Spoilt for choice at Jerusalem's Match.com party.
After meandering around the streets for a week we decided it was time to see the sights of Israel. Our first stop was the tourist-trap of Gaza.
Apparently, The Gaza Strip isn't just a lap dancing club in Golders Green, nor is it a new waxing technique adopted by Israeli women. Believe it or not, it is in fact a place where stuff has been kicking off for a long time. Standing outside the border you can see hoards of trucks and vans trying to get themselves into the area to deliver supplies, all beeping and grinding their way to the checkpoint window like the world's most tense drive through.
Unexpected toll road
Out of all the locals we spoke with, everyone said that Gaza is bombing them for no reason and all Israel wants is peace. Understandably people are afraid, but when this explanation is being Ted-Talked at you by a tour guide who's leaning on a counter-missile gun aiming right at the primary school* in Gaza, it's hard to believe that a hand-in-hand rendition of 'kumbaya' is what he's thinking of.
How Costa should be.
In the surrounding areas of Gaza the small towns have built shelters over most of their public buildings and houses. However in areas such as Sderot, funding ran short, and so only half of the town managed to get shelter up. When bombs hit the area (sometimes as frequently as 20 times a day) a lot of the folk rely purely on the outdoor shelters for refuge.
A regular meeting spot.
As if proof was needed that there was a war going on, the town of Sderot has collected most of the missiles launched into the area, and placed them on display in a museum.
Craving more hummus and less bombs, we decided to go into Jerusalem one more time before embarking on our journey to pastures new. We arrived at the Wailing Wall. The Wall is called the Wailing Wall due to the fact that signal is so bad in the area, that if you want to hear your mate you have to scream down the phone as loud as you can. This often results in flocks of people getting so frustrated that they hit their heads against the wall, and from behind appear to be talking to it.
Camera is awarded for 'Best Gold Cowboy Hat'. A tradition dating back to 200BC.
Our final night was upon us, so we decided to hit the town in the traditional Israeli style, by going straight to an Ethiopian bar and chewing khat with the locals. After much stimulating conversation, we headed back to our hostel for a good night's sleep. On the way back we were stopped by two Israeli patrol officers who interrogated us on our whereabouts, our nationality and our lovely moonlit evening.
This is how innocent we looked.
Stupidly, I had left my passport at the hostel, so had to convince them that I was no threat. Apparently the tie-dye and glazed look in my eyes screamed 'international terror'. After an hour of having someone bark threats at me, whilst the partner held a gun towards my chest, we were allowed to go free and scampered back to our hostel.
When we arrived we saw blood on the floor. Someone had been shot in the restaurant below our room. All we were told was that no-one had died, and that's all the information we were allowed.
Picking the kids up from school
In Israel you have to do your stint in the army. During that time your gun is your property. If your kid / sleep walking step-daughter decides to take your gun and shoot someone, then you will get done for the crime, not them. It's an odd sight to see people wandering around on the beach or sitting outside Mc Donalds with a loaded machine gun. It reminded me a lot of Luton.
We decided now was a good time to go to Behlehem, the birth place of Jesus. Bethlehem is a predominantly Arabic part of Israel, and you can feel the buzzing atmosphere the second you step off the coach. People and scooters zoom by you as masses of devout religious worshippers shuffle up the hill towards the church.
Dress rehearsals for 'Joseph'
There is absolute silence in the church, and always a service going on. People fall down before the place where Jesus was born and cry and pray on their knees. An amazing experience, and also the best place to people-watch that I've ever found.
Outside the church has to be the smallest area for the largest mixture of religions. People try and sell you crucifix necklaces, t-shirts with the Star of David on and a Koran all in the same basket. It's like a 'Welcome to Religion' starter pack. a holy pick n mix but with far less Haribo fried eggs.
Our trip was nearly at an end, and soon we were about to start making our way to Afula to film the care home. Before we got on the bus to take us t'north, I got a call asking me if I wanted to go to back into Sderot to film the attacks on Israel that "Gaza was creating". I told them that it seemed pretty dangerous, what with it being continuously bombed and all (that old chestnut), and that surely I was likely to die. His response was;
"Well, if it's Gods will, it will happen"
Strange how it was God's will for me to be sent of into a war zone armed with nothing but an old camera and bottle of Fanta, whilst it was 'Gods Will' for him to be sat safely in London lounging in an office. I didn't fully trust his intel so I hung up and bought a falafel.
We then hoisted our anchor and set sail for the North (got on the bus and paid our ticket fare).
Did we make it? Was the air con working? Did we get our under 25s discount?! To be continued...
*I assume it was pointed at a primary school. Or a lone puppy on a swing.