“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).
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
Have you ever been to Tel Aviv? Did you enjoy it as much as I did?
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.