Archive | December, 2010

Christmas Eve Surprise

24 Dec

This morning we received our air freight shipment: five large boxes of essential items to begin setting up our household. The rest of our stuff will arrive by ship sometime in January, we hope. It’s been so long since we had this stuff packed up that unpacking the boxes  is almost like Christmas. Oh yeah! There’s my favorite shampoo. Yes! My pasta pot!! We can have spaghetti and meatballs after all for Christmas dinner. To add to the holiday atmosphere, Baxter and Lulu have been having fun playing around with the packing paper and jumping into the empty boxes.

We also met our next door neighbor. I believe she’s Israeli (she speaks very good English with an accent) but already I forget her name. Her husband is an American and they have four children and a dog. We’re already well acquainted with their dog, a cute little scruffy mutt who came from the shelter.


We’re Heeeere!

23 Dec

We’ve been in our house in Tel Aviv for a week now. So much has happened but I’ve been offline since our arrival and have only been connected for about a half hour each day since Monday at a neigborhood internet cafe. The connection is slow but the cappuccinos are delish! The kitties arrived one day after we did: long journey for them and a long story to go with it. I’ve been taking photos galore and have even made two daytrips so far. One to Jerusalem and one to Tel Megiddo, an important archeological site north of Tel Aviv. Monday we are supposed to get our internet and satellite TV hooked up. That will be a nice Christmas present! Once we’re online I will update my blog, post dating my entries for proper chronology.

Day Trip to Jerusalem

16 Dec

Temple MountOur first full day in Israel and I was jet-lagged. Not to mention shell-shocked as well over the fiasco with the kitties. Our sponsor, N., had lined up shopping outings for me with some folks who’ve been living here for a while and know the ropes. Those arrangements had been for last week when we had originally been scheduled to arrive. This week many people are back in the States for the holidays. She made a phone call to see if L. could take me on a run to the supermarket. Turns out L. was going to Jerusalem with S. and would I like to come along? Hmmm…if I’m able to remain erect it might be a good way to take my mind off the kitties. Why, yes! I’m going to Jerusalem!

L. picked me up early and we drove into Tel Aviv to pick up S. I should have paid attention to the roads but we were too busy talking about life in Israel. We picked up S. and were on the road to Jerusalem. L. and S. go to Jerusalem regularly and this time they had an agenda: go to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher first and early to avoid standing in a long line to view the tomb of Jesus. Stop at the Austrian Hospice for apple strudel in their Viennese-style cafe. Have lunch at their favorite hummus and felafel joint. Whoa! I knew I was in for a treat!

The Old City of Jerusalem is still surrounded by a wall dating from, well, Biblical times. One can spend an hour or so circumnavigating the city from atop the ramparts and some day I hope to do so. The perimeter of the city wall is surrounded by national parks and museums and the modern city of Jerusalem spreads out from there on all sides.

After stopping at Aroma cafe for a delicious cappuccino to go we headed for Jaffa Gate, our point of entry to the Old City. Thank goodness my companions knew where they were going because I know I’d have gotten hopelessly lost in the stone-paved streets, even though they are arranged in a grid of sorts. We passed by many enticing shops full of exotic wares. What an incredibly photogenic city!

But L and S pressed on towards the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. And with good reason. By the time we got there a line had already begun to form outside the site of the tomb of Jesus. I stood in line in awe of the surrounding architecture. Many different sects of the Christian religion have chapels and shrines throughout the structure. There’s an Ethiopian Coptic chapel, an Armenian shrine. The Greek Orthodox church has chapels and shrines on the sites of the most holy places relating to the crucifixion of Christ.  I was taking photos outside the chapel where the tomb of Christ is located when I was scolded by a Greek Orthodox priest who exclaimed “This is a site for worship and reflection. Put your camera away for now.” In just a few moments we were inside viewing the tomb of Christ. Actually it is a slab of stone about 4 meters above where Christ is said to have been buried. We also saw the Stone of Unction, where Jesus’ body is said to have been anointed before burial. And the site of the crucifixion was now occupied by an incredibly ornate shrine of the Greek Orthodox church. Visitors can view the rock of Golgotha (or Calvary) where the cross was placed.

We also visited the Western Wall. I am used to calling it the Wailing Wall but it seems now the accepted designation is Western Wall. About two thirds of the wall is approachable only by men. The other third is for female worshippers. We caught a glimpse of the gilded Dome of the Rock, al-Aqsa Mosque and the Mount of Olives.

