Hear about travel to Tel Aviv, Israel as the Amateur Traveler talks to Shimrit Elisar from diytelavivguide.com about her home city.
Shimrit says of Tel Aviv, “It’s a really small city. You can walk everywhere interesting but it has so much going on in it, it is easily comparable to really big cities. The weather is great. The food is great. You can party every day of the week if you really want to. You can see loads of art, theatre, dance shows all within a few minutes walk. You can walk the whole length of the city in less than an hour. Tel Aviv isn’t really a place where you need to run around and see all the monuments because really there aren’t any. It’s not Jerusalem.”
We start in the ancient port city of Jaffa which is now part of Tel Aviv. Shimrit recommends we stop in the old city which has a lot of tourist restaurants. She also recommends we stop at the flea market area which is going through a process of gentrification. We would stop at places like Cafe Puaa which is a cafe and an antique store. The Jaffa Old City Museum is located underground.
A short walk from Jaffa is Neve Tzedek. It is a very expensive and beautiful part of town where we will find little boutiques. It is also the home for Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance and Theater which is where we would find Israel’s most famous dance troupe.
Most guides will send you to the center of Tel Aviv, the White City, to see the Bauhaus buildings, but Shimrit recommends we head south to markets, Carmel Market, and the less well-known Levinsky Market. The Levinsky Market is a spice market. “It’s a street full of stores and they sell everything. They sell every spice you could possibly imagine. They sell dried fruit and herbal teas and Turkish delight and all kinds of weird stuff.”
Most guidebooks won’t send you to the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station, but Shimrit recommends a visit even though the place is “hideous”. “It’s this concrete monster. It’s this huge thing. It came about under really suspicious circumstances. Now it is basically something like the Chung King mansion in Hong Kong without the hotels. It’s a bus station, it’s a super cheap and weird shopping center, it’s a nature reserve. It’s got a nature reserve for a particular type of bat.”
Learn what to eat, where to shop, great beaches, from someone who wrote the book on Tel Aviv.
DK Eyewitness Travel Guides – One of my favorite guidebook series
DIY Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv: Nonstop City
Tel Aviv Port
Jaffa Flea Market
Old City Jaffa
Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance and Theater
Visit Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv Central Bus Station
Tel Aviv’s Gay Beach
The Block (site not in English)
Day trips from Tel Aviv
— Venture Spain (@Venture_Spain) March 11, 2015
Have fun on your next trip to Argentina. Also I will thank DK for their sponsorship of the show and for their guides which I use all the time.
I would just like to comment that on the Lapland episode there was no mention of what to be careful of. I was camping in Kiruna(on my way to Narvik on one of the most incredible train rides that I have ever taken) and I was afraid to get out of the tent as the mosquitoes were casting shadows the size of small drones. Cooking outside was a major challenge as these mega mosquitos were immediately feasting on us and populating our food. Just a word to the wise.
Chris: Amateur Traveler Episode 459. Today the Amateur Traveler talks about cafes and beaches, flea market, and, yes, a camel Market as we go to Tel Aviv, Israel.
Chris: This episode of Amateur Traveler is sponsored by DK Eyewitness Travel Guides. These colorful guidebooks are filled with great information and are one of my favorite guidebooks. I have 25 of them right here on my bookshelf. Learn more at dk.com.
Chris: Welcome to the Amateur Traveler. I’m your host, Chris Christensen. We’ll be hearing more from our sponsor later on, but first let’s hear about Tel Aviv. I’d like to welcome to the show, Shimrit Elisar, the author of DIY Tel Aviv guide, which you can find at diytelavivguide.com. Shimrit, welcome to the show.
Shimrit: Hi, It’s great to be here.
Chris: Excellent, so you are resident of Tel Aviv in addition to the person who wrote the book on it.
Shimrit: I spend my time between here and the UK, but nowadays it’s mostly here.
Chris: Excellent, and why should someone come to Tel Aviv?
Shimrit: It’s a really small city. You can walk everywhere interesting, but it’s got so much going on in it. It’s easily comparable to really big cities like New York and London and Berlin. There’s so much going on, the weather is great, the food is great. You can really party every day of the week. If you really want to, you can see lots of arts, theater, dance shows. Like I said, it’s all within a minutes’ walk. You can walk the whole length of the city in less than an hour really.
Chris: You’re comparing it to New York and London and Berlin. I almost think that a better comparison might be Miami as a place with beaches and good night life. Am I on the right track?
Shimrit: I’ve never actually been to Miami, so I can’t quite tell.
Chris: And I’ve never been to Tel Aviv, so we’ll have to figure that out as we go on.
Shimrit: Yeah, the pace in Tel Aviv is not what you’d expect from a seaside town. I don’t know what Miami is like. You would expect a seaside town to be very relaxed. In a way, Tel Aviv sometimes but people here work really hard. I think the general way people are here is comparable more to New York than anything else. People are always rushing. People work really long hours. It’s a very big, high tech town so people work hi tech hours.
