I went away to Israel. And the reaction I got from a lot of people was ‘Really? Why?’ Because it’s one of the few places that don’t officially celebrate Christmas and New Year’s (this was the time when I went). And because it’s in the Middle East where things blow up, and people get murdered. And because it’s the country full of Jewish people relation to which I have none. Putting all these logical reasons aside, it’s a great country, and I always wanted to go. Needless to say, it met and exceeded all of my expectations.
- Name: Mila Nyk
- Age Group: 26-30
- Hometown: Brooklyn
- Home Country: United States
- Cities Visited: Tel Aviv, Tsefat, Jerusalem, Caesarea
- Duration: 10 days
Day of our arrival. We boarded off the plane and stepped onto Israeli land full of excitement and enthusiasm for the new adventures… Not really. After 15 hours of traveling, with a connecting flight through Rome, I was pretty damn exhausted, irritable, and somewhat stabby. A huge menorah was right outside of the airport and I said ‘should I take a selfie, or will I have plenty of chances to take selfies with menorahs during this trip’, which was only a slightly racist thing to say. Then I saw palm trees, and was all like ‘well hello, Miami.’ But it was nothing like Miami. We were met by some friend, whose couch we were to surf during the next week and a half, and when I expressed out loud my inability to place what the surroundings look like, I was assisted with a rhetorical ‘It looks like Tel Aviv.’ And so it did.
After, we were taken to our place of stay, took a lovely bubble bath, had a nice meal and some champagne, and retired to our room for much deserved rest. And all that happened in my head. Because we came, a bunch of other people came, and all of them knew each other and were glad to see each other, and I just kept smiling/repeating my name, smiling /repeating my name. Food we did have. By the way, food was really good throughout the trip, which also means more of me came back then went in. And then we set off for a walk on the local boardwalk because I have no idea why.
The boardwalk was nice, newly built, lined with cafes, shops and restaurant and I said ‘you have a lovely beach here’, to which I received a response ‘that’s not a beach, it’s just a shoreline’, to which in turn I said ‘if you’d ever see Coney Island beach, you would know that your shore line IS a lovely beach.’ After some additional pleasant chit chatting about pleasant pleasantries in life, part of the company broke off, while three of us set off for drinks. Of course, we didn’t just get to a place with drinks but walked through the prominent Rothschild Boulevard of Tel Aviv with an occasional backstory for this historical building and that statute of a man on a horse. Because any self-respecting city is supposed to have a statute of a man on a horse. I listened patiently because the promise of alcohol was near, and also because I’m polite like that. The evening ended well, we went to sleep eventually.
Slept in late. Probably because you’re not meant to see the entire city on the day of your arrival and meet with all its residents. [I could insert something here about the cold shower I got to have in the morning being reassured by one of our hosts that the boiler definitely heated up on its own overnight. But I believe in forgiveness, so I won’t mention it.] Then we set off for some good old walking through the streets, staring at things and people, and taking occasional selfies. As such:
Trees, bushes, and shrubs definitely had a tropical look to them (I even saw a tangerine tree, with tangerines on them, which for some reason made me exclaim with excitement, and I had no idea I have such strong feelings towards tangerine trees). Older houses had a Spanish look to them, or something I imagine Cuba to look like, which is probably a stupid reference because I’ve never been to Cuba. Also, there is a noticeable number of Bauhaus Architecture. Not that I noticed it, but I was repeatedly, constantly, on many occasions pointed to a house and told that’s Bauhaus, and this part I did notice. At the same time, there is a lot of new housing development, modern high rises, and I’m done with being proper and factual.
Then, I was taken to eat sabich, which is a local favorite street food and consists of pita with humus and a bunch of other stuff, except meat. It was really good, but it was also this moment that I discovered going forward food would include humus-all the time, other stuff-most of the time, meat-almost none of the time. Not that I complained, but I think I might have complained enough that after a few days we went to a steak house.
Then we visited the old city of Jaffa, which was old and it was named Jaffa, or in other words there’s not much to say you just have to see it.