We also did a fair amount of browsing in wonderfully exotic shops during our visit and stopped by the Austrian Hospice for our cafe und strudel. The Hospice is situated in an enchantingly beautiful setting in the heart of the Old City. It serves as a inn for travelers (I must get details on that!) and also has the Viennese-style cafe. There were tables indoors and many tables scattered about outside on the premises.

I now know why L and S make a habit of visiting Jerusalem. I’m sure I will return many times.


The In Crowd

15 Dec

Welcome To Israel

At David Ben Gurion Airport

Our Living Room

Our living room with government-issue furniture


Rear of our house with patio

Upon arrival at every overseas post the first order of business is in-processing and this posting was no different. What was different is that we spent our first night in our own home rather than in a hotel or temporary quarters. N. picked us up in the morning and we began the ride into the central Tel Aviv on one of the routes Brad will be taking each day to work. I watched the traffic carefully as I had on the ride from the airport to our house and I thought. Hmmm. Not too bad. I think I might be able to handle driving around here.

Once we arrived at Brad’s workplace we made our way from one office to another. We had our photos taken for an ID card. We were briefed about security and medical services. We were told about the benefits available to us at this posting. There are many extracurricular activities and organized tours of which we can join. There is a nice little cafe on the premises that serves delicious cappuccinos.

For lunch we ventured out into the city. From what I’ve seen I wouldn’t say Tel Aviv is a pretty city. Most of the architecture I saw was drab and rectangular. But my experience of the city has been very limited so far. N. led the way through some bustling streets to Rami (?) the sandwich man. She boasted that he makes the sandwiches for you right before your very eyes. I thought, “isn’t that what they do at Subway?” But Rami’s sandwiches have as much in common with Subway’s as an anthill has with Mt. Sinai. There was a limited selection of sandwich fillings to which one could add a plethora of extras. I opted for the Tunisien sandwich — a tuna sandwich on a whole wheat sub roll. I knew better to expect white albacore tuna and it looked to be chunk light. I had Rami add cucumbers, tomatoes, hard boiled eggs, potatoes and a wonderful condiment made of pickled lemons. It was sumptuous and delicious. I could only eat half and saved the other half for dinner.

I left with N. around 2 p.m. while Brad stayed for more official in-processing. N. took me to the AM-PM store (something like a large 7-11) where I picked up a few items and then dropped me off at home. By then I was ready for a nap. Tomorrow morning I need to get up bright and early for a day trip to Jerusalem.

A Tale of Two Kitties

14 Dec

Baxter with sooty feet after investigating the fireplace in our new home

Baxter with sooty feet after investigating the fireplace in our new home

Lulu curled up on the biggest softest spot she could find

Lulu curled up on the biggest softest spot she could find

I’m happy to report that Baxter and Lulu have survived their epic journey from Linthicum to Herzliya Pituach seemingly unscathed. The short version of this story is that we had to deal with massive amounts of incompetence and inane bureaucracy to bring our kitties to Israel. But they did arrive, one day later than we did, and are happily settling into their new home. For the long version of the story, read on.

We’d already had one fiasco on Dec. 8, our original departure date, when our cats were not allowed to depart. We rescheduled our departure for the following Tuesday, Dec. 14, booking the same flights for the cats and for us. I’d had to get a new health certificate for them as well as a new USDA veterinary certificate. I’d faxed all forms to three different numbers and gotten confirmation and a green light from the veterinary office at Ben Gurion Airport. We stayed at a hotel near Dulles Airport to assure we’d get to the cargo facility on time. What could go wrong? As it turns out, plenty.

We arrived at the cargo facility around 8:30 and had to wait an agonizingly long time while a woman ahead of us checked in her four-month-old golden labradoodle puppy for the same flight to Newark that Baxter and Lulu were scheduled to take. Already my stomach was churning with anxiety as we waited our turn. When finally M., the Continental clerk, began to check us in we were greeted with the cheery news that Baxter and Lulu’s flight might be delayed due to gusting winds.

M. took a long time to check Lulu and Baxter in, even though it should have been a no-brainer. All details were the same except for the departure date. We didn’t leave the cargo facility till nearly 10:00. Guess it was a good thing that Baxter and Lulu’s flight was delayed. It was originally scheduled to leave at 10:30. As we left, M. informed us that the flight before Baxter and Lulu’s had been cancelled and he would call us to let us know when their flight would depart.

