Israel Football Trip

Israel Travel Blog

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Tel Aviv beach, early morning

Decided to go when Rangers were drawn against Hapoel Tel Aviv in the Uefa Cup. Only 8 weeks between the draw and the game, so bit hectic to get commitment from who else was going and when. Location meant some had doubts and eventually didn't go. 

I priced it for a cheap as possible, and for me it was to travel on the Sunday overnight. My mate was struggling to get time off and wouldn't get there until the Tuesday. Convoluted route from Glasgow to Paris,from there onto Prague where I got an overnight flight to Tel Aviv.

Thought with all the time I would have in the air that I would manage to get some sleep, but never quite got there. Touched down at 5-30 am .Surprisingly little fuss at immigration, plenty evidence of tight security but it wasn't to intrusive.

Decided to get the train into Tel Aviv as it was a lot cheaper and had seen warnings about getting ripped off by taxi drivers. Was a bit unsure of which station was the actual 'Central' Station and decided to get off at HaShalom. Went up the steps and found myself in the middle of a shopping mall with everything shut and only a few cleaners about. Nobody bothered about me being there and after wandering round it for a bit  I eventually found an Emergency Exit and got out that way.

Tel Aviv beach

Unsure of my bearings now I decided downhill was the best bet, as hotel was by the sea, and soon picked up road signs for Dizengoff Square and knew roughly where hotel was situated from there. Found my way down to the main road that ran along the beach and strolled along to find where my hotel was. This was when I realised it had been a mistake not to book room for the night as it was only 7am and check in wasn't until 2pm.

The sun was up and it was going to be a beautiful day, so with nothing else to do I went down onto the beach, which was deserted, threw my bag down on the sand and lay down against it staring out across the whole of the Med. A short while later joggers started to appear running along the beach and the female ones managed to keep my attention until about 8-30 when I noticed a cafe across the road was opening. Turned out to be a cafe and pub, called Buzz Stop, and was not to be the last time I was in there.

Ordered breakfast and a pot of tea and tried to string it out as long as I could. Tiredness was hitting me really bad. Ordered another pot of tea but eventually at 10-30 decided to go up to the hotel,The Metropolitan, and see if I could check in early or find out if there was at least anywhere that I could dump my bag. They were great and I was soon fast asleep in a comfy bed. Set alarm and I was up again at 2pm.

Jaffa Clock Tower

Good idea for Euro away games is to do a recce of the stadium before the game. Headed down onto the beach and walked down in the direction of Jaffa. Even for me it was strange walking about in places that were mentioned in the bible. Went round the port in Jaffa which wasn't that great as it is still used for commercial fishing. Nice clock tower though and I eventually found my way to Bloomfield Stadium. Gate was open and I decided to sneak in and have a look about ( have done the same on other trips, but was a bit more cautious about it this time). A few guys working but none of them seemed to speak much English yet they never tried to stop me so I just went in,found where we would be sitting for the game and took a few pictures.

Walked back along to Tel Aviv and came across the Dan Panorama hotel where some of my Thomo and a couple of the other boys would be staying. Took picture and sent it to them, and got message back that they were in Schipol Airport and on their way. Sun was going down as I got back to the hotel and the sunset looked amazing. Decided to put some warmer gear on before going out for dinner and headed back down to the beach road. Bumped into Ralph, a German guy that supports Rangers that I know from going to games, and he was in Buzz Stop with a few others so I went in there and got something to eat and a few beers.

Bloomfield Stadium
Started feeling tired again and decided I couldn't stay up until Thomo arrived and headed for bed.

Up early(ish) next day and as I was going out to look for breakfast, the doorman was organising a taxi for an American couple to go to Jerusalem.

Went down to the door and told the guy I wanted a taxi to take me to Jerusalem and he called one in. Spoke to the driver and agreed a price, as they tell you to do, and off I set. I was fascinated going through Tel Aviv at how some bits were quite run down,even derelict, and yet right next to it would be brand new  buildings. Soon out on the motorway and picking up the signs for the airport realised it wasn’t as far out as I’d thought and decided a taxi would be easier for the early start I had on Friday. Going along the motorway was struck by just how many little towns there were, it was almost solid until we hit the hills to go up and over to Jerusalem. Coming down the other side and on for a bit that twisted and turned I then got my fist sight of Jerusalem, and it was stereotypical with all these blocks of houses built down the side of a hill. Carried on into town until eventually the traffic came to a standstill and the driver said we weren’t to far from where I was wanting to go, so I bailed.

Tel Aviv from Jaffa

Buildings were quite old and there was a mural of something, the significance was lost on me, on the wall of what can only be described as a tenement . Headed up to the main road and took the direction of what looked like the city centre. Bit further than I’d anticipated but got there and decided to head for the old town. Headed downhill, and again usin a crappy map I’d printed off the internet, I found myself in what I took to be the main shopping area. I stumbles across McDonalds and decided to have lunch, as if there is one thing I’ve learned from all my time travelling following Rangers is that although McDonalds are crap, you get the same standard of crap where ever you go. This however was to be a, so far, unique visit to a burger joint. As I went in the door there were three armed security guards and an airport style body scanner to get past before I could eat. Not the sort of welcome you usually expect in one of these places, but  I had soon troughed it and was on the move again.

