Israel Part 4: Tel Aviv and Surprises

It’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Tel Aviv! This was my favourite place I visited in Israel and it’s easy to see why. I love cities, beaches, shopping, and food. I got to experience Tel Aviv in two ways, first with the group and then on my own. I can honestly say I liked going on my own a lot better. This is no offence to Birthright by the way. There are pros and cons to tour groups vs on your own travel.

I would highly recommend anyone who is going on Birthright to extend their trip because it really doesn’t cost that much money and you’re already there, explore some more! It’s the same advice I’d give to anyone studying abroad in Europe, stay a little longer and travel afterwards if you can.

Without further ado, here’s my report on Tel Aviv!

Group vs on your own:

The Birthright group is really big. In our case, it was 39 people: 30 Americans, 9 Israelis. With such a big group, you’re all crowded around the tour guide and it can be hard to hear them if you’re far back and if you have questions, so do many others, you’re not going to get much individualised attention. With big groups also comes having to wait for stragglers, which there will probably be more of.

Especially in the case of Birthright, you are very restricted. Your free time is very limited in both time and space. You get a couple of hours. Your trip staff set a small zone and they’re basically minders who tell you not to go past this street our outside this shopping centre. They will walk around the perimeter and they’ll catch you if you stray.

With planned activities, you get very little time at a place. In some cases, we didn’t get much time at gift shops. I’ve read stories from people who got only 30 minutes at the beach in Tel Aviv during their trip.

I’m not saying don’t go on Birthright, but there are a few things to consider. It is highly subsidised and you don’t lose anything if you go. I’ll say it again, stay a bit longer and see the country on your own without the filters of a tour guide or the agenda of Birthright.

Day 1 in Tel Aviv: Pizza

After that long day of driving I talked about in the last post, we finally got to Tel Aviv, in the evening. We had some downtime at the hotel, which was very fancy and had a nice view of the city, and then we went out for dinner and “free time”.

Pizza is one of my favourite foods and a lot of the group decided to go for The Green Cat. It was a cheap meal because we split a bunch of pizzas, so it works out to be about 20 shekels per person. The Green Cat is located on 7 Levontin Street, just off of Allenby Street and it is the first vegan pizza restaurant in Israel! Generally, Israel is excellent when it comes to vegan pizzas and many restaurants have vegan cheese substitutes. What makes The Green Cat’s pizza stand out is the cheese. Many other vegan cheeses are made with coconut oil, but the cheese on this one is made from cashews, which I prefer. One of the pizzas had sweet potatoes on it. I love sweet potatoes and I love pizza, but I never thought of combining the two. It impressed me. A+ for The Green Cat!

 

 

Day 2 in Tel Aviv: Out and about

Our group only had a couple of days in Tel Aviv, which is clearly not enough time. I spent one more day here and I still didn’t feel like that was enough time, but I felt like I saw a lot, so I was satisfied.

The day began with the group walking around the hip neighbourhood, Florentin. We saw a lot of graffiti during our walk. My favourite by far was the 27 Club mural, but there was a lot of other cool street art that I’ll share below.

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The 27 Club…

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and Paul McCartney’s eyes!

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Slideshow of graffiti

Since Tel Aviv is fairly walkable, we walked to our next stop, Independence Hall. We sat around for a talk about the day the State of Israel was proclaimed, 14 May 1948. With a name like Independence Hall, you’d expect it to be fancy and flashy, but it isn’t. The building was the home of Meir Dizengoff, first mayor of Tel Aviv. Originally, it was only one storey, but another storey was added later on. After Meir Dizengoff’s wife passed away, he donated the building to be used as an art museum. So when Israel proclaimed its independence, the building was an art museum. In Declaration Hall there are few windows and it is below ground level, making it protective in case Tel Aviv was bombed. Declaration Hall, as we saw it, was recreated to be as close as it was to how it looked in 1948.

