Thursday, November 30, 2023

Taxis In Yerevan, Armenia

3 Cab Rides in Yerevan

It was not a good beginning.  I stepped out from the minivan from Tbilisi, and immediately a Yerevan cabbie was there to greet me.  Other than having wanting to reach the hotel I had booked through Priceline, I wasn't quite sure where I first wanted to go.  His desperation overtook commonsense, not interested in losing his quarry.  After visiting the W.C., once again there he was, and needing a cab I decided he was good as any, which probably was true.  He was willing to take Georgian money, which made for me an easier transition.  

As near as I could tell, my hotel's location bordered Republic Square, which is the heart and soul of Yerevan.  I did provide my hotel's address but the fool instead dropped me off in front of the Marriott.  Paying 17 Lari, I was glad to be rid of him.  At least I knew the Marriott would have both an ATM and English-speaking staff.  The staff was wonderful, providing me with a map and instructions on how to get to my hotel.  How close was I?  About 3/4 of a mile.  I enjoyed the walk. Yerevan reminded me of Paris, which from my perspective, is a big plus.

My second and third cab rides came on the day I was heading back to Tbilisi.  My goal that day, after an early lunch, was first to visit the Museum of the Armenian Genocide, then back to the bus station for my 5:00 PM departure.  I found a cab in the town center, and this time the driver was a professional, no arguments, providing him with a good tip.  Noticing some sitting cabs outside of the museum, I felt I would have no trouble getting one once I finished my visit.   

That turned out to be true.  After my nearly two full days in the city, I was beginning to have a rough understanding of what was where, and knew the bus station was close by.  That didn't stop my third cabbie from demanding far more than I gave him, his aggression alienating. 

Cab grade?   From such a small sample size, the Yerevan cabbies rate either a D plus or a C minus.  At least in early November, there were more cabs than customers, always a bad combination for the hungry cabbie, indigestion the result.  It's a bad idea, giving your passengers a monetary stomach ache. 

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Taxis In Georgia (The Country)

 The guidebook warned about the Tbilisi cab driver: make sure you negotiate the correct fare from the airport.  I remembered this as cabbies, spotting a obvious foreigner in the terminal, attacked with their solicitations.  Telling them to quit following me, I got my cab into Tbilisi from the official cab kiosk located near the terminal exit.  Advertising one and two zone fares (50 & 70 Lari or GEL---$18.52 and $25.93); and once they understood where I was going, off we went.  The driver was a real professional, driving an airport-based cab, getting me to my Airbnb apartment ($17.00 per night) within 15 minutes, there being minimal traffic at 4:30 in the morning.  It is more or less 10 miles from the airport to the town center.  

All the taxis in Georgia, near as I could tell, ran on flat-rates minus a meter.  Of course, this leads to abuse, one fare for the locals, another for the tourists. In Sofia, I appreciated that the taxis were metered.  In Tbilisi, you were at the driver's whim and mercy, meaning that you the foreign visitor was guaranteed a higher rate no matter how much you argued, explaining why I only took three cabs total during my 27 day stay in Georgia's capitol city.  Overall, Georgia would be considered a "poor" country, with many beggars in. the streets.  This reality creates the kind of desperation leading to the kind of minor criminality too many cabbies around the world are known for.  It is certainly true in Tbilisi.  

My second cab ride took me from Freedom Square (once Lenin Square) to the Azerbaijan Embassy.  He wanted 20 but he got 15 Lari.  My third and final Tbilisi cab ride was to the airport, finding a most agreeable fellow, who got me there at about 5:30 AM for my 7:30 AM flight heading to Istanbul, then London.  Speaking some English, he was full of questions about the USA.  He was one of the better cabbies I encountered in all the various countries I visited.  He got 100 Lari for his friendly demeanor.  In Georgia, that's a lot of money.  My minivan fare from Tbilisi to Yerevan, Armenia, a distance of 169 miles, was 50 Lari.  

