Thursday, October 09, 2014

Israel 2014 Day 1-2: Welcomed with open arms, and lots of food

Israel 2014 Day 1-2: Welcomed with open arms, and lots of food

And off I go, on my first ever trip to Israel!!!!!!!!!!!! I always thought I would visit someday, never knew when it would be. And, low and behold, the day is here! It's so wild to be actually going, and even more exciting to be going to visit Michal's family there for a "simcha" (a "joyous celebration") -- the Bar-Mitzvah of Tomer, her cousin's eldest son. Exciting!

We got up at insane-'o-clock to get to SFO for... 4am. Oh boy, here we go! The airport was super quick as always (I love that place), and we got to our gate. We were flying to Israel via Toronto, but to get a good price to Toronto we had to also go through Chicago... with a very short stopover. Turns out, when you go to the airport at 4am, there is usually extra spaces on the earlier Chicago flight :) As we got in, there was a lineup for an earlier flight to Chicago, and we swapped our tickets easily and got onto that one. Awesome! Grabbing a coffee, yoghurt, and banana, we just walked right into line and onto the flight. Sweet. Since it was 4am, I slept like a champion for the flight to Chicago.

Arriving in Chicago an hour earlier made it nice and easy to chill, get some Coconut Water, and send of a few last emails for the week to people before turning my gadgets off for the trip. Onwards to Toronto, which was also a nice, quick flight.

On the way through Toronto, the usual important stop
We arrived in Toronto and couldn't go to the international lounge (they are fancier), so that was too bad, but I probably would have eaten too much anyway. Instead, we did the only thing honourable Canadians should do, and hit up some epic Tim Hortons. I got a frozen lemonade and it was magical.

We met Michal's parents at the gate. Our flight was only slightly delayed, but all was well. The plane was huge, and it had seats with just 2 beside each other and then the aisle!! Ahh so amazing.

Wow, the plane had some crazy mood lighting
And... a bazillion hours later... Michal looks beautiful, and I look like I haven't slept in a bazillion hours.
The flight was great. I watched some great movies: The Muppets: Most Wanted and The Grand Budapest Hotel. That was super solid and the flight went well. I didn't sleep too much (too excited, plus amazing movies, plus you gotta love international flights with free food). We got to Israel and I was tired, but really looking forward to exploring. I love that feeling you get when you arrive in a brand-new country you've never been to before: the familiarity of a place like an airport, but the total overwhelming stimulation to the senses of brand-new things, signs in different languages, people speaking quickly in another language, the complexity of trying to rent a car, it's all just fun and awesome and amazing. I love it all.

Yep, there's a Synagogue at the Airport!!!

Arriving in Tel Aviv was a cinch. Nice and smooth, and our luggage even arrived despite our last-minute flight change in SFO! Win.

Michal's absolutely wonderful and kind Aunt and Uncle came to pick us up and they were just as incredible, welcoming, and amazing as she had said. The first thing Michal's amazing aunt said to me was, "You have nice green eyes". I apologized for my lack of Hebrew and she apologized for her lack of English (really she was very good), and she gave me a hug and said, "It's not what language you can speak, it's what's in the heart!"... I was speechless. I don't think I could imagine a kinder or a more sweet welcome. :)

Everyone was very patient as we fumbled our way through a car rental at Hertz, and hung out and hugged and talked while we got everything sorted. The Hertz desk was funny and crazy. It took forever, as car rentals always take, and so many things went wrong, as they always do in every country you visit and try, in earnest, to rent a car successfully. After some time trying to score some Hertz points and not getting sucked into (too much) extra insurance, we got out to the car via the terminal exit, garage, etc... and there were baby seats in it?! The dude took those out, and we got in, ready to go... and... just about to leave... and we realized it was a manual transmission, which neither Michal nor I know how to drive. Whoops :) We schlepped all the way back through the garage, back into the terminal, and had to pay a grand total of an extra $2/day (for a total of $9 a day!) for an Automatic Transmission instead. The girl at the desk hilariously told us that she had told us it was Manual, and presumably didn't read our reservation which was definitely for an Automatic. Haha, and so it goes, another country, another car rental experience that takes about an hour longer than it should.

