Why People Take Shared Taxis (Sheirut)
We decided to visit the lakeside town of Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee today. We headed for the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station at about 8am. When we arrived at the bus stop for our Dan #5 bus, the bus had just nosed away from the bus stop but was stopped perhaps 3 feet from it. We tapped on the door to be admitted, but the bus driver just looked at us and turned his hands up in mock despair–he seemed to be saying “What can I do, I can’t pick up passengers away from the stop.” But of course they do all the time, so he was just being a jackass.
Buses at that hour are supposed to arrive every 4 to 6 minutes (as posted), but we waited at least twenty minutes for the next bus to arrive. While waiting, two sheiruts (shared taxis that charge about the same fare as the bus) passed by, but I wanted to wait for the bus so we could purchase a daily bus pass. I had neglected to do this the previous day and of course that meant that we either had to pay multiple fares or walk a lot. When the bus finally arrived, the driver refused to sell me the daily pass saying something about how it could only be sold after 9am.
Of course not only did we have to wait a long time for the bus, but the bus takes far longer than the sheirut to arrive at its destination, so it was about 9:30am before we finally got to the Central Bus Station. We purchased our tickets to Tiberias and the ticket agent told us to go to the 7th floor, platform 3 and waived us in a general direction. Terri found the closest escalator to floor 7, and we quickly found platform 3. Unfortunately, this was platform 3 for the Dan bus company (Tel Aviv local) not Egged (the inter-city bus line). I realized this when I looked at the guide on the door which was for bus line 51, not Egged 835 which is what we actually needed.
And of course there is no way to get from Dan to Egged on floor 7. You need to descend to floor 6 and find the correct escalator to the Egged section. So we had another tense moment as we scurried from the one to the other, but we did land at the correct platform at the correct time.
But this should go a long way towards explaining why so many people prefer shared taxis to the buses.
From there the day would improve considerably. But not before we had one more surprise. As Egged 835 pulled out of the Central Bus Station, it headed over to Namir Boulevard and began picking up passengers along that street. This meant that it actually stopped less than a mile from our apartment–we could have walked over there and boarded a bus 2 hours earlier. Live and learn.
The guide books talk about seeing the beauty of the lake as you pass the last mountain ridge, but the day was a bit hazy so we did not have a view of the lake as we pulled into Tiberias about 3 hours later. It probably takes a little over an hour to drive from Tel Aviv to Tiberias, but the bus (labeled “express”) stops at many little towns and multiple stops within those towns, including a 15 minute break at Afoula. The central bus station of Tiberias is easily the most dilapidated we have seen so far. But the restrooms were clean and staffed by a woman who collected a shekel for the service of providing one with their own individualized toilet paper.
After that bit of refreshment, we began the descent from the hill on which the bus station is located to the lake, a few blocks away. Along the way we encountered “Felafel Row” and stopped for lunch. The felafel was hot and tasty, the pita very fresh, and the salads very good. All for the bargain price of $2.75 (10 shekels) each. Cans of soda were $1.50, also a good price for Israel where American-branded soda tends to be overpriced.
Refreshed and fortified, we continued our walk towards the lake and eventually found the tourist office which is located in a Crusader-period building. The staff were very friendly and when we expressed an interest in archaeological sites, they sent us about a mile down the road (along the lakeshore) to the excavation of a synagogue complex that dates from the early years of the Common Era. The excavation has been made into a national park and we found there the usual excellent care of the Israeli archaeological services. The site includes several outlets for the area’s hot springs, the excavation and a small museum. The excavation includes a lovely mosaic floor with Greek and Aramaic inscriptions, and the features that allow identifying the site as a synagogue such as bima, geniza, etc. The museum is primarily concerned with a Turkish bath house at the site which took advantage of the hot springs.
Tiberias is also famous for its Christian connections and purported burial sites of a variety of Jewish personages including Rachel, the fourth wife of Jacob in the book of Genesis, Rabbi Aqiva, and several others. All of this is in the category of “shtoot” (nonsense-no one knows who’s in these graves) so we elected to ignore all of it and decided instead to have an early return to Tel Aviv.
We arrived back about 6pm and the bus driver let us out on Namir Blvd about a mile from our apartment. I gloated that we actually benefited from the Dan driver’s refusal to sell us a daily pass–because we could easily walk home, we wound up not needing any further fares. Had the driver sold us the two passes, Dan would have received about 30 shekels from us. As it stood, they got only 12. In the immortal words of Curly, “Nyuk, nyuk, nyuck!”
Our walk home took us past the chic little restaurant called Zurik, and we decided to try it. Its a very trendy place, but we discovered to our delight that the prices are reasonable and the food excellent. Terri and I both elected the daily special which was meatballs and sauteed vegetables over rice with a fresh garden salad in a light olive oil dressing. Yes, they were just meatballs, but they were delightfully spiced and the dish was very tasty and filling for a total of about $12. We’d like to go there again!
Tomorrow will be a low-key day getting ready for the arrival of our Wisconsin kids. Ephy will be coming up from Arad, so we will be five in this little apartment. We’ll spend a few days here and then head down to Eilat for a few days. Updating my blog may get a little haphazzard…