My Jerusalem: Places I Love In This Timeless City

My Jerusalem: Places I Love In This Timeless City

I have been to Israel 3 times in a year (and 4 times to Jerusalem overall), and I intend to go back again and again. I went pretty much anywhere: from North to South; from cities to nature. I got lost in the narrow alleys and in the nature when I hiked the Jesus Trail.

My love for this country must be somewhat contagious: so enthusiastically I talk about it that a few friends have approached me to announce they have finally booked their flights, and will be going there soon. I have even put together a proper guide for a trip to Israel for them.

A city I love visiting every time I am in Israel is Jerusalem. Mind you, it wasn’t love at first sight. At first it left me interested: I could see its beauty, but we didn’t click; I wasn’t completely charmed by it. It took me a second and third visit to get to appreciate it first, and then fall in love with it.

Discovering Jerusalem a bit at a time

Jerusalem is the kind of city that I am never quite done exploring. I guess my friend Yana, the lovely guide behind Authentic Jerusalem Tours, was right when she said that.

What I love about it is that there is always so much to discover – famous and less famous attractions; historical landmarks and hidden that are completely off the tourist radar. Different cultures meet and mix in Jerusalem – at times painfully, but typically peacefully. It is this mix of cultures that keeps it so interesting to me, I suppose.

The things to do in Jerusalem are endless. And while I have my favorite places that I always go back to, each time I go I end up in some new, pretty place: a coffee shop I didn’t know existed; a small, quirky square.

In January, I visited Jerusalem again. I spent little more than 48 hours in Jerusalem this time, but since i know the city well already, I went to all my favorite places – attractions, restaurants and coffee shops, and even my favorite hotel in town. I finally visited some of the most iconic attractions in the city – it was about time I did so. And I took the time to wander around, and ended up in some really cute squares away from all the chaos and crowds.

Exploring the historical landmarks

A city like Jerusalem is packed with attractions, and it would be impossible to visit them all (and actually enjoy them) in just one go. Picking what to see isn’t easy, in a city that has so much history and culture. That’s why I am always a bit surprised when I hear people say that they intend to go there on just a day trip from Tel Aviv.

To each their own, I guess. But if anybody asks for my opinion, I will say not to do it that way. Jerusalem is simply too special to be dismissed in just a day. It took me four visits to explore the most famous attractions, and even then I yearn to go back and see more.

Here are some of the places I visited on my fourth trip to Jerusalem. Some I had never seen before, and one I had, but I felt compelled to return to.

Temple Mount

Temple Mount may well be the most iconic place to visit in Jerusalem. It’s the classic image one thinks of whenever hearing the word Jerusalem; the one shown by the media whenever they speak of the city. Yet, I only made it there on the very last day of my fourth visit.

Mind you – I had seen Temple Mount from a distance, and from all possible angles, many times. I first caught a glimpse of it as I walked down from Dung Gate. I then realized it was right behind me when I walked the narrow alleys of the Old City. And I admired the most amazing sunset over the Dome of the Rock from Mount of Olives.

This time I actually made the effort to go and stand in line to finally get in and properly explore it.

Though there are 11 gates scattered across the Old City that all lead to Temple Mount, tourists and non-Muslims can only enter through the Moroccan gate (Mughrabi Gate) located close to Dung Gate and near the Western Wall Plaza.

Tourists can access Temple Mount between 7:30 and 10:30 am, and between 12:30 and 1:30 pm. The line can be a bit overwhelming, but it actually moves quite fast. Needless to say, it is worth the wait. I recommend planning an early morning visit, simply because there’s more time to explore inside – the complex is actually huge.

Needless to say, Temple Mount is an impressive sight. The atmosphere inside, despite the presence of tourists (which I never perceived as overwhelming) is peaceful and silent. I could see a few people praying; others quietly chatting. The views of the Old City from it are splendid.

The City of David

I had visited the City of David on my first trip to Jerusalem, when I also walked Hezekiah’s tunnels, built by King Hezekiah in the 8th century to protect the city’s main water source from the Assyrian invasion.

The City of David is thought to be the original urban core of Jerusalem. The site is constantly being excavated, as new finds are regularly brought to the surface, bringing testimony of the way of life, the religious beliefs and the culture of the people that lived in the area.

