We arrived at the Sheraton at 5:20 or so. Naturally the bus didn't leave at 5:30. It soon became clear that all the busses in the parking lot would be leaving at once in a convoy. So one bus couldn't leave until all people and vehicles were accounted for. It was too early to take it all lightly. We sat outside for a while, hopeful that we would leave soon. A man came and asked us if we were with Mazada Tours, which we were. He gave us a spiel about how we'd be leaving soon. We knew that was a lie, but at least our tour knew we were here and would find us when they were ready to leave. We went into the Sheraton lobby and sat down. Tow of the hotel's plainclothes security were there, making sure there were no bombs behind the couches. One played his role pretty well, and the only thing that gave him away was his gun. The other guy was younger and fancied himself a very macho man in a Chinese action film. He kept moving his jacket back to reveal his very large gun and he had a rather insane-looking glint in his eye. We finally left at about 7:15, same drill as before. The border crossing was even more arduous and slow this time. The Israeli side wanted to x-ray all off the camera and computer components separately. We got grilled as we came in and I fended off rude Japanese tourists who thought it was okay to get in front of me to stay with their tour group. (I didn't agree.) After everyone in our bus was ready, our driver was still inside, gabbing with friends and drinking coffee. We couldn't get his attention and we weren't permitted to re-enter. It was very frustrating.
One of the high spots of the day was that we were able to help someone out the way we would have liked someone to help us out when we first arrived in Israel. The Norwegian girl, the one who'd spent a year in Cairo, was meeting a friend in Tel Aviv, but had no idea where the friend was. We had the driver drop us off relatively near the NCBS, and once there, we took Astrid to the bank of phones and let her use our phone card to call here friend and find out where she lived. (If it had been me, I'd have picked her up at the NCBS, but in Israel, everyone expects a higher level of self-sufficiency.) Then we took Astrid to the Information booth, since we knew which one she needed and got her to the right platform. Then we caught our bus to Modi'in.
Mike took the day off from work and Janice, Matan, Paul, Mike and I went to Herodion after the girls went to school. We drove through Bethlehem, which is a Palestinian Authority town now, so we had to pass through checkpoints. It was very small, and I'd expected it to be a little touristy, with guest lodges called The Inn, etc. There were a couple of souvenir shops but that was all. Jesus did indeed have a humble birth. We had a hard time getting to Herodion. We could see the Tel Mike thought it was on, but couldn't find a road to take us there. We almost gave up, but in the end, we did get there.
Herodion was Herod's most ambitious construction projects. Herod was King of Judea (lower Israel) from 37 - 4 BCE. It was his summer palace, district capital, fortress and allegedly, his burial place, although no grave has yet been found. The place is huge: Upper Herodion, which is built on an artificial Tel, contained the palace set within high walls; Lower Herodion housed quarters for Herod's family and friends and the district offices. Josephus Flavius, an ancient historian, described Herodion in great detail. No one started excavating it until 1962 however, and then it was done by a Franciscan priest. Very recently, they discovered hidden tunnels and cisterns under Herodion, which could be used to sustain the fortress indefinitely in case of attack. Lower Herodion was built around a Roman-style garden surrounded by columns. In the middle was a great pool, which was 70 X 75 m, and was used for swimming, boating, and as a reservoir.
We walked accidentally to the top via the cisterns, which was really cool to see and less hot than walking the spiral path around the Tel. The palace is great; you can really imagine what it must have been like. There are stone baths and apartments, and partial columns still standing.
While we were walking around the perimeter, a military helicopter circled Herodion quite low. Janice and Mike waved. They're very proud of their military. Then it circled again and we began to wonder what was going on. The pilot took the helicopter over a clear spot of Lower Herodion and hovered, raising a huge cloud of dust, then rose again. We realized the dust storm was deliberate, to make it less dusty for an in-coming passenger. a military ambulance raced down the road toward Herodion. Two men brought out a stretcher with someone on it and loaded it on the helicopter. Then the plane took off and the ambulance left as well. It was quite exciting to be watching from such a great vantage point.
After Herodion, we went into Jerusalem for one last look around, although we didn't realize it at the time. Janice saw a beautiful blue and white tiled mirror that she liked, and thought would be nice in the house. (The have no mirrors yet.) Mike bargained a little with the guy and got him down to 130 shekels, but Mike thought that was too much and we left. We wondered around looking for a good place to eat. The first place we went into charged $6.00 for a burger and was a hole in the wall stall. We ended up at a pizza place sitting outside with a bunch of people all on the same tour. They all thought Matani, in his little cap, was an adorable Jewish boy.