My remaining cab ride was in the small town of Lagodekhi, where I had gone to hike in the South Caucasus Mountains.  Turns out, my destination, a hotel located at the entrance of a huge national park, was merely one kilometer down the road.  Multiple cabbies couldn't comprehend where I needed to go.  Finally, I found a cabbie who did understand, getting me there in five minutes.  The fare was 5 lari.  I gave him 10. 

My overall rating for the Georgia/Tbilisi cabbies is a solid C, earning an average grade, especially considering the economic conditions they are subjected to.  Watching the tourists toss around the kind of money they can only dream about must drive them crazy.  Having had many millionaires in my taxi, I understand the feeling.  Though once married to a millionaire's daughter, I understand the resentment, anguish and whatever other dire emotions the cabbie experiences.  Life is a kind of living hell when you know you have no real alternatives, finding yourself, in very real terms, trapped, with no escape possible. As I have said, welcome to taxi, an occupation better avoided.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Sofia And Athens Taxi Cabs: Watch Out For Those Greeks

Sofia, Bulgaria was the fourth city I visited, Berlin instead, being the third.  Since I had no occasion to take a cab there, I will postpone describing my visit to a later post.  My Berlin Airbnb placement was located about 150 feet from the subway station, providing easy and quick access to wherever I wanted to go.  I can say that my very first cab ride in Europe occurred in early April, 1982 in Dusseldorf, West Germany, my wife and I taking a taxi from the airport to our hotel.  It was my very first time in Europe, the start of an amazing five-week long honeymoon.  That trip gave me a good taste of the continent, traveling, as we did, to Belgium, France, Spain, Portugal, Holland, ultimately returning back to Dusseldorf and our flight back to San Francisco.  What kind of car was that first taxi ride?  A Mercedes.  During our ten days in Madrid, we were propelled around that wonderful city in much smaller Seat taxis, a kind of Spanish Fiat. 

My flight to Sofia from Berlin arrived in the early evening, and of course, not knowing the city, I opted for a cab from the airport to my Airbnb apartment located near the Sofia Opera House.  My driver, a taxi novice of two years, was very nice, helpful to the point that, parking, endangered his cab on a busy street, and assisted me in finding my very confusing address.  Having the option to pay in either Bulgarian Lev or Euros, I flipped him a 20 Euro note for his trouble and kindness.  He was a good cabbie, not having worked long enough to create bad habits.  I liked him.

Sofia, it appears, is a "taxi" city, as the majority of the cabs were usually occupied, and not by tourists but by locals.  As opposed to Tbilisi, Georgia, where the cabbies were too dependent upon tourists for their money, Sofia cabbies served their fellow Bulgarians, making for a happier work force.  Those Georgian cabbies were a trifle surly, their contentment dictated by dumbbell, "over paying" tourists.  Who wants five Lari (GEL) when instead they could get 20 Lari for a two-minute long  ride?  

My other two Sofia cab rides involved me getting to and back from a local "natural area" located on the edge of the city.  The first cabbie quoted me 14 Lev but it turned into a 40 Lev ride as we went up and up upon a curvy wooded road leading to the local mountain serving as Sofia's semi-wild playground.  I didn't mind the extra charge, the ride turning into the unexpected.  It was the getting back that worried me.  

After trekking in the deciduous forest up and around some steep pathways, I realized I needed a cab but having no ability to call one, I began walking back toward the city.  Eventually, a bus came by, taking me somewhere into the city, where, after some walking, I found two cabs sitting next to a coffee shop.  The first driver wasn't interested in taking me but the guy behind him did, though somewhat reluctantly.  He was reasonable, very professional, realizing their reluctance was the difficulty with routing, my destination neither straightforward nor direct.  I know all about that, as too often in Seattle, going west to east slow going, taking up too much time for too little gain.  Regardless, this Sofia driver got me home, surprising him with a good tip.  As I have said, I know the language, whether spoken or not.  Taxi can be a pain-in-the ass, whether in Seattle or Sofia, its all the same, making the long suffering cabbie completely INSANE!

 The next day, getting back to the airport, I took the Metro.  It was cheap and direct, avoiding a final cab.  Overall I grade the Sofia cabbies a solid B.  Above yet a little below, as Chubby Checker sang in his"Limbo  Rock," ditty: "How low can you go?"