I wanted to visit the City of David again as I had heard of the launch of the new light show, and since I was there I took the opportunity to go on another guided tour, which offered a completely new perspective – if anything because I visited during sunset (the view of East Jerusalem from the City of David is simply stunning) and then in the dark.

My night time tour also went through the water channels, of which I had a rather realistic “view.” Indeed, after the first few minutes of the visit the lights that normally illuminate the tunnels went off, and my guide and I were completely left in the dark – we could not find any torch though we rummaged through our bags. It made the experience all the more interesting, and I have to say I was truly impressed with the guide skills – she truly proved to know the place as the palm of her hand, guiding me in the dark in each and every step!

The City of David Light Show started immediately after my tour. It is a fantastic, interactive way to learn about the history of Jerusalem, with a movie actually projected on the site – right in the places where the history unfolded.

The film, which is projected on two different parts of the City of David (first on the walls, then on the actual ruins), tells the story of how Jerusalem was destroyed more than 2500 years ago, and then rebuilt thanks to the efforts of Nehemiah, son of Hachaliah, who won the support of the king of Persia.

The show lasts around one hour and 15 minutes, and currently runs in Hebrew, with headphones in various other languages. As it is in the open, it can get quite cold – so being dressed appropriately is a must. It costs 65 Israeli Shekels (which is around $19 USD, or €15) to view the show.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

I had actually seen the Church of the Holy Sepulchre from the outside, before. This time, I made the effort of going inside. I was raised Catholic, and though I am now a professed atheist I still find the history and the culture behind religions to be very interesting. So I decided to finally go inside.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is located in the place where it is said Jesus had been crucified and later on buried – though he resurrected and his tomb is empty. As it is easy to imagine, the church is crowded with tourists but it still makes for an interesting visit.

It’s also the place where the last four stations of the Via Dolorosa, which representes the final episodes of Jesus’ Passion, are located.

Staying in my comfort zone

It happens in every place I visit multiple times: I have my own favorite spot in Tulum, Yucatan; I always eat in the same place in Leon, Nicaragua. Just as well, I have my own favorite places in Jerusalem. They are the ones I head to the minute I arrive; the ones where I feel comfortable exploring and the ones that I find photographically stimulating.

The Old City Bazar

I love markets. The Old City Bazar of Jerusalem remains one of my favorite places in the city, one I visit each time I am there. I love the narrow alleys, that offer some incredible photo opportunities. There are some beautiful sights, and the market is like a window to a great part of the Jerusalemite culture.

The Suq is a maze of small shops that sell anything from leather goods (though triple check the quality of the products); ceramics; spices and all sorts of other souvenirs. They also have some of the best hummus places in town, and a few good traditional coffee places.

Abu Shukri Hummus

Speaking of hummus in the Old City, an absolute must that I always make a point to visit is Abu Shukri. This is a really tiny, plain hummus place, with no more than 4 tables and just a few things on the menu – hummus, foul, falafel and traditional salads, all served with warm pita bread. Prices are more than fair (a novelty in Israel!) and needless to say the hummus is delicious.

Mahane Yehuda

Outside the Old City, Mahane Yehuda is a market I love going to, especially on a Friday morning when it buzzes with life and it is packed with people doing some last minute shopping before Shabbat starts. I love the noise, the colors and the flavours of Mahane Yehuda.

There’s plenty of fruits and vegetable stands, as well as places that sell all the delicious baked goods – baklava, rugelach, and much more. I also love the dried fruits stands, the tea stands, and typically make a stop at the Beer Bazar, to have a taste of a good Israeli craft beer. It’s just a place I like going for a bit of comfort food, especially on a chilly day.

Inbal Hotel

Speaking of comfort, this time I decided to sleep at Inbal Hotel, the hotel I stayed at during my first trip to Jerusalem. It was a great decision, and I was glad to have a bit more time to fully enjoy all its amenties, including the amazing on site restaurants and the wine cellar.

Now that I have mentioned food, I have just remembered the breakfast spread at Inbal is almost ridiculous: there is an incredible choice of quality food – from fruits and salads, to breads and other baked goods; cheese, fish and freshly squeezed juice, as well as a variety of coffees.

What I love about Inbal is that it is right between the Old City and the more modern side of Jerusalem, near the Parliament and the German Colony and in an area that is safe, trendy, quiet and well connected.

