Day 12: WTF Travel? Well, Hello Madrid!

We went to the airport with the group because even though our flight didn't leave until 5 am the next day, this was the easiest and cheapest way to get to the airport.  Having stayed all night in the airport the night before, I knew that it would be busy and we could get a table and just hangout, pretty much uninterrupted.

Come 2 am, when we could go check in for our flight to Frankfurt (connecting through to Madrid), we saw the sign that said CANCELLED.  Oh no!  This was bad news.  The good news, or seemingly at the time, was that they had rebooked us all on flights.  Well, bad news.  My mom, Joe and Rach were all booked on one reservation and mine was separate because I used airline miles for the flight.  I was rebooked on a direct flight to Madrid and they were booked through Zurich.  I would get in before them, but we already had a private transfer arranged, and the hotel was reserved in my mom's name (although likely they had my name too, but not sure they would let me check in alone).  For reasons I won't get into at this time, it was somewhat necessary that I stay with my sister and we just didn't want to be split up.  So I was placed on the same flight as them.  We went through security and seemed to be on our merry way.

The flight was really a pain because there was a tennis team with us where some of the members were oblivious to other people on the plane with them.  I was, no joke, smacked a few times by one girls bag as she walked up and down the aisle.  The other members had excessive large bags and some were just as careless pushing them around and trying to shove them in areas where they really couldn't fit.  Thankfully they sat still during the flight and stopped disturbing other passengers (at least those of us in the back whom they had been disturbing when they first boarded, as I obviously can't speak for the people in the front).

So we land in Zurich and we go through customs check and ran, not kidding, I totally ran because we had a short time for the connect, to the next gate, which was a little ways away.  We made it just as they were starting boarding, so there was no time for shopping for chocolate in Switzerland.

Deep breath, right?  Wrong!  On this flight I decided to take a picture of something only to discover I no longer had my camera.  WTF!  How did I lose my camera.  The good news, of course, as I blog and upload my pictures regularly, the pictures had all already been uploaded on my computer.  The only lose was material- the camera, camera bag and memory cards filled with pictures already uploaded onto my computer.

Once we landed in Madrid, we headed to the hotel, checked in, and washed up.  Guess what I did immediately after that?  I went to El Corte Ingles, the largest department store chain (and in store size it is massive as well) in Spain and bought myself a new Sony Cybershot.  I made sure it took Pro Duo cards since I still had an empty 16G card with me, and the spare battery for my sisters camera would fit in here, so it saved in some money since not everything had to be replaced.  Hooray for a new camera!
So, I know some of you are feeling my pain as you have been there too with this kind of incident.  What I will tell you next will probably shock you-and anger perhaps those of you that were not as lucky.  I emailed the airline and mentioned I lost my camera.  Initially I thought I lost it when I pulled it out to take a picture of my airplane meal (the one picture I have actually lost because it was after my upload), then fell asleep, so I thought it rolled off my lap.  The mentioned finding a camera on the escalator by gate A71, the very gate where my connection was.  After describing it to the lost and found, they determined that my camera was in their possession and let me know how to go about getting it back.  At this time it has been forwarded to one of the airports I will pass through later in my trip and I have already confirmed with them that it is in their possession.  AMAZING!

With the help of my iPhone camera, while my new one as charging, I took some pictures from that first evening in Madrid.

We stayed at the Santo Domingo Hotel in Madrid, near Puerto del Sol and the Palacio Real.  I will say the location was phenomenal.  The only issue was that the hotel was undergoing some renovations and our room was dirty (most likely from extended use and just old) and outdated.  It was larger than our parents room, and in fact, they had to switch to a larger room because they couldn't even fit all their things inside their room.  But, like I said, the location was excellent.
Right near by was Cafeteria Oskar and we kept walking by and watching people with olives, potato chips and sangria, so we decided to give it a try.
The Sangria was pretty good, and offered at a great price.

I don't remember potatoes being so popular when I was in Madrid in 2001, but they seemed to be one of the most popular foods at restaurants/cafes/bars.
When we finished with our snacks and sangria, we moved on to get some dinner at a restaurant nearby called Domingo's.
We were brought some paella with shrimp.
Then we ordered some patatas bravas, which is a traditional dish of potato pieces covered in a spicy tomato sauce.
My sister and I ordered some small squids (chopitos), but they weren't exactly what we were looking for.
Lastly, we ordered the gambas al ajillo, which is shrimp in garlic.  This is one of our favorites.
Of course we enjoyed all of this with bread.
I managed to take at least 1 picture of a building in Madrid with my iphone.  I can tell you that I was happy when we got back to the room and my new camera battery was charged and ready to go.
The last thing we did that evening was enjoy some frozen yogurt at Llaollao
I ordered mine with pineapple, chocolate pieces and strawberries.  Yum!  This was a great end to the evening.
I was so happy we had made it to Madrid on time and we had some time to get out and walk around.  Madrid is a beautiful city.  Up next is more on Madrid, including the Palacio Real and the Prado.

QUESTIONS:  Have you ever been delayed due to a flight cancellation?  Have you ever lost your camera?  Have you ever lost anything that you eventually had returned to you?

Day 11: JNF Projects

On the final morning of our JNF trip we checked out of the hotel early in the morning before boarding the bus for a day packed with seeing where JNFs money goes in Israel.  JNF can be found in many countries, so the focus here is JNF America.  Most of the people on the trip are donors to JNF and so it is nice to get to see the good work that your money is actually doing to better the lives of Israelis, and those living in Israel.  The focus of JNF in the US is developing the Negev desert, which is the majority of the land of Israel, but only contains a very small percentage of the population.  It is not the most inhabitable location, so JNF is working on fixing that.  They do projects in other areas, but there is a focus on the Negev.  So that is where we started our journey.

