Police car lights always blink here, no matter if they’re speeding to an intervention or just cruising. Electrical bikes and scooters rule the streets and sidewalks. Cats are everywhere, but oddly no stray dogs. And the Tel Aviv climate in April feels lovely, damp and warm. So much is obvious, but what else is there about the country?
Hummus, mixed olives and red wine. That was our dinner on the first evening in Israel, and on pretty much every other evening we were there. Israeli cuisine is deeply rooted in Middle Eastern tradition, but it’s also so much more. Especially in Tel Aviv, where cultures mix freely, unleashing their tastes onto local foodies.
There’s not much to see here. Some bauhaus buildings, two markets, maybe one or two neighborhoods. But so much to do! Exercise, eat, party and spend afternoons lazily in one of the street cafes. It’s a perfectly livable city, with lots of variety, plenty of freedom and few annoyances.
It’s quite pervasive. The sound of spoken Russian and signs written in cyrillic. We’re used to meeting Russians around Europe, wherever it was fashionable to vacation, but this is something different. These here are locals, who emigrated mostly in the 90s and largely kept their culture.
Covered by the first, and by far the longest chapter of the Lonely Planet Travel Guide to Israel. Of the (relatively few) places we’ve seen in the country, it was the only one offering sights that impressed us. That, together with its religious status, makes it chock-full of tourists—numerous groups of pilgrims, squeezing through the narrow streets of the Old City while chanting religious songs.
Terrorist attacks, bombings and warfare are, sadly, as much part of Israel’s image, as the Western Wall and other sacred places. Our families were mildly concerned before our travel, urging us to stay safe and out of trouble. But was it warranted? For the most part, we felt very safe and saw less visible security than elsewhere.
“Hugely impressive Roman ruins” of a city and port “built to rival Alexandria”, boasted the travel guide. You never know with ruins—many (most?) of them turn out to be a bunch of dull, loosely scattered stones. Caesarea was on our way back from Haifa, though, so we figured we might as well drop by and see.
“We’ll close today at seven”, said the shop clerk on the eve of Yom Hazikaron. Most of the stores and restaurants did likewise, with 19:00 being roughly the moment of sunset at this time of year. Israel lives on a curious schedule, counting many of its days from sunset to sunset.
People floating on their backs in the deep blue water, reading newspapers. That’s the image of the Dead Sea we had in our minds, probably from some ancient brochure. We had to see for ourselves, of course.
Up, and down, and up again, and see that you don’t step into dog poo. Haifa is Israel’s work and transportation center with a major contribution to the country’s GDP, but not much (if anything) to offer tourists, or even millenials willing to work and live there. We came, we saw, we left with very few photos shot.
“What’s with all the flags?” Every bridge on the way from the airport to our Tel Aviv apartment was decorated with a host of Israel’s characteristic blue-on-white emblems. As were many of the buildings. We arrived just in time for Yom Ha’atzmaut—the state celebrating its seventieth birthday.
I’ve been watching StreetView images from Tel Aviv for months now, with envy. People in March and October walking around in short sleeves and sandals, light jackets at worst. All the while we were having -15C here in Warsaw. But it’s time now. Spring’s in Poland, and a few days from now we’ll be in year-round-sunny Israel.