Chris: We’re not talking the French Riviera and linger over the glass of wine in the afternoon or something.
Shimrit: Yeah, but on the other hand, there is a big café culture and a lot of people do work from cafes. All the freelancers here just hang out in cafes all day long and work, and it’s the thing. So it’s kind of a cross between a really fast-paced, modern metropolis, and a tiny, little seaside resort, which is what just makes it an interesting thing.
Chris: If we were to come to Tel Aviv for roughly a week, what would you have us do? What kind of itinerary would you lay out for us?
Shimrit: First of all, Tel Aviv is not the place we need to run around and rack up seeing all the monuments, because really there aren’t any. It’s not Jerusalem where it has the Old City, the Wailing Wall and all of that. It’s not the sort of place. So really Tel Aviv is more about wandering around, getting the gist of the atmosphere, looking at the architecture, looking at things like markets. I would start actually from Jaffa, which is a part of Tel Aviv even though people tend to forget when they say Tel Aviv, but the full name of the city is Tel Aviv-Jaffa.
Chris: Jaffa would be the port city, I’m guessing.
Shimrit: Jaffa is the older one, the one that had been for centuries.
Chris: Since that’s where Jonah left from is how I’m getting that.
Shimrit: There is a Tel Aviv port on the other end of Tel Aviv as well and the Jaffa port. Actually one of the first things that people do is walk or cycle along the beach, because It’s a beautiful walk. If you start in Jaffa, there’s the Old City. There is the flea market in Jaffa, which is great. There’s loads of little places to hang around and eat. The port itself is really nice.
Chris: So the Old City is an ancient city unlike Tel Aviv.
Shimrit: Yeah, well, Tel Aviv is over 100 years old, but . . .
Chris: In terms of Israeli time, that’s the new city of Tel Aviv.
Shimrit: Yeah, exactly, whereas Jaffa has been there for years and years and years, the Crusader time and earlier.
Chris: When you say the Old City, what does the Old City look like today or what are we going to see today?
Shimrit: It’s all these little alleyways. There’s galleries. There is a couple of theaters. Basically there is a lot of restaurants geared to tourists.
Chris: Okay, you mentioned markets, for instance. Is there a specific market you would highly recommend or a specific theater or an archeological site?
Shimrit: The flea market in Jaffa, which isn’t actually part of the Old City but just outside, that’s a great place to be. There’s an actual flea market area, which is where people sell a load of weird junk. There’s loads of antique stores. There is these little alleyways with clothing like second hand, vintage clothing and jewelry and things like that. And recently it’s been going through a process of gentrification. So there are now loads of really great bars, and restaurants, and cafes to hang out in. Basically every street you walk, it’s got something cool on it. So wherever you go, you can’t miss it.
Chris: What’s the sort of quintessential café, either a specific café, or the café experience in Jaffa. You go, you sit, you have a coffee or you have a sweet, or you’re working on your laptop for your new startup. I’m not sure which.
Shimrit: Yeah, in the flea market itself, there is a place called Puaa, which is really beautiful. It’s an antique store and a café. So basically everything in it is for sale. Even the stuff that you’re eating off, you can buy it if you wanted to. If you like it, you can go home with it. You can have a whole meal there. It’s got a really nice menu. It’s got really good coffee. It’s the sort of place where everybody ends up so you get locals and tourists and all kinds of locals and all kinds of tourists hanging out there. In the evening, they serve alcohol because pretty much all cafes in Israel do so. In the evening, it’s almost like a bar as well with a really nice vibe. And you can sit inside, outside, on the alley. It’s just generally a really good plasce to hang out.
Chris: Excellent, and the flea market is open six days a week.
Shimrit: Well, it depends. The market itself is open six days a week and it closes earlier on Fridays because of the Sabbath, but the cafes and restaurants and bars are open seven days a week.
Chris: Okay, excellent. And then you mentioned the Old City. For those of us who are history buffs, are there still things of the ancient city that are left that we should see before we move on from Jaffa?
Shimrit: It’s basically the buildings and there is a museum in the middle of it where you can go. It’s an underground museum.
Shimrit: It’s the whole history laid out. You can do an audio tour thing in various languages. They’ve got a bit of archeology stuff going on there. It’s actually quite interesting.
Chris: Excellent. Did you want to cover anything else from Jaffa before we move on?
Shimrit: The port itself is quite nice. It’s a fishing port and a marina. There is another marina further up, and this is the cheaper one for people to live in. It’s a lived in marina. The fishing port is active very early in the morning obviously, because they sell stuff for all the restaurants in Tel Aviv. But if you get there early, you can see the action. If you get there later, there is a sort of modern farmers’ market that happens. There is this really big, hideous building that they’ve put in the middle of it, but it’s got a nice farmers’ market in it. There is a nice bar right opposite the fishing port where they have live music. They have free gigs every night as well.