Damn Athens Cabbies 

Those Greeks!  They are a wild, feral crew.  Back in 1987, there were a bunch of these hooligans operating cabs in Seattle.  Nice bunch of taxi snakes.  Having the misfortune on October 20th of Aegean Airlines leaving me marooned in Athens for 24 hours, I had the displeasure of yet another introduction.  It did not go well.  

 More detail later  on why I got stuck in Athens but it all boiled down to Aegean not allowing enough time for me to reach my connecting flight to Tbilisi, Georgia.  To say the least, I do not recommend flying on Aegean, if it can be avoided.  

So this is the situation I found myself in.  I missed my flight and now it was 1:00 AM in the morning, my next flight now scheduled for 23 hours later.  The only airport connected hotel was $350.00.  I wasn't going to pay that.  Cheaper hotels, I were told, were located in DT Athens.  There was a 5 Euro Express Bus, which I did take but first I wanted to see if I could locate a friendly cabbie.  Personally, more times than I remember,  I've had passengers walk up to my taxi, asking if I could help them find a cheap motel room.  It is a task I know well.  And going up to the airport taxi line, that's what I asked.  

What I found out is that, minus any considerations of helping a stranded fellow cabbie, it was all about the sweet money, honey.  Yes, they would help alright, for the equivalent of nearly 80 dollars taking me DT.  Yes, passengers were coming to the cabs, and yes, you have to service the ready customer but it was clear there was little to no empathy forthcoming from these guys.  There was no disguising it.  They were taxi assholes and didn't care who knew it.  I know the type too well, Seattle, especially back in the late 80s, early 90s, having many such examples.  

Taking the bus in to what was termed the "town square," I found a lineup of cabs parked, waiting post 2:00 AM.  In fact, there were cabs sitting everywhere, with little to no business at hand.  Walking up to the lead cab, "Sure, he knew of a cheap hotel, only 1 1/2 (a mile) kilometers away."  And his charge?  20 euros.  That is, nearly $22.00 to go one mile.  Not going along with that bullshit, I found a hotel room for 76 euros, including breakfast, a mere 75 feet from that "generous" cabbie. 

Now I have taken a cab in Athens but that was back in 1999 when me and a friend were flying back to Istanbul, Turkey.  That cabbie was fine other than being a trifle late for our pickup, causing some minor anxiety.  

What is my in general assessment of the Athens cab scene?  Better to walk or take a bus, the Athens cabbie "money thirsty," and better avoided.  Athens that day was "wall to wall" tourists, meaning the Athens cabbie knew where his "bread was buttered," readily taking advantage of the typical dumbbell tourist.  Instead of Athens, try the northern Greek island of Corfu.  I stayed there for 3 weeks back in 1991.  Wonderful place. Good food.  And across the separating sea,  you'll find Albania. 


Saturday, November 25, 2023

Limited Exposure To The World of Parian Taxi

I love taxis but when traveling I do what I can to avoid using a cab due to the sometimes high expense, local transportation options like buses and subways making far better economic sense.  During my most recent time in Paris this past October, I took what can only be called "car service cabs" to and from the Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport.  That I even took a cab the 3.5 (about 2 miles)  kilometers to my hotel was caused by screw ups I will describe in a later post.  Otherwise, an hotel shuttle would have gotten me to where I needed to be.  The best I can say is that the short ride cost me 20 Euros ($21.88) coming from the airport, with a 30 Euros ($32.85) return.  A rate of over 10-15 dollars per mile is way too much, people taking advantage of airport passengers.  If you take a cab in Paris itself, and not the ripoff airport suburbs, the minimum fare is 7.30 Euro, with a starting rate of 2.60 Euro.  There were local buses but due to scheduling, I would have missed my early morning flight to Berlin. 

The last time I took a real Paris metered cab was in December 2019 when a Metro closure forced me to, there being no alternative. The driver, taking advantage of the situation, turned his cab into a kind of shuttle. He was reasonable and knew what he was doing, a competent cabbie.  Prior to that, it was way back in the autumn of 1984, when my wife and I were moving from her Summer student apartment to a temporary hotel.  That driver wasn't so nice, and of course, having never driven a cab to that point, was less experienced dealing with the unscrupulous cabbie.  