Inbal, which opened 35 years ago, is an institution among Jerusalem hotels. It is currently going through some major works, to renovate the lobby and public areas, and to add two new floors, with the idea of having more luxury rooms, all offering lovely views of the city and with a larger and newer design. All works will be done by summer 2018.

I had the pleasure of meeting with Sharon, the marketing manager of Inbal, and to ask him the reason for all the renovation works. He explained that demand for rooms in Jerusalem keeps increasing (it’s easy to see why), with more and more people visiting each year. There’s always some conference, some event – even the Giro d’Italia biking competition is going to start in Jerusalem in summer 2018!

The hotel intends to position itself in the “warm luxury” market, and I can see that happening. Each and every detail is taken care here: the look of the hotel in the furnishing and colors; the background music that sofly plays in the common areas; and even the fresh fragrance that can be smelled throughout the establishment.

Rooms are incredibly cozy. Each have a large, comfortable; an espresso machine – and I do like my coffee first thing in the morning! The toiletries are top notch quality, made by a local brand called Sabon. I love the idea of keeping even the small things local.

As a sports junkie, I finally got the chance to take advantage of the fitness centre. I have traveled the world, but I typically stay out of hotel pools because they are frustratingly small for avid swimmers like me. Anything smaller than 20 meters is not worth me getting my feet wet. Inbal has an incredible 25 meters pool, attached to a state of the art fitness centre. I was extremely pleased to be able to train there!

Discovering new (old) places

The beauty of going back to a place I already know quite well is that I know my way around quite well, and I am thus comfortable taking a little side street as opposed to walking on the main one. This always leads me to discover hidden gems, quiet corners that are really just steps away from all the chaos and life. I love that.

The following are some of the hidden corners I discovered during my last trip to Jerusalem.

Yo’El Moshe Salomon Street

This actually is a less than hidden street. In fact, it is an open mall not far from Mamilla and on the way to the busy Yaffo street. I had just never been there – or perhaps I had, but never paid real attention to how pretty it is, and how quiet it is compared to the busy Yaffo street.

Yo’El Moshe Salomon Street is lined with lovely small shops, selling all kind of stuff. They are all small local businesses, where the owner also makes the stuff s/he is selling. It’s a quite artistry part of Jerusalem, in a neighborhood called Nachalat Shiva and which is one of the first that grew outside the Old City of Jerusalem. There’s also a couple of interesting bars and coffee shop.

Tmol Shilshom

Speaking of interesting coffee shops, right on Yo’El Moshe Salomon Street there Tmol Shilshom. To be fair, this isn’t so much of an hidden gem – it is mentioned even on the Lonely Planet. I just didn’t know of it, until my friend Ben, who lives in Jerusalem, took me there to have tea.

Tmol Shilshom is a lovely place, and a real institution in Jerusalem. It is the kind of place where one immediately feels the cozy, welcoming, and literary atmosphere – there’s bookshelves filled with books, vintage furniture, and regular exhibitions and book presentations.

The coffee shop is located on the second floor of a really old building, and while the windows face the main street, the entrance is actually at the back, in a tiny alley.

Haim Alboher Alley

I was on my way to Mahane Yehuda when I noticed a tiny alley and I decided that, since I had enough time to wander around, I could walk there and see where it took me. That’s how I ended up in a lovely small square, literally steps away from all the shops, traffic and noise of Yaffo, called Haim Alboher Alley.

There were just a few people in the square – some young guys who looked like students; a girl that was intently reading a book; an elderly man. And, as in any proper square in Jerusalem, there were cats – at door steps, on the trees, and just playing around.

I’d dare say, this was a quintessential Jerusalemite scene, one that however only those who linger a little longer in the city are able to enjoy.

Have you ever been to Jerusalem? What are your favorite places in the city?

For more things to do in Jerusalem, head over to my post “Traditional and Alternative Things To Do In Jerusalem.”

Pint It For Later

Find out what are the nicest places in Jerusalem - via @clautavani

My Love Affair With Jerusalem

My Love Affair With Jerusalem

I had been warned: “You go to Jerusalem to pray; you go to Tel Aviv to party.” That’s what my friends told me – those who had been to Israel on business or on holidays; and even the many Israeli friends I had made throughout my travels.

