Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Israel for Beginners

Postcard from the Bauhaus Center in  Tel Aviv
"Oh, god, no. I would NEVER blow up an airplane. I'm afraid of bombs. I swear!"

For what was supposed to be the start of a relaxing vacation, the interrogation process at the airport wasn't boding so well. After my interrogators--AKA the airline staff--grilled me, they had me empty out my bag before swabbing it with a damp tissue-type thing clamped to the end of a long wand. After a full-throttle shake-down that rattled my nerves, they gave me the OK to board the flight to Tel Aviv.

My in-flight vegan meal. I'd never have thought to put potatoes in a sandwich, but it was actually pretty good!

This authentic Israeli falafel, however, is a little more my speed.

Israel hadn't been on my must-visit list for long; it was someplace that always seemed intriguing--in ways that battlefields and musty old churches are--but the promise of hot weather and a sandy swath of Mediterranean coastline was a primary motivator.

It's been winter in Paris for approximately 2 years. And, like someone who has been deprived of food for a long time, the longing to gorge on sunshine has been an overwhelming preoccupation for the better part of the last 24 months. If I wanted to stretch the limits of my furnace-like vacation ideal, there would also be a beach with soft sand and gentle waves, interesting museums, and good food. Israel, on paper, promised all of that.

The light-filled dining room at Taste of Life

A simple salad accompanied my burger-and-rice plate.

My plane landed at 5:45 am, and the sun was already showing its face and gently ascending in the clear blue sky. Taking the train into the city was straightforward; tickets were around 3 bucks for the 15-minute ride, and the station is accessible directly from the airport terminal. Once I arrived at Arlozorov station, I walked down busy Arlozorov street directly to my AirBnB digs, perfectly positioned three blocks from the sea.

I spent Day 1 in a red-eye daze, wandering the palm-tree lined streets, checking out the vegan dining scene, bumping into flea markets, stopping at juice bars, and finally making my way to the beach, where I shamelessly feasted on a succulent buffet of UVA and UVB rays. At lunchtime, I sought out Taam Hachaim/A Taste of Life, a vegan place run by the black Hebrew Israelite community.

Getting my juice on at Taste of Life

My server spoke with an unmistakable American accent; he credited his parents--Americans from the midwest--and the fact that he grew up watching a lot of American TV shows on Israeli TV for his Yankee drawl. The food was simple and tasty, and the fresh carrot-spinach juice was divine.

My favorite view.

One of my local juice places.

The Juice du Jour, extra large, costs the equivalent of about $4.50.

Every morning I'd awake and gingerly peel back the curtains expecting the worst, weather-wise, only to reveal yet another bright blue sky exploding with sunshine. After endless weeks and months of gray Parisian skies skies, I felt ecstatic at the continued onslaught of glorious weather. Leaving the apartment early, I'd walk a block up to Dizingoff street, a tree-lined, boutique-filled paradise teeming with juice bars. First, I'd knock back a wheat grass juice, then mosey several blocks further for a green juice at my new "local" spot, Shakes'pri. I usually went for whatever was fresh that day, but the usual melange was something like lemon-spinach-kale-fennel-beet-cucumber-celery.

Mixed-use space on the streets of Tel Aviv.

Another accidental find: Birenbaum--a friendly, inviting, and delicious veg cafe.

The lunch buffet, all you can eat for 50 shekels!

One of about a dozen plates I scarfed.
After each morning's liquid pick-me-up, I'd explore Tel Aviv on foot, discovering  colorful markets, vintage shops, restaurants, squares and parks. I'm only slightly ashamed to admit I didn't visit a single museum during the entire weeklong trip. There were simply too many distractions outside (and way too much sun) to consider spending anything more than the bare minimum indoors.

The view out the window of my AirBnB digs.

The Dizingoff flea market takes place every Tuesday and Friday. Lucky me: I got to go twice!
Beloved beach, how I've longed for you!

One day, I walked 2+ kilometers south along the seafront promenade to the ancient port town of Jaffa. My AirBnB hosts, Shifrit and Hadar, suggested I check it out; there's a flea market there, they said, and a vibrant cafe culture. They were so right! I loved everything about this little town center, which felt like a scaled down version of Paris' Marche aux Puces St. Ouen. For roughly 5 square blocks, it's nothing but adorable clothing and housewares boutiques, vintage clothing stalls, cafes full of hipsters, and a fabulously junk-filled flea market. My superscore of the day happened when I wandered into a shop with a tempting window display featuring beautiful, candy-colored shoes.

Jaffa in the distance.

The welcoming doorway at Roni Kantor.

Reworked vintage dresses and new designs too. Lots of swooning happening here.

Jaffa graffiti

"Everything in the store is vegan-friendly," said Maya Johanna, the lovely woman (and, as it turns out, national celebrity) working the floor, as I turned a pair over to examine the sole for telltale signs of leather. No way!

Vegan shoes+dresses+purses=YES

These might be my new shoes!

The owner, Roni Kantor, was in the shop that day, and we had a nice conversation about her stores' (there's a second location on Rothschild in Tel Aviv) history and philosophy. I hope to see her fabulous footwear and dresses in Paris and San Francisco one of these days!