Still using the dodgy map and instict as to where I should be going carried on downhill.

Jaffa port
Managed to find the American Embassy and then got to the bottom of the hill. It had started to rain a bit and I was trying to pick out street names on the map to get my bearings when I noticed all these people standing in shelters near some buses. Walked over and went under the shelter and started looking at my map.  I started to get a real uneasy feeling that people were staring at me, in particular 4 guys that were sitiing up on a wall in one of the shelters. Started to take a good look about and found that they ware all Arabs and that I’d just walked into the Palestinian bus station. All the buses here were heading for the West Bank or Gaza and, having no intention of ending up in either, beat a hasty retreat and put up with the rain on my map Worked out where I thought I was and went past an office block they were refubishing and saw the walls round the old city. Probably not the way you are meant o go in, had to dodge the traffic a bit, but I got myself to a set of stairs that went up into the walls. Had a look about, and apart from the square at the top, there were all sorts of little streets going off it. Took what looked to be a touristy route, as it had shops with flags, but only came across an Armenian Orthodox monestary. Decided to go back out,up the hill round the outside .

This time I found what was I assume the main enterance, as it was at the bottom of a street and this time there were armoured cars and 20 soldiers standing guard.

Tel Aviv sunset
Stood back to take in what was going down and found out this part was the enterance to the Al-Aqsa mosque,which had been sealed off because of rioting over a new walkway the Israeli’s were putting in. It was a separate enterance from the main one, just a bit to the side, and the only people that they would let in were moslem women, children and men over 65. I went in through the main gate,and the soldiers weren’t in the least bit interested and found myself in a bazzar that sold just about everything. There were loads of people shopping and it was obviously a local market, not something for the tourists. Looked about and there was no obvious route so headed down a wee narrow lane that had shops in it. Daren’t stop for a minute or there would be someone out trying to flog you something, or get you to go into the shop to have a look in that awful pleading way. The whole place was a maze and I just headed where the notion took me, going for anything that looked interesting . At one point ended up back outside and did a u-turn back the way I had come.

Plenty of security in evidence, groups of 3 and 4 armed soldiers, wandering about all over the place. As I was going down one of the side lanes where there were houses, I was behind a group of soldiers on patrol and coming towards them were 5 or 6 Palestinian school children, with their school bags, and the kids never even batted an eyelid as they went past the soldiers.

Jerusalem mural
It was then it really struck me, with the market, the houses and the kids, that people still actually lived in here and that this was part of their daily lives and not just some sort of religious theme park. I came out at the bottom of the lane and saw the golden top of the mosque over a wall. Lots of the side lanes were barricaded with soldiers guarding them but I found one that didn’t and headed up only to find the barricade round the corner and so turned about. A little further down I found one, that went into a sort of tunnel, that had been moved a bit and went through the gap only to have 3 soldiers coming towards me with their hands up indicating to stop. Discretion being the better part of valour I went back onto the main part and wandered off deciding that was close enough and I wouldn’t try again. Having picked up how tight the security was I started to notice the guys, usually 2 together, in the black jackets with earpieces and bulges in the jackets.

I came across a sign for The Western Wall ( the Wailing Wall) and tried to follow the signs, but they weren’t very good, but I did manage to get there. For this part though it was like going through an airport with the body scanner and all the bags being screened.

Jerusalem Old City
It  was drizzling and the place was quite empty. You come out  with the wall in front of you but on a sort of terrace, and there is a drop down to the base of the wall. Standing up at the top I watched as the few folk with the beards and the hats did the head banging bit at the wall. It was pretty sparse but I noticed a sort of partition and it was a lot busier on the little side of it, so I figured there must something more interesting to see down there. The main part had steps down to it, but this part had a ramp and I was half way down the ramp when this woman in uniform came running over  towards me shouting. I stopped and said something like I was just going to go and have a look but she explained that this bit was the womens section and I wasn’t allowed down. Again I had to turn with my tail between my legs.

Went along to the main bit and down the steps, and went to look at the Synagogue at the corner. I was standing about peering in when a Rabbii, with the black suit,hat,beard and pigtails, came over and started talking to me. Asked about where I was from and family, then asked the wife and kids names and started up against the wall saying a prayer for them.

Mount Of Olives
Pretty freaky stuff and time for me to leg it before getting roped into anything. Went up and this time went out the gate that is there, by my reckoning almost exactly opposite where I’d gone in.

Outside there were loads of taxis and the drivers were all out touting for business. I ignored them and carried on walking down the road to take me out, but one of them came up and walked beside me. Asked if I wanted to go to The Mount Of Olives , and I said no but he persisted. He then dropped the price to 20 Shekels ( we were getting 8 to the pound) and I thought ‘Why not ? I’ve come all this way and don’t know if I’ll ever be back ’  . So off we set , don’t know how he thought I looked but he started asking if I wanted any hash, or to go somewhere and get a pipe which I said no to.He took me to the church of Mary Magdeline and then up to the top of The Mount Of Olives. Great view over the city, down the valley and down into the graveyard on the hill. We then got back in the taxi and started off but instead of going back down the hill started going across the top and through the villages. He then said his uncle had a restaurant up here if I wanted to go for lunch, but I’d already eaten and then he offered the chance to go and get a proper Arabic pipe.

