I’ve seen some pretty interesting stuff in our world. I’m a lucky guy and good things have always happened in my life. Bad shit happened too, but I think the good stuff far outweighs it all.

The last week has been one of the most eye-opening, enlightening weeks of my life. It has been jam packed with kilometers travelled, more kilometers run, friendships created and sights absorbed. I really didn’t know what to expect when I came to Israel. I half thought I’d get frisked at the airport and maybe even dragged into a side room for the obligatory 100 questions under spot light, reducing me to tears and making me confess to liking daisies on a Summer’s day…

Of course that was all pretty ridiculous and I soon found out that Tel Aviv airport was one of the most modern airports in the world. The passport check was no more difficult than anywhere else and when we asked to have a separate slip of paper stamped in our passport (so we could travel to the UAE next without hassle), the girl didn’t bat an eyelid and sorted it out for us.

We got a couple of buses and ended up in town (recommend getting the train into town next time) and what we noticed straight away were how many soldiers there were around. They weren’t all on duty, in fact most of them seemed to just be heading to or from work in their fatigues. Maybe I was just a little weirded out by the number of girls standing around toting assault rifles, getting the bus, etc. I mean, where the hell else do you see a group of chicks walking past a bus stop with weapons hanging over one shoulder like a hand bag. It’s kinda hot actually….but that possibly because all the girls here seem hot as Hades… Great introduction.

After a fair bit of messing around and a trip to Central Station, where I promptly lost my Nike RunLikeCrazy jacket (iiiiiiiiiidiot), we got to the Old Jaffa Hostel. It’s a lovely place, old and quaint like those comfy homely hostels you hope to happen across in your travels. It’s in the Muslim area (Jaffa is the original Muslim city) and has a really cool rooftop recreation area, with views of city and snippets of the sea. There’s some weirdos staying there too, which kinda adds to the character, but hey, when they listen to our adventure they must write us off as loco too.

We went from there to Tiberias. I’ve already written about the marathon adventure here. We didn’t stick around in Tiberias, because once you’ve run 42kms there, you’ve seen most of what you’re going to. We got the press bus back again, but by the time we were back at the hostel, it was about 7pm, Thursday night. Now, anywhere else in the world, that would be perfect, coz you could just hit the sack and wait for Friday night to celebrate. But Israel is different in so many peculiar ways, this time because their holy day is on Saturday, so their weekend begins on Friday and ends on Saturday. So Thursday is the start of the break and try telling Daz that he has to stay home on the weekend… Ain’t gonna happen my friends.

We went to a few bars in Florentine, a really cool, but hidden away area in the South of Tel Aviv city. You wouldn’t stumble on it. If you’re not local, you kinda stand out like a sore thumb too. But it’s trendy and nice and the bars are relaxed. We tried a few places and I struggled to stay chipper as the days marathon efforts took hold of my muscles and started to shut me down. We got talking to a nice fella named Ofer, who was intrigued with our expedition and proved to be a very interesting fella himself, working in theater in Tel Aviv. As it cruised past midnight, he pointed outside, letting us know it was about to get busy. It was crazy! All of a sudden, the street was packed with people. No one went out till after 11pm or 12am, they went home first and ate and rested after a long week at work. It wasn’t a drinking fest either, just a really casual catch up between friends, but spilling out of all the bars, into the streets. Punters had even brought their dogs and the pooches just wandered around the bars and jumped up on seats to get a little lovin. It was very strange, but really cool.. But, unfortunately I’d peaked too early. I said my goodbyes and left Daz to Ofer and his lovely young lady friend and wandered back in the general direction of Jaffa, looking for a cab.

Next day I wake up and Daz’s bed is empty…. No Dazzler means trouble…. Or maybe not.. Maybe Daz and Ofer continued the adventure and went looking for fun… Maybe Daz met someone special, who offered to cook him breakfast, as long as he came back to watch old episodes of Beverly Hills 90210. There were many possibilities, so I thought I’d do some work and give him time to show. At about 2pm, I got a little worried. I tried texting Ofer, but he said Daz had taken off a little after me… Daz’s phone was dead, so I just hoped he’d call me. About an hour later, he showed. Apparently he’d hit some clubs, as “research” for the next night. He’d checked everywhere to find a suitable club for our one night out, Friday night. He’d then met a beautiful woman, who’d insisted on having him come home to watch old episodes of the Beverly Hillbillies. “I knew it!” I exclaimed…well I almost had it right. Daz couldn’t believe how many episodes there were and just how many crazy hijinks the Clampetts had gotten up to! I told him I was just happy he was safe, because we both know, if Daz gets arrested…. I’m leaving him behind, haha.

We met up with Eyal that day, who generously took the time to walk us around Tel Aviv and talk to us a little bit about the town and how Israel had evolved. It was very good of him to give us about 4 hours of his weekend. He’s an editor/journalist and all round good guy. He’s not overly religious and was very objective about the way he presented the situation in Israel from where he stood and we mostly chatted about daily life. Thanks Eyal, it was a great day.

That night we went to The Cat & Dog Club. It was awesome actually and we met some cool people. David was out with his wife and friends and they were having a helluva time. He’d apparently been living in Germany for a number of years and was just happy to be back. Israeli’s love Tel Aviv and I could see why. The club was cool and the tunes were really uplifting, almost enough for me to move my tired legs around the dancefloor… almost.

