Fri, 27 Jun 2008 16:39:48 +0000
Jerusalem Day 5 Index Eilat Day 2
This wasn't supposed to be "Jerusalem Day 6", it was supposed to be "Eilat Day 2" or something. But things didn't go according to plan.
It was a fairly gentle morning, with my bus not due until 9:50. I had some breakfast, had a shower, got my stuff together and checked out. I walked the fairly long walk to the bus station, but I couldn't find my platform. I asked at the information desk, and was told that Ein Gedi was "closed". It would probably be open after midday. Damn.
I had a few options. I could try to cram in my Dead Sea excursion into the afternoon. I could try to stay overnight in Ein Gedi. Or I could just press on to Eilat in the afternoon and forget the Dead Sea. I opted for this last option. Swimming in the Dead Sea really doesn't interest me all that much, and I'd rather press on to Egypt.
I got a refund for my ticket to Ein Gedi, but didn't immediately get a refund for my ticket from Ein Gedi to Eilat, which was silly. But the place was such chaos, I couldn't face queuing up again, and decided to just come back later.
For the morning, I thought I'd check out the Rockefeller museum, which I missed yesterday due to it closing at 3:00. I walked all the way to East Jerusalem, and found the place. And it turned out to be closed for the entire day. The guard was unnecessarily sarcastic about it too: he first asked me what day it was (for which I had to check my watch), and then told me that the museum was closed, as if it's perfectly obvious to anyone of the meanest intelligence that of course museums are closed on Tuesdays. Personally, what with already having three sabbaths to bear in mind, I think asking me to deal with yet another day of things being closed is a bit much.
Anyway, as an alternative to that, I decided to this time, once and for all, figure out the Ecce Homo Arch. So off I marched, and found my way into the Sisters of Zion convent that houses it. There was an entrance charge of 8 shekels, but this bought me a pamphlet which showed clearly the layout of the place. This made it clear that I had, in fact, got the correct arch days ago. This one:
What led me astray is that it's actually a triple arch. I'd seen a photo on the web of an arch embedded inside a church, but that's one of the smaller side arches, and is displayed in a dedicated basilica. The basilica has a separate entrance and there's no fee, although you can't get inside, only look through a perspex screen.
The convent itself houses a Roman cistern and also incorporates something called the "Lithostrotos", an area of Roman pavement. Some of the paving slabs have Roman board games carved into them, including one called "the game of the king". It all may, or may not, have some relevance to bit of the crucifixion where the soldiers play games for Jesus's clothes. The notices keep an open mind, merely saying that the games remind people of Christ's passion. Fair enough.
Having done that, I marched all the way back to the bus station to exchange my ticket for one directly to Eilat. I wanted to pick up my bag from the hostel on the way, but couldn't raise anyone at reception. They should get a bell or something. At the bus station it was still chaos, and people were still trying to cancel tickets because of the whole of the Dead Sea apparently being closed. After lots of people pushed in ahead of me, I eventually got to the counter. I wasn't allowed a refund on my ticket, but she was prepared to have a go at changing it. But she had problems with her computer: it was a web-based system, and like all web-based systems, appallingly badly designed. She couldn't figure it out, and eventually had to make a phone call to technical support. Eventually she offered me a ticket at either 2:00 or 5:00. The former was too early, the latter would get in at 10:00 at night. I asked for 5:00, but she actually gave me 2:00, and since I was in two minds as to which was better anyway, I took the path of least resistance and accepted it.
That left me with less than an hour to return to the hotel, get my bag, and get back to the bus station. I ran all the way to the hotel in the hot sun, and got very sweaty in the process. Luckily there was someone on the desk this time, and I got my bag. I got back to the bus station with about ten minutes to go, which I needed because I had to find a toilet. I've never seen a shopping centre so poorly signposted: I couldn't see a sign for the toilet anywhere. What they did have was signs for the elevator, using an icon of a man and a woman standing side by side. I hate that icon: it always looks like a toilet icon to me, and this one had me dashing up and down stairs trying to find where the hell the arrow was supposed to be pointing to, before I eventually realised it was representing up and down motion, i.e. an elevator. Damn. I eventually asked around and found the toilet tucked away right into the corner of the top floor. I bet some architect won an award for that effort.
Anyway, I got to my bus, and even had a couple of minutes to grab some food from a nearby stand. I was sweaty and feeling harrassed, but I made it, and that's a good feeling.
This time I had a great view out the window: being on the shady side of the bus allowed me to have the blind open. I took lots of photographs of the Dead Sea. I was also on the right side to see the reason for all of this trouble: there was a pretty huge fire burning between the sea and the road. There were only shrubs to burn, but the flames were several meters high and looked pretty intense. The military were controlling the road around the flames, and we had to wait for half an hour before it was our bus's turn to pass. I couldn't tell if it was a controlled burn or not, but it didn't seem deliberate to me. There was a water bomber bombing the flames too, which was pretty spectacular. I hadn't appreciated before how dangerous that is, but it was amazing how the plane would go into a steep dive and fly right through the column of smoke.
So that was exciting, but we passed through (within maybe 20 metres of the flames, as well), and the excitement was over. The rest of the journey was pretty uneventful, and we pulled into Eilat around 7:00. I checked into the youth hostel and went to another place recommended by Wikitravel, "The Underground Pub", for food. It's a British-type pub, with proper pints, and I got a beef pie which turned out to be fantastic: crispy pastry and lots of big chunks of meat. With two pints that came to a fairly steep 90 shekels, but worth it.
Tomorrow I'm going to attempt to reach Cairo. The guy at reception told me that the bus to Cairo leaves Taba at 3:00 in the afternoon, which is pretty late. So tomorrow morning at least should be pretty lazy.
Jerusalem Day 5 Index Eilat Day 2