Monday, November 14, 2005
from Israel to England
Pull up a chair and get comfortable, kids... I have a very amusing travel story to share with you. It involves the joy of Israeli airport security, something that has not always been my friend in the past. I did not, however, learn from prior lessons...

The scene: Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel. I arrived 4 hours early, got through security and check-in in 3 hours and had some time to kill. I bought some magazines, a drink and snack, and found a telephone to call home so I could tell my mom I was okay and to wish my dad a happy birthday. By the time I got off the telephone with them I had about 10 mins to go through another round of quick security in the area leading to the gates, and to find my plane at Gate 23.

I hustled to find the bathroom around the corner and bee-lined for the first stall. After successfully finishing "my business" I went to flush the toilet, but upon doing so I found that it had one of those excellent foot flush handles, not the disgusting ones you flush by hand that no one wants to use. I have seen one or two of these before but I decided I wanted to document this. Yes, you should know by now that I like to take strange pictures of everything from food to payphones to toilets, and to put them up on my blog. I have taken pics of toilets in Holland, Budapest, Canada (the casino) and the US, and apparently I needed a pic of that toilet in Israel. I quickly pulled my camera out of my knapsack and pulled the lens cap off. For a moment I thought this might look odd to anyone else who might be in the bathroom and I thought I had heard one other person mulling around. I readied my camera and was about to take the shot when.... hm, it looks like I'll need to use my flash, I thought. Against my better judgment I opened up the flash on my camera and for a fleeting moment my brain tried to tell me that this was a bad plan. Not only would it seem odd to anyone else that might be in the bathroom, to see a flash go off in a stall, I didn't know where that other person was in the bathroom.

Shutting that little voice out I decided to snap the picture quickly, promptly tossed the camera in my bag and cleared out as fast as I could. As I headed to the sink to wash my hands (losing precious seconds for escaping) I heard someone flush a toilet in the stall that was right beside mine. As I washed my hands the girl came out and walked towards me. Then I heard her speak... "Slicha..." ('excuse me..'). I turned around and saw that she was a security guard. Just. My. Luck.

I immediately told her in Hebrew that I don't speak Hebrew and she then asked in English why I was taking a picture in the bathroom. Feeling myself blushing I tried to explain why I did it but the growing smile across my face began to make me look very guilty indeed. Just as a note to anyone else who might find him or herself in trouble with Israeli security: wipe the sheepish smile off your face when trying to talk your way out of a sticky situation. This was my number one problem because I simply couldn't do it. I had a grin from ear to ear because I just could NOT believe I got myself into such a dumb, if not mildly embarrassing, situation. I felt like I was on some kind of comedy/reality show, because you just can't make this sort of thing up. Yet here I was in the middle of a hilarious scenario that I foolishly managed to create for myself and I couldn't stop smirking.

After giving my explanation to the security girl in the washroom she asked for my passport and boarding pass. My grin, shame on me, grew wider. Was I really being asked for my passport in a BATHROOM?? I gave her what she wanted and tried to collect myself while she read it. She asked why I was returning to Israel, to which I winced.... because I wasn't, though the ticket makes it look like I am. You see, when the ticket agent issued the ticket I noticed it had a return date on it of Dec 5, which I asked about. I was told it had something to do with needing to fill out all the fields in the form on the computer in order to complete it, so they just pick a date, but you are actually only paying for the one way (since it was a one way ticket). Seemed strange to me, and little did I know how strange it would look to security (which I had already cleared 3 times already).

"Come with me" said the girl, to which I dropped my head and sighed, gathered up my knapsack, and tried to hide my face as it was becoming clear that the grin across it was certainly NOT helping the situation. I was lead back all the way through the airport to the check in area and another security girl. They spoke in Hebrew, and I tried my best luck to look innocent (which was going well until I heard the girl say "bathroom" in Hebrew and I cracked up again). The second girl looked up at me, stone faced, and asked what I was doing in the bathroom. I repeated the reasons and said that I knew how absurd it sounded but that it was, sadly, the truth. I then asked if she wished to see the picture, to which she said yes. I pulled the camera out and showed her (with a proud smile plastered across my face). She asked what other pictures I had take in the airport to which I laughed and said none (could the smile get ANY bigger on my face?? it was simply hilarious that the ONLY picture I opted to take in the airport was of a TOILET!! what has my life come to??). I scrolled to the next picture on my camera to show her that there were no other airport pictures and the next picture that popped up on my camera was..... a little container of Israeli yogurt. Doing my best to suppress a laugh I said "See?? THESE are the kinds of crazy pics I take! I'm a foreigner! Everything is interesting to me! Toilets! Yogurt! You name it!". Finally she let me go and I ran all the way through the airport to catch my flight.

