Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Travels in Israel: Tel Aviv and Jaffa

Tel Aviv's seaside from Jaffa.
TelAviv and Jaffa may be one city now but one is barely 53 years old, the other is more than 4,500, so old it was supposedly named after Noah's son Japheth.

Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv
Tel Aviv is to Israel what San Francisco is to America: urbane and open, a center of enlightened thought, creativity and cutting edge attitudes by the sea. It embodies what the new Israel could be, much to the chagrin of ultra conservative factions.

Creativity comes in all forms in Tel Aviv.
If ever a barbecue or shrimp restaurant opens it will be here. For all I know there may be one already. I barely skimmed the surface, but here's what I found worthwhile.

Tip: Tel Aviv is a city best seen on foot. Most of it is pretty flat, but if you aren't up to it, hire a car and driver.

What to see

Rothschild Boulevard, one of Tel Aviv's first streets and still a main thoroughfare, is a good place to start, especially to see the "White City," the world's largest city's concentration of Bauhaus structures.

Founding 66 families of Tel Aviv survey their new home in 1909.
 Don't Miss: Dizengraf House, Independence Hall. Leave Israel's Independence Hall after the presentation without a tear in your eye and you can give lessons to hard-hearted Hannah.

This is where 66 families gathered April 11, 1909, to draw for plots of what then were merely sand dunes. To see what resulted from nothing is impressive, but it is the independence part of the story that resonates.

Visitors sit where the state of Israel was declared.
The stirring narrative of the country's founding in the very spot (the house of the city's founder and first mayor) where the Declaration of the State of Israel was made and signed by its first premier, David Ben Gurion, is an experience you will never forget.

Tip: Independence Hall is on the first floor; steps minimal.

Sheinkin Street is where to party or so I'd been told, but urban renewal had torn up the street. The party had moved elsewhere when I was there in January. Should be back by now.

A typical street in Neve Tzedek.
Neve Tzedek, a suburb begun in 1887 for the Jews of Jaffa, is the oldest part of the city. Interesting boutiques and cafes alternate with gracious homes. Suzana www.rest.co.il/suzana, a popular cafe shaded by a huge ficus tree, produced one of the best meals I had in Israel; vegetarians will love it too.
Tachana is much more welcoming when the sun shines.
 Tachana, formerly a train station, is being turned into a shopping district. It's a work in progress but Soho 100% Design Shop is full of objects - kitchenware, purses, jewelry, deskware - by superb Israeli designers at very reasonable price points.
Kitchenware from Soho.

Jaffa is to Israel as St. Augustine is to America, the oldest city. In fact, it's one of the oldest cities and ports in the world, 4,500-plus years old vs. Jerusalem's 3,500. Cedars from Lebanon for Solomon's temple came through the port that Jonah sailed from when he encountered the whale. Later, Peter is said to have experienced a vision from God that prompted him to accept Gentiles into the new Christian church.

Look at the elevation of the current port and that of the Mediterranean Sea to get an idea of how many previous cities you are walking on.

What to see
Old Jaffa

Old Jaffa's steps are no problem for Levelers with a balance aid.
Tip: It's 22 steps down to the oldest port in the world. They are easy but surfaces are uneven. I found my walking stick (see Recommendations, www.travelonthelevel.com) invaluable here and elsewhere throughout the country.

The pulpit at St. Peter's is carved as a tree.
St. Peter's Church is late 19th century, built atop an earlier Crusader citadel, built atop an earlier church (when you've been conquered 22 times, this happens!) and contains a room where Napoleon is said to have slept in 1799. The pulpit is a glorious piece of carving.

Jaffa's revenge on Napoleon.
The little general destroyed much of Jaffa but was unsuccessful in taking over the area. As tongue-in-cheek revenge, his image has become the "pointer" to various sites of interest.

Tip: There are 6 steps down to the chapel and 15 steps down to Napoleon's room, part of the 12th century church.

Look down into old Jaffa at Jaffa Tales.
Jaffa Tales is a tiny bit hokey but an excellently done multimedia presentation that brings Jaffa's history to life. In the Visitor's Center, it's combined with a small museum that allows you to look down into older layers of the city.

Many levels of interest at Ilana Goor Museum.
Ilana Goor Museum is the home of the internationally-known artist and her large collection of art. The structure was originally the first hostel for Jewish pilgrims to  the Holy Land.

Fascinating, surprising and absorbing, these very personal spaces will stay with you longer than many historical sites. There's a store where, if your pockets are deep, you can pick up a piece or two of her work.

The charm and view from Ilana Goor's rooftop is worth the climb.
Tip: Warning, Levelers, lots of stairs here. There's an elevator within the museum itself, but if you have an opportunity to go up to the rooftop, you'll have to climb. Here's the step-count, omitting the one or two steps between rooms on each level: 
• 17 steps between each floor
• 25 steps to the rooftop
• 18 very tricky spiral steps from the museum's first floor down to the gift shop which you can avoid by going out the front door and walking around to the side.

The Clock Tower.
 Head for the The Clock Tower, one of 100 erected throughout the Ottoman Empire to commemorate the 25th year of the reign of Sultan Abdul Hamid II. Walking away from the sea and you'll encounter streets of "collectibles" shops and flea markets.
Enter a shop, ask a few questions, haggle a bit, whip out a camera and you have new friends like these at Lou Lou.


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