The long trip home, and jet lag – 11 and 12 November

You know that it’s sad to finish a trip like this (hard to say “vacation” when you are getting wake up calls at 05h30 to 06h30 every morning), but it’s always good to be going home.  For us, the day was a relief – no more bus travel, no more walking and walking and walking, no more crowds, no waiting in line!

Oh, wait a second – we have all that and more – a least for today.

Off to the Airport
So we were off at 08h00 from Jerusalem to the airport in Tel Aviv, on the bus.  Our guide asked how we were doing, and we were all exhausted and sore from all the walking the day before.  He reminded us what he told us when he met us the week before – “you will feel the Bible through the soles of your feet” – wow did he have that right!

The ride to the airport was largely uneventful.  Lazarus, our guide, pointed out significant landmarks along the way, as always, but there weren’t many of those.  He then insisted on showing us the episode of “The Simpsons” where they go to the Holy Land – and sat giggling the whole time!  More truth in parody than not, as he advised us, and we saw what he meant.  It was actually quite good – I never did like “The Simpsons” but as I’m learning, they are very intelligent shows, well researched with carefully planned satire.

Bus travel, check!

Palestinian Territories
We actually passed through Palestinian territories, but on this beautiful highway that apparently only Israelis can travel on.  There are no connections to the Palestinian territories it passes through – in fact, there is a security fence on both sides of this highway.  You can see the Palestinian homes and cities all the way along, and they can see you, but you can’t connect with each other.

The disconnect between Israelis and Palestinians is sad, really, and drives home the long, bitter relationship between these two peoples.  But after only a week in Israel, I’ll say this: don’t judge either group or their attitudes – it’s difficult to comprehend what living 200 feet from people who hate your very being, will do to your psyche.  On both sides of the wall, it forms the core of their being, and is self perpetuating.

Tel Aviv Airport
Well, we expected security to be tight, and in fact it was, but it was also very confusing!

We hung around as a group in the departures hall, while Lazarus negotiated with somebody from the airline.  It was frustrating to see other folks getting in line, when we weren’t!  Then we found out why – he negotiated a whole line for us only, very nice.

He also discussed security questions with us, both getting us prepared on the bus, and now with us in the line.  It came up that we had received a few “gifts” as we made our tour – notably a jewelry box from our tour company in Jordan, and a small clay oil lamp from the Nazareth Village – well that caused a stir!  We had to get a couple of our crew to dig out samples so security could view them, then discuss exactly what we would say when asked the question further up in the security check point.  Wow, distrust runs so deep in this place.  Not without reason, but still.

It turns out that some of the other folks that had been streaming in and queuing up in front of us while Lazarus negotiated, were also now put into their own lines.  In fact, some of their folks got through the security check ahead, and were actually put back into the line with their group!

Waiting in line, check!

Checked Bag Security
So now we go through checked bag security.  They have an X-Ray machine just for the checked bags.  You put them on the belt, take the rest and walk around, and wait for your bag to come out the other side.  Based on the result of this check, you either proceed to the check-in counter, or go to the bag search line.

You can hear and see the belt going forward, backward, forward, backward, when they are checking it out under the X-Ray.  Then suddenly the bag comes out of the X-Ray machine like a bullet!  Actually catches air for about 2 feet then lands back on the pick-up slide with a “thud”.  I’m not sure why they would do that, it must take a huge amount of energy to accelerate the bag like that.  The engineer who designed that machine had a mean streak in them!

When Dayna’s bag came through, she was told to go to the bag search lineup.  No problem, it was a few questions, and they just asked to see the jewelry boxes – both were in her bag – was just a question as to why she had two.

When my bag came out, the guy behind me grabbed it off the line and started loading it on his cart.  No big scene, but he just didn’t seem to be paying attention!  Well, I got my bag back, but I missed the directions about whether to go to the search line.  So I went into the search line anyway.  I later found out they were watching carefully and had I been in the line when not supposed to, they would have known for sure.  But it turns out I was supposed to be there.

It turns out that the X-Ray technician enters comprehensive notes, and the bag search person has the X-Ray images, because she checked the notes, asked a few questions, and I was on my way.  They wanted to know what the books were that I had in my bag – well, um, besides my Bible, it’s mostly just tourist stuff that I picked up along the way – no, no gifts in there.  Then they released me.  Confusing but relatively painless.

