Eurovision 2019: The absolute best weekend of my life
I’m not even sure where to start but yes, finally, Kadek and I have attended a Eurovision in person. Israel won last year’s contest in Portugal, and we knew that there was probably never going to be a crossover this good again. The only way it could have been any better is if somehow Halloween occurred at the same time, which of course is n’est pas possible.
Unfortunately, this was partially a trip of losing and breaking things!
- I lost my favourite sunglasses before even getting inside Luton airport. I managed to buy a really nice pair in Departures but still, it’s a bummer.
- THREE zipper pulls broke while our belongings were being swabbed. I have a lovely resin keyring that says “первей блин всегда комом,” a.k.a. the first pancake is always a blob, and I was using it as a zipper pull on my Mia Tui Mini Jen. The clasp just outright snapped off and pinged across the gate hall when I tried to close the bag after the security man had repacked it very badly.
There was a little star attached to the outer pocket zip, which was gone when I got the bag back. And the Eurovision keyring on the bag’s matching purse also broke, but thankfully it was only the smaller silver ring, so I could fix it.
- The day before leaving I just couldn’t find my Type H adaptor, so I had to quickly order another via Amazon Prime.
- Although they let me ride my wheelchair to the plane door, they clearly stored it in the cargo hold anyway despite all the preparing and explaining we did for the chair to be in the wheelchair cupboard in the cabin. Unfortunately, the right wheel now does not lock. Thankfully, unlike with my last chair, it can still drive. But having one wheel that doesn’t stop rolling was very disastrous and I almost destroyed a shopfront on Zion Gate St.
- I lost a tube for one of my hearing aids, thankfully Kadek found it later, but it had been on the wet bathroom floor so I decided I wasn’t going to wear them until I’d let them soak in disinfectant after getting home.
- Although the Eurovision rules said liquids under 100ml could be brought in (so I brought sunscreen and Magicool cooling spray with me), mine were confiscated by event security. They said we could come and get them back at the end, but nobody knew where they were. I don’t mind because as a result of them confiscating things from people, the venue didn’t blow up.
- The accessible toilets at the Eurovision venue broke literally in front of us and were closed off by staff. We had to be directed up a lift to secret toilets being used by Eurovision staff!
- I bought a nice souvenir for my Christian sister in Jerusalem. Somehow, I managed to drop it somewhere, and I’m really bummed about it. I’ve found that I can order the same thing online and have it shipped, but it’s not the same as one I physically bought while there.
- I lost little bits of blue enamel out of my Hamsa necklace.
- On the street our hotel was on, a large pipe burst; so large in fact that WHOLE INTACT TURDS were on the pavement! It was really something.
And this isn’t a loss per se, but we had real trouble finding souvenirs that other people would love. Everything is very “Letti” there, boho patterns and apotropaic Judaica. I could not spot a thing that Will specifically would enjoy, I couldn’t even find an interesting Dreidel for a friend who’d asked for one, just a very plain one that was inexplicably £12. It’s a shame because I love giving gifts and I love souvenirs.
Things I noticed while in Israel:
- Israelis are very brown.
Israel is painted as white and colonial, but you will be hard-pressed to find a pale Israeli. More than 50% of Israel’s Jews are Mizrahi (a.k.a from the Near and Middle East and Orient), sometimes referred to as “Arab Jews,” and as a result they usually have dark complexions. Despite already knowing this, I was still surprised at just how brown everybody was.
About 30% of the Jewish population are Ashkenazi, Jews who were trafficked to Europe as slaves and so became paler over generations, while usually retaining ethnic features such as dark hair and eyes. Not all Ashkenazim are pale though; Jeff Goldblum is an example.
There are also Ethiopian Jews, Sephardi Jews, Bombay Jews, pretty much anywhere you can imagine, Jews have been dispersed to and now all those different communities are making their way back to Israel. We passed a lot of East Asian people speaking a flurry of Hebrew to each other.
- Everyone’s hair has a better curl pattern than mine. The redheads especially!
- Everyone goes above and beyond to help you.
Our first taxi driver, taking us from Ben Gurion aiport, helped us find our hotel on an odd street. He not only went wandering about to find the entrance, but when he did find it, he went in and got someone to come out and help us. The whole time we were in Israel, everyone did things they didn’t need to do for us. It seems to be a cultural thing.
- They have such great systems for things we haven’t even thought of.
At Ben Gurion, when we came outside, there was a line of taxis managed by someone with a radio. When you get to the radio man, you tell him how many of you are getting in a taxi together and where you are going, and he’ll radio an appropriate car to come down for you!
Otherwise, summoning taxis in Israel is done via an app called Gett. You put in where you are, where you want to go (with little pointers on a map) and wait for someone to accept it. After the ride, the app charges your card. It’s great!
There are giant recycling cages in the streets, which can take hundreds of bottles before being collected.
