It’s not the brightest idea to land on Israeli soil on a Friday afternoon. Shabbat, Judaism’s day for rest and tranquillity, has already kicked in and you must know that almost nothing is functioning during this period of cessation (literal translation of Shabbat from Hebrew). When I arrived in Tel Aviv, I already got a plan in mind and a map in hand, ready to jump on the train that will lead me to the city centre.
Oh, how mistaken was I when I learnt that besides very expensive taxis, there’s nothing I could take to lead me into this young metropolis. I can give you a thousands travel tips for Israel, but there’s one that’s very important – avoid arriving there during Shabbat!
Since I was visiting Tel Aviv for a couple of days and then heading to Jerusalem for a Travel Blogger (TBEX) conference, I was quite lucky to stumble upon another participant of the conference at the airport.
Why lucky? Well, because she was welcomed by a local person with a car, and they were kind enough to offer me a ride to the hostel I was going to stay.
First impression of local people – excellent!
Arriving at the Best Hostel I Have Ever Had the Pleasure to Dance, Eat, and Sip a Beer
As I mentioned, I was going to participate in a TBEX conference, and Abraham Hostel was a partner to this event. For that reason, as soon as I arrived and presented my shiny Bulgarian passport to the beaming lady at the reception, she said, “Oh, you are a travel blogger! Welcome to Abraham Hostel, we have some presents for you!”
Just a few weeks before I went to Israel, I wrote an article on LinkedIn where I argued that a personal touch is imperative for everything one does.
And guess what! The first thing I received at what can only be described as “an absolutely mind-blowing a hostel” was a postcard with a personal message.
It goes without saying that my spirit(s) immediately skyrocketed and I was impatient to explore more of what this institution had to offer. Besides the postcard, I also received a wonderful T-shirt with the “Stop Working, Start Travelling” written on it, and two very typical Israeli snacks – bissli and bamba.
What makes this hostel outstrip even cosy hotels are its central location (near Rothschild Boulevard), the delicious Israeli food, and the incredibly helpful and friendly staff. If you add to that the enormous choice of different tours and activities (language exchange and taxi sharing, to name a few) that you can do in the hostel, in Tel Aviv, and outside of it, you will end up booking a stay there.
Tel Aviv Bike Tour – the Best Way to Meander around the History and Highlights of the Non-stop City
The Bike Tour took us on a pedalling jaunt across the Northern part of Tel Aviv – from Habima Theatre through Rabin square (where Yitzhak Rabin was murdered) and Yarkon Park to the beach and the Tel Aviv Promenade.
During the tour, our lovely guide – Amit Musaei – narrated the history of Tel Aviv, and the most important events that happened. Amit is a certified tour guide that does tours all around Israel, so I highly recommend using his services. And if you want to know how to plan the finances for your trip, I recommend this post about your Israel budget.
Incepted next to the Old Jaffa port in 1909, Tel Aviv is an epitome of both old and new. Literally meaning “Spring Mound”, Tel, an archaeological spot that discloses layers of civilisation erected one over the other, represents the old, while Aviv, “spring” in Hebrew, represents the new.
*The city name itself is one of the staggering contrasts. I am going to dwell on more in the rest of the article.
Tel Aviv is the first Jewish city in Israel’s contemporary history. It quickly gained ground after the 1950s and nowadays is Israel’s biggest metropolis, as well as its tech, innovation, and financial hub.
Our first stop from the bike tour was at Habima Theatre, located at a renovated plaza. In its vicinity was established the City Hall. In the plaza’s middle, you will find a sandbox, which symbolises the origins of the country.
The bike lanes cover around 90% of the city and meander around leafy ficus and eucalyptus trees. Their magnificent branches, curves, and white trunks give you a feeling of serenity and you pedal your way around the city with pleasure.
Rabin Square – a Place of Blood, Revival, and Holocaust
Halfway through the tour, we arrived at the Rabin Square – one of Israel’s largest plazas. In the middle of it, you will discover the Holocaust and Revival Monument. Revival and Holocaust ceremonies occur there, mostly in the month of April.
The plaza is named after Yitzhak Rabin. Having studied agriculture, and especially irrigation engineering (65% of Israel is a desert), he was one of the most eclectic people in contemporary Israeli history.
Rabin was the Prime Minister of Israel in the 1970s and then from 1992 until his assassination in 1995. He promoted the peace process with Jordan and tried to appease with Palestine and the Gaza strip. The late Prime Minister also granted more freedom to the Palestinians.
