Tuesday, May 23, 2017

My trip to Jerusalem (home of the legendary Jesus Christ ©Harry Harris) and other matters. Buses, for example

Israel – Day 1: Vital Hotel, Tel Aviv

The dateline might surprise you, but it shouldn’t. As part of my welcome drive to expand my mind and discover more to life than just the sweetie counter in Denis Lusby’s shop cum post office in St Breward, North Cornwall, I have washed up in Israel with a view to seeing a bit of the country. I mean, why not? Over the years I’ve seen quite a bit of – in no particular order as folk are rather sensitive about such matters – the West Midlands, Tyne & Wear, Italy, France, Germany, Wadebridge, Kensington & Chelsea, most of what you can see from the driver’s seat of Surrey, Hampshire, Wiltshire, Somerset and Devon, and, of, of course, dear, dear London, now cleaner than it ever was thanks to a steady supply of immigrants from the newer members of the EU (so Lord knows what will happen when that tap is turned in March 2018. Can’t see too many Brits jumping in to fill the breach and doing on honest day’s work for rather pitiful pay, not in our nature). So why not Israel?

It is something I have planned for some time. Seriousness apart, we hear so much about the achievements of Israel, the Palestinian conflict, the urge of many on the country’s borders to be neighbourly (have I got that right?) that I have long thought it would be worthwhile to come to see the country for myself. A generous Christmas gift from my stepmother made it possible, although I did have to make some changes to my original plans. (‘You must stay at the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem,’ she said, ‘Tony [my father] and I stayed there and it was wonderful.’ Well, I don't doubt it was wonderful at around £230 a night.

As it happens my stepmother, once ‘Paddy O’Keeffe’ before she married my father, used to produce BBC Radio 4’s From Our Own Correspondent and had arranged for the BBC’s Jerusalem correspondent at the time, Asher Wallfisch, to make a series of talks. So it was off to Jerusalem for a few weeks with my newly-retired father in tow at the BBC’s expense.

I duly checked out the American Colony Hotel and its price for a ten-day stay, but blanched at the cost which was well over £3,500. I then spent more time on the net looking for something cheaper in Jerusalem, but quite rapidly realised that if you wanted somewhere half-decent, that, give or take a grand, was what you must expect to pay. I would very easily have settled for a cheap, though clean B&B, but tracking one down proved surprisingly difficult. I suppose it’s because Jerusalem ‘has history’ or something like that. In the event it occurred to me that reducing my stay to one week, basing myself in Tel Aviv and hiring a car to get around might well mean that I could come in on budget. And that is what I did. Though there has been one fly in the ointment.
. . .
Everything was going swimmingly. At Luton I fell into conversation with an elderly Jewish accountant with dual British/Israeli nationality who commuted every week to and from Jerusalem, and on the flight I sat next to a Jewish couple from Tiberias on sea of Gallili and got quite a bit more information from the wife (toda is thank you), who was immediately next to me. (They had spent the week in Tredington in the Cotswold’s with Australian friends who had rented a cottage, if you are interested. ‘Quite a few older and old people in that part of the country,’ she told me. Well, I could have told her that, and wealthy to boot.) I arrived at Tel Aviv airport refreshed by three gins and tonic and two bags of nuts and once passed passport control – not the inquisition I had been warned to expect – headed off to the car rental desks to collect my car. And that’s when it all went a little less swimmingly.
. . .
I cannot explain why, but just yards from the desks, it dawned on me that I had forgotten to bring my driving licence. As one does, and knowing full-well what the outcome would be, I searched and searched again every pocket in my jacket, jeans and luggage for that bloody licence, and, of course, didn’t find it. I went ahead and – again knowing full-well what the outcome would be – tried my luck to see whether I could pick up my car anyway despite not having my licence. ‘No,’ you can’t,’ they said, ‘sorry’. I told them that I was certainly no boy racer (though I’m sure they knew that just by taking a look at me), that I drank sparingly, had often been tempted to vote Conservative (and, who knows, might well do so in the future), that I was married with children, came from good stock, had more than once thought of donating to charity and was generally an all-round regular guy. ‘Sorry,’the said, ‘not dice.’

One last possibility is that I might be able to show them a copy of my licence, so I rang home and got my son to scan it in and email me a pdf. Just now while writing the above I have been on the phone to Expedia through whom I booked the whole trip, but it seems I can’t get my meny back from the rental company. I should have cancelled 24 hours before departure.

But there is, as always pleases me, an irony here. While chatting to the old accountant from Jerusalem – we bumped into each other again after the flight – I mentioned I intended to drive to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. ‘Don’t do that,’ he said, ‘get a bus. The bus services are exceptionally good in Israel and anyway you’ll never find anywhere to park in Jerusalem and especially nowhere near the Old City.’ That advice, dear friends, later went some way to soothing the irritation I felt about fucking up my car hire arrangements.

However, the plan – it is still only the first full day of my break – was not just about visiting Jerusalem but also seeing a bit of the country, touring around, that kind of thing. I especially wanted to visit Caesarea and the Sea of Gallili. Well, I suppose that kind of thing is still possible by bus, but a car would have been handier. There is just one small glimmer of home. I shall get the front desk here at the hotel to print out the pdf of my driving licence and see if I can’t persuade Alamo to give me the car I paid for. Fingers crossed.

Last night, I went for a stroll, a beer and a cigar along I do not know where. Here is a picture I took.

NB I couldn’t think how to work it in so I shall just tack it onto the end here: the Daily Mirror once had a football correspondent called Harry Harris. He once flew to Israel to cover a match between Israel and England in Jerusalem. And the intro to his piece is a classic of schlock journalism: ‘Jerusalem,’ he wrote, ‘home of the legendary Jesus Christ.’

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