Arrived in Jerusalem, and so far The Stereotypes have singularly failed to get blown up. We fully intend to keep up the good work, although at this point I'm starting to wonder.
For the last several days I've been having a streak of small annoyances - tiny bits of bad luck, of no real significance really, but enough to notice. The Boss commented that me and reality are not on the best of terms at this point, and I need to consider wearing a tinfoil hat.
The curse (or rather cursoid) does not seem to diminish with geography. The guy next to me on the Lufthansa commuter flight to Frankfurt seemed at first like a nice enough man - what's known as a "väliseestlane", born into a family of WWII-period Estonian refugees to the West, in this case Toronto. Eventually I asked him what he did for a living. Nothing; he's a missionary volunteer; a Jehova's Witness. He showed remarkable restraint, but did end up trying to convert me. I told him about Popper's falsifiers and Adams' puddle argument, but I should've known better than to try to use reason and common sense, really.
Frankfurt Airport, if not depressing, is at least surprising. As Lufthansa's main hub and a huge international half way point, I'd expect it to be a tad more impressive. Instead it feels old and industrial. Our connection was fairly tight (only an hour to get from the commuter parked in the ass end of nowhere to a 747 skybridge); we made it, but it involved a lot of walking and two separate security checks.
This was my first time on a Jumbo Jet, and I can see Clarkson's point - it's a lot more pleasant a place to be than the Triple Seven I rode to California a couple years back. A less than four-hour hop down to Tel Aviv was entirely unstressful, save for a slightly exciting landing.
There is an island somewhere in the Caribbean whose major attraction is the fact that it consists almost entirely of a runway, with a beach at either end; on this runway lands a weekly Air France 747. The runway is still fairly short, so the plane comes in very exactly, touching down at the edge; supposedly the experience of a heavy airliner gliding just above your head is one-of-a-kind indeed. But the sensation of being in one as it powerslides at low altitude onto Ben Gurion's main landing strip is not something to ignore.
I am by no means the world's least suspicious traveller, which is kind of ironic, considering I'm a very law-abiding one. I may have mentioned that I repeatedly get stopped by customs in Stockholm's Frihamn seaport, but in this case the customs guys were the only ones utterly disinterested. Israeli security actually took me aside at the exit gate, though the agent was satisfied by my story and the fact that I actually had something with the employer's logo on it with me.
Ben Gurion is actually a very pretty building. It's distinctive, local, and looks like somebody actually put some thought into both planning and decorating it. I remarked on this as my queue for passport control promptly ground to a halt, and kept thinking it as I was questioned again by a second agent at the airside exit, this one only made happy by the sight of my return ticket and a promise not to go anywhere except Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, specifically not Ramallah.
Israel has a smaller territory than Estonia, but over three times the population. I had thought Jerusalem would be a longer trip than it was; the highway is of very good quality and the scenery is awesome. I'd long since lost any feeling of exotic travelling through Europe, but this country really feels like it's somewhere different. My understanding had been that Israel is still fundamentally a Western state, but now I'm starting to wonder.
The Regency hotel in Jerusalem is advertised as five-star luxury accomodation. If your understanding of hospitality is calibrated for Europe, as mine is, you will be sorely disappointed. The building itself is extremely impressive, a pyramid carved into the side of a mountain, if quite hard to find (our cabbie - equipped with an address, a map and a tinfoil-suggesting engine issue half way down from the airport - failed to deliver us there without the aid of a local colleague). But it was built a long time ago, and nobody has bothered to renovate it since. My first suspicion arose during checkin, when I saw that the WiFi was not free. The room only extended my disappointment. Maybe this was five-star stuff in the 1970s, in an age before laptops, MP3 players and digital cameras, when it was not presumed that a traveller may have any need to extract electricity. The room has a desk, letterhead paper and envelopes - but, curiously, no pen; and infuriatingly, no sockets in sight. The power cables from the desk lamp and paleolithic TV set snake off into the nether regions behind the cupboard and bed. I found an outlet eventually, just the one - hidden behind the curtain in the bottom corner of the wall, quite possibly the least useful possible spot.
Company policy states the laptop needs to be left in the room's safe when leaving the hotel without it. The safe, never mind that it's too small to fit the thing in the first place, does not actually work. There's a minibar, and I'll give you three guesses about that.
I'm typing this up on my laptop on Saturday night, saving it in a Notepad file. Hope to post it tomorrow or whenever I get to a working network connection. On the upside, I've got some very nice pictures that I'll be posting. Stay tuned for more!