In 1995, at the very same plaza, he held a speech. At the end of his anti-violence rally in support of the Oslo Accords (a set of agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, marking a peace process between the two countries), he was shot dead by an Israeli ultranationalist.
Yarkon River Park, the Promenade, and the Countless, Shiny Beaches of Tel Aviv
At the very northern part of the city stands the Yarkon River Park. It is a magnificent park, where multitudes of sports activities take place.
Imagine bike lanes, basketball fields, and gorgeous greenery. Now, throw a meandering river, canoeing, and paddle boats, and you will get some hues of the overall picture.
Continue to the west and you will discover your feet cycling the Promenade, which is generously lined with fascinating palm trees and strips of sand. The beach area is teeming with shops and eateries that offer seafood and other meals at typical (read “expensive”) prices.
Tel Aviv’s entire west side is washed by the fierce waves of the Mediterranean. White sails, jaw-dropping sea views, and wide stretches of drop-dead gorgeous sand woo tourists to park their weary buttockses and enjoy the caressing sun and breeze.
Sautée the mix with excellent outdoor facilities, water-resistant workout gyms, and a conglomerate of different beaches (a no-leash beach, a segregated beach, a gay beach, to name a few), and you will understand what National Geographic had in mind when positioning Tel Aviv in the Top 10 cities for best beaches internationally.
Tel Aviv’s Buzzing Nightlife Will Make Even the Laziest Ass Dance Its Way to Joy and Happiness
People in Tel Aviv bars are incredibly friendly. During my first night there, I chit-chatted with a local, we exchanged business cards and talked about how we can be mutually beneficial.
While sauntering the busy streets of Tel Aviv at night, I didn’t feel like I was exploring the Middle East at all. Tel Aviv is literally overflowing with a vibrant nightlife and it is deemed “The City that Never Sleeps”, although that title is also appropriate for at least several other metropolises, including New York City.
At around midnight and in the early morning, you will have street musicians that entice you with their performances and you will catch yourself humming and dancing, steered by the beats.
One of the top-notch ways to mingle and tingle at night in this city is to join a pub crawl. That’s exactly what I immersed myself in and it was such a blast that local people will tell stories in the distant future, I bet!
Not only the pub crawl allows you to encounter fellow crawlers in a social and very relaxed atmosphere, but it also bestows you with VIP entrance without any queue line hassles at all venues. Add to that a palatable, local beer and Arak (unsweetened, distilled alcoholic drink with an exhilarating anise flavour) shots, and end up dancing your stress away in and on the bars.
The clubs are specifically selected to navigate you around the brimming with life night scenes and each of them has a distinctive character.
*Warning – smoking in Israel is not allowed inside bars, but they still do it in some bars after midnight, so that was the only drawback for me.
Time for another contrast – from the exhilarating night scenes, let’s wash your face with layers, drenched in history.
Old Jaffa Port – an Ancient Port Associated with Greek Deities and the Bible
Sprawling more than 4,500 years back in time, Jaffa or Yafo is probably the oldest port on a global scale. That it is associated with the biblical narratives of Jonah and Solomon is a no-brainer.
Solomon, for instance, transported wood from Lebanon – the gorgeous cedar trees which are seen in the country’s flag, and the prophet Jonah boarded for Tarshish (currently, a village in Lebanon).
However, Yafo is also related to the Greek Deities Andromeda, Perseus, and Poseidon.
What Made Poseidon Furious?
Just off the coast of Jaffa port is located an outcropping of blackened rocks, named after the goddess Andromeda.
“Andromeda, the daughter of Cepheus, the Aethiopian king, and his wife Cassiopeia,” Greek mythology recounts “was regarded as the most beautiful girl in the world at the time. Poseidon, the God of the Sea, got exasperated by the fact that they regarded Andromeda as more beautiful than his own daughter, Nereids, so he sent a sea monster towards Jaffa.
In an effort to satiate the monster, Andromeda was stripped naked and chained like that to those blackened rocks as a sacrificial victim. Just before the sea monster was ready to devour the fragile body of the goddess, Perseus, riding the winged Pegasus, managed to snatch her out of the sea beast’s jaws and killed him. The rocks are reputed to be the remnants of the monster.”
As of yet, no statue exists on the rock formations, but they surely make up for a great photo.
Why Was Jaffa so Attractive and Why It Is not Anymore?
Jaffa’s tell has a height of around 40 metres (130 ft) and gives a huge view of the coastline. This location has bestowed it with a strategic significance in military history. What made the mound even higher was the accumulation of landfill and debris over the centuries.
