once most of us had gone through and I had grabbed my bag, I hugged some people, but felt the need to leave, because I was started to feel like I might get a little misty.

I transferred over to my terminal of the airport, checked my bag, had some Burger King for lunch (AMERICA!), and admired some of the nearby pigeons that had made their way into the airport.  I started heading to my gate, changed in a bathroom really quickly and waited.  I called my folks and talked to them for a minute while I waited at my gate at JFK to go back to Atlanta.

My wait at the gate wasn’t too bad, but in my sweatpants and an old SGA t-shirt I feel like I looked and probably smelled like I was homeless.  On the plane, I was seated next to a guy who had one semester left at Harvard and had played defensive end there.  Talked to him for a minute before I fell asleep on the plane.  I woke up for beverage service and got a Fresca and some of the Delta cookie things.  When we finally landed I yelled for a second, because the landing was rough and I honestly thought we had crash-landed.  My seatmate assured me we hadn’t which I was thankful for.

Inside the Atlanta airport I called my parents who met me at baggage claim where they carried my bag and we started heading home.  I was thankful to be headed home where I could finally be in my own room and shower.

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