We got out of there (in an automatic this time, apologizing to the Hertz garage dude for him having to remove all those random car seats for us earlier), and headed on the short drive to Ra'anana.

Coca-Cola :)
We relaxed for a bit and, as turned out to be quite the tradition for this trip, it was time to eat! We had an amazing fresh lunch of cheese, INSANELY AWESOME FETA, smoked salmon, pickled herring, bagels ("toast"), and this really great tomato/cucumber salad combination. We tried some "half-sour" pickles, which have still "got some oomph!" The melon there also ROCKED, and the grapes and cherries were also very fresh. Michal had mentioned how the food in Israel was very fresh, and man was it tasty. We had some dessert and coffee, halva (which was really good), and some ice cream cubes which were nice in the hot weather. We continued to meet and chat, and everyone was so nice and welcoming. I started to get super jet-lagged, so we had a quick power-nap, and then got up. It was time to eat again!

BBQ time! This is the most awesome way to cut a hot dog ever
BBQ time! Like a scene out of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding", everyone showed up for the BBQ. My parents always talk about BBQs (Braais) in South Africa, and how everyone would show up, this cousin, that cousin, and it was just such a warm family atmosphere. We don't have a ton of extended family in Canada, so it was pretty amazing to be a part of such a large family event like this. Ilanit, Michal's cousin who I met last year in Seattle, was there and it was so nice to see her. I became insta-bros with her boyfriend Nir who rocks fierce. We covered the basics right off-the-bat: scuba diving, model airplanes, and, of course, Scotch Whisky. Insta-bros.

It was also so nice to see Orit, Rani and their kids, who I had just met in San Francisco a few months prior. It's going to be so nice to get to know them better over this trip, too.

The first hilarious part of the BBQ was how they cut the hot dogs! It was super awesome. I've never seen that before, and clearly, this is the best way ever to cut a hot dog. Just awesome. This was such a great family dinner, and in true Jewish style, tons of food. We had hot dogs and beer "to start", steak, chicken, fish, corn, coleslaw, sauerkraut... whew!!!

After helping to clean up, it was dessert time, naturally. :) We had a few more of those tasty tiny ice cream squares, and then gave out the gifts we brought from SF. After dinner I was starting to fade from all the jet lag again, so Michal and I went for a neighbourhood walk. We saw a local pi-tza place (פיצה)!! That was funny, as it was just the word "Pizza", but written in Hebrew letters. It reminded me a bit of the "Katakana" I saw in Japan ("Harr-eee-o Pottaaahh" for Harry Potter), where the local language is used to "spell" English words, though those words don't necessarily correlate to anything in the local language. Rather, it's just a way to pronounce the English word, with the local character set. So far, Israel has a leg up on Japan here, given that "Pi-tza" sounds exactly like "Pizza", and the Japanese attempt at "Harry Potter" was funny and also embellished with Japanese word endings.

Cars in Hebrew
A grocery store that carries "Life" Brand... yep, same owner as Shopper's Drug Mart in Canada!
This is all of the awesome.
We continued our nice walk and exploration, finding a local convenience store that was the Israel version of Shoppers Drug Mart in Canada (actually, it's the other way around). We checked out some randoms shops, bulk candy is apparently popular (sweet). We went to a "Yoghurt" place (i.e., Frozen Yoghurt) and figured it was time for another dessert.

After a nice walk, I had shaken some more of the jet-lag, and we had a nice chat back at home about the history of the city, including a wave of South African immigrants who came to Ra'anana some years prior -- I had actually heard some very clear South African accents at the ice cream shop earlier! We wrapped up a nice chat, and cleaned up. And now, time for sleep!!! What an awesome and super warm welcome. Wow.

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