One of the travel items I like to carry around, if it’s available, is the Frommer’s Day by Day guide for whatever city I’m visiting. This is in no way a paid advert and I’m not sucking up to the fine folks at Frommer’s, I just really like this product.
The guide is small, easy to carry and is currently available for more than 60 cities and regions. Before leaving on my Israel trip I was thrilled to see that they had just written one for Jerusalem which, in spite of some factual errors, was incredibly useful. When I looked for a Tel Aviv version, none was to be found. That’s because, as I soon learned, there’s not a whole lot to actually do or see in Tel Aviv.
The Jerusalem Guide DID have a couple of pages devoted to Tel Aviv day trips, which was very helpful in planning my time there. But that was it, a couple of pages. As it would turn out, this in no way reflects poorly on Frommer’s, but simply reflects the reality that is Tel Aviv.
Tel Aviv is a great city, I really enjoyed my time there. However, for a tourist determined to see as much as possible on what may have been a one-time-only trip to Israel, I didn’t want to miss a thing. Tel Aviv is different though. Unlike Jerusalem, which is teeming with museums, famous sites, memorials – you name it, Tel Avi roots its identity in being a vibrant, modern city. Frankly, the best thing to do in Tel Aviv isn’t found in any guide and that’s just to walk around the city and experience what life is like there.
One of the few suggestions I did find in my handy guide though was a walk to the ancient city of Jaffa.
I planned my trip so that most of my time was spent in Jerusalem with just a couple of days in Tel Aviv at the end. I took the convenient and inexpensive bus from Jerusalem and arrived in Tel Aviv in the mid-afternoon. By the time I checked into my hotel and got settled, it was 4:30, which meant the sun would soon be setting. My hotel was a block from the beach, so I decided to go for a walk.
One of the best features of Tel Aviv is its gorgeous position on the Mediterranean, of which they take full advantage through a comprehensive beach walk. I stood on the walkway for a few minutes, soaking in the smell of the sea and the sounds of families playing on the beach as the sun slowly set. To my left in the distance I could see a citadel perched high on the cliffs capped off by an imposing clock tower. Jaffa.
Jaffa is one of the oldest ports in the world, if not the oldest. Archeologists say it has been in use since the BRONZE AGE and is mentioned in scores of ancient texts. Perhaps most notable to Jewish history, this is not only where Jonah left to find his whale but was also the port of entry for the famous cedars of Lebanon, used in the construction of both the First and Second Temples of Jerusalem. Wow. I love this stuff.
I set my sights on the clock tower and started a wonderful evening stroll with a full view of the ocean. That walk is one of the best I have ever made. There was just something wonderful about the warm temperatures, cool ocean breezes and scores of people running and biking along the path that made it all magical.
After an hour or so, I finally made it to the base of Jaffa. I ascended the stairs and emerged onto a brightly light and dare I say it, charming little town. The powers-that-be have done a great job of both preserving this ancient city, while accentuating its inherent charm. Like many other cities, they have created an “old city” feel that is inviting and captivating.
It was after 6:00 PM, so most of the tourist stuff was closed, but I didn’t care. I had been to a lot of museums in Jerusalem and was much more interested in just walking around and experiencing.
I made my way to the central part of the old city, home to narrow walkways, impossibly old buildings and some of the most interesting and eclectic shops I have ever seen. After 45 minutes of wandering around the small town, I was hungry and decided to seek out some dinner.
I found a restaurant that interested me more for its view than for its cuisine and grabbed a seat. Perched high up on the Jaffa hill, the views of the ocean and downtown Tel Aviv were incredible. I sat there slowly munching hummus and enjoying a Goldstar beer for quite a while before descending the hill and reentering Tel Aviv proper.
I don’t know exactly why, but that evening is one of the best of my life. The beauty, calm and overall pleasantness made for an incredibly enriching travel experience.