Three blondes with impossibly thin waistlines are slurping sinfully large chocolate filled dishes. On the other side three old ladies with reddish tints in their coiffured hair are doing exactly the same, oblivious to the sleeping man who occupies the fourth chair. It is midnight in Tel Aviv. Round the corner on Lilinblum road, the two-leveled Georgian bistro bar called Nanuchka is chocker block full of babushkas and bobols drinking cocktails and nodding their heads to David Bowie’s ‘Lets Dance’. It’s a Saturday night, the equivalent of Sunday night elsewhere in the world. Seems to me, no one will be at work tomorrow.
There’s a witty Israeli saying: In Haifa we stay, in Jerusalem we pray and in Tel Aviv we play. With half the city’s population of a million and a half under 35 years of age, Tel Aviv is playing, and playing hard. It’s earned itself the moniker of ‘the city that never sleeps’. And guess what guys! It’s safer than you would believe. During my week-long stay I did not hear a fart or a whimper on the busy streets, let alone the dreaded bangs of bombs. Tel Aviv is locked into an all-night party mode.
Gastro Pub 58, situated on 58 Yehuda Halevi in central TLV(Tel Aviv’s short form) has a week long buzz that starts at sunset and ends at drawn. Fine wines and trendy people make for a happy combination. Ten pm (past dinnertime for German tourists) seems to be twilight time for TLVians, the evening holding out the promise of another rocking night. Gay owner Lior Bensimon came back to TLV after six years in New York. He’s delighted he did so, since he’s laughing all the way to the bank.
It’s not just TLV’s night life that’s turning me on. The cafe culture, the art, the museums, the open-air markets, the shopping malls, they all testify to the successful makeover of a city that should be on everyone’s travel list. All the city needs to do is to advertise the fact that it is as safe a city as Nice or Sydney.
Pouring me a glass of red, young Eli says, “The city’s youth are more interesting in reuses than guns.” Twenty-eight years old, Eli is the significant other half of Nir Zook, a famous Tel Aviv chef who runs the famous Cordeila restaurant complex in the Jaffa area, which also boasts of the Noa Bistro, the Jaffa bar and patisserie Napoleon. In an ambience almost Parisien, with candles and dim lighting creating a suitably intimate and chic atmosphere, chef Zook cooks up delicacies for the city’s cognoscenti. We gorged on beetroot dough ravioli stuffed with porcini, Champignons and truffles in truffle oil cream, marbled liver pate covered with black sesame seeds, salmon in a thousand spices and a sinful helping of molten chocolate. Eli is like a mother hen, ensuring all the guests are shiny happy, and also looks after the bar opposite the restaurant. It’s full of hip young types and everyone is drinking wine after vodka shots. It is lounge music when I first get there in the evening, but around midnight it switches to house for the 200 strong young ravers who spilled out into the cobblestone lane under the arches. In my hand is a Cabernet Sauvignon / Shiraz blend from the Binyamina winery situated near Caesarea.
The next day I find myself at the Herzeliya Resort in an Indian restaurant called Tandoori. The restaurant is buzzing with people on a Saturday afternoon. It is owned by Reena Pushkarna, by far the most famous Indian in Israel. Born in Delhi to a Jewish mother and a Sikh father, she and her husband Vinod Pushkarna through a strange twist of fortune found themselves settled in Tel Aviv in the 80’s. Their first restaurant, a vegetarian one called “Ichickdana” (a homage to Raj Kapoor) evolved into the now popular chain Tandoori. The food was great, very authentic India. But Reena’s fame comes from the popular cookery show on television, which has made her quite a celebrity in Israel.
I remember my jaw dropping the first time I visited Rome, 25 years ago. Since then, even after a dozen visits, my mind never ceases to marvel at the grand designs of the ambitious Romans. So imagine my surprise when just a 30-minute drive out of Tel Aviv, I am taken to see the major ruins of a once far-flung Roman Empire, the Caesarea National Park.
It was a Phoenician port that King Herod turned into one of the grandest cities in ancient times rivaling Jerusalem, with its deep sea harbor, aqueduct, hippodrome and amphitheater. It is also famous for being the seat of Pontius Pilate who ordered the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Today, Caesarea National Park is a major tourist attraction, with the Archaeological Authority having painstaking excavated and restored the ruins to afford visitors an intimate insight into a civilization that lived 2000 years ago.
As we walk through the vaulted passages we arrive at the top of the amphitheater, built Roman style. Below us is the large arrangement of seats carved from the hillside, a semi-circle facing a newly built stage. As if on cue, by some divine ordinance, a group of Japanese tourists standing on the proscenium burst into song. The lyrics were incomprehensible, the melody’s origins unknown, but the emotion was unmistakable.
The Museum & Art Gallery
Few sights on Tel Aviv’s beachfront set off as many camera flashes as the 250 year old Ilana Goor Museum and Gallery. Originally built as a hostel for Jewish pilgrims entering the Holy Land (Tel Aviv was its biggest port) before continuing their journey to Jerusalem, it was restored and turned into a museum and gallery by Illana Goor, one of Israel’s most famous artists and designers. You can see her life’s work here – Sculptures, jewelry and furniture created from wood, glass, bronze and iron, as well as a collection of etchings, paintings, casting and carvings she has gathered from around the globe. it also serves as her home.
Born and raised in Tiberias in a family of doctors and artists, Goor never studied art but developed her own techniques. A belt buckle she designed for her husband in New York led to Bloomingdales discovering her talent and proved to be the starting point of her becoming famous as a jewelry designer.