And then a friend, who was giving us a tour of the place, nonchalantly said what can be the most brilliant phrase ever ‘they have a wishing bridge here, but it’s closed for renovation.’ Life’s a bitch, nobody cares for your wishes, and we’re all going to die. But otherwise it was a great, positive evening.
Slept in late again. This time arguably because of the time difference. By the way, time difference is real and you will feel it. Especially once you need to go back to work again. It will hunt you with a vengeance.
Anyhow, this day we went to the Carmel Market. Which is pretty much exactly what you’d expect a market to look like. A noticeable difference were stands with zillion spices. We didn’t stop nor bought anything, but at some point I really did wish to be one of those crazies who are like an encyclopedia on spices. Then I’d whisper some rare name to the stand owner so he could be like ‘yes, yes, I have it’ and pull it out from underneath his left armpit. Because that’s his secret hiding place.
We did stop to have some really good coffee. It was a spot that you wouldn’t find unless you knew to look for it. Luckily, my companion knew to look for it. So we did. And then we found it. And once we did, we stopped looking for it. Because that’s just logic. Here’s a somewhat helpful map for you to find it.
Then we had some Yemen soup, which was also truly good. In the same neighborhood, and you may refer to the map above to find it. But really, if ever in Tel Aviv go and eat some Yemen soup. If anything it’s not hummus.
That night we were invited for a social event gathering. And it was cool because everyone treated us like celebrities just for the fact that we’re from New York. And I finally knew my overpriced rent all these years was not for nothing.
We went to the Tel Aviv Museum of Modern Art and it was well worth it. The space they have there was really beautiful, meaning just the building itself. It makes you take angelic looking selfies. Here, check this out:
It also had an impressive collection of paintings by Picasso, Pollock, Kandinsky, Monet, Van Gogh, Chagall and numerous others. And I was so happy that I took art history class in college and was all like ‘to properly look at paintings by Monet you need to take three steps back and admire it from afar’. And that’s how you show off.
Then we went to a Hipster neighborhood that looks almost identical to Bushwick (expl: neighborhood in Brooklyn), with the exception that some of the graffiti were in Yiddish. And we had some beers at a Mexican place because those Jewish Mexicans are just everywhere. It’s called Florentin (the neighborhood, not the Jewish Mexicans) do check it out.
So this day was dedicated to some bus traveling. And this is an attraction that should be done if you’re lacking extreme in your life. Because people in Tel Aviv drive as if they’re immortal. Maybe they just are, that would explain it then.
We went to look at different neighborhoods. Old Jaffa again because it has the ancient port and it’s from there rest of the city originated. Sort of useless but historically accurate data. We saw this hanging tree, official name for which is the floating orange tree. Which is a misleading title because you can’t hang something and then say it’s floating. Regardless, it was oddly interesting.
Then we went to check out HaTachana, which used to be an old railway station, now turned into a boutique mall space. Because everything is better when it’s a boutique mall. It did score a number of brides taking pictures, so the place must be important.
Then Neve Tzedek neighborhood, which was the first Jewish neighborhood to be built outside of the old city of Jaffa. If it was the second Jewish neighborhood, I would still advise you to go see it. Even if it was like the fifth. The streets are pretty old, and interesting to wander through. Do not however try to be too creative with your picture taking because you’ll look like a stalker in the bushes.
And then Sarona complex, which used to be where a German Templar colony first settled. They’re not there anymore, possibly because they got kicked out because they’re German. I’m making educated guesses here. But it’s a very fancy shopping center now. Because that’s just a good strategy.
This day was the New Year’s Eve and we set off on a trip to some rental houses we, well, rented in the Northern part of Israel. When I made attempts to clarify where exactly we’re going I was provided with the same answer – North. Just North. So you have to settle with that as well. As far as I can tell, it’s a type of Pennsylvania for us New Yorkers. Or the out-of-town area, which nobody really cares about unless they want to get out of town, but don’t bother to know more because it’s not like you’ll ever going to live there. The trip was supposed to be really long, 2 hours to be exact. And on a bad traffic day that’s how long it takes me to get home from work. But keep in mind that Israel is a tiny country and people there are spoiled with short distances.
