March 4, 2020
Our flight somehow only took 9 ½ hours. I do believe this is the fastest flight to Israel we’ve ever had. Either way, the hubby and I were very comfortable in our two ridiculously reduced priced front row premium class seats where absolutely nothing went wrong. We were in heaven! So maybe this trip isn’t cursed…
I already discussed (i.e. you’re doing what I say and that’s that) with the hubby about us taking the train from Ben Gurion Airport to one of the stations in Jerusalem in order to save some cash. “Piece of cake!” I kept telling him, “Everyone we know has done the train to Jerusalem and had absolutely no issues.” I spent my entire trip last May riding the train all over the country. “It’s great!” I kept telling (read: convincing) him. You can sleep if you want to, charge your phone while looking at social media or look at the beautiful scenery. Then we would simply take a taxi from the train station to the hotel where we would be spending the night.
Slowly passing through customs, we managed to retrieve our luggage without incident and found our way to the train station outside the terminal. I knew exactly where to go and how much we would spend after reading another traveler’s blog about his family trip to Israel and taking the train to Jerusalem from the airport. If two parents can manage two young children and their luggage, what could possibly go wrong?
Getting the train to Jerusalem was a piece of cake, us easily finding the ticket machine and the elevator that would take us down to the platform. Unfortunately, the train was running late for some unknown reason, but we managed to figure out which side of the platform to stand thanks to Martha and Joel’s older son who lives in Tel Aviv, reassuring us because they were heading to Tel Aviv, the opposite direction of Jerusalem. Piece of cake…and then both trains arrived at the same time…
Let me start by saying, both of our suitcases weighed almost, if not exactly, 50 pounds, the hubby also dragging along his carryon suitcase and a suicidal hat box that leapt to its death and shattered every time we moved. As the train doors opened, we noticed that there were two steps leading up into the car…ugh…and then two yeshiva boys knocked me and my suitcase down as they frantically tried to board the train. Naturally, everyone was pissed at me for blocking the doors. Once inside, after scraping my body off the train car floor, there was a sudden commotion. A number of people looking confused and distressed abruptly began running back to the doors, the yeshiva boys, once again, shoving and pushing me and my suitcase back to the floor in an attempt to exit the train before it took off. And then there were more stairs…
Barely executing the stairs with our heavy loads and the suicidal hat box, we sat in the first seats we could find…and then we noticed the LED sign telling us the next stop was Tel Aviv. Fortunately, sitting next to us was an English-speaking man who could obviously read the uncertainty on our faces as to whether or not we were on the right train and informed us that we were, indeed, on the train to Jerusalem, he further informing us that the trains had been all mixed up all day today for some reason. Oh, I can tell you why. Because we’re here, that’s why. Because I convinced the hubby to take the train, that’s why. No further explanation necessary…
Schlepping our baggage up and down stairs took so much time that the 26-minute train ride passed in the blink of an eye, leaving us navigating the up and down once again, along with the suicidal hat box. Pouring our bodies out of the train, we soon discovered that finding our way out of the train station was like tackling an Escher Relativity drawing – stairways, escalators and elevators, oh my! Up feet, down feet, here comes clown feet! – only to be stuck in an elevator with Tangina Barrons screaming, “Oh my god, oh my god!” in response to the recent recommendations regarding social distancing of 2 meters (6 feet).
I have no idea how we found the exit from that train station, but I found my memory pulling me back to April 2019, our last trip together to Israel. Our first Shabbat, 24 hours after arriving in Israel, we had gone to the kibbutz in the Negev where the kid was now living. We had hired the same driver (Ari) from Friday morning to return us to Jerusalem on Sunday morning. Come Sunday morning, some guy named Benny was waiting for us, informing us that Ari’s car had broken down. The hubby quickly called Ari to confirm that a new arrangement had been made. As we entered Jerusalem’s city limits, Benny notified us that he would be stopping at a nearby bus station so that his brother could take us to the hotel, Benny explaining that he was late for court. At this point, succumbing to exhaustion and defeat, I would take three taxis over stairways, escalators, elevators and an hysterical Poltergeist lady.
Finally receiving a Gett acceptance informing us that he was at our pick-up location, the hubby and I attempted to figure out where the taxi was parked, as the suicidal hat box made one last attempt at destroying itself. Several frantic phone calls later, we found our driver, who proceeded to berate us regarding our actual location and not what the Gett app pulled up. Within seconds, our driver was no longer angry with us and began talking about President Trump. For the record, I do believe that every single taxi driver in Israel is pro-Trump. They LOVE talking about Donald Trump. Our 10-minute drive that turned into standstill traffic covered conversations from the miraculous rainfall in Israel this past winter filling the Kinneret for the first time in almost 30 years to the sudden onset of COVID19. Frustrated with the traffic jam coming from every direction, our driver asked if we didn’t mind getting out a block from the hotel and walking up, to which we gladly obliged.
During that month of frustration leading up to the purchase of our airplane tickets back in January, it didn’t really register that this “novel COVID19” might be the reason flights kept booking up fast, with only two flights departing from Newark to Tel Aviv daily – very unusual. The original plan was to fly on March 4th and land on March 5th, arriving just in time to occupy that already paid (in full) apartment in Jerusalem without bothering to make sure I could even get to Israel in the first place…hindsight is always 20/20. And, of course, both flights on March 4th had been booked weeks prior, leaving us no choice but to fly on March 3rd and stay in a hotel. In the end, we saved several hundred dollars flying a day early, only to spend most of it on the hotel. I honestly didn’t mind. We were staying at our favorite hotel in Jerusalem, where I have apparently been carrying on a secret love affair over the last three years with the manager, Avi, my hotel boyfriend once again leaving me a letter inviting me to the executive lounge (i.e. free endless food and booze), along with a free dinner for two.
In the end, after 48 hours of travelling time, the hubby and I unanimously agreed that burgers were on the menu for tonight. We also agreed that Burgers Bar was not going to be on this trip and that McDonald’s wasn’t even a remote option. Lucky for us, I do a lot of research when it comes to food in Israel. Segev Burgers outside of Machane Yehuda claims to have the Best Burger in Town – I’m down with that! As we made our way through an empty Machane Yehuda, I began asking myself again, “Am I missing something here?” Being the only patrons in the restaurant, we wondered if indeed these would be the best burger in town. I will say it was the best burger I’ve ever eaten out, period, end of story. But where is everyone? Am I missing something here?
Completely drained of any energy, we returned to the hotel and attempted to find something on television. Having to choose between Russian, French, German, and Hebrew on channels such as ONE and ONE2, I ultimately gave up, the hubby passed out beside me. And then I got the notice that the michve alon tekes had been cancelled as a result of the new restrictions prohibiting gatherings of more than 5000 people due to fears of spreading COVID19. I immediately texted Martha. This was the only reason she and her husband had flown to Israel. And so it began.
COVID19, you suck…
She packed her bags left me behind
She bought a ticket on the Central Line
Nights as I sleep, I hear that whistle whining
I feel her kiss in the misty rain
And I feel like I’m a rider on a downbound train
Downbound Train – Joe Pug