Wailing Wall
Much as I was tempted I wasn’t for getting taking to many risks on my own, and said just to take me back to the old town.

Went back into the city and went ambling about. Got to the Via Dolorosa again and decided to go up it this time. Lots of long steps, but still a bugger to climb even without a cross. Full of shops and I had a look in some of them and then got to a jewellers shop and was looking when the guy came out.  This time I did go in and looked and the guy told me about what they had. Decided that given the significance of the place it might be nice to get something from there and asked about getting a ‘Cross Of Jerusalem’ for both wife and daughter . The guy quoted a price and we ended up haggling and me about to walk before he agreed a price. Know in my heart of hearts that I still probably got stiffed out of it. Got to the top of Via Dolorosa and walked along as there were loads of different shops, sweet shops, butchers,carpets, all sorts but not as we would expect tehm. Headed back down a lane parallel to Via Dolorosa and decided to take a last look at The Wailing Wall and out that gate again. This time to the taxi drivers I could say I had already been.

praying at the Wailing Wall

Started walking round the outside of the wall and after a while noticed a kind of ravine on my left. The thing was one side was really steep but had houses built on the side. To be honest it looked a bit of a shithole.  The houses were clearly tatty and there was all sorts of garbage which had obviously been tossed from above lying about at the bottom. Was walking round when Thomo phoned to see where I was , they were in the pub in Tel Aviv, and I said I would give him a bell when I got back. Carried on round and was crossing the road when I noticed soldiers on the other corner with their rifles up and about a dozen guys sitting cross legged by a wall. I was going that way and tried to stay as close to the road as possible but as I was getting close a female soldier came at me shouting in Hebrew. She could have been saying anything, but  from the situation I took it that she was looking for an ID card or something and I had left my passport in the hotel in Tel Aviv. As she started shouting again I came up with the best reply I could think of at the time " ‘BRITISH’ and with that she stopped and waved me by. I didn’t hang about to see what happened next to the rest of them.

Via Dolorosa

As I carried on I came across St.Andrews Church Of Scotland and the train station, but had decided I was going to get the bus back to Tel Aviv. It was a fair trek but I found the Knesset  on my way. It was dark when I got to the bus termainal and there was a queue to get in as security was very tight. I had no problem but just in front of me some Palestinian woman was taken aside and really put through a search and interigation. Got ticket and on bus and the terminal is in an underground bus park so we had to come up to street level before setting off. Only stopped once, in a bus bay at a road, but it looked like the middle of nowhere to me. Got into Tel Aviv bus station, and having a rough idea of how far away it was got a taxi back to the hotel. Gave Thomo a phone and he wasn’t far away and told him to head to Buzz Stop. Went up to the hotel to put on some warmer clothes and grabbed a quick meal in the hotel restaurant. Figured I couldn’t go wrong with chicken, ate it quickly and headed down to Buzz Stop. It was 8-30pm by now.

Thomo and his two mates, Brian and Stevie, were already in and from the welcome I got I could tell they had already been out for a while.

We sat and had a beer and discussed our flights out. Prior to the game , through the Rangers website Follow Follow, there had been talk of an organised meet, by TelAvivCity, between the Rangers fans and Hapoel fans in a bar called Friends. As we were sat at the table two guys came up to us and asked if we were intending going along. We said we were thinking about it and they said if we went now they would give us a lift up. At that point we started back tracking saying we were only considering it, but it was more we had no intention of jumping into a strangers car in a place like this. They moved on but we talked about it and decided we would go . The pub was on a street called Ben Yahouda which was marked on my map, so we headed off into Tel Aviv. Problem was Ben Yahouda turned out to be quite a long street and we were debating how far we should give it before giving up and finding another bar when there it was.

It was fairly quiet when we went in, probably about a dozen Rangers supporters and the same from Hapoel, but they were all sitting round the bar at the corner at the back of the bar.

The guy that owned the bar though was delighted that we had come in and got us all a free beer and gave everyone t-shirts that they had had printed to commemorate the game. Started and had a really good chat with him, and told him we were bring 800 fans over. Not a lot for us, but he thought that was a fantastic number as a lot of  clubs fans will not travel to Israel because of  the fear of something happening. The place started filling up and the beers started flowing. He explained that Israeli’s don’t tend to come out until late and that more Hapoel fans would be in, though there was no way that they would be drinking like the Scots. Got a text from Gordon to say that his flight was delayed at Heathrow but that it shouldn’t be for that long. Every Bear that came in got a drink and a t-shirt and eventually when the guy was out talking to us again I put on the one he had given us and gave him the Union Jack supporters club t-shirt that I was wearing. He was quite chuffed. A bit later he came back up to me , with another beer and told me that Israeli sports TV were coming down to the bar in half an hour to film the fans mingling and were going to do an interview with him and asked if I would do it with him. The number of beers sunk made it an easy decision and he started teaching me how to say ‘The referee is a w@nker' in Hebrew to be part of my interview.
Graves on Mount Of Olives
The film crew duely arrived and we cleared a bit of space in what was now a crowded bar full of noise and singing and did the interview. Talked a bit about our main players, that we definitely score, how we were on a good run in Europe and being polite, not wanting to offend our hosts, I said I thought we would be happy to take a draw from the game and  finish th tie off at Ibrox . I then showed off the new language skills that I had picked up. Ended up a great night and we left about 3am, with the owner getting a taxi for us, Thomo and the boys had a lot further to go than I did, and they dropped me off at the hotel. I crashed the minute my head hit the pillow.