Some cool pictures in and around Independence Hall

After that, we went for lunch. I went with a few people to the restaurant, Market. Market has soups, salads, and sandwiches. It’s vegan and coeliac friendly. I went for a spicy Thai soup that came with rice and a salad. Portions were large, I was satisfied with the meal, A+.

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So delicious!

One of the Israelis who showed us this restaurant took us to a place to get malabi. Malabi is a dessert of Middle Eastern origin that is a thick pudding with syrup and nuts on top, and it can be made vegan. I didn’t get one of my own for two reasons, I was full and I didn’t have much cash, but someone on the trip was kind enough to share their dessert because it was a big portion. It was good!

We were worried that we would get back to the meeting place late because we walked pretty far away, but instead, we were waiting on others. Whew, not our fault this time!

Little did I know I walked right by a record store, but I would end up checking it out later, because why not? I have to check out record stores everywhere I go, even if I don’t collect records as much as I used to.

Our next stop was this garden where we learnt about how people set up gardens in the city and use water efficient techniques for the plants. One of these techniques, aquaponics, is a bit controversial to vegans because it uses fish to purify the water. As well as that, soil is not used.

After that, we checked out the Pish Pishim flea market in Jaffa. There you can find all kinds of things, clothing, jewellery, food, knick knacks, decorations, antiques, and records. My favourite part of going to the market was going to the antique and record stalls. Usually in these markets you can bargain, but not in all of the stalls. One person on the group tried to bargain but missed the sign that said: “prices are fixed, the owner is crazy.”

Cool stuff at the flea market

And how could I ignore the records?

After a short stop at the flea market, we walked to the HaMidron Garden to get a nice view of the city. Basically a photo stop. We walked to the boardwalk to get a better look at the beach, the closest we’d get to the Mediterranean. The summer groups usually get beach time.

Views of Tel Aviv

We walked to the bus and we were again, rushed. I managed to take a picture of the clock tower in Old Yafo, because I had no idea if I’d be back. At this point, I assumed I was going to stay for the duration of the trip.

Our meal was something a bit more hands-on. We actually cooked our food, more or less, some of the prep was done for us beforehand by the chefs teaching us, so it was pretty goof proof. I was part of the group making hummus and I have to say we made the best hummus ever, so good that it has ruined hummus for me. My standards have gone up. Other foods we made included: salads, soup, pitta bread, spring rolls, and dessert spring rolls filled with chocolate. All of it was delicious. What a brilliant way to end the day.

“Get in my belly!” – Fat Bastard

Day 3 in Tel Aviv: I’m Free!

Basically me, except I can’t do a cartwheel.

For personal reasons, I left the group early. I’m glad I did, because I got to see things that I wouldn’t have otherwise seen, and I got to see family members that I’ve known about because of Facebook, but I never met in person before. That was definitely the best part of the trip. I say something is the best a lot, but this one I really mean.

My cousin drove me to Old Town Yafo and said this is the coolest part of Tel Aviv and you should start here and walk north along the beach.

It was shocking how I was just there days ago and the group just scratched the surface. The beautiful things I saw were right under my nose the entire time. I loved the architecture, the views of the Mediterranean, the looks of the doors and windows. I got to see a castle. I heard the call to prayer. I really got to see it for myself and process it without the distraction of a large group.6jKlatADTpK4eqCqdhwQ0Q

Some pictures I took around Jaffa

I saw a lot of large groups around me while walking around Tel Aviv and they looked rushed and maybe overwhelmed and I saw that as an American who has lived overseas for an extended period of time, I was a misfit. I don’t even know if I can call myself an American, despite being born there and having the passport. People remarked that I have a weird accent and when I’d reply, “I don’t have a weird accent”, they’d point and say, “Just heard it there, it’s even heavier now!”

At this point, it really sunk in how rushed and limited Birthright is, seeing an entire country in 10 days is not enough. Again, not knocking Birthright entirely and telling you not to go, but consider travelling on your own afterwards.