The delay in checking in at the cargo facility dashed our plans to get breakfast before checking in to our flight. It was scheduled to depart at 12:25 p.m., so check-in would normally begin at 10:30 a.m. and the cut-off time for checking in would be 11:45 a.m.

As a result, instead of making a choice between eggs, oatmeal or pancakes, we were faced with a different dilemma. When to check in for our flight? If we knew the kitties were definitely on their way to Newark we’d go right ahead and board our plane. Then we’d all make the connection at 4:00 p.m. from Newark to Tel Aviv.

Brad dropped me off at the terminal with all our luggage, returned the rental car then met up with me at the terminal. We waited and waited for M. to call. Finally, nearly 11:00, I could wait no longer. I called him and he reported sheepishly that the flight had already left without the cats on it. I was stunned nearly speechless. I asked him, “How is that possible?” He gave me some sort of gibberish answer then said he could put them on the next flight. But that would mean they would not make the same connection as us to Tel Aviv and would arrive separately and too late for customs in Israel.

Forget talking to M. We got back on the phone and called Continental’s Live Animal Desk 24-hour number to try to straighten out this mess. They have a toll-free number that is inevitably engaged when you call. I was on hold for at least 20 minutes, fuming as I listened over and over to a recorded message boasting about Continental’s Award-winning PetSafe Program, before I was able to speak to anyone.

At least I can say that Continental admitted they goofed. But the only solution was for the cats to go out on Wednesday afternoon for arrival on Thursday morning. Baxter and Lulu would have to stay overnight at the kennel facility at Newark Airport. We would proceed with our flight as planned and arrive on Wednesday morning. We’d simply have to go back to the airport on Thursday morning to pick them up.

Oh but we should have known by then that there was nothing simple about this journey. We were stymied every step of the way.

Decision made, we had to rush to check our bags in. Bags checked, boarding passes in hand we raced to the gate. We had about 1 hour before the flight departed. We discovered that flights to Tel Aviv have an additional level of security. We were required to go through another security checkpoint that was set up just before the departure gate. It was nearly 11:30 and we hadn’t eaten a thing all day. We grabbed a quick bite to eat (sesame seed bagel and cream cheese) before going through the Tel Aviv security gate. We walked through a metal detector, had our carry-on bags scanned and were asked to stand spread-eagle while a security guard passed a metal-detecting wand over our bodies.

We were in line to board the plane when we heard our names announced and were asked to approach the desk. Secretly, I wished this meant we would be told that the cats had boarded their plane after all. But no, the attendant who checked us in had failed to note some of our passport information.

Finally, we boarded the plane and were on our way. The entertainment system was impressive. Each seat has its own private screen and access to nearly 200 movies, dozens of TV programs, computer games and several music channels. The supplied ear plugs were rather uncomfortable so I stuck with reading my book during the flight (Reservation Road). The meal was simply god-awful, some sort of chicken dish. I couldn’t tell what type of cuisine it was supposed to be (Italian, Asian, Middle Eastern??). As usual, I didn’t have much success sleeping on the plane, despite wearing ear plugs and eye shades and using my neck pillow.

We arrived in Tel Aviv about an hour late, around 10 a.m. The sun was shining and the temperatures were mild. Brad’s colleague N. picked us up at the airport and took us directly to our house. On the way we discussed the fiasco concerning the cats. N. called Continental in Tel Aviv on our behalf only to discover that, if the cats were arriving unaccompanied, they needed an additional document to allow entry into the country. A certificate that is issued by the State of Israel and usually requires 2-3 weeks to obtain. There was also a question as to whether there would be someone available from the veterinary office to check the cats in. The decision was made that the cats had to remain at Newark until we could ensure they would be allowed into the country upon their arrival. Back on the stressmill.

N. dropped us off at our house where we tried to relax. In the meantime, she continued to make calls on our behalf (she speaks Hebrew) to Ben Gurion Airport, Continental, the head veterinarian for the State of Israel…whoever needed to be contacted. Later in the day, N. picked us up to go out to dinner at a local restaurant. The cat situation was far from being resolved. We used N’s phone to call JoAnn in the States. JoAnn reported that she spoke to Continental and that the cats were due to fly out Wednesday afternoon for arrival on Thursday. Oh no! We updated her on the latest and said the cats should not fly on Wednesday due to the Israeli bureaucracy surrounding importation of animals.

