This guide to Tel Aviv comes from fellow freelance travel writer Rachel Rigby, who explored the vegan cafes, diamond exchanges and biblical connections of the Tel Aviv area of Israel…
Tel Aviv Vs Jerusalem
I have been told that Jerusalem is more dynamic than Tel Aviv – and while it’s true it doesn’t have as much historical and biblical kudos as Jerusalem, in my book it exceeds expectations.
As I arrive into Tel Aviv along the coastline, I instantly feel relaxed. It’s hard to believe we are only an hour away from Jerusalem.
The city is nestled along miles of sandy beach, full of joggers and pedestrians on its walkways.
It is clustered with trendy little eateries and cafes, filled with people socialising. It doesn’t have the strong military presence and tense atmosphere of Jerusalem.
Tasting Tel Aviv
It’s a sunny day and having read about the redevelopment of Tel Aviv’s docks, I head to the port. It’s Friday morning, just before Shabbat, the Jewish Sabbath.
The port’s food market is bustling with people buying supplies for the weekend. Challah, a special braided ceremonial sweet bread sold only on Jewish religious days, is being snapped up by shoppers.
I take a bite from a loaf and it’s delicious. I am told a portion of the loaf should be left and put aside as an offering.
Next to the bread stand is an alluring selection of fresh dates, fruits and vegetables. The street vendor laughs at me standing looking amazed at his stall. “Don’t be shy. Here it’s ok to try, no pressure to buy,” he says handing me a date.
I gorge on a selection of dates, some local orange cuts and then move on to the almonds, stacked in large brown sacks. Lastly I buy small square of Knafeh, a colourful sweet cheese pastry.
Vegan Tel Aviv
Having sampled what the market has to offer, I browse restaurant menus at the pier and notice most of them have a vegan option; a waiter explains to me that vegan food is kosher by default for its lack of animal products, and is popular among those who don’t want to mix dairy and meat.
He adds that it is also part of a movement against animal cruelty. There are over 200,000 vegans in Israel, most of them living in Tel Aviv so the city has some amazing vegan restaurants, I am told.
I leave the restaurants to wander past the high end fashion shops and other retail outlets on the pier. Behind it is a playground and a large car park. At the end is a live power station marking the end of the pier. Looking at it makes me feel at home because it’s like Battersea power station in London best known for being on a Pink Floyd record cover)
Tel Aviv – A Diamond City In The Rough
You don’t have to be wealthy to visit the Tel Aviv diamond Exchange, but you will get to see diamonds worth hundreds of thousands of dollars . I book with Tourist Israel who offer a private visit inside the world’s largest diamond trading complex.
The exchange is only minutes from the city, in Ramat Gan and houses 15,000 diamond professionals.
On arrival I must provide my passport and fingerprint, but it’s fair that security is tight considering half the world’s diamonds, trading up to 5 billion US dollars a year, pass through here.
In fact regular people can’t visit, but need an invitation from one of the owners inside. Tourist Israel arranges for me to be invited by Mr Omer Rotem, the senior manager of the Diamond Bourse.
Omer, is a third generation diamond trader and he explains to me in detail how the system of diamond valuations works. He shows me the trading floor where I can see the traders making binding deals for millions of dollars just on a hand shake.
Inside the exchange are all the services necessary to support the industry, everything from banks, insurance, shipping and export and import experts. It’s a country within a country and I feel privileged to have been as 99 percent of most Israelis never come here.
Almost all the diamonds are for export mostly to USA (the biggest buyer) and other markets, as Israelis are not big diamond consumers, Omer explains.
I learn that the princess cut is actually an Israeli invention, and I’m offered a chance to buy a clear cut G princess diamond at thirty percent of its retail cost; sadly the ring I like is worth USD 100,000 dollars so even with the discount it’s out of my price range.
I would certainly recommend the tour but remember if you want to see the place where not all that glitters is gold, don’t forget your passport.
My head spinning with so many interesting details about the diamond industry, I decide to make my way to Jaffa, the old city to have lunch.
Artsy Tel Aviv
I walk through the Shuk Hapishpishim, the flea market, past shops and stalls, and charming roadside cafes and restaurants.
I have been told I must haggle for everything I buy in the Jaffa Flea Market so I argue my way down on a couple of souvenirs and the shop owner seems pleased he has had a little fight before letting go of his merchandise.
If I had more room in my suitcase I know I would have given in and purchased a beautiful brass lamp, or Persian carpet.
I soak in the artsy atmosphere and eat in one of the many cafes on Rabbi Nahman street. Before the sun sets I take the scenic route back through the old town, and along the Coast to the Gordon Inn.
Biblical Tel Aviv
As my time in Israel is coming to an end, I know I must fit in the remaining points of Biblical significance closest to Tel Aviv. I take a tour with Tourist Israel to Nazareth, where Christ was conceived.
We see the Sea of Galilee, Nazareth, Tiberias, and Haifa . We start at the River Jordan, where a member of our group wants a Baptism despite the cold day.
When I enter the Church of the Annunciation it’s hard to believe this is the place where ‘the word became flesh’. Angel Gabriel is said to have told Mary she was pregnant here – while nowadays we go to Boots the chemist for that, I think I prefer the old fashioned mythical method of a miracle being told by Angels.
The highlight of the day is when we enter the synagogue where Jesus is said to have performed his first miracle – turning water into wine. We visit the remains of the original synagogue where a small church now stands, look at ancient storage vats and taste some local wine.
A large wedding procession comes marching down the street, singing as they enter the church in colourful robes. I bet they wish Jesus was here today to perform his first miracle again, and the wine flowing once again.
Where To Stay In Tel Aviv
The Gordon Inn & Beachfront Hostel
The Gordon Inn is a hotel and hostel, conveniently located one street away from the beach, and between Jaffa, the old town and the port.
They give out a voucher for breakfast each day at the Fresh Cafe, but it can actually be used for any meal up to 10pm when the cafe, which is directly below the hotel, closes.
I love this flexible solution as if you have to leave early on tours, you can eat when you get back, or get breakfast packed the night before.
The food is really good – it’s here I try my first Shakshuka, an extremely popular dish in Isreal made of cooked tomato and egg.
The Gordon Inn has another location, called the Beach Front Hostel that’s a bit smaller but has the same breakfast system, with an option to eat at Fresh Cafe.
The Gordon Inn on 77 Ben Yehuda street is my preferred option as it’s for a more mature crowd. The Beachfront has great atmosphere but is more for a party, surfer crowd. Both are close to each other with excellent locations in the city.
Of course if you’re lucky enough to be more of a material girl, try the Intercontinental Hotel a ten minute walk along the beach from the Beachfront hostel, as that’s where Madonna, a frequent visitor to Tel Aviv, stays when she is in town.
About the author:
Rachel is a UK based freelance journalist with a financial news background who now specialises in clean energy, healthcare and media stories, but in between covering large scale mergers and acquisitions she indulges her passion for travel writing and scuba diving.
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