On the way, we made a stop for holiday food shopping. Which involved loading our cart with random things half of which never made it to the table. I am always fascinated by how group shopping is never efficient. It just turns into a massive frenzy aka stocking up for apocalypses, and I’ll just live with this idea.
We had a plan to make a stop at the ancient city of Tsefat on our way. The weather got really bad, it was freezing and raining. But the ancient city it was, regardless. Can’t tell you the experience was completely pleasant because we were freezing and soaking wet. It was however gorgeous and it stopped raining on our heads for a complete 20 min we braved to walk the streets of Tsefat. So call it luck, holiday miracle, or the sometimes the challenging life of a tourist.
Then we got to our rented premises each of which had its own jacuzzi and looked very alluring. But we had a trunk full of food stuffs and were now obliged to make an honest attempt to eat it all. Female part of the group took on the job of setting the table because who heard of feminism anyway. But in all honesty everybody participated, we set down 3 hours before the New Years, were sure to fall asleep exhausted from battling the weather, but ended up talking and laughing and having good, old, jolly times. Because sometimes good people happen.
At one point, we were outside, heard sounds, and I was all like ‘Fireworks!’, to which I was told that we are right on the border with Lebanon and those are gun shots. But holiday spirit an all, I choose to believe that Lebanese people are just really into fireworks.
January 1st. We woke up to a double rainbow. I am not even making this up.
Now, is that a good omen or what? Can’t promise you the same if you decide to celebrate New Year’s day in Israel, but hey, where it happens once…
The double rainbow day didn’t just end there. We drove to a steak house and to food, which was gorgeous and delicious. I plead guilty to food picture taking.
And in case you’re ever in Israel, just saw a double rainbow, had a steak, and wandering how to end this perfect day, I have an answer for you. Go to a winery where the owner himself will be pouring you samples of his best wines, feeding you tidbits of cheese in between, and telling you tales of life in the Israeli country side. All of which happened and were awesome.
I was all like ‘I don’t know why you complain about bombs so much, your country is awesome’. And then it got awesomer. We visited Hula Valley, which is a major stopover for birds migrating between Europe, Asia, and Africa. At the time we were there, migrant cranes were in season. And it was just fields and fields full of these beautiful birds all yapping at each other, and going about their business. I have no clue what’s so special about watching large gatherings of birds, but special it was. Do not, however, try this at home.
So this day was when we took a bus, met with a tour guide, and went on an excursion to Jerusalem. We went alone because all of our friends from Tel Aviv refused to go, and made an honest attempt to talk us out of it. Horrific and true fact, people are getting murdered on the streets of Jerusalem in a wave of terrorism that some call intifada.
Anyhow, the city of Jerusalem is a must see destination. Put it on your bucket list, make a mental note, tie a ribbon on your pinkie, whatever works. It’s considered holy to the three major religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It’s one of the oldest cities in the World. And many claim that even atmosphere there is electrifying, special, and just different. Having been there, I would agree it to be true. Won’t be able to describe in which way, so here just look at the pictures.
And we didn’t get murdered, so call it a success.
This was the final day. Almost done, loves.
We decided to squeeze in one last ancient city on this day because Israel has plenty of those and why the hell not. It was the city of Caesarea, a short drive away from Tel Aviv, and nobody’s getting murdered there, so do visit. It does have some ominous looking cats, waiting in line to a women’s bathroom, I’m not sure what the deal is with that, so beware.
It used to be a great port city built a long, long time ago for all I know. And it went through several stages of ownership from Roman Empire, Byzantine Empire, following the Muslim conquest, and then the Crusader conquest. That city has seen some shit, and has an impressive collection of ruins to prove it.
Skip on that next purchase, save up, and travel.
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