A Trip to The Dead Sea

Floating around in the Dead Sea under a blue sky is something I could do a lot more of. Its significantly easier than floating around at a party for sure. This is how it panned out…

Fear the Argument Squad

At the baggage check-in, we found that the airline had started applying baggage charges after the tickets had been bought. The surprise baggage charge would add up to $700 extra, but after a lot of heavy duty arguing by our crack team, the bill was cut down to $140.

We arrived in Tel Aviv at about 7 a.m. tired. At the car rental booking desk we discovered the price of our hire had changed from $88 to $150 and they wanted $1200 deposit. With heavy hearts, the Argument Squad was redeployed but progress was slow. After some time, the enemy pulled a brilliant tactical manoeuvre: during a pause in negotiations the staff packed up and went home! I was impressed with their creative take on customer care, despite being on the losing side.

After about 15 minutes, a sparkling new staff member appeared and we were back in business. Once the team had whittled the deposit down from $1200 to $800 they declared victory. Number 1 son drove cool as a cucumber in the hectic early morning traffic to the hotel.

How to be Non-Confrontational

When we arrived at the gated entrance to the hotel’s underground car park, we found our path blocked by an island of luggage that had been unloaded from the front of a coach.

Number 2 son, who describes himself as non-confrontational, stepped out to clear the way by launching bags into the air and berating the coach driver for not helping. The coach driver calmly declined, apparently unfazed by the luggage flying past his head. He pointed out that he had already taken the time to block the parking entrance with the bags in the first place as if it were a job well done.

The Shuk

There are several markets in Tel Aviv and the clan arranged to meet Sibs brother in the Shuk (one of the markets) at a restaurant called the M25.

A Tel Aviv market called the Shuk, before our trip to the Dead Sea
A Tel Aviv market called the Shuk
A Tel Aviv market before our trip to the Dead Sea
Market scenes
The M25 Restaurant inside a Tel Aviv market, before our trip to the Dead Sea
The M25 Restaurant

Bet Shemesh

Later that day we tried to pay our respects to a family member at a cemetery in Bet Shemesh, which has a large Hasidic community. We set off in a car without proper directions and spent an afternoon failing to find the right place. By the time we had given up looking, Shabbat had begun. We soon found ourselves in an area filled with devout followers of Orthodox Judaism, and we were breaking their rules by using our car.

We ended up picking our way sheepishly through the middle of a  community of hundreds who were now out on the streets. The men had large circular hats on and their children were playing in the road. They were shouting Shabbat with hostile gusto while we slid by as if on the set of a Stephen King movie. Shortly, we found an exit over some rough ground and dropped off the kerb onto the road with a bang and scraping metal.

After that shambles, we decided not to go straight back to the hotel. By the time we arrived it was dark and I was hungry. Sibs watched me fill up with a mixed bag of stale leftovers I had saved earlier. I was glad I’d had the sense to save it for just such a moment as this. As I relaxed on the soft bed, Sibs suggested we go out for a decent meal.

Next Morning

The next morning I woke at 9:40 due to the time difference and the blackout curtains. Sibs stayed asleep and was none the wiser, so I quietly slipped out of bed and had a nice slow shower. When I was done I woke her up. True to form and barely conscious, Sibs planning a meet-up followed by bike rides and breakfast. That took about 5 seconds.

Rushing isn’t my thing, so I wasn’t planning on going along with any of that. In fact, I was properly ill with some kind of infection I had picked up in Soller, so I stayed behind. When the others caught up later in the breakfast area Sibs Number 1 daughter swanned in with a metallic bathing suit, and towel wrapped about her waist. She fired a series of orders at the bemused waiter and disappeared as if this was the normal daily routine for a glamorous Instagram superstar.

On Our Way to the Dead Sea

An earlier suggestion to visit the Dead Sea took root and the group decided that would be a good thing to do for the day. Its not actually a sea, its a salt lake 427 metres below sea level, and Earth’s lowest land elevation. On the way, we passed a driver who had been stopped by the military in the middle of the highway. They had guns on display which is quite unnerving since in the UK the police are only armed with a small foam baton.

