Tag Archives: bus

Daniela and Josh, arriving eventually at the hotel of their destination…

Josh and I have stayed at three different hotels over our ten day trip to Israel. Reaching two of them has proved to be a testing experience for our perambulatory stamina.

Let’s start the recantation of our tales of suitcase dragging in Jerusalem, on none other than Yom Yerushalayim. That’s Jerusalem Day to those not initiated into the cult of pig-reviling, candle-lighting Judaism. So that’s a day that shuts down huge tracts of the city in order to celebrate it and marvel at its wonders. It’s a super festival if you’re a Jerusalem resident who likes parades and singing songs and flag-waving. It’s not such a super holiday if you’re trying to reach your hotel located in the pedestrianised zone close to Jaffa Gate and best accessed by Jerusalem’s rather snazzy tram. That snazzy tram isn’t running through the centre of Jerusalem.

After struggling through Jerusalem’s central bus station, which is a multi-layered affair that, if converted into a cake was satisfy Marie Antoinette or the most grizzly Bridezilla, Josh and I made it onto Jaffa Street from where the trams (did not) depart and plenty of buses ran. Knowing that I needed to take the tram to Jaffa Centre, it seemed best to ask for a bus that would do similar. A kindly attendant said to try an 18, but check with the driver. When eventually an 18 turned up, and I asked in my best Ivrit if it went to Jaffa Centre, I was treated to a tirade of epic proportions from a bus driver who was no doubt entirely frustrated by re-routes and hold-ups, and stupid tourists. Humiliated, frustrated, and none-the-wiser, I turned on my heel, probably ramming my suitcase into various others, and declared to Josh that we’d have to take a cab.

We would have been better dragging our suitcases along Jaffa Street to our hotel.

Forty-five shekels later we had been deposited outside the wrong hotel that was somewhat closer to the Damascus Gate than the Jaffa Gate and therefore still no closer to where we were staying. In normal circumstances, I’d whip out a map and we’d figure out a plan. But these weren’t so normal because we’d left our map of Jerusalem in the UK. A note to fellow travellers: don’t leave your maps at home, they’re not so useful there. And while I’ve spent plenty of time in Israel, all of my time in Jerusalem has been in the company of locals, which means access to cars and intimate knowledge of buses. Thus using a combination of street signs and the tram lines, we attempted to navigate, nay schelp, ourselves from somewhere in Arab East Jerusalem to our hotel close to Jaffa Centre.

Despite the heat, the crowds, the parades, and one truculent wheel on my suitcase, we eventually rolled into our place of hospitality for the next five nights. Heavens were we pleased.

Five days later, we would have to transfer ourselves from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. This time the trams were running, we were able to locate the ticket office at Jerusalem Bus Station easily enough, and although we couldn’t get on the first bus to Tel Aviv, we only had to wait 20 minutes for the second. We’d located our hotel using Google maps, we’d drawn up a list of viable buses, we thought we were set for a relatively easy journey there. Of course we weren’t.

Our first minor hitch was taking the 405 into Tel Aviv Central rather than the 480 into Tel Aviv Savidor. This threw us a little when trying to find a city bus to catch to our hotel at the other end, but we were helped by a kindly stranger who told us that a 16 or 17 would take us to Allenby Street and from there I knew that we could walk easily enough to our hotel.

Where Google Maps said the hotel was

Where Google Maps said the hotel was

This is where we came monumentally unstuck. For reasons that remain unknown, Google Maps placed the hotel where we had a booking on the correct street, but at the wrong end of it. That might not have been too much of a problem, except that Rechov HaYarkon is one of the longest streets in Tel Aviv, spanning practically the entire beach-front. Given that Allenby Street is closer the bottom end of Rechov HaYarkon and the hotel was closer to the top, that walk wasn’t easy as we thought it would be. We made it, eventually. Hot and bothered but relieved, when we checked Google Maps, that we hadn’t got it wrong.

Where the hotel actually was

Where the hotel actually was

The moral of this story? Don’t trust Google Maps.

Never get on a bus around Agrippas Street

Ehm… Daniela, I think that this is the end of the line.

