It’s easy going in Tel Aviv

It’s easy going in Tel Aviv

02/20/2017
“Everything seems so peaceful there,” comments a friend on my Instagram photos of Tel Aviv. Israel is calm, laid back and lets you just be. It’s off-season, the tourist crowds are yet to come, and we have the whole city to ourselves.

Where to eat 

If you’re on the lazy/busy side like me and haven’t combed the internet for the best spots in Tel Aviv already before boarding the plane, it’s wise to pick the best Airbnb hosts in town – always ready to provide tips on what to see and where to eat. After exchanging updates on recently watched TV series (“Have you seen “Trapped”, the Icelandic crime series?” – “Not yet but it's on our radar and we're going to watch it soon!”) and thus proving that this world is as globalised as ever, Amos and Maayan suggests we start with grabbing a bite at Miznon buffet. It’s just down the street and belongs to the Israeli celebrity chef Eyal Shani. And after a four-hour flight, we are super hungry.

I instantly fall in love with the place. A guy with a whole green pepper stuck in his curly hair like some sort of a gentlemen’s fascinator shows us an English menu – essentially  a scruffy piece of cardboard. I choose pita with chicken liver, and little do I know that I will come back again and again to enjoy the heavenly taste of it. Whole cauliflowers wait in the cupboard to be roasted and served as a side dish but we opt for the roadkill, pardon, the Run Over Potato: boiled potato crushed with a round stone and served with sour cream and fresh chives.

The best food in Tel Aviv is not Instagram-able but, God, is it tasty! It was the case of Miznon and it’s just the same at Bar Ochel. Located in the middle of the famous Carmel market, the bar is a little Babel. Next to us sit a couple of Lithuanians, while the rest of the place is packed with a colourful mix of curious tourists and cheerful locals. Once again proving that interior, menu and fancy plates are overrated, because the food is the king, Bar Ochel offers dishes sourced straight from the market and served in metal bowls. Indulge in grilled vegetables, salad and plenty of meat. And definitely take a seat at the bar to contemplate the lively staff at their best. 

My friend Estere suggests I satisfy my sweet tooth at the Max Brenner chocolate bar and taste “the chocolate by the bald man”. I'm assured that Willy Wonka comes here to snitch ideas for his own chocolate factory. Imagine the sweetest dessert made out of chocolate, and you will get it at Max Brenner. Do try the milkshake served in the custom made Alice cup – it’s marvellous! – but don’t blame me for all that sugar rush causing you to crave a slice of plain black bread.

Where to go

With so much great food in one’s stomach, a walk around the city is the best solution. Our Airbnb place is located in the best area of the city, with the beach just five minutes away – I can even see the sea from our apartment! As we reach the waterfront, we turn in the direction of Jaffa Port. Along the way I notice the abandoned ruins of the Dolphinarium, a former nightclub. It’s the site of the notorious Hamas terror attack on 1 June 2001 when a terrorist killed 21 Israelis, 16 of them teenagers. For years the family members of the victims have unsuccessfully campaigned to permanently preserve the ruined building as a monument to the attack; however, the site is currently up for sale to property developers. Yes, today Tel Aviv is as modern and charming as ever, yet there are those dark spots in its biography – what a reality check.  

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With internet costs sky-high, we have no Google Maps to rely on, and decide to do it the old school way – walk around with no particular aim to experience the city. It’s getting dark shortly after 4PM, and the windows light up soon after – offering a great view of passers-by. The locals are not particularly fond of curtains, and the wide windows of the beautiful Bauhaus buildings let me appreciate their taste in design and interiors. Later on I learn that it’s actually because of Hitler that Tel Aviv is so rich in Bauhaus architecture. As he was coming to power in Germany in 1933, many Jewish-German architects and students of Bauhaus emigrated to Tel Aviv and turned it into a sort of experimental laboratory of their architectural vision.

These days, whenever I travel, the visit of the local art museum is a must. Tel Aviv Museum of Art or TAMA welcomes from afar, with its white building reminding an alien ship standing convincingly against the bright blue sky. Another reality check while checking the admission fee: black on white it says that enlisted Israeli soldiers in uniform can see the exhibitions free of charge. The museum offers a wide selection of modern art, and yet my favourite spot is to be found outside – the Lola Beer Ebner Sculpture Garden. This relaxing corner shadowed by eucalyptus trees will forever remain my own little Promised Land.

What to bring home

One day we wake up to a hustle just outside our windows. It’s Tuesday and the sellers of the Nachalat Binyamin Arts and Crafts fair are in the process of setting up their stalls. In order to be accepted, the artists’ work must be original, handmade (not mass produced), and the artists themselves have to be present at the stall – they are not allowed to send representatives. The fair offers a wide variety of practical, original or just silly souvenirs – from custom made door signs and pink toys to beautiful jewellery.

Speaking of jewellery, I pick out a piece of my own while in the old Jaffa Port. Linda Friedrich is a small jewellery salon with a great view of the Mediterranean Sea and old wooden cabinets full of intriguing pieces of art. Right next to it is another little design store Yael Herman offering original handmade footwear, but this time I fall for a tiny silver pinkie ring from Linda Friedrich to always have on me and forever remember my laid back trip to Tel Aviv. 

Author: Agnese Kleina, visual journalist, founder and editor in chief of the Benji Knewman.

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