The police do lots of interesting things, including individual police officers having red and blue flashing lights clipped to their belts so you can identify them! There are also regular police subdivisions and even police gazebos set up regularly along areas.
- Security and public order is taken incredibly seriously.
There are civilian police everywhere. At events, they stand on little scaffolding towers with rifles. If anybody started shooting or stabbing, they’d get shot down so quickly. I’ve honestly never felt so safe in my life! Other places have border police and army soldiers. (Side note: military service is mandatory in Israel at age 18, so pretty much the entire country has been in the army before).
- There are palm trees everywhere.
We knew the flora and fauna would be different but we were still taken aback by just how gorgeous everything was, I don’t think pictures can do it justice. There seems to be a lot of focus on good outdoor spaces. There are also purple trees.
- I use the word fashla פשלה way more than actual Israelis do.
- Apartment living is the norm.
There are many blocks of flats, and very few houses with gardens like you’d see in Britain. If we do move there I’d rather have a house with a proper garden, not least because I’m a dog owner, but it’s unusual. All the flats seem to have balconies or some form of outdoor space though.
- There are so many cats!
You are barely able to turn a corner without spotting a cat or even a group of cats. Most of them seem to be the kind of strays that Kadek terms “bin cats” though! I noticed that a lot of them have diagonal notches cut from an ear, which I believe to be a marker of a TNR programme. Some of the cats are very vocal and friendly and enjoy a good scratch, others are very timid and run off when they spot you. The majority of them seem to be calicos!
- The dogs are so mellow!
There are a lot of dogs in Israel and they all seem to be extremely chill. I don’t know if there are mandatory dog training laws, but I saw such uniform good behaviour. There were a lot of sandy-coloured shepherds, and a dog that looked like a sandier Freya too!
- Israelis don’t seem to take arguments to heart.
One of our taxi drivers sped ’round a corner and almost hit someone on a crossing. There was a short exchange of raised voices through the window, but both parties were flat-faced during it and were quick to move on. Israelis don’t seem to mind being told off or to dwell on everything for long, and they seem very chilled-out.
- Signs are usually a minimum of trilingual in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. Some go even further and feature Russian Cyrillic. I saw some signs with Ukrainian Cyrillic too.
- Everyone is so grateful to be Israeli. There are flags and bunting everywhere.
- Everything about the country is honestly just amazing.
Now, on to the details of the trip!
We got up at 4am and got a long-distance taxi to Luton airport. As I have probably said before, I’d never been on a plane before so I was extremely nervous and excited! I am incredibly travel sick in cars and I even felt a bit ill the last time I was on a train, so I felt especially uneasy about the prospect of being stuck vomiting in a sky tube for 5 hours.
We got a lot of questions from security before we could check in; this is normal for everybody on the way in and out of Israel. We also had our bags searched and tested for explosives and other harmful substances. A lot of people take this level of security very personally, but it’s the reason we’re all still alive!
Unfortunately the disability procedures went wrong in several regards. We were meant to board the plane first to streamline things for the other passengers, instead I boarded last, and I had been seated at the far end of the plane, so I had to walk a ridiculous distance with my cane and I was trying not to pass out in front of all those people. The ambulift took so long to arrive as well, and my chair was damaged at the other end so we know they put it in the cargo hold anyway. I provided so many written instructions, Kadek spent so long on the phone, and there was even a laminated sheet of information and a certificate clipped to the chair, all ignored by staff.
As for flying itself, I love the takeoff and landing! Everything in the middle is just a bit boring sometimes.
In Israel, we had a jetway so didn’t need to wait for an ambulift. I just had to wait for them to get my chair. I’d worn a coat on the flight because I had read about flights getting really cold (although I didn’t find this to be the case in the end), and I was immediately overwhelmed by the heat in Israel. I am someone who finds England too hot, so it really hit me. I almost passed out in that tunnel, unfortunately a bunch of flight attendants were stood around me! One of them asked what happened, and it was hard to explain that nothing happened, I’m just an ill person. I felt better when I could get in my chair and get out of the hot black tunnel.
Ben Gurion airport was absolutely amazing compared to Luton, even the toilets!
Being on the ground in Israel, finally, gave me such a weird feeling. It’s hard to explain, but it was a strange contentment, like I belonged there, and I just stopped worrying about things.
Normally in life I am worried about everything and hypervigilant and constantly wondering if people are looking at me and what they are thinking. I just didn’t have any of that in Israel and it was really weird.
I’ve realised that countries have smells. I love how Israel smells, though I’m not sure how to describe it.
Our hotel situation was a bit weird; it describes itself online as InnTLV, located at 18 Meron St. In actuality, it’s the Nahalat Yehuda Residence at 46 Levanda street, adjacent to Meron. I’m not sure why there’s the disconnect between the online presence and the actual building.