Then it was on to the check-in lines.  There were malfunctions in the overhead screens, to although there were five wickets open, only four showed the correct information, and one was stalled for along time.  Well, the folks in the queues got frustrated, started cutting from line to line, standing intentionally between lines, being rude, ugh.  Finally they fixed the overhead displays, the lines cleared up, we got to the front, checked our luggage, and got our boarding passes.

Crowds, check!

Before Security
We weren’t sure what there would be on the other side of security, so we had a gawk around, seeing as we had about 2 hours to go before flight time.  I wanted a drink, so I moseyed down to McDonald’s – a kosher McDonald’s, who would have thought!  Four bucks for a drink, yikes!  One of the other couples on the tour (who had been pining for burger & fries the whole trip) dropped $24 for what amounted to two Big Mac combos – yikes.

Enough of that, we saw huge crowds coming in behind us, so we zipped into security, did the whole drill (no metal objects, unload pockets, put laptop in its own tray, yada yada), and got through the security check.

After Security
Now we’re getting hungry, so we stopped for a bite at an interesting looking restaurant.  Pizza Hut was ruled out (they tend to give me cramps?), I couldn’t think of McDonald’s (I wouldn’t eat it at home, why would I in Israel?), so this restaurant was it.

Well ordering was interesting.  You can order at any one of three tills, and pay, but then the food comes at you from four different locations – sandwiches over here, pizza over here, coffee over here, and get the cold drinks yourself from the cooler.  But, they all speak very little, talk to each other in a language I don’t understand, tell you nothing, and put finished food up on the counter without explanation.  I found myself going from counter to counter, asking where the food would be, and when it would be ready.  Ugh.  But finally Dayna got her sandwich and I got my pizza, they were both good and worth the wait.

The kosher pizza was interesting.  Apparently, kosher rules say that you can’t have cheeze and meat at the same meal, whether mixed or not – so the pizza had cheeze on it and no meat.  Hmm, coulda used some pepperoni or salami or something, but it was not to be.

We checked out the duty free shops – they have electronics, music, books, all kinds of stuff there – but as Lazarus had warned us, just because it doesn’t have duty on it, doesn’t mean that it’s cheap!  My observation on the electronics was that the prices were about 50% higher than retail here in Winnipeg.  Obviously not the place to buy that new notebook computer or flat screen TV!

The flight waiting area had free Wi-Fi, so I was able to check E-mail, check Winnipeg news and weather, and pass the time a bit.

The Plane and the Flight to Toronto
The plane was a 767, very nice.  Leather seats, entertainment units in the back of headrests, even an AC power outlet to plug in a laptop!  So I watched a couple of movies, did some programming on the laptop (a shell script to organize the photos from mine and Dayna’s cameras), listened to music, and was generally BORED for 12 hours!  Ugh that is too long to be in an airplane!

Pet peeves:
– kids who cough – constantly – without covering their mouths – about 3 seats to our left!
– strangers who get to know each other – loudly – through the whole flight – without consideration that others are trying to sleep – right behind us!
– folks who don’t realize that the seat back in front of them is actually the BACK of MY seat – the guy behind me tried for about 10 minutes to plug into the outlet on the back of Dayna’s seat, basically giving her whiplash and a headache.  I finally confronted him, and he was genuinely amazed that anyone would be affected by his smacking the back of a seat!
– reading light controls that fail – with the reading light ON – yes, all reading light controls on our side of the aircraft crapped out about 2 hours in, so I had difficulty relaxing after that, felt like an interrogation lamp!
– entertainment systems that lock up and reset in the middle of a movie – I was watching an oldie and was over half way through when it crapped and started again.  It wasn’t that good, was just passing time anyway, so went off and did something else that was equally forgettable.
– CBC in-flight news that was over a week old – seriously!  Opening report was that U.S. mid-term elections were going to happen today.  Wait a minute, that was last week!  No use in watching that newscast.  This, despite the claim on the heading of the show “updated twice a day”!

So you know what, I think next time, I’d prefer to come back with a stop somewhere.  Heathrow, Amsterdam, anywhere – as long as my bag gets checked through, and I get off the plane, it would be good.

All that said, they kept us busy in another way – eating and drinking.  It seems like we had 3 meals in the 12 hours.  The food was OK too, more or less – although the green beans were pretty soggy each time.  But hey what can you do – this is the new millenium, can’t expect perfection can you?

I got a bit carried away and had a couple of glasses of wine, then paid for it the rest of the trip.  Couldn’t get enough water to rehydrate, probably a result of the heat and the walking the day before.  Then had to run to the washroom constantly.  Must be a message in there for me, but I’m too dull to figure out what it was.

