Travel as a family unit of eight adults presents unusual challenges. Luckily, we have plenty of experience and are ready for it. Several Augusts in a row we've gone on road trips from Seattle to Vancouver and from San Francisco to Sonoma or Mendocino or Monterey with Dave's brother Mike and their parents. With my parents and my brother Kosya we've met up before in Spain, Italy (without my parents), and last year (without Kostya) we celebrated New Year's together in Ireland. The most frustrating part is always the driving, and I'm still not sure how we're going to handle it this time. We were unable to rent an automatic van to hold 8 people, so either we'll have to go with the manual that only Dave's dad and my dad and brother can drive or we'll have to rent two separate cars and split up.
Yesterday, the challenge was that we needed to get from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and meet up with my family who were arriving to the airport located on the highway between the two cities. My family arrived from St. Petersburg at 6 am, and originally were going to come to our hotel in Tel Aviv to get a couple of extra hours of sleep. But because of the van situation, we've had to ask them to take a taxi straight to Jerusalem. They got to the hotel fast, and way before the check-in time, so my brother set up his office in the lobby of the hotel, charging all of his devices: a phone, a mini notebook, and a camera; and my mom went to sleep on one of the couches. Meanwhile, the American party woke up in Tel Aviv, breakfasted on the veggies and spreads, and then was presented with a challenge of packing five suitcases and ten carry-on items into an Israeli "midsize" car, a small Hyundai with barely five seats and a little trunk. Long story short, we did it.
Another challenge was navigating the streets of Jerusalem to get to our hotel. I was the navigator, and I had two separate paper maps, Dave's blackberry with GoogleMaps that could triangulate the cell towers to determine our location, and direction that a hotel employee dictated to us. None of these matched up. In an hour's time, I could not figure out the location of our hotel on any of the maps, including Google's. Google kept thinking that we wanted to go to St. Georges church, when what we really wanted was to go to a hotel on St. Georges Street. We assumed the two were close, but were not entirely comfortable with the assumption. The problem (or one of the problems), as I understand it is this: street names are in Hebrew. All maps and street signs mark them in Latin alphabet as well, but I think some of them transliterate the Hebrew names and others translate. Another problem is that Jerusalem is 4 millenia old and is a kind of town where people seem to navigate by landmarks. When you see King David's tomb, turn right, when you see St. George's church, turn left, that kind of thing.
Our hotel was just outside the old city walls, and that helped. From the estimate I had given my parents from Tel Aviv, we were only an hour late. Meeting up with them was a prize deserving of most challenges. We drove up to the steps of the hotel, where they met us and helped to extract the five suitcases and ten carry on items and five people from the bowls of the little Hyundai. We hugged and kissed and parted ways: Dave and I had to return the car that we had rented expecting to pick up the van in Jerusalem. There would be no van now, but we don't need to drive while in Jerusalem, so we can postpone the decision for a couple of days. Kostya went with us to Budget's office, while Dave's parents, Mike and my parents were tasked to work with the hotel concierge to find us a guide who would take us around Jerusalem that afternoon.
The most mundane task can become an adventure in a foreign land, as we were reminded when we got a parking ticket while standing in line to return our car to Budget's office. Granted, there was a sign on the window of the office that we were supposed to "watch" our car, but it didn't say that we had to watch it from the inside. And it didn't say that we would have to be watching it for an hour before one of the Budget service assistants would come to take our keys and inspect the vehicle. But no matter. We caught up with Kostya, who was telling us about the recent snowstorm in St. Petersburg, rumored to be the largest snowstorm in 50 years. For several mornings in a row he'd had to dig out his car from the snow with a shovel and then drive back and forth before being able to get out of the trench.
By the time we got back to the hotel, we had our Jerusalem guide ready to go, and without too much further ado (although there was some ado as my parents were finally able to check into their room and rushed to brush teeth and change clothes), we went out into the streets of the ancient city. We started with the Arabic quarter, had the best falafel in town in one of the shops on the bazaar, walked along Via Delarosa where Jesus walked with the cross, got an amazing view of the central Mosque (that used to be the First and then the Second Jewish Temple) from the place where Pilates held his trial of Jesus and that is now a school, then walked to the Wailing wall, then walked through the Jewish quarter, then the Christian, where we saw from the outside the cathedral constructed by the Crusaders where Jesus's coffin is supposed to be (and you can see it if you go inside), and after that walked back to the hotel, had dinner and collapsed in our rooms immediately.
Jerusalem is worth a lot more words than I've given it here, and I will undoubtedly write about it at a later date. Dave gives additional details about our visit in his blog.