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’s 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 was 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 space is decorated with colorful graffiti and radical design elements like benches and suspended hammocks, 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 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 and its tree-lined strip provide shade for people walking and riding their hybrid bicycles. It’s the perfect place to stroll and have a coffee in one of the charming cafes lying around.
I stood on the side 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 left again on King Georg street. When I passed 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 more than worth it. I have to say that it’s relative easy to find good food in Israel. Irrelevant, but I also have to admit that I am addicted to humus.
At 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 oozing with smells. Fortunately, the sellers in Tel Aviv are not very aggressive, something I really appreciate.
Walking to the end of HaCarmel, I turned right at the roundabout and laid my eyes on the promenade for the first time. On my right was the Hassan Bek mosque with its tall minaret—one of the city’s trademarks and a great place to get a carte postal shot. There, I crossed the road to Charles Clore garden and turned around to take some more photos. It was nice and breezy, a perfect day. To the north, all the crowded partying beaches and to the south, the old port of Jaffa which I could finally see. The old vs the new. Jaffa’s ancient tradition and history against the hip vibe and obviously fun beaches of Tel Aviv. I turned left and started walking towards the ancient port. It was afternoon by then, and the streets were empty of people but not crows which flew around or sat 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 stringed 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 to enjoy his owner’s tunes which filled the deserted street.
I showed him my camera and he nodded that it was OK to shoot. I sat in front of them and observed this peculiar couple doing their thing in the middle of a street that thousand of years ago would have been filled with the shouts of merchants and the murmuring of ancient sailors . The dog fell asleep. 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 a small gate 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 tourists talking loud and shooting selfies. What an antithesis.
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 still goes strong despite the adversities.
Then, I turned around and walked to the Midron Yaffo Park, leaving the tourists behind, looking for something more interesting. A teenager was there, riding a dark brown horse bareback, galloping up and down the green park and having the blue of the Mediterranean as a background. The whole things looked very picturesque and unreal, but I snapped out of it when horse and rider suddenly turned towards me and started sprinting with great haste. I actually had to put the camera down and get out of their way. It was a bizarre sight but that’s one of the reasons I love Middle East—it’s a different world.
Eventually I set for the last sight of the day—the flea market on Kedem str., navigating through some very quiet, almost eerie, neighborhoods. The 25% of Jaffa’s residents are Arabs and many of them descent from Palestinians who lived there since before 1948, when the city switched hands. They are more discreet and introverted but they will still try to help you and smile back.
I started feeling the tiredness of the long day. On the way to the flea market I stopped by Margoza —a small corner shop with thin metallic chairs and classic round tables, located on a street with the same name. They make great cappuccino and an even greater bread pudding. I had walked for the biggest part of the day and a thirty minute coffee break was just what the doctor had orderd.
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 quiet, with sleepy sellers who looked like they hadn’t had a good day. I talked to a couple of them and indeed they told me that they barely made something so far. 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 I kept my shopping mood down.
The small paved streets around the market were intriguing 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 my way on Yerusalem avenue and thinking that, in the end, Tel Aviv was a nice surprise. It may be an ultra modern hip city, but there are still layers and layers of history and Middle Eastern tradition waiting to be explored. I couldn’t wait 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.