Sunday, September 26, 2010

Coming home, crossing the Allenby Bridge into Israel, Eladio’s birthday, routine again, a new diet and the girls’ news

Eladio opening his presents on his birthday this week

Hi everyone,

There’s not much news this week and nothing of great interest to tell after our amazing Holy Land adventure of which I have written reams. We’ve been home a week now and are now back into our normal routines but still talking and remembering our incredible trip. I have spent the best part of the week selecting photos, printing them and sticking them, together with paper memorabilia, into special albums for which I have even written our itineraries and included all my blog posts. I wonder if anyone, other than us and my Father, will be interested in leafing through them now or in the future. But this is something I nearly always do after a special trip and my bookshelves are full of our travel albums as well as guide books.

So yes, the first part of my headline this week refers to our coming home and crossing the Allenby Bridge into Israel. That wasn’t easy and for the records the most interesting thing to tell you in this blog post. We got up early last Sunday morning in Amman and were picked up by our efficient driver Sufian at 7.45. We knew we had to calculate 3 hours at the infamous border and another 3 hours to go through the tough security procedure at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv before we caught our 15.40 flight to Madrid. We thought we had plenty of time but it was touch and go. On the plus side it was one hour earlier in Israel than in Jordan but on the minus side we had no shekels to pay for a taxi in Israel to take us to the airport.

The infamously difficult to cross border, Allenby Bridge, between Israel and Jordan

We got to the Jordanian side of the border called King Hussein Bridge at 08.30, and here Sufian helped us by queuing up with our passports for a stamp and a tax duty to be able to get on the shuttle bus that takes you to the Israeli frontier some 6 kilometres away. We waited around in a rather smelly, fly infested and shabby waiting room with funny looking Jordanian officials who did not speak English. At about 10 o’clock we got onto a modern bus with other tourists like us and were finally given back our passports in a very inefficient way. The official came on board with a huge pile of passports and had great difficulty finding the owners.

The collection and return of passports on the Jordanian side of the border is very chaotic and undisciplined

We arrived in a sort of no man’s land, got off the bus and showed our passports again. Meanwhile a young Israeli soldier girl came on board with a machine gun to check the bus. We then got back on again and drove a bit further until we came to the real Israeli frontier. Here we watched from within the bus the total confusion and chaos that reined outside and we all wondered to ourselves what we had to do next to get our luggage and ourselves through security.

Chaos at Allenby Bridge crossing into Israel from Jordan which took 4 hours

Once outside we tried to figure out which queue to join or rather which mass of people. There were many Palestinians with huge bundles of luggage and cross officials barking instructions we did not understand. Finally we worked out you had to give your passport and luggage to one of them. The luggage disappeared and the passport came back with a stamp on the back. Then you had to join another massive queue to show your passport. When you thought you had finished you had to join another queue and go through the body check. That’s when a young Palestinian girl asked me why I hadn’t used the VIP border crossing service. I couldn’t believe my ears. Was there one? Later I read that for 95 dollars a tourist could request the service at the Jordanian end and that the process was much quicker. Well that’s a good piece of information for next time or for passing on to people who want to cross the bridge. When I told the girl that I hadn’t heard of it, she answered: “well now you know what we have to suffer”. She was right, indeed now I do. The process still didn’t end there. After the body check, came yet another passport queue, the final one thank goodness. Once through that we emerged into the baggage claim lounge where there was no security whatsoever. The whole process took longer than 4 hours and we were told that that was a good day as it usually takes 5 hours. Hopefully the peace talks may influence this and shorten the process but I doubt that.

Our next obstacle was to find a taxi that would take us past an ATM to get shekels out to pay him and also to negotiate the price. That was fairly easy but the price high. We were worried the ATM might not accept our European credit cards as we had had many difficulties previously in Jerusalem. We were in luck though this time and the machine accepted my card the first time around. Once back in the taxi we were stopped at a check point and this was where I began to worry seriously about time. A young Israeli soldier with a huge menacing machine gun asked for our passports. We gave him our British and Spanish ones. He spoke to me in English and asked me who the man sitting next to me was. I stammered that he was of course my husband. He asked me to come out of the car and to show him our luggage which thankfully he didn’t open. He then wished us on our way. After that final scare we arrived at Ben Gurion International airport at 12.45h with just under 3 hours to go through security and eat something at the airport. Security was perhaps the toughest I have been through at any airport. But it was also very slow, the slowest part being the boarding queue. Finally we made it and along with many other tourists and lots of Ultra Orthodox Jews who even prayed in their funny hats on the walking conveyors, we boarded the flight. It was uneventful and took 5 hours to fly us to Madrid where our sweet daughters were waiting to welcome us and drive us home.

