Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Day 3 Back in Jerusalem, Western Wall Tunnel Tour, Depart for Milan

Today was my last day in Israel, I planned a full day, wanted to hit some last minute sights before my night flight to Milan, Italy.  I woke up around 7:45 am, fifteen minutes before my cell phone alarm was set to go off.  Yesterday, I scheduled a tour of the tunnels below the Western Wall for 9 am, so my day started early.
I got up, packed, and checked out of my hostel by 8:15 am, the hostel also booked my shuttle to the airport for my flight to Italy.  I wanted to give myself enough time to make it to the Western Wall a few minutes before the tour began.  Most tours I have gone on begin at Jaffa Gate, I knew I needed more time to get to the Western Wall, because I had to go through Jerusalem’s Old City to get there.

I walked at a quick pace to Jerusalem’s old city, when I went through the walls I had to decide, take the route I know to the Western Wall through the Jewish sector or go the shorter way through the Arab sector.  I decided to try the shorter route through the Arab sector, I saw an orthodox Jewish man walking and decided to follow him, I thought he may be going toward s the Western Wall. 

After the man I was following turned, I turned, but I decided to ask for directions to confirm I was going the right way.  I asked another Jewish man, this man was wearing a Kippah, he told me I could get to the Western Wall the way I was going, but there was a shorter way, he would show me.  I followed the man, he pointed me in the right direction.   I got to the meeting point for the Western Wall tunnel tour about ten minutes before it began.

Lynnae at Entrance to Meeting Point for Western Wall Tunnel Tour
The Western Wall tour lasted about an hour, we walked down a flight of stairs until we were below present day Jerusalem’s Arab sector.  Our guide gave us an introduction and brief history of the Western Wall excavations, he explained they began in 1967, when the excavations began the area was filled with garbage and sewage. 

Our guide gave us some background on Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, and the Western Wall.  He explained what the tunnels were years ago, that they were part of Jerusalem.  As we walked he explained where we were, we went from being below the Arab sector to the Western Wall, which extends miles below present day Jerusalem.  There were people praying at the subterranean Western Wall, I only saw women.  There were also notes left in this portion of the Western Wall, just like above ground.

Lynnae Touching the Western Wall beneath Jerusalem's Old City

Women Praying at the Western Wall Beneath Jerusalem's Old City
The tour ended at a cistern, full of water, our guide explained it was part of an aqueduct.  After the tour, our guide told us we would exit in the Arab sector and be escorted by security guards back to the Western Wall area.  He said if we wanted to shop in the Arab sector it was OK to separate from the group, but they provided security because of past incidents exiting through the Arab sector of Jerusalem. I went with the group back to the Western Wall, I planned to go to Oskar Schindler’s grave afterwards, and the easiest way was to cut through the area with the Western Wall.  I went through security, walked past the Western Wall, exited, and walked to the road outside Jerusalem’s Old City. 

Lynnae at the Aqueduct in Tunnel below Jerusalem's Old City 
The cemetery where Oskar Schindler is buried was open today, or I made it before it closed.  There was nobody working at the cemetery, there was one other woman who arrived at the same time as me, she was also looking for Schindler’s grave.  I walked around the cemetery, but could not find the grave, finally a tour group arrived, I figured they would know where the grave was, I went to where they were, planning to follow them to Schindler’s grave.  Turned out, the tour group did not know where the grave was either, eventually, someone pointed to the woman who entered at the same time as me, she had found the grave.  I walked down to where the grave was, took some pictures before the tour group descended on the area.  Schindler’s grave is covered with stones, I do not know if this symbolizes something.

Entrance to Cemetery w/ Oskar Schidnler's grave

Oskar Schindler's Grave
After visiting Schindler’s grave, I planned to go to the Israel Museum, the museum was not at the top of my list, but since I had an extra day, I decided I would go see it.  I stopped by a restaurant called the Burger Bar on my way to the bus stop to go the museum.  I was tired of eating Falafel and Shawarma, I got a good burger for the same restaurant in Tel Aviv, I figured  it would be good in Jerusalem too.  The burger was decent, I got the meal with fries and a drink. 

Burger Bar Lunch Jaffa Street West Jerusalem

I finished lunch then went to the bus stop to go to the Israel Museum.  One of my hostel mates told me where to catch the bus yesterday, turned out it was not exactly the right spot.  I had to ask a two bus drives before finding the right bus, one of the drives pointed me in the wrong directions, or it was the language barrier, always hard to tell.

