Tel Aviv wasn’t exactly in my plans this year but since I was in Jerusalem for a conference, I grabbed the opportunity to stay for a couple of days. Tel Aviv Yafo as its full name is, was founded by Jewish immigrants at the beginning of the 20th century just north of the ancient port of Jaffa on east Mediterranean sea. Today, it is considered the most progressive and hip city of Israel and the Middle East. It is just forty five minutes from Jerusalem, the latter being the ultimate historical city.
Finding a good accommodation for less than 70-80 euros is hard, so for the first time I decided to give a shot to a hostel, and it really worked out better than I thought. Abraham hostel’s building was an old unmanned telecommunications center before being transformed into one of the most hip and amazingly designed places I have ever stayed. The high ceiling open plan industrial spaces are decorated with colorful graffiti and radical design elements like benches and hammocks suspended from the ceiling giving the place a laid–back mood.
I stayed at a four bed dorm which kept thinks quiet but made it easy to meet and connect with people. This is a strong advantage that hostels have over hotels. These small communities help tremendously when you are in a city for the first time and you need information or advice as to which places to visit and where to eat. For those who want privacy there is always the choice of individual rooms. Their private tours are great something I firsthand experienced while attending their notorious “Pub Crawl” when I was in Jerusalem where they also have a hostel.
White City & Rothschild Boulevard
The hostel is located at the White city—a beautiful neighborhood in the city center that took its name from the white Bauhaus buildings that dominate it. The main artery of this area is Rothschild Boulevard so naturally I started from there.
Two blocks away from Abraham, Rothschild has a characteristic strip in the middle with trees providing shade for people walking or cycling on their identical hybrid bicycles. The perfect place for a stroll. It is also a central point for coffee and eating.
I stayed on the side of the road and watched people walking up and down the strip giving many opportunities for street photography which is entirely legal here in contrast to some European countries.
At the end of Rothschild, I turned left to Ben Tsiyon and then left again on King Georg street. While passing outside Falafel Ratzon I felt hungry (yes just as soon as I saw it) so I stopped by for a treat. Falafel are small fried balls made from chickpeas and/or fava beans which are then placed inside a pita with sauce and served as street food. The queue was out of the shop but it moved fast and the food was worth it. I have to admit that it is relative easy to find good food in Israel. It’s irrelevant but I also have to admit that I am addicted to humus.
Reaching the end of King George street, just across the road is the famous Camel Market (Shuk HaCarmel). Shuks in Tel Aviv remind me that I’m still in a Middle Eastern city and not a Western one. And I love them even if I rarely buy something. Turkish sweets, halva, nuts, spices, fruit and of course the street food, all together making a strong aromatic bouquet that stays engraved in your memory. It was buzzing with people and I have to say that the sellers were not very aggressive in Tel Aviv which I really appreciated.
Walking to the end of HaCarmel, I turned right at the roundabout and saw the promenade for the first time. On my right was the Hassan Bek mosque with its tall minaret—one of the city’s trademarks. There, I crossed the road to Charles Clore garden and turned around to take some photos. It was nice and breezy. To the north was all the crowded partying beaches and to the south the old port of Jaffa which I could finally see. Today was devoted to the old days so, I turned left and walked towards the ancient city. It was afternoon by then and the streets were empty of people but not crows which were flying around or sitting on the railings showing no fear as I approached.
The moment I set my foot on the ancient alley, I heard music. A man was playing his kemenche—a folk string instrument played with a bow. In front of him was a red and white rug with a big black dog sitting on it. The animal looked serene and seemed like it was actually enjoying his owner’s tunes which echoed in the empty streets.
I showed him my camera and he nodded that it was alright. I sat in front of them and shot some photos. The dog took a nap. I thanked him and went on my way.
There were only small fishing boats tied to the ancient docks under the old city which is built on a tel (mount made from old rubble) overlooking the port. I found an entrance and walked my way up through a maze of narrow alleys with colorful arched doors on both sides. Finally I reached the top, outside the church of St. Peter and the Zodiac fountain. It was crowded with tourist groups talking loud and shooting selfies.
I headed towards the iconic clock tower of the city passing next to the Jaffa Theatre—an Arab–Hebrew constitution which opened in 1998 and is still goes strong despite the adversities.
Then, I turned around and left the tourists behind walking back south to the Midron Yaffo Park looking for something more interesting. Luckily, when I got there among the few people was a teenager riding a dark brown horse bareback, galloping up and down the park. It was a bizarre sight but that’s one of the reasons I love Middle East—people do things differently.
Eventually I set for the last sight of the day, the flea market on Kedem str. navigating through some very quiet neighborhoods. The 25% of Jaffa’s residents are Arabs and many of them are descended from Palestinians who lived there since before 1948 when the city switched hands. They are more discreet, more closed but still they will try to help and smile back.
On the way to the flea market I stopped by Margoza —a small corner shop with thin metallic chairs and classic small tables located on a street with the same name. They make great cappuccino and bread pudding. I had walked for the biggest part of the day and a thirty minute coffee break was necessary.
A block before the end of Yehuda Margoza street to the left, is the flea market. As opposed to the buzzing Camel shuk, this one was quite with sleepy sellers who looked like they had a not so good day. I talked to a couple of them and indeed they told me that they barely made something today. Still they were not aggressive on their sale. I bargained for a pair of ear rings and a necklace twenty and a hundred Shekels respectively. Except from jewellery there were some amazing antiquaries, carpets and vintage shops. I spotted some great pieces but my hand luggage was already full, so no.
The small paved streets around the market were interesting with beautiful little bars and cafes but the time was almost six and I decided to call it for the day. I slowly took the road back to the hostel dawdling on Yerusalem avenue and thinking that in the end Tel Aviv was a nice surprise. I was looking forward for my next urban adventure to Yarkon park and the famous beaches of the city.
Wanna see a photo essay on Tel Aviv? Check this out.