Thursday, April 1, 2010


Map picture

Tel Aviv, Israel

Every once in awhile we have a cruise stop that I could just as well have done without, and we certainly had that experience today at the port of Ashdod, entrance to Tel Aviv, Israel.

Everyone on the ship had to get up early and stand in a long line to clear Israeli Security personally, including all crew members. Strangely, I do not remember this from our previous trip.

Having spent three days in Israel just this last January, Lisa and I decided not to make the 11 hour roundtrip drive into Jerusalem, but instead to visit the nearby city of Tel Aviv. Even at that our tour was scheduled to take 5 hours. Sadly when it came time for our tour Lisa had been taken ill, and she begged me to just go on my own. I reluctantly did so, but I took my phone so we could stay in contact.

When I boarded the bus it was almost full. The first thing I noted was the age of the passengers. Most were very elderly, and many of them were so enfeebled that they had to be lifted onto the bus. I watched as an entire fleet of wheelchairs and walkers were loaded underneath as baggage. To make matters worse, I heard the sound of someone coughing, then another, and another, and soon it seemed as if almost everyone on this bus was fighting some upper respiratory problem and just hacking away. I shrunk down in my seat and cringed as we pulled away from the ship at around 8:30 am.

Our drive to Tel Aviv was around 1 hour on a superb super highway. The countryside was modern, and as we pulled into the city, it could have been a modern city right out of the US. Our bus drove for perhaps 20 minutes through the busy downtown before stopping at a plaza in front of City Hall. IMG_7956 It took forever to unload the bus and even then around 1/3 of the passengers stayed on board. We slowly walked across the street and stopped at a monument to the assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was killed on this spot in 1995. IMG_7959 Then we crawled back to the bus and finally got everyone loaded up for our next stop. We drove briefly along the coast entering the southern suburb of Tel Aviv, the old city of Jaffa. Here the bus stopped on a coastal hillside where a Catholic Church was located, and again about 2/3 of the people got out. We then had a bathroom break while everyone stood around and finally the group walked a very short distance to the top of the hill where there was a small plaza from which you could overlook the coastline of the city. Our driver spent much time on his cell phone, and we just wandered around wondering what there was to see. I could see from the clock on the nearby church that we had been gone from the ship for 1:45 minutes. IMG_8001 So, imagine my surprise when our guide says that we will meet at the bus in 45 minutes thus providing us free time to look around –“at what?” I wondered.

I met the group at the bus at the appointed time, and we set off downhill for perhaps 5 blocks before the bus pulled over again. Our guide announced that now he had a little surprise for us: we were all going to have a snack of a pastry and a coffee at a nearby restaurant, which should take about an hour, after which we would have around 90 minutes to explore the nearby flea market before returning to the ship! WHOA! My hand shot up and I asked, “Do you mean that all that is left of this tour is a snack and a shopping visit to a flea market?” That is exactly what he meant. I had not really seen anything so far, and obviously I was not going to see anything else, so with Lisa back at the ship sick, I immediately said that I was catching a taxi back to the ship. A little 90 year old lady sitting at the front of the bus raised her voice and said she would go with me – and as it turns out that was a blessing in disguise.

We started trying to find a taxi, and it was not an easy job. Finally, our bus driver felt sorry for us and he came over to help, since clearly not everyone spoke English. He did get us a taxi who would take us to the ship for $45, and so my new found date and I headed off back to the ship. Arriving at the port became interesting and a little scary right off the bat. When out driver pulled up to the security booth a great deal of yelling took place. They finally looked at our passports and our ship cruise card and then more yelling took place. The agent finally called over a supervisor and a small group formed for a discussion, frequently looking back at us, looking at them. From what little I could understand from our driver, he was not allowed onto the dock and so they wanted us out of the cab and would send him away. I guess we were to walk from there, but the ship at this point was very far away. When the group of security officers came back, my little 90 year old companion wakes up, rolls down her window and starts waiving her cane at them all the while saying that she cannot walk. That startled them but good, and after a quick conference, our documents were returned and our driver was given instructions on how to reach the ship.

Within a minute I could tell he did not understand and was lost. He made a right turn and not a left turn. He got blocked, and he drove around the docks before ending up in yet another security line where we had to wait a very long time before approaching the gate. When we did reach the gate no one was happy to see us. This time he was hauled out of the car, our documents were taken from us and the car was searched. We sat there while our driver stood outside with his arms up. True to form, my little old companion rolls down her window and just starts carrying on. She is shaking her cane and telling anyone who would listen that she was not walking anywhere. There is no telling what would have happened if I had been alone, but this little old lady had them bamboozled. Finally a security vehicle pulls up with two people inside, one of whom is holding our documents. Some words take place and our driver jumps back in the cab and we pull out following the security truck, while the passenger holds our documents out the window like bait. Finally the ship comes into view and our little convoy stops. A guard comes over and hands us our documents, and the driver gets a good lecture. Finally they point us toward the ship, and we are home.

As it turns out, our experience was nothing compared to what Israeli Security put the crew through? We heard all kinds of stories and witnessed some pretty petty harassment ourselves. Our butler, and the ship’s maitre’d both of whom were carrying British passports, had all their possession taken from them and were driven far away to a small building where they were interrogated for almost an hour. Stories like this were not isolated incidents. It seems that passengers were given only mild inspections, but for some reason they really focused on the crew.

We are now cruising on our way to Athens, which will mark the end of our cruise.


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