Forget everything the media told us about Israel. Be open and let yourself be drawn into a wonderful and colorful culture with multilingual people, multireligious places and multi-basically-everything.
To be honest – I was a bit scared at first, when we decided to go to Tel Aviv for a couple of days. Everything the media shows us molds an image into our heads and even hearts, which you carry around with yourself. When I was a little child of about 6 or 7 years, I watched TV with my grandmother. They showed a report about the (political and religious) unrest in Israel and I remember myself saying: “It’s too bad. It looks like such a beautiful country, but I already know, I am never going to be able to see it.” About 25 years later, I convinced myself of the opposite.
There are a couple of things I can tell you about Tel Aviv (and some of them even about Israel) – my 10 things you need to know. Please don’t get me wrong – there are for sure places in Israel, which should not be included in these statements.
1. Expect a relaxed country
In Tel Aviv you will meet an absolutely relaxed city with calm people and streets. You will not for one second feel rushed or stressed at all. You can easily slender along the streets, you can take the bus or the rental bikes that can be found at almost every corner. You can visit the beach and the bars there. Don’t arrive there insecure or stressed. You might not be able to absorb the laid-back atmosphere.
2. You will feel and be safe
People told me, we would see lots of military and armed people in the streets of Tel Aviv. Not. In Austria, Germany or Switzerland, I see more police on a daily basis than there. This might be traced back to the civilian personnel taking care of the safety in the streets. However, I have not felt a second of feat, insecurity or instability. Even at night, a woman does not have to be afraid to walk the streets on her own. You will not encounter the unrest in other parts of the country – the war is fought somewhere else.
3. There are always more versions of one story
We found out very quickly that there are always a number of versions of a story. In Jaffa, the city of origin of Tel Aviv and neighboring city today, we did a historical tour with a lovely guide. We stopped in front of a house, where somebody painted “House of Simon, the tanner” just right above the door. We heard the story of Petrus, who had a dream while staying with Simon, to eat also non-kosher food. A couple of minutes later, our guide told us: “And this is the house of Simon, the tanner.” Everybody looked at her dazzled. She smiled and replied: “See, this is why I am telling you all the perspectives of our stories. The previous house is the Muslim house, this house, is the Christian house, and over there, there is the Jewish house. Every story in Israel has more perspectives – please always be aware of that!”
4. You will find great food everywhere
You have never connected Israel or Tel Aviv with great food? Well, now you do! You can find literally everything the world’s kitchens have to offer in the city. Of course, you will see a lot of local restaurants serving falafel and kosher meat. But there are Italian restaurants, Burger places, Chinese, Thai, Japanese, Fusion … everything! Brunch is a big thing in Tel Aviv and I recommend you to have the breakfast for (at least) two at Café Nimrod at the harbor (don’t get confused, Google Maps wants to lead you to a different place – it’s right at the port near the shopping sites and Hangar 11). You will get a great choice of spreads, salad, homemade bread, drinks, etc. We loved it!
5. You will also get tropical fruit juices and smoothies everywhere
This is something I could get used to really quickly! The streets are covered with little food or fruit stands, where people mix juices or smoothies. They make you aware of seasonal specialties, they invite you to taste their drinks and they just spread good humor and not only an irresistible smell of fresh fruit 🙂 Just try the pomegranate juice – it’s just to die for!
6. Remember to check the bill
Most likely, you won’t be able to read the bill, because it’s in Hebrew. Double check – it might occur that items of the previous guests are still on your tab. Just to make sure. People react very kind when you point out that something is wrong. And we just hope that it was a mistake 😉
7. Make sure you have enough cash
Even though almost all restaurants accept major credit cards, none – and I mean NONE – of the ATMs did accept our cards. We could not withdraw any money. Luckily, we had some Euro cash with us, so we changed it, but only after we learnt that not one single ATM will accept our cards (we tried with 3 maestro and 2 credit cards). Just make sure to bring some Shekels for the first expenses at the airport, but don’t change money at the airport: They will charge you with an extra airport fee on top of the normal exchange fee. Either change money already at home, bring enough Euros/Dollars to change or double check with your bank that you can withdraw money.
8. Everyone speaks English
When we entered a restaurant, we were always surprised to be greeted in Hebrew. Tel Aviv is not a town, where foreigners are clearly visible. With a population from around the world, people melt into one multiculture and they also live it. Tourists eat and shop where the locals do. Therefore, you will often find yourself amongst locals (or maybe foreign who found a new home in Tel Aviv). However, the look on your face immediately reveals you and everybody is happy to continue the talk in English. Waiters, salesmen, taxi drivers – all of them speak English very well and welcome you in their home country. So no worries about language issues … Only public transport is tricky, as buses are labelled in Hebrew.
9. People don’t judge
Nobody cares where you come from, what religion you choose to live or what nationality or culture you belong to. People welcome you in their home. Honestly, I haven’t expected this. Locals ask where you come from, but then move on to ask how you experienced their country so far. Is it like you see it in the media? Is it like you expected? Are you afraid to be here? No. No. And no. The locals are aware how their country is presented to the world, they have accepted it. And they are happy that people come to visit Israel to make their own opinion. Our guide in Jaffa sincerely thanked us to withstand the prejudices and to have traveled here anyways, no matter what the news say. When you shake your head to answer their questions, they just smile and say: Welcome to Israel.
10. Lots of things to do and see
We spent four days in Israel, which is far too short of course. But to get a glimpse of Tel Aviv and a couple of nearby places, it’s great. Make sure to travel to Jerusalem, which is just a 45 minute drive away, and to the Dead Sea. You just have to find out about the weightless feeling yourself. Jaffa is a must-see and just a 10 minute bike-ride away from central Tel Aviv. If you have more plans for Israel, make sure to have enough time. Distances are short, but traveling needs time. Be open but move around reasonably, if in doubt, hire a guide. They know the safe places and won’t take you anywhere unsafe. Just enjoy Israel and experience as many places as you can. We will definitely come back! Thank you, Israel, for having us! 🙂