Yes, it was indeed the end of the 30 bus route and instead of taking us to the Israel Museum, Josh and I had wound up at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel. Not that there’s anything wrong with Ramat Rachel per se, and given that one of the major works that Josh is exploring in his Master’s thesis is Naftali Bezem’s the The Defence of Ramat Rachel, to say that we’ve been there&emdash;if only to alight one bus and board another in the return direction&emdash;is rather gratifying. But it wasn’t the Israel Museum.

As my friend Arieh were to extol later that day, our mistake had been to catch the bus ‘anywhere around Agrippas Street.’ The buses run in counter-intuitive directions there and while it seemed entirely logical to me to catch a bus pointing in the general topographical direction of the museum, it would actually take us in the opposing direction. Towards Ramat Rachel.

Of course, we could have avoided this entire magical mystery tour had I either asked the driver or read the bus’ direction of travel. There were, however, two particular issues with either of these courses of action. The first being that my previous interaction with a Jerusalem bus driver, two days prior, requesting directional confirmation had resulted in my turning heel and getting off the bus after he had shouted at me with such vehemence that I felt nothing but humiliation. I wasn’t prepared to go through that again. The second was that there was no direction of travel listed on the front of the bus. All I had to go on was its number. This was not helpful. Hence us jumping on a bus going in the wrong direction.

While buses might be cheap and frequently efficient, they do carry with them an air of mystique and vagary. There is a dark art to reading timetables, acquiring tickets, and understanding intersections. It doesn’t matter which bus network you use, in which city, governed by whatever language, there is always immense potential for screw-uppery.

Thankfully, our detour didn’t detract from our plans, despite it being a Friday and the museum closing at 14:00. We were able to saunter through the Israeli art galleries, take in some Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, enjoy the Avedon exhibition, and even grab a high-speed peek at the Dead Sea Scrolls. Then we caught the bus back to Jaffa Street, this time travelling in the right direction.

The moral of the story? Never get on a bus around Agrippas Street in Jerusalem.

Unimpressed in Ayutthaya

I left for Ayutthaya in a hurry. The ancient captial of Siam’s crumbling, invasion-ravaged wats that are now fighting the pull of gravity are best seen at dawn. I decided that I was going at 15:00. By 16:00 I was heading out of the door, guide-book in bag and hotel booked. Ayutthaya is about a 90 minute bus ride from Bangkok, departing from the Mo Chit bus station. If everything went to plan, I should arrive at the city that’s a UNESCO world heritage site not long after night fall.

The best laid plans of mice and men…

Like Victoria in London, Mo Chit bus station and Mo Chit MRT and BTS stations are not co-located. Unlike Victoria, Mo Chit bus station is not a well-signed few hundred metres’ walk down a straight road from the tube station. There was a solitary sign indicating the bus station as I exited the BTS station, but after that I was plunged into the maelstrom of the the Chatuchak market that takes over the entire area around Mo Chit on a Sunday. I sought help.

The security guard in the MRT station told me to give up attempting to navigate on foot and to hail a cab. It would be much easier.

My experience with taxi-drivers in Bangkok has been mixed. Some have been friendly and polite; others less so. The first taxi-driver I approached was definitely from the latter camp. He was far more interested in polishing his taxi than taking my fare. He physically pushed me in the direction that he thought I should be going and continued to polish his car.

The second taxi-driver I approached spoke neary a word of English, although I did ascertain that he was a Chelsea supporter, but between us we figured out that I needed the bus station. Just as always, the Bangkok traffic was vile, but I eventually rocked up at Mo Chit station where the information kiosk told me I needed window 54 to buy my ticket.

At window 54 I encountered a young woman in her late teens or early twenties who took great delight in laughing at my pronunciation of Ayutthaya. It was a sound I struggled with terribly. Eventually, I found that starting out by asking for help in Italian (aiuto!), got me some way to Ayutthaya. The irony of needing help was not lost on me. She sold me a ticket and sent me off to Bay 98.

