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Israel Day 1: Shalom, Tel Aviv

Sitting at the business lounge at Bangkok International Airport, halfway through our transit from Sydney to Tel Aviv, I recalled the glazed looks on the faces of some acquaintances back home in Sydney (Australia) after I shared with them my eagerness to travel to Israel. With the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Gaza still fresh in everyone’s minds, an anti-Israel sentiment had swept the world, leaving a spate of cancelled vacations in its wake. While my desire to visit Israel never wavered, I had no idea what to expect.

After a painfully long haul - our flight from Bangkok to Istanbul had been delayed, causing us to miss our connection to Tel Aviv -  our seamless landing on the tarmac of Ben Gurion, albeit 3 hours later than previously anticipated due to the flight delay, filled me with excitement. At last, here I was in “The Holy Land”!

I had heard some unpleasant tales from visitors who’d survived the extensive security checks at Ben Gurion Airport so I was interested to see for myself what all the fuss was about. As Peter and I were seated in the first row of the aircraft, we noticed the interchange between one of the plane’s stewards and a member of the airport’s security staff when the aircraft door was opened.

“Good afternoon, how was the flight?” the security officer politely but efficiently enquired. 

“It was fine,” the steward replied. 

“No incidences at all?” he continued.

“None,” she responded.

The passengers were allowed to disembark only after the Israeli security officer was confident that nothing untoward or suspicious had occurred on board. 

Expecting the airport to be riddled with armed guards or a military presence, I was pleasantly surprised when the opposite was the case. Unlike with the Aussies, however, any smile or attempt at light chit chat with an Israeli customs officer was met with a stony and unwavering stare. Indeed, when it comes to matters of security, the Israelis mean business.

While our taxi driver was polite, I deduced from his overall manner that Israelis are not into small talk. When Peter introduced a meatier subject of conversation, however, he became more animated and seemed to enjoy the discussion. Recalling my research on the Israeli psyche, I learned that geography plays a major role in its formation. When you consider that the state of Israel is the size of New Jersey (US), is dominated by the Negev Desert, bordered by the Mediterranean Sea on one side and edged by predominantly Muslim nations of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria on the other sides, the hostile geographic and political factors have formed a people who are direct, tough and emotionally hardened. But when push comes to shove, their warmth and sense of community shines through, as we were to find out many times during our trip.

I had planned for us to spend one night in Tel Aviv only before heading up north in a rental car - we’d have more three more nights to acquaint ourselves with this city at the tail end of our trip. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help forming some first impressions of Tel Aviv, the main one being that it was hardly pretty. Exhausted and quite jet lagged, I knew that I wasn’t doing it any justice so I decided to withhold my judgment until a) I more rested and b) I had more time to walk the streets of Tel Aviv and soak up its vibe. 

Arriving at the Shenkin Hotel on Brener Street, I was pleased with our choice of accommodation. With my penchant for boutique hotels and smaller establishments over the impersonal 5-star chain varieties, the Shenkin was the epitome of understated chic and relaxed cool. Ideally located - a stone’s throw from the Carmel markets, Rothschild Blvd and the beach - and reasonably priced, the Shenkin’s staff were all local “Telavivians” and, in my opinion, the jewel in the hotel’s crown. Warm without being gushy (Israeli’s do not do “nice” or gushy), they were practical, gracious and couldn’t have been more helpful and efficient.  

After unpacking and luxuriating in a long, hot shower and change of clothes, we met our family friend, Danny at the lobby of our hotel. Whisking us away to a local hangout called Segev Express, we caught up over a selection of salads, wood fire pizzas and pasta. By 9:30 we were back at our room. Heads hitting the pillow shortly after, we descended into a deep and dreamless sleep.

Posted by Victoria Ugarte on 8th September, 2014 | Trackbacks
Categories: Israel

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