Right, after telling you about our small adventure at Tel Aviv airport we are off to a day visit of the city. What strikes us from moment one is the level of westernization of this place. It doesn’t look Middle Eastern at all. Tall skyscrapers, bicycles lanes, actual bus lines with timetables, hipsters. This place is way more similar to Barcelona or Berlin than Beirut or Cairo.
Tel Aviv is really a rapidly growing city in the midst of an exciting transition from medium-sized urban center to bustling international metropolis. Its booming population, energy, edginess and 24-hour life style give the city a cosmopolitan flair comparable to few other cities in this part of the world. Tel Aviv is likely the most liberal city in Israel and in the Middle East – as it is no-less liberal than Western Europe’s liberally-inclined major cities. It has a bustling civil society and is home to many activist movements and NGOs. Its residents tend to have liberal attitudes towards gay and lesbian rights, and, in fact, Tel Aviv hosts the largest gay pride parade in Israel (the only country in the Middle East where homosexuality is not considered illegal).
With its liberalism comes a dose of sophistication and some will say detachment, and Tel Aviv is often dubbed “The Bubble” or “Medinat Tel Aviv” by residents and non-residents alike. Some ultra-Orthodox Israelis have even dubbed the city a modern day “Sodom and Gomorrah”, due to its hedonistic lifestyle. It is also very common to see head shop and smell marijuana in the middle of the very centre as in fact there seems to be a pretty liberal policy on soft drugs consumption.
We take a stroll on the beach, originally hoping for a swim, but an unusual massive sandstorm ruined our plans. We even entered a bar where even the inside couches were just covered in sand.
A VERY BAD HABBIT that people working in the bar-restaurant area have is that they ASK FOR TIPS. Ok, I’m Italian and we are not used to tipping. It’s just not in our culture also because in most restaurants you pay a small service fee. Anyway, this means that when we tip we do it because we have received a great service and we enjoy rewarding the waiter or receptionist whatsoever. All the time in Tel Aviv they ask you “Should I keep the change? How much do you want to add as a tip in the bill?” Apart from the first brunch place we went to, which was fantastic, I found it incredibly annoying to receive such requests for a simple, and mostly overpriced, beer or tea. In the beach bar I mentioned before we spent some 40 shekels (8 Euros) for 2 tiny cups of tea. I handed the guy a 50 and he said “Should I keep that change?”To which I replied “No, you should not”. If you go to Tel Aviv don’t hesitate to say NO. They will always push you for that. Screw that, honestly.
Anyway, as the centre didn’t seem to offer much, unless you are on a business trip, we headed towards Jaffa. Jaffa is one of the world’s oldest ports. It was here that the prophet Jonah started the journey that left him in the belly of a big fish (not a whale as is the common misconception!) and Andromeda was tied to a rock as a sacrifice to a sea monster, before later being saved by Perseus. It was also here where Peter the Apostle received a vision marking a significant ideological split between Judaism and Christianity.
The smallish gulf of Jaffa has been the site of a fortified port town for at least 4000 years. The old city walls could no longer contain the population, and they were destroyed in the 1870s. New, more spacious neighborhoods started to appear. We also managed to find a very beautiful and hidden Greek Orthodox church where a priest was teaching the Bible to a family in Russian.
Jaffa is more Arab. You can already perceive a different and more exotic hustle and bustle on the way up to the souq and the main square. In July 2003 Tel Aviv-Yafo was declared a cultural UNESCO World Heritage site for the many “International” style (also known as Bauhaus after the German school it originated from) buildings built in the city during the 1930s-50s. As this style emphasized simplicity and the white color, Tel Aviv is in fact also called the White City.
A long day and a very early wake expect us the following day, so after having an amazing dinner nearby our hostel we head back. On a related matter and to highlights some bad practices services wise you can find in Israel, when we got to hostel after visit to Jaffa and having walked some 12-13 km, the hostel owner told us to stay for shwarma and after waiting 45 minutes he said he ran out of it. We were so pissed off and starving and this guy even chased us when we headed out to look for food. We thought he wanted to apologise. Actually, he came out shouting that “a hostel is not a restaurant and it wasn’t his fault we didn’t get any food. All this with his mouth full of hummus and chicken. We surely kept this in mind for our review on bookings.
Coming next Nazareth and Galilee