Pia is a mother, travel addict, journalist, and troublemaker. She and her son Paul have been traveling the world since Paul was two years old, and together they’ve crossed a few countries and continents. Please enjoy this week-in-the-life of Pia and Paul as they travel through Israel.
I have always travelled off the beaten path with my backpack and when I turned mum I continued, except that I had some extra luggage named Paul then. Usually we backpack. But this day we decided to took a guided tour through Israel. Not because I was to scared to go on my own but because I need to have someone who teaches Paul all the stories about Jesus and his mates.
“What are all these police officers doing here?” asks my seven year old son Paul when we arrive at the counter of El-Al, the Israeli airline. We are on our way from Frankfurt, Germany to Tel Aviv, Israel where we will start our tour around the country. The police officer explains to Paul that the German and the Israeli government have an agreement about security measurements. The officers are here to help prevent any attacks. Israel must be a very scared nation.
Really, as soon as you are in the queue in front of the El-Al counter you feel like you have already left Germany; so many checks and questions! It is unbelievable: a question before you get to the counter, another one at the counter, you get directed to a special gate where there is a security check right before you board the plane and everyone gets a body-check – everyone head to toe. It is impossible to make it in less than three hours and I am glad someone told me before because I am one of those who comes when the “Last Call” announcement is made.
Paul is dead tired. We arrived late yesterday and had to get up way too early for us. What the heck is a holiday when you’re scheduled to be at brekkie at 7am? And for those of you who read this and don’t have kids: No, they don’t get up a 6am by themselves and start to stress you out unless you force them to go to bed at 7pm. Paul gets tired around 10pm and I am happy with that.
Usually we backpack on our own pace but this time we joined a tour group. Paul wanted to learn about Jesus and his life and I know nothing about him – I deleted most of my religious knowledge at some point. Therefore someone else has to teach Paul: The tour guide and the parents of the other kids (there are another five with us).
I thought traveling with a tour group could be nice. When you are a parent on holiday with your kids you never have a proper holiday. Before you go you dream of relaxing and one day into the trip you realise how delusional you were. You are always on duty. It might be okay if you have two of the little ratbags and they keep each other busy, but if you have only one you feel like a human game center. Play this, say that, make this tune. I hoped to get somehow away from that by joining a group with a few other kids. I didn’t take into account that other parents actually put their kids to sleep at 7pm…
Do you believe in miracles? Can you turn water into wine? Can you walk on water? “Mum, I think it isn’t possible”, Paul says.
We are exploring the area around Lake Khalid where Jesus did most of his stuff. I am already getting sick off this getting on the bus, getting off the bus, listening to a story, get on again and start all over again. I’d rather talk to people than just listen to one who knows it all.
I get confused by all the names. All girls Jesus was close to were called Mary. If Jesus would live today he would be one-of-a-kind casanova with smartphone and he would have all those Marys in his address book. Maybe he would put notes in brackets behind their names. Like Mary (mom), Mary (sis of Lazareth), Mary (gal from Migdal). It is sort of what the Bible does too.
I am not really familiar with all those Marys in detail so I am getting really confused every now and then. Paul has already zoomed put. He is sitting in the bus and playing Nintendo. “Another church?” he asks when we get off on our second stop. And this is only our third day! Plenty more churches to come. I begin to think that a mono-thematical holiday isn’t the best for kids. There should be some animals and splash-pool fun involved at some stage.
We stay in a Kibbuz-Hotel at the shore of the lake. A Kibbuz is a little village with a few hundred people that is self-sustained. That is a neutral definition. You could also say: It is the old socialist idea of community realised in Israel. I love it. Everyone has their own house but they have a shared laundry, a place where old people can go, a kindergarten, common rooms – and bunkers. Bunkers and soldiers are everywhere.
This is Israel. Everything is complicated. There are Israeli Jews and Israeli Muslims and Palestinian Christians and Muslims. It is not even that there is just Christianity; there are Russian-Orthodox, Druids, Catholics, Protestants, and so on.
