Gareth Gilpin has just arrived in Jerusalem on a 4-week travel scholarship to the JBG. Gareth is a keen plantsman at Chichester Trees and Shrubs and sees this opportunity as part of his ongoing professional development. He writes:
Having left the safe confines of the New Forest in sleepy Hampshire, England, at 4am, tearing across the M25 in savage rain, and battling my way to Luton airport in-between endless parallel pairs of articulated lorries, I somehow made it there in one, very frazzled, piece. Check-in was an interesting insight into what I could expect in Israel; I hadn't seen so many orthodox Jews in one place since mooching around the streets of Stamford Hill back in London as a young'un. I felt quite scruffy and under-dressed by comparison.
While nursing a mild envy of the hats (I must get myself one of those for back home), I gazed in wonder at this quite sizeable group praying, nodding, and chanting in the direction of the plane - it was quite a sight, and quite wonderful. I felt relieved that I had paid extra to secure a window seat, and stared in amazement at the snow-capped mountains we passed over. They were stunning; next trip, snow-capped mountain climbing. With the hat of course.
I was met at Tel Aviv airport by the very charismatic and chatty Tom Fogel, whose knowledgeable conversation was a marvel to engage with. We spoke for the entirety of the taxi ride to Jerusalem, and was so engrossed that I only managed a few glimpses of wonders that we passed - almond trees festooned in bloom like I had never seen before; lemon trees laden with fruit, some kind of prune/cherry/plum plantation that was a blanket of blossom. Spring was here! And the weather - wow! To an Englishman who had fled the dull, dark, dreary days of a particularly wet and gloomy Winter back home, I suddenly regretted the amount of woollen jumpers and thick, corded trousers I had packed! I needed shorts and t-shirts, and sun cream! 20 degrees C of glorious, balmy heat, with crystalline blue skies, mmmm mmmmm - I am going to like it here.
Despite being distracted by fascinating conversation with Tom, I did get to witness the driving in Israel - an area I wanted to be wise on asap, as I had hoped to hire a car a few times at the weekend. Suffice it to say that I hope they hire out articulated lorries, made from fierce, heavy metal frames, that shun cars from getting too close. This must be what riding in the Indy 500 is like. I simply must ensure I hire some kind of super truck at the very least. It has to be possible.
Against the apparent odds (and near-misses), we made it to the flat, and I met my fellow housemates during my 5 week stay. Sara and Jordan are both on 12-month scholarships, and are both of that cheerful, sunny, upbeat American disposition that makes Brits like me feel wooden and apologetically-uptight. Very hip, very cool, and all down on the good things and must-sees of Jerusalem. Sara cooked an incredible take on an amazing Yotam Ottolenghi recipe, which was a sumptuous feast for the senses. We were joined by Ofri Bar, the former JBG Scholar Co-ordinator and his partner Ronen, who were both the life and soul of the small party! Outrageous and wickedly funny, they were both amazing company, like some kind of double-act. Within 3 hours of my arrival to the flat I had been very, very well fed, was in excellent company and spirits, and had even tried my first Israeli red wine - which was delicious!
Also, plans have already been forged to meet Tom at the JBG tomorrow, who is very keen to show me around and make all the introductions - can't wait! There was talk of heading over to Ein Gedi on Saturday, which is something that was near the top of my list of 'must-do', with the possibility of going via Masada which is another 'must-do' right up there, and with this wonderful heat I am looking forward to floating in the Dead Sea, reading my book, while soaking up some rays.
After my tour tomorrow with Tom, and taking some time to become familiar with the people and the gardens themselves, I plan to head to the Old City. I want to walk, and walk, and walk, until I have burned off this evening's calories firstly, but mainly until I feel like I have become deeply and most happily lost in what I imagine to be the most exquisitely atmospheric, heady, and engulfing labyrinth of history that exists.
I can't wait!