When I got to the Israel Museum, the woman working at the entrance told me it was closed, on Tuesdays the museum does not open until 4pm.  I had to write off a visit to the Israel Museum, my shuttle to Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport would pick me up from my hostel at 4 pm for my 8:20pm flight to Milan.  I briefly considered exploring the government area, the Knesset, but decided I would just head back to the hostel.  The Knesset is not accessible like most Parliaments, you cannot see the building from the street, I do not know if visitors are allowed on the grounds without an appointment. 

Entrance to Israel Museum 

Me in front of Israel Museum
I caught the bus back to my hostel, I did not realize the bus stopped in front of  my hostel when I boarded it, it was a pleasant surprise.  I relaxed in the lobby until the shuttle arrived to take me to the airport.  I went to the ATM to get money and bought a snack at the bakery too
The airport shuttle arrived about five minutes early, the driver came into the lobby, asked if I was Lynnae, I packed my backpack and headed out the door with my luggage.  We went through Jerusalem’s ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhood on the way to the airport to pick up more passengers.  I had not walked through the neighborhood but saw it close up on our drive through. 

The ride from Jerusalem to the airport was about an hour after all the passengers were picked up.  My stop was terminal 3, along with most of the passengers on the shuttle.  Security was my next stop, I had heard stories about Israeli airport security, I was about to experience if for myself. 

Israel has an extensive check-in security procedure in place; Israel teaches other countries how to conduct security screenings.  After being thoroughly searched by Israeli authorities, seems TSA in the US is just playing games with American aviation security.  The first step in security screening was questioning by an Israeli security agent before going through the baggage screening process.  The security agent asked me why I visited Israel, he asked about my trips to Jordan and Egypt, he asked where I stayed, whether I made any friends in Jordan or Egypt, etc. 

After the security questioning, I got in line for the luggage x-ray machine.  After my bag was x-rayed, I was instructed to stand in the line to have my luggage examined, it seemed all the passengers were instructed to do the same, no random search, no profiling.  The baggage examiner told me to unzip my bag, she took out all my electronic devices, which were mainly power adapters.  She went through my luggage and then swabbed everything with what I think is an instrument to detect explosive residue.  She went through this process several times, then swabbed my power adapters, etc.  Once she was finished and everything was tested, she instructed me to repack my bags and said she would walk me to the check-in counter so I would not have to wait in line.

Check in went smoothly, then I had to go through security again, for my carry on baggage and metal detector.  The same process, less time consuming was followed for carry on screening, the agent emptied all my coins out of my wallet and my backpack, separated my electronics, swabbed my bag and my shoes for residue, tested everything and then I was allowed to pass through.  The entire process took about an hour and a half, I am confident nobody is sneaking anything through Israel’s airport security, cannot say the same for the US.  There have been several undercover investigations where unauthorized items were smuggled past TSA, I would be surprised if this happened in Israel. 

After security, I went to passport control, no problems here.   I waited for my flight, got a snack, and relaxed until boarding time for the flight to Milan.  It was strange leaving Israel after spending so much time there and meeting so many interesting people, but I was ready to see and do something new.  I am also looking forward to getting some good Italian food, I have had my fill of Falafel and Shawarma for a long time. 

The flight to Milan from Tel Aviv was about four hours, our flight boarded late, and we must have departed late, we did not arrive in Milan until after midnight. Our flight was scheduled to land at 11:20 pm, they never posted a delay on the flight board at the airport in Tel Aviv.  When we landed, our plane pulled up between two planes on the tarmac, we disembarked onto the tarmac, instead of directly in the terminal.  I took a taxi to Milan, 55 KM from the airport, for about $100. The public transportation seemed to be shutdown, I was not going to try to figure it out in the middle of the night either. 

Lynnae after plane landed in Milan 
Check in was easy at my hostel, after banging on the door to get someone to let me in.  The hostel provides a lot of services most hostels do not, they print things for free, gave me a free bottle of water when I arrived, etc.  I was going to get online when I got to my room, but my computer's battery was dead, and there was no electric outlet near my top bunk.  I made up my bed and went to sleep. 

Day 1 in Milan Photos

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