I've made it to my hotel in Israel safe and sound. On my way into Haifa this evening, I caught my first real-life glimpse of the terraces and the shrine and they were all lit up and it was as beautiful as in the pictures!
I've hardly slept since yesterday morning. My plane trip was surprisingly undramatic, in spite of multiple security obstacle courses designed to prevent the faint of heart from traveling to the Middle East. Or some other group. Not too sure.
At Toronto, I had to go through another gate into an even more secure area, where the woman advised me the doesn't "make money to chat, sweetheart." Sorry for asking about the brace on your wrist...
Then my gate was in a separate glassed-in room with barriers across the entrance. When they finally opened it, they checked passports, boarding passes, and luggage once again. They also swabbed my palms and the top of my bag with some kind of funky device. That's what they should do in kindergarten: "Did you wash your hands?" "Yes!" "Let's find out" *swab swab*.
Anyway, so that was all well and good. At last, we were on our way (both flights were jam packed; I had to sit in the seat reserved for crew on the first one). The guy beside me on the way to Tel Aviv was super shy but super nice. He gave me his blanket while I was sleeping (guess I looked cold), but he never said a word the whole time. When I tried to engage him when I first got on the plane, he just sort of grunted and shrank a bit. I didn't talk to him again because I didn't want to make him disappear entirely.
Once we hit Israeli airspace, nobody was allowed to get out of their seats. More security. On my way into the airport in Tel Aviv, a security agent randomly stopped me and asked my why I was here, who I was travelling with, and so on. Then at customs, I found out the Israeli government has a list of all the Baha'is invited on pilgrimage and the dates of their stay. Makes it easier all around, I guess.
I spent the day in Tel Aviv, which was kind of a mistake but worth it, now that I'm actually settled in. I could've taken a sherut (a sort of group taxi/shuttle service) directly from Ben Gurion into Haifa, but opted to try to find the Occupy people instead. I took a cab into town (a bit pricey) because public transportation was not running today, it being a Saturday, and Saturday being the Jewish sabbath and all.
It turned out the Occupy Israel people took down their tents a couple of weeks ago, for whatever reason, but they still communicate and protest and organize stuff. You just have to know where to find out what's going on when. Needless to say, I did not know where to find out, so I never found them. So that was too bad.
Instead, I lounged on the beach in 23 degree sunshine. It was awesome. The beach sand was soft and felt like a massage on my bare feet, and the water was warm enough for wading, although swimming was prohibited. I think they built the rock breaker strips (what are they called again?) to stop people from drowning. I climbed up on some of the breakers and got soaked in spots by the waves crashing against them. They were much more powerful up close than they looked like from the shore.
Then I saw some sort of dance group, although they weren't in costume or even that synchronized. I'm not sure what it was all about, since the sign was in Hebrew, but it was kind of cool. They were dressed in their normal clothes and seemed to represent all walks of life, ages, styles, and other variations of humanity. I took a short video, which you can watch below. Quality is poor and someone's arm is trying to steal the show.
I thought it was going to rain, because the sky was crackling and booming with blackness floating in disguised as clouds. So instead of continuing up the coastline towards the old Tel Aviv port, I headed for the train station, even though I knew the trains didn't run until 8 pm. I figured I could sit in there, do some reading, maybe even use their wireless connection if they had one.
But when I got there, after a couple hours of walking through the city (pictures forthcoming), it was all shut up and I saw that to even get into the building, you had to pass through a scanner, as did any bags you were carrying. The door was locked anyway, so I wandered around some more.
I found a park, where I took a brief nap, then wandered some more, took another brief nap at a now defunct and slimy but otherwise cool fountain in the House of Europe Square. The House of America was beside it too. I'm not sure what they were, but they looked very artsy.
There's a lot of modern art around town, and the architecture is interesting too. The vegetation reminds me somewhat of Cotonou, as do the buildings, with their large communal courtyards and unpainted squareness.
Also, there are cats everywhere. Strays, as far as I can tell, and I mean everywhere.
If I were an anthropologist typing up my fieldnotes right now, I would remark on the following: outside a lot of houses, people had left items on or in front of the low wall, as if for other people to take. Here there was a blue button-up men's shirt, there a pair of shoes, at another place, a couch, and somewhere else some unopened bottles of some sort of drink. I don't know what the significance of this is, how often it occurs (on the Sabbath? once a month? every day? randomly?), and what happens to the objects, but it was certainly intriguing. If anyone knows, please enlighten me.
Weary and bleary-eyed, I finally made it back to the train station, and set off for Haifa. I got off at the earlier Haifa stop, instead of the one right by the hotel, so I took another cab right to the door. They put me in their registration as wanting a male dorm, even though I'd clearly marked "female" on the form. The receptionist even double-checked. Luckily, there was a bed available in the girls' dorm so I'm all squared away, as it were. I just need to get some food tomorrow, and change over some coins into shekels.