What’s going on everyone? So, I’ve been in Israel a little over a week. My time in Tel Aviv is over and I’ll be in Mashabei Sade Kibbutz for the remainder of my time here. Rather than writing two paragraphs a day for 7 days in Tel Aviv, I thought I’d go through the week in one post. I have some product recommendations and some bad reviews to dole out too, but anyway, let’s go!
First, I have never in my life had jet lag like I’ve had on this trip! I’ve been traveling long distances since I was in 3rd grade and this is the first time I ever remember it kicking my ass so. For the first few days I would go to bed at 10-11 PM and wake up at 1-2 AM. Now I’ve made it from 10-11 PM to 5-6 AM, but anyone who knows me knows that’s cray cray. I sleep like a champ. I have to nap in the afternoon for a couple of hours and it’s like that coma sleep where you can’t move and are uber disoriented when you wake up. I know by the time I get straightened out it will be time to go back to NYC and I’ll be all messed up again.
My summary for Tel Aviv is this: food, walking, and architecture!
I stayed at the Leonardo Art Hotel in Tel Aviv for a week. El Al provided a deal where you get a week at this hotel with the purchase of your tickets, so, alas, that’s where I was. I’m going to give it a low 3/5. The staff was extremely nice, the breakfast buffet was plentiful, and the views from the hotel and its proximity to the beach afford it 3.
It wasn’t clean-like at all. Especially the restaurant/lobby/bar. I had to bus a table every single time I went down for breakfast. There was ample staff in the restaurant, but everyone was just walking around (“Italian strike” they call it here). They had “No Smoking” signs everywhere, yet people were smoking all over the hotel. It was impossible to get into the hotel. Really tho, my friend is Israeli, from Tel Aviv, and spent 25 years on the beaches in the area and it took him 3 days to figure out a route into the hotel. Ultimately, you have to enter the back side of the hotel from the beach/boardwalk area (there are 4+ levels which you need to know in order to get into the hotel) or go through an abandoned labyrinth under the hotel filled with pee and poop and other such nonsense. It was fine since I was with someone, but I absolutely cannot recommend the hotel for solo female travelers. Had I booked that hotel alone, I would either have had to take a taxi every time I wanted to come or go or be back into my room before dark everyday.
If you aren’t on a budget, I suggest the Sheraton or Dan hotels. They are right on Gordon and Frishman beach and are easily accessible. My friend said the standard for cleanliness is different in Israel than elsewhere, so I can’t say if those hotels would be in better shape than the one I was in, but their locations are definitely better.
I’m also giving a failing grade to this dual-voltage straightener/curling iron and hairdryer. I tried each of them with both an adapter and a converter and I couldn’t get either one to work. I have been traveling abroad for about a decade and I have NEVER found any hair styling tools that work on this voltage. It’s a major bummer.
Two things I cannot recommend highly enough: Clark’s Sillian Tino Cloud Steppers (in black and tan), travel packets of coconut oil, LUSH Toothy Tabs, and Dr. Brenner’s castile soap! I have a serious issue with my right foot which has only worsened in recent years. I bought two pairs of the Sillian Tino shoes before my trip and I couldn’t be happier. I also used Clark’s on my trip to Italy and recommend them to everyone.
Day 2: Thursday, 1/8
Day 2 was definitely a highlight for me. I check out the main area around Dizengoff Street, bought some groceries, and walked all around the central area. Tel Aviv is a really unique city in many ways, but the architecture is dominated by Bauhaus style. Most of the buildings are white concrete, but the vegetation is very tropical. It is very reminiscent of southern Italy, parts of the Caribbean, and Greece. It has a very industrial, cold war feel, but it is experiencing a gentrification boom-for better or worse. My friend worked at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art before immigrating to NYC and working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art so he knows several of the curators who have stayed on. We were invited to the opening of a photo exhibit by Mark Yashaev and then went down to check out the opening of a contemporary African art exhibit too. It was interesting to see the pieces and the design of the museum. After that we walked around Tel Aviv and got some falafel. I’d never had falafel before *gasp* so I thought it was delicious and the food stall next to the one I got my falafel from was playing Korean dramas! It was awesome, haha! In Tel Aviv their are tons of juice stands everywhere. You can get all different kinds of fresh squeezed fruit juice for around $5 (cheaper than NYC, hey hey hey!) so I went for a carrot juice in hopes it would help me bounce back from all the nastiness on the airplane.
