We arrived from the cool temperatures of Copenhagen to a heat wave making its way through the Middle East. There was a mild breeze in Tel Aviv, but a hot, sticky one that made you feel as if you were standing in front of a furnace. I was warned that it would be hot in the desert (surprise, surprise!) but the dry heat of our upcoming desert adventure wasn’t a bother, in fact it was nothing compared to our sticky, Tel Aviv experience. Our cab driver dropped us off a block from our apartment. From there we seemed to almost swim through the thick air, suitcases in hand, the rest of the way to our apartment.
My first impression was not a good one. Horrible in fact. The streets cluttered with trash and graffiti – there was no artistic architecture to be seen, only decrepit buildings left to crumble since their completion, circa 1975. This is not the vision I had when daydreaming about Tel Aviv. I pictured cobblestone streets with character, as it was described in multiple reviews I read prior to our visit. I saw so much positive feedback from fellow travelers, and wondered if we were doing something terribly wrong.
“They can’t all be winners” Bryan said to me, as he shared my disappointment in our new home. We shuffled to our small apartment, right beside the Carmel Market, cranked up the AC and decided to spend our hot, sticky days working indoors, despite the constant, loud activity just outside of our window….
Looks can be deceiving…
Don’t judge a book by it’s cover…
These are the common sayings going through my head on our first day. I became determined to see a different side of the city – to explore beyond our neighborhood and discover the vibrancy I had read about, though I wondered if anything could be enjoyable in 90% humidity. I learned a lot during our week in Tel Aviv. First and foremost, I found the quotes I was rambling on our first day to be true.
I will be brutally honest with all of you because I refuse to sugar coat any experience – Tel Aviv is not aesthetically pleasing or architecturally appealing, and August is the absolute worst time to visit. My mismanaged expectations and our poor timing did make it difficult to discover the good side of our first Middle Eastern home, but with each passing day, and each new discovery, I learned to love the city for what it is – a young, vibrant, active city with incredible food, an incomparable nightlife and badass beaches. I owe my love of this city to the guidance of one special, local family, who took the time to lead us in the right direction.
Let me share with you some of our rookie mistakes, and how we found our way to a fabulous Tel Aviv experience…
Rookie Mistake #1: Exploring the beach on a sunny day. What a horrible idea – trying to walk along the scorching sand (sandals are an absolute necessity unless you’re in the water), hopping from one shady area to another for just a bit of relief. Fancy a refreshing swim? Well, the Mediterranean Sea here is more like a warm bath, so your best bet is to find one of the outdoor showers for a refreshing rinse.
Lesson Learned: It’s best to enjoy the beach at sunset! Our new-found friends invited us to a lovely beach picnic one evening, when the sand was cool and the water was actually refreshing! Trust me on this, the beaches of Tel Aviv are active and beautiful at all times during the summer, but it’s best to be comfortable so you can take it all in.
Rookie Mistake #2: Cycling as a means of transportation. I’m always making fun of people on electric bikes, wondering why they don’t just get a motorcycle if they prefer not to peddle. While in Copenhagen, using an electric bike made you stick out like a touristy sore thumb. In Tel Aviv, however, they are everywhere! My initial judgment of this ‘lazy’ means of transportation was shot straight to hell when I realized the reason for this popular means of transportation – it’s too damn hot to cycle during the Tel Aviv Summer!
Lesson Learned: Go electric! Rent an electric bike to get around. Trust me, you don’t want to be pumping your legs in extreme humidity. Join the rest of the locals and bet on a bike with a battery.
Rookie Mistake #3: Exploring the city on a Saturday. We felt really silly after this mistake. We are aware of Shabbat, the Jewish ‘Sabbath’ when most things close for the day, especially in more conservative cities like Jerusalem (where you can hear a pin drop on Shabbat) but we figured ‘most’ did not mean ‘all’, and opted to take a stroll to some of the popular shopping districts one Saturday morning.
Lesson Learned: (Almost) everything is closed on Shabbat, even in Tel Aviv. So spend your Saturday keeping cool indoors. Restaurants will open after sundown, and the famous Tel Aviv nightlife will commence as well, but it’s definitely not worth wandering around during daylight hours, unless you want to have the streets all to yourself!
Now that I’ve shared with you our honest mistakes, and revealed that even seasoned travelers can be total rookies when exploring a new country (lesson learned – we will always have lessons to learn!), I’d like to share the things we actually did right! Here’s a list of our BEST Tel Aviv experiences, and why we can’t wait to return one day!
Eat the food. Stuff as much falafel, shawarma and hummus that you can possible fit in your belly. From all of our travels, my favorite food in all the world is found here!
Stroll the Carmel Market. The market is open daily (except on Saturday, of course) and you’ll find fresh veggies, local treats and creative souvenirs.
Visit old Jaffa. You’ll have this ‘tourist’ attraction all to yourself in the summertime! Explore the winding, cobblestone paths, unique architecture, and make sure to check out the old port while you’re there!
Dine at the Sarona Market. This neighborhood was once a German Templar community, but today is filled with fabulous restaurants, and a new market filled with fresh foodie treats!
Spend an evening at the Beach. With restaurants, bars and clubs lighting your way, the beach party scene really gets going after dark!
There you have it – how I learned to love Tel Aviv in August, the worst time of year to be there. Don’t you dare miss a visit to this vibrant city – learn from our mistakes and do it right. If I can learn to fall in love in the heat and humidity, you’ll be swept away!