I spent the day walking around and taking pictures and videos. I spent a bit of time at the beach. The water was a little cold, but I could handle it. I saw a lot of cute dogs at the beach playing.

The beach during the day and at sunset

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Beach panorama during the day

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The skyline from the beach

One of the pros of coming here in the winter is the beach is not crowded at all! People actually think it’s too cold, but for me it’s perfect weather, not too hot or cold.

I was getting hungry from all the walking so I decided to get lunch. My family recommended the vegan restaurants Nanuchka and Goodness. I opted for Nanuchka because it’s Georgian food, which I can’t get back home, or if I could, I couldn’t get it vegan, so I’m taking advantage of that opportunity. I believe when travelling you have to try new things and go out of your comfort zone, otherwise, what’s the point?

Nanuchka have a nice business lunch deal on weekdays. You get a drink, bread, and a main course. I think it was about 65 shekels for that deal. I ordered the salad mix and I got 7 different salads.

This might be the best meal I’ve had here

Afterwards, I checked out Third Ear Records. I didn’t buy anything, but the shop really has everything. I sent a snapchat of a PFM record to one of my classmates who is from Italy and a fan of Premiata Forneria Marconi and he was totally surprised that they had their albums in Israel. He said that they don’t really have their records in Italy and that Israelis must have good taste in rock and roll.

Third Ear has multiple floors and you can find all kinds of music and movies. There’s even a room full of jazz music and world music. Upstairs, you’ll find a shop with musical instruments.

Snapchats from the record store

The only reason I didn’t buy anything was because my bag was full and I still have yet to buy a decent record player. Moving into a better house is a higher priority for me and my husband.

After that, I went to the beach and walked around for a bit and saw the sunset.

Surprise! Visiting family you’ve never met before:

I can’t write about my trip without writing about my family, who were incredibly helpful and welcoming. Thank you so much!

As soon as I walked into my grandpa’s cousin’s house I felt welcome and we spoke like normal even though we hadn’t met each other and the one thing I know we have in common is our last name (still haven’t changed my legal name yet because I’m lazy).

My grandpa’s cousin and her husband knew about my love of rock music and they grew up during that era and they talked all about Israeli rock of the 60s and 70s and played some of their favourite songs. I’ll show you a couple of ones I liked:

I visited one relative who is a musician and it was great to talk to him about music and politics and get a totally different perspective of what is going on here. We went to this one cafe that sold vintage clothing and while I was sitting at the cafe, I saw this really cute sheepdog.

The sheepdog and my cousin’s kitten

Later that day, I went to a restaurant called Kampai Street Wok and got a vegan pad thai, one of my favourite dishes. The restaurant is a kosher meat restaurant with good vegan options.

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One one of the days, my grandpa’s cousin, some couchsurfers she was hosting, and I went sightseeing. We went to Neve Shalom, Latrun Monastery, and the Hulda Forest – Herzl House.

Neve Shalom

Latrun Monastery

Herzl House

We also went to Rehovot, where the Weizmann Institute is. My great great uncle was president of that university about 60 years ago. A few things there are named after him: a recreation centre, a street, and this really fancy house that no one lives in (I think it’s used for functions. Seriously, can I move in there?) and it was cool to see that in person. My grandpa’s cousin told me a story about how back in the mid 70s she hitchhiked to her uncle’s house in Rehovot to see if she could talk to him. She waited on the porch because he wasn’t at home yet. After a bit of time, he and his wife arrived and saw her sitting there. She said hello and he said “What are you doing here? Why didn’t you call me and make an appointment? I’m a busy man, you know!” And she replied, “I don’t have a phone.”

Weizmann Institute of Science

Despite a couple of mishaps, this trip was rewarding and I learnt a lot. I’m glad I went. I really hope I can come back and visit again and see places I didn’t get to see.

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