I’m Back

November 30, 2009

Whew. I’m back from Israel, and I just don’t know where to begin. There is so much to be downloaded. I supposed I’ll start posting the entries I wrote while I was there, but couldn’t share until I got home. Keep checking back for updates. They’ll be coming over the next few days.

I thought the trip to Szeged was bad. Ha! That was child’s play! This trip to Nazareth has separated the men from the boys. You know how I posted there was quite an experience before even getting to Nazareth? Well, here ya go.

It all started at 4:30 in the morning when I go to up to catch a train to the Budapest airport…the airport the hotel front desk told me to go to, mind you. I get to the airport and think “Wow this looks a little different and much smaller than I remember, but I suppose I did arrive after being up for 24 hours.” So I go in looking for El Al – um, yeah. Wrong airport. The intelligent front desk sent me, the American, to the domestic airport. Who knew Budapest had 2? So I grab a cab and head off to the other one.
Upon arrival, I make my way into the terminal and look around a bit to find El Al, which turned out to require some detective work (hey, 2 1/2 hours sleep without coffee = useless, brainless Sarah). I find the check in desk and see just a mob of people standing around and since I am in Hungary and everyone stands in a mob (that communist group-think thing left over), I, the freedom-loving capitalist, join them (What was I thinking? Oh yeah…I remember, no sleep and no coffee. Notice a trend?). I see no signs as to where to stand, and only 6 security people slowly taking one passenger at a time and grilling them as to their reason for going to Israel. After awhile, someone in the group realizes that I don’t belong (kinda like Sesame Street “which one is not like the other? Which one just doesn’t belong?” Everyone sing! All together now! oh sorry. Continuing…) and tells me I have to stand in another spot. So I move and wait more. No one seems to take notice, so I ask a security person, and they say to stay put. So I do. At this point, I have been “in line” (aka in the mob) for 20 minutes. After going round about with 2 other security people, one of them finally asks me to come into the check in area and they begin grilling me (30 minutes after I have arrived and stood around).

This is when it got real fun (note: for my new readers, this is meant as sarcasm)

The regular questions began. Where are you going? Why? Who are you going with? Did you pack your stuff yourself? Etc…. Then they got curious. Why are you a single American woman flying from Hungary to Tel Aviv? Do you have any pamphlets about this competition you were in? Did you win? What show did you do? What day did you arrive? So you were with one group and are meeting another? Why? Why not travel with them? Who are you meeting in Israel? Do you have family? Are you taking any letters or correspondence or food to anyone? Are you sure? Many of these questions they asked multiple times, trying to catch me in some lie I wasn’t telling. I learned later that my single state, my one way ticket and my destination of Nazareth were all very bad things to El Al Airlines. I told them I could pull out my computer and show them itineraries etc…but that was unacceptable.

Finally, after about 10 minutes of this, they decide I am a security threat and tell me that I and my bags are to be searched. Now, before I continue, I must tell you, in defense of El Al, that these El Al security people were very professional and courteous. At no time was I unaware of what was going to happen. Everything was explained to me, and they did treat me with respect. (Take note TSA)

But I was taken to the dreaded room with a female security agent and completely searched – minus checking body cavities for drugs. I could hear my bags being searched by 5 people in the other room. They searched everything. They even grilled me about my old, crappy computer with the missing delete key (which broke off when the DVD would not release from the drive and I had to hit my computer to jostle it free:) Seriously, this thing is beat up).

All in all, I was in that room for 1 1/2 hours. It was all I could do to keep from losing it a few times. I mean, you feel completely violated. You have not control over anything that is happening to you and your stuff. My journal to Tim was in my bag, and I know they read through parts of it to make sure I wasn’t carrying a message to anyone. It was very unnerving. I turned on my camera this morning and my date and time had been reset, so I know they looked through the pictures. I guess after seeing that and all my opera music, they decided I wasn’t lying to anyone. 10 minutes before the flight took off, I was personally escorted directly to the plane and was not allowed to veer off course. I was not allowed any carry on baggage except my purse with my wallet, ipod and book.

And in the end, they decided my curling iron and straight iron were too dangerous to accompany me on the plane (this after they unscrewed them and put them back together). Therefore, these items were to be shipped to me at my hotel. I told them to just throw them in the trash, but they would have none of that.

Side note: the curling iron and straight iron never showed up. El Al, you owe me.

But in El Al’s defense, they don’t have terror attacks on their airplanes.

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Jesus was in good shape

November 20, 2009

All right folks. Now, you know I walk a lot. New York. Europe. You gotta have good walking shoes and some leg muscles to get you around. I was told there would be a lot of walking in Israel, especially the town I’m in, so I thought, “Hey, no big deal. I walk all the time.”

