Trip Start May 19, 2009
30Trip End Jun 16, 2009
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Security is pretty tight, here. There are security checks pretty much everywhere: tourist sites, banks, malls, etc. Guards are posted outside some restaurants and cafes, even drugstores. Men and women in army uniform are a common sight, some in groups, many hitchhiking on the remote roads. It's not uncommon to see Uzi machine guns slung over the shoulder of a soldier or even a plainclothed tour leader, and pistols are often seen in holstersKevin's take on security.
Public shelters can be found in many locations, in case of attack. Residents are also encouraged to have their own sealed safe room. In fact, there was a national drill on June 2, when the sirens went off all over Israel, and all residents were supposed to go to a safe place. (We were renting our car in Jerusalem at that moment, and business continued unaffected.)
Kosher rules: very confusing for the uninitiated. Meat and dairy cannot mix at restaurants that keep kosher (which is most of them). Fish and eggs are considered neither meat nor dairy. Kevin puts it best in his blog. But there are enough restaurants that don't keep kosher that you can find the occasional pork chop or bacon even, though I don't recall encountering a cheeseburger yet, not that I've looked for one.
Almost every Jewish doorpost, including all businesses no matter how secular (restaurants, banks, etc.) have a mezuza on the doorpost. I have already mentioned the big dent Shabbat (Sabbath) puts into public transportation and business hours, especially in Jerusalem.
It's a very multilingual place
Religious graffiti is ubiquitous. Certain slogans seem to repeat themselves all over the country. They are to be found on walls, bumper stickers, and market stalls, among other places, just about everywhere you look. Nationalist graffiti is also very common.
Death notices are posted on walls around town, especially in Jerusalem, though we have seen them in Tel Aviv and elsewhere. The name of the deceased is in large letters, with details about the person and the funeral in smaller type.
Street name signs leave something to be desired. They are often missing or very small. Some large ones look like cases, meant to be lit from inside, but are frequently broken, i.e. parts are missing. On the other hand, some are overly informative, e.g. those signs for streets named after people (Biblican and modern) feature the person's full name and a short explanation of who they were and what role they played in history.
The Red Cross is instead the Red Magen David in Israel
Crosswalks: most of the time, on streets with a median, we encounter pedestrian signals that let us cross as far the median on green, but the other half of the crosswalk shows red. Then we wait for that half to turn green. And the signals turn back to red with no warning, but long enough before the light changes for vehicular traffic to make it across.
Traffic lights display yellow and red together just a moment before turning green, which drivers use to begin accelerating.
Taxis: ask to use the meter or negotiate the price up front, your choice.
Taxi/bus lanes: In Jerusalem, there were often special lanes of traffic downtown for bus and taxi traffic, which sure made getting around a bit faster for us.
Honking: much more common here (than Seattle at least)
We're encountering a great new way to parallel-park, maybe... Instead of just pulling to the side of traffic and waiting for someone to stop and let you back up, Israelis actually pull into traffic, blocking it so they can back up and park. Brilliant. Don't know how it would work in the U.S., though.
Police cars drive around with the roof lights flashing all the time. How are you supposed to know if to get out of the way, if they are after you specifically, or if they are just driving around? Yet to figure that out, though the siren does make it clear.
Scooters everywhere, parked on the sidewalks, darting in and out of traffic, often passing stopped cars with in inches, either on the side of the road or in between lanes. The kind of thing that makes me nervous.
Tipping: 10% at restaurants. Tax already included in the price on the check. Easy math. Just make sure to ask for the check, or you'll be sitting there for a long time. And we just learned we shouldn't be tipping the taxi drivers. Now we know better.
That's it for now!