The reason we were in Tel Aviv – in fact, the reason we were in Israel – was to attend a wedding. And without a doubt, this wedding was the highlight of our week in Tel Aviv.
We started with a drinks reception on the rooftop of a building at the top of the hill of the old city of Jaffa. The tops of the trees in the park area surrounded us, and we could look down on the top of the stone walls of the city, the turquoise-topped minaret, and the sapphire blue water of the Mediterranean beyond.
The guests then walked down to an ancient-looking stone archway, open on its four sides, and stood or sat and watched the wedding ceremony take place in the archway, under the traditional Chuppah, with the families of the bride and groom united around them.
It was already dark, and lights were strung through the trees and on stands pointing at the canopy, surrounding the couple and their families in a bright light.
Afterward, we went indoors, into an old hamam converted into the party space, with dinner tables arranged on the sides of the room, and the dance floor directly under the domed stone ceiling. Vases of yellow flowers were everywhere, bunched in single varieties – irises, roses, Gerber daisies, and so on, an ideal compliment to the ancient light ochre walls.
We danced, and danced some more. It started as soon as we had all made our way inside, and didn’t stop until the next morning. We did luckily have a break for dinner, which helped to fuel the celebrating.
We had a chance to explore Old Jaffa before the wedding began and I was immediately charmed by it. The old city is small but very pleasant to wind through, around, and up to the park at the top, and down to the port at the bottom. Walking away from the sea and the stone walls, we were happy to find the old flea market very much like a Middle Eastern souq with all kinds of junk mixed among fine craftsmanship and funky cafés.
Tel Aviv loves brunch, and so do we. We found two delicious breakfast spots (the other days we were enjoying the breakfast offered at our accommodations). One is very popular, called Benedict, and serving breakfast twenty-four hours a day. If you
want to sit outside in the wraparound sidewalk seating that resembles a paved garden, you better come early or be prepared to wait. We did neither, and ate inside. The food was fresh, with good-sized portions, and a large menu to choose from.
The other café we found just around the corner from our hotel, called the Movieing Cafe, which was far less busy than Benedict and had plenty of outdoor seating on the street side as well, though it may have only been quiet because it was a weekday. The street noise wasn’t bad so we could enjoy the delicious food, and the servers were all friendly and very professional.
It would be wrong to talk about brunch without mentioning dinner, right? We had the very good fortune to be quite lazy and maybe a bit sun-worn one night so that we didn’t want to go anywhere for dinner. We went around the corner from our hotel, away from the beach, hoping to get away from the food gamble there (quality is hit or miss and the prices always seemed high regardless). We noticed a really nice Thai restaurant, Nam – crowded with locals – a few metres from the street corner, and asked if they had a table. Obviously not. But we could wait for a seat at the bar to open. Luckily the street benches were just outside their entrance so we sat there and waited about twenty minutes. It was totally worth it! The food was phenomenal. Once again, the excellent service made the experience all the better, even though we were only sitting at the bar.
We went back another night with friends. On our way back from Caesarea we called ahead to reserve a table. They offered a table in 5 minutes time (we were still 30 minutes away on the train) or at 10pm. So we decided to just show up and see if they would find us room at the bar eventually, but we had even better luck this time and gave us a table outside, immediately. The experience was consistent with our first night, but also relaxing because we were in good company and the outdoor seats alongside the sidewalk have some well-arranged trees and plants to maintain the Mediterranean feeling of the beach a few blocks away.
We took a day trip out to Caesarea, to visit the national park, which includes the ruins of a Roman city and also the remains from a Crusader settlement. If you are into archaeology, it’s definitely worth a visit, and if not, it probably still is. The setting alone is breathtaking and it was not hard to imagine why people settled here in the first place. I could imagine the horse races along the stretch of beach that was once the Herodian Amphitheatre, their hooves thudding in the tightly-packed sand, their musty smell mingling with the salty sea air, the weight of the hot sun on the heads of the spectators, fanning themselves in their seats above the track.
Where we stayed
Our first few nights were at the Yam Hotel, which is only one block from the old port of Tel Aviv in the north of the city. There is a very nice promenade along this part of the beach, with several bars, restaurants, cafés, and shops. You can buy fresh fruit in a cup and street food there as well if you want to re-balance your budget after a few expensive Tel Aviv dinners.
Besides the location, the hotel has the spirit of a much smaller B&B. The people at reception were all open and friendly, and incredibly helpful. They are there 24/7 and through them we got an idea of local mentality and culture. The hotel is clean and comfortable. The breakfast was good, as was the food served at the free happy hour every afternoon.
On our way back through Tel Aviv two weeks later, we stayed at Brown Beach House. It’s a nice hotel, also only one block from the beach, but more in the centre of the city. There is a lot of construction going on all the time, it seemed to us, and the street traffic was quite loud. But our rooms were noise protected and the bed was very comfortable so we slept wonderfully. I was bothered by the lack of cleanliness though. Bed and bath were fine, but the furniture in the common room and in our suite (we were upgraded), covered in a yellow textile, looked filthy. The black and white carpets were looking a bit murky as well in places. Considering the price of the rooms, it seemed to me they would benefit and should be able to afford getting the carpets and furniture cleaned from time to time. We had a really cool oval lounger on our balcony that I couldn’t bring myself to sit on. It was covered in grime – it can be windy and the sand and street grit were stuck to the outdoor seating and canopy in a thick coating.