The general consensus among all – Israelis and foreigners – was that Jerusalem is a beautiful city, but that it sends a distant, almost cold vibe.

To be fair, I felt exactly the same way after my first visit to Jerusalem. The people seemed a bit unfriendly – or maybe I just wasn’t understanding them. I am sure that religious people can appreciate Jerusalem even at a first glance. The city exudes holiness – after all, it is one of the most sacred cities in the world, for the 3 biggest monotheistic religions.

Jerusalem

Is Jerusalem all about prayers?

Trouble is I am not religious at all (though I have always been interested in the history and culture that are connected to religions). During my first visit, I found Jerusalem to be a great city; I realized there were many things to do there, many beautiful sights. But I just did not get it, so much so that after 3 days there I just wanted to leave.

To read more about what Jerusalem has to offer, check my post “Traditional And Alternative Things To Do in Jerusalem.”

I was immensely relieved when I got to Tel Aviv. It was buzzing with life. Everyone was smiling, everyone seemed friendly, everyone was out and about, having a good time. And what it lacked in history and traditions, Tel Aviv made up for with a down to earth charme, an incredible range of fun things to do, and an altogether great vibe.

To find out what to do in Tel Aviv, check my post “Twenty Things To Do In Tel Aviv To Fall In Love With It.”

It looked like my friends were right after all – Jerusalem was a city for culture and prayers, and Tel Aviv was the go-to place for fun. I fell in love with Tel Aviv. 

Jerusalem

A typical scene in Jerusalem: young soldiers casually wait for the metro

Jerusalem take two (and three)

It took me two more trips to Jerusalem to finally get it, and to fully appreciate it. I could find plenty of reasons to visit Israel, but I was reluctant to go back to Jerusalem, to be honest. I got such a cold vibe from it during my first time there that I really didn’t care to see more of it. But I had been invited to talk at a bloggers’ conference, and thought that I may as well give it a second chance.

It was when I finally gave Jerusalem a bit more time to go beyond the main tourist attractions and places of interest, when I started walking the narrow streets off the tourist tracks aimlessly, when I didn’t set myself a schedule but just went with the flow that I discovered a different side of it and I could finally connect with it.

On a Thursday night, finally done with the conference, I met Yoav, one of my many Israeli friends. He came all the way from Tel Aviv, where he lives. We had not met in over a year, and were on a quest to have a good time, though we weren’t too sure where to start from.

Jerusalem

Street life around Mahane Yehuda

All the roads lead to Mahane Yehuda

After dinner at one of the trendiest fusion restaurants in Jerusalem, Yoav suggested we headed to Mahane Yehuda, Jerusalem’s famous market. I had no idea what we’d do in a place that during the day sells bread, fruits and vegetables, but he promised we’d find a place to hang out.

He was right. Mahane Yehuda looked completely different from what I had seen. The blinds of the many shops were down, revealing interesting street art. Tables, chairs and stools were out to accommodate the multitude of trendy people waiting to have a drink or a quick bite. Cats waited patiently next to the tables, hoping someone would drop some food at them. Music blasted throughout the alleys. It was festive.

Jerusalem tourist attractions

Enjoying a drink at Mahane Yehuda Market is one of the nicest things to do in Jerusalem

Pushing through the crowds, we went to the Beer Bazar and grabbed a sampler tray of beer. People around us were deep in conversation – some talked about politics, some talked about life. Yoav and I talked about traveling: after all that’s how we met. In the midst of it, it occurred to me that what I was doing that night in Jerusalem was no more, no less than what I’d do on a night out back home: have dinner, go for a drink, enjoy the buzz and talk to friends. Come to think of it, it was no different from the nights out I’d had in Tel Aviv and for which I loved Tel Aviv.

The following morning, I headed back to Mahane Yehuda Market to buy some food for dinner. It was crowded, but it was a different crowd from the night before. People were busy shopping for the Shabbat dinner. It felt like there was a competition for the louder vendor, each and every one calling on customers to try the freshest fruits, the crunchiest nuts, the most fragrant coffee.

The younger crowds were still sitting at the bars – the same one that I had seen on Thursday night, enjoying a beer to properly kick off Shabbat. Every now and then a street musician would blast his loud music and passers-by would gather around to listen. It was chaos, but it was a lot of fun to observe. How come I had not noticed that the other times I had been at Mahane Yehuda?

