Around the world travel, Backpacking, Bucket List, Haifa, Israel, long term travel, Travel

Israel – The Beginning of An Education

I spent my last evening in Istanbul over a couple of glasses of wine with Shelley and Rodrigo at the upstairs bar at Cheers. It was busy, there was a light energy in the air, and I was tempted to stay awake all night and not sleep pre-flight, but common sense got the better of me, and I managed a few hours sleep before the 4am shuttle to Attaturk airport.

I was there too early to check in, but I recognized a guy from my airport shuttle, and he suggested a coffee while we waited. I had no lira left, so I gave him pounds in exchange for a coffee and muffin. We sat for the next hour sharing our Istanbul stories. Less than three hours later, I was on the ground in Tel Aviv.
I had a hard time stifling a smile at immigration. There’s an energy that comes with arriving in a new country, especially one that is so foreign to me, promising and slightly intimidating all at the same time.
I decided logistically to begin my journey in Haifa, just north of Tel Aviv and then head East, working in a clockwise direction, ending back up in Tel Aviv in a couple weeks’ time. I bought a train ticket from Tel Aviv to Haifa and waited the 40 minutes at the train station. As Israeli man returning from Moldova sat down next to me and we struck up a conversation. He wanted to hear all about my plans to see his country and offered to be a tour guide for me when I returned to Tel Aviv. He dug through his duty free shopping and gave me a Toblerone, saying it was good travel fuel.
On the train ride, I sat next to an older woman from Jerusalem who explained to me the dichotemy of the old and the new world here, how Tel Aviv is the land where anything goes, where people are liberal and open-minded, while in Jerusalem, she is put off by the “ultra-religious-ness.”
We exit the train together. She wishes me a good journey and I realize I’ve got off the train two stops too early. Seeing a concerned look on my face, three separate people approach me and ask me if I need help. They get me to the right platform to continue the journey to Haifa.
I strike up a conversation with a young girl in her army fatigues. She is 10-months into her 2 year mandatory military service. She wants to go to university in California when she’s finished. I ask her if she likes what she’s doing, and she just kind of gives me a look like, “well, i have no choice.” She replies, “we have to.” We board the train and two stops later, I thank her and say goodbye.
At the station in Haifa, I open my map to get my bearings and a group of taxi drivers standing nearby ask me where I’m going. “Port Inn?” I say and instead of trying to talk me into taking a taxi, they give me walking directions and tell me it’s not far.
My first impressions are that the Israeli’s are kind and helpful. I have no preconceived notions about Israel. I know little about this country other than its religious importance through history and its political struggle with Palestine. Until this morning, I was unaware that the country is no bigger than the state of New Jersey and was formally founded in 1948.
Very rarely do you travel somewhere where you have no expectations and know so few stereotypes prior. I will let my time in Israel form my opinions as I go. I have a lot to learn and feel dizzy already by what I’m hoping to accomplish in two weeks. Let the journey begin!
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