Woke up about 11 am and looked over and there was Gordon lying giving it ZZZZ’s in the other bed. Made a grab for the bottle of Irn Bru beside my bed, I was going to need it this morning. As I started moving round the room Gordon woke and told me he had arrived about 4am. He had difficulty in explaining the situation, don’t think the night staff had that great a grasp of English, and he had had to grab the guest register, and point to my name, to find out the room .

The night porter had told him I wasn’t in that far in front of him and let him into the room with a pass key.

Got ourselves sorted and headed out and into downtown Tel Aviv. Just wandered about the streets taking it all in and then found the Dizengoff Centre and decided to go in and check it out. Just a big shopping centre , but with armed security and scanners at all the enterances. Gordon has a thing about shopping in other countries, he did the same to me in Munich, but at least the he had the excuse of stopping off in London for a meeting on the way back for a meeting and needed a shirt and tie. It was just a shopping centre to me, but it can be quite interesting to find out about places in what and how they sell stuff. Stopped at a Pizzeria and had a bite to eat and I found a shop that sold fags and bought another 1000 but they only had Marlboro. Walking round the first  floor there was a clothes shop and a quite nice looking bird working in it that attracted Gordons attention and he went in and had a look about, but never bought anything.

East Jerusalem
I was getting concious of the time, and it was time to start thinking about the game so we headed back to the hotel.

I’d been telling Gordon about what had happened the previous night before he arrived, and all of a sudden we found ourselves on Ben Yahouda.  It was a big street and it was now daylight and looked different and I wasn’t sure where the bar had been. We got to a corner and looked over and there was Friends, and I was just about fit enough to start again. Went over but it didn’t look open . The door was open but there was a thick black curtain drawn over the enterance. Went in anyway and asked the guy behind the bar if they were open and he said yes. It wasn’t the owner and I said to the guy that I’d been in the night before and he said ‘Yeh, I remember you, you did the TV interview’ . Got a couple of pints and were sitting at the bar and I told Gordon about the owner giving all the Bears t-shirts and that I had given him mine. Gordon just pointed up to the ceiling behind me and said ‘that one’ , and there it was pinned up on the rafters of the pub.

My T-Shirt up on the rafters of Friends Bar
Had another beer and headed off to get changed for the game.

Phoned Thomo and he was already down at the pub. Gordon was wanting to get something to eat, so I’d clocked McDonalds just a bit along the front from the boozer. We headed there first, going past the 2 pubs on the front which were now mobbed with the arrival of the Travel Club and Flight Options charters which had arrived that morning. Surprisingly McDonalds in Tel Aviv was like any other, no extra security, and we bought our food and went over and sat by the window looking out over the sea. Headed for the pub and met the boys and joined in with the party. The police had taken up position outside, and there were guys sitting out on the pavement and wandering about with beers, but the police were cool and quite happy to have their pictures taken with the fans. To be honest I think they were there more as a deterent, to stop anything happening to us. About 7pm the five of us decided to do a pub crawl along the beach towards the ground. The game wasn’t kicking off until 10pm local to fit in with the TV schedules back in the UK.

Stopped at 2 of the cafes that were still open on the beach, though I was glad I wasn’t paying as they were a lot dearer and then headed into Jaffa.

Hapoel fans
Found a bar, on the corner of the street I knew we had to go down to get to the gound, and only a 10 minute walk.Always pays to find these things out in advance.Brian went away and came back with more pizza slices for us all and we then set off about 9 o’clock, making sure we all went to the bog first. Knew exactly which part of the ground we were heading for and went through the first security gate to get into the ground and then the police had barriers up at the turnstyles for searching everyone as they went into the ground. Headed up to the stand, though only the main stand was covered. First thing we noticed were that their were free match programmes lying out on all the seats. That wasn’t enough for some people who were going round lifting them and filling poly bags( later to find them on sale outside Ibrox at £5 each).

The ground started filling up and it was obvious that their main support was to the right of us behind the goal, where there were organised displays, banners and flares. Also leaders standing up on the barriers facing the crowd to orchestrate the singing and chants.

Bears at the game
Turned to look to the Hapoel fans immediately to our right and there behind us was Stuart, one of the boys from the Student Loyal.

The game itself, the reason we were here, turned out to be the most disappointing part of the whole trip.Started off great with the Bears in full voice but Rangers played poorly against what was not a very good team, but probably had the bulk of posession, but you could see it coming as Hapoel took the lead from a free kick just before half time. Thought we couldn’t play that badly again in the second half and that this team were there for the taking. Rangers came out stong in the second half and equalised after a free kick was turned in by Nacho Novo. The pace of the game died with neither team looking like doing anything untill 10 minutes from the end when Rangers got caught to far forward and they got in behind to cross and it was stabbed into the net.