Um, yeah. I can’t really feel my legs at the moment. When they said walking with hills, they weren’t kidding. Going into the Old City yesterday and shopping today, the descent isn’t bad, because, well, it’s a descent. Coming back up? Different story. Up hill for over an hour. When we arrived back at the hotel, there were muscles in my legs twitching that I didn’t even know existed. Who needs squats? Who wants a jacuzzi?! (Pick me! Pick me!)

So I know Jesus was in good shape. I mean, he walked from Bethlehem to Cana to the desert in Jordan to Jerusalem to Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee and on and on. And these weren’t short little jaunts. We’re talkin’ let’s- walk-all-day-up-and-down -some-mountains-sleep-a-little-then-walk-a-few-more-days kind of walking. So he and his disciples were probably lean and buff with their fair share of charlie horses unless they were eating enough potassium (last night I had 2!). And everything in the country is built with stone. Very little wood. So when they say Jesus was a carpenter, he was probably skilled at masonry. He wasn’t this meek, pretty, little white guy you see pictures of. The dude was buff and brawny. Kinda changes your perspective about him.

My First 24 Hours

November 19, 2009

What a whirlwind! I have seen and experienced so many new things that it’s so hard to get it all written down. My brain is mush and I can’t quite get it all out! I’ve even managed to learn about 10 words of the language!

My room for now has a fantastic view of the city. From it I can see 5 Biblical sites. It’s amazing to read about something your entire life and then finally get to see it for yourself. I don’t have a cable right now to hook my computer up to my camera, but when I do, I will upload the pictures. It’s pretty fantastic.

The culture here is so incredibly different. It’s been a long time since I’ve traveled to a place where I know so little. There is so much I’d like to share, but that will have to wait until I am back home. It’s been exhilarating and exhausting at the same time.

One thing I can share is my experience on the flight. The experience beforehand was quite unbelievable and one that I will share in detail later, but suffice it to say it included a strip search. Think on that one for a bit. Anyway, I get on the plane to find a woman sitting in my aisle seat with an empty middle seat between her and her husband. She only spoke Hungarian and through puppy dog eyes and sign language tried to get me to sit between her and her husband. I calmly grabbed a flight attendant to double check my seat assignment. The woman was asked to move over, which she did, but the rest of the flight she leaned on and over the armrest between us. Being tired and cranky, I resorted to hitting her with my elbows as often as possible. When did I join Kindergarten again?

If you want a nice trip to Europe for an economical price, take Air France. Well, unless your fat – you won’t fit down the aisle or in your seat, so I’d suggest you stick with an American carrier. But if you can fit down a skinny aisle, book this airline.

The service was fantastic. The food was actually pretty good. And when I ate my chicken with the white wine provided, it was a fantastic combination! All in coach! We each had our own TV screen with several TV shows to choose from, albums of music and about 40 movies.

If you can get past a lay over in the nasty Paris airport, take this airline.

Live TV?

November 18, 2009

For those of you unfamiliar with what this whole thing was that I was doing in Hungary: Dicapo Opera, the company I worked with in NYC for a year is part of an international opera competition with 4 other countries. It is sponsored by Mezzo TV, a Hungarian station that is broadcast in 39 countries. So this opera I did was part of this competition. Each opera is recorded so it can be aired on the TV station. So the cameras are there, the show is going. We have some technical difficulties due to faulty equipment provided by the opera house, but that is another story that reflects not at all poorly on our amazing back stage crew. We were all giving it our best. I was singing my stuff like mad.

And afterward out at the bar, someone mentions how crazy it was that we were just on live TV in 39 countries. I was like, “Wha???? That was live?” So slow poke here figured out AFTER the show that it was a live production.

I gotta say, I feel kinda special that I was in the Live Broadcast of the European Debut of Emmeline.

So I had another beer!

Cursed Vitamins

November 18, 2009

So I started taking Melalueca vitamins after my mom’s friend gave her free ones, she was then impressed then sent them to me for free. I believe in homeopathic things, but I dont’ believe that any of them will ever work until I actually try them. So I know there is no placebo affect.