We headed back home to be in time for Janice to pick up the girls. They got home at 3:00. We'd thought we'd go out again later on -- Janice had arranged for a babysitter -- but in the end, we were all too tired. Instead we had popcorn and watched a video, Natural Born Killers, which Mike loved and which missed me completely.
Kind of a slug day. We went into Tel Aviv in the afternoon, arriving promptly at 4:00 to pick up our visas for India. And got our first taste of the infuriating "please wait" which is so common in that country. There is never a stated reason or a rough estimate of time. I don't mind waiting, I just want ot know if I should go get a cup of coffee while I do or not. A Swiss woman was told her visa wouldn't be ready for another week after her scheduled flight of course, so I guess we were lucky to leave with both of ours in hand.
We returned our books to the cool used bookstore and got some of our money back from the very chatty older guy behind the counter. Then we went to a 6:00 showing of Saving Private Ryan. People had written to tell us to see it in Germany, but I think Israel was just as disturbing a setting to set it in. I would have liked to have seen it with Mike and Janice to see what their take on it was. We walked back to the NCBS, to discuss the film and dispel some of its darkness. It must have been quite a long movie because we missed the 10:00 bus. We had to wait for the last one at 11:30. we didn't get home until 12:15.
We had intended to go to Jerusalem one more time, but after taking a malaria pill on an empty stomach, Paul didn't feel so well and we abandoned the idea. We had intended to buy the mirror Janice had admired as a thank you present. Instead we left 130 shekels in an envelope on a shelf and I talked to Mike on the phone and told him it would be there. That way he couldn't refuse. Paul slept and I watched Little Women to stay out of Janice's way. They were having company for Shabbat so she was in a flurry of cooking and cleaning. She made us pasta with butter (remember how your Mom would never let you have it as a kid?) for lunch in the afternoon, we walked down to the coffee shop near Tamar's school and had coffee and great cookies and donuts. The woman behind the counter didn't speak English which made ordering fun. We got to use a little Hebrew for once.
When we got back, we set up the tent on the deck as a surprise for the girls. (I don't why we handn't thought of it earlier.) Yonah liked it so much she wanted us to leave it for her. we tried to explain that it was where we lived when we weren't staying in a house. She made me promise that the next time we came back, she and Tamar could have it, although I warned her it would be a very long time. Then it was time to go to the airport. Janice had called for a minivan taxi for us and as we were loading our packs, she yelled down to us out the window not to pay a tip, as it was already included in the 50 shekel price.
We arrived at the Ben Gurion airport in plenty of time. Someone had left a car unattended in front of the Departure Hall (what were they thinking?!?) and the police weren't allowing cars or people anywhere near it in case there was a bomb in it. We were obliged to fight our way the wrong direction through the huge and determined crowds spilling out of the Arrival Hall. We checked in, which was made up mostly of a very intensive 20-minute interview from a young woman working airport security. She wanted to know exactly where we'd been, with whom we stayed and who we met. What was the Barth's phone number? Could she call right now? Did we have any guide books or brochures from places we'd been? Could we identify all the places we'd been on the map please? It seemed like the questions were just a tactic for stalling you to see if you got nervous or not. Interestingly, they didn't x-ray our bags until after we were through being grilled. I guess if you're a suicide bomber, you wouldn't go to all the trouble of going through the line anyway. Paul's theory is that all the interview is is a chance for intelligence gathering. Who's approached you? What did they want from you? Can you tell us the names of any underground terrorist organizations? Stuff like that.
After that, it was easy. We checked our luggage, got boarding cards, went through the x-ray for carry-ons and proceeded to passport control. By the time I was next, the line was about 30 people long. Some guy walked up to me and indicated that he wanted to go ahead of me. Now if he'd said, my flight leaves in ten minutes (or offered some kind of explanation) I might have let it slide. But these types never do, do they? I said, "No!" and the man tussled a little with me vying for a spot just slightly ahead of me. I said no again, getting a little upset. Then Paul said, remember, you don't have to fight with him. Just take your turn. Oh right, forgot again.
Almost immediately, we found out that our flight was delayed an hour, so we got ourselves Cokes and chips and sat down to wait. a woman came around with a Tourist Board survey to fill out. I thought it was a pretty invasive survey, asking how much you'd spent on hotels, food, transportation, etc. We skipped a lot of it.
As all overnight flights are, this one was long and interminable, although they did show The Truman Show, which I'd been wanting to see (thought it was a bit short and not very deep but quite entertaining), and the food was great (hummus, falafel, pita, cous cous and veggies) with an after dinner digestiv.