Roughing It In Tel Aviv 12/20/09

Well, our first full day of activity in Israel was pretty much a bust. Interesting, but hard not to say it was all a bit ridiculous.

The initial idea was pretty simple. According to Frommer’s Israel (2008 edition, the most recent we could find), the Tourist Office is located at 7 Mendele Street. I thought that we could get maps, tour info and bus schedules and the like there, so we would make that our first stop of the day. So rather than waste a lot of the day, we took a cab to Mendele Street and arrived in good time. Unfortunately, the Tourist Office was no longer located there.

So we went to the hotel next door figuring that they would know to where the office had moved. Indeed, they not only told us that the office had moved near the Orchid Hotel, they provided us with a map to the location. It was a pretty easy walk, so off we went to find the new place. We got to the Orchid Hotel (and according to our new map, we should have hit the Tourist Office before we got to the Orchid), but no luck–no Tourist office. We entered the hotel and the desk staff looked it up for us and informed us that the office was now located at 69 Diezingoff St–about two miles away.

Terri and I walked the two miles and discovered that the address 69 does not exist on Diezingoff. But that turned out to be right near City Hall, so we did get to see City Hall! We visited the information desk for the city and they cheerfully informed us that the Tourist Bureau is now located at 42 Herbert Samuel Street. Having had enough of a walk, we again took a taxi and arrived promptly at that address where oddly enough we found that the Tourist Bureau actually existed!

The staff in the Tourist Bureau were very friendly. We did get a few helpful maps and brochures and then asked about bus schedules. They threw their hands up in the air and said they couldn’t help us with any of that because the bus companies wouldn’t give them the information. They had no idea about the monthly passes or really anything except how to purchase tours at the hotels.

Our main project for the day was supposed to be a visit to the Eretz Israel museum (one of the best in the country), so we asked how to get there. They told us that we needed the #25 bus (which turned out to be correct), but their advice on where to get the #25 bus turned out to be wrong. The place they sent us to had the #31 bus, the #16 bus and the #17 bus, but no #25. Terri was still interested in seeing if we could get the pass, so instead of searching further for the #25 bus, we took the #17 to the Central Bus Station (Tahanah Merkazit).

I surprised myself by actually recognizing the place (yes, it is huge, but I’ve been gone over 30 years). We entered the bustling place and discovered it was more a marketplace than a bus station. First I went to the Egged information desk. Egged is the bus company that runs most of the intercity lines. “Do you have have monthly passes?” “Yes, but they only work for a calendar month, so not a good deal today.” OK, we struck out there. On to the Dan bus company (Dan runs most of the intracity lines). There we encountered a cheerful desk where they happily had us fill out forms, took our picture for a photo ID card and then informed us that they too ran their passes on a calendar month basis, so no sense putting any money on our brand new photo ID cards.

By this time Terri was famished, so we headed for one of the many food stands. We purchased two pastries stuffed with cheese and a Diet Coke. I wasn’t surprised when the merchant said 30 shekels (about $8) since that was in line with prices in restaurants we have encountered, but when I handed him 30 shekels he was astonished and returned most of the money to me. Turns out he had said 13 shekels not 30, so our lunch actually came to only a little over $3. But what most impressed me was the honesty in this place–no way the merchants in most American bus stations would have so zealously returned my money.

We also saw this in taxis. Twice now I’ve tried to give the taxi driver a tip and both times they returned the money to me saying that I had given them too much.

So honesty is widespread in Tel Aviv, but knowledge, not so much. The “information desk” of the Dan bus station provided us with incorrect information about how to get to the museum. Fortunately I asked the bus driver and he sent us to another bus that would at least get us closer to our destination. Terri and I took that one (the #5). It dropped us off a little short of the museum, but a walk across the Yarkon River took us exactly to the museum–or a corner of it. We had to choose between walking one way or the other and of course we chose wrong.

We backtracked to the corner and made the other choice and soon enough we were at the entrance to the museum. It was 3pm and the museum closed at 4, so that was that. We took the bus (#25!) which let us off right near our apartment building.

The upshot of this is that we could have 1) walked to the museum from our apartment and arrived in about a half hour; or 2) we could have taken the #25 bus from near our apartment and arrived in 15 minutes. Instead, we spent about $12 on cabs, walked a total of 8.5 miles, spent 5 hours traveling and never made it to the actual exhibits of the museum. But we did get to the all-important gift shop where I was able to find a lovely book by Joseph Naveh, one of my favorite scholars, on the topic of ancient writing systems.

OK, we saw many slices of Tel Aviv life. Crazies on buses, bureaucratic inanity, and it was all in good fun. Fortunately we don’t really have much of a plan. Whatever comes our way we’ll enjoy. So it wasn’t a bust after all.

All’s well that ends well!

Mediterranean Sunset over Rooftop

Parasails Above the Mediterranean Viewed over a Roof

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