This is the Be'er Sheva River Park.  It is a huge park that only has a fraction of the land completed.  They park will be larger than Central Park when completed, and include a man made lake so they can have water recreational activities.

Here you can see where they are digging out the hole for the lake.
Next we visited the pipes bridge in Be'er Sheva.  This crosses over the dried up river bed here.  They told us that many people from town come here at night as a place to hang out because it is lit up with colored lights and works as a nice meeting spot since it is for pedestrians only.

Last up was the Sderot Indoor Playground.  I described this in my post last year where I visited this playground.  You can read more HERE.  Basically, this is an indoor playground so children living in this town will have a place to play.  There are 2 bomb shelters inside.  This is necessary because they are just miles from the Gaza Strip and often under rocket fire.  They have 15 seconds from the time an alarm sounds to seek shelter, so if they are playing outside, there is not enough time to get to safety.  Famous people have ever come here to see the good work that JNF has done with the city to give the kids somewhat of a normal life, where they can escape the bombing and hatred if only for a few moments.  HERE is the video of Naomi Watts and Liev Schreiber when they visited.

This is the front entrance way.
Inside there are a variety of things to play with and on.

On this day, at this time, the place was packed with kids playing and having fun, which only a few years ago was impossible for them.  This place is truly amazing.
I had to laugh and photograph this.  It is a check from money raised by a school in my hometown (and my moms friends daughter was in this class that raised the money-mind you this is an 8th grade class that raised $13,000...very impressive!), and the funny part was that last year when I was here, we brought this check down with us in the car since the students from the class were coming the next week to donate this money.
They served us pizza and salad for lunch.

Then we went to a JNF reservoir, and here we got to look out of Gaza.  It is just off in the distance of these next few pictures.  Luckily nothing was launched at us while we were visiting.  They said things have been quiet recently.

This is probably the best picture I have of Gaza City.
Then we headed back up to the Tel Aviv area and had a tour of the Ayalon Institute.  This i s probably one of the most amazing stories I have ever heard.  This functioned as a secret bullet factory back in the 1940's, and with the bullets made here, Israel was able to become independent and be the country that it is today.  For the full story, which is way more detailed than I can explain to everyone, click HERE.
The basic gist of the story was that they built a kibbutz where only some people knew the secret that they would be making bullets, but the rest of the people had no idea.  The laundry room was made as a cover for the noise that was coming from below, which was the underground factory.
Wondering how they got in and out...
This washing machine slid out and uncovered the only entrance in and out of the bullet factory.  The worker upstairs that was in on the secret made sure everyone left here by 11:55 so that at noon everyone could sneak out and join the rest of the kibbutz members for lunch.
This is the hole to the factory below.
Our tour guide gave the most impressive tour and detailed description of the events that took place.  I am not kidding, this girl was so unbelievable good that people were hanging on her every word, anxious to hear what happened next.
After the laundry room was built, they built a bakery to cover over a larger entrance, which was used to bring in the heavy machinery, but then remained sealed until after the operation ended.

This is the entrance that is used today for visitors to enter.
Inside you can see the machines, which are how they were when the young men and women were manufacturing bullets.

This is my creepiest picture, but this was also a very smart idea.  It was basically a tanning bed.  The cover story of the factory workers was that they worked out in the fields, but this meant in Israel they would have a decent tan, which we know would be impossible if you worked every day underground.  This was the solution.

Like I said, this was a great tour and a wonderful story.  The Israelis (not Israelis at the time of course) outsmarted the British (who had the mandate they could not manufacture weapons), and were able to fight for their independence.

After the Ayalon Institute we headed to a very tall building in Tel Aviv to enjoy dinner on the top floor restaurant.  This restaurant is called 2-C, and offers what is said to be the best view of Tel Aviv (see below to see why).
They had many tables set up for our group.
Here are some more pictures of the view.

Dinner started with a bunch of salads on the table.  I still have no idea why the hummus was served covered in meat, but I guess a restaurant can prepare a dish any way they feel like it.  Many of us did not eat meat, so then we just couldn't have the hummus.
This is eggplant.

Since wine was included, Rach and I could not pass up one final glass of wine.
Dinner included rice.
Now, here is where it got weird.  They did not ask in advance what people wanted to eat, but there were 4 options.  One was this vegetarian, mushroom ravioli, which is what I got.
There was a chicken dish and a steak dish, and there was also a salmon dish.  Poor planning led to the running out of salmon after my mom already ordered it.  Too bad my mom doesn't eat the other things (mostly due to the ingredients used in the preparations of the dishes), and this resulted in her being left without dinner.  Eventually, and I have no idea how this happened since they said there was no salmon left in the entire restaurant, they brought my mom this salmon dish, which she said did taste good in the end.
Dessert was sorbet and a chocolate souffle, which both tasted good, but we did not have time to really sit down and eat them.  Oh well, at least we had a bite of each.

Well, that marks the end of my time in Israel for now.  It was a great trip.  Lots of fun, very educational, and we met many great people.

Stay tuned...up next is the great debacle of leaving me, it wasn't pretty!

QUESTIONS:  Have you ever heard of JNF?  Did you know Israel had a secret bullet factory back in the 1940's?