Back in Tel Aviv 1/12-13/10

The trip back from Eilat was interesting. Our bus was inhabited by a few colorful characters. The first thing that alerted us to the unusual nature of our passengers was the trip out of the bus station. We had just gotten about a block when a taxi blocked the bus’s route and a heavy-set woman with flaming red hair came dashing out of the vehicle and commenced pounding on the door of our bus to be admitted. The bus driver shouted at her in a frenzy “Ani lo poteah lakh!” (“I am not opening the door for you!” While the woman pounded on the door, the taxi driver (with his cab still blocking us)  sauntered over to the driver’s side of the bus. The bus driver told him, “Take her to the next junction”. It turned out that there was an official bus stop about a mile up the road. So the woman hurled herself back into the cab and we were treated to the spectacle of the cab trying to outrun the bus to the bus stop.

The cab succeeded and the woman clambered up into the bus, shrilly complaining of the driver’s ill behavior (her comments, not mine). He gave as good as he got and we were treated to an old-fashioned shouting match for about five minutes up the road until everyone calmed down.

After a couple of hours the bus made a convenience stop and we used the chance to pick up a bite to eat. As it turned out, someone slipped on through the back door to try to get a free ride to Tel Aviv. But to his chagrin, we also picked up some sort of bus company conductor who proceeded through the bus checking everyone’s tickets. When he got to the extra passenger a debate broke out as the gentleman insisted that he had 1) lost his ticket and 2) had no money. The conductor laughed at these excuses and quizzed him on how much the ticket had cost (he got that wrong) and what seat number had been written on the ticket (buses between Eilat and Tel Aviv actually have assigned seats). He got that wrong too. As it turned out, he also had no identification. So it was pretty obvious what he was dealing with.

The conductor labeled him “shaqran” (liar) and laughed about this all the way to Tel Aviv. But the amazing thing (to me) is that they didn’t throw him off the bus or even do something to record some information or have the bus met by police. He was allowed to continue to Tel Aviv and there he slinked off into the evening.

Anyway, while all this was going on the flaming red-haired woman sat with the conductor and it turned out that she was friends not only with the conductor, but also with the driver. So all that shouting about getting on the bus was actually among friends! We gleaned that she was heading for a wedding in Ashdod.

Several of the other passengers seemed interesting to me. There was a group of young female soldiers chatting like schoolgirls in front of us. To the back there was a woman traveling with a male companion but dressed like a street walker. Normally I wouldn’t comment on this, but at our second convenience stop I was behind her on line to pay for food and when she arrived at the register she gave the cashier a verbal whipping for taking too long to take her money ostensibly because he needed the time to inspect her bodice.

Well, we somehow pulled into Tel Aviv on time and in one piece. Despite luggage encumbrance we elected the regular number 4 city bus since we were already in the central bus station and that got us back home without much ado. After freshening up (and checking email) in our home-away-from-home we ventured out to our own personal hang-out, the Cafe Hurkanos, where our favorite waitress (Maayan) provided us with a delicious dinner. Terri had the Israeli salad with avocado, I the Hungarian goulash.

Tel Aviv University

At last we came to the day that was assigned to Terri’s one official duty here in Tel Aviv, a talk on circadian rhythms at Tel Aviv’s department of Zoology. After a breakfast of coffee (hot cocoa for Terri) and pastries we headed off on the number 25 bus. We thought about taking the bus all the way to the back of the campus where the Zoology department is located (in the middle of a zoo!), but I urged Terri to get off earlier since were were early to stroll through campus. As a result, we received a notice when we entered the security gate that a general strike had been called for noon and a demonstration with some pretty famous people. The list included Professor Yosef Kalter, president of the university (imagine the presidents of American universities participating in student demonstrations!), Dalia Rabin, daughter of Prime Minister Yitzhaq Rabin, and the sister of Nir Katz who was a counselor at a gay youth center and was murdered in an infamous anti-gay shooting rampage. The demonstration was to urge governmental changes with respect to welfare and education.

After receiving this information, we walked across campus. I thought it would be easy to get to the Zoology building, but security changes everything. The Zoology building is actually across a street which means that one has to find an exit from campus to the street and then another entrance to the Zoology area. We wound our way through a number of buildings before finding the exit. After crossing the street, we quickly came to a door to the Zoology area, but it was shut. We looked up and down the street and I finally walked over to the security guard at the parking lot and asked an attendant. He said that I would just have to wait until someone either entered or exited the area.

