Last year in May, I travelled with my entire family to Israel for my cousin’s wedding. My husband and I found it really fun to meet our siblings, parents, grand parents, uncles, aunts and cousins right across the eastern part of the Mediterranean sea, and have this unique experience of a traditional ceremony in the Judean Desert (more about that in another post).
We first arrived in Tel-Aviv and spent 3 days on our own before we met the family and headed towards the Dead Sea. We had been to TLV before, so it was not new to us, nevertheless we wanted to experience more of the local life that we had not totally experienced during our last trip.
For that reason, we picked an Airbnb apartment instead of a hotel. Hotel rooms are tiny and narrow unless you pay an expensive rate for it, whereas apartments allow for more comfort – if you don’t care for hotel services. We chose Shlomo Hamelekh street, located at a walking distance from Rabin’s square, in an area where only locals stay, a bit apart of the coastline loaded with all the hotels and beach bars. Our area was more about tree lines and small alleys, inhabitants riding bicycles and trotinettes, small local coffee shops, HaKosem– THE best falafel shop in town – and a quick pedestrian access to larger street areas where fancy restaurants and nice local bars are opened all week long.
The Israeli way of life is quite laid back after working hours. There is enough pressure during daytime, whether at work or when dealing with admin stuffs (so we heard), so when night comes, some quality relaxing time comes along with it. Israelis gather together every evening of the week for early dinners on terraces, drinking before going out (the young lads), and enjoying their time outdoors to unwind from the day.
On our first night, we ate at Ha’Achim – which literally means “Brothers”. I loved the decoration inside, and the food was exquisite. I am a meat lover like no other, but I did find my happy in a veggie meal thanks to the great Chef touch. The Israelis are known for loving their veggies, moreover one must understand that successfully growing such a wide range of vegetables in the desert is a miracle by itself, therefore the local Chefs really challenge themselves around this type of food to make the best out of it and be creative with whatever they can find locally (including an exhaustive panel of local spices). That’s why, as a curious and gourmet globetrotter, I really wanted to try the local vegetarian options. I had left my camera in my suitcase that night, so here is a link to the restaurant photos.
During daytime, we explored the northern part of Tel-Aviv, which we had not had the time to visit the last time we were there. Lots of websites and blogs sold us on visiting the “warehouse area” for its many cafés and restaurants, its wooden boardwalk and promenade along the sea, but I may have been expecting too much because in the end – in my opinion – it was hardly worth the long walk to get there (and back).
On the way back to downtown area, we strolled about on Dizengoff Street and Ben Yehuda Street alternately, all the way down to the famous shuk haCarmel that we had visited during our last stay. Whereas early in the day these streets are not so lively, starting from midday on, they turn into one of the busiest areas in town. Small shops open, restaurants get busier, and young entrepreneurs start their day – quite late as we have been told, because having no boss on top of them allow them for a late start as they first need to recover from their crazy party night too!
My very good French friend from China, Jonathan, is one of these young successful entrepreneurs: he is the founder of BNB Israel (click to visit his website), an upscale apartment renting and conciergerie services company. While taking us around for a fun night out, he told us lots about the local youth and entrepreneurship spirit in the Holy Land. Quite an inspiration, I must say.
Something quite common in Tel-Aviv is to go for a nice brunch to start a late day. We really wanted to experience life as locals, so we walked down the wonderful Rothschild boulevard and went for brunch at Benedict’s. We missed it during our last trip (no time to go), so there was no chance to miss it another time. Our brunch was so good that I’ve repeatedly cooked it for several Sunday brunches after we returned home!
Finally, we strolled about in two different areas that I really enjoyed. The Old Jaffa Port, at the most Southern point of Tel-Aviv, is fairly different from the rest of the city. It is locally known as the “Arab district” and it has preserved an ancient style of architecture, with natural stones and a rather secular atmosphere (though now filled with cafés and top chefs restaurants). Even the most recent luxury 5* hotel has adopted this style in order to preserve what’s left of History (vs modern lifestyle and mainstream architecture of the new town). We had lunch at Itsik HaGadol (litterally Itzik the Great), known for its infamous BBQ Wagyu beed and endless veggie buffet ; they serve you vegetable entrees in quantities that go beyond the “all-you-can-eat” level, and until you actually ask them to stop bringing more.
The other part of modern Tel-Aviv that I enjoyed was the Nahalat Binyamin market area. The artisans market was nice, but what caught my eye was more in the atmosphere than on vendor’s stalls. Nahalat cafés have got something special. Terrasses are full of people sipping lattés and whatnots, women are wearing the latest fashion sunglasses and purses, and to counterweigh this super modernity, well… just look at the walls of the places they are at…
Whether because of war, civil confrontations, fast building, rebuilding, or just priority given to the decorating the interiors rather than renovating the outdoors, the streets of TLV remain a small mystery to me… that I intend to figure out the next time I go there!
Created and Written by Sophie Rebibo-Halimi. © 2020 All Rights Reserved.