My Beach Vacation in Israel

By the shore in Old Jaffa!

Tel Aviv airport — Do not look for human interaction with immigration officers. There are rows of machines that scan passports, with no “separate” line for foreign ones. If a machine is free, go for it. Be sure to keep the slip that the machine gives you. Passports are not stamped and that little piece of paper is your only proof of clearing immigration. There was a line, in the next room. Every once in awhile, security would open a roped off section, look at those immigration slips, then send people on to customs. I arrived on Memorial Day and was still in line, at 8:00 pm. Everyone who knew or could figure out what was going on stopped, when the siren began. It’s heard all over the country and lasts for one minute, commemorating the fallen and showing respect. Some in line were clueless. They hadn’t used the machine, didn’t have their immigration slip, and used the minute of silence to try and find someone to help them. After the minute of silence was over, security took down the rope, near where I was standing, allowing people (with immigration slips) to cut the line. Those without out them and still confused about the entire process, were sent back to the room with the machines.

O Pod Hotel, Tel Aviv

I shot pass the entrance to the train station, after exiting the airport terminal. I didn’t understand the signage and it was closer than I anticipated. After recrossing the street, I noticed the ticket machines. A very nice young woman saw me struggling. She helped me purchase my train ticket and then instructed me to follow her. The airport is sort of between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Once on the train, I only had three or four stops. After exiting, at city center, I made my way to one of the two taxis waiting outside the station and then on to a late check-in at my hotel. The O-Pod Hotel is in the textile building. There’s a small sign out front. You enter and turn right, towards the guard. You then push the button for the floor you want and the system tells you which elevator to take. Once the doors open, the front desk is right as you walk out. I booked the smaller, older, and cheaper pod, the ones on top of each other. For additional money, I could have booked a larger single, with no one above or below me.

A bottom pod for me.

This was my third pod experience. I’ve booked airport pods, in Dubai, Mexico City, and Hanoi. I’m very comfortable in them and I generally like the hostel atmosphere. In Tel Aviv, there were a couple of vending machines on site and a cafe just outside the textile building. The major selling point for the hotel was the location. The O-Pod Hotel is directly across the street from the beach. So, although I missed Memorial Day events, that went on until late in the night, I made up for it, on Independence Day. From hotel’s patio, we were able to watch the swarms of people arriving. Then, the air show began, with military helicopters and planes, flying high above the sea. I decided to walk across the street, to the beach, and check out the action. It was great watching families setting up, to prepare food, along with seeing young children, with Israeli flags, waving anytime a plane or helicopter flew overhead. Of all the things I ever imagined I might do in Israel, celebrating Memorial Day and Independence Day (back-to-back) was not on my list.

A memorial by the beach.

Very quickly, I decided against signing up for one of the biblical site tours and decided to just focus on Tel Aviv and Jaffa. I knew the biblical story of Noah, in the belly of a whale, and was happy to just stand at the edge of that sea, near Jaffa. Plus, as fate would have it, I had an old friend and coworker, from my days at Duke University, arriving later in the week. She was on full Holy Land touring mode and her photos on Facebook were amazing. After five months of viewing ancient temples, in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, plus shorter sightseeing trips to Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and South Korea, my body was done touring. I needed to sleep. There’s something about sleeping all day in your pod that’s different from a hotel room. That small space is very relaxing. I didn’t feel the need to get up and do anything. Just the idea of a walking tour of Bethlehem or Jerusalem made me tired.

The British Mandate for Palestine.
The Ha’apala Site at London Garden

While waiting for my friend to arrive, I made my way to a laundromat. Unlike in a hotel room, I couldn’t really wash out my clothes, in a sink, at the O Pod Hotel. I took the bus up and decided to walk back. Along the way, I found a park commemorating the Aliyah Bet, the illegal immigration of Jews to modern-day Israel, between 1934-1944. During the British mandate, several ships, with hundreds and thousands of refugees, from Europe on board, attempted to land. Many ships were stopped and ordered back to the sea. Others were seized by the British who deported refugees to detention camps, far from Israel. Only a few ships made it past the British blockade and successfully smuggled their passengers into the country. After failed attempts, on Israel’s other beaches, several ships came to Tel Aviv. The passengers were welcomed and hidden in homes, before the British could arrest them.

Saint Nicholas Monastery

Having served in Peace Corps Armenia, I was somewhat disappointed in myself for not traveling to Jerusalem. The Armenian Quarter is one of the four sectors of the walled Old City. By the time I had rested up enough, to make the attempt, my friend’s tour group had already arrived in Tel Aviv. So, instead, my friend and I walked over to Old Jaffa, the ancient port city in Israel, found in biblical stories about Jonah, Solomon, and Saint Peter. Ottoman-era landmarks include the Clock Tower and St. Peter’s Church. I was there to see Saint Nicholas, the Armenian monastery built in the first millennium AD. The building was closed, but there was a large Armenian flag flying out of a window. I was satisfied. We then decided to skip the stairs and winding alleys of Jaffa for art galleries and restaurants, down by the seaside. The sunset was spectacular and I although I missed out on Armenian Jerusalem, I was more than happy with my decision to stay around the beach, in Tel Aviv.

Mediterranean Sea

My short time in Israel was the perfect end to my five months in Asia. It was also gave me time to rest, before pushing west. Is it crazy to travel to a place like Israel and do so little? That’s the great thing about world travel. You can always go back. The only reason why I’m not in Asia is because I’m meeting friends in Italy next month. I was looking for the best route. I wanted to travel to Nepal. Standing at the airport, singing Bob Seger’s Kathmandu, is a dream I’ve had since 1975! It will need to stay on my bucket list for now. With more than a month before Italy, I was also thinking about India. The online visa application was too complicated, given how tired I was. I found a non stop, twelve hour flight from Seoul, South Korea to Tel Aviv, Israel and I was sold! That’s the beauty of being old and retired. I really don’t plan anything that far ahead. If an idea works, it works. If not, I’ll try again at some other time.

And, that’s right where I’m leaving Israel. I’ll circle back, at some point, and see more of the country. This time, I needed less. XOXO—GGT


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