Jerusalem

A game of cards in Jerusalem

All it takes is hummus and coffee

Getting the vibes of the city, I continued my ramblings and went on to explore the narrow alleys of the Old City of Jerusalem. I found a multitude of trendy vintage shops, lovely eateries and coffee shops. A bunch of elderly men were playing backgammon. A group of young soldiers was passing around a bowl of hummus. That made me hungry, so I sat at a nearby table and ordered some hummus and pita myself.

Then I went on to have the coffee whose smell kept coming my way throughout lunch. It was a thick, hot and fragrant infusion of coffee and cardamom. As I sipped my coffee, I found myself thinking that the Jerusalem I had come to know in the last few days was so different from the city I had explored months before. It was warmer, friendlier and altogether more human.

As I kept on walking, I couldn’t help being attracted by the every day life of this city, that looked so different from what the one I had come to know. A group of women stood outside a bakery. They were making so much noise, laughing so loudly, that I could not help stare at them to try to understand what the fun was about. I smiled at them as I walked by. That’s when they stopped me and offered me a piece of the delicious, moist orange and almond cake they had just bought.

I never found out what they were laughing about, but it is just as well. They were happy, and seeing them so happy made me happy too.

Jerusalem

Jerusalem is wholly lovable

In the following days, I continued exploring the city, walking around aimlessly. I came across modern art galleries – whatever had happened to all the prayers and traditions that defined Jerusalem? I ate at the trendiest restaurants in the city, amidst art shops and beautiful boutiques. I enjoyed live music and a drink with friends old and new.

The minute I relaxed and leaned back, Jerusalem reached out to get me. It grabbed me tight and won’t let go of me. This is the Jerusalem I want to go back to.

Here’s a more detailed Jerusalem travel guide. And here’s my full guide of Israel.

 

 

Tel Aviv loves life

Tel Aviv loves life

Tel Aviv

Blue sky, white sand – impossible not to love Tel Aviv

“I fell in love with a city I didn’t think I’d love. And I loved it, because Tel Aviv loves life.” That’s how my friend Margherita explains how much she enjoyed Tel Aviv. Yet, I had never been interested to go. You know – the parties, the nightlife, the modern skyline: nothing seemed to resonate with me, generally more interested in culture and history.

“I will definitely like Jerusalem better,” I told myself when I boarded the plane that took me to Israel.

“Welcome to my home!” was the welcoming message my friend Trisha sent me as soon as I landed in Tel Aviv.

“Wait, isn’t she from the Philippines?” I wondered. So why would she call Tel Aviv her home? That sounded weird. You see, I am from Sardinia, and I will always remain from Sardinia, no matter where I travel to, no matter where I live. In the more than 2 years I have lived in Colorado, and in the more than 8 years I have lived in England, I never called those places “home.” I’d say I lived there, but that was it. Home remained Cagliari – so attached to my homeland I am (as everyone else here).

tel aviv

How could I not fall in love with a city that has this to offer?

Is home really where the heart is?

So, how could a Filipino woman who had been living there for a mere 2 months talk of Tel Aviv as her home?

It didn’t take me long to understand why.

I fell in love with Tel Aviv. More than that. I felt at home in Tel Aviv – and although I have traveled the world far and wide, it never happened to me that I felt so comfortable in a place that I would consider making it my home for a while. I felt like this within minutes of arriving there, after having spent 4 days in Jerusalem, a city that left me culturally enriched, but somehow with a bitter taste in my mouth.

Don’t get me wrong, I liked Jerusalem, but I felt a bit unwelcome there, as a tourist and even more so as a human being. I perceived it as a city that doesn’t really want to be discovered, where people have put up a barrier that is difficult to cross, where they don’t want to communicate with anybody outside of their small circle.

Find out more about Jerusalem on my post Traditional and alternative things to do in Jerusalem.”

With these preambles, I was possibly expecting even less of Tel Aviv. What could someone like me possibly get out of a city that is known for being a business centre, and, at most, a place to go to have a little bit of fun?

Abraham Hostel

The gorgeous view of downtown Tel Aviv from the rooftop terrace of Abraham Hostel

A warm welcome

It was a glorious sunny day when I got to Tel Aviv. It was warm. Actually, it was almost too warm, for being the end of November. It was pleasant, after the cold wind that swept Jerusalem the day before and that froze my hands and, accompanied by the cold vibe, anesthetized my heart.