Game ended and unusually we were not held back and got straight out. Saw one arsehole having a go at the Hapoel fans but his mates dragged him off before the police got involved.

Buzz Stop
Gordon and I got back up to the main road and a taxi came past and we flagged it down and headed back to Buzz Stop, getting there just after midnight. The defeat was soon forgotten as eveyone, despite the disappointment, was confident that it would be a different outcome at Ibrox. A few guys had brought their own music and the staff were happy to have it on. There was even a karaoke DVD for up on the screens. Plenty of renditions of songs that we were apparently banned from singing, though I wasn’t that happy about the number of folk filming it on their phones, as some walloper was bound to post it on YouTube. The place was jumping, the bar were still doing food so we got a few plates of chips and there were plenty of staff so it was easy getting served.

 A really fantastic night. Thomo,Brian and Stevie had to head a 3am, back to the hotel as they were flying out at 7am. No way I could have managed that, so we said our goodbyes and I would see them on Saturday.

Evenings Entertainment in Buzz Stop
Gordon and I were sitting at the table when this lassie walked , fairly scantily dressed and at first took her to be a hooker, before we recognised her as the girl that had been working in the clothes shop we had been in earlier in the day. She did go up to the bar and was getting a few drinks bought for her from guys who probably fancied there chances , but there was obviously some discussion going on as one of the guys started going round the tables collecting money. He didn’t get as far as ours, but next thing the girl was up on the table dancing and stripping off. It was all a good laugh and a few guys, some dangerously pissed, got up on the table as well to dance with her. With all the excitemnet over Gordon and I decided to have one more as a nightcap and head back to the hotel.

It was about quarter past four as we headed up the street to the hotel and, as with all the hotels, there was the armed security guard standing outside the front.

Dynamo Kiev team
As we appraoched it crossed my mind that I better get my plastic key out to show him that we were staying there. I was still fumbling about trying to find it when we got there  but it was the security guard that spoke to us ‘ I saw you on TV tonight’ . I just thought ‘ FFS !! How bad must I have been then to get recognised at this time of the morning’.

Before decking it ,Gordon and I spoke about what to do tomorrow and I said I didn’t mind going back to Jerusalem, as the same applied  for him, he wouldn’t know if he would ever be back here and it was to close to miss out on. So that was a plan.

Had decided to make an early start and set the alarm for 9am.

Dome Of The Rock
Still took half an hour after that before either of us got up though. Went down and had breakfast in the hotel restaurant, I just grabbed some toast, and then we went out to get a taxi. Doorman flagged one down and we spoke to the driver about the price, and with that settled off we went.

Still fascinating looking about as we drove across country, and when we got into Jerusalem the traffic wasn’t as bad as it had been on Tuesday and we got the taxi to take us right down to the Old City. Went in the same gate, next to the mosque, and I had a much better idea of where we were heading. Walked down a few of the wee lanes, really quite atmospheric, and we came to the Via  Dolorosa and headed up it. This time though we carried on along the top lane, looking at all the different types of shops and stalls. Carried right on to the end, and found ourselves in a little square almost right back where we had started.

Jerusalem skyline
Bought fags and a couple of bottles of water and set off again.

Headed down to the Wailing Wall and had a good gander about, and then headed back up into the Old City. Went into a courtyard and found a big church, and there were a whole goup in tracksuits getting their picture taken outside it. A quick look about and we sussed that it was the Dynamo Kiev team. Went into the church and had a look about, but nothing greatly impressive about it, though there was some sort of crypt in the middle of it with people queueing up outside it. So we did what anyone would, and went and joined the queue to see what all the fuss was about. Didn’t take long, but at the enterance their were 2 priests sort of standing guard, never figured out why. Once in it it though it was really narrow and you had to squeeze past the people heading back out. The ceiling was really low and then we could see in to where there was a tomb, and there were people kneeling at the foot of it praying.

Bethlehem Church Of The Nativity
Just as you go in the doorway gets even lower, and I had to smack my head off it, and automatically let out a wee sweary word.Oops !! Who ever it was didn’t mean anything to us, so we headed back out and back down to the Wailing Wall. This time we went out the gate there, intending to walk round a bit.

Again though the taxi drivers were there touting for business. Guy offered to take us up to The Mount Of Olives for 40 Shekels. I said, honestly, that I’d been, but Gordon started on the guy saying that I had only paid 20 Shekels on Tuesday.

Manger Square
The driver offered to put on his meter to show that he wasn’t trying to do us, but we still said no. he then said 30 Shekels and I said to Gordon it was again one of these things you should do while here, and so we went. It was later I thought about it and realised we had been haggling over a fiver.

Up on The Mount Of Olives we had a great view over the city and down the valley.

