Holiday: Israel – Day 1 (2020)

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Today was a day of travel. Luton to Jerusalem was pretty much 12 hours door-to-door! We do get about don’t we??? ?

4.12am: Yes, it really was that early! ??. We soon packed-up our things at the Holiday Inn, Luton, and headed downstairs to wait for our pre-booked taxi.

5.15am: Our Taxi was on time, but what surprised us slightly, was the driver’s insistence on taking us via ‘the special route’ (his words!) that he promised would “get us much closer to where we needed to be”. Bear in mind that we haven’t flown from Luton since it was ‘re-developed’, so we had no idea of the airport layout anyway! ?

5.25am: That ‘special place’ turned out to be a short restricted road closed-off to general traffic, that (luckily) literally put us on the doorstep of the departures building! I guess he got away with it because it was early and it was dark! It was just a bit bizarre that he hadn’t remembered to switch on the metre though! – and he was a licensed cab! A free ride? you must be joking! £10 CASH later, we said goodbye to our moonlighting friend, and headed inside.

Boy! Luton Airport HAS changed beyond all recognition since we were last here (which I think was when Victoria was on the throne) – and it was PACKED! I used to think Stansted was busy, when I travelled on business (at a similar time) but this was in a different league. Luckily, we found a couple of free seats and waited for our gate to be called.

6.25am: Our gate was announced, and we trekked what felt like 10 miles to where we were to board. It was clearly a popular flight, as the departure area was standing room only. Luckily, we’d bagged ‘priority boarding’ and we were soon taking our seats.

2.15pm: The easyJet flight was a good one, helped slightly because we’d also booked extra legroom in seats that were also comfortable(ish) for the five-hour flight. The staff were competent and smartly dressed and seemed to work well as a team. To add to the positive experience, our plane landed on time, and we were soon heading for the exit, and the Bus to get us to the main terminal.

Unusually, there was no Bus! So, all us passengers got to admire the plane we’d just been on from the outside, and to marvel at authentic Israeli tarmac in greater detail whilst we waited. Within 10 minutes, it was ‘all aboard’ as TWO Buses arrived pretty-much together. See, it’s a global thing!!! ?

Inside though, if I thought the ‘new’ Luton Airport was large, then Ben Gurion Airport was simply massive!

2.35pm: In keeping with the airport’s size, immigration was forensic (but friendly!) – it was more like ’20 questions’ (and no chance of ‘phoning a friend’). Ann was first to be grilled, and then they called me into the conversation. I’m pleased to say we obviously ‘passed’ and we were soon exiting the station looking for our next connection – the train to Jerusalem. This is a relatively new rail line opened in late 2018. Luckily, it’s literally just outside (and directly below) the station itself.

3.00pm: The train was bang on time, and before you could say ‘Shalom‘ we’d arrived at our final location (actually just 15 minutes later)! – Jerusalem Yitzhak Navon – the main railway station.

..and that’s when things got interesting! ?

This being our first visit to Israel, we weren’t quite sure how the taxi system worked. We saw a Taxi Rank opposite the station, so what could possible go wrong??? ?

Well, the good news was… there were plenty of taxis. The not-so-good news was there was a distinct lack of drivers! After spotting one, we began the conversation and explained where we needed to go. We put our bags in his boot and attempted to get in the car. At that point, he announced that he wasn’t for hire, and he was going to the toilet (not specifically on the spot, but you get the picture). ?

Our second attempt fared much better. We actually got the bags in the taxi AND got our seats. Our driver didn’t seem to be in any hurry though and picked-up ANOTHER passenger calmly announcing in his broken English “It’s OK, it’s on way”.

On our journey of discovery, we learned that our driver was an avid Liverpool FC supporter and he’d “been to London, twice”. He thought we were also both from London, but it was futile trying to explain where Kettering was, so we said we were Londoners. The next stage in Anglo-Israeli relations was him showing us his authentic LFC bobble-hat! ?

4.00pm: We dropped off our extra passenger, and ten-minutes later (whilst continuing to improve our knowledge of LFC, courtesy of our driver), guess what? we picked-up another fare! Taxis obviously operate completely differently out here!!! ?

4.05pm: Our taxi-driver dropped us off and pointed confidently in a forward direction insisting that’s where out hotel was situated. It was at that point, we noticed the meter hadn’t been switched-on (seems to be a trend today!). Ann agreed the price, and grumpily, we headed in the direction he suggested.

Just what we needed! An unfamiliar country, being ripped-off by the taxi-driver and NOW (in spite of our driver’s confidence) discovering that there was no sign of our hotel. By now, the taxi had vanished, so it now down to us two – and some instinct! Well actually, we did spot the hotel, it definitely wasn’t where we were told, but we saw it, not too far away, in the walkable distance.

4.15pm: Pretty much to the minute, exactly 12 hours since we got up, we were checked-in and unpacking. Phew! What a day! ?

It’s a modest accommodation being an IBIS Styles, located near the old walls of Jersualem, but the room is warm, modern, has free wi-fi, plenty of storage space, a large flat-screen TV, Tea and Coffee making facilities and a funky bathroom. What’s not to like? ?

The view from 706 ?

Well, maybe the view! Still, we’re in the perfect location for what we want to do, and I’m sure it’ll do us proud for our short stay here.

5.30pm: I think we were both pretty tired from all the travelling today, but while it was still light (just) we thought we’d take a wander round the immediate area.

In search of somewhere ot eat, we headed into Jaffa Road, a pedestrianised area complete with a modern tram system running through it.

Boy! Was it cold!!! Fortunately, the brains of the outfit had packed a woolly hat and mittens, whilst I chose not to wear mine thinking it was going to be much warmer than it was!

The French Hospital

I’m not quite sure what we expected to see, but it was a beautiful walk (in spite of the temperature). A lot of the buildings were lit and the whole area was scrupulously clean.

We wandered into the Armenian Quarter (home to the Armenian Christians since 301AD) in the old city, still on the lookout for somewhere to eat. Ann spotted a likely candidate in the shape of Bulghourji – An authentic Armenian restaurant.

6.20pm: For reasons that were purely irrational, I wasn’t too keen, but Ann convinced me, and we got a table for two. It was pretty quiet when we arrived, but soon filled up. We tucked into a sort of Armenian Pizza and Armenian Savoury Pancakes with some Hummus and warm bread as a side. The service was brisk and polite and the food turned out to be delicious, so I was glad Ann changed my mind! ??

7.40pm: We paid our dues (just over £25) and headed back towards Jaffa Street. By now, it was even colder, so we picked up the pace a bit.

The weather tomorrow looks dry, and so we plan to take a walk round the old city.


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