The cab we booked the previous night arrived punctually and we were quickly at SFO, or two backpacks and two carry-on luggages in tow. Few of the flights out of the “international” terminal, section G, this early were truly international, but for ours to Toronto and one to Vancouver. We quickly cleared security screening and settled in for the about one hour wait at the gate.
The flight from San Francisco to Toronto was uneventful. Air Canada flies Airbus jets for short trips (such as this one); we were on a 767-300 for the long-haul leg to Tel Aviv. I occupied myself with a movie (Men In Black 3), some window-staring, a documentary on the Dust Bowl, and some other stuff I’ve now since forgotten. What I didn’t do was eat on the flight, because they had only snacks, not meals, and at times when I wasn’t hungry. I figured to buy something in Toronto between the flights.
On descent in to Toronto I got a hard pain between my eyes just above my nose. I’m certain it was timed with the increase in cabin pressure back to sea level equivalents but I’d never had that ailment before. I took an ibuprofen and within a few minutes the pain had passed (perhaps from medication or perhaps from acclimation). Weird.
Our layover in Toronto was to be nearly two hours but passport control, walking, more security, and landing a little late cut in to that buffer. Still, we were at the gate 10 minutes before we were asked to be there and nearly an hour before we needed to have been there, as it turns out. We bought grab-and-go sandwiches from a nearby restaurant, we cleared the security check (just a swipe-check sort of screening -- no bad searches), and waiting for time to pass before boarding the aircraft. When we did board, the calls were (1) first class and priority; (2) rows 45 and higher; (3) all rows. Turns out the planes last row is 38, yet most people were ahead of us in line when we boarded at call (3). No matter. We had trouble finding room for our bags in the overhead bins (Boeing, please learn from Airbus how to design an overhead bin with enough head-in room for a bag, not parallel parking one’s bags?) as someone had beaten us to the spaces above our seats (34A & 34C which on a 767-300 are adjacent -- a 2-3-2 arrangement). With some flight attendant help we did find room for both bags and only a few rows away. Whew.
Flying from Toronto to Tel Aviv takes about 11 hours or maybe a bit less. We knew we needed to sleep on the flight but although being tired it took a while before really falling asleep. I don’t know how long I was finally out but at least the flight didn’t feel like 11 hours. I took in Casino Royale and the beginning of Batman Begins as well as the inside of my eyelids. Not much scenery to look at -- our flight path takes us over the Atlantic, the north sea, south south east over Europe, across the Aegean and Mediterranean seas until reaching Israel.
We passed quickly though the Tel Aviv airport, too. Passport control was brief - perhaps 90 seconds for us together and only the simple questions. No need for my invitation letter. Strange that we were never given a customs declaration form, but no one asked for it, either. We found an ATM so we could get local currency, and we rented a pair of SIMs so our mobile handsets now have unlimited data and 60 minutes of talk time pre-loaded. It’s kind of strange that the SIMs are rentals considering they’re just plastic chits with a microchip, and so small (not much waste). Weird.
We caught a cab from the airport to the hotel and the driver spoke perfect English. He was chatty for a while but drifted on to talking (in Hebrew) on his radio. Fine with us -- I was drinking in the surroundings and Melinda was checking on Internet things as we drove along. Israel reminds me of several of the places we’ve been before. Along the highways agriculture is adjacent to roads and sky-scraper construction -- I saw this in Taiwan and China. Buildings that aren’t metal-and-glass skyscrapers seem to be made of stucco, and many of them are crumbling. This deterioration reminded me of careening through Buenos Aires. Scooters and aggressive driving is common but it’s not the chaotic, seemingly lawless sort that I saw in South America. And, of course, the atmosphere was very warm (nearly 90F) and humid (after all, the city sits on the Mediterranean coast).
The David InterContinental is the nicest hotel for miles. 20+ floors high, the lobby has 20’ ceilings, and the rooms are spacious and well-appointed. Some confusion on the reservation -- the hotel missed that I’d said I’d arrive on the 9th, not on the 8th, but that got iron out. Even better, we got upgraded to a room on the sea side -- our 18th floor room has quite the view. We checked in, washed up, then took a cab to the Google office (with some Hebrew writing help from the bell captain).
Google has offices on four floors of the Levinstein Tower in Tel Aviv. The lobby is on the 26th floor and affords panoramic views of the city from this height (the tower itself is pretty small in cross-section). Gaal met us there and gave us the tour of the offices. They’re cozy, Googley, foreign (from an American’s point of view) but more familiar than, say, the TOK office is. I’m sure that feeling is helped that a lot of signage is in English. At the end of the tour Melinda hails a cab (with the help for an app on Gaal’s phone), returns to the hotel to research what she and we will do for touristing, and I settle in to do work.
I manage to be productive in some degree for about two hours, between saying hi to people I know, responding to e-mail messages in my queue, and some brief chats with the team I’m working with. Although I’d felt fine for most of the afternoon my sleep deprivation caught up with me hurriedly around 5:20p and I could hardly keep my eyes open, even while having a direct, 1:1 conversation. Ugh. So I wrap things up earlier than I’d planned and walk back to the hotel. It’s a 20 minute walk along pleasant streets (many of the photos in this set were taken along that route) and at dusk it’s a fine temperature to do so. Melinda had ordered a sandwich for dinner, she had leftovers, so I finish that off for my fifth meal since waking Saturday morning. Seems fine.
We spend the rest of the evening looking over the guide book and processing ideas from the concierge about tours. In the end the plan’s going to have Melinda visit Haifa with me tomorrow (I’m working, she’ll visit sites in the city); visit Jerusalem Tuesday; sailing and dinner with the team Wednesday; and we’ll together go to Jerusalem Friday and the Dead Sea Saturday. The trips on Friday and Saturday are bus tours leaving our hotel so we don’t need to worry about transportation or what we’ll do with our belongings, which is nice.
It’s 8:30p now, it feels like it’s evening to me, so I’m hopeful my internal clock with set itself to IDT quickly. It needs to -- I have full days of meeting with people coming up.