Mo Chit bus station is enormous. There are close to 200 bays and quite literally thousands of people coming and going. It is the definition of organised chaos. I sent a message to my parents and brother, asking them to contact the hotel where I’d booked a room for the night, informing them that I might be later than anticipated. Between the confusion at Mo Chit BTS, the taxi ride, and the bus station itself, I was beginning to lose confidence in my grand plan.

At Bay 98 there was no bus, but a rather vocal man schreeching ‘Ayutthaya’ and directing people to his minibus in Bay 96. I tentatively presented my ticket to him and was hustled into his minibus. I’ve still no idea if that were the right bus, but it did get me to where I intended to go, in a manner of speaking.

When you’re on a bus, you rather expect that it will drop you at the bus station. It seems reasonable, no? This bus driver, however, had other ideas. As we approached the ancient city of Ayutthaya, he asked me where I wanted to be dropped. My requests for the bus station were met with derision and instead the woman seated in front of me embarked on some confused interpretation mission to get me to my hotel. It failed.

Rather than being dropped at the bus station, from where I knew how to navigate to my hotel, I was abandoned on a dark road with no pavements and no sign-posts, and told ‘Walking, walking!’ with a wave of the hand to the left. I was alone.

I adhered to the ‘walking, walking’ instruction, looking out for stray dogs, strange men, potholes, and a readable sign-post with every step. Should I be able to locate Wat Phra Mahathat, whether by sign or by prang, I would be able to find my hotel. At the end of the street, there was a sign-post to Wat Phra Mahathat. I followed it, and ended up at a huge roundabout with two wats on it. At this point, there was no choice other than to ask for help. There were no women to be seen, so summoning all the courage I could muster, I asked a man who was loading a tour minibus if he knew where my hotel was.

‘Oh yes, cross the road, it’s 20 metres on the left-hand-side.’

He was right.

What I had hoped would be a relieved arrival at a boutique hotel where I could relax was just another step on the uneven path to Ayutthaya. The security guard spoke no English and had no clue that I was expected. Two phonecalls and a great deal of concern later, I was shown to my room on the ground floor. It had a dodgy lock, a dirty bathroom, two mattresses on a sleeping platform, and a boarded-up window. And there were zanzare.

While the security guard was flapping around looking confused, I very nearly asked for a taxi to take me to the best hotel in Ayutthaya. I should have done it.

My next step was to find dinner. I tried the restaurant next door. Big mistake. The food was mediocre at best and the venue had been taken over by the contestants of Indian Princess, all of whom pushed their meals around their plates and looked more bored than a child kicking his heels on a deserted train station platform. I didn’t order dessert.

My war with zanzare is a well-documented campaign. I react horribly badly to bites and take the best precautions I am able to protect myself from evil winged bloodsuckers. I plaster myself with repellant, I wear long and loose-fitting clothing, I turn down the air-conditioning as low as it goes, I use unscented soap and moisturiser, and I avoid sweet foods.

But it didn’t stop the blighters from biting my face, just beneath my eyes. I woke up at 05:15, ready to observe sunrise from the wat, with a face that looked as if I’d been punched. My eyes were swollen, aching, and red. Still, I’d come to see the wats at dawn, so that’s what I was bloody well going to do.

I ventured out and made my way across the six lane road to Wat Phra Mahathat. You’re supposed to pay a 50 baht entry fee, but there was no guard there to take my money, so I wandered in with the intention of paying later. The sun was beginning to cast its tendrils of light into the day; I needed somewhere to stand. It’s harder than it looks, for there’s a huge, enormous, towering mobile phone mast in precisely the wrong place. It takes careful positioning to capture first light on a Buddha without the intrusion of the 21st century.

I think I managed okay, though.

Leaving the wat, the security guard had arrived, so I strolled up to pay my fee. Whether he thought I were insane to be there so early or terrified by my appearance, I’ve no idea, but he ignored me.

Now, I could tell you about meandering through the park, my disastrous attempt to take lunch at what’s supposed to be an amazing restaurant on the river that I couldn’t find, and refusing to ride the elephants because they’re made to dance and perform tricks for treats, but nothing quite compares to the electro-Buddha that I found in a real working wat, with real Buddhist monks and an animal sanctuary.

It’s by far the best way to end the recollection of my unfortunate trip to Ayutthaya.