While tweeting about the banalities of my journey from my home in Anderson to my first hotel in Haifa, I had been using the hashtag #38HoursToIsrael without much precise calculation. As it turns out, my rough calculation was just a little bit short: adjusted for the time zone difference, Lauren and I disembarked our apartment at 2:45 pm Thursday (Israel time), and I was dropped off at the Hotel Beth Shalom at 6:15 am Saturday. So if my math is correct, total running time: 40 hours, 30 minutes.
Well over half of that time was spent sitting down somewhere, and a very small minority of that time was spent asleep. That being said, this is not a post of complaints. I chose one of the lowest airfares I could find knowing well that I had a lengthy layover in Warsaw, and furthermore that I would land in Israel two calendar days after my departure.
For all the deliberation over taking a Greyhound bus to Chicago, this ended up being one of the more spacious, painless and productive parts of my travel. While the bus’ promised WiFi was not operational, I was able to churn out the better parts of three separate blog posts. And the connection from the Chicago Greyhound station to O’Hare was equally painless: just a three-block walk and I was on the blue line, the destination of which was the airport itself.
My flight to Warsaw was delayed by approximately three hours; I didn’t ask for a reason and none was given (I later learned that the plane, which had flown the exact same route in reverse, was itself late). Once we took off for the nine-hour flight, my luck was not much better: a wailing baby across the aisle from me, coupled with a man in the seat to my right who had a penchant for falling asleep over his Kindle with the bright overhead reading lamp distinctly ON, reduced my shut-eye time to very short naps.
Because of the flight’s delay, my half-day tour of Warsaw (scheduled for 2:00 pm) was in real jeopardy. Instead of landing at around 10:00 am with plenty of time to spare, we landed at 12:40 pm. Thankfully, passport control was a breeze and I also was quickly able to find an ATM to withdraw some Polish złotys. Thus began my search for a taxi.
If this endeavor in blogville is to be comprehensive, it must include both my successes and failures as a first-time international traveler. Here is my first failure, then: I followed a Polish man who offered a “taxi,” but who really was just an ordinary person who parked at the airport and waited to find some gullible bloke like myself. As we walked to his car, I came to realize my error, but he said he could get me to the location of my tour on time, so I continued on. Thankfully, this mistake only cost me about $13 over and above the rate of a legitimate taxi, rather than bodily injury (or worse). And as it turned out, I made it to my destination at 1:53 pm, with seven minutes to spare. Mission accomplished, even though I was taken for a ride.
The tour of Warsaw was very enjoyable, and I snapped a number of great photos of the various parks, monuments, statues, and so forth. Sadly, I was unable to photograph the various memorials related to the Jewish Ghetto, the Jewish uprising of 1943, etc., as I was both on the wrong side of the van and some of them were within a fenced construction zone, as a Jewish museum is presently in the works. Perhaps the most striking thing about the entire tour was how deeply sown-in violent, armed conflict the entire history of the city is. From wars of the 16th-19th centuries to World War II, almost every monument is dedicated to the remembrance (or glorification, unfortunately) of victories, defeats, bloodshed, lives lost, battles won, etc. In numerous cases, the cross of Christ and the sword are inexorably linked and equated. With greater reflection, perhaps I will be able to understand how I can paradoxically recall the tour both as “very enjoyable” and emotionally, philosophically uncomforting.
The tour came to a close after a walk through the Old Town, which, like much of Warsaw, was completely destroyed during World War II and later reconstructed. Many buildings in the area display two dates: not a timespan, but the dates of initial construction and reconstruction after the war. A prominent example of this is a Catholic church located in the Old Town, a photograph of which is below.
Constructed 1370, reconstructed 1956. See more photos from Warsaw.
One of the more helpless feelings of the journey came next. After knowing I had paid about double the rate to get from the airport to downtown on my “taxi,” I didn’t want to pay the taxi premium again. I decided to take a bus back to the airport, which, given my lack of understanding of Polish, was a real zoo. (Though to some degree or another I understand German, French, Spanish, Hebrew and Greek, Polish was like real alphabet soup to me.) At the ticket kiosk I was asked a number of questions to which I didn’t know the answer, and I just ended up buying a bus ticket for something around the fare of three to four złotys, which my tour guide had estimated. Thankfully, there was no one on my bus examining tickets for the entire ride to the airport!
Compared with the wait through security in Chicago, after which I lost both my sunscreen and my jar of Nutella (major frown), the security point in Warsaw was very painless. I noticed the man watching the x-ray scanner saying something in Polish about my backpack, but no further inspection occurred.
The wait in Warsaw was very long, and we were put in a maximum security, show-your-passport-and-boarding-pass-to-everyone-who-asks gate. But I did manage to recognize a fellow passenger from the Chicago flight that landed some 8 hours earlier, and we had a good chat while waiting several hours for departure. Her name was Mary, and it was her first trip to Israel as well. (Turns out she came for a wedding.) Like me, she also left the airport for a (different) tour of Warsaw, so we compared stories and the like. I won’t lie, it was kinda nice not being the only obvious American on the plane.
By the time we boarded, I was very exhausted, and I fell asleep shortly after takeoff, along with the great majority of other passengers. I appreciated that the flight attendants tucked a sandwich for me in the pocket in front of my seat; it would later come in very handy while waiting for my hotel to open.
Departing the plane, I was immediately pulled aside and questioned by security (I must’ve stood out from the other passengers, being both pasty white and traveling solo). Despite my 4:00 am, 38-hours-into-my-journey grogginess, I answered the woman’s questions rather well, and I was soon on my way. I think part of this is because this was unexpected; Passport Control was another story. The woman there was more confrontational, and I got somewhat flustered. I was allowed to pass, but was recommended for further questioning by a manager. His demeanor was friendly but stern (“So you are an archaeologist?” “Well, no, but I am a student with aspirations…”). Anyway, apparently I must have sounded at first like I came to Israel to do archaeology completely on my own. I was allowed to go on my way when I explained that I came as part of a program through the Hebrew University. Once I showed him my acceptance paperwork from the university, I received the much appreciated “Welcome to Israel.”
At this point, I followed the same drill as in Warsaw: get money from the ATM, and get a taxi. Thankfully, I had a better (and more specific) idea about what I was looking for: a Sherut, or shared taxi with 8 or 9 other people going to the same city. This way, what would have been a large fare for a one-hour ride became small. I was the eighth passenger on the van to Haifa, and when the driver found a ninth and a tenth, we departed. (Here I also turned down a random man offering me “taxi.”)
I stayed awake on the Sherut, mostly because I wanted to see what Israel proper was like. First impressions: there is construction everywhere! Look almost in any direction and you’ll see cranes, scaffolding, and construction zones galore. Also, there are more American businesses than I expected to see. Yes, I knew I would see plenty of McDonald’s. I didn’t know I would also see Office Depots. While on the Sherut, the sun rose and night became morning, and after dropping off 5 or 6 other passengers, I reached the Hotel Beth Shalom at 6:15 am local time. The hotel was closed, but a guest who was reading in the lobby opened the door for me. I was allowed to check in at 7:00, despite the official check-in time being noon. Toda raba, Sana!
Thus ended my travel to Israel, but in truth, the journey is just now starting. If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading.
I connected again with Lauren, before sleeping for 8 hours. I meant to wake up at noon, but didn’t until 6:20 pm. (Oops.) Then I went out to see some of Haifa…
Lower Haifa viewed from the Louis Promenade. See more photos from Haifa.
Now, I am on a bus from Haifa to Rosh Pina in Galilee. Soon I will meet up with the dig group from the Hebrew University. Shalom for now.