Saturday, January 7, 2017

Friday, 06 January 2017: San Francisco Departure

Today we begin our journey to Tel Aviv. Meals and beverages will be served as appropriate during the overnight flight.

The day began with a brief scare:  the BART transportation system we were to take to the airport was temporarily shut down.  NOT exactly what you want to hear when you're about to embark on an international trip!  The boys (Ben and Kevin) quickly called ¨Uber and Lyft to catch us a ride (complete with another mishap when some guy showed up with his MINI car instead of his LARGE car).  A wonderful, Christian woman named Erin showed up in her LARGE vehicle, and crammed all of our eager bodies (complete with luggage) into her car, and took off to SFO.  I've NEVER crossed the Bay that quickly, and her go-get-me personality made the trip a hoot.  We arrived with PLENTY of time, checked in without issues, and breezed through security.  (Somehow, I was marked as TSA Pre-Check....a welcome perk!)

We quickly found some Japanese food to munch before boarding the first leg of this incredible journey - delicious and just enough to tide us over until the loooooong, Newark to Tel Aviv flight.  We are slowly beginning to recognize fellow group members - people will show up to the gate wearing their name tag, or carrying their TWT travel agency baggage.  It's a joyful mood, as this is a trip like no other for many of us!

The flight to Newark was thankfully uneventful.  I'm sad to report that airline seats have NOT increased in size since I was last on them.  MAJOR bummer.  And MAJOR reoccurrence of my tailbone injury from last January.  It does NOT like being cooped up in a small, in-quit able seat for many hours at a time!  Our gate was on the other side of the deserted airport, so off we went to begin leg #2.  (Kind of surprised to see all of wine bars at that airport.  TONS of alcohol of tap in Newark...Hm...). OPur second gate greeted us with two unique things:   An additional security checkpoint to board a flight to Israel, and a life-size Mennorah to celebrate Hanukkah.  We were separated into small groups as we prepared to board, and individually wanded as our backpacks were scanned and swabbed.  Yes, we all made it through just fine...just upped the anxiety of flying to Israel a twitch.  The Menorrah was huge, and a thoughtful gesture to those returning back to their homeland.

Only at this second gate did it become apparent that we were with people from another land - people from another language.  English was the minority language spoken at this gate, as everyone from the staff to the flight crew to the passengers themselves exchanged phrases and comments in both Arabic and Hebrew.  This multi-lingual experience also continued on our long flight to Tel Aviv, with announcements in the cabin being recited in English first, followed by Hebrew.  Flight attendants wore special pins so that they could be identified as Hebrew-speaking if folks requested this service.  Living in Berkeley, I'm used to hearing multiple languages spoken, be it at Target or a local coffee shop.  Official announcements, however, were a new thing.

THe flight was long and tedious.  Excitement would wane as hour after hour passed on the clock, and we were STILL trapped in a flying box.  Oy.  Even the flight crew was testy as they tended to their tasks - surprising if you're going to work the overnight shift!  Susan and I finally figured out how to work the dual-headphone jack, and watched a bit of "Spectre" before nodding off again...and again...and again.  We had no idea what day or time it was by the end of the experience!  We just let them tell us what to do and where to go.

ISRAEL!  We landed and disembarked, only to find ourselves in front of another security gate with someone asking more questions. Susan and I made it through without any issue, but some friends wer questioned at length about their intentions while in the country, their course of study in the states, etc.  We were issued a slip of paper, scanned from our passport, that we are to keep on us at all times in the country of Israel.

A coach us ride to Nazareth in the dark brought us to our hotel, where we are crashing for the next few nights.  The entire group made it here safely, we are exhausted but SO looking forward to what's tomorrow will bring as we explore and discover this city of Jesus's birth!

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