Day 3: Friday, 1/9
Thursday was a chill day with lots of walking. I walked the entire Tayelet starting at Gordon pool to Charles Clore park and back. The Tel Aviv coast has been under extensive renovation for several years to create this huge boardwalk called Tayelet with tons of cafes and other activities. There are still sections that are being built, but the main area runs from Gordon Beach past Frishman Beach (so named because they are the terminus for Gordon and Frishman avenues). It was by far my favorite part of Tel Aviv! It is clean, well designed, modern, and laid back. I only went to one cafe in the area, but I have been told the prices are high, so keep that in mind. There are tons to pick from though. Every hundred yards or so there are three cafes and I am quite sure each place has deals on different specialities and on different days. You can eat on the actual beach or up on the boardwalk too. The views are great and if the weather is nice it’s perfect. It’s also a wonderful place to see the sunset and people watch.
When you think about visiting Israel, shabbat should play a role in your planning. There are religious political parties (kind of like a lobby since they have a coalition setup here) in Israel which affect many aspects of daily life, including the certification of hotels and business for use by observant Jews. Hotels and other businesses have to have certain amenities and follow certain rules so that observant Jewish customers can use the business without violating religious law. Obviously, there are millions of secular Jews who do not observe shabbat, but it will impact some aspects of your stay. Most hotels have synagogues (if they have enough observant guests to make a minyan), sinks for netilat yadayim, a candle station somewhere since people lighting candles in their room is hazardous, and last but not least many hotels and restaurants’ food selections are restricted on Saturdays since they cannot maintain a Kosher establishment anddd cook+make money on Shabbat. I don’t know about all of the hotels, but Leonardo Art, Carlton, and Hilton Hotel each followed the rules. Hilton apparently has a boss synagogue if you are in the area and need a place to pray!
Since the hotel restaurant was closed and all of the other places around the hotel closed early too, my friend and I used the Easy app (Israel-Tel Aviv in particular-is a high-tech capital, so I definitely suggest an international plan/Israeli SIM card) to find an Iraqi restaurant, Abu Zaki, that was open on Shabbat. It was AMAZING and they played Bob Marley! I tried two different types of kebab: one with tomato and one with tahini and then they provided complimentary salads, hummus, and pita (think Korean banchan). I met a cool Puerto Rican guy from Orlando who worked for Lockheed Martin on the F-35 project that’s been at the forefront of Israeli news recently. He was super friendly and the restaurant was packed since it was the only place in the area open.
Day 4: Saturday, 1/10
Make sure you book a Saturday in Tel Aviv if you plan to come to Israel! Saturday on the Tayelet was amazing. It was PACKED and there were so many things to see and do. There is a “folk dancing” group that meets every Saturday there and the cafes are bustling. I ventured to Cafe Gordo to people watch. I tried Tuborg beer (I’d say it’s the most popular brand in Tel Aviv-although there are tons of beer places you should definitely try on your stay) and had some French fries while I watched shirtless Israeli men try to Don-Juan their way into the pants of their dates. ‘Twas amazing! I walked to Frishman and back and watched more of the folk dancing. Then headed back to my hotel. Saturday night, I walked to Basel Street and had some AMAZING Italian food at Rustico. My friend has a friend that used to live in NYC and now owns a great bakery in Holon called Lachma. He supplies breads to all kinds of restaurants in the city and is also the captain of the Israeli international baking team (it’s a competitive field!). They just opened a pop-up retailer in Tel Aviv too, so check it out! I tried a hefeweizen brewed by Weihenstephan and some gnocchi with chestnuts. The restaurant was the cleanest place I visited in Tel Aviv, the staff was nice, and the food was delicious. We each got an entree and tall beer and the cost was around 500 NIS, but I would definitely recommend it.
This was my favorite day in Tel Aviv. I spent the morning on Gordon beach, checked out the Ben Gurion house, talked to some surfers (it’s super popular here, so if you are interested check out this place!) and then went to JAFFA!
