When Dean suggested Israel for his birthday I immediately conjured up images of historic buildings, cobbled streets and devoutly religious inhabitants. This might be the case across much of Israel but after some light research I soon discovered Tel Aviv couldn't be further from that, situated on a 14 kilometre long strip of coastline, Tel Aviv is a cosmopolitan and vibrant city revelling in it's role of the countries fashion, art and culinary capital.
WHERE WE STAYED
183 Ben Yehuda Street
Since first using Airbnb 2 years ago in Melbourne Dean and I have never looked back, it's completely overhauled our holidaying experience. Gone are the days of incompetent hotel hairdryers and 2 hour breakfast eating slots.
The 1 bedroom apartment exceeded my expectations, situated on Ben Yehuda Street a minutes walk from the beach and a pleasant ten minute walk to the main hub of Tel Avi, the space was exceptionally bright and spacious, with all the amenities we would need and more.
WHAT WE DID
Prior to taking our trip I purchased a Tel Aviv guide book which I fully intended to read on the flight, somehow I completely forgot to pack it (despite Dean reminding me) so to say we were clueless as to what to do in Tel Aviv when we arrived would be an understatement. First stop:
As you would expect they were extremely helpful and pin pointed everything on a city map for us.
Jaffa - Old City
Jaffa is the ancient port city which Tel Aviv has now grown from, at 4000 years old Jaffa is the oldest part of Tel Aviv. Quaint cobbled streets, stone buildings and a scenic fishing port make up this historic city. (and a great deal of souvenir shops) Located 5km from our apartment we biked to Jaffa twice during our weeks stay (rental bikes stations are dotted all over the city). Admittedly the second time was to pick up souvenirs. Rewarded with spectacular views of the coastline, climbing up a small hill to HaPigsa gardens is definitely the highlight of the Old City.
Dizengoff Street, Rothschild Boulevard & The City
If you're anything like me and don't mind walking everywhere and the thrill of getting lost in a new city then you will enjoy Tel Aviv solely for this. Visually there is a lot to take in, few would argue the city is beautiful but thanks to it's plethora of Bauhaus architecture Tel Aviv has been awarded with UNESCO world heritage status. Whilst Bauhaus might not seem classically beautiful, it's clean simple lines are pleasing to the eye - think white walls and curved balconies. (i've always been a big fan). 4000 plus Bauhaus buildings has earnt TLV it's nickname of 'The White City', most of said architecture can been seen down Rothschild Boulevard - a wide tree lined street.
More known for it's cafes and shops, if you're walking down Dizengoff street you won't miss the fountain in Dizengoff square, I wouldn't travel kilometres to see the fountain but if you are in the area it's worth a look.
Tel Aviv is also home to a contemporary art gallery, street markets, an abundance of world class museums, cafe lined boulevards and of course a spectacular beach.
Jerusalem - Old City
I will be the first to admit we did not do our research regarding Jerusalem, we checked to see what we should and shouldn't wear and then we were off!
NB- It's best to keep shoulders and legs covered.
We even forgot to take a map...a map is an absolute must because the old city is a maze of cobbled streets full to the brim with market stalls.
Although TLV and Jerusalem are in many ways opposites Jerusalem's old city is by no means un inspiring or boring. This is one of the worlds most ancient and historically significant cities I'm talking about here, how could it NOT be awe inspiring.
The Israeli government website recommends tourists avoid all public transport following an incident on a bus earlier this year, however if you want to visit Jerusalem using public transport is virtually unavoidable, unless you can afford to go via taxi or can navigate the hebrew road signs in a rented car, promising both our parents we wouldn't travel on the bus...we did (sorry mum). Saying that I didn't feel uneasy or unsafe once on the bus - the presence of the Israel Defence Force troops helps. Upon entering Jerusalem prepared to have your personal belongings searched, we were searched on 3 separate occasions, understandably security is extremely vigilant here.
Once your familiar with the IDF walking around with machine guns and receiving a lot of odd looks, being a pasty Brit my presence was hardly inconspicuous, the Old City is phenomenal and really stands out from any historical site I have visited prior.
Separated into two sections for men and women the western wall also known at the wailing wall is the centre of daily prayer for Jews, their prayers are placed into the cracks of the walls. Modest dress is required.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
One of the most significant sites in Christianity, as affirmed by the pilgrims pouring through the doors every day, this church has been built over and around the sites where the bible states Jesus' crucifixion, burial and resurrection all took place. A maze of ornate corridors and chapels the church is undoubtably stunning.
Dome of the Rock
The golden dome is unmissable on the Jerusalem skyline, you can see the top of the dome as you travel down to the Old City via the light rail. The muslim shrine is a masterpiece of Islamic architecture, unfortunately you cannot go inside (unless Muslim) but Temple Mount the complex surrounding the dome is very serene. The Old City of Jerusalem is split into 4 quarters - Jewish, Christian, Armenian and Muslim. Security to get into the muslim quarter was very high, take some form of identification with you.
This is just a fragment of what Jerusalem has to offer, without a doubt we could have explored this city for days. To delve into Jerusalem to even further extent I recommend staying over night.
It goes without saying we had a beach day, despite my best efforts to keep this guide short and sweet with a city so different to any I've visited prior it was hard not to ramble. Dean and I chose Israel in a bid to take ourselves out of our holiday comfort zone, and rightly so, it is genuinely refreshing throwing yourself into the unknown.
Feel free to ask me any questions if I missed anything off or you would like additional info.
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