The wheelchair access was not so much, also. There are a few bumps I can be pulled up backwards, but I had to get out of my chair entirely in order to get into the corridor with the rooms. This works for me with my lightweight folding chair, but if someone came in with a full-size powerchair this would just not work for them. The lift to the roof terrace also has a gigantic step at the top on the outside!
Despite all that, we loved our room and the terrace. A cat had obviously gained entry through the window bars and screen as there were some muddy prints down the wall!
The air conditioning was a Godsend also.
We spent Friday evening going to a local supermarket, seeing a bit of the local area, and relaxing on the roof on Shabbat.
On Saturday morning we headed to Yarkon park, an absolutely beautiful place. I had wanted to visit Zapari bird park within it and see parrots, but apparently it’s indefinitely closed. We did however find a bit with animals, and we also visited the tropical gardens, which were astonishing (although we seemed to accidentally interrupt an Ethiopian wedding).
At about 1pm we went off to the Eurovision rehearsal. The accessible seating was right next to the standing area next to the stage, the singers were really close to us! It was so weird seeing that they are normal, physical humans.
I had read that going to live Eurovisions can be disappointing, as it’s basically just a concert with a singer standing away from you, as the event is mostly designed for TV. However, Kadek and me think we now might be addicted to the live shows! It was really something feeling all the beats pulse through us, it was the first time I heard the Big 5 and host song and it was really emotional.
The interval performance put us in the same room as Conchita, Eleni Foureira, and Verka Serduchka, and we basically had a mild cry and lost our shit about it. And Gali Atari of course!
They also played audio of Ofra Haza’s Im Nin’Alu. I nearly died in that moment because I love Ofra Haza and I love the song.
As with every year, here are some songs I loved:
Portugal’s song gets quite funky with headphones on. Even though it’s literally named “Mobile phones.”
Australia were way higher up on those poles than they appeared on TV! They had to be wheeled on and off the stage already on the poles.
Israel’s song wouldn’t normally be my cup of tea, but I heard it for the first time live at the rehearsal, and got caught up in the emotion of it.
The Netherlands wound up winning the contest, the song isn’t to my taste but it’s not terrible either. Kadek and I are considering going to the live show next year.
We later went to Charles Clore park to watch the live Grand Final on the public screens at the Eurovision Village. We didn’t stay too long unfortunately because my chair was running out of battery! It was also a bit jarring because booths in the village were all blasting their own conflicting music.
We went home to the hotel to watch the rest on TV. Unfortunately we couldn’t vote on the app because our phones just beeped at us.
It was the most magical Eurovision ever.
I woke up a bit late on Sunday but we headed to Jerusalem. The first priority was getting to the Western Wall, which was tricky because Jerusalem is more than 3,000 years old and there are a lot of old steps and steep passages. We took advantage of old ramps for carts, and a lot of the time just had to take the risk of going in the modern roads for cars.
I got to pray at the wall and it was such a powerful experience to finally be there.
We had plans to go to plenty of other places, such as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Mount Zion, the City of David, and the Kever Rahel (Tomb of Rachel). We were getting very hot and tired though, so we made an executive decision to get a taxi to the Mount of Olives and then head home.
It’s a shame that I didn’t get to see Rachel’s Tomb especially, but we are obviously going to have to come back anyway.
I think my favourite thing about Jerusalem is that all the things that are thousands of years old are still in use. In England, we tend to rope-off old things and make them unalterable listed buildings. But Israel adds new roads, adds electricity, nails signs to ancient walls, lets people live in these old buildings and put cat flaps in their doors. They keep history alive by living in it.
On Monday we had to check out by 10am; I think I was genuinely fried from being so active all weekend that I made terrible packing decisions and also seemed to have no concept of time. We went down to Jaffa, looked out at the sea, had a Shakshouka, and then tried to find a local zoological park, which was unfortunately closed, but we saw some lovely gardens.
Before we knew it, it was time to head to the airport, go through security again, and get on the plane.
I was somehow most of the way asleep in the car and when I got home, I was pretty much on autopilot for getting my body up to bed. I was so happy to see Will and Freya and Joop again.
I honestly had the time of my life. I think there are too many stories from this trip to tell. I only got one tiny bit of sunburn, on my joystick-controlling hand which was out in the sun all day, I obviously either washed my hands too soon after applying the sunscreen, or I just didn’t rub enough in there. I got a slight tan on my arms and have visible tan lines around my medical bracelet!
I felt so happy and content the whole time I was there. I also didn’t get a migraine!
I was reading an article recently about how some people’s migraines stopped when they moved back/ to the seaside. At the time I thought, that’s probably bullshit. But then I thought about it more; I used to only get a couple of migraines a year, but when we moved 30 miles away to Andover, I started having several a week. In Southampton, we were always quite near to the sea by definition. Likewise in Israel, we were never too far from the sea. I don’t understand how it would work but maybe there’s something to it after all.
I just can’t wait to go back.