Shalom — Part א (One)

Well, we did it. We flew halfway around the world, drove all over Israel, ate hummus for 10 days straight, and managed to keep our baby happy throughout the adventure. I better document this properly so Soren can one day see how spoiled he was as a baby. Here goes our massive trip journal.

The flight from Boston to Tel Aviv (with a brief stop in Philadelphia) was not the most fun thing I’ve ever done. International flights are bad enough when you’re on your own, but when you’re taking care of a kid it can be kind of miserable. Soren was a champ — he slept most of the time — but I found it impossible to sleep while holding him and trying to keep him asleep. So… we arrived in Israel feeling like we’d pulled an all-nighter. Our driver, Norbert, picked us out of the crowd of incoming passengers at Ben Gurion, and an hour later he dropped us off outside our lovely Jerusalem apartment on Ben Yehuda Street.

After a little unpacking and a nap for Soren, we headed to the Old City. Because it was Shabbat (Friday night), the streets were absolutely deserted. We saw very few people, and all the restaurants and shops were shuttered. A 15-minute walk brought us to the walls of the Old City, and we entered through New Gate. Our destination was the Western Wall, but apparently Google Maps doesn’t know anything about the maze that is the Old City. We wandered around for ages while I complained pretty much non-stop. I blame the sleep deprivation. We eventually found ourselves looking down over the Western Wall, so we observed for a few minutes then called it good.

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Friday night at the Western Wall.

My goal for the night was to nip that jet lag in the bud via a normal bedtime for the three of us, so I did a lot more whining as Tim’s attempts to navigate us home failed repeatedly. We eventually made it, but not before Soren fell asleep in the Ergo. And then I remembered that my plan for the entire trip was supposed to be “go with the flow,” so I put the grumbling to a halt and we all went to bed late.

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Tuckered out after a late night on the town.

If we had been anywhere else in the world we probably would’ve skipped church the next morning, but it seemed a little sacrilegious to play hooky in the Holy Land. So we dragged our tired selves out of bed and made our way to a cab stand, only to find that no one actually knows where the BYU Jerusalem Center is (and if you can find an address for it online I’ll pay you $5). Miracle number one of the day was making it to church with a driver who didn’t speak English and didn’t know where he was going.

Soren hasn't fallen asleep in our arms like this since he was teeny tiny.

A quick snooze in the taxi. Soren hadn’t fallen asleep in our arms like this since he was teeny tiny.

Our relief at arriving to church was upended when Tim realized he left his cell phone in the cab. We said goodbye forever to the Samsung, until miracle number two presented itself with a good-hearted driver who came all the way back to the building to return the lost goods. Phew.

After the service we snapped a few photos:

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During church I won the game called “find someone you know” when I spotted my good friend’s mother in the congregation. It’s a small Mormon world.

Beautiful Jerusalem

Beautiful Jerusalem.

Maintaining his plan to sleep at all the wrong times, Soren napped during church and was wide awake when we got back “home.” Since he’s cute, I forgave him.

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Loving life in Jerusalem.

And then we had a cuddle in the twin+twin=king bed. I don’t know what’s going on in Israel, but apparently that’s normal, since a number of vacation rentals we looked at showed beds like this.

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My face is screaming, “Let me take a nap!”

Since the rest of the town was still observing Shabbat (meaning everything was completely shut down), we spent the afternoon in the Muslim quarter of the Old City — their Sabbath is on Friday, so they were ready to party. We went straight to Abu Shukri, which is said to have the best hummus in Jerusalem. I don’t have the photos to illustrate, but it was an amazing meal. I never want to eat American-made hummus again.

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Soren could live on Middle Eastern food for life. Look at that post-lunch face — he’s in foodie heaven.

After sundown, the city came alive — people swarmed the streets, shop owners opened their doors, and the aroma of falafel and shawarma filled the area. What we thought was a quiet old city began to feel like any other bustling metropolis. At 9 p.m. or so, my mom appeared on our doorstep after her flight from Virginia, so we all went out to celebrate. With gelato.

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Not quite to the level of the gelato Italy has to offer, but as I always say, mediocre gelato is better than no gelato.

On Sunday we rented a lime green Chevy Spark and took off for a drive through the Judean desert. Our destination? The Dead Sea. Along the way — in the middle of nowhere — we stumbled upon a couple of road-side camels just waiting to be ridden. Don’t mind if we do.

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Soren’s first camel ride! The nice camel owner is approaching Tim to tell him (in his very limited English) to hand the camera over to someone who knows what he’s doing. The guy then proceeded to take a ton of photos for us.

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Probably the tallest animal I’ll ever sit on.

After a quick lunch of Israel-style fast food (hummus, falafel, salad, and french fries in a pita) we moved on to Masada, Herod ‘s palatial desert fortress. We hopped on a cable car and flew a thousand feet up to the ruins (with our ears popping all the while).

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That Herod the Great was one crazy man. Who builds a palace at the top of a cliff in the middle of the desert?

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Family picture inside the walls of the 2,000-year-old fortress.

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Soren is either asleep or passed out from heat stroke. Pretty sure it was well over 100 degrees on that plateau.

After sweating, sweating, sweating at Masada, it was time for a swim in the Dead Sea. But when I say swim I actually mean float. That is one salty body of water. Mineral Beach was our sandy spot of choice, and we arrived late enough in the day that we practically had the place to ourselves. (We did enjoy the entertainment from an Australian-sounding family, however. Upon entering the sea and feeling the effects of the salinity, one of their teenage boys began yelling, “My balls! My balls!”)

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Soren loves being able to say he’s been at Earth’s lowest elevation .

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It takes zero effort to float in this 34% salinity sea (that’s about nine times saltier than the ocean).

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We donned our throwaway swimsuits and got all muddied up. I was hoping the magical minerals in the Dead Sea mud would cure all my imperfections. Worth a shot, right?

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Any day that includes the beach is my favorite day.

After a full day of serious tourism, we rewarded ourselves with dinner at Moshiko, which ended up being our most favorite food spot on Ben Yehuda street. I think Tim ate there four of the five days we were in Jerusalem.

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Falafel, shawarma, and schnitzel — oh my!

Naturally, I topped myself off with another gelato that night, and that wrapped up our third night in the Holy Land. And since this post includes about 20 photos, I think it’s time to wrap this up as well. To be continued…

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