It was my first trip to Israel. I happened to get a good price on Air Baltic on a direct flight from Riga to Tel Aviv that I couldn’t pass up and despite my friends questioning my visit to Israel, my reply is “why not”?
It’s is February, but after exiting the airport I am treated to temperatures in the high 60’s, a nice change from the below freezing temperatures I had the last few weeks in Northern Europe.
Following some instructions I had written down to find my hotel, I jump on a train at the airport and a quick GPS/iPhone check reveals I picked the wrong train and am headed in the opposite direction. I get off at the first station I can and it is empty of people and the schedule is in Hebrew. No trains in sight. After waiting about ten minutes a young woman came to the platform who spoke English. She thankfully was friendly and gave me the info I needed to get the correct train. Now headed in the right direction I find my stop and hail a shared cab and after a 20 minute NYC style dodge and turn cab ride, I find my hotel. Located just a block from the ocean, the smell of the salt water and the style of the hotels remind me of a lot of Miami. Blue water crashing on white sand, waterfront bars, a steady mix of different cultures and even change beggars and street corner prostitutes peddling themselves. Yes, reminded me a lot of Miami.
Having interacted with some former Americans now living in Tel Aviv, I was given a few tips on where to find good food and bars. Mikes on the beach looking at all paddle boarders, he recently got himself the best beginner paddle board but has not mustered the courage to go into the water with it! Anyway he is just a stones throw from the American Embassy was my destination. As I strolled towards Mikes I passed the US Embassy, no visible signs indicating what the building actually was, but the heavily guarded entrances are a giveaway. Once inside Mikes I was greeted by one of the friendliest bartenders I’d met and he was eager to pour me a beer and buy me a shot to toast my first night in Israel. The place was packed with English dominating the air as Mikes seems to be the top spot for travelers. Russians, Americans, Germans, Brazilians, Brits, you name it. Seemed the better part of half a world was represented in this establishment , along with a few locals and you would be hard pressed not to make a new friend. After a few pints of Gold Star and a shot of some horrible Ouzo like drink and I was ready to call it a night.
I awakened the next morning with some instant coffee (Israel seems to be one of the few places on earth still using instant) and sat outside on a tiny balcony facing an alley. The one thing I notice right away is the tiny utility pole in the center of the alley with just hundreds of wires and cables coming off it, just reeked of a fire waiting to happen, I attempted to count the amount of wires and gave up at 50. A quick shower and a bite to eat and I was out the door eager to wander around and explore the streets and beaches. Lucky for me I quickly came upon a kiosk selling real coffee. Being a weekday, warm and sunny the streets where packed with shoppers selling there wares. It’s interesting to me as an American seeing Tel Aviv. Although Jewish is the dominant religion shared by most, what is not shared is their birth country. Of the dozens of people I spoke to, only two were born in Israel. Now this in part could be slanted because I only spoke English but it does give a sense of a melting pot atmosphere as far where people come from but not religious affiliation.
After a while I had my fill of the busy sidewalks and decided to head towards the beach. A beautiful sunny day with some nice waves have attracted beach goers and surfers alike. I grabbed a seat at a beachfront cafe to grab lunch, catch some sun and watch some surfing. I could close my eyes and open them and if I didn’t know I was in Tel Aviv , I would never in a million years guess that this sunny beach was in Israel.
After getting my share of the sun I called it a day and roamed the streets of Tel Aviv for a few hours absorbing or at least attempting, to understand what makes this city tick. I can’t . It is not anything like a European city and it may look a bit like Miami but the vibe is just completely foreign to me and I don’t find myself relating to as much as I would in a major European city. That said, it’s not a bad thing. Just new to me, which to many of us is the entire point of traveling.
I decided to have dinner at a restaurant a bit more upscale then I usually hit in the road. Steak and vegetables on skewers and about nine bowls of different things that I couldn’t identify besides the sliced carrots . I tried everything nevertheless and left full and happy. A quick stop at the convenience store for a water and the same Arab man who always seems be working no matter what time I go there is now greeting me “hello my American friend” and it feels good.
An open mic night at a spot called Molly Malones , an Irish kind of themed bar has grabbed my attention and I head into what seems like a hot spot. Great beer and my ears hear what sounds like Aretha Franklin. Only it’s not. A petite curly haired curly no more than 30 is belting out Pink Cadillac proper! And her partner is beat boxing the baseline, I shit you not and it sounded amazing . A large crowd had gathered quickly inside and I hang out for a few beers and have a blast . If you are in Tel Aviv I highly suggest locating this place for a beer.
I spent several days in Tel Aviv and although it may not be for everyone, I feel good that I have visited. Unlike some other cities I visit, I really didn’t look for the history here but focused on what day to day life was like in this metropolis. If you are making a trek to Israel there are so many obvious places to visit outside of Tel Aviv but I would still say any trip to Israel isn’t complete without at least a couple of nights spent in Israel’s largest city.