Chris: The name of that bar is?
Shimrit: That’s called “The Container”. I think it kind of looks like a container. That’s why but it’s not actually one. It’s in a warehouse.
Chris: Excellent. Where to next?
Shimrit: If you walk further up along the beach and then head east, then you get to Neve Tzedek, which is really cool. It encompasses the first neighbor out of the Jaffa walls back when they used to have walls around Jaffa. That was the first Jewish neighborhood. It was called Shabazi and that’s right on the edge. Now it’s this incredibly expensive town to live in, but it’s absolutely beautiful.
You can walk around all these little boutiques and little patisseries. It’s all very [foreign language 0:09:30] and beautiful little, single-story or two-story houses. It’s a really nice place to walk around and wish that you lived there, which is what I do on a regular basis.
Chris: I’m Googling [foreign language 00:09:43]to see what we we’re just calling it here.
Shimrit: It’s sort of like quaint and cute.
Chris : Sweet to the point of being sickening. Okay, excellent. Any specific things we want to do there? Are we just walking around?
Shimrit: You are walking around. You might want to go to Suzanne Dellal Center, which is the home of the Batsheva dance troop, which is Israel’s most famous dance troop, They have different dance shows and music shows every night, and the grounds are really beautiful and you can just walk around and see them. It’s really beautiful big buildings with big courtyards that you can hang out in.
Chris: Is that something I’m going to need to book ahead if I want to go to a dance show or can I show up in the afternoon and book for one that evening?
Shimrit: It depends on the show. If it’s something that’s really hugely popular, then you might need to book but there are so many of them and so many smaller things as well that if you turn up in the afternoon, you may well be able to get something for the evening.
They have a website as well, but their English website is so horrendous. You would be pulling your hairs out trying to book something from there. It’s probably better to just go to the box office and speak to someone.
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Chris: Well, and that basic question as long as we’re talking about speaking to someone, my impression is that so many people in Israel are from somewhere else. You’re not going to have a hard time finding somebody who English is perhaps their native language.
Shimrit: Yeah, everybody here speaks English to an extent. They teach it at school from a very young age, so it’s not going to be those countries where you try to speak to people in English and people would just glare at you. Everybody will know enough to give you directions. Maybe if you’re saying stuff that is more complicated, some people will get confused but the majority of people speak brilliant English, and everybody is really keen to help tourists. So it’s never a problem to find someone to help you.
Chris: Okay, where to next?
Shimrit: This is my personal view. This is not something that a lot of guides talk about. I really love the south of Tel Aviv. Most guides will send you to the center of the city to see the Bauhaus buildings and the white city. And if you’re at all interested in architecture, it’s brilliant. I would recommended it.
Chris: And when you say the Bauhaus buildings, we’re talking about the buildings from the architectural school called Bauhaus.
Chris: Not a company building.
Shimrit: Tel Aviv has so many of those. I think it’s actually the city with most Bauhaus buildings outside of Germany.
Chris: Oh, interesting.
Shimrit: I think it’s because a lot of people, a lot of the architects and the artists run away from Germany and ended up here to continue to do their thing.
Chris: I’m not sure that everyone is going to be able to identify when they’re standing in front of a building that is from the Bauhaus School of Architecture. How would we recognize one?
Shimrit: Usually they have mostly straight lines, sometimes with a little bit of rounded balcony. But luckily there’s free tours that you can take that will tell you. You can actually go and they will point out the buildings for you. The Tel Aviv city council like the actual municipality of Tel Aviv runs them.
Chris: Oh, interesting and we’d pick those up at the tourism office or…?
Shimrit: Yeah, you can go to the info center. Also if you just search for Tel Aviv online, there would be something – and I forget what it’s called – like Visit \ Tel-Aviv or… It’ll be a very obvious thing that belongs to the city of Tel Aviv with the logo and everything. They have all the tour information on there.
Chris: Okay, and I should warn people if you’re not familiar with the Bauhaus style, it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. It’s a very straight line, modern style.
Shimrit: Yeah, there are other styles in Tel Aviv. There’s the eclectic style as well, which I prefer.
Chris: That’s okay to say. I think I prefer several styles to that style.
Shimrit: I do like the Bauhaus buildings, but the eclectic ones, there’s more going on basically. It’s not that sort of clean, and clear, and very stark style. There is a little bit more decoration, a little bit more thought put in. The balconies are more ornate. It’s more action-filled for a building. And they’re sadly quite neglected in most of Tel Aviv, because UNESCO voted Tel Aviv as the world heritage site for the Bauhaus buildings. So those are all being renovated, but the eclectic style, I don’t know what’s going on there. People don’t seem to be so keen to do those up.