It is everything you think of when you think of Israel. Old architecture, historical places, a mix of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim places of worship, shopping, restaurants, markets, the list goes on. If you are up for it, you can walk the Tayelet almosttt all the way OR take the Number 10 bus (you buy tickets with cash on the bus here) from central Tel Aviv.
Yafo as it’s called in Hebrew is where the whole Jonah and the Whale thing went down and it was also a headquarters for the Ottomans. The history of the city stretches back to ancient times and it is absolutely worth checking out. There is a beautiful park, a port, a market area, mosques, many different Christian monasteries and churches, and cats everywhereee.
I went into this hummus restaurant-yes, you read that right, they have entire restaurants dedicated to hummus here. It was packed and they offered all kinds of different hummus dishes. I got hummus, pita, and falafel and made my own little sandwich. It was a family-owned place and catered to religious people, so it was interesting to sit and watch the clientele come and go. I was only in Jaffa for a few hours, but I would suggest planning a day trip there so that you can try a few different restaurants and shop.
Day 6: Monday, 1/12
Monday was my last day in Tel Aviv and I made it count. I walked all around the Yemini quarter, flea market, and Shuk Carmel. Shuk Carmel is definitely something to see, it’s a huge market with everything you can ever imagine, but the most popular items are fruits, vegetables, and desserts. If you rent an apartment or AirBnB here, I’d definitely make this place my first stop to stock up on food for your stay. There is Chinese, Mexican, Venezuelan, Arab, American, organic foods, desserts, cheeses, dry goods, etc. at every turn. If you get outside of the market into some of the more residential areas, there are also tons of small cafes and restaurants to try. After Shuk Carmel, I walked to Rothschild Boulevard and got some lunch. This area is poppin’! I am not a club/party goer so I didn’t venture out at night, but I’ve been told that this is the area to go if you want to bar hop! All of Tel Aviv is absolutely crammed with bars and restaurants so it’s definitely worth downloading an app so that you can explore all of the different areas and try the different foods. The beer scene and vegan scene are also huge here (more so than most other countries I’ve visited), so those are also great things to check out! I stoped at a liquor store and got some Arak (Israeli liquor…I plan to crack it open Friday night, so I will update you with drunk Snaps :P) and then my friend went to visit his old office. He worked for the Israeli government in the tax office for a while, so he wanted to visit his coworkers. They had an Ethiopian security guard that freaked out because I had a camera, but the office itself was straight out of a movie. The employees were smoking at their desks, they closed between 2 and 3 everyday, and my friend said the employees were even sitting in the same chairs in the same spot as when he left Israel 30 years ago-like an “Italian strike”, he said. Everyone was nice and it was so interesting to see the similarities and differences between American and Israeli government work.
Tuesday morning I left Leonardo Art Hotel and my friend’s nephew drove to Mashabei Sade Kibbutz in Mashabei Sade, Israel. It is near Be’er Sheva in the middle of the Negev desert. I will make a separate post about the kibbutz soon and I also have some day trips planned from here which I will write about. The holidays are coming up, so that will be the next big thing. I also plan to do some interviews while I’m here so check back in this weekend!
All in all, Tel Aviv is a great place to visit. It’s like a middle ground between Southern Europe and the Middle East. Food is number one here and I do wish I had the budget to try more restaurants. It is by far the most foodie friendly city I’ve been to anywhere in the world! While the standard of cleanliness wasn’t the highest, I never got sick or anything so I can’t complain. The beaches and water are gorgeous and I never felt unsafe when I was out an about (except in the Tony Hawk Pro Skater labyrinth under the hotel). There are tons of monuments and historical places to visit, a bustling art scene, and it’s super pet-friendly too. I would suggest renting an apartment (check out Roomster or AirBnB) and chilling at the beach as much as possible. It is vastly different than what one would expect, but it’s definitely worth visiting! I also think it’s a very drivable country/city, so don’t hesitate to rent a car (although, parking is a nightmare).
Also, I’ve posted a TON of pictures on Instagram so be sure to follow me @thatgingeranna
SN: For whatever reason, the videos I record on my Nikon DSLR will not transfer to my iPad/iPhone, so I can’t edit and post them (hence the lack of YouTube videos ;/). Does anyone know how to remedy this? I bought an adapter to plug my memory cards into my iPad/iPhone via lightning, but it doesn’t give me the option to view/transfer video.
Until next time!