The next morning N. called Continental to discuss the cats’ arrival only to discover they had been shipped after all. They’d been at the airport for two hours and if someone didn’t come in half an hour to pick them up they would be shipped right back to the States. Egads!! No-one had called to let us know they were there. And apparently there was a breakdown in communication between Continental in the U.S. and Continental in Tel Aviv.

N. made some more quick phone calls while Brad raced to the airport with another colleague to try to retrieve the kitties. There he was bounced back and forth from one bureaucrat to another, all of whom greeted him with pronouncements about how they could not possibly help in the situation. He even met the vet that had examined Baxter and Lulu and found them to be healthy and fit. All told, Brad’s first two days of work in Tel Aviv were spent making arrangements for our cats to enter the country.

I’m not sure of all the details of Brad’s experience at the airport on Thursday. Thinking the cats would not arrive until Friday at the earliest, I had accepted an invitation to go on a day trip to Jerusalem and was oblivious to the latest developments. I arrived home late that day, feeling sad that the kitties were not yet with us.

Brad greeted me at the door with the news that the cats would not arrive on Friday. Then he shook his head exclaiming “The bureaucracy in this country is unbelievable.” I was crushed, thinking I’d surely have to wait till Sunday before seeing the kitties. Seeing my distress, Brad could hold the suspense no longer: Brad had conquered the bureaucrats and Baxter and Lulu were home! And they appeared to be happy. And that made my day.

Houston, we are cleared for lift off!

13 Dec

We checked out of TownePlace Suites this morning and will check into a hotel near Dulles airport this evening. Brad dropped me off at the house and then headed into work. I did two loads of laundry, read a bit, played with the kitties using the laser light, walked to the P.O. and mailed cards to my Sicilian cousins, had lunch at the Linthicum Luncheteria (gotta love that name!) and now I’m at the Linthicum library, checking my email.

Yesterday, I received an email from Dr. Shlomo (chief veterinarian for the State of Israel). He gave me an email address for the vet in charge at Ben Gurion Airport, Dr. Uri Ziv. I emailed Dr. Ziv to get confirmation that he had received the faxes I had sent the day before. He replied rather promptly saying there was a problem with one of the faxes and could I send them to him by email. Arrggggh! That means I’d have to scan the documents in. Luckily, I was able to run over to JoAnn’s to scan in all the documents rather than having to pay for the scanning at Staples. But by the time that was done it was close of business in Tel Aviv. I had to wait till this morning to hear back from Dr. Ziv. What a relief to receive his reponse that all was A-OK.

Next hurdle was to make sure everything was clear with Continental. I emailed them for confirmation and they said they had not heard back from Tel Aviv yet. Arrgggh! I emailed them back, forwarding the response I’d received from Dr. Ziv and attaching the documents I’d scanned in. Within an hour Brad received a voice mail that our pets are cleared to fly out tomorrow morning. And I just received an email confirming the good news. I think by now Baxter and Lulu must be the two most well-known pets in Tel Aviv.

Aloft at Dulles

13 Dec

The Cocktail Bar at Aloft Dulles

The Cocktail Bar at Aloft Dulles

I’ve had butterflies in my stomach all day. After a false start last week, we are scheduled to depart tomorrow. This time I believe it’s for real. I’ve done this so many times before and I don’t understand why this time seems so different.

We need to drop the kitties off at the cargo facility tomorrow morning at 8:30 a.m. for their 10:30 departure. Then our flight is scheduled to leave at 12:25 p.m. To avoid the rush on the DC beltway tomorrow morning we’ve decided to stay in a hotel near the airport.

Once again we loaded the kitties and our luggage into our rental (this time we’ve got a Nissan Murano) and hit the road. Baxter and Lulu have become quite accustomed to their new nomadic lifestyle. Baxter no longer soils his crate, however Lulu continues to cry throughout the trip, but this time her shrill wails were more like feeble whimpers.

Brad found a nifty little boutiquey hotel about a 15-minute drive from the airport called Aloft. We are in a large one-bedroom room on the first floor. Baxter and Lulu wasted no time exploring the room and its many mirrored bathroom. I suggested to Brad that we have a drink at the flashy cocktail bar we passed on the way to our room. I had a Cosmo while he sipped on his beer. Then back to the room to pack up for our long journey tomorrow.