We left Wednesday before the Eid holiday, which started on Thursday. We all caravaned together and it was great to have experienced travelers with us at the border. Driving to Israel doesn't take very long, the Allenby Bridge border crossing is only about 40 minutes away. But getting through the process of having everything stamped and looked over, and having luggage and cars inspected on the Israeli side, means that it could take 3 hours before you're ready to continue on your journey.
Thankfully the Jordanian departure wasn't painful, Thomas and the guys took all the passports and got everything done so we girls could stay in the cars with the kids. And miraculously, the Israelis decided not to take apart our cars so the checkpoint wasn't as awful as it could have been. We still unloaded everything to take inside and they put it through a big scanner, like what you see at security in an airport. And we went through metal detectors that were so sensitive, I had to remove my glasses to get through without beeping. (My glasses are made of plastic, so it was just the hinges that set the machine off. Crazy!)
After getting the passports stamped and everything loaded back in the cars, we set off. The border crossing was about an hour from Jerusalem, so we decided to try and find a certain restaurant that someone had seen on a previous trip. At this point it was about 1pm and the kids were definitely in need of sustenance. We drove into the old city, by the Jaffa Gate, and it was pretty obvious right away that cars were never meant to drive there. The road was tiny and one-way, and with lots of people walking around it was pretty scary. I was convinced that we were going to smush a tourist. Happily we avoided such an encounter, and drove to the restaurant.
Sadly there were no street spots open and the lot nearby wasn't open either. So we decided to just park at a pedestrian mall nearby and eat at a modern cafe. It was stressful getting out of the old city, there was a lot of traffic. But we made it and had a delicious lunch. While sitting and eating our meal, it felt a little like we were in Europe. After a nice break from the car, we all piled back in and were able to find each other to keep the caravan going out of the city. Jerusalem traffic was no joke and it took us a long time to finally get some speed on the highway. It's pretty hilly in parts of Israel and going down the mountain was exciting/nerve-wracking. But we finally found our vacation house two hours later.
|Hanging out in the living room.|
Everyone was ready to be done with driving, so two of the guys went out to a grocery store nearby and got basic supplies while everyone else unpacked and settled in, while trying to keep the kids entertained. The house was enormous, with 7 bedrooms and a pool and a yard with grass. The kids were super excited about the lawn. The best part was being able to put Benjamin in his own room, so he would sleep better. Amazing. He slept like a champ, even the first night (after a little yelling). Since we ate a late lunch we snacked for dinner, then we put most of the boys in the big bathtub in the master bath. It was hilarious to see these little naked boys running around, splashing and having fun. Benjamin wasn't too excited about it, and Thomas pulled him out for a solo bath after a few minutes. Since he's all by himself and doesn't have a ton of peer interaction, it was a lot to take in. But still good for a photo op.
Thursday we drove the caravan over to Nazareth to visit the Church of the Annunciation, where the angel told Mary that she would bear the Son of God. Pretty cool, but I'm not positive that is the exact place it happened. Getting there was a nightmare, traffic in Nazareth was nuts. There were traffic lights with a two-second green, and the light ahead of it was out, so you'd just be stuck in the middle of the intersection. Pretty challenging to keep three cars together in that situation. So we eventually got close to the church and went our separate ways to get a parking spot. We met up after just a few minutes, and then walked to the church. The courtyard around the church has a lot of representations of the angel's visit to Mary sent by countries around the world.
|Some of our traveling companions.|
On our walk up to the church it was threatening rain, and when we got into the covered courtyard area, it started pouring. I haven't seen rain like that in ages. It hailed a little, and thundered and lightninged. It was a very intense storm which lasted about 10 minutes. But after a while it calmed down and we went inside. The kids mostly stayed outside, since they asked for silence in the church. The lower level was the actual shrine/spot of the angel's visit. Upstairs there was a sanctuary with very modern, spare concrete pillars and more art sent by different countries. It was so nice to be in a church, and I hope that there's a congregation who worships there regularly.
|Exterior of the church|
|The sanctuary upstairs|
|I really liked the exposed, spare concrete.|
On the walk back to the cars we stopped and ate some shawarma and falafel at a little stand. They had a back patio/courtyard with chairs and tables and they were very accommodating to our large group. The kids had a lot of fun eating and running around, Benjamin ate some fries and goldfish but nothing exciting. Hopefully by the time we leave Amman he'll be chowing down on some Middle Eastern fare. We left Nazareth and hoped to find a storefront for a winery that one of the guys was interested in, but he couldn't remember exactly where and so after turning around a couple times in a different town, we gave it up and just went back to the house. Kristin and I ran out to the store and got supplies for the next few days. She and Heidi made pizza for dinner that night, which was delicious. (I was so relieved to not have to cook, I could just load the dishwasher and do other menial tasks within my skillset.)