Once home and over dinner with the girls, we got out the multiple gifts, food and souvenirs we had bought on our trip such as baklava, halva, Jordanian cushion covers, a Bedouin knife, necklaces, Dead Sea cosmetic product, the Jordanian clothing and Baptismal tunics as well as that days Jordanian Times for my Father who loves to read foreign newspapers.

And so our trip was now over and we had to adjust quickly to our daily lives in Spain again. I went into the office twice this week, got up to speed with my work, had a working lunch with my new Swedish friend Mica, made dental and chiropodist appointments and generally got used to being at home again. The best thing about coming home, most definitely, is sleeping in your own bed but also returning to our daily walks.  Norah will have missed them in our absence.  Now the days are shorter, but even so there is still light until past 8 pm.  I caught this great moment on one of our walks this week when the moon made its appearance and suddenly we had a most romantic moonlit walk.
On our walk, a moonlit one this week.  Just had to capture the moment the moon made its appearance.
The biggest news of the week of course was Eladios birthday which we all celebrated in our typical family way on Thursday. I got up early to go and get some breakfast goodies such as churros and mini croissants as breakfasts on birthdays in our house are always a formal together affair. This is what the table looked like before we polished it all off.

The breakfast table on Eladio's birthday this week

There were presents and a card of course, as the staple ingredients for any birthday. You can see how happy he was to receive them in the photo illustrating this blog.  He got a new shaver from my Father, a pair of trainers from me and sports socks from the girls.
Lunch was another formal meal where the other essential ingredient of any decent birthday, the cake, made its appearance. Birthday cakes in our home are nearly always chocolate and this was no exception. Here you can see Eladio and his cake with Oli and Suzy. They don’t know but I am collecting birthday photos of them with their Father on all his birthdays in the recent years.

Eladio and his girls just before we had the birthday cake

In the evening Eladio and I went out to dinner for the final birthday celebration of the day. I am sure you are not surprised to hear we went to La Alpargateria.

What you will be surprised to hear is one of the reasons. Well the next day I was going to start the strictest diet I have ever been on but supposedly the most effective and would not be able to eat pasta for a very long time, La Alpargateria's speciality. I read a comment that very day from a friend on Facebook about how good the Dr. Dukan diet was and went to have a look at the website. 5 minutes later I had signed up and paid just over 100 pounds. That was when I received my instructions. I think now that if I had seen the instructions before paying, I may never have signed up. Last year at about this time I started my own restrictive food diet and then went on to do the Up Day, Down Day diet. I lost about 11 kilos but still needed to lose at least another 10kg and of course had put on some weight eating all the delicious buffet food in Jordan. I started the new diet on Friday. Today is Sunday and I have lost 1.5kg. Not bad you will say but then it is very strict, so strict I'm not sure I'll stick it out. It's a protein and protein and vegetable only diet and I know I will get tired of it but right now I am motivated and when you are motivated any diet works. Wish me luck  my friends.

Now you know about my diet, I have nearly come to the end of this week's blog post and it's time to tell you  the girls' news.

My girls, Oli on the left in white and Suzy in pink on the right at the Retiro yesterday

Suzy has been looking for a job to earn some money before she goes to London to seek her fortune. On Monday she had an interview with a food quality and development agency called Adecal who are looking for trainees and on Thursday they rang to say she had got the job. She will be working in the mornings only for a pittance but will supplement that with her English lessons to Sam, the Chinese adopted son of friends of ours who live nearby. It is a start on the professional ladder and I wish her lots of luck. She'll be starting on Tuesday, the day before the General Strike in Spain.

Oli is entering the final phase of her practice contract with The Spanish TV Corporation is very strict about hiring people and has lots of rules and regulations which mean they cannot keep her on even if her department wanted to. Meanwhile she has been to interviews with the Cadena Ser radio and La Sexta websites. She is also thinking of doing a master degree in television for which there is an exam just to get in. However on Friday she received a message from her boss to say there would be an internal exam to apply for a full time job where she is working now. The application procedure involves a big exam in general knowledge and politics, etc for which there is no set curriculum to study. Her teacher is going to be her Father, of course, the most cultured and knowledgeable person she could ever find. The exam will take place within the next month and I wish her all the luck in the world too.

The girls have studied hard, speak good English, are outgoing, good looking, lots of other good things too but are part of a generation that have become adults just at a time when it is very difficult to find a job or rather a job that pays well. Without a decent salary young people today cannot leave home; they depend on their families and parents and although all their needs are covered for, the one thing they crave, independence, is at the moment unreachable. Thus I hope and pray they are on the right rung of the ladder now towards that goal, independence. Good luck girls.

On that note, I finish this weeks blog,

Hope you have a great week, me too.

All the best Masha

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