Church cross
The driver was out and pointing things out to us. He then asked if we wanted to go to Bethlehem, so we asked how far it was and he told us it was only 15km. Gordon for some reason asked him if we would see the security wall and he said yes , so we then set about fixing a price and settled for 300 Shekels. Again figuring that we had travelled this far and it would be rude not to, given the opportunity.

The taxi went up the hill again but this time turned the other way when we met the other road.

Armenian Section Church Of The Nativity
We drove, heading downhill and we were soon driving along the side of the security wall. It was a lot higher than I had envisaged it. We carried on and were clearly heading into East Jerusalem, as the place looked a lot more run down than the way we had come in from Tel Aviv . We got to a main raod and turned left  and were driving along when all of a sudden the driver pulled off the main road , down a hill into what looked quite a shabby area and then headed up a track and into a  sort of compound with a group of houses. He told us that this was his house, and asked if we wanted to come in for lunch. We weren’t entirely happy with the situation as it was, and declined saying we had already eaten. He disappeared into the house and a few minutes later came back out with another guy, who was probably about 18 who jumped into the back of the taxi. He told us this was his son and  introduced him. Can’t remember his name, but Gordon and I were now communicating in thick Glasgow accents, discussing what was happening, so that they wouldn’t be able to understand us.

Got back up onto the main road and headed on out of Jerusalem and the road signs were showing directions for Bethlehem, so we realaxed a wee bit.

Church crypt
The road then went into a tunnel under a hill and as we came out the other side there was a large Israeli security checkpoint . There were concrete slalom bollards and about 30 armed soldiers spread across the road. It was then the realisation dawned on us that Bethlehem was in the West Bank. The taxi was waved down and the driver spoke to the  soldiers, and one of them , machine gun slung across his chest signalled for me to roll down the window. The driver must have already said what we were, because the soldier spoke to me in English and asked where we were from. I said Scotland and that was it, we were allowed through. At the other end of the checkpoint there were just 2 Palestinian police leaning against a fence having a smoke.

The taxi driver then went on his phone, saying something about a guide, and the next thing we know the taxi is heading off the road to Bethlehem and into a town called Beit Jalal.

Sepulchre
All of a sudden it pulled up beside the pavement and another guy jumped into the taxi, and it started driving off again. Now Gordon and I were driving about the West Bank in a taxi with 3 Palestinians and nobody knowing where we were. Again using the thickest of accents, we decided we were now really not comfortable with the way things were playing out and  decided that if anything else was happening Gordon  try and keep the two in the back busy and I could deal with the driver and grab the wheel of the taxi and crash it.

Driving round the West Bank, strangely the thing I noticed was the Palestinian taxis which seemed much bigger, probably for shared journies, and the fact that they were yellow, compared to the white ones of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Catholic part of church
We reached Bethlehem and I remember driving down a big straight open street that you see quite far down the road as it went down in a big dip. We  started up the other side and pulled off the road and started going down lots of little streets. Then we came to a halt on a corner and the guy the had got in last jumped out and the driver said we were here. As we got out the guy was fixing his jacket and I noticed he had a Palestinian National Authority ID card worn on a ribbon thing. Felt a bit better about things.

The guide, for that is exactly what he was, set off at quite a quick pace and we cariied on following him up a small hill and then we found ourselves in Manger Square.

Courtyard
It was a horrible day and the grey atmosphere just made the place look even more lifeless. It was desrted and everything was closed up. The guide told us that before the trouble had kicked off again they had been getting between 5000 and 6000 visitors a day, when we went into the Church of The Nativity Gordon and I made the total number of visitors in the place 6 .

The guide was great, explaining everything to us. To get in to the church you had to bend right down because the door is only half  the size.

Bethlehem Police Station
Apparently the Turks had blocked it up to that size during their occupation of the area, not wanting to tear it down but wanting to make it awkward to enter. Then became part of entering on bended knees and has been left like that for hundreds of years. There are 3 sections of The Church Of The Nativity, and the first part is basically bare down to bits of the floor being dug up with old foundations that have been excavated below the current church. Then you go through to The Armenian Section which is lit up like Blackpool illuminations, with lots of pictures and lots of candelabra. We then went to the side and down a flight of steps to where Jesus is supposed to have been born. The guide was very respectful and said he would leave us with our thoughts and he went and stood at the bottom of the steps, leading out , with his hands clasped in front of him.

The main thing you notice is the brightly lit alcove with the star on the floor, found out later it’s called a sepulchre.

In the Police Station in Bethlehem
There were a couple of other wee bits, but Gordon and I were soon talking, going ‘Right we’ve seen it, how long to we give it ?’ . Not very as it turned out and we headed up the stairs to the Catholic part. It had apparently all been done up for the Millenium when the service from there had been broadcast around the world. Had a look about and decided it was enough. The guide said the taxi driver and his son were waiting for us at a shop that their relatives owned, turned out the son had come along for the trip as it was a lot less hassle for them getting in and out of the West Bank if there were foreigners with them, as the Israeli Army  weren’t as bolshy with them.

