It won’t come as any great surprise, after our adventures on Day 7 (a road trip to Tiberias and the Sea of Galilee), that we were pretty bloody exhausted and in need of a lie-in upon our return to Tel Aviv. We wanted to shore up our reserves for what we were sure was going to be a fantastic afternoon!
(Spoiler alert: things did not go to plan.)
We had planned to make another sojourn out to Jerusalem, on our own steam this time. I’d been looking forward to checking out the world-renowned Holocaust memorial museum (Yad Vashem) ever since we first Googled “things to do in Israel”. We were also hoping to plant a tree at the biblical land plot, located about 20 minutes from the Jerusalem city centre. Museum entry is free, planting a tree is pretty reasonable in terms of cost, so if we could manage navigating public transport to and from each site, we were in for an awesome and fiscally responsible day!
The first disaster came early on. When Googling the transit options to the site to plant a tree, we discovered that you actually have to make an appointment in advance if you wish to do the planting yourself. Like, days in advance. The first available appointment fell during our flight home. Boo! So we had to scrap that plan. Important lesson: if you want to plant a tree in Israel, make sure you book an appointment to do so as far ahead as you can.
Still, we didn’t lose heart. The long-awaited trip to Yad Vashem was still on the cards. We’d have to navigate a bus/light-rail/bus combo to get there, but it seemed totally do-able. Around midday, we set out.
We made our way on foot to Tel Aviv’s central bus stop, and went through the security rigmarole (that we, by now, accepted as standard at every major station in Israel). It took a bit of wandering to find the departure point for express busses to Jerusalem. With some tenacity, and the assistance of one very brisk Information Desk attendant, we found the right spot. We even confirmed that we had enough cash left on us for the outbound ticket (our shekels were running low, as we hadn’t used our debit cards as much as we had planned). Our first task upon arriving in Jerusalem was going to be finding a non-dodgy ATM that accepted Visa, to withdraw enough to get us by for the last couple of days of our honeymoon.
We hopped straight on the well-maintained air-conditioned bus, which had free wifi accessible for the entire hour-long journey. We thought we were home and hosed! Until the second disaster struck…
I’d decided to use the bus wifi to confirm the logistics of our transfer from the Jerusalem bus depot to Yad Vashem. We would need to catch the light rail to Mount Herzl, and from there a free shuttle would take us straight to the museum. As I was loading the Yad Vashem website to check the shuttle timetable, Google flashed up a helpful notification with my search results: “This venue is closing soon (2pm)”.
Wait. Surely not.
I’d checked the website three times before we left! It definitely said open 9AM-5PM Sunday-Thursday! It wasn’t Shabbat, what was Google trying to do to me?!
I reopened the Yad Vashem website, convinced that Google had made a mistake. As I recalled, the opening hours were indeed 9AM to 5PM… but this was the first time that I noticed the asterisk. It said: “*For Shavuot opening hours, click here”. Fuck.
It turned out, Day 8 was Tuesday 30 May 2017 – the museum would close at 2PM for Shavuot Eve. I realised this at exactly 1:15PM.
So, that’s the story of how we came to be stuck on a one-hour no-stops express journey to a city that was due to completely shut down around the time of our arrival.
The Shavuot is a Jewish celebration of the giving of the law (the Torah), and entails everyone shutting up shop and heading home early. They spend the evening and the following day re-accepting the Torah from God. Another important lesson: know your religious holidays before you plan your trip in Israel!
We went into damage control. The immediate concern was what time the busses would stop running (i.e., making sure we could actually get back to Tel Aviv – lest we be stuck in Jerusalem forever without a place to stay). As soon as the bus pulled in, we made a beeline for the Information Desk, where another surly attendant told us that the last bus to Tel Aviv would depart at 5PM. Phew! We had a few hours.
The next order of business was securing some cash. As it stood, we didn’t have enough left on us for a ticket home. We were hesitant to try the ATM in the station, given that it didn’t have a Visa symbol (and if it ate my card, we’d be truly sunk). However, the tables turned when we realised that (a) we had no geographical bearings in this unfamiliar city, and (b) neither of us could get a wifi connection, making our GPS apps completely worthless.
We decided there was nothing for it but to give the ATM a go. Surely, the gods had to smile on us just a little today, right?
Wrong! The lack of Visa symbol meant what we feared it might. We left the vestibule no richer (but, thankfully, it didn’t swallow my card).
There was nothing for it now but to hit the pavement. Following nothing more than pure gut-feel, we turned left coming out of the station. Sure enough, we found another ATM – with a Visa logo! – just a couple hundred meters up the road. Plus, an Israeli guy was using it to withdraw cash right in front of us. We figured it couldn’t be too dodgy if the locals used it! I was so relieved I could have kissed the pavement.
The final hurdle was finding something to eat. Neither of us had had anything that morning, so we were fairly famished. We retraced our steps, back past the station, to a row of food outlets – and that’s where we hit paydirt. A tiny, greasy hole in the wall produced for us two huge delicious shawarma plates, and a bottle of quenching grapefruit juice. We attacked the meal like we hadn’t eaten for weeks. Total cost was a little under $30AUD, so not cheap – but I think we both would have happily paid double that, it was that good.
We half-heartedly considered wandering through Jerusalem a little more, but we still had no wifi connection (so no Google Maps to determine a route). Plus, the city seemed to be on the verge of closing down completely for this bloody holiday. In truth, despite our lazy morning, rolling with all of these punches had knocked us out. We decided to just jump on the next bus “home” to Tel Aviv, and salvage what was left of our evening from there.
After an uneventful journey back, and a quick kip at the hotel, we wandered down to Shuk Ha’Carmel. We hoped that Tel Aviv would continue to bustle, despite the religious holiday, as it usually does. It turns out, Shavuot might be Tel Aviv’s one exception – every storefront was shut with a locked roller-door. Bummer!
We resorted to the standard back-up plan: find somewhere to have a drink and something to eat. Not far off, we spied a place that advertised (in giant flashing neon) that it was “one of the ten best burgers in the world”. We couldn’t resist such endearing modesty, so we gave them a go.
Agadir Burger was actually really great (and came with a gluten-free bun option, no less!). The staff were great fun, there was an interesting mix of locals and tourists sitting outside, and the burgers were cheesy. We had a great feed and a cocktail each, then strolled back through the silent city to pass a quiet evening at the hotel. We consoled ourselves with plans to go out with a bang tomorrow, our final day in Israel.
(The plans for our final day didn’t exactly come off without a hitch, either. More on that soon!)