You can see a lot of buildings that would be insanely beautiful, but practically derelict. If you’ve been to Cuba, I guess Americans can go now. Is that true?
Chris: It’s complicated.
Shimrit: Because in Cuba, you see buildings. You could see a really beautifully renovated building right next door to one that looks like it’s about to completely fall apart. I know from my European friend who went with me, she found it really strange, because in Europe if you are going to do up a neighborhood, you are going to do up the whole neighborhood. In Tel Aviv, basically it’s luck of the draw. Whoever owns the building if they have the money to fix it, or if it’s a Bauhaus building and the city wants to contribute, then that building will be done up beautifully and it could be surrounded by complete and utter destruction. Nobody here will find it strange.
Chris: Okay, and then we were going to the south of the city.
Shimrit: To the south, because I think culturally more stuff happens here. So it’s less of a daytime trip even though there are really cool food markets in Tel Aviv and most people go straight to the Carmel Market, which is the famous market which is great. People definitely should go there because it’s a really cool market and it’s got everything in it.
Chris: And that was the Carmel Market, but not named after the sweet.
Shimrit: No, it’s named after the mountain. One end of it starts right next to the Neve Tzedek neighborhood. You could be walking that way and going through the markets, and then you end up in the middle of the White City, Bauhaus stuff.
There is another market which a lot of people have never heard of, which is called the Levinsky Market and that’s south-ish. It’s not as far south as you can go in Tel Aviv, but it’s further south. That’s the spice market.
Chris: Oh, fun. As a photographer, I just love spice markets.
Shimrit: Yeah, it’s amazing. It’s not really apart from one place that does it for nostalgic sake. It’s not the sort of place where you get the piles [inaudible 0:17:55]. There is only one place that does it, because they’ve been in business for 60 years or whatever since the days when people did that. There’s a few places that do that for a fact, but mostly it’s a street-full of stores and they sell everything. They sell every spice you could possibly imagine. They sell loads of dried fruit, and herbal teas, and Turkish delight, and all kinds of weird stuff. There are stores that sell sweets, and stores that sell condiments, basically anything that you might want to cook with.
Chris : Now what’s the thing that I want but I don’t know that I wanted, because I haven’t been to Tel Aviv before. If I’m in that market, I really ought to try what?
Shimrit: You could try za’atar, which is really big here. It’s really big all over the Middle East. It’s a spice but you don’t generally cook with it. You put it on salads. You can put it in omelets as well. It’s a mix. It’s got sesame seeds and got all kinds of local plants that are endemic here. I don’t really know what they are called in English.
Chris: What are they called in Hebrew?
Shimrit: They call it za’atar, because there is actually a plant that’s called za’atar but the mix is more than just the plant. So that’s one good thing you can use it to season salads. It’s really good with Greek salad. That’s what a lot of people use it for here. That’s one. The other one is probably not going to be that exciting if you’ve been to Turkey, because it’s really big over there. But people who have never been to either will find it a lot here and that’s sachlav. It’s a powdered drink that you mix with hot milk.
Chris: Oh, I love that. Yes, okay, I know what you’re talking about now.
Shimrit: Yeah, it’s made out of orchids apparently.
Chris: I did not know that.
Shimrit: That’s why it’s called sachlav, because sachlav is orchid in Hebrew and I guess in Turkish. In Turkish, it’s sahlab, which I guess means the same.
Chris: I really enjoyed that and I haven’t had it since I was in Turkey. No, I do know what you’re talking about.
Shimrit: Yeah, so you can actually get the powder to make it yourself and you can get the sauce as well, because sometimes people put red sauce on it. You can get the sauce as well. You can get everything you need to make it and you can buy that anywhere in the market.
Shimrit: There’s a few places that have herbal medicine as well, which is quite nice. They list all the stuff, what it does, but unfortunately it’s in Hebrew.
Chris: My Hebrew is just a tad rusty. Excellent, where to next?
Shimrit: This is something a lot of people will disagree with me. Again I’m sending you to places that most guidebooks won’t, and it’s a bit of a personal taste thing, because I personally think one of the most interesting places in Tel Aviv is actually the central bus station. A lot of people who have been to Tel Aviv central bus station will thoroughly disagree with me, because the place is hideous. It’s this concrete monster. It’s this huge thing. It came about under really suspicious circumstances. It was meant to be this really luxurious shopping mall in the middle of one of the worst neighborhoods of Tel Aviv. Surprise, surprise! It didn’t work. Now it’s basically something along the lines of Chungking mansions in Hong Kong but without the hotels.
Chris: I know what you’re talking about, but I’m trying to picture that. So the Chungking mansion is the old building in Hong Kong that was a mansion and got turned into really, really cheap hostels.