I’ve taken several, good, whole food vitamins made by organic brands etc…and never noticed ANY difference in my body, so I figured the vitamin thing was a hoax. But, wanting to please mom, I took the vitamins and thought “What the heck? Might as well.” So I started taking them as directed and HOLY COW!!! I felt a difference in the first 2 days! My energy levels were incredible! Like, I wasn’t tired at 6pm and wanting only to go to bed. I didn’t get tired until late at night, at like, the time you’re supposed to get tired. So I was starting to run out in Sarasota and I was like, “Oh my gosh! I have to get more vitamins before I leave out of the country!!!” So I signed up under my mom for Melaleuca (yes, it is a multi-level marketing company. I am NOT trying to start a business. I just love their vitamins. If you love their vitamins, and want to sign up, awesome, but I really could care-less…well, except I do care about your health and wellbeing, but that’s another story), so I got the vitamins shipped overnight to have them for all my travel. I gotta say, these things work too darn well. I have so much energy late into the night and ALL DAY LONG that it’s almost hard for me to go to sleep. The first day I got here to Hungary, I went to sleep after being awake for 40 hours. I got about 7 hours of fitful sleep. I woke up the next morning feeling great and had energy all day. Never got tired! Ever! And was up until 2 and then forced myself to hit the sack. Slept through for 7 hours last night, had energy all day, did the first show and am still up at 2am. Again, forcing myself to go to sleep!

These cursed vitamins are giving me too much energy and keeping me way too awake and productive.

I can’t get to Szeged

November 18, 2009

I’m slowly updating things, so keep checking back for updates!:)

I believe that the trip to Szeged is quite possibly the longest, most arduous trip I have ever undertaken…even worse than the trip to Australia. I got on a flight at 5;30am on Thursday morning in Sarasota, FL and landed in Budapest 24 hours later, and then got on a bus for 2 hours to Szeged. So because the airlines haven’t figured out that a lot of people actually go to Sarasota, there are direct flights to almost nowhere…well, Delta does advertise that amazing non-stop to (drum roll please….) Atlanta!!! Woohoo! That’s so far away! Way to go Delta! Way to have a non-stop to your American hub! You are so amazing!

But I’ll back up a little. I got to the airport at 4:50 am. Guess who wasn’t even working yet? If you guessed the Delta agents “ding ding ding”! You have the right answer! So much for checking in an hour and half before your flight. I always knew that was a gimmick to make you waste more time and spend more money at the airport on an 8 oz bottle of water that cost $20.

So I get on the flight. Lucky for me, Tropical Storm Ida was headed in the same direction as me! Yay! So my flight to Atlanta was fine, but I land to find that my flight to LaGuardia is canceled and Delta has been wonderful enough to book me on a flight 4HOURS LATER!!!! That, however, was not a possibility because 4 hours later I needed to be going through security at JFK (yes, 12 miles away from LaGuarda. That’s a different story). So after talking to the surprisingly pleasant Delta agent, I was confirmed on a flight only 2 hours later. After a little breakfast (at this point, I felt like a beer, but hey, it was only 7:30 in the morning. Gimme a break), I get on the flight to LaGuardia, only to find out it is delayed. At this point, I have been underway for 6 hours…now, mind you, Atlanta is only about 8 or 9 hours from Sarasota in a car. I’m rethinking my plan at this point.

But after the drama of the delay, I finally made it to LaGuardia with just enough time to make it to JFK. How did I get there? Funny you should ask.

The fastest way between LaGuardia and JFK is to take a cab, so I stood in the interminably long line at the airport to make the drive. I got a great cabbie. Got me there in 15 minutes for 25 bucks. That ain’t shabby. Side note, remember at this point I have been traveling for 9 hours and had only gotten 3 hours of sleep. So I get to JFK, hand the guy $40 and wanting to give him a $5 tip for loading and unloading my ridiculously heavy suitcase that eventually had the dreaded bright pink tag put on it that said “Lourde” – French for your bag is too damn heavy so I hope you feel guilty – I say “I want $15 back”. He looks at me and says, “Your fare was $25” and I’m like “I know. $15 please. Well, wait, no (being super generous and deciding to give him a $6 tip, I say) naw, give me $14 back.” He gives me a dirty look and cusses me under his breath. All the while I’m thinking, “What’s wrong with this guy? I gave him a better tip than anyone is this city would!”

I go in the airport, check in, all the while befuddled at his response. (Did I mention I’d been up for too long with no sleep?). So after Air France finally finds my ticket (who knew that these new, amazing check in machines read your middle name on your passport as your last name and can’t find you and then claim you don’t exist), I go to the restroom. While taking care of some business, it suddenly hits me “OH MY GOSH!!! YOU ONLY GAVE THAT GUY A DOLLAR TIP!!!! NO WONDER HE WAS CURSING YOU!!!!” I felt sooooooooooooooo bad. I always want to be the nice person and be that blessing that NO ONE gets in the city…and yet? I was probably the person he went home and said to his family, “There was the white chic who was really nice in my cab, and I lugged her heavy a*$ bags for her and she didn’t give me jack! That %$&#*%!” I felt so bad, I even went outside hoping that he’d waited for 20 minutes for me to make things right. Alas, that was not to be. He obviously had money to make from people who aren’t moronic…and to think I actually made A’s in Math.