The smile was soon wiped off my face when I was boarding my Sun D'Or flight along with about 30 Hassidic religious Jews. While my Hebrew is not all that great it wasn't hard for me to pick up on the problem that was causing such a stir with 5 men in the seats surrounding me. That problem..... was me. You see, there were 3 seats in a row in my section and I asked for the aisle seat. The two other seats had been assigned to a couple of the religious men who wanted no part in the idea of sitting next to a girl. Afterall, there is a good chance that we may actually touch. One asked if I would switch seats for one a couple of rows up but I refused because it was a window seat and I specifically wanted an aisle. As time marched on and the plane was nearly full I was approached by one of the flight attendants and asked if I would take a seat at the back of the plane, where there was an aisle seat. Begrudgingly I stood up and made moves to pull down my knapsack from the overhead compartment, buried behind mounds of luggage. The attendant waved me off and said I could pick it up the way out since I would be walking by anyway. Steaming mad at being booted out of my seat because I am a girl and sent back into a section of the plane that was cooking I moved to my new seat. I plunked myself down in my new seat and remarked to the girl beside me that I had been moved because I was a girl. She said "I know, me too". I sat and stewed in the principle of it all during a most uncomfortable 5 hour flight and hated that those religious chaps didn't even bother to say thank you.

When we finally landed after a cramped but mercifully short flight, I practically ran up the aisle to try and get ahead of the pack. When I finally reached my knapsack and pulled it down I saw one of the religious guys who gave me the boot. I gave him an icy glare and when he met my eyes he spoke the only English I had heard from any of them. "Thank you", he said. "Bevakasha" (you're welcome) I answered. And just like that I had to stop being angry. And I did.

The first 3 days here in England have been jammed packed with the usual tourist activities of traveling, exploring and trying to figure the incredibly complex British subway system (aka The Tube). It has been a bit rough going from the warm weather in Israel (on my last day there it was about 23C/73F) to the incredibly chilly weather here in England (ranges from 0C-11C/32F-52F) and I have had to resort to buying a hat and eating roasted chestnuts from a street vendor in order to stay warm. The friend I am staying actually likes to keep his windows a bit open for "fresh air" in this weather, so it's not unusual to see me in my coat and shoes in the apartment. And don't say it, I'm tired of hearing it... yes, I am a Canadian. Yes, I am used to cold. However, in Canada, we like to close the windows when it gets this cold and warm the home a bit. Gives you a chance to get away from the cold, you know?

Anyway, I am loving England thus far (cold weather aside). I find the small town I am in (Theydon Bois/Epping) extremely quaint and enchanting, with it's bakery and deli windows and local pub (The Bull). London has been a fantastic experience as I have wandered the streets and found all kinds of amazing places. I love the look of the city here.

Observations so far:

1) I am doing my best not to step into traffic, but with things reversed and cars driving on the left instead of the right I am finding it difficult to remember which way to look. Luckily, in London, they actually have "Look Left" and "Look Right" painted on the curbs to help people like me.

2) Let me tell ya, I thought Israel had much to be desired in the plumbing department.. but England has it's own crazy quirks. Like separate cold and hot water taps. Not just the little faucet handle you turn, I mean two different water taps. So cold comes out of one and hot the other, they are not flowing together. You want to wash your hands or the dishes? Take your pick... freeze your hands or burn hem. Whee!

3) England has a superior selection of chocolate and other such snacks, hands down. I am trying to work up the nerve to try the "roasted lamb with mint" potato chips.

Ok, today is my first day to catch up on blogging, emailing and just relaxing after running around for three days. I'm going to finish here and then start watching the first season of 24, the show that everyone on the planet seems to be into but me. My friend here has the first and second season on DVD. Yeeha!! Tonight... I am heading to a movie. My second in almost 3 months!