A couple of days later we went to Jerusalem. We stayed in a backpackers near the Damascus gate of the old city, a place recommended by my new Swedish friend Max. He’s one of those guys you know is good to the core, so I was happy to meet up with him again when we got there. We went for a little bit of a walk in the Old City before it got dark and I gotta tell ya, I was shocked! The Old City is surrounded by a high wall and houses some 30-40,000 people. We walked in the Hebron gate, wandered down a few streets and stuck our heads through a few doors. In one door, we saw a little chapel and when we read some of the information plaques, we realised that this was the place where Jesus was put on trial, sentenced to death and loaded with his cross. We saw that there was a path of different stations through the city that you could walk along and follow his unfortunate journey. We followed it a little and then wandered off down another road where we were confronted with metal detectors. We went through, then proceeded into a huge open area full of tourists, mostly religious and orthodox Jews, who kept going up to this wall and touching it while praying. I felt like a fool when I asked a woman what the place was. She was nice enough to point out that it was the Western Wall, otherwise known as the Wailing Wall and possibly the most holy place in Judaism. Ahhhh….ok… I gotta brush up on the sites for tomorrow…

We walked back toward the hostel, veering off to the left and taking some random turns. We walked into another square, right in front of a HUGE church. We wandered in and found Christians kissing a stone on the floor and lining up to get into a small chapel like area in the to the top end of the cathedral.  I walked around, realising that this was a very important, though dark and ominous, place and finally got the courage to make a tit of myself again by asking a gent what the place was. It turned out to be the Holy Sepulchre, where Jesus was crucified and then buried…. Strike 2 to the clown brigade..

We headed out of the Old City after that and tried to organise our catch up with an Aussie girl who lived there. She was having us over for dinner and so Daz and I showed up to a really lovely apartment in Northern Jerusalem. I’m going to skip names just in case I get anyone in trouble. D and J live as housemates and they had DD staying with them. D is Arab and J is Jewish. She’s Aussie and he’s got a Western background too. DD is a half American girl with an extraordinary tale of moving around while growing up and was cooking up the most lovely meal of brown rice and roasted vegetables you can imagine. All of them have pretty liberal views on the world and the situation that they live in. What was interesting was that it is uncommon for Jews and Arabs to live under the same roof, let alone in the same part of the city in Jerusalem. They were an amazing team and the three of them gave us the most stunning insights into local politics and the tragedy of the current situation there. They also raved about their experiences and kept referring to Israel and Jerusalem in particular as a place of contradictions and the craziest place in the world. I had to agree, it all sounded pretty crazy, but intriguing as hell! Thanks for the meal and the time you gave us guys, it really was a delight.

Next day we did a pretty cool free tour. Then a man who I mentioned in my race report, Duby, came and met us and donated 3 hours of his time, walking us around the Old City. He described many important details, showed us through the different quarters of the Old City and took us back to the Wailing Wall for another look. He explained the Muslim predicament, the Christian history and walked us along Christ’s journey with the cross. He took us to the site of the Last Supper and the Sepulchre again and talked us through what is the belief around what happened to Christ in his last days. It was a thorough and very interesting tour from a man that had just a few days earlier conquered his own battle and run the Tiberias Marathon, after recovering from a brain stroke the year before. What a lovely gesture, I really appreciate it Duby. I learned a lot from you and even got the courage to walk up to the Wailing Wall and try to fathom some of the history. It was just extraordinary to get a feel for the importance of these monuments to history and see some of it through the eyes of an Israeli Jew. He talked about the different wars and the importance of Temple Mount. It shocked me that Jews were not allowed on Temple Mount, only the Muslims, but this is all part of the strange stalemate that holds this city together and gives it an amazing aura. Thanks Duby, you’re a star.

These streets had been walked for thousands of years and each religion has significant sites that had born the stories of their scriptures and triggered the ideals that led their fervor today. We were in the birthplace of the religions I knew in the world. Many of the sites had significance to all three religions, or at least two. No one denied Jesus existed,  but it put his story in a context that I could now understand, as a teacher and philosopher who had died because his beliefs were not in line with others, much as had happened to other special beings like Socrates and the Jews of the Holocaust, even the Aboriginals of Australia and the Native Indians in the States. All of these tales and histories were interwoven, so not one of them was the bottom line.

And then something happened….

I realised that all of these stories are like the marathons of time. Each has a start, a middle and an end, albeit never final. When one marathon ends, another will start, sometimes on the same track, sometimes completely different, but all with their own story, creating their own history. Each runner will see something on that track that he can retell his friends in the hope that they feel the same emotion and understanding that he has gained from the experience. But the next runner will retell with a new lesson. What’s important, is that each story is given it’s own credibility, without judgment. Each runner has run the test of time and earned his right to tell his tale. I have heard many such stories from fellow runners and they are usually much better than mine and I have learned so much from them. Hopefully, as I travel and come to places like Jerusalem, I can listen to all these stories that are new to me and learn something special from each one. Maybe I will gain some perspective on my own world through them.

Avraham, from the Tiberias Marathon, met with me the other day and we went for a run in the streets of Tel Aviv. He’s quite a religious Jew, an American who moved to Israel to support the building of the Jewish nation and he gave me a little more about his side of the story. It was enlightening to be running with someone who lives in a very different way to me, but essentially his principles are the same. And as we ran the streets of Tel Aviv, I felt a certain wonder about how running and this trip has given me the ability to connect with people like him.

I believe I am the luckiest man alive at the moment, because I get the gift of understanding from everyone I meet and they are open enough to give me a little glimpse into their worlds.

India next. Stay tuned.