We were walking back down the road when the heavens opened and it started pouring down. The guide was at the front and he ducked into an opening in a building and we followed to be met with 2 armed policemen standing guard and another 8 sitting behind a counter polishing weapons. The guide spoke to the police and they didn’t seem to bothered, and then we noticed the pictures on the wall behind them with Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas , the current president. Remembered then that the police in the West Bank were basically the PLO in uniform. The guide, having seen me taking pictures round the church, then asked for the camera and got Gordon and I to stand beside one of the cops and took our picture. Really glad he did now, it’s one of these really surreal moments and to have it captured like that is just amazing. Use it now for Gordons caller ID on my mobile.

The rain died down and we headed back into the street, down the hill and round the corner and into a shop. There were the taxi driver and his son and 3 other guys. The shop was full of all sort of souvenirs, and the shopkeeper was straight up to us telling us to have a look about. A lot of gold jewellery and a lot of olive wood carvings, with a lot of it being religious stuff unsurprisingly. The shopkeeper brought us out drinks, some sort of local firewater, which we skulled and he was for getting us more. Said no thanks and he then brought out tea. Was having a good look about, it would be a great place to take something home from, but I wanted a fag and was going to go out. When they realised what I was doing an ashtray was brought out and set on the counter for me. I ended up settling for and olive wood carved manger scene, which is a permanent fixture in our living room now, not just dragged out at Christmas. Gordon bought a couple of things, one of them being jewellery for his mum  who is very religious and the fact that he had been here would probably be unexpected for her. He paid for all our stuff on his credit card and oddly it was done in US dollars.

Having done our bit to help the local economy it was time to go. The guide was going to make his own way to whereever he was heading and said goodbye to us at the taxi, and the 4 of us headed back. Hit the checkpoint on the way back and it was a lot more stringent, with cars in front being stopped and searched. Took a while to get to the front and again the armed soldiers were up to the car asking questions, though again, with probably the fact that we were foreigners, we avoided any other searches. The drive back into Jerusalem seemed a lot quicker, and the driver took us to the train station. It went a bit awry here as on top of the 300 Shekels, he was demanding another 100 for the guide. By this point Gordon and I were just grateful to have got through the day in one piece and were wanting out, so we paid him it. As the taxi drove away, we both started laughing, hard to explain just how much of a sense of relief it was to be on our own again. Said one day that we would look back and laugh about it, and we do, but right at that time I think we both knew just how badly things could have gone.

The 100 Shekels turned out to be more of a problem as it meant we didn’t have enough money for the fare back to Tel Aviv . Unbelievable, hadn't intended to go to Bethlehem so hadn't budgeted for it that day,so  there we are potless in Jerusalem. Luckily the ticket office took Gordon’s credit card and we had enough change to buy a couple of drinks and a packet of sweets from the vending machine in the station. The station had the usual armed security and scanners, and as we were waiting for the train I nipped out a few times for a fag, smoking more to calm my nerves. On the third time I reckoned the security guys would be used to me going in and out and tried coming back in the way I had gone out. Wrong. Hauled round the other side and made to go through the scanner yet again.

There is no direct train from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, so we had to change at a place called Lod. So we were now skint somewhere in the middle of Israel. Had to wait 20 minutes but then were Tel Aviv bound. At the next station there must have been some army base as 4 guys in uniform got on and sat across from us. Not only did they travel in uniform, they also carried their machine guns with them. Then one by one they went to the toilet to get changed, and we had 4 heavily armed guys in jeans a t-shirts sitting beside us. Got into Tel Aviv and got off at HaShalom station, the one I had originally got off at all those days ago. This time, at least, it was open and we went in and Gordon found an ATM and got some cash. Quite a decent place, not just shops but lots of restaurants, pubs,cinema and bowling alley. More of an American style Mall than a British shopping centre. Found a place that did an all you can eat type of thing with pizza slices and kind of toasties and filled our boots. Having done the walk on the first day, we went out the front, far more obvious from the way people were heading than it had been when deserted, and got a taxi back to the hotel.

Nipped up to get changed, and for me to pick up the rest of my money. Sorted out our gear for the morning and through everything else in the holdall, and sorted out the haversack I had brought in the holdall. Went down to Buzz Stop again, which was a lot quieter as all the charter flights had gone in the afternoon. Stayed a couple of hours and decided to head up to the hotel as we both had early starts, and it’s not the best idea to be travelling with a hangover.

Gordon had a much earlier start with his flight being at 6am, so he was up again at 3 o’clock. Much as he tried not to, he still woke me up. Said goodbye to him, and that I would see him back in Blighty  and turned over and grabbed another couple of hours kip, before having to get up myself at 5. Went down and handed the key in and went out and the doorman phoned a taxi for me. Dropped off at the airport, and went in to suss out check in. You had to go through security before you could even get to the check in desks, so I joined the queue which led to the big massive bag scanner. Took a while, but as I waited saw where the check in desk for Prague was. As folk were going through after the bag scanner they were being directed over to a group of counters where their stuff searched. When I got through though nobody was there and I headed for the check in, only to have a woman on a walkie talkie come after me and take me back to the counter.