Shimrit: Cheap hotels, restaurants, weird stores.
Chris: So this is no longer the bus station then?
Shimrit: No, it is a bus station.
Chris: It is a bus station but it’s no longer all of the other things it was supposed to be.
Shimrit: Well, no, it’s everything and more. It’s a bus station. It’s not quite luxurious but more a super cheap and weird shopping center. It’s a nature reserve.
Chris: And indoor nature reserve?
Shimrit: Indoors, yeah. It’s got a nature reserve for a particular type of bat.
Chris: All right.
Shimrit: You can’t actually go in the nature reserve itself, because it’s close to the public. I know people who do tours of the place, and they went in and [inaudible 0:22:08] authority. You wouldn’t want to go in there, because it smells really bad and it’s full of fleas. But you can go just outside of it and you can smell and hear the bats. Apparently it’s some kind of protected species of bats that live in Tel Aviv and they’ve made a home for themselves in one of the floors. So a large chunk of that floor has been closed off to the public.
What else is there? There’s at least one church in there. There is a daycare center. There is a Yiddish museum. There is an art gallery. There are several art galleries actually, and a big graffiti and street art gallery at the top. There are now also urban agriculture installations in there, and basically if you get lost in there, you don’t know what you are going to find. And it’s got so much history that place, so much weird history. The guy who designed it designed it to confuse people on purpose.
Chris: All right.
Shimrit: I went around for years thinking that the reason he was confusing was because of some kind failure on behalf of the architect, but, no, apparently because they wanted it to be a shopping center. This is where the suspicious circumstances come in, because when you design a central bus station for a city, you want it to be easy to navigate.
Chris: To get in and out.
Shimrit: Yeah, the whole purpose of this building was to confuse people who had to get in there because the buses drop them off there. So on their way to catch their next bus, they will get lost and have to spend money in the businesses that are there but it all went horribly wrong. They had it accounted for pollution. They had it accounted for the fact that nobody wanted to go there, because it’s a horrible neighborhood. They had it accounted for a lot of things.
I actually remember when the place first opened, it was never more than 30% full of businesses. It was basically miles of empty corridors with one store at the end. Nowadays there are still huge empty spaces in there.
Chris: Where they keep the bats.
Shimrit: Yeah, and there is an abandoned cinema that looks like something out of a scary zombie film. There’s three theaters. One of them is active, I think, or two of them. There’s all kind of stuff that you can actually join the tour to see it. That’s one of the things I recommend for people who are interested in urban explorations.
Chris: I was going to say “urban explorer” was the term that was coming to mind.
Shimrit: You can tour it yourself, but you get more information about the history and stuff obviously if you have a guide. But you can just wander around if you’re not the sort of person who’s scared of dark empty spaces, because you can actually go down to the abandoned . . . There are two abandoned floors that you can go down and walk around. Nothing bad will probably happen to you, but it’s people’s discretion. I know a lot of people who would not find that entertaining at all. But if you’re interested in architecture, sociology, because it’s in the middle of Tel Aviv’s only ethnically mixed neighborhood apart from Jaffa, which is half Palestinian Arab, half Israeli. This is the place where the African refugees live, where Tel Aviv’s population of foreign workers live. The whole area has got so much going on. I think people should try to see beyond the, “Oh, my God. It’s a rundown immigrant neighborhood.” And if they look around, they’ll find that it’s the most fascinating part of town.
Chris: The odd thing about having a guidebook writer come on the show is one of the questions I usually ask is, “What do the guidebooks recommend that you think is a waste of time?” I’m suspecting that if you thought it was a waste of time, you wouldn’t put it in a guidebook. Are there things that you put in the guidebook but you personally wouldn’t go to since you’re spending time in weird bus stations?
Shimrit: I try to make it as wide-ranging as possible. Obviously not everything is going to be interesting to me, but I can tell if something is going to be interesting to someone and if it’s good quality. It’s the same as music. You can appreciate a well-written piece of music even if it’s not something that you particularly like.
Chris: You mentioned, for instance, that the other guides tend to take people downtown.
Shimrit: Yeah, which is fine. Like I said, the White City is very big. They always push it. The Bauhaus buildings. There is actually and I heard this from an architect who recommended the other tour that you can do, which takes you to Ramat Aviv, which is a northern neighborhood, which is somewhere that I don’t normally go to.
Chris : Because It’s a poor neighborhood?
Elisa : Oh, no, it’s completely the opposite.
Chris: It’s a boring neighborhood.