Our bus driver is a male Israeli Muslim, our guide a female Israeli Jew. We say “Boker Torf “ (Hebrew) to one and “Merhaba” (Arabic) to the other. We are still at Lake Khalid which is also where Israel borders Syria and Jordan. Israel occupied the Golan heights about forty years ago. This is an area where tourists don’t go.
Our bus is the only one on the road. No other pilgrims around. The streets are tiny and the turns are scary. A wide endless hilly beige-coloured landscape lies in front of us. An area of war. There are bunches of big rocks in bends that could be blown up in case the Syrians attack. There are tanks and bombed houses along the streets. There are bomb shelters everywhere. The land is empty, lonely, lost. Israel is such a small country! Everything is squashed next to each other.
Paul and the other boys on the bus like it. To them, war is a game they know from their Nintendo games – it is far off reality. Their little minds can’t grasp what it means when thousands of people are dying. So they keep on playing Star Wars while we gaze at a landscape of real war.
Change of scenery: We are at the Dead Sea. One majesty of a lake. It is like a mirror. A sunset couldn’t be more kitschy. On the other side the mountains of Jordan rise.
“Why is it called Dead Sea?” Paul asks and adds “Is it because this is a war country and there are so many dead?” He learned his lesson yesterday. So I explain to him about the impossibility of living in salty water.
The children go together down to the beach with just one parent. We others have time off. Great! Exactly what I was looking for. I head to the sauna and Spa. I didn’t know that Israelis are so into saunas but they seem to be everywhere. I try to talk to a bunch of Russians while I am floating in the water. The Jacuzzi is filled with water from the Dead Sea – it’s just not as cold as the Dead Sea.
There is no late night entertainment. This is very unusual for us. We tend to have dinner on the streets wherever we stay and then hang around and watch people for a little while. Yes, me and my seven year old son! I don’t drag him to bars or clubs – don’t worry. But life isn’t just the thing we experience when the sun is up.
The children have sat in the bus for too long for too many days. They are running wild in the lobby but none of us parents feels responsible.
We are allowed to sleep in! I can’t believe it. We don’t depart until 9.30 am. That is as late as it gets.
Not far from our hotel is En Gedi, a waterfall – in the desert. We have to walk and climb a bit to get there. We are allowed to walk, I should say. I feel like have never moved so little on a holiday.
Here is something other than a church but Paul is still not impressed. The kids can’t grasp the contrast between this dead dry landscape and the running water. They don’t care either. Instead, they look for sticks and stones and play around. At the end of the day I have a huge collection of sticks in my suitcase that I am not allowed to throw out.
On this tour, there is just too little to do for children. They have much more energy than we adults have and can’t get rid of it. And it won’t get better today because we’re on the bus and heading for Jerusalem.
Jerusalem, the middle of the world. This place is amazing. There are so many layers of history that you have to dig into. It seems like any civilisation that has ever been megalomaniac made it to the Holy City: The Romans, the Byzantines, the Ottomans, and so on.
Temples have been built and destroyed and with the same stones something else has been built. I guess you could tell the story of this city by just telling the story of one stone of the Western Wall – the wailing wall as it is called. There is a high speed connection to God here, our guide tells us, and we could write a wish on a piece of paper and stick it in the wall. Paul asks if it works like Santa Claus. Sort of, I tell him, just without the elves.
We walk along the Via Dolorosa, the path Jesus took to get to Golgatha, the place where he died. The children have all sorts of funny questions: The alleyway is narrow and they wonder how Jesus could walk here with the big cross behind him without hitting the walls all the time. They wonder how heavy the cross was and how long it took him for the walk. They wonder if the streets were as busy with vendors in former times. They wonder about all the normal things and not the miracles and pain. I want to buy them each a crown of thorns but they laugh at me.
“So, what do you think of God?”, I ask Paul at the end of the day.
“God was only Jesus’ dad and dads aren’t that important”, Paul says.
There you go: The decline of belief through single mothers.
Pia is planning to go to Sweden at the start of February (without Paul) to a Hot Air Ballon Festival, then Panama just after Easter, and on a Mediterranean cruise at the end of April. You can read about her adventures at Are We There Yet.
Pia is also working on a book called “Are We There Yet? 101 Guide to Backpacking with Kids”. Check it out!