We flew to Tel Aviv with some trepidation, not least because we flew with Wizz air, the least serious airline name I have ever heard. We had thrown Israel into our travel plans simply because the flights were almost a third cheaper than flying straight to Jordan. It’s probably not a place I would have gone on a holiday (I’d be more interesting in going for work!) and because we had squished it into the week we were planning on spending in the Middle East, we didn’t get to see both sides of the story. We saw Israel, and although we did take a bus through the West Bank on our way to Jordan, we didn’t really see Palestine. As a result I feel we had a very biased view of the situation. Nonetheless, despite the guilt I felt walking around, we ended up having a really interesting time.
Tel Aviv is fondly known by the locals as “the bubble”, because it is generally quite isolated from the political strife across the rest of the country and has a genuinely liberal feel about it. The hostel we stayed at was called Florentine and was the coolest we have stayed at yet. Situated in a pretty dodgy area on the edges of old Jaffa and a more salubrious area called Neve Tzedek. Once inside it was clear that this was some sort of hipster paradise. There was a lovely big terrace with couches and hammocks where you could sit looking out over the city to the sea, beer on sale, complete with a half-price happy hour, free breakfast and free dinner (based on tips for the chef), and the local Israeli’s running the place were friendly, helpful and good fun, organising nightly outings to local bars. We were unable to partake in the latter because, having gotten up at 3am to get to the airport in Budapest, we were dead to the world by 10pm.
We spent the day wandering down the beach and trying to hide from the relentless sunshine under big hats we had bought. Swimming in the choppy sea was fun but as the water was also hot, it wasn’t as refreshing as you would have hoped. By mid afternoon, we were basically crawling around in the heat, eating ice creams in old Jaffa and hiding in the shade.
It was difficult to get a feel for the place in the heat. Jaffa is an ancient sea port (some date its usage back to the bronze age), it’s mentioned in the bible and more recently in the 1940s, was part of a contentious Israeli Governement exapnsion of it’s borders. Jaffa was originally on the Arab side of the UN partion drawn up in 1948. It is now incorporated into Tel Aviv. I felt uncomfortable about not knowing more about how it all worked so we spent the time in the shade googling the history of the town.
The next day we walked up to Carmel Market, a bustling few streets full of colourful stalls, where we gorged on fresh baklava, hot from the oven, dripping in honey and butter. It was messy and delicious and we bought way too much so we ended up eating it for lunch and for an afternoon snack later that day. Nomnomnomnomnom.
Tel Aviv was fun to rest in but to be honest, I couldn’t see much going on there. While it felt liberal in comparison to the rest of the Middle East, it also felt hard to make out. Perhaps this was just me being overly critical. We left that afternoon for Jerusalem, on a bus with some off duty soldiers carrying automatic rifles. They were nonchalant, taking a nap or texting their mates with their guns sitting in their laps…*loosens collar nervously*.