After Day 8 (an attempted day-trip to Jerusalem that ended in disaster), we kept our plans for Day 9 simple. We sought to spend the day gawking through the shuks of Tel Aviv – Carmel, Levinsky, and a flea market down near Old Jaffa – picking up some souvenirs and trinkets for our nuptial witnesses back home.
We stopped in at Benedict on our way for one last amazing breakfast. This time, we shared a plate of dried fruit wrapped in bacon and drizzled with hollandaise, and omelet balls in beet and blue-cheese sauce. So good!
Energised by the deliciousness, we hustled on up to Shuk Ha’Carmel… only to find that this Shavuot holiday would continue to screw us over. The place was a ghost town! There was a single open fruit stall. The operator stopped us as we walked past; he told me that I was only allowed to smile if I bought some fruit, because it is fruit that makes people happy. We couldn’t help but laugh – it was quite the sales pitch!
We changed tack slightly, and hiked immediately with purpose towards the flea markets in Jaffa. we figured that, being a mostly-Muslim community (or so we’d heard), observance of Jewish holidays would be at a minimum and we’d have better luck finding signs of life. Turns out, we were wrong on that front as well. Dozens of restaurants and cafes were open and bustling, but everything else was completely shut down. Israelis seem to be much like Australians in this regard: any excuse for a holiday! The flea markets were completely empty, with not a single store in operation. We fell about laughing – Israel had well and truly bested us!
The walk was not all for naught, however: we spied some great examples of the extreme sport of Israeli parking!
Lacking any other options, we poked around the back streets a little. We found a lone antiques store open for business. There were piles upon piles of knick-knacks and clutter and crap. We decided to try our hand at bargaining for a couple of bits of tat, figuring we could pass them off as gifts for friends back home… only, the owner didn’t take too kindly to our attempts, and in fact kicked us out of his store. Even at this late stage, we couldn’t quite get the hang of it!
With that failed attempt behind us, we stopped in at one of the bars for a quick drink and a regroup. We decided to just walk the many kilometers back to the hotel (in the blistering heat), and try again in the evening. Shavuot officially ends at sunset, after all. On our way, we optimistically craned our necks to check out Shuk Levinsky – it had even fewer signs of life than the other two.
Spirits were a bit low by the time we made it back to the hotel. We had our now-habitual afternoon kip while the sun came down. Once we hit the streets again, retracing our steps back to Shuk Ha’Carmel, there was considerably more foot traffic, which gave us hope.
Alas, still no dice! The shuk was completely abandoned. Well, almost: the sole fruit stall operator was still present, but far less energetic. He didn’t even try to stop us as we walked past this time. Clearly, the day of loneliness and rejection had affected him. Poor bastard.
We reverted to our standard back-up plan of simply trying to find something to eat and drink before retreating to the
air-conditioner hotel. Even on that front, we struggled. Everything was either too expensive, to Western, or too gluten-y. We were looking for an authentic last supper that wouldn’t break the bank and/or leave me horribly sick for the journey home. Not so much to ask, right?
Well, we stomped around Tel Aviv for nearly two hours, down every street we knew and many we didn’t. Tempers were wearing a bit thin by that point. I was on the verge of becoming a real nincompoop, while Rowan attempted (somewhat in vain) to maintain a veneer of optimism and bravado. Then, to top it all right the fuck off, I stepped in a giant fresh dog turd.
WELL. The streets of Tel Aviv have never seen a tantrum the likes of which I threw at that very moment. Rowan just about bust his pooflevalve trying to contain his laughter, as I scraped my shoe against the gutter and wiped the remnants away with an antibacterial towelette (swearing like a trooper, all the while). It was the perfect end to a day of Israel figuratively shitting all over us. Of course, comedy is just tragedy plus time = we both crack up uncontrollably when we think of it now.
Anyway, Rowan jumped right into disaster-survival mode. He quickly hustled me into a nearby Mexican restaurant. It failed the authenticity requirement for our last supper, but by that point neither of us gave a damn. He got me settled with a delicious margarita, and we tucked into a massive Mexican feast. It was actually very reasonably priced, and marvelously restorative.