Shimrit: It’s a residential neighborhood. It’s where the university is. It’s on the other side of the Yarkon River. One thing that you’ll learn very quickly if you meet people from Tel Aviv is that because everything is close together, then people get really lazy. When I used to live in London… In London, you don’t think twice about getting on a train and going for a whole hour to get to a club that you’re going to or a restaurant to meet your friend. In Tel Aviv, if it’s more than 10 minutes away from your house, then a lot of people are going get to be hanging around saying, “Really? I need to go all the way there. Why can’t I go to…? It’s really far. Half an hour on my bike to get there? God.” That’s one of the things that you get here is lazy, because everything is right on your doorstep.
Ramat Aviv is in the other side of the Yarkon River, which goes along the north side of Tel Aviv. For people who live in the center or south of Tel Aviv, anything beyond the Yarkon may as well be Honolulu. It’s too far and you have to have a really good reason to go there. Because it’s residential, really Ramat Aviv, there’s not much for tourists. There’s the student scene. There’s one place where there is a student bar that all the students hang out and who are there because they have nowhere else to go.
Chris: Because everything else is more than 10 minutes away.
Shimrit: Well, yeah, when you live there, then people get used to going into Tel Aviv, but I actually recommended my guide for students not to live there unless they’re getting a place in the dorms and to live somewhere they can get to the university in the day, but they don’t have to worry about going back to at night or on the weekend.
But apparently there is a lot of really great architecture there. It’s not Bauhaus. It’s different, modern styles with few famous architects. I have to admit that the person who recommended this to me who is a good authority on these things, reeled off all these names that didn’t really mean much to me, but apparently they’re really huge names who designed buildings in Tel Aviv in that area. If people are interested in architecture but not Bauhaus, then that’s the place to go. And of course there’s the Yarkon Park, which it’s got this little river and greenery which if you’re fed up of urban views and the sea, then you can go and see some trees in the river.
Chris: What’s going to surprise me about Tel Aviv?
Shimrit: It depends on what you expect, because some people are surprised that it’s not like Jerusalem. A lot of people expect Israel to just be religious people, and what they see on the news which is religious people, very conservative people and soldiers. And you are going to see soldiers and religious people in Tel Aviv, but your also going to see hipsters. You’re going to see people hanging out in cafes and restaurants with their laptops or without their laptops. You’re going to see a very big fashion scene, a very big art scenes. You’re going to see stuff like you would see in any other culturally significant city in the world. I’m not going to say big, because it’s just over half a million people.
Chris: Oh, it’s even smaller than I realized.
Shimrit: I think It’s probably around 600,000 now or something like that. It’s a small place. That might surprise people as well how much there is. Every night of the week, there is so much stuff to do. I know this because now I have to keep an eye on what’s happening all the time because I have an event up. So I know how much time it takes me every week to update things, because there’s so much stuff going in a way I wish there wasn’t because it would make my life easier if there were only two or three things. But there’s dozens and dozens of things happening all the time. I think if people expect it to be a small, provincial town, then they are going to be surprised.
Chris: Now you mentioned events. Are there particular times of the year that I should come to Tel Aviv either for the weather or for significant events that are going on?
Shimrit: The weather gets unbearably hot in the summer. August is intolerable for most people here. A lot of people go away in August. So in a way if you really like insane heat and unbearable humidity, then you’re going to find it very easy to find places to sublet in Tel Aviv over the summer, because everybody wants to get out. People do because I think there’s a lot of French people here now. I think their vacance is over August or something, so they come here but it’s really, really very hot. Even though everywhere it’s air-conditioned, you do need to sometimes step away from the air conditioning and then you just want to die. So I would recommend not coming in August.
September can also be quite bad, but towards the end of September, it starts to cool down and then the weather is perfect. Basically autumn and spring are the best times, spring up until June and basically autumn up until December. It gets colder so it’s not really beach weather for locals, but when it’s sunny, people from Europe and the States will probably still be able to quite happily go to the beach because the water is still going to be warmer than what you’re used to. But Israelis are generally not going to go in the water because it’s too cold.
Chris: And you mentioned beaches. We haven’t talked about your favorite beach.
Shimrit: My favorite beach is actually just north of Tel Aviv. It’s not an official beach. There is this big power station right on the Yarkon River north of the edge of Tel Aviv. It’s not really the edge of Tel Aviv, because there are northern neighborhoods. But as I said as soon as you cross the Yarkon River, people from the center don’t see it as Tel Aviv anymore . But once you go over the power station, there is a bridge crossing it. There is a whole stretch of beaches that goes all the way to Herzliya, which is the next town over. Hardly anyone goes there. In summer, more people go but mid-week, it’s still really, really quiet. You can just sit on the beach and nobody bothers you.
The weird thing is that there’s an airport behind you. There are two airports in Tel Aviv. There’s the international one, Ben Gurion, which is actually…
Chris: Shared with Jerusalem.