“Welcome to Abraham Hostel Tel Aviv, please make yourself at home” were the simple words, accompanied by a wide smile, that the receptionist told me as soon as I arrived. Now, that was a nice change from the icy stare I’d get at my hotel in Jerusalem.

People in Tel Aviv were already proving to be as warm as the weather.

“Why don’t you get yourself a cup of coffee or tea from the kitchen upstairs and wait in the rooftop terrace as we prepare your room and check you in?” he quickly added.

“Ok!” I uttered, thinking that any place with a rooftop terrace was bound to be cool.

I dropped my bag in the storage room, took the elevator and went to the kitchen. People in Tel Aviv like to keep a low profile, apparently. Calling that place a kitchen is a major understatement. Picture a room so large that you may wish to use rollerblades to go from one end to the other. On one side, an incredibly well equipped kitchen; then a bunch of tables and chairs; a bar that overshadows the best pubs in town and as if these were not enough already, a stage – yes, a stage – for performances and concerts.

I grabbed my coffee and made my way to the rooftop terrace – and walked by the tv room as I did so. But as soon as I made it to the terrace, I had to put the coffee down and take my camera out: the view was stunning and I wanted to take some pictures. Then I decided that it was such a nice day that I may as well go out and grab a bite.

Tel Aviv

Oceanfront cities such as Tel Aviv have that extra charme to me

Life is a beach

So I made my way to the Carmel Market – I like markets, and I like street food to the point that I even do street food tours (like in Bangkok), so it sounded like a good option. It was Friday morning, and it was packed with people shopping for their Shabbat dinner. I bought a delicious falafel sandwich for a mere 7 Sheckels (around 2 dollars), and ate it as I walked towards the beach.

Find out more about Bangkok and its street food scene on my post Nine fabulous things to do in Bangkok.”

I guess I should have known that I would have fallen for Tel Aviv, because I can’t help but love cities by the sea. I just didn’t make the connection before actually getting there. You see, I think there is something special about this kind of cities. I grew up in one (Cagliari), and it is refreshing to know that I can get a dose of vitamin sea within 7 minutes drive from home (and that is because I live on the other side of the city). I have visited several – Havana with its Malecon; San Sebastian, one of the top places to visit in Spain, with its gorgeous beaches that are a favorite among surfers; and Lima, which regularly gets fogged up because of the cold pacific air – and have always found that they have that something extra compared to others. Besides, Tel Aviv has been named one of the top ten oceanfront cities by National Geographic.

Tel Aviv

Even cats are laid back in Tel Aviv

As I walked along the waterfront, and looked at the busy urban beach, it all was a deja-vu: the people at the beach; the surfers in the water; people running; others biking or rollerblading; couples holding hands; families with children; others with their dogs; and a few cats that roamed freely. It reminded me of something I had already seen, of some place I knew very well and where I am comfortable. It reminded me of my beloved hometown Cagliari and its Poetto beach. It reminded me of home.

I continued walking along the waterfront: I could see Old Jaffa, the oldest part of Tel Aviv (whose White City, by the way, is a UNESCO site), in the distance – I’d visit that some other time. Now, as the sun started setting, the light was simply stunning and I could not get enough of it. I am hardly romantic, but I admit that I was captured by it. There was nowhere else I’d rather be.

Tel Aviv

Even cats enjoy the fabulous sunsets on Tel Aviv waterfront

It was only when it finally became dark that I realized I had been wandering around for hours. I had completely lost track of time, and it was time to walk back to the Abraham Hostel to finally check in. I already knew my way around: straight up to Carmel Market, then a right turn on Allenby, left on Rothschild and then right on Levontin. And in case I got lost I could make use of the free wifi that is available pretty much anywhere in Tel Aviv. I did not get lost, however, and I walked into the lobby to be once again welcomed by the great vibe of Abraham.

The great night out

“Do you want to join the Shabbat dinner tonight?” asked another friendly receptionist as I walked in. He explained that every Friday, as per Jewish tradition, the Abraham holds a Shabbat dinner for its guests.

“Sure,” I said – a bit dubious. I had no idea what a Shabbat dinner would be like, but why not? After all I was visiting a new country to try new experiences, and this would be one, right?

