Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Bitter Sweet Symphony

As far as I am concerned, our overseas trip is still ongoing even though it has been more than a month now since we returned home. I can confidently make this statement because I am still to process and post even half the photos and videos we took on our way. On my way through the these I am finding ample room for contemplation, resulting in this post that offers a summary of my trip's highs and lows. To be more poetic, it summarizes the bitter sweet symphony that our trip was.

Let’s start with the highs. In chronological order, these were our trip experiences I’ve enjoyed the most:
Our visit to Wales stood out amongst our UK adventures. In particular, I was taken aback by the hospitality of my newly discovered Welsh family. We were pampered with good food, we were taken to guided tours, and most importantly – we were in the company of likely minded people. One glimpse at their CD collection, so similar to ours, told the entire story. Our four year old had a great time as well, enjoying being spoiled by more family members than he ever thought he had; in particular, he enjoyed playing with the local three year old, probably the best cooperative play he’s had during our trip.
Next in the highlights is Amsterdam, representing my first proper tour of mainland Europe for close to a decade. Despite the first few hours of disorientation I enjoyed the Dutch experience a lot: the classic nature of everything, the excellent public transport, the canals, the food, the good natured locals – many of them things missing from Australia.
Special mention should go to Amsterdam’s bicycle riders. Melbourne claims to be a bike city, but I say that total bullshit and Amsterdam explains exactly why. Everyone, from children to pensioners, rides bicycles in Amsterdam. They ride them in rain or shine, they ride them in dedicated lanes separated from car traffic, they ride them while eating/drinking/smoking/talking over the phone/SMSing, they mostly ride cheap but comfortable upright bikes, and they respect the rest of the public while the rest of the public respects them. Now compare that to Melbourne, where riding a bicycle means a death wish, where you have to wear Lycra uniform and ride the latest carbon fiber frame to be counted. Which of the two cities' bicycle cultures can claim to be truly ingrained?
Back when I toured Amsterdam as an Israeli I remember thinking how this could be a place I would be happy to live at. The thought occurred to me as we were walking around, yet now it seemed Australia is a clear winner – if only because of the ferociousness of European winter. Mind you, now that we’re back home I might change my mind…
My last highlight was Israel. No, it cannot be said that I like Israel much, but it has to be said my Israeli friends made substantial efforts to make us enjoy our time there. They succeeded: I thoroughly enjoyed my time with them. Our mutual exploitations are planned to feature on a future post, but I have to talk about my personal highlight of highlights: my three school friends and I cramming together into one car for a short drive to the supermarket to get some Coke. For a short while I thought I was in a time machine taking me twenty years back. I truly miss their company, and I value it much more than going to see the latest attraction.
Our four year old’s highlight came that same day, too. The property our friends rented us for the night had him in a room with his own TV opposite his bed – out of which he didn’t want to come out! Then there was the huge Jacuzzi bath all three of us shared with the TV right in front. The four year old was in heaven - a TV bath!

One cannot expect to have a month long period without disappointments, and indeed we had our share. As far as I am concerned, the English part of our holiday was disappointing for reasons thoroughly discussed here, here and here; it’s not often that events scar me as much as this one did. There were multiple other lows to our English visit, albeit of significantly less intensity; I do not see the point in me getting a divorce from my [English] wife over me reciting those in this forum.
At the personal level, Israel was my biggest disappointment of this trip. My stated purpose with visiting Israel was to spend quality time in Israel, given my parents’ old age and the inconvenient truth of me not knowing how many more time I will get to see them. Yet my parents could not avoid giving the impression they weren’t as interested in mutual quality time as I am, preferring the usual company of their TV sets to spend an evening with.
In general, most of our suggestions for shared activities were answered negatively. An incident that proves the point took place one afternoon, when my hungry self suggested we go for a classic Israeli lunch at a restaurant called Skewers of Hope; it's nothing special, but you know what you’re getting. My father countered, insisting that Meeting of the Steak is a better lunch destination despite my clear (albeit decade old) memories telling me the opposite. Eventually I surrendered and agreed to go to this Meeting of the Steak, at which point my parents said they don’t want to go anywhere because they’re not hungry. They sure can argue, though.
In general, my parents were blaming me for not teaching my son Hebrew, thus depriving them of their ability to communicate with their grandson. The fact my friends’ children could easily and very successfully play with my son despite their lack of English and his lack of Hebrew proved the problem was entirely in my parents’ head. When they did try to approach my four year old they often treated him like a baby, something he disliked for obvious reasons. On the positive side, things have greatly improved since our visit with my parents’ iPad assuming a pivotal role in getting my son acquainted with his Israeli grandparents, as I have discussed here. That said, I could not avoid leaving Israel with a bitter taste in my mouth.
The third and last of our lowlights is to do with our wellbeing. As with previous expedition to Israel, the heat got to us and one of our stomachs suffered. That’s a major issue given the importance gastronomic pleasures have when one’s travelling is limited by children. Then, as with our previous expedition to Singapore, our boy’s asthma started playing up and our activities were severely limited.

One can tend to forgive the lowlights if one’s homecoming is nice and the ending has a sweet taste. Alas, it didn't.
Landing at Melbourne, we were greeted by huge queues at passport control. God have mercy on the souls of those with no Aussie passports, for their queues were forbiddingly long. All the while you’re surrounded by signs telling you that because of some law from 1920 or so you’re not allowed to use your phone while waiting. What’s going on, are we home or at a concentration camp? I tweeted like there's no tomorrow.
The fun continued through the queue for quarantine, which was so long it snaked around the luggage pickup stations. Finally, upon our release from the clutches of the terminal, we were gritted by our trip’s final bill: $100 taxi fare to take us home, courtesy of consecutive Victorian governments making sure Melbourne is the only developed city in the world with no rail service to its airport.
Welcome home!


Uri said...

I have to side with your dad there - the Meeting is better than the Hope. It's not the same mangy place it used to be.

And if you want the Hope experience, Goosie is much better.

Next time, Gadget.

Moshe Reuveni said...

Fine by me - I realize a lot of things changed since I left Israel. As I remember, Hope's advantage was in it being everywhere.
Given everyone's reluctance to do anything, I ended up having my fourth Sabich.

Moshe Reuveni said...

For the record, Uri, you were the only one that did take us to an Israeli meat restaurant this time around (that place near the Safari).

Moshe Reuveni said...

P.S. I can't stop occasionally laughing at this whole Hope/Meeting/Goosie thing.

Uri said...

Yes. It's our answer to Barbara Taylor Bradford.

BTW, you don't count that place in Shlomi as 'Israeli meat'?

Moshe Reuveni said...

I perceived it more as a humus centric experience.