What is it that makes a place feel like home? When your bed is thousands of miles away, the air is full of unfamiliar sounds, everything feels and smells different and you haven’t spoken your mother tongue in days? It is possible. I just got back from a week-long trip to Israel, hardly knew any of the people I met before and never stayed at one place more than a night. But I did feel at home every second. Here’s how.
One day after my return from Moab in March, I received a message from Raffi Vitis, inviting me to come to the Israeli Unicycling Convention he was organizing. We had a quick talk on the phone, I checked my schedule and before I knew the flight was booked. Life is easy sometimes. A little more than a month later I walked through the gate at the Tel Aviv airport and found Raffi and Márk Fábián waiting for me. Márk is an amazing trials rider from Hungary and was the other foreign guest at the convention. I had briefly met each of them before at other conventions – long enough to know this week would be a fun one.
In the car, Raffi told us the plan for the week. The convention would start the next day and until then we could spend some time in Tel Aviv. After the convention, we would be staying with the families of some uni riders all over the country. Ten minutes later Raffi dropped us of in the middle of Tel Aviv where Danni and his son Eyal were waiting for us. They had only heard of our existence the night before and had agreed to host us for the night. Half an hour and a delicious falafel later Eyal introduced us to his city.
The next day, Márk and I explored the city on our own. We went to the sea, had lots of fresh fruit juice and were amazed by the flora we found all over the city.
In the afternoon, Danni drove us all to the Kibbutz of Shoval in the south of Israel, where the Israeli unicycling convention would take place. Here we met Raffi again, along with 80 other unicyclists from all over the country, of all ages and riding levels. Márk and I held some workshops, played some games, showed some photos and videos of us and our unis and had lots of fun meeting and talking to people. Israeli kids are crazy about a game called “Combat”, where you basically try to push each other off the unicycle. So we played it until we fell off our unis because we were so tired.
The next day was filled with more workshops, games – and the official trials competition. It had been years since I took part in one (and quit because I was too frustrated after ten minutes), but someone has to show the Israeli girls that we can do that, too, right? So I borrowed Márk’s unicycle and had so much fun doing some of the lines, that I decided to practice more trials riding from now on.
In the afternoon it was time to say good bye to most of the riders. It was hard to believe we all had met just 24 hours earlier. We spent the night with Udi, his daughter Efrat and their family over an amazing dinner and long, very interesting conversations. The next day was supposed to be a very hot day, which is why we got up very early to meet with a group of riders to do some muni at Ben Shemen park. We rode along some great trails and obstacles and were glad we had met so early because even the morning air felt hotter than the hottest summer days in Berlin.
After the ride, Raffi took us over the border to Palestine. Here we met Alaa, who hadn’t been able to join us at the convention because he didn’t get a permit to cross the border in time.
For the afternoon, Raffi invited us to stay with him and his family. His youngest son is only four months old and it was great to get to know him not only as a unicyclist and organizer but also as a loving father of three children.
We couldn’t convince Raffi that having five children would be a good idea, so we spent the night with Itai, his son Ran and their family. We got there late and left early in the morning, but not without another good conversation and the feeling that we had found more good friends that we hope to meet again one day. Itai dropped us off at the train station, where we hopped on a train to Tel Aviv, managed to get off at the right train station, met Shay, hopped on a bus out of Tel Aviv and drove to Jerusalem with him. Shay had been at the unicycling convention too and had decided to take a day off work to show us around. Once again Márk and I couldn’t believe the hospitality and friendliness we were receiving.
After a fun day with Shay, he dropped us off at Citadel hostel in the middle of the old city. Raffi had reserved a “1000-star-room” for us: Since all the rooms had been booked, we could sleep on the rooftop of the hostel. We quickly agreed that this is better than any indoor bed we could have had, grabbed our unis and went to do some riding in this ancient city that’s so important for three of the world’s religions.
The next day was supposed to be just as hot as the days before, so we decided to go on a trip into the desert. You don’t get a chance to float in the dead sea every day, right? You also don’t get a chance to use Israeli public transport with nothing but Hebrew signs every day – which is why it took us a bit longer than originally planned to finally get some refreshment in the incredibly salty water. Apparently it’s a thing to cover your skin with the black mud you can find at some spots along the beach, so we did that, too (and couldn’t believe how soft our skin had gotten afterwards).
We hurried back to Jerusalem to meet Noam and his son Nativ and to do some riding at Shalom Path above Jerusalem. Later at their house in Neve Shalom, a village where muslim and jewish idealists live house by house, we were once again treated with a delicious dinner. It was very late already, which is why we took apart our unicycles, packed all our gear into our suitcases (secretly laughing at the thought of the very strict security people having to smell those sweaty knee pads, shoes and clothes), caught two hours of sleep and went to the airport with Noam, who got us through security in no time, without our bags getting checked.
To all the people who helped us on this trip, hosted us, fed us, showed us the Israeli culture and were so incredibly kind: Thank you. Toda. Danke. Köszönöm. You made this an amazing trip. I hope I will see all of you again soon and can host you at my place one day. Raffi, you are a beast organizer and a gentlemen and one of the kindest people around – thank you so much for inviting us. Márk, it’s hard to imagine a more like-minded person to travel with. You did the impossible and got me into trials, hoping for more trips in the future. Everyone – you made a foreign, far away place feel like home, thank you.