Guy behind the counter was quite pleasant, making what I thought to be polite conversation as he x-rayed my bags, then made me open them before running an ionoscope through them . He was asking how long I’d been in Israel, why I had come, where had I been ( said Jerusalem but missed out the bit about the West Bank)  and asking if I’d met anyone while I’d been there. Last one kind of gave it away that it wasn’t just a conversation to pass the time. Once he’d finished he called over the woman who had pulled me back and she went over the same questions again, and then I was allowed to go to the check in desk. There again was another security official who went over the same questions again as I put my holdall in to check it in all the way to Paris ( part of the plan for getting the fags through as by the time I got to Paris it would have lost it’s original starting point and then again even better for going back into the UK). As I was waiting he went off and met with the guy who had searched the bag and the second supervisor and they obviously compared notes looking for any discrepancy. Found out later Gordon got even worse as they asked for his phone and were wanting to look at any pictures he might have taken. Not for the first time though, he had forgotten to bring his charger and it was dead and they seemed quite incredulous that he didn’t have it. They obviously don’t know him the way I do.

Clocked there was no smoking beyond the departure gates, so decided to hold off as long as I could, and went to the café I had been in the first morning and sat loading myself up with caffine and nicotine. Decided I’d left it long enough and went to go through. Security again before you even got there and then it split into different lines. Thought I would breeze through and had gone through the body scanner, when I got pulled to the side and had to take my boots off. While they were doing them I then got asked the same series of questions over again, before finally being allowed through. Had an American Duty Free Shop and I headed there and filled up my haversack with another 1000 fags, and then realised I hadn’t bought anything for my son. Went round the shops and found a place that sold t-shirts and bought him, and myself, IDF ones, though it’s only just fitting him now. 

Flight was called and headed for the gate. Met a few other Bears heading back, though they were going on to Amsterdam and then Edinburgh. Flight was uneventfull and for the most part tried to close my eyes and rest as I knew it was going to be another long day. Didn’t have as long in Prague this time either, just a 3 hour stop over. Hit the pub for a smoke and then again the duty free shop to buy the legal amout to take back to the rest of the EU and carried that 800 openly in the poly bag  from the shop. Went back to the bar and sat with the guys going to Edinburgh, but their flight was an hour in front of mine, so I was left to wait. Easy hop onto Paris, and I got through the customs no probs. Was out having a fag when I noticed one of the AirFrance Buses dropped off at the centre where the bus to Beauvais left from and decided to give Paris a miss and headed straight there . Went round to The James Joyce pub and sat it out until it was time to go. 

Though it was only just over an hour to Beauvais, for the first time on my travels I actually did fall asleep. Reckon it was probably to more to do with being relaxed enough that I was going to make it home. Beauvais was a bit of a crush as there seemed to be a hell of a lot of flights going out at the same time, but soon boarding and sent the old man a text to meet me . Landed in Prestwick an hour later and my dad was there to pick me up and got me home just after midnight. Janice was waiting and I did a brief recount of the trip before she went to her bed. For me though it would be another couple of hours, as it usually is after a trip, to wind down.

Quite a trip, with memories that will last forever, and a few stories to dine out on for years to come. Gordon and I were still going on about it at a party last Christmas

troysgonewalkabout says:
Another nice read - and not your average away game!
Posted on: Mar 16, 2010
sylviandavid says:
What an adventure.... wow....thanks for this great write up.... sylvia
Posted on: Jan 12, 2010
nimrodk says:
It is fascinating to read your blog 'bout Israel.
As one who was born in IL it is hard to act, feel & enjoy it like a tourist - now I feel like I had my own adveture through your eyes. fun.
Posted on: Jun 19, 2009
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Tel Aviv beach, early morning
Tel Aviv beach, early morning
Tel Aviv beach
Tel Aviv beach
Jaffa Clock Tower
Jaffa Clock Tower
Bloomfield Stadium
Bloomfield Stadium
Tel Aviv from Jaffa
Tel Aviv from Jaffa
Jaffa port
Jaffa port
Tel Aviv sunset
Tel Aviv sunset
Jerusalem mural
Jerusalem mural
Jerusalem Old City
Jerusalem Old City
Mount Of Olives
Mount Of Olives
Wailing Wall
Wailing Wall
praying at the Wailing Wall
praying at the Wailing Wall
Via Dolorosa
Via Dolorosa
Graves on Mount Of Olives
Graves on Mount Of Olives
East Jerusalem
East Jerusalem
My T-Shirt up on the rafters of Fr…
My T-Shirt up on the rafters of F…
Hapoel fans
Hapoel fans
Bears at the game
Bears at the game
Buzz Stop
Buzz Stop
Evenings Entertainment in Buzz Stop
Evenings Entertainment in Buzz Stop
Dynamo Kiev team
Dynamo Kiev team
Dome Of The Rock
Dome Of The Rock
Jerusalem skyline
Jerusalem skyline
Bethlehem Church Of The Nativity
Bethlehem Church Of The Nativity
Manger Square
Manger Square
Church cross
Church cross
Armenian Section Church Of The Nat…
Armenian Section Church Of The Na…
Church crypt
Church crypt
Sepulchre
Sepulchre
Catholic part of church
Catholic part of church
Courtyard
Courtyard
Bethlehem Police Station
Bethlehem Police Station
In the Police Station in Bethlehem
In the Police Station in Bethlehem
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