Tel Aviv, ya habibi, Tel Aviv!
[Tel Aviv, my love, Tel Aviv!]
– Omar Adam, “Tel Aviv”, smash hit gay anthem 2015
The final post in my series on Israel has to be dedicated to the rambunctious, ultra-cool, progressive and seductive city that is Tel Aviv, where I spent the latter five days of my stay. Tel Aviv has everything one could want from a city. It’s ultra urbanised, being the country’s finance and technology centre, but the beaches are a paradise of pristine white sand along the Mediterranean coastline.
Tel Aviv is known for being liberal, earning it the title Gay Capital of the Middle East. And there’s certainly partying aplenty to be done if you so wish. On our first night in Tel Aviv I found myself dancing on the bar of an establishment where for 79 sheqels (about £20) you could get unlimited drinks all night.
During the guided portion of our time in Tel Aviv we got a real taste of the city’s coolness. We wandered the Nachalat Binayamin arts & crafts market, took a street art tour, and a start-up themed tour, visited the Bitcoin embassy… even Shabbat was kinda funky. The Alternative Kabbalat Shabbat was decidedly non-Orthodox; it was essentially an awesome free concert at the harbour, where a beautiful vocalist sang her heart out before the backdrop of a pink and gold sunset over the sea, accompanied by a live band.
And of course there was the beach. Oh, the beach. On our last full day in the city, my good friend and I could be found lounging under an umbrella on the white hot sand, openly ogling the military-hardened physiques of the dudes all around. Though how they manage to maintain those abs with the bountiful delicious food all around is anyone’s guess.
The cuisine in Israel needs a special mention. Apart from China and Taiwan, it is the best food experience I have ever had (with the added bonus of not having to fear gutter oil or fake meat). Aubergine with every meal. Hummus abounding. Puffy, flavourful, handmade bread hot from the oven. Grilled sweet potato and peppers. Enough vegetables everywhere to satisfy even me. Barbecued meat. Healthful and delicious, the food was a revelation.
In particular, a small sabich stand in Tel Aviv had us coming back for more. Sabich is a pitta stuffed with aubergine (natch), chopped up boiled egg, and all manner of salad, hummus and sauces, spicy as you like. Slobber. As for dessert, there’s only one place in Tel Aviv I need to go: Anita, decidedly the best gelato in the city, if not the entire country. The cashew gelato, sweet but salted, makes me dribble a little bit just thinking about it.
Yes, Tel Aviv was intoxicating. You’d never know you were in a tiny country basically in the middle of a war zone. Unless you were to get caught in a bomb scare, which we fortunately were not. Though if you were, chances are the majority of the people around you would know exactly what to do in that situation.
The entire trip was off-the-charts insane, much aided and abetted by the zany company I was keeping (holla, Bribri). I haven’t managed to cover half of what we did in those jam-packed nine days, but it was paradigm-shifting for me personally. I have a feeling it won’t be the last I’ve seen of that confounding, tragic, ecstatic and singularly extraordinary place. Shalom, Israel, for now.