ISRAEL: The Haifa Carmelit funicular

My hotel room view in Haifa

I’ve got a whole bunch of Israel travel posts I want to make – there’s so much sublime and complicated and controversial. But I also want to share a very mundane, slightly silly, thing that I’ve fallen in love with: the Haifa Carmelit funicular.

Haifa is up in the north of Israel; you can see the hills of Lebanon on a clear day. It’s a relaxed port city, with a very mixed Jewish and Arab population, and a lot of Italian tourists. It’s also an immensely hilly city, built right into the side of Mt. Carmel.

The Baha’i Gardens

My hotel was at the top of the hill, up by the top of the Baha’i Gardens. As much as I love hiking, with the heat of the Middle East in August, I quickly appreciated a quick and convenient route back uphill.

The Carmelit is the only subway in Israel (though they’re opening soon a partially-underground LRT in Tel Aviv). The funicular is extremely mid-century, opened in 1959, though the cars are more modern.

The weirdest thing is that it’s only two cars … on a single cable. The cars don’t move independently – when one leaves the top station, the other leaves the bottom. There’s a spot in the middle where the track splits so they can pass, always at the same place. It also means that the stations are all equidistant to each other – so some of the middle ones are in weird places.

Both the stations and the cars are terraced into steps, but since the hill is steeper at the top, it’s only at the middle stations that the train floor is even with the platform. If you ride it facing away from the hill, you’ll be leaning forward at the top, and back at the bottom – only slightly, but noticeably.

It’s only practical if you need to travel along the line, so the rest of Haifa is served by a good bus system. But I’m totally sold by this odd little underground train up a mountain.

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