Eating Israel

As mentioned, I am currently hanging out in Israel. It’s a work trip so don’t think I’m just hanging out at the Dead Sea eating hummus and drinking Israeli beer.

When visiting any country there is an adjustment to local cuisine. Fortunately, food in Israel is quite tasty and diverse. Granted, bacon is not easily located, and cheeseburgers are almost nonexistent, and bacon cheeseburgers are about as common as unicorns. I don’t get this Kosher stuff, but I know that I’m eating it while I’m here.

Mmmmmmm....

Mmmmmmm….

The breakfast served at the hotel I am staying in is extensive with vegetables, hummus, pasta, quiches, cheese, fish, bread, salad, pancakes, eggs, pita, sweet things, etc. The only things missing seem to be pizza, ice cream, and sausage.

Because of the array to choose from its really easy to choose nutritious options such as the veggies and the fish. But then there is also this amazing danish things stuffed with cheese that is most certainly made with too much butter which is why it’s a must at every breakfast.

I’m not used to such a large breakfast and such rich food (my food is usually verging the poverty line) so it can take a toll and I get belly aches, which I’m already prone to, and a roller coaster of energy levels.

By the time I am ready to go I will have adjusted to the newer diet, found an equilibrium between healthy portions/options and satisfaction, and feel raring to go. Then it’s back the US of A and Hot Pockets and peanut butter sandwiches and a week of readjustment.

In the interim, I get to indulge in great stuff, like fantastic restaurants on the beach, Kosher McDonald’s (don’t judge me that I really enjoyed my McChicken sandwich…) and so much falafel it’s rather uncanny!

Good thing there is a great boardwalk to run on…

Let’s do this, Bibi

Once again I am off to Israel to play shepherd to 31 academics through a security studies fellowship.

Weeeeeeeee! Here I go again!

Weeeeeeeee! Here I go again!

My family gets a bit nervous whenever I go to this part of the world, but I’m like, “don’t worry. Israelis are such badasses. And I have two words for you: Iron Dome.”

It’s true, I feel safe in Israel, just as much as I do in DC. I’m way more likely to be the casualty of a shopping spree in DC or get run over by a motorcade on Pennsylvania Avenue than meet my demise in Israel. Although it’s a more “energetic” and “conflicted” part of the world as compared the good ‘ol US of A, I’m not really sure if my chances diminish of tragic, unforseen death than any other part of the world. Even terrorists aren’t secured by boundaries, so it’s best to do your thang and hope for the best.

Last year was my first trip to Israel, ever, and it was a bit of a disaster getting there. In addition, I had a lot to prove. I was barely at my organization for two months at this time and the trip could’ve made or destroyed my future career.

So, this year, I am way more relaxed, a bit less excited, and all these things worry me because I feel like I’m forgetting something or everything. But one thing can be sure, in my free time, I will be eating humus on the beaches of Tel-Aviv with a beer, gazing out at the Mediterranean and happy that for two weeks, I can escape the boredom of my four walls and out-of-date desktop.

Let’s do this Bibi.

The travel bug cure

A few years ago, I never wanted to be anything but nomadic. See as much of the world as possible, live on every continent, attain multiple citizenships, and make even a pilot’s miles dwarf in comparison to how many air miles I racked up.

Much to my own surprise, I’m not that person any more. I like having roots and a home to come back to. I like having a stable job with benefits and a core of friends that aren’t just passing relationships. I always thought this would make me boring and that excitement would pass me by as I toiled away from 9-5. Really, I don’t know if I’ve ever been happier than I am now, toiling away.

I knew it already, but this notion solidified itself after arriving back from my much talked about trip to Ireland. The trip was great, but after a week, I wanted to be home. I wanted to hang out with my friends, play with my cat, eat food that wasn’t fish and chips, drive on the right side of the road, and sleep in a bed that was my own.

Traveling can be exhausting, especially when some people (cough, cough) are excessive planners and worriers.

After two weeks, narrowly avoiding attacking the boyfriend and leaving his remains somewhere on the Dingle Peninsula, we managed to see every nook and cranny of the Republic of Ireland. We drove everywhere. Everywhere. I can say that there are few, if any, things I didn’t see. However, I did forget one of the best parts of a vacation. Relaxation.

We invested so much money into the trip and I used all my vacation days for the year, I didn’t want to leave the country wanting in any experience. Because of this, I didn’t necessarily savor each moment of the trip. I kept trying to make it as epic and memorable as possible rather than live in the moment which makes it epic and memorable. We had a lovely time through the two weeks, even with my anxious trip planning. Still, by day 7 we were ready to come home and have a staycation rather than a vacation.

When I lived abroad, I had all the time in the world to enjoy my location and explore. It was the best way to fall in love with a country and to learn about the location—culture, history, lifestyle, etc. Vacations are a little different; I try to soak up everything in one brief fell swoop as I would if I had spent one year rather than 13 days in a location. (Always with trying to find the balance between one extreme and the other.)