On the route to the Dead Sea
A fairly typical settlement at the edge of the desert leading to the Dead Sea. It looks like the night-life consists of walking up to the top of the hill and then back down again. There’s not much about.
On the route to the Dead Sea
A sign marking 300 m below sea level. You can get out of the car and pretend to be a jellyfish.
On the route to the Dead Sea
On the left the exposed rock reveals sedimentary layers. In the distance on the right is a desirable residence with plenty of interesting walks. The walks are all flat and similar looking I’d say, but the changing direction of the sun’s shadow probably provides an interesting talking point.
Abandoned buildings outside Kira at the Dead Sea
Abandoned buildings outside Kalia

Swimming in the Dead Sea

We stopped at the public beach at Kalia and I had a really long swim in the Dead Sea, floating around looking at the blue, blue sky and tiny clouds sauntering by. The sea was like a warm bath, the dense salt makes you buoyant and everything is fine :o)

Inside the enclosed public beach at Kalia on the Dead Sea.
Inside the enclosed public beach at Kalia
There were several shops and cafes at Kalia which made it a good destination
There were several shops and cafes at Kalia too.

I could have stayed in the water for several hours but the others have a higher metabolic rate than I do. For them time passes much more quickly and this visit was already on the exit ramp. We spent some time in a cafe and checked out the shops before heading home.

On the way back we stopped to take camel photos beside the barbed wire border walls. I hoped that any insurgents we might encounter would quickly be drawn into taking camel selfies too. We set off once more but my route planner took us straight to a couple of military checkpoints, causing great consternation and shouting inside the car. Eventually we found highway 1 and stuck to that like glue till we got back to Tel Aviv.

A screenshot of an app offering routes to and from the Dead Sea
The blue route was safe but the red route went via Palestinian territories.

Wine Tasting

On Sunday, Sibs was up for wine tasting at Somek and swimming at Dor. At Somek I learned that instead of knocking a jug of wine back in one go, you are supposed to do this instead:

  • Put the wine into a glass that has a wide bowl and narrow top, like a tulip. A heavy cracked mug will do if necessary. Lets face it, it doesn’t really matter.
  • Swirl the wine in the bowl of the glass or mug to release its secret, delicate perfumes. That can get pretty boring, but you can always check Facebook.
  • Put your nose deep into glass to take in the aromatic beauty. You can get extra points and a round of applause if you can push your whole head in! Take care not to sniff the wine up, it’s not cool to sit there with red wine oozing from your nostrils and nobody will want to take a selfie with you.
  • Sip and hold the wine to savour it. The hold time for wine tasting has to be a lot longer than milliseconds. I’m just saying. Try to think in terms of at least 3 seconds. That’s plenty of time to check how many Instagram likes you have.
  • Swallow and consider the aftertaste. This is where you appreciate that the flavour is different to a beef-burger for example.

Now I’ll be able to enjoy a box of wine like a professional. There was a lot more to it but I they lost me at ‘hello’.

Surprise Party

A meet-up with family members was the planned birthday celebration for the evening. Instead of going to a crowded restaurant for an informal get-together as expected, I suddenly found myself at a formal party in a well lit room with no place to hide, no-one to talk to and 5 hours to go. My optimism for the evening sank like a submarine with an open hatch – pretty much a worst case scenario.

At one point I thought I was going to be asked to improvise a speech. The best course of action I could think of was to feign a heart attack and have an ambulance crew get me out of there. I figured I could ask them to drop me off at the hotel once I got clear. Fortunately, the hostess dropped the speech idea but only after I had lost half a pint of sweat and my tendons were stretched out like piano wire.

Homeward Bound

We met up the next day to express gratitude and say goodbye. I’m OK with saying hello and goodbye, its the stuff in between I’m struggling to get a handle on.

The only part left was the flight home. The seat beside me was empty for a long time, but in the last few minutes an attractive young woman put a few items in the seat and tucked some baggage in the overhead compartment. Before sitting down she switched seats with her father who was the size of three hairy baboons.