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Exploring Tel Aviv by Dankal.

The stations of the Tel Aviv rapid transport system are inconspicuous, one could even say hidden. Whether this was intentional or by accident I suppose somebody knows, probably the designer, certainly not me.

I was no regular commuter, more of an investigator, I would say. My objective was to discover places of interest and naturally interesting, tasty, nourishing and clean places to eat, not simply to fill an empty stomach after a strenuous period of walking, but to have an opportunity for group sociability, while munching whatever, we’d chat and get to know each other and to hear comments on the sites we had visited and the others which we would be visiting in the course of our excursion to Tel Aviv.

The first place on my proposed itinerary was Bet Ariela, the Tel Aviv Library, the museum and the opera house, with a cursory glance at the law courts and other interesting and modern looking building along Shaul Hamelech Boulevard.

The most convenient Dankal station for visiting these sites is “Shaul Hamelech”, but, as mentioned above, my objective today wasn’t to spend time visiting sites, but to get an overview of the general layout of things; what is the easiest way to get to places? That’s what I wanted to find out.

For example, coming from Jerusalem, on Israel Railways, at which station should I alight for the easiest transfer to the Dankal, without too much walking or taking a bus. The two transport systems are completely separate; the one, the Israel Railways, is for inter city commuting, the other, the Dankal is for commuting inside Tel Aviv.

I alighted at Savidor and walked with a springing step, 200 metres to the Dankal station, Arlozorov. I marvelled at the neatness of the white coloured walls as the escalator carried me deep down to the platform entrance. I joined the line of commuters, and like them, nonchalantly showed my card to an inanimate silver coloured metal pole with a green light. Their action caused a barrier to open and allow them to enter the sacred precinct of the platform, but mine didn’t.

An attractive young hostess, noticing my predicament, placed my card on a little black mini hand-held computer and my Jerusalem registered card was made valid for Tel Aviv also.

Sliding glass doors open automatically when the train pulls into the station. This is a modern contraption, designed to prevent people falling in front of an oncoming train, accidentally, or on purpose to commit suicide. One doesn’t find this safety measure on older rapid transport systems, like London or New York,

Eventually, by 2040 six lines will operate, but only one, the red line functions now, stretching over 24 KM. from Petach Tikvah, in the North to Bat Yam in the South, with 34 stations.

My jaunt consisted of station hopping, on one and off the next. My next stop after Arlozorov was Yehudit. I Ascended the escalator, and found myself at the top end of Hashmonaim Str. Tall buildings rose up all around me and it didn’t seem likely that I’d find some place interesting.

I walked along Hashmonaim Str, past a bicycle store, crossed over a small street with a stop light, lifted my head, and my eyes beheld a gigantic yellow sign saying Humus.

Surprisingly good humus and foul was served to me by a tall scrawny young girl with a long black scruffy tress of hair hanging down her back. Without being servile or smiling artificially she made me feel wanted and welcome. I only spent about 40 shekels on my meal, then searched for change to tip her, I found 7 shekels. She wasn’t standing around idly, waiting for her tip. I had to look for her and found her serving customers at a table on the sidewalk.

I’ll be back there, because of the tasty humus, the close proximity to the station, the coolness of the awning and the undemonstrative charm of the waitress. I’m sure she wasn’t just a waitress, but probably the daughter, sister or wife of the owner.

A little further on, a brightly sparkling mobile telephone store caught my attention. I have a weakness for electronic and mobile phone shops.

Last week on another excursion in Tel Aviv, through the area of Old Jaffa, my telephone ran out of power. I had a power bank at home but it was old and only two blue twinkling lights showed that it had lost its ability to store more power and was asking to be relieved of its duties. This was the opportunity to acquire a replacement power bank. 149 shekels poorer but with new power I returned to Yehudit station and boarded the Dankal on my way to Carlebach.

My sojourn in the netherworld of the rapid swishing train ended. From the shiny metal bottom step of the escalator all I could see were blue skies, as if I was being reincarnated and taken up to heaven. But the ascent ended on the sidewalk of a street of bustling traffic, surrounded by skyscrapers of steel and dark blue glass.

Treading the grey paving stones of the Carlebach sidewalk, the shadow of a modern structure protecting me from the burning heat of the sun, I came face to face with a broad opaque, gaudy orange coloured show window, on which a sign in big black letters said “billiard room”. A derelict shop in a poor neighbourhood was understandable, but here, on the ground floor of an ultra modern, rich-looking building, it was incongruous, even dystopian. This could only mean that the gaudily painted, scruffy shopfront was hiding some illegal activity.

A man, not my image of a slick billiard player, pushing an electric bicycle exited from a dark passage, through a narrow glass door tucked into the side of the window. This must be a cheap boarding house, I thought to myself, or a residence of squatters, who might have wanted to play billiards but were too busy working as manual labourers to keep body and soul together in the great metropolis, which seems to offer riches but ends up as a concrete jungle.

I knew that, by walking far enough along Carlebach street, I’d arrive at the Tel Aviv Cinematec. Once, several years ago, in the days when I watched movies practically every day, I saw an excellent documentary about the Buddhist monks living solitary lives, in caves, situated high in cliff faces of stark desolate mountains. They had attained the ability to levitate, by constant meditation, sitting in yoga positions. I wondered how the photographers managed to shoot this film, they must have been Buddhist monks themselves.

An Aroma coffee shop, beside an unusually neat Shawarma restaurant, on the corner opposite Carlebach station, would have been ideal for an after-lunch dessert. But I turned it down in favour of Bourekas in the Carmel market, hopefully my next stop.

Back in the dark, but cool and attractive station, I boarded the South-bound train for Allenby. Exiting, I found myself on the corner of Allenby and Judah Halevy streets.

Everybody goes to the Carmel market at some time or another and for this purpose picks up the number 4 bus, either at the Hatikvah neighbourhood (Shechunat Hatikvah), where there is also an excellent market, or the central bus station, with its colourful population of migrants, illegal or otherwise, from Africa, China, India and other origins, or somewhere along Allenby street, as I did.

A diversion caused by infrastructure work on a new train line, forced the no. 4 to veer off past Shalom Towers to reach the sea end of the Carmel market.

The Bulgarian coffee and bakery was all out of bourekas. A long walk up the market alleyway, fruit, vegetables, nuts, cheese, meat and myriad other foodstuffs passed me by on either side, but no bourekas.

My faithful smartphone ordered me to Ahad Ha-am street for the number 4 to Haganah railway station for my return journey to Jerusalem.

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