Thursday, May 2, 2013

On The Road To Eilat


(Before I forget, I've been asked to announce that the long-awaited episodes of Natania's tales of humor and woe can be found at

At the end of the last episode, we had averted a domestic catastrophe. Our apartment here in Ma'ale Adumim would not be turned into a swimming pool, a car wash, a mikvah, or a lake. The outfit that our insurance company engaged to deal with our broken water pipe was set to come back to replace the floor and wall tiles they had destroyed and fix the gaping hole in the wall they had dug through. On a good day, they might even do some painting.

To give them credit, they were all set to do the fixing they had promised. Except for one except. Barbara, in putting up a plastic sheet in the bathtub so we could use the shower, noticed that there was a small drip coming right before the bathtub faucets. Nothing to be alarmed about; but there was no point to re-tiling the wall and sealing in this dripping pipe. Let Alon-with-a-smile-and-a-song take a few minutes (that's all it would take) to fix the problem first and then get on with it. Our difficulty was explaining this to the contractor. They kept calling us up to make an appointment to fix the tiles. And Barbara kept telling them, No you have to fix the leak first. This went on for several days, all the while we walked over the trench in the floor on the way to the bathroom. I looked at it this way: if we were on an archaeological dig or a safari, we would have been more than content with our lodgings. At least we didn't have to go out in the hall or to a neighbor's to go to the loo. And.......Barbara and I would be going to Eilat in a few days.

The jaunt down to Eilat was Tina's idea. Why don't we all do something together as a family? The original idea was for the five of us, me, Barbara, Tina, David, and Natania, to take a few days and head off to Eilat. Because Tina and David are working (someone has to!), they opted for a long weekend, from Thursday to Sunday morning. OK, but what about Natania? The weekend we decided on was supposed to coincide with a break in her classes. Sad to say, she mis-read her schedule and then one of her teachers rescheduled a final exam; so in the end, she wound up staying home, along with Cookie and Moby, our two Tonkinese cats.

The only real obstacle to this plan was me. There is often someone in a family who has to be overly concerned with the family's finances. My self-assigned task is to assume that any planned trip or excursion is too expensive and that we can't afford it; or that we should spend the money on something more mundane, like a coffee table. It is Barbara's responsibility to convince me otherwise. She is well schooled in the art of persuasion. Her gambit this time was to consider this vacation a combination Chanukah, wedding anniversary, her birthday, and my birthday present. Well, if you put it that way......

Who would have known that this would be a perfect time to get away and leave our worries – our broken wall and torn up floor – behind? The plan was as follows: Tina and David would take an El Al flight from the old terminal one at Ben Gurion Airport, arriving in Eilat in the early afternoon. (Travel time about one hour.) Barbara and I would take the 10 o'clock bus from the Central Bus Station in Jerusalem, which would get down there around 3PM.

There is some information that many people know, but no one thinks to share with you. For example: we got to the bus station about half an hour early. Normally for an inter-city Egged bus, you can buy your tickets when you get on. But we figured we have plenty of time, we might as well go to the ticket booths and buy them in advance. So we waited our turn, and Barbara asked the clerk for two tickets to Eilat on the 10AM bus. “Ein makom,” was his reply. No more room on the bus. When, pray tell, would there be makom? The 5PM bus. Being the helpful sort, he suggested we travel first to another city, say Tel Aviv or Beersheba, where there would be makom on a bus to Eilat. To give you a sense of what was happening, you need to understand that at this time of the morning there was only one ticket booth open. You can probably figure out on your own that there was a long and growing line behind us. And you can assume, if you know anything about the temperament of the average Israeli, that some or most of them were quite impatient. Someone – that's us – was holding up the works. We probably would have been better off going down to Beersheba, which is on the way. But the helpful clerk reserved us two seats on a bus leaving Tel Aviv at about 1PM. He also took the trouble to book us two seats going back to Jerusalem from Eilat on Sunday in the early afternoon. We had made no friends by taking so long, but we did have our seats. We scampered off the line, heading for the bus to Tel Aviv. The thing is that when we related this incident later on, a number of people seemed to know that you have to reserve your seats in advance if you're going to Eilat. Well, next time we'll know too.

Now it could have been a lot worse. We could have wound up getting to Eilat the next day, Friday – just in time for Shabbat – in which case there wouldn't have been much point in going. We could have wound up not getting there at all. As it turned out, we would arrive Thursday in time for dinner. It just meant a long day traveling for us and, horror of horrors, having to spend an hour and a half in the “new” bus station in Tel Aviv – the one we never, ever want go to, if we have a choice.

Natania read somewhere recently that the “architect” (I use the term loosely) who designed this nightmare, this stain on the city's reputation, had just died, and there's this thing about not speaking badly about the deceased. I just hope for his sake that his coffin is more accommodating than the bus station he designed for the rest of us. At least it must be harder to get lost in. We were able to find some kosher food there (in the depot, not the coffin), and we whiled away the hour and a half until departure time. We did find out when we finally boarded the bus that the seats actually are reserved, as they are on an airplane. A nice young chayelet told us we were sitting in hers; ours, we discovered, were farther back. Everyone scrambled on board, and finally we were off to Eilat.

If you're going to go by bus, even though it's longer, the route from Tel Aviv is a lot more scenic. The bus heads south and then zig-zags its way through the hills down to Beersheba before the road merges with route 90, the coastal road which goes from Mount Hermon down to Eilat. (It's sort of like The Garden State Parkway, which goes from the New York border all the way down to Cape May.) Because of all the late rain, the ground was a sea of green even south of Beersheba, the traditional entrance into the Negev, where grass is traditionally scarcer than a viable peace plan. The other thing I noticed was how much of this turf the Bedouins were squatting on. Let's just say that right now that this land-grab is a small elephant in a room. But the elephant is getting bigger and bigger, and, goodness knows, the room isn't.

Many hours, a few stops along the way to pick up more passengers, and one pit stop later, our bus pulled into the small, unprepossessing depot in the downtown center of Eilat. I had never been down to this port, which Ben Gurion had the good sense to capture prior to the ceasefire in 1948. Barbara had been there with her mother in the early 1970's, when nothing much was happening there. Things were a lot different last year when she stayed overnight with a tour group going to Petra (Jordan is one of the many countries that I don't “do.”) Tina gets to do a lot of traveling for her job, all over Europe and such, but there are no medical conferences schedules for Eilat (only auto races and chamber music festivals), so neither she nor David had been there either. When they got off their plane, they simply walked to our hotel, about five or ten minutes away. The bus depot is a little bit farther away, so we needed a taxi (and there are lots of them in Eilat!) to get us there.

Why did we stay at the Astral Seaside, one of a small chain of hotels in Eilat (they didn't build them; they took over a number of hotels from different chains, so each one was different). Barbara had stayed at another Astral on the way to Petra and was duly impressed with the food. So she was amenable to the suggestion by someone at Zion Tours (a highly recommended outfit, by the way) that the Seaside would be a good option, not too pricey and, as its name suggests, right by the beach. Like most or all of the hotels down in this resort town, the kitchen was suitably kosher. Tina and David, as I said, had arrived hours before and were just “chilling,” having taking a stroll along the beachfront. We, to our great relief, were just in time for dinner. Our vacation had officially begun, and none too soon.

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