Slow train to Jerusalem

April 1, 2009 by

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Keep it quiet: the train from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is fantastic. Don’t tell too many people, otherwise they’ll all want to come.

My journey from the North of Israel to my two-days’ work in Jerusalem starts with a dawn drive to the train station of Acco. The tracks take me to Tel Aviv, where I stop for a cappuccino and a pastry, and then I’m on the train to Jerusalem.

There are those who believe the Tel Aviv train takes three whole days to reach Jerusalem. It’s not quite true. It takes 90 minutes. This is, on the face of it, a kind of dumb choice of public transport, when the journey by road is just over 45 miles. A bus journey theoretically takes three-quarters of an hour to reach Jerusalem.

Theoretically is the operative word. At peak times, the traffic jams at the entrance to Jerusalem are far more of a landmark than the new Bridge (whose construction contributed not a little to the traffic itself). Realistically the journey takes about an hour. Once you’ve managed to get on the bus itself. To get on the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem bus in the morning requires a fair amount of selectively placed elbows, and a willful inversion of all you’ve ever internalized about fair play and standing in line.

Compare this with the train to Jerusalem, which is never full. There’s always a double-seat waiting for you to plump down upon. The table is the perfect size for you to place your laptop, and above your head is the electricity outlet for you to plug in. You can stretch your legs out, unlike the cramped conditions of the bus, and you can sit in the quiet of a half-empty train rather than contend with whichever radio station the bus driver chooses to blast. There’s even a bathroom if need be.

But more valuable than all these creature comforts is the journey itself. This old train-line has been renovated, but still winds its way through the beautiful valleys and hills that lead to Jerusalem. The half hour after leaving Bet Shemesh is like a short vacation in Switzerland. The train moves slowly, straining against the curves of the line, as the window is filled with views of fields, a stream, hillsides. Sometimes there’s even someone working the land.

Even better: When winding along the valley there is no reception for cell phones or blackberries. Time really does stand still. You can either finally clear out your inbox for the week, or write a blog uninterrupted, or simply kick back and listen to some good music with your earphones while looking out the window and imagining that all of life in Israel is this idyllic…

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