Shimrit: I want to say maybe 20 miles out. There’s Sdeh Dov, which is the smaller one which is used mostly for domestic flights. I think they used to be able to fly to Cypress from there. I’m not sure if you still can. That’s actually behind you and then there’s this walking and cycling path that goes all the way to Herzliya and then there’s the beach. It’s got all these little bays. It’s absolutely beautiful.
The other one I would say I actually really like the gay beach, the Hilton Beach. Basically because as a woman in Israel, if you go to the beach, you’re going to get a lot of attention if you go on your own.
Chris: But not if you go to the gay beach.
Shimrit: I usually go to the gay beach, and that is actually a big thing. And a lot of women go to the gay beach just because they know nobody is going to hassle them and men are not going to go there to hang out on their own if they are not gay. You can just go there and nobody will hassle you.
Chris: While I’m in Tel Aviv, is there any side trip I really absolutely have to do?
Shimrit: Because it’s really so small and you can pretty much go anywhere…
Chris: The rest of Israel is a side trip.
Shimrit: Yeah, the rest of Israel is a side trip. You probably wouldn’t want to do Jerusalem as a daytrip, because you probably want to see more, but you could because it’s only 40 minutes away. So if you really wanted to go to Jerusalem and just do the sites and come back, you are on business or something, and you didn’t have much time, you could see Jerusalem. You could go to Haifa as well, which is north, and you could see the high gardens.
Chris: We’ve talked about that on the episode we did on Israel as a country.
Shimrit: Yeah, that’s an hour on the train. So you can do that in the morning. You could see that. You can continue on to Akko, which is just a little bit further out.
Chris: The old Crusader. . .
Shimrit: Yeah. You could do that all in a daytrip and still come back and have your dinner in Tel Aviv if you really wanted to. It’s really that small.
Chris: Before we start to wind this down, what else should we know before we go to Tel Aviv besides the address of your website?
Shimrit: Of course because obviously you need that to know what’s going on. Because the food here is so good, make yourself a list of all the food places that you want to try and make sure you eat somewhere else every evening because there is so much great food to be had. Even though some people get stuck on some of the places because they’re so good and they want to try everything on the menu, which I totally can relate to, but. . .
Chris: Is there anything different about Tel Aviv food versus the general Middle Eastern cuisine?
Shimrit: Israel is really big on fusion partly because people here are from all over. . .
Chris: Because Israel is really big on fusion.
Shimrit: Yeah, Israel is really big on fusion and people travel a lot as well and they take stuff abroad that they like and they bring it back. The other reason, I think, is because people generally here are very casual about everything. You don’t get that sort of stickler mentality that you get for people to do everything in a super authentic way. People like to do it their way, which means that for Asian food for example, there’s a couple of more authentic Chinese places in the city that are actually run by Chinese immigrants. But the Israeli-run places tend to be Pan-Asian. And some of it I think it’s because they can’t be bothered to do it properly so they just mix and match. But the combinations are great and I actually really like the fusion places because you can taste stuff that you wouldn’t taste anywhere else. If it’s done right and it’s mostly done right, then it’s really great for your general culinary experience.
Chris : Excellent, last two questions as we go to wind this up. One thing that makes you laugh and say “Only in Tel Aviv”.
Shimrit: Anything to do with street cats. This is what people see, because you get cats everywhere. I love cats. Anything to do with cats make me laugh. This is something that a lot of people notice. People don’t realize quite how many cats there are. They’re everywhere. Everywhere you go there will be… But if you go to a restaurant, there’ll generally be a cat trying to steal your food. If you’re walking on the street, there’ll be one following you. It’s everywhere. It’s one of the things that is quite distinctive, I think, about Israel and Tel Aviv in general. If you do a quick search, you’ll see that hundreds of people are taken by this and upload loads of pictures of cats they’ve seen in the street in Tel Aviv.
The other thing is more like in Israel – the fact that there’s no public transport practically on the weekends because of religious reasons. So there’s taxis and there’s some share taxis, but generally you can’t and people get really quite surprised by this when they try to go places that aren’t covered by the share taxis on weekends. You can’t get to the airport on the weekends without a private taxi or someone to give you a ride. That’s one of the things that you have to laugh about, because otherwise you’ll get a bit annoyed.
Chris: You’re standing in the most beautiful spot in all of Tel Aviv, where are you standing and what are you looking at?
Shimrit: Probably at the sea and I know exactly where actually. I’m standing and looking at Jaffa from the southern bit of the Tel Aviv seafront. It’s at sunset as well because the people who built Jaffa knew what they were doing, because at sunset, the light hits the city and you can see the Old City. You can see the wall coming up from the port. It’s sand-colored walls, so when the sunset hits them, they glow and it’s absolutely beautiful.
Chris: Last two questions. Finish this sentence. You really know you are in Tel Aviv when what?
Shimrit: I think when you’re coming out of a club really early in the morning and heading towards the beach. I think that’s one of those Tel Aviv experiences. A lot of people come here for the nightlife and . . .