Meanwhile, Terri had gone back to the door and after trying the telephone intercom and telephoning our hosts (no answer), commenced banging on the door. We were saved by a student exiting who held the door open for us. A worker we encountered had no idea who our hosts were, but shooed us in the right direction and we found both Noga and Rotem engaged in conversation with students on the second floor of the Zoology building. It turned out that Noga had just returned from a sabbatical in Australia and had not yet fully restored her phone service and Rotem had left her phone with her belongings. The departmental secretary had wandered off and wasn’t answering the phone either. But all’s well that end’s well and from there the day proceeded perfectly.

The TA University’s Zoology department has a full-fledged zoo which combines animals that are there for research purposes with sick and injured animals that are turned in by anyone who knows they exist. They don’t accept house pets, but any wildlife they can help they do. We saw a wide variety of birds, cats, wolves, snakes, and amphibians. We’ll have to hear from Terri about all these wonderful beasts.

Terri continued on with her group and I slipped away. I took the bus back to central Tel Aviv, found a good showarma stand, then walked up Diezengoff. I was soon inspecting used books and found a couple of interesting volumes that I hope will provide me with some entertaining time in Hebrew. After that, it was a short trip home. Time for this Israeli journey is winding down.

Tiberias 1/5/09

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…

Jerusalem Musings Solstice 2009

Terri and I had no trouble arriving in Jerusalem in time for the plans of the day. We took a Sheirut (shared taxi) to the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station, and then another Sheirut to Jerusalem. We wanted to take the Jerusalem circle tour (a bus ride around the city with narration), but I managed to miss the Jerusalem Central Bus Station stop thinking that it would be the last stop (it wasn’t) on the Sheirut route. So at 10:30 we found ourselves on Latin Partriarchate Rd in the Old City. We wound our way to the Jaffa Gate and discovered that we could hop on the Circle Tour bus there, so we did. The bus itself is a bit of a disappointment. Slightly shabby with truly minimalist and stupid narration (surprising number of errors in the historical reporting), but you are traveling through Jerusalem, so it was worth the small price.

We arrived at the Central Bus Station where we were told that there would be a break until 1:30pm, so Terri and I wound up with our second day in a row of eating lunch in a Central Bus Station. This time I had the local equivalent of a potato knish. Very filling and tasty. After lunch, we returned to the bus where we found the bus driver trying a variety of methods to resurrect the computer that controlled the dumb narration. After 15 minutes of this he told us that we’d have to wait for a new bus and finally at 2:15pm we were back on the road with a bus that had a canvas top–actually much more comfortable than our first bus. Terri and I got seats on the top level right at the front, so we had a magnificent 180 degree view of Jerusalem as we ascended to Mount Scopus and down past the Mount of Olives to the Old City. At 3:30pm we were back at the Jaffa Gate. This time we took the traditional walk down David Street to the Street of the Chain, and a quick jog over to the Western Wall Plaza.

Here I was astonished at the changes since my last visit. Before the renovation of the Jewish Quarter, it seemed more open with vast views of the Wall and the top of the Temple Mount. I wanted to show Terri the western wall tunnels, but it turned out you now need to make reservations to see this, so that will need to wait for another day.

From the Wall we wandered over to the entrance to the archaeological park. For the second day in a row we had to decide against entering a museum because we had arrived too late in the day. We will definitely be going back at a more reasonable hour. From there we headed through the Dung Gate and had a view of the City of David dig. We re-entered the old city and made our way through the new Jewish Quarter. A yeshiva student tied a red ribbon around my wrist. I let him do this thinking I might actually be able to engage him in some conversation. This turned out to be futile, so off came the ribbon. I also avoided the appeal for “charity” as well as a few dozen other beggars. Our travels back took us to the excavation of the Cardo (the east-west thoroughfare of Roman Jerusalem). And we were delighted to see near there an excavation that revealed some material dating as early as 7th century BCE.

As the sun set we departed the Old City and walked along Jaffa Road. The road is in quite a state as they seem to be installing a light-rail set of tracks down the middle of the street. Before long we arrived at Ben Yehuda Street and I was in for quite a shock. The last time I was in Jerusalem, this was a bustling street. It’s still busting, but now it’s a pedestrian mall! There were people everywhere, shops, expensive restaurants and much street life. Up the mall to King David Street and I saw that my once-beloved felafel stands were no more. But Terri and I dined in a lovely little Italian restaurant. She had pasta with Tuna, I also had the pasta, but with roasted vegetables and pine nuts in a light olive oil sauce.

Sated with food, we took a cab to the Sheirut stand, back to Tel Aviv (with a delay for a massive traffic jam) and then the sheirut back to our neighborhood.

More time for the museum would have made this is a great day, but as it is, we are learning to cope.