In these two weeks away, I reflected on how my attitudes have changed in regard to travel. I used to want to live anywhere but where I’m from. I never appreciated my origins. I remember talking with friends from other countries who always said (with funny accents), “when I travel, I like where I go, but I’m always so happy I’m from where I’m from.” Going away made them appreciate their home. I was always like, “blah, America. So boring and stars and stripey.”

It’s not that I’m more patriotic now, don’t get me started on the stupid government, but I know my home, my life, my connections, my culture, and I love it. I feel like I found my corner in the puzzle and have started to connect the proper pieces.

Maybe I got the travel bug out of my system, or maybe I’m not looking for a way to be happy anymore because I am. Perhaps my travels were a quest for an answer to my life, and maybe I found it right in my own backyard.

It’s not that I don’t want to travel anymore, I still want to see so much more and learn to savor what I can within my limited time off of my 9-5. But I like having my home base. I like having a life on its own, without need for a passport.

Plus, I really hate flying.

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“…Going to another country doesn’t make any difference. I’ve tried all that. You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another. There’s nothing to that.” – The Sun Also Rises

Countdown to Ireland, travel mishaps #3: trains, cars, airplanes, and speeding Israelis

Reflection #3: Making the flight—Israeli style

Last June, less than two months of working at my job, I was expected to herd a group of 35 academics on a fellowship through Israel—a country I had never been to and a culture I was unfamiliar with. I was nervous because it was a massive responsibility and simultaneously both a great chance to prove myself or disprove myself in my career. Why would 35 PhD’s listen and follow me—a young jinjeet–unaccustomed to both country and job? Could my new supervisor put total faith in me?

In the end, the trip went superbly and I only lost my boss and about fifteen professors for a total of about 90 minutes. They eventually turned up.

However, getting to Israel wasn’t so superb.

The crew of Academics I managed. I used controversial tactics to keep them in control. Joking...ish.

The crew of Academics I managed. I used controversial tactics to keep them in control. Joking…ish.

I was to bring 4 boxes full of swag for the academics. They were to receive these prior to our plane departure from Newark International (we were all to meet there and travel together). This swag included laptop bags, pens, t-shirts, and itineraries. I had a dolly to tote them, but the boxes were heavy and awkward, made worse by my own luggage I had to manage. I took responsibility for these because my boss asked me to and I didn’t know any better. I do now. He’s taking them this year.

My itinerary was to grab a taxi to the train station, leave from Washington Union Station via Amtrak, arrive Newark International Airport, go through stringent security, meet boss (who arrived prior to me), and gather the sheep—I mean professors—to board the plane.

It all fell apart at the train.

I managed to gather all my cumbersome objects, navigate down the escalators, board the train and manage a path to a seat through the narrow aisles, bumping multitudes of passengers along the way. I sat and awaited the “choo choo!” and departure.

Ten minutes. Nothing. Fifteen minutes. Nothing. Twenty minutes, “Attention customers, there are some down power-lines in Baltimore, we are not sure how long we will be delayed….”

Each passing minute, my flight time was quickly approaching. I could either wait the train out and hope for the best, or find another way there.

When an announcement came that passengers could leave the train, I knew I had to find another plan. I ran, sans luggage, to the Avis checkout counter for a rental car. Most flights to and from Israel require that a person arrive 4 hours in advance, Newark was 3 hours away, I needed to haul ass.

I started to book a car but needed to grab my luggage first. I sprinted through the station, to the train, grabbed the plethora of items I was carting and sprinted back to the Avis checkout counter with less grace than an elephant slipping on a banana peel—and to my dismay, a massive line had formed. I started freaking out because the lady had my credit card and my information. I called my mom and was like, “Aaaaah! The train! Tel Aviv! Work! Car! Newark!”

Two nearby patrons heard me say “Newark.” They had already rented a car and were doing the same, skipping the train and hightailing it in a rental to the New Jersey airport. They offered me a ride.

Fortune smiled down. I cut in line, went up to the lady at the Avis desk, demanded my credit card and license back,  and tagged along with my newest, best senior citizen friends. I quickly discovered their English was sub par, but they were on the same flight to Israel! The wife was Spanish and the husband Israeli. Oh, happy day!

...cuz it's going to be a bumpy ride.

…cuz it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

It took us about twenty minutes to find the rental cars, me carting millions of pounds of awkward luggage and them trusting and following me like I knew where I was going. At this point, after asking countless people for directions and still not finding the car (curse you, Washington Union Station and your maze of parking garages!) I felt my new friends regretted my presence.

We found the lot—after twenty minutes. All our luggage barely fit in the compact car due to my boxes. We skidded out of the garage like we were in a police chase and I was nominated as the navigator. Me. The navigator. The combination of these two terms is rarely seen together.

*Thank god this was before AppleMaps hijacked my phone and I had the best version of GoogleMaps.