Inside Puua, a vegan-friendly cafe in old Jaffa.

Pumpkin dumplings in coconut curry sauce. Served with rice and a delish coupe of sparkling wine.

Jaffa storefront.

It's a 50-minute bus ride to Jerusalem from the Arlozorov terminal, and on my first trip I spent the day getting lost in the warren of disorienting passageways that wiggle and zag throughout the old city center, which resembles a giant bazaar of the kind you might find in Marrakesh or Istanbul.

Hello, old Jerusalem!

"Yes! Take my picture, and post it on Facebook! Please!" He really said!

In the Christian quarter.

Humus with foul at Lina, in the old city.

In the Muslim quarter.

Salad with tahina at Lina.

At this point, my skin is beginning to resemble those dried dates at the back.

Discovered another vegetarian restaurant on my way out of town. Had to try the lemon cheesecake. Miam.

At the Wailing Wall, I slipped over to the women's side and observed. Then I decided to do like the locals. I wrote a little prayer(ish) note on a piece of paper, walked toward the wall, stuffed the note inside a small crevice, then placed my hands on the wall and meditated for about two second before the tears came. Weird. I'm not religious and was not expecting a wave of emotion to sweep over me, but there it was. I stood a moment longer, then did like everyone else and walked backward out of the worship zone.

The women's side of the Wailing Wall.

Dried fruit at the market.

A Jerusalem cityscape.

A carb-lover's paradise.

Why yes, I'd love a free sample of your halva. Todah rabah! (Thank you!)

What could be better than plain ol' carbs? Carbs with nuts, that's what!

Spices galore at the market.
A few days later, I was on another bus from Tel Aviv to the central bus station in Jerusalem, where I hopped yet another bus for the hourlong trip to the Dead Sea. The landscape on this side of Jerusalem looks a lot like the old American West--Utah or Colorado, maybe, with a dry, hot, desert climate. By mid-afternoon, I was sitting on a beach chair at Mineral Beach, basking in a relaxed, post-massage glow (my masseuse was excellent, and the prices were really reasonable). Stepping into the sea, I didn't know what to expect, but just went with it. The highly mineralized water feels like baby oil on the skin, and the second you lift your feet you're immediately bobbing on your back, floating without any effort, like a blissful fetus in a womb. I sat there, beneath the sun, staring across the sea to Jordan, and began planning my next trip to Israel.

Destination: Dead Sea.

The hot, rocky shoreline at Mineral Beach.

My cozy massage room. My masseuse had great hands and really dug into my aching muscles.

Beware of mud-covered beasts.

C'est jolie, n'est ce pas?

Look closely through the salty haze and you can see the west coast of Jordan.


  1. Hi Auriele you certainly had some super vegan finds on your trip .. not a place on my list but it does look brilliant ..Anne

    1. Hi, Anne! It's true: Israel is vegan heaven. Thanks for your kind note!
      p.s. You get the award for most creative spelling of my name EVER!! I usually get called Andrea or Ariela.

  2. Mmm, nothing beats Israeli falafel!

    1. Every Israeli who passes through Paris has to boast about how much better the falafel is in Tel Aviv (or Haifa, or Jerusalem) than on rue des Rosiers, and I have to say, having experienced a taste-comparison, they're right! ((hungry now))

  3. Great, informative post! I really, really want to go, and now I know exactly what I want to do while I'm there (essentially everything you did)!

    I'd love to hear if you noticed or felt any particular threat to your safety or if it was a non-issue as far as you were concerned.

    1. Merci! I had definite safety concerns before getting to Israel, but found myself oddly comforted by both the strident security measures at the airport, pre-departure, and in public places throughout Israel. To enter many public places, including the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, you and your bags pass through a metal detector, which, hopefully, weeds out weirdos with weapons. And on the topic of weapons, young Israeli soldiers are EVERYWHERE--with massive guns slung across their shoulders. I don't like guns or violence but I had an odd sense of comfort when riding a bus with these men and women on board. Also, I asked everyone I met (and people are super-extra friendly and helpful there) if they believed theirs was a safe place to live/visit, and everyone said yes. I think its true. Even walking around alone in the evenings I felt a sense of personal safety. Maybe the mere presence of all the those religious types with their beards and black hats is enough to keep people on their best behavior!

  4. Shalom! Looks like you had an amazing time. Love the photos--esp your tough mudder shot and the vintage clothing – YUM. What a great country to visit. Sunshine, good food and gorgeous sights. And aren't the Israelis all gorgeous? xx

    1. I thought the French had the market cornered on beautiful women, but you're so right: The Israelis are uber-gorgeous. Beyond genetics, access to sunshine, sea breezes, and super-fresh food probably helps!

  5. Where have I been? I've missed three posts! I love the photos and your descriptions are always spot on, thanks for the vacation.
    AirBnB is the best! Glad you had a terrific solar vacation.

  6. After meeting our group in Tel Aviv, we traveled south to the southern-most part of Israel. טיסות זולות לחול


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