Never in my wildest dreams did I think of ever going to Tel Aviv. In my part of the world, it does not feature on our bucketlists. We have the usual round-up of Paris, Bangkok and NYC. If you really love travel, you’ll have Machu Pichu on your list. But Israel, is too far from our idea of dream destinations.
But am so glad things didn’t go according to plan, and by a quirk of fate, I was on a plane to Tel Aviv. The research I’d tried to do on Israel hadn’t thrown up much info, but I knew it was going to be nothing like I had ever seen before. After all there was Jerusalem and the Dead Sea to experience. I will write about those too, someday. But today is about Tel Aviv.
I love that city. There’s no easing into this one. It is one of the warmest places I’ve been to, sunny beaches and gorgeously sanguine people. Yes, it is a city that never sleeps. Not only because of its high octane nightlife, but also because its citizens are dedicated to fitness like nowhere else. You find joggers and cyclists at 3 am on any given night. Every moment out in the sun is celebrated and embraced with abandon.
Tel Aviv’s enthusiasm is infectious. The artists at the bi-weekly crafts fair are inspiring. The diversity, the openness and the energy of its people lifts you up. And what’s wonderful is that Israelis love Indians. A large number of them travel to India and spend a few weeks backpacking across the country. Goa is a favourite destination, we met an artist who has tattooed ‘GOA’ on his forearm. That’s the kind of love am talking about. We met another artist who specialises in glass-blowing, an art that can challenge your understanding of this fragile medium. His wife was from Japan and they have spent a month in Igatpuri doing Vipasanna. A friendly old shopkeeper asked me if my name was Vaijanthimala and another kindly man asked me if I worked in Bollywood. They love our movies too! A cab driver subscribes to Hindi TV channels and sang a few lines of an 80’s hit song. How can I not be happy there?
The quaint sidewalk cafes remind you of Europe, only because you associate sidewalk cafes with Europe. All similarities end there. The cafes in Tel Aviv seem much more inviting, urging you to come, pause for a while and share your story. The homegrown beer, Goldstar is everything a good beer should be, and the food is divine. Whether you experiment with the local kosher cuisine or dip into global staples, you will be transported by the freshness and crunch of the ingredients.
Mornings came early and I hit the sea around 8 am, before it got too hot to enjoy the calm waters. My Israeli friends though hung out all day at the beach, the sun has been their old buddy. Snorkelers and surfers abound, as do toddlers getting their early swimming lessons. After the dip, I’d just lie on the beach with a book and a peach. My idea of a blissful holiday!
I tried to soak in as much of the city as I could in the 20 days I spent there. It was difficult to get out of the water, on my last day. I spoke to the Mediterranean sea, promising it that I would come back someday. Yes, I talk out loud when alone. I was going to meet the same sea on the other side in Istanbul, but something told me, the magic wasn’t going to be the same.