I was in much better spirits, but nonetheless Rowan frog-marched me back to the hotel room, to relax in the hottest, bubbliest bath in the Middle East. He did all of the packing, and mixed us drinks with the grog he’d procured at the nearby corner store (which was, miraculously, open). And thus ended our final night in Israel!
The next morning, we checked out early. We asked the hotel staff to arrange for a cab to pick us up from the hotel later that day; we weren’t about to attempt to navigate public transport again, and risk missing our afternoon flight. Of course, the concierge advised us that the flat fee for an airport taxi transfer is about 100 NIS (maybe $40AUD) less than what shonky David charged us on Day 1. I gave Rowan the biggest “told you so” of our marriage thus far!
We used the last of our time in Tel Aviv to make one final trip back to Shuk Ha’Carmel. Now that Shavuot was over, we figured we stood a shot of being able to pick up those souvenirs we wanted. It was a bit of a gamble heading down there that early. Like everything else in Israel, the “opening time” is really more of a guide than a hard-and-fast rule, so there was a chance that everything would be closed up until we were already on a plane back to Australia.
But, finally, we had a run of good luck! The shuk started bustling relatively early for once, and I managed to pick up the one souvenir I’d had my eye on since the very first day: an Israeli beer singlet (a la the Bintang singlets that everyone brings back from Bali). It’s a fine addition to my collection (I love picking up beer singlets and Hard Rock Cafe t-shirts). Our attempts at bargaining for the singlet and a couple of other bits and pieces saved us around 40c AUD total – which is better than nothing! We counted it as our first haggling success.
With the last of our Israeli shrapnel spent, we wandered back to the hotel to collect our bags, soaking up as much of Tel Aviv as we could on the way. We actually managed to time it perfectly, as the pre-booked taxi transfer pulled up just as we stepped out the front with our suitcases. It seemed that our luck in Israel was finally turning, just in time for us to leave! The taxi was very swanky, brand new, and it felt like a rather luxurious end to the honeymoon. Of course, the driver did drive off without giving us our change, so Israel still managed to best us one last time!
We had over-prepared for delays, so we found ourselves at the airport quite early – a full three hours ahead of our flight departure time. In fact, we were so early that there was no one manning the Cathay Pacific check-in desks (even though check in had technically opened). We were the only ones in the queue! Standing there for over half an hour wasn’t much fun; the only entertainment we had was protective jostling to prevent others from pushing in front of us as they started to arrive.
Once the Cathay staff finally showed up, they didn’t do much to make amends for the wait. We couldn’t get a bloody smile out of the attendant we dealt with, let alone a honeymooner upgrade! We had to push really hard to get her to grant us an aisle seat for the second leg of the journey (no amount of persistence could get us an aisle seat for both). None of it was ideal, but it could have been worse… and honestly, we were probably just grumpy that our amazing adventure honeymoon was coming to an end!
We made it through security and passport control quickly and without fuss. We had plenty of time to wander around Ben Gurion airport, and grab a bite in the food court. This is where we found the American influence to be the most obvious of anywhere we visited in Israel. The food was (almost) all burgers, pizzas, and soft-drinks that were literally the size of my head. I managed to score a kebab plate, with no gluten, while Rowan demolished a (kosher) burger.
Once we’d seen all there was to see at Ben Gurion, we waited at the gate. Getting a little bored, we kicked off a game of Travel Scrabble (yes, we’re very cool people), only I decided Rowan was beating me too decisively half-way through, so I made him abandon it. After what felt like an eternity, we boarded the plane… only to encounter another delay, as the crew frantically searched for missing passengers. During the captain’s announcement, it became abundantly clear that he had completely forgotten what city he was in for a minute – so that wasn’t too reassuring, either! All in all, we were relieved when we finally took off. We were going to miss Israel, and we’d had a wonderful time, but our final afternoon in the airport had really dragged…