Toronto Airport and Customs and Security – What a Joy!
Now I’ve decided that the person who designed Pearson International, at least the Air Canada terminal, must have been on drugs of some kind.

You get off of the plane, walk about 2 km through the airport, with very little or no supervision to ensure that you don’t deviate (hey you haven’t cleared customs & immigration yet).  You see the customs agent, give in the card, they check your passport, you answer questions.  They mark your card, but you don’t know if you are subject to search or not.  I don’t know what they do if you are subject to search – you don’t have your checked bags yet!

George and Donna were right behind us at customs, and a little shaken – a rant about this below.  As we approached the customs booth, I could smell a strong liquor smell, so I was worried that George’s duty free bottle of Scotch Whisky was damaged.  But no, apparently this was from two bottles of duty free rum being dropped on the floor shortly before.  Boy somebody woulda cried, that’s for sure!

Then down to the main baggage hall (yes the main one, right to the outdoors), collect your luggage off of one of the main courasels.

Then off to the “connections” level, one floor up.  Hmm, not the “departures” level, which you could easily get to just by pressing a different key on the elevator.  You flash your customs card and boarding pass, and they let you put your checked bag right onto the belt without checks.  This little area is in the form of an “L” so you have to cut across the incoming line to get out, all the while dragging your carry on items, what a melee that was.

NOW you have to pass through security again, because of course you were outside the security zone.  Then try to figure out your gate number, and get to your gate.

I am starting to like the “old” (existing) Winnipeg International Airport more and more.  I hope the new terminal is more like the existing terminal, and not like Pearson!

Walking and walking and walking, check!

An Incident on a Stupid Moving Walkway
I think the same engineer that designed the terminal also designed the moving walkway between deplaning and customs.  It looks like any other, but about 20 feet in, all of the sudden it accelerates to warp speed!  Actually, the segments of the floor and the handrail separate to reveal three more segments in between, and the result is a huge increase in speed.  The floor ripples up then smooths out as this happens, so it’s a bit unnerving.  And, I’m looking at the handrail, obviously you have to put your hand only on the original segment, as what opens up is going to close up again, and possibly squash your hand in the process.  Hmm, I don’t like the look of this!

We were about 3/4 the way down the walkway when it stopped suddenly.  We could see way up ahead that folks were piled up, not moving, but by the time we got there, the log jam had cleared.  I figured someone must have been goofing around and hit the emergency stop button.  Well, I was half right!

When we got to customs, George and Donna came into line behind us, and they looked shaken up.  It turns out that when they came to the end of the walkway, the floor started shifting and George lost his balance.  He fell backward onto Donna, and they both went “thud” onto the walkway.  Security staff were there quickly and stopped the walkway immediately.  Fortunately, they seemed sore, upset, and shaken, but not seriously injured.

They ought to take that walkway out of service, it is a menace!  Or in the very least, put VERY CLEAR directions on it.  Probably with one of those annoying voice systems that repeats in a loop.  I hate them, but it would be justified.

Or simply put in a normal moving walkway.  This one is an idiotic stupid moving walkway.

The Last Segment
The last flight segment was shorter for sure, but at least we were almost home.  The flight was packed, the overhead bins were full, and we were at the back of the plane (some of the last to get out), but it was nice to get to Winterpeg.  Brr, wow, cold.  Oh well, heated seats, mmm.  Eric picked us up and whisked us home.

Jet Lag?
We got to bed shortly after midnight.  I was up before 08h00 and off to the Pan Am pool for about 09h00.  Part of my strategy for coping with jet lag is to exercise.  My new glasses had arrived from Virden, so I was off to Cathy’s optical store to get them fitted.  We had a brief chat, all was good.  Then a haircut to ensure that the 3 weeks’ growth in this thick mane of mine (joke – ha ha) is kept under control.  Errands, errands.

Among the errands was to go to CAA and get a new suitcase.  Mine was damaged somehow in the transfer from Jordan to Israel, and will be tossed out.  Sigh.  Oh well, the new one is a hard shell Samsonite, I have more confidence that it will survive the rigors of travel better anyway.

About 20h00 last night, I started feeling very sleepy, so I crashed.  Well then I was wide awake at 06h00.  I tried to sleep until 07h00, but it didn’t work.  I don’t like early starts on Saturdays!  Oh well, stop whining, there’s a lot to do, so I’d better get to it.  A blog entry to write, for instance.

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