He then handed me the electronic key to my room, and I took my bag there so that I could freshen up for dinner. My room was lovely: a spacious private room on the third floor, simple yet cozy and with anything I may need for my stay.

At 7:30 pm I walked into the kitchen for the Shabbat dinner. Tables were set already, an array of home cooked food was about to be served, but we first said the prayers – well, the others did. I am an atheist, really. Besides, I could not make out a single word anyways! But it was a nice experience. A bunch of people – some travelers like me, other locals – all sitting at the same table, talking about the most diverse topics and enjoying some good food. It felt homey.

But I couldn’t make myself too comfortable. I have many Israeli friends that I have met during my travels in South America – Yuval in Peru, during the hike of the Colca Canyon; Yoav in Bolivia, when I toured the Pampas from Rurrenabaque; Eyal and Aya through our passion for cats. And there is no saying no to Israelis when they say they want to take you out.

That night, Yoav had promised to show me a bit of the nightlife Tel Aviv is famous for. We met at the Abraham and headed to Florentine. But it would have been just as well anywhere else – as we walked, I saw an incredible number of bars on the way, each of them packed with people talking, drinking and having a good time. Tel Avivians love going out, apparently.

Yoav and I had about a year and a half to catch on, and we hit several bars before I begged him to take me back to the hostel – it was almost 3 am, I was having a bike tour the next day, and a lady needs her beauty sleep anyways. Had it not been that I was meant to wake up early, I would have stayed out longer. It had been a while since I had such a good time on a night out.

Tel Aviv

Habima Square, in Tel Aviv, is one of the spots were locals like to hang out at weekends

Bike away with me

The sun wasn’t shining the following day, but it was still very warm – it was a good day for a bike tour. After all, Tel Aviv is one of the coolest cities in the world to bike around. I met Amit, my guide, in the lobby of Abraham hostel. He took me and a few more guests around the main places of interest in the city and helped us getting to know it better by adding historical and cultural relevance to the places we visited, such as Habima Square and the Helena Rubinstein Pavilion; the Rabin Memorial; Reading, the old power plant that is soon to be dismantled; and even the beaches and the waterfront. Who knew that there’s a beach for just about anybody in Tel Aviv? It just reinforced my idea of Tel Aviv as a welcoming, multicultural and vibrant city, and made me love it even more.

Tel Aviv

The old power plant of Reading is an interesting sight during the bike tour of Tel Aviv

And just in case I had any doubt at all on how welcoming Tel Aviv is, Eyal and Aya would not let me leave the city without making me try the best hummus in Israel. We met in Old Jaffa, a beautiful little town considered part of the greater Tel Aviv area. I parked my bike (how homey does it feel when you get to know your way around a city that you feel comfortable to go around by bike!) and we started walking through the narrow streets of Jaffa, passing by the Clock Tower, the Flea Market, crossing the Wishing Bridge, admiring the view of Tel Aviv from Andromeda’s Rock and the minaret of Al-Bahr Mosque. And we ended up in Jaffa Port, where we joined in the crowds in line at Abu Hassan to try the best hummus in the country.

Tel Aviv

Al-Bahr mosque, in Old Jaffa, faces directly the sea and offers a gorgeous view.

I must admit Eyal knew what he was talking about. I am far from being an expert on hummus, but that was by far the best one I have ever tried in my life.

Tel Aviv loves life

As the day turned into night and we continued onto Minzar Bar in Tel Aviv, I knew I was taken. It all made sense now – the feeling of being incredibly at ease and comfortable; the smiles I saw around me and the ones that grew on my face… These were all signs that not only I enjoyed visiting Tel Aviv, but I would not mind making this place my home at least for a while, as Trisha was already doing.

Margherita was right. Tel Aviv loves life, and I fell in love with Tel Aviv.

To find out more about Tel Aviv, check my post “Twenty Things To Do In Tel Aviv To Fall In Love With It.”

Tel Aviv

I could not get enough of the view of Tel Aviv beach from Old Jaffa.

Have you ever been to Tel Aviv? Did you enjoy it as much as I did?

Find out how to plan the perfect trip to Israel.

LEGAL DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Abraham Hostel and Abraham Tours during my stay in Tel Aviv, however all the views expressed are my own.