Friday morning we (the girls) and the two youngest kids drove to Ikea, about 45 minutes away. I was super excited to get some random stuff and just walk around. We arrived just in time for lunch, and I got the traditional Swedish meatballs. However they didn't offer the mashed potatoes and lingonberry sauce, instead it was just fries. But it was pretty tasty anyway. We spent around an hour walking around and it was fun to just check everything out. I found a lot of stuff, some plastic kids plates and silverware that I'm planning to use for the next church meeting at our place. And there was a coat rack that I'd been wanting, since we don't have a coat closet or any storage near our front door. I got some more train pieces for Benjamin for Christmas, and a laptop stand and a couple nightlights. Nothing I couldn't live without, but it was nice to get some stuff that isn't available in Jordan. There is an Ikea coming to Amman, the building is up but I guess they're still working on the interior. Supposedly in 2013 it'll open. Inshallah.
We got back after the guys, who had driven to Tel Aviv about 30 minutes away to fish in the Mediterranean. Naturally they didn't catch anything, but the boys had fun playing in the sand. Thomas and Benjamin had both stayed behind at the house to have some quiet time. Kristin made some amazing vegetable soup for dinner, and we also ate Heidi's homemade rolls. It was a truly delicious meal and so fun to be with friends.
Saturday we all packed up and set off to visit a Safari park/zoo in Tel Aviv. But as we were leaving the driveway, we noticed that Kristin's car had a flat tire. We transferred their kids' car seats to our car and just piled in together. It was nice having the travel time to hang out. The safari place was absolutely packed, and we weren't sure there would be enough parking. But after you pay, you drive through a little safari with ostriches, hippos and wildebeests and then you get to the parking lot for the walking part of the zoo. Thomas took Benjamin in the backpack carrier and we got inside just in time for the little "train" ride around the zoo. It's really just a tractor with some train cars behind it, but the boys enjoyed it. And we saw some giraffes and Ibexes and deer. Benjamin was pretty excited about the animals, which was fun to see. He's really getting more interested in things.
|On the drive in, we saw lots of ostriches.|
|I was worried they would peck at the car.|
|Rhinos under the trees.|
|Hippos in a pond.|
|On the train ride.|
|The largest member of the antelope family, the Eland.|
|A type of deer.|
|Benjamin was pretty excited.|
|The lions were just hanging out.|
After the half-hour train ride, we walked around to see the elephants and some bears. It wasn't the best zoo ever, but if their aim was to impress 2-5 year olds, they succeeded. Evidently the Jerusalem zoo is better, if we end up going back. After the zoo we drove back to the house and fed the kids a late lunch. Once they settled down for naps, we heated up leftovers and chatted for a while. I took an amazing nap and Thomas read by the pool. The guys grilled chicken for dinner and we had roasted veggies and a pasta bake. Oh and ice cream for dessert most nights, which was awesome.
Today, Sunday, we got ready to leave. Thomas had a rough night so he tried to rest as much as possible and he looked after Benjamin while I got us ready to go. The other guys went out to get the flat tire fixed. We were ready to go, and Thomas was determined to head out, so we left before everyone else. On the way out of the neighborhood, we saw the guys coming back, so they weren't far behind us in leaving.
The sad part of the weekend: a lot of people got sick. First it was the oldest boy, then the next oldest. Then Thomas and a couple other adults. Thankfully Benjamin and I have been spared thus far. It's not good, and Thomas is still not 100%. We also discovered that mice had been making a home in the kitchen, and some bread got gnawed on. But even though there were some bummers (sickness, flat tire, needing to flip a breaker at least once a day) it was a really great time. It was wonderful to have a change of pace and let Benjamin experience the rowdiness of five other boys. (Well, four, the youngest is only four months.)
I feel like you should get a prize if you read this entire post. Sorry it was so long, I just wanted to remember everything! Any suggestions for other places to visit in Israel if we go again? I'd like to see Bethlehem and do some other Biblical sites. Thomas isn't ready to return for a long time, though. Pray for his full recovery, he had a fever this evening.