The upper ground provided for an extra defence. Jaffa’s natural harbour has been made use of since the Bronze Age. Ever since, it was consequently attacked by the ancient Egyptians, the Babylonians, and then by the Ottomans (among many, many others).
Throughout the British Mandate, tensions sprung up between the Arabs and the Jews, which led to many Jewish residents fleeing and resettling in Tel Aviv during 1920 and 1921. At that time, the Non-Stop City was a marginal and desolate Jewish neighbourhood of Jaffa.
Nowadays, the city is indeed known as Tel Aviv-Yafo with the purpose of preserving the historical name Jaffa.
In current times, Jaffa is not a good harbour because of the rocks in its proximity. Due to them, many sailors have lost their lives. Jaffa is not used anymore and other ports have been built in the 20th century. One of them is Haifa, which prides itself on being one of the leading ports on the Eastern Mediterranean coast.
Around Layers of History and Droves of Stark Contrasts
When you arrive at Jaffa, you cannot help but notice a clock tower at its very entrance. The first train commenced its journeys from there. There’s another peculiar story about the tower’s construction.
The Fascinating Clock Tower Story
A French man was living in the vicinity of the then train station and since he was the only individual who possesses a watch, every single person who wanted to catch the train in the early morning would knock at the man’s gate and inquire about the time. In an effort to safeguard his good night sleep, the French aristocrat asked the government to erect a clock tower, which would inform the people of the time and they would stop bothering him.
Enthralling Historical Facts
Work your way inside the Old Jaffa and you will notice several temples. In the initial years of the 19th century, Abu-Nabbut, the governor of Gaza and Jaffa on behalf of the Ottoman Empire, erected a mosque and fountains and built the current wall around Jaffa to protect them.
This is very close to the Jerusalem Gate of Jaffa. The gate’s name bears Israel’s capital’s name since it points to Jerusalem. Likewise, the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City points towards Jaffa.
An Armenian monastery and a Catholic church, overlooking the sea, also garnish the deliciously historical Jaffa.
The Old Jaffa may host the oldest Jewish hostel, but it also is a home to a yoga studio and a winery with a palatable pomegranate wine. Additionally, at Jaffa port, you may not only buy fish at good prices but you may also enjoy a good nightlife.
What struck me greatly about Yafo was the fact that, despite it being one of the oldest ports in the world, it was very badly maintained and dirt was omnipresent. I am sure the government can make a much better job with that as it did with the skyline of Tel Aviv, which leads us to the penultimate section.
Wanna test how well you know the country? Try this Israel quiz.
Tel Aviv’s Skyline – Giants, Superintending the City and the Sea
The mid-1990s saw an intense construction of skyscrapers all over the entire conurbation. Nevertheless, the imposing buildings were not concentrated in certain districts and areas. For that reason, the scattered at random locations structures provide for a somewhat disjointed skyline, which creates another reference to the contrasts, domineering the city.
Nevertheless, the last several years experienced an even more intense construction boom, so the incoherent puzzle will, hopefully, soon be able to fill the empty spots.
Fancy a GPS version of this article, which shows you how to go around Tel Aviv? Here’s a link. *I’ll receive a small commission for every download.
Peculiarly Fascinating Facts about Tel Aviv and Israel
- Christianity is reputed to have been conceived in Yafo by the Zakarian Family and Simon the Tanner whose house is by the seaside.
- Peter, revered as the most important of the Apostles, resided in the house of Simon the Tanner. Just next to the house is positioned a church named after the Apostle and it is the only Catholic temple that faces west in Tel Aviv. All others face east.
- In close vicinity of the church is the Wishing Bridge of Jaffa where the 12 zodiacal signs adorn its wooden structures. Some locals trust that if you touch your sign and wish something while pondering at the sea, this wish will bear fruit.
- Proud Egyptian obelisks also call Jaffa their abode and they are located a few metres away from the Wishing Bridge. They are a testament of the ancient Egyptians and Ramses II, in specific.
- Jaffa orange, a famous, almost seedless variety of orange is produced in the area and is mainly designated for export. In fact, it was one of the first export products and symbolises the Arab-Jewish co-operation in Mandatory Palestine.
- Speaking of oranges, Israel also grows mangoes… in the desert.
- Donald Trump is not allowed to buy a house in the area of Old Jaffa.
- The city of Tel Aviv was specifically designed for the sea breeze to come in and cool residents.
- Once the ficus trees were planted in the city, along came multitudes of bees.
Have you also been engrossed by the contrasts of the Non-stop City? What made your jaws drop?
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