In the Paris, the Metro, the RER trains and the buses are both reliable and frequent, making them the best way to get around in the "City of Light."  Unless you are burdened with luggage, or crunched for time, avoid a cab.  Given how beautiful and interesting the city is, I found walking, especially with distances of 1-2 miles, the best form of transport. Use you feet and walk through history at every corner.  And when tired, take a break at a sidewalk cafe.  They are everywhere.  Drink an espresso or aperitif, enjoying where you are, any arrondissement a good place to be.  You're in Paris.  As Jonathan Richman sang, "Give Paris One More Chance," and you will be glad you did.

Next Post: Sofia and Athens cabs

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Back In Circulation: Taxi In Foreign Lands & Travel---The First In A Quick Series Of Seven Posts

Due to "on-the-road" sign in difficulties, I was unable to communicate in the greater blogger sphere empire but I am now back in Seattle-Land, my flight on Iceland Air from London getting into Seattle at 5:21 PM yesterday.  For those readers who are interested, over the next week to ten days, I will write a series of impressions concerning taxi in the UK and other countries where I used the services of our taxi brethren, or as in Greece, tried to.  

A very brief summation is that for many cabbies, the lesson of Uber's incursion passed them by, remaining the same assholes that allowed Uber and others to nearly destroy the then extant international taxi industry.  In other words, lessons have not been learned .  Sad but true but so blue, unfortunately, noting that nothing is new.  

After my posts concerning taxi, I will then write about my travel experiences in the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Bulgaria, Greece, Georgia (the country) and Armenia.  I also had quick layovers in Poland, Turkey and Iceland, giving me a total of 10 countries.  I enjoyed the potato dumplings at the Warsaw airport. 

But taxi first, taxi forever the crazy endeavor. 

Mini-Cabs and "Black" Cabs in London, England, UK

There are two kinds of taxis in London, mini-cabs  which are essentially a kind of meter less, flat-rate car service taxicab, and the Black cabs. Mini-cabs are dispatched to the customer, minus street hailing. On this trip, I twice took a mini-cab ride from Walthamstow Central Underground/train station.  The first time I didn't know the location of my Airbnb room. The second ride was a week ago after my return from Tbilisi, Georgia, my bags heavier, and tired after a 2,200 mile flight.  Both drivers were professional but the first driver complained about "black" passengers, and how he avoided in picking them up.  

 The Black taxicabs are the famous cabs driven by "the Knowledge" cabbies, cabs that are as synonymous with London as fish & chips and banger sausages.  For those who are unfamiliar, "the Knowledge" is the requirement that all potential Black Cab drivers know "every street" in greater London.  It of course makes for a very professional work force.

I talked to one such Black Cab owner/driver near where I was staying in Walthamstow.  When approaching a cabbie, all I need to do is identify myself as the true 35 plus year veteran cabbie I am, and instantly, we have a rapport and understanding, "taxi" a dialect we both speak.  

He was a 23 year taxi driver veteran, and found him hand washing his cab.  He drives more or less 12 hour shift five days a week.  The per mile rate is 3 British pounds, translating to $4.00 USA.  His life is now easier since the COVID pandemic, and the subsequent falloff in business resulting in a London fleet reduction from 24,000 to 16,000 Black Cabs.  His insurance is far cheaper than for Seattle taxis, being 1400 Pound sterling annually.  In US dollars that's $1, 745.75.  When I quit, my insurance rate was just over $5000.00.  

But the cost of cabs are much more, the type of car being strictly regulated.  His new replacement vehicle, slated for 3 years from now, will cost him 70,000 Pounds, or put another way, $87,735.90.  For comparison, my last Ford Crown Victoria cost me $3,500.00, and I put over 350,000 miles on the car.  When discussing hours worked, he added that he takes time off to play golf and run, making sense as the only way to survive taxi is get away from it as far as you can. Otherwise, you're a "dead man" driving.  That's all our shared reality.

Next post: Paris cabs