Chris: Well, in fact when you pitched the show, you really pitched the nightlife. We haven’t really talked that much about the nightlife yet. Where would we best experience the nightlife? What do you recommend? How do you tackle Tel Aviv at night?
Shimrit: It depends on whether you want a big club or a more intimate experience. I think if you’re at all interested in electronic music, then definitely The Block Club is the place to be. It’s the biggest club in Tel Aviv. It’s got three huge spaces in it. It’s got the best of the Israel DJs playing in it every week. They bring over really big-named DJs like international ones.
Chris: And playing dance music trends.
Shimrit: Playing dance music. A lot of techno. A lot of house. Sometimes hip-hop and things like that as well. What I like about it is that it’s the few places in Tel Aviv that upholds the smoking ban on the main dance floor. Even though it’s illegal to smoke indoors in Israel, in Tel Aviv, most places ignore that ban. Great if you’re a smoker unless you get caught by an inspector, because someone didn’t pay their bribe. If you’re a non-smoker like me and you’re used to Europe where people don’t smoke indoors anymore, then it can get a bit much. So The Block is one of those places where you can go and you can enjoy a smoke-free dance floor, which is great.
Also for live music, a really good place to go is called Levontin 7, which is the address as well. It’s a great place. They have everything from jazz and avant-garde to indie music. They also have parties, but more of an eclectic range. You can get everything from Middle Eastern music to Russian music to dance music and indie rock, everything. Not all at one party obviously, but every night is different and some of them are free as well in that place so very cheap. You can get into the party for only 10 shekels, which is nice.
Chris: And a shekel to a dollar is roughly . . .?
Shimrit: Four shekels to a dollar.
Chris : Okay, wow, it’s real cheap.
Shimrit: It’s really cheap and it’s worth noting there’s loads of places that do live music. There’s loads of bars that do like music usually free or very cheap. Friday afternoon is a really good time as well. There’s a lot of gigs.
Chris : Favorite bar?
Shimrit: I would have to say, at the moment, it’s a place called the Bar Mitzvah. It’s quite new and it’s very trendy. Things change very quickly.
Chris: Change so much.
Shimrit: Something that’s trendy now, if it’s not shutdown within a year, it could be really boring. But at the moment, a really cool place which hopefully will last a very long time. They have a lot of live music. Every Friday afternoon, pretty much they have free live music and in the evenings as well a few times a week. Again it’s a good range of stuff. It can be anything from rock to blues to Middle Eastern, jazz, anything.
Chris: Well, then let’s get to our last question If you had to summarize Tel Aviv in just three words, what three words would you use.
Shimrit: Small but kicking.
Chris: Excellent. Our guest again has been, Shimrit, Elisar, the author of DIY Tel Aviv. Where can people read more about Tel Aviv?
Shimrit: If people want to go to the website, which is www.diytelavivguide.com, there is a blog there with event listings and people can download the full guide from there as well which has got over 240 pages of information about Tel Aviv. If people want to know what’s going on now, an event listing is up as well. It’s already on Android. It’s coming out very soon on Apple as well. Basically if people search for DIY Tel Aviv Guides, they’ll find the ebook there as well and they’ll find the event listings app. That’s updated almost every day with more cool stuff to do.
Chris: Excellent. Thanks so much for coming on Amateur Traveler and sharing with us your love for Tel Aviv.
Shimrit: Thank you so much for having me.
Chris: In news of the community, I had a comment on Twitter from John from Venture Spain who said about the episode we did with the director of the Peace Corps last week, “Love this. I started listening to the Amateur Traveler when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines.” John, that’s terrific and thanks for letting us know.
I also heard from Jeff on the episode we did on Lapland, “Have fun in your next trip to Argentina. Also, I will thank DK for their sponsorship of the show and for their guides, which I use all the time. I would like to comment that on the Lapland episode, there was no mention of what to be careful. I was camping in Kiruna on my way to Narvik on one of the most incredible train rides that I have ever taken and I was afraid to get out of the tent as the mosquitoes were casting shadows the size of small drones. Cooking outside was a major challenge as these mega mosquitoes were immediately feasting on us and populating our food. Just a word to the wise.” Jeff, one of the things we don’t talk about is one of the reasons that they think that birds migrate, for instance, up to these colder regions either up to Alaska up to Maine up to Canada or up to northern Sweden. There is lots of bugs to eat. That is definitely something that you need to be aware of if you’re going to any of those areas especially any area with tundra in the summertime.
Chris: With that, we’re going to end this episode of Amateur Traveler. If you have a question, send an email to host at amateurtraveler.com or better yet leave a comment in this episode at amateurtraveler.com. Follow me on Twitter @chris2x. As always, thanks so much for listening.