DC traffic is a bitch—both getting into the city and out. At all hours. Of all days. This day was no different. But when we were in the free and clear, damn, that Israeli man could drive!

I believe we sustained between 90 and 95 mph for most of the trip. Even when we started to edge onto New York City, we were going about that speed with some pretty sweet maneuvers. That man, combined with my following of GoogleMap directions, and avoiding getting caught for any speeding violations, equaled success.

When we saw airplanes flying low in the sky, we knew we were within miles. We cheered. Conversation wasn’t particularly stimulating, they taught me some words in Spanish and Hebrew, which I forgot faster than instantly, but we all had a common goal which bonded our comradery.

We returned the car without a full tank. Time was a-wasting!

My two best friends didn’t charge me one penny for the rental. After all, we couldn’t have done it without each other. Awww.

I met my boss in the check-in area. I felt like a hero. I think he was impressed. Well, I’ll pretend he was.

I haven’t seen or heard from my friends since last I de-boarded that flight. But I’ll surely never forget them—just their names—or the car ride of my life.

Oh yeah, by the way, we beat the train by an hour. 🙂

I arrived, Israel! Work has its perks...

I arrived, Israel! Work has its perks…

Countdown to Ireland, debacle #2: crying one’s way to business class

I realize countdowns start at high numbers and proceed downward, but I object to conformity so my countdown is a count-up! Logic is for squares.

As my cat crawls into my suitcase along with a few itchy sweaters, I continue to prep myself for my trip to the Emerald Isle by reliving a few of the horrific travel debacles I have gotten myself into.

Reflection #2: Missing flight due to user error but reaping undeserved benefits

I had just spent a ruckus semester abroad in Glasgow, Scotland and it was time to return to reality. I stayed up all night packing, stuffing the masses of souvenirs for family and friends, but mostly for myself, and prepared myself to say goodbye to a land I didn’t want to say farewell to just yet.

I grabbed a taxi at about 6am for my 7:30am flight.

Upon arrival at the airport, I attempted to locate my flight to London, and then London to home.  I checked the kiosks, looked at the screens, went to the counter of the airline I was flying, only to find it empty. “Hmmmmm,”I thought, “I must be early.”

I was early enough to watch my flight take off—without me.

I ran to find assistance. I found an airport worker who explained Scottishly, “That flight left at 6:30.”

I was incredulous. I pointed at my ticket. I pointed to the time.

The airport employee noted that the number I interpreted as my flight departure time, was my flight number. Rookie mistake.

So I did what any girl in my situation would do, started sobbing uncontrollably. In fact, it was so bad, that when I went to the customer service desk begging for help, to get rid of me after my 30 minutes of babbling and bubbling, the attendant booked me on a British Airways flight (not even the airline I was originally flying) in business class—at no charge.

Sometimes it pays to be a wacky, overly emotional, crazy girl. (I know, readers, you are thinking, “not our Gingermermaid, she’s not crazy but-at-all!”)

The story isn’t over yet. I hadn’t even realized I was in a premium class, I didn’t note this till I arrived at Heathrow and was taken to my seat, which also just barely happened.

I arrived at Heathrow, which is a behemoth of an airport (I have more, unrelated travel debacle stories here too. I digress.) I boarded a bus to change terminals, asked the helpful airport employees where I was to go, and got to the right place only slightly haggard.

I neglected to mention that I had been carrying two big suitcases and a huge stuffed sheep most of the time. The stuffed sheep was for my yet-to-be-born niece, Ruby, and also served as a mop for my tears. I got to check the bags, but the sheep and I stayed together.

I was hanging out in Heathrow, walking about the terminal with my Scottish sheep friend, when I heard that it was time to board the air-o-plane. I queued up (that’s what the Brits say, queue, they are so weird) only to realize I had no ticket.

Yes, my ticket was lost somewhere in Heathrow. In 2005, when this happened, there were no mobile apps on phones and no special scanners, computer-ee things to check that you were indeed a passenger;  physical tickets were fairly important. With the final calls to board and me and the sheep in a tizzy, I approached customer service, in tears. Fortunately, a good Samaritan had turned it in! Bless!

As the last person to approach the gate, the attendant took my ticket, looked at my sheep, and asked, “Does that sheep have a passport?”

I almost broke down in tears—again. I was so tired and distraught that I thought he was serious.

He laughed, reassured me I was good to board, sans sheep passport, and that I was in business class and would have a very comfortable flight. I didn’t understand what he meant until I got to my seat.

Holy cow bells. Best. Flight. Ever. I didn’t relish the extras, like wine, gourmet food, and so many options of entertainment it was like an arcade, as my seat reclined into a cocoon of comfort and I slept a straight 8 hours, the duration of the flight.

In a way, it was a waste.

At the end of the trip, I arrived at the Philadelphia airport but the debacle wasn’t over yet. They lost my luggage.