Planning our aliyah, I said over and over that I didn’t think we could live in Yerushalayim, for many reasons, but that there’s no point in living in this country if we can’t get there on a regular basis.
The answer is: it’s an easy trip – for an adult. For the kids, it’s a bit much.
For an adult, it costs ₪42 (about $12-14) from the Haifa bus station, plus the local fare to get to the bus station. Normally, that’s ₪5.50, but because they’ve just unveiled and are working the kinks out of a new super-duper high-speed Haifa transit system, the Metronit, it’s temporarily free to get to the bus station – bonus!!!
Time-wise, the Metronit makes it much easier, replacing a bus that was annoyingly slow the 2-3 times we had to take it during our short stay here. But in order to get to the station free and save the ₪5.50 (per person!), we have to walk to the Metronit, which is not exactly close. So what with kid-walking-speed taken into account, the travel time to the Haifa station is still about one hour. Drat.
The bus to Yerushalayim leaves once an hour (a bit more often during rush hour). Once you’re on the bus, it takes exactly 2 hours to get there, not a bad stretch of time, but a restless one for little people. We brought books and other forms of entertainment, but it still felt a little on the long side.
(The bus was full both ways. On the way home, as luck would have it, the last seat on the bus, ie mine, was waaaaay up at the front of the bus, far away from Ted/Akiva and the kiddies. So I had a nice, relaxing ride while they made him crazy the whole way back to Haifa. The last couple of passengers, both times, spent the trip sitting on the floor.)
Arriving in Yerushalayim, I noticed a difference in the weather immediately. They say it because it’s true: “It’s a DRY heat.” Yerushalayim is bone-dry right now. So’s Haifa, but here, we have the damp, salty Mediterranean air, with a humidity often reaching into the 90% range. There, you drink and drink and drink and drink… and it all evaporates out your pores.
It is VERY dry in Yerushalayim; did I mention that? But that means that when there’s a breeze, it feels nice. In the shade, it feels nice. Most importantly, the stickiness that has clung to our skin for the last 12 days finally evaporated, leaving us feeling slightly human again.
Our “errands” for the day were: daven at the kosel (kotel, western wall), find lunch somewhere afterwards, get ice cream at the place I saw near the kosel back in February, stroll through machaneh yehudah market (shuk) and then meet an old friend so our kids could play with her kids. Oy – too much for one day out with kids!!!
By the time the bus pulled into the merkazit (central bus station) in Yerushalayim, the kids were starving and melty, so we shuffled the priorities and added Aroma iced coffee to the list, stopping at the super-cool Big Apple Pizza near Yaffo Street.
The pizza was very nice, though I refused (now that we’re officially Not Tourists) to let the kids buy sugary drinks to go along with them. They knew we planned to get ice cream later anyway.
However, stopping off BEFORE the kosel meant a longer walk to the kosel itself… a hot, sunny shlep until we reached the Old City, where all the weird covered alleyways were about 15 degrees cooler.
Eventually, we made it to the kosel:
It sounds redundant to say it was sunny there, too, but the big open plaza made it feel EXTRA sunny. Some of the ladies were taking shade under a temporary construction bridge across the ladies’ section, but most of those seats were taken. Anyway, I told the kids we wouldn’t stay long, and just did a couple of chapters of tehillim (psalms) before turning around.
Well, not literally. There’s a minhag (custom) to not turn your back on the kosel, just as you wouldn’t turn around and walk away from royalty; it’s just rude. Some people don’t know and just turn around and leave; others take it to an extreme and walk backwards the whole way out. I kind of do a compromise where I go backwards until I feel I’m not really “there” anymore and that it would be ridiculous to back up any farther. Then I turn around.
By the time we’d worked our way back through the warrens of the Christian Quarter, the rest of the plan had kind of gone to pieces because we were late. My friend was very time-constrained, as her son was coming home from school soon (chareidi boys’ schools started back on Rosh Chodesh Elul).
We tried to catch a cab, with no luck, so took the train to machaneh yehudah instead. Then we caught a cab to the park where we were to meet, only 15 minutes late. Found our friends and it was a nice playground; the kids had a good time, if not for nearly long enough.
They walked us back up almost all the way to machaneh yehudah (the shuk) and then left us on our own. Both kids were starting to complain about their legs hurting, so I promised that by the time we got to the other side of the shuk, they would have a) fresh juice drinks, b) halva, and c) a train ride back to the merkazit.
Happily, I was able to make all those dreams come true – cups of fresh limonana (icy-cool lemon-mint slushy) and countless halva samples later (yes, I bought some to bring home, but not much, because we’re NOT tourists!), we caught the train back to the merkazit.
Quickly checked the time and we had FIVE minutes to catch the return bus to Haifa!!! Pre-emptively, I had demanded a complete schedule and platform information when we arrived in the morning, knowing it might be a rush on the way home.
(Note about the bus station – if you go to a “tickets” window and ask for information, they will yell at you; if you go to the “information” window, they may still yell at you, but they will also happily give you all the information you need, and it is very, very useful!)
(She yelled because I asked for the schedule and then clarified because I didn’t think she’d understood me, so she yelled that she was getting it already. It may not have been actual yelling, but it was scary to my Canadian ears.)
I was happy now that I had done all that already, but I also knew that when security is tight, it can take way more than five minutes just to line up and get in to the merkazit, let alone three floors up to the departures platforms (ratzif, ratzif, ratzif… must stop calling them “ritzpah” (floor) instead of “ratzif” (platform).)
Weirdly, for some reason, there was NO security. Like, the door was wide open and the security guy was doing something else. He didn’t even wave us in; he didn’t even look. We ran up the escalators, ran to the platform (ratzif!) and eventually made it into the last four seats.
Exactly two hours later, we pulled in to the Haifa merkazit, and an hour after that, we tumbled sleepily into the apartment, two hours late for a Skype call with my mother, which lasted about two minutes.
Ted / Akiva had the BRILLIANT idea of having hot dogs for supper (oops, yes, we are eating a lot of meats-with-preservatives these days; hopefully it will average out over a lifetime). I was totally craving them after the delicious-smelling hot-dog stand we always pass in the merkazit in Yerushalayim. It is very, very nice to be able to find kosher buns at any hour.
GOOD: When we got home, a fedex was waiting for me with the replacement for my VISA card which was cancelled last week. They refused to mail it to my mother’s house but spent however-much to fedex it to me across the Atlantic. Whatever; I’m happy it’s here. Also, we found a bank machine that worked with our cards, all the way down there in Yerushalayim. Good to know, though it may be the only one in the entire country!
BAD: We dropped off Ted / Akiva at the store to buy the hot dogs and I took the kids home on the local bus (yes, I spent the ₪5.50 per person – GZ was so tired on the Metronit that I had to give him a Werther’s candy to keep him awake.) Naomi sat by herself in the back of the bus and I didn’t notice she got off without her “teek” – the brand-new extra-huge-for-school Roots backpack her Aunt Cheryl bought her when she came to Toronto 2 weeks ago. :-( So I have to call Egged Haifa lost-and-found in the morning and figure out how to tell them we moronically lost our bag. Also, our teudot zehut (identity papers) are officially lost and we have to spend tomorrow shlepping around replacing them. That’s actually kind of good news – by this time tomorrow, we may have them at last.