Traveling In Israel - Begin Your Adventure in the historic Tel Aviv Jaffo area

 

Welcome to Israel

I felt safe. The El Al guard checked me out, asked me a few questions about why I was going to Israel, and where I was from.  As the home airline for the State of Israel, I knew that they were security conscious and everything would be hakol b’seder (okay.) 

The 16 hour flight passed fairly quickly.  Luckily I took precautions and had some Xanax with me that helped me to rest part of the trip so that when I arrived at 1:30 pm Israeli time (4:30 am Los Angeles time) I was not as exhausted as I thought I would be.

Meeting our handsome guide with the infectious grin, Avihai Tsabari, and the rest of the group coming from all parts of the United States, I immediately felt welcomed. 

 

Hassan Mosque Tel Aviv - Israel Tourism Photo

Having been to Israel a few times before as a high school student and then on a previous trip, I already had my expectations, but that had been years ago and I was surprised how much the country had grown and changed, yet still remained the same friendly place.

Because there is so much to see and do in Israel - many things normal tourists do not see - this will be a five part article. Please stay tuned.

 

Pomegranate - a favorite fruit of Israelis

After freshening up in our hotel, the luxury Carlton On The Beach in Tel Aviv, I inhaled deeply of the Mediterranean sea air.  A four star hotel whose average room price varies from $360 USD to $2,900 for the presidential suite (depending on the season) offers a great spa, two superb restaurants monitored by Chef Meir Adonei, and a great buffet breakfast (food prices are extra.)  A 15% service charge is included in the bill.  In peak season, there is an extra $100 charge for the suites.

Many hotels are expensive and geared for tourists. Boutique, bed and breakfast, and lesser expensive hotels can be found at several hotel sites, such as booking and expedia, but bargains can be found. 

 

Shopping at the market - Tel Aviv

 

Our whirlwind tour started that evening.

While Jerusalem is larger in size, Tel Aviv is biggest and most metropolitan city.  When the sing about the city that never sleeps, they definitely had Tel Aviv in mind.  Side walk cafes, numerous museums, boutique shops and other attractions make the city one of the sought after places to visit.

 

Old Train Station - Tel Aviv

What once was just sand and dust, it has blossomed into the central financial center of the country.  Of the 8.1 million inhabitants in Israel, 3.5 million live here and in the suburbs.  The name Tel comes from the word mountain or artificial hill and Aviv means spring because it was a new beginning for the many who fled persecution.

 

Carmel Market Tel Aviv

Originally almost everyone arrived in the ancient port of Jaffa. It wasn't until 1886 that Aaron Chelousche, an Algerian, bought up 33 acres outside the walled city of Jaffa. These first 40 hours, located on two narrow streets, soon developed into the initial nine neighborhoods of Tel Aviv.  

 

Mezzuah in the wall of an ancient building

In the area of Neve Tzedek, where many famous poets and artists gathered, you can still see remains of the old homes and first synagogue to be built in a Jewish area. 

Establishing it as a city, Aryeh Akiba Weiss  built his first home in 1909 on Herzl Street and Ehad Ha'Am Blvd.  He wanted the city to be modern and not "old faith" - those fleeing from Eastern Europe. 

In 1921, Tel Aviv officially split from Jaffa and became a city on its own, but in 1951, it joined again with Jaffa to be called Tel Aviv-Jaffa.

 

Tel Aviv Muesum

Tel Aviv leads in architectural preservation and the buildings here are an interesting combination of modern and early 20th century.   The white façade and small windows keep out the mid day heat . 

With Jerusalem then under siege, it was at #16 Rothschild Blvd, in an inconspicuous house, that Ben Gurion signed the declaration of statehood in May, 1948. 

 

Hookah Pipes in Jaffa Market

The city is a hub of nightlife with bars and restaurants.  The partying often starts at 10 pm and stays open until 4 or 5 am.  Probably one the hottest places for night life now is the German colony, Sarona,  a popular place to dance the night away.  While we didn't get there, I am told that Claro restaurant, which is divided into three levels, is a fascinating place to experience.  I believe it's fairly expensive, as well.

A social city by day, as well, you will find many Israelis sipping their coffee at espresso bars, reading the paper and discussing politics with their neighbors.  You will find many little coffee, sushi (Rothschild and Allenby) and other kiosk stands. 

 

Tel Aviv Muesum

Walking in the street, you have to be aware of bikers. Like Holland, a special bike lane divides the avenue and bikes can be rented by commuters for a day price in one place and returned in another. 

I wasn't surprised to find MacDonald's, here, as well, but it's higher priced than we are used to since they export their materials and because most of the Israelis prefer fresh foods that are easily obtainable from the surrounding farms, MacDonald's not as popular as one might guess. 

We dined that evening at the Elegant Social Club at  45 Rothschild Blvd.  A modern bistro it offers a varied selection.  While the city is 97% Jewish, as compared to Jaffa's predominate Arab population,  most of those living here are assimilated and, in contrast to Jerusalem where many religious live, many of the restaurants were not, to my surprise, kosher. 

Restaurants and real estate are high here especially compared to the average Israeli salary.  Location is always a key factor, but a two bedroom apartment in the heart of town can go for one million. 

 

Old Jaffa

Very friendly toward the LGBT crowd, Tel Aviv was voted a best city of gays in a recent Time Out poll and held its first gay parade in 1986. 

More can be learned about the history of the city in Zionism's founder Theodore Herzl's book, Old New Land or Altnoiland.

The Tel Aviv Museum, which charges between 25 and 50 ns (new shekels) admission,  had some unusual exhibits, including the photography of war correspondent Robert Capa, 15-16 century art, and modern Israeli art. 

