Posted by: David Stewart | June 19, 2013

Stranded in Tel Aviv: no keys and a crazy GPS

This is part of a series of posts about our Spring 2013 trip.

Sunday, April 28 (continued)

We parted ways from Susan and Court at that point, since they were returning to Myanmar. We arrived at our assigned gate at boarding time, only to discover that the gate had been changed to a different concourse. So we rushed to that gate, only to be kept waiting before they would allow the bus to the airplane to be loaded.

We arrived in Tel Aviv, came through customs and acquired checked luggage pretty efficiently. First order of business was to acquire our rental car from Sixt, which was one floor up from international arrivals, which is on the ground floor. Besides the car and coverages, we rented a GPS like we had in Turkey. We were told, “There are two drivers in the garage who will show you your car and help set up the GPS.”

Then we decided to get SIM cards for our unlocked phones at the airport. Initially I had heard that we could get SIMs from the Post Office on the fourth floor, but was waved off by an information officer. We should have pursued it because she sent us to the ground floor again to a place which I have to say gave us a terrible deal. I ended up renting a SIM with one hour of call time and unlimited internet for something like $80 US. The big deal for us though was to get some call minutes because we needed to call up the apartment rental agency to come unlock our home for the week.  So I feel like I got ripped off because I really had to have that working SIM card before leaving the airport.

Later the next day, Deb would get an Orange SIM card with 1GB of data and no call minutes for about $35. Orange is a cell carrier popular in Europe. Advice to the international traveler: get your SIM card in town or at the Post Office in the airport, which likely is a better deal.

Here’s how it worked for Deb: We went to an Orange storefront in a mall in Tel Aviv which could sell us a SIM card with no credit on it for $10. The clerk makes sure the SIM card works in your phone and can receive calls. (In Israel, incoming calls and texts are free). Then you go to a kiosk (like a tobacco store) and request Orange credit for whatever you want – data, calls, etc. 1GB of data for one month cost about $15. If you run out of minutes or bytes, you can get more credit at a kiosk.

Once I had my incredibly overpriced rental SIM card, we found the Sixt garage area. But where was the attendant to find us our car? Finally he arrived, and unlike what we were told, had no idea how to set up the GPS. Now that we had a working phone and were sitting in the car, we called the number of the apartment rental agency, TLV2GO. But, no answer! There was a phone menu, but no idea how to get ahold of a real person. Multiple calls, trying every option, yielded no result. Without any other ideas, we started driving towards Tel Aviv. We were incredibly frustrated, but at least we had the address of our apartment, which we entered into the GPS.

Since we had unlimited data, I tethered my phone to Deb’s computer while we drove to the apartment in Tel  Aviv so she could look up her email from the rental agency and possibly send them an email. She sent off the email and then tried calling them again, and this time they picked up the phone. It’s as if we had to email them before they would answer their phone!

Following the GPS, we got off the Aylon Freeway and started into town. At about this time, our GPS started acting really strangely, changing directions spontaneously, taking us down minor roads. At one point, it sent us down a trash-strewn alley through open car repair garage lots. Shades of Jane, our errant GPS in Turkey!  Finally we abandoned the rental company GPS and switched to our phone, which seemed to get us to the apartment.

The next hurdle once we found 76 Bograshov was to figure out where to park! I dropped Deb off at the address and started hunting for a spot. Parking on the street in Tel Aviv is quite a challenge. Often you find people parking on the sidewalk if they can. Blue and white striped curbs require a permit to park and is for residents only, and they will tow your car if you park without a permit. I found a spot around the corner from our apartment and hoofed it back to the place where I hoped to find Deb.

Then we were let into the apartment by a young man from TLV2GO.  Deb paid for the place and the chap from TLV2GO was ready to give us the paperwork, when she noticed that the name on the receipt was wrong. In fact, the guy from TLV2GO had not only let us into the wrong apartment, he had brought the wrong keys and paperwork. He could let us into the proper apartment, which was next door, but we overpaid by $300. So he canceled the Visa payment and re-ran it. He also didn’t have information about area parking, but he did tell us it was a bad idea to park on the street. Fortunately there was a parking structure across the street associated with the Dizengoff Center shopping area. So I parked up about four floors and hiked back down to the apartment with the bags.

But what about keys to our apartment? The TLV2GO rep told us he would be back in about 10 minutes. After more than an hour and a half, we again called the agency and told them our plight. He promised that we would get our keys for sure. I think we were stranded there for at least three hours.

The apartment was functional though, with no washer-dryer and parking, but it had reasonable internet. The kitchen had a small fridge and a kettle and a single gas flame and a tiny microwave. This was enough really for what we needed. The rep also left us a bottle of cava and a bar of chocolate as a welcome gift.

Finally with keys and a place for our car and our stuff, we explored the area. Our first order of business was to get supplies for our apartment like coffee, fruit, yogurt and the like.

Bograshov runs from the main drag west to the ocean. It’s really hipster heaven – we felt like we were some of the oldest folks staying there, but there were a number of families with little kids walking around. The street was a string of retro hair and nail shops, old clothing and restaurants. Food included Mexican, Thai, two sushi places, a burger joint and a hipster bar. All of this with only a 10 minute walk to the beach. I’m glad we stayed there, it was more fun than a really stuffy place. And our apartment was usually home to a lot of cats. One time we counted five different cats waiting outside our apartment.

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