1. They don’t stamp your passport anymore
There were many reasons why I wanted to go to Israel, but also several reasons that had me stalling. For starters, I am a pretentious new-age traveller. Therefore I have grand ambitions of travelling throughout the Middle East: Egypt, Syria, Iran, Lebanon… And I’m pretty sure an Israeli stamp in my passport is not gonna win me any friends in these countries.
But apparently I’m not the only one worried about such things, because Israeli customs has now introduced a... wait for it... REMOVABLE tourist visa solution!!!
2. It’s safe
My Mum didn’t speak to me for a couple of days after I booked my flights to Tel Aviv. I guess she had visions of the city being a kind of quasi war zone where rockets fly in every other minute.
This whole standoff took place during the week of the Paris siege, and although I used the situation to prove that terrible things can happen anywhere - and at least the Israelis are prepared for it - I must admit I didn’t really know what to expect either.
Turns out we were both victims of the Western media (or possibly just good ol' fashioned small minded prejudice). Admittedly, I didn’t make any day trips to the Gaza strip or anything, but I always felt completely at ease - as if I could have been in any city in Europe. In fact I often felt much safer than I would have done in many cities in Europe. I was able to walk around alone and at night time without any hassles.
The only time I ever felt a little scared was at the airport on the way OUT of the country (ironically enough) where I was basically interrogated about my trips to Turkey and Morocco, before having my hand luggage scanned literally ten times.
3. There’s a BEACH
Last Saturday it was snowing in Munich. I spent most of the day napping on the sand in Tel Aviv. ‘Nuff said.
And this is a Mediterranean climate, baby. Average high temperatures range from 18 - 32 degrees Celsius throughout the year. My kinda place!
4. The food is the best I have tasted.. ANYWHERE
The one regret I have from my trip to Tel Aviv is that I didn’t take more foodie shots. Although I think this is actually a testament to how good the food is here: it was simply so enticing that the last thing on my mind was my Instagram feed!
I have never been to a city with better food. And that is really saying something as I grew up in one of the foodie capitals of the world. I was also lucky enough to have a local foodie as my guide. I set him the challenge of finding me the best hummus is Tel Aviv, and he didn’t disappoint me in the slightest.
According to YouTube we are not the only ones who like Abu Hasan...
But the love affair didn’t end there… there was also matzah balls at Passover dinner, all manner of fresh chopped salads, halloumi cheese, vine leaves in yoghurt, and this baked egg pastry thing I bought off the street and tried (unsuccesfully) to explain to Daniel for translation... Excuse me while I wipe the drool off my keyboard.
Oh, and incase you thought my wonder was limited to the traditional food then stop right there. I also had possibly the BEST Mexican meal I have ever had, AND the best Tequila cocktail, at this place.
5. The shopping is incredible
My style has always been a bit hard to pin down. A little too colourful for Melbourne, not quite polished enough for Paris, not quite hipster enough for London. But in Tel Aviv it’s all bright dresses, long flowing skirts, and unique jewellery that could only have been purchased at an Artist's Market. And I’m down with that homey.
6. It has a really cool vibe
This is a city with some of the funkiest street art in the world. This is a city where stray cats roam the streets (and I am somehow not freaked out). This is a city where, if you sit down to tuck into pita and hummus on Passover Friday* (guilty) flashy youths drive by and scream at you in Hebrew: “It’s Passover motherf*ckers!”. True. Story.
It’s a vibe that is difficult to articulate, but all the more alluring for it.
* During Passover it is forbidden to eat leavened bread. Apparently when the Jews escaped from Egypt they left in such a hurry they didn't have time to let the bread rise, so the traditional commemorates this sacrifice. And don't even think of ordering bread anywhere during Passover (bread die-hards can still find it in the touristy areas of Tel Aviv) - instead you must be content with matzah, which for the record is a pretty shitty substitute for pita.
7. Jerusalem is only an hour away
So far I have put forth all the ingredients for a laid-back beach holiday. But a trip to Tel Aviv offers much more than that. You just need to hop on a bus and travel 50 kilometres down the road to Jerusalem, one of the oldest and most fascinating cities on the planet.
I am already in the process of putting together an entire post dedicated to Jerusalem (and I’m warning you, it’s deep) so I will save it until then to go into detail. But in the meantime, let me say this: Jerusalem is frickin awesome!