A Travellerspoint blog

Israel

Cycling in the promised land

sunny 23 °C

Jerusalem is an amazing city. More of a salad than a melting pot, different cultures and religions nestle against each other within a city that enables its residents to live very different lives shoulder to shoulder. Sadly we only spent a day here, not even enough to scratch the surface. One of the most fascinating experiences was wandering through Mea Sharim, a closed hasidic jewish community which was like stepping back in time. We had only been there about 15 minutes when we were accosted by a man whose eyes were shining with anger, pointing at me and shouting. We think this was because, although my legs were covered, I was wearing trousers rather than a skirt which is not acceptable dress in their culture. We hot-footed it out pretty quickly after that!
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The next day as we wheeled our bikes out of the old town we discovered that the toolbag with our puncture repair kit and allan key and been stolen. In money terms they are worth next to nothing, but very annoying for us - particularly if we get a puncture - and as it was the day after we had assembled the bikes and some bolts had not been tightened enough, it could not have been worse timing. Predictably after about ten minutes of riding my handlebars jolted forward, nearly sending me over the top of the bike with the brakes out of reach. Without an allan key the bike was not ridable and we had over 100 km to go to get to Rob's parents - Julian & Karen - in Netanya that evening. As I skidded to a stop at a crossroads we looked up and saw that we were back at the entrance to Mea Sharim, and we remembered suddenly that while we meandered round the streets the day before we had definitely seen a bike shop! Hastily putting on layers over lycra I loitered outside while Rob went in.
"Hello!" he sang.
Silence
"Shalom!" he tried again
"What do you want?" was the eventual gruff response
"Do you have an allan key that we can buy?"
"No"
Rob looked at him incredilously... "This is a bike shop and you don't have an allan key?" He spotted one lying on the table and held it in the air.
The bike shop owner looked at him suspiciously "You want to buy it?"
Rob was already walking towards the exit "No I will use it for 5 minutes and then bring it back"
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Hurray the bike was fixed and we could continue our cycle, although tinged with a little sadness as this was the first time on our entire trip, having been into a bike shop in every country we have cycled through, that we have had a hostile reception. In fact in our experience, to see the friendliest and most hospitible side of people that is normally where we head to. But not this time...

So we were off, navigating our way out of the city... and onto three lane highways that ran the whole way to Netanya. We quickly discovered that there are basically no or very few secondary roads to cycle on in this country, just dual carriageways and motorways as there is an expectation that everyone travels around in a car. This goes for pedestrians too - if you need to get from one village to the next there are no small roads that connect them, you need to get on the express way so quite a few walkers shared the hard shoulder with us as we made our way to Netanya.
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A few times along this route we stopped to ask for directions at a crossroads in the hope that there was a secondary road not on our map that would take us the rest of the way. The consistent response when we said that we were cycling to Netanya was "You can't". Rob and I would look at each other nervously "Is it because the roads are too busy?" "No" they replied emphatically "It is too far". Most Israelis, without generalising too much(!) are very healthy looking people - perhaps a combination of a very good diet, mediterranean weather and compulsory military service! All the people that we asked were the picture of health and yet seemed to baulk at the idea of cycling that far. With about 40km to go one man, who was actually on a bike told us it was an impossible distance. Perhaps we had miscalculated.... "Isn't it about 40km?" "No not 14km, 40km!!" He exclaimed in an attempt to prove it's impossibility. "Yes we know" we chorused. "You are crazy" he said. Probably best keep quiet that we are cycling to London then, not just Netanya.

Anyway we made it in the end and once arrived the stress of highway traffic melted away as we enjoyed a week of being spoilt by Rob's parents in their new flat with unspeakable luxury, great food (ottolenghi eat your heart out) and a new discovery of great israeli wine.

Our plan from Israel was to get a ferry to Cyprus as a stepping stone to Turkey - the gateway to Europe. While we were in Netanya we quickly realised that there was a flaw to this plan. The passenger ferry between Israel and Turkey stopped running last year due to political reasons. Hmmmm. Perhaps we could go overland.... except that the border with Syria is closed. Shit. It looked like other than flying there was not a route to Cyprus. Some frantic internet scouring threw up a glimmer of hope. There are a couple of cargo ferries doing this crossing, maybe we could wangle our way on. Daily phone calls to the ferry company ensued with responses that were vague but not wholly negative. We played the cycling card heavily and they sounded quite interested in what we were doing. Hope was rising.

On the third day they agreed that we could get on the overnight cargo ferry - although for an exhorbitant price of 360 Euros - about double the cost of flying. "I am giving you a discount" the ferry operator explained "because you are stuck". Lucky us.

So a short cycle to the port of Haifa where, alongside about half a million apples and four other foot passengers (including a Slovenian cyclist on a 5 year cycling trip) we set off to Limassol in Cyprus.
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Posted by mrs lewis 23:04 Archived in Israel Comments (0)

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