We made it!
Our first (over 11 hr) flight was heavenly for most of us! The plane was not filled to capacity and many people in our group were able to spread out across multiple chairs to sleep. Danube was by far the luckiest with 4 chairs in a row to herself! Even with the luck we had on our first flight, most were not able to sleep, but enjoyed lots of food, wonderful flight attendants, and great company. We arrived in Frankfurt to find that we had to walk a mile (maybe literally?) to get to our next gate, with no time for shopping or eating. Our 4-hour flight into Tel Aviv was not so lucky. Israeli security would not allow us to pick seats ahead of time and the plane was filled to capacity so we were squashed in like sardines. The group's thunderous applause when we landed showed just how tired we were of traveling, but also, just how excited we were to have our wheels on holy land!
Getting through Israeli security was definitely highest on my 'worry' list for this trip but we made it through just fine, after a looooooong wait in lines to talk to passport control. A few things can trigger someone being pulled out for hours of questioning, including having your passport show that you have traveled to Muslim countries or to Israel multiple times, having friends that are Palestinians or being active in solidarity with Palestinians. We had 2 pilgrims who had been to Indonesia (a Muslim country) and I, Katherine, have been to Israel multiple times, spending many summers in Bethlehem with Palestinians. Those of us who had the 'red flags' stayed together and I went first. I allowed someone to cut in front of us and the military guard noticed and gave me a wink. From that point on, we were golden! When asked if I had been to Israel before, I said yes. And they said, "Correct. 5 years ago. It's been too long." WHEW! Glad I told the truth. And yes, it HAS been too long! After explaining that we were on a pilgrimage and making sure everyone answered the questions the same (with some minor discrepancies on how many were in our group), we were all through and excited to come out the other side. No one was pulled aside. No hours-long questioning in another room. The relief was overwhelming!
A 45-minute bus ride to Tel Aviv landed us at the Metropolitan Hotel, a block away from the Mediterranean Sea! We had a magnificent spread for dinner and tasty desserts.
Our travel agent, Dalia (pictured here with Vivian) and tour guide, Kevork (George in Armenian), are wonderful and flexible with us as we keep coming up with more things we want to see! The latest addition was Acre (locals call it Akko), a crusader town on the sea. We took a vote on the bus to see who wanted to go. The vote was between boarding the bus at 8am to squeeze in a stop at Acre/Akko or sleep in and skip Acre/Akko. The vote was 29-1. Looks like we're waking up early! (Sorry, Eli Darron!) Saturday we visit Caesarea, Haifa, Acre/Akko and then onto Nazareth for Mass at the Basilica of the Annunciation.