Knife Sharpener in Tel Aviv Market

The Ha aretez- Land of Israel Museum  focuses on different aspects of Israel's past and is centered around a Philistine city recently excavated. 

Military buffs will want to see the Israel Defense Museum located at the old train station in Jaffa. 

Visit the Tel Aviv University and the Beit Hatfutsot Museum of the Jewish Diaspora, which tells you a smattering of Jewish history through the ages. (The "diaspora" refers to the Jews who, after the destruction of the second temple, were dispersed through the world.  Any Jew not living in Israel is said to be living in the diaspora.)

Jaffa Port

A center for fashion, as well, Tel Aviv is well known for its designers.  The Oberson Gallery both creates and makes one of a kind dresses.  However, the best places for shopping are Ben Yehudah Street, Dizengoff Mall, and Ramat Aviv Mall

Probably one of the quietest places, and most expensive, in Tel Aviv is termed the American Colony.  Many of the 27 homes here are vacant, purchased by wealthier Americans for future retirement. 

Jaffa

Started in 1867 by Mormon, George Adams, he originally brought 157 followers from Maine in hopes of getting the Jews to resettle in order to encourage the coming of the Messiah and to that end started the Church of the Messiah.   With no idea of how to farm or how to survive in a hostile  Arab land,  their celebrated departure was noted in Mark Twain's book, Innocents Aboard.

Near the American Colony, on Eliyahu Amikau  and Prof. Yehezkel Kauffman Streets, you'll find the quaint reconstructed original 1892 train station.  Abandoned in the 60's, it was renovated in the 2000's.  It now houses several unique shops and restaurants.  There are several kid friendly events held here, beer festivals and circuses are sometimes held on Saturdays. 

Levinsky Market offerings - Tel Aviv

During the day we strolled through the Levinsky Market - a place of culture melding shops where spices, alcohol, dried meats, specialty cheese, coffees, great sandwiches, and olives as well as every day household items  can be had from all over the world.  #41 Levinsky has a great variety of sparkling waters.

Levana - Albert's Confectionary - Levinsky Market TA

On Matalon #36,  treat yourself at Albert's Confectionary.  Opened in 1935, Levana, the original owner and her husband, still crush and peel almonds by hand into delicious marzipan.   Many people call ahead to order their sweets as they serve a variety of French kisses, meringues, and other delicacies.  Unfortunately, none of the children want to take over the business so if you're searching for a thriving business, consider this.  There's no other place like it. 

Walk down the street to the 1910 flea market, as well.  People come  from all over Israel to buy items here. It's not just a high end place, but somewhere you can really experience the culture.

The Carmel Market, slightly more touristy, is also a place to shop for everyday items and on Friday, as people prepared for the Sabbath, it was particularly hectic.  One of the biggest open air markets in the Middle East, it's a great place to spend several hours. 

 

Carmel Market Tel Aviv

Jaffa, an ancient port city, which has seen a lot of import and export, dates back to 1600 BCE (before the common era), and until the 19th century was a walled city.  The city changed hands many times during its history and it is here that Jonah took his fated voyage and ended up the whale's stomach.

Old Jaffa

Not always welcoming to the Jews who fled Europe long history of anti-Semitism, it, nevertheless, was a gateway to the rest of the country.  This middle bronze age town used to be considered a poorer cousin of Tel Aviv, but has since come into its own with numerous art galleries, shops and unique flea market. 

Start at the historic clock tower, built in 1902 by the Sultan and wander into the main square.  Turn down the third side street and you'll come to Dr. Shakshuka Restaurant, one of the few kosher restaurants in Jaffa, serving delicious kebabs as well as the signature shakshuka  - an egg in tomato base combination, which is a prized dish. 

Like in Tel Aviv, the bars and restaurants are often open til 3 am, and there is plenty of night life on the narrow streets.  

Predominately Arab now, it has many significant sites to Christian history, as well.  Many pilgrims have visited over the centuries.  One of the most beautiful sites and largest buildings is  St. Peter's Church, where he became the first Pope of Christianity. 

 

St. Peter's Church - Jaffa

Down the narrow streets, you'll also find the House of the Tanner where Peter halted on his trip from Lod.  His host asked him to heal their sickly daughter,  Tabitha, but Peter, feeling that he could not do what his lord Jesus did, refused.  It was only during a dream that angels reportedly came to him offering him food.  At first, Peter is said to have refused because the food was not kosher, but then he decided that if G-d created the food, than it must be all right to eat.  Supposedly, that is when the Christians departed from the laws of kosher. 

 

House of the Tanner - one of Peter's miracles

Along the lanes, you might stones from the Persian, Hellenistic, Roman and Turkish periods.  Fortified by the crusaders, it was a prominent sea route for the Kingdom of Jerusalem during Richard, the Lionhearted's Crusades.  (Akko, which we will talk about later, was, however, the main port.) 

During the medieval period, a historian traveler, Benjamin of Tudela  found only one Jew living there.

We stopped at Abu Hassan Restaurant for delicious humus - a grinded chick pea delicacy - which now comes in many flavors. 

 Two other local hotels worth checking out in Jaffa are The Ruth Daniel Residence and the Market Hotel. In this later hotel is an original Byzantine chapel and a great view of Jaffa and Tel Aviv.

 

Statue of Faith - Jaffa

A lot of festivals are held up the hill by the Circle of Faith or Statue of Faith, now called Abrahsa Park.  

Be sure to use good walking shoes.  Because the winding, steep steps, those with handicaps are advised to be careful.  While it is possible to drive the outskirts of the city, only by walking through the streets will you get a real feel of the history here.

While the cities, themselves, are not religious,  a majority of the businesses close early on Friday and stay closed on Saturday for the Sabbath. 

Stay tuned folks for further journeys as we travel north and south and east in Israel

 

 

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