… but a whimper”, with apologies to T.S. Eliot. We staggered home Friday the 15th of January after an unbelievable month of learning, doing, living, family and fellowship. But Terri and I also contracted a cold during the final stretch which is the “whimper” part of things. The return flights couldn’t have been better. Our taxi arrived on time at our Tel Aviv apartment to whisk us away to Ben Gurion Airport where we arrived about 2:30am for our 5:30am flight. Israeli security was efficient. I was one of the randomly selected folks for inspection of checked baggage. The checker pulled out a bag which contained some items I had purchased and chuckled when I identified the items as “kippot” (skull caps). There was obviously a much heavier item in the bag which turned out to be the paper weight that Shoshana had purchased for me at the Dead Sea gift shop. I had some difficulty explaining “paper weight” but after a chuckle we were on our way.
I’ve never done the “duty free” thing, so I wandered into the extraordinary duty free shop at Ben Gurion and selected a bottle of Lagavulin at a lovely price. Fortunately I checked with one of the sales folk strolling the area who let me know that I would probably not be able to get the bottle through the Frankfurt airport as liquids are generally confiscated there. So I saved the money and bid a sad farewell to the shop.
Shoshana and Karl’s flight was scheduled for an hour after ours, so we were able to spend our last few minutes in Israel together. Then it was off to our plane. We had a timely arrival in Frankfurt with a 4 hour layover. We spent most of that time in the gate for our next flight because Frankfort has security at every gate, meaning that if we left the area we’d have to check ourselves in for security all over again. The coffee and sandwiches were pricey but good.
The flight from Frankfort to Detroit was long and uneventful. When we landed in Detroit there was (as we later discovered) a high level alert which slowed our trip through Customs/Passport Control. There were 4 lines and you had to choose one, so of course Terri and I chose what would turn out to be the slowest. There was an older man with his wife dressed in coonskin caps who (for some reason) were investigated for about 20 minutes while everyone in our line fumed. When they were released, a number of others ahead of us were deemed worthy of long checks, fingerprint scans, etc. Several were led off to interview rooms. I had no idea what to expect when they finally motioned to Terri and me and come up, but nothing happened. They looked at our passports, asked us why we had gone to Israel and sent us on after 45 seconds. I had listed some clothing and gifts as the things we had purchased and the Customs agent asked me what the clothing items were. He accepted my answer without asking to look into our luggage at all, so the whole Passport/Customs process for us lasted about 2 minutes.
As we expected, our dog Nina danced a jig and bordered on a stroke for a few minutes when we arrived home. Its been two days back now and I’m just beginning to feel like I’m ready to rejoin This American Life.
Before I sign off on this wonderful and long vacation, I should mention that we chose to spend our last day in Tel Aviv at a place very suitable for our family’s inclintations–the Safari Zoo in Ramat Gan, a lovely suburb of Tel Aviv. The Safari (as its name suggests) is something of an attempt to mimic the success of the San Diego Wild Animal Park. When you arrive at the location, if you have your own vehicle you can make your way through an area where the animals are free to roam. If you do not have a vehicle, then you can hop into a van operated by the Zoo and get at least some of the feel for that part of the park. Unfortunately, the van (at least the one we were on) was shabby and of greater importance, the windows were dirty which limited our ability to enjoy the views of the animals as we passed. Our driver spoke no English, so the commentary he provided was entirely in heavily Russian-accented Hebrew. Fortunately, Karl had a copy of the Zoo map/catalog in English and was happy to keep us fully informed, so it would have been great except for the obscured windows. Terri pronounced her disappointment in the quality of the exhibits we passed. She’s had extensive tours of the San Diego facility and if Ramat Gan wants to compete, they have a fair ways to go.
But all that disappointment gradually transitioned to delight as we reached the zoo itself, a large facility located in the center of the park. Never had any of us seen so many animals so active in a zoo. There were animals courting, procreating (yes), feeding and even engaged in a little fighting. Everywhere we went the animals were doing things rather than just lying around which is what we are accustomed to at most zoos. We enjoyed a snack near the penguinarium where we saw the zookeepers feed the adults and then lead the younger birds off to a private area where they could make sure they received enough food. Each exhibit was reasonably spacious for the species contained and the staff are clearly attuned to the needs of the animals who are obviously well-cared-for.
It was a lovely way to end our stay in Israel and I think we are all looking forward to a return trip!