Greetings from Tel Aviv, Israel's pseudo-capital city. Tel Aviv, however, is nowhere near the Negev desert but hopefully you'll find that image above taken just last week a lot more captivating than say, a random city skyscraper.
Rather poignantly, this will be my final Israel post as the time has come for me to move on from this very welcoming country. To think that 18 months or so ago, I hadn't even heard of Tel Aviv and now to be here feeling like a local shows how far I've come both characteristically and literally. Back in 2014 I remember reading some curiously intriguing articles of this city but at the same time I was confused because Tel Aviv was in Israel...! Huh? Who comes to Israel for a holiday!? Why would I want to go there!?
LOL. I can now look back and share a little (ok, a big) laugh with myself because of this very moment, I can't recall such a wrong pre-conception in all my life. Relatedly, I'm now at the point where I am prepared to make one of the biggest statements I've made during my travels for Israel (and its people) have provided me the single greatest month I've had on my travels to-date. This then has to make it as my 'favourite country' - or certainly that is how I will answer when I'm asked the question (and believe me, I will be asked). At least now and unlike previously, I now have a solid, definitive answer.
There is however one 'problem' with Israel and that's its below average affordability. To provide you some textual variety to dutiful readers, towards the end of the post I'll cover my expenditure for the month which I'm expecting to be of some interest to a fair few of you...
Filtering through my photos I quickly realised that I hadn't undergone my usual format of city exploration here in Tel Aviv. Well I have but I haven't in the presence of my camera! Unfortunately this means that I haven't been able to depict the city the way I'd like to but worry not as I still have plenty of text content and phone-photography to fill the article and still provide you a further insight into general living in Israel. Now I think about it, this might actually be more interesting and relevant than say, knowing that the close-by enchanting area of Old Jaffa is where Jonah is said to have set sail before his encounter with the whale...
By complete coincidence though, if ever there was a location that my camera wouldn't mind being left to rest, it honestly could be here. Don't get me wrong there are still some attractions here in Tel Aviv but first and foremost it's a big city metropolis meaning that a large part of its appeal is what you would expect from 'city life'. Ultimately this means enjoyment in the form of 'hanging out'. This could be at the beach (yes, there's even a beach here!), a park, one of the many coffee-shops, eateries, the hostel itself, or even enjoying a leisurely cruise through the fairly flat streets with rent-a-bike! Those things coupled with the Israeli weather, friendliness and laid back way of life really make this a capital city I would love for you to visit. Flights are direct via EasyJet so please take a look at pricing and see if you can get a few days out here.
Do I really need to say any more?
So let it also be known that one (or should that be three) reasons for my photography distraction were due to the people I'd met during my time here (and each from my hostel). In order of actual introduction, there was Stephen (Canadian), Ruben (Holland) and Matty (Australian). Three great nationalities and three great individual people but get this, I met each of them on the very day the other left so-to-speak. As such, I met each of them independently and none of them would even meet each other which is sad for me to think but such is the fleeting world of travellers and travelling...
Two classic Israeli dishes here. The first is of the city-renowned hummus from Abu Hasan in Old Jaffa and the second image is a Shakshuka which is basically a dish a dish of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes and some spices. I also opted for a few pieces of meat in mine too. Speaking of which, can you believe that both those meals were bought for me!? Seriously, what an honour, what a treat. It's such an amazing humbling feeling for people you haven't known for very long to actually make a point of wanting to buy you something. We're not in Asia here, these dishes don't cost £1 let me tell you. Anyone who knows me well will know I don't take gestures like this lightly and so I'll ensure by the end of our time together, a suitable return-gesture is reciprocated.
Speaking of Old Jaffa, according to Christian legend it was named after Noah's son, Japhet, who built it after the great flood. I actually visited Old Jaffa a couple of times but each time I was without my camera. Doh! Instead, and after enjoying our hummus in Old Jaffa, I had to concentrate in trying to remember how to ride a bicycle. Curse that 'you never forget' saying and what's worse, I was with a Dutchman! Anyhow once I eventually refamiliarised myself with this primitive machine, Ruben and I rode on for around an hour or so up the pleasant shoreline that was Tel Aviv's Mediterranean coast. I mean look at that backdrop...
It's been a while since I last mentioned in some detail a hostel. That's not too surprising as north Africa and the Middle East don't generally rival European quality - that was until I stayed at The Abraham Hostels. This small but super-successful chain are now based in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and a more homely variant in Nazareth. Offering affordable rates and and a great breakfast, they also provide a great atmosphere which explains why I've stayed in all three of them for probably half my entire time in Israel and that's no exaggeration! Guess what they also provide? Free shuttle transportation if you stay with them X days which I certainly did. As such, I've been back and forth to the three aforementioned cities several times directly and without further cost or inconvenience via the Abraham shuttle bus.
Be sure to take note of Ryan's work t-shirt below as the wording is priceless. This place really do promote what they say on their t-shirts but in all seriousness, they offer so many volunteer positions here so that's the thinking behind it their wording. Now let's see, working here in this super-chilled environment meeting people from all over the world and get your bed and very decent food provided.................hmmmmm, not really a difficult decision that one huh.
Honestly, if it wasn't for other very real things in my life back home like family, friends, my accommodation and even my cat (yes, I have a cat at home too), well, I really think I'd consider trying this for a few months. You see folks, it really can be that easy it is to sustain a travel life if you really want to. For you young-uns, I desperately implore you to seek out opportunities like this. God, how I wish I'd have done this ten years ago...
The Tel Aviv Abraham hostel is practically brand new having only opened one month earlier. This means everything is indeed brand new and super clean - just how I like things. Construction around the place continues but guests are largely unaffected by ongoing operations. The size of this place beggars belief and has to be seen to be believed but here are a few shots that probably won't do it full justice:
Their hugely popular and successful Jerusalem variant was a great experience too!
Before I wrap up this post and close the amazing chapter that has been Israel, I thought I'd cover finances a little with you. My time in the Balkans for the first half of 2015 honesty allowed me to budget for as little as £500 (less than 650 euros) per month. That also allowed for some small extravagances and some decent food too. The second half of my 2015 trip included locations like central Europe and of course, the five island challenge which pushed average monthly expenditure to circa £750 (1000 euros) for a few months.
So far in 2016 I've observed a progressive rise in costs but that was to be expected. I started in Morocco, moved on to tourist-attraction Egypt whist now writing to you from super-modern Israel. That said, I had no idea it would be so expensive here and so by the time I'd made it to Tel Aviv, I was no longer surprised to learn the city itself has the 31st highest cost of living in the world!
Having now done the figures for my 30 days in Israel, thankfully I didn't quite break the 4 digit GBP barrier but I was extremely close (gulp). Whilst it's possible to have saved more on accommodation, (by staying in 6, 8 or even 10 bed dorms as oppose to 4), we are who we are and for my mature age my preference is (and always will be) the lower bed count dormitories to mitigate the risk of noisy people, party people and of course, snoring people. All these things considered highly increase the chances of a good night's sleep.
One thing's for sure though, I can't sustain this level of expenditure for long so hopefully my future destination choices will be more affordable. Well, that's after perhaps a couple more countries in this area of land they call The Levant.
And there you have it folks, it's been a great one month but for now we can consider the Israeli chapter, officially: closed.