Hotel Review: Hotel Vital Tel Aviv

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I arrived in the small loby of the boutique business hotel Vital on a very rainy winter day of January. In Jerusalem the roads were blocked because of the snow – one, two centimeters are enough to raise the emergency level to unbelievable levels, exactly like the 30 plus Celsius temperatures in Germany, while in Tel Aviv, the Deliiah storm was putting trees on the ground. From the Central Bus Station, I just walked for 40 minutes and reached the hotel, part of a bigger mall and in the close vicinity of important medical centers. As it was too early for the check in and I may have been look prety pittiful after the long walking in the rain, I was invited to take a seat and relax at the 12th floor business lounge. Fresh pastry and juices, as well as coffee and free Internet were available and took my time to recharge but also have a look over the beautiful city.

Newspapers are also available and for the first time in a long time I had the chance to touch a print edition of Jerusalem Post. The hotel guests are also offered in the morning complimentary copies of the NY Times with Haaretz inside, in an elegant black and white badge…(Let’s keep the politics outside the gates of this blog,ok?)

As I would be explained later during my complimentary tour of the facilities, there are more opportunities to relax offered during the stay to this boutique business hotel: the 200 sqm fitness center can be used for free. Tours and airport transfers are also offered which make the stay even more enjoyable, especially if you are for the first time in the bubbling Tel Aviv and for a short stay and you want to parcimoniously use your time.

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The room offer is very diverse, and it answers practically every specific needs of the diverse tourists and visitors: single junior, executive room, executive room with kitchinette, club, family room, deluxe, superior suite deluxe, executive suite. The rooms are provided with basic facilities, among which a very fast wifi, electronic mini bar, TV, desk and work place, telephone and voice mail, safe, bath robes and sleepers. Laundry services during the weekdays are availble. In order to give the guests time to relax and enjoy their time, the payment is done upon checkout. Special facilities for people with disabilities are also available.

The diversity of Vital Hotel offer explains the diversity of guests: from diplomats to people coming for medical treatments or families with children.

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The rooms are simply decorated, with modern furniture and warm colours. It gives you the feeling of being at home, with all those small facilities and basic comfort that you need,especially if you expect to stay on the road for a long time. The design as such, too much IKEA-infused, did not impress me too much but the rooms are spacious and not over charged.

I enjoyed this homely feeling especially at the end of my day out, exploring the area around the Weizmann street where the hotel is situated. First, it is the mall nearby, with its many offers and coffee shops and small restaurants, all tempting you to stay more with their sales season. A couple of minute of wallking away, there is the famous Kikar Hamedina, with the most expensive houses and many fancy boutique shops. If you want more shopping, Azrieli shopping mall is also close. For culture lovers, Tel Aviv Opera House, Habima Theater – where extraodinary dance performances are regularly taking place, an advantage to taste arts without knowing the language – or Tel Aviv Museum are aso within reach. But most importantly for the business visitors, the hotel is in the vicinity of the Israel Trade Fairs and Convention Center or the Diamond Exchange. And if you love the sea, 5 minute away by car and around 30 by foot, you can relax at the beach, admiring the view while eventually sipping a glass of red wine.

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In the morning, the energizing breakfast, with a lot of good dairy products, including the very delicious cottage cheese which always tastes the best in Israel, and freshly made pastry put you back on the good track. Looking out of the window of the 12th floor, the view of the bold city that never sleeps gives you a lot of motivation and inspiration. The pleasant background music helps you to return to normal life, one step at a time.

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Before leaving, a last email checking and booking printing for the next leg of my trips. Everything works fast and I can do my things within minutes and spend the rest of the time till checkout touring once again the neighbourhood. Although I never heard about this hotel before spending here one night, given the big demand of accommodations in Tel Aviv and Israel in general, I am sure I will hear once again about it soon.

Disclaimer: I was offered a complimentary stay and tour of the hotel, but the opinions are, as usual, my own

5 Places to Run Far Away from Winter

Winter is really playing hard against my meteorological patience. The German winter one, famous for its negative temperatures – -13C a couple of early  mornings ago – and persistence – once upon a time, I lived to see snow in the happy month of April no less. True is that the summer was very hot this year and the cold season started really only from January. But anyway,  for someone like me, winter is synonimous with bad mood, ugly clothing and limited freedom travel. It also means more than one book finished the day, many coffees and a lot of blogging.

This time of the year I am usually out of Germany till February, in much warmer places, from where I nonchalantly post sunny images on my social media channels. There are many warm places waiting for me and promise to visit soon – anyone said Bahamas? or Cuba? or Zanzibar? -, but as for now, I made a short list of my favourites that I already had the chance to visit in the last years.

  1. Lisbon, Portugal

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Lisbon, and Portugal in general, is one of my pleasant European travel memories. I loved to discover the people, the great food – the wine and the morning pastry are unforgettable – and so many cities that can be visited for one day trips, such as Sintra or Porto. I stayed in the fancy area of Cascais, around 25 minutes by train to the centre of the capital city and I was very happy with my choice, especially after I discovered a very special museum of musical instruments. I went there in one December and I had only one windy and rainy day in almost three weeks of stay.

2. Barcelona, Spain

It is a very touristic and crowded place, especially if you plan to celebrate the New Year’s Eve, but for a change one can try to pay a visit to the South of France for this specific day and night and come back at the beginning of January for the rest of the journey. The Gaudi architecture is interesting enough to keep you busy for long days and there are a lot of food choices for every taste and budget.

3. Israel

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Outside Europe, and only four hours of flight away from Berlin with regular cheap flights every day, Israel offers everything: history, art, religion, beaches, great food, unique shopping, high-end hotels. Bonus: the warm weather. Last December, I enjoyed a couple of days at the beach or sipped my glass of red wine with a great sea view. Once in a while, there is a little snow coming up for a couple of days or minutes, but although everyone is welcoming the event with panic and fear, there is nothing to be afraid of. And if you really miss the snow so much, there may be even some ski options in the Mount Hermon area.

4. New Orleans, USA

How much I love this place! The jazz clubs hopping on Bourbon street, the feeling of getting lost in the middle of the houses with stylish iron balconies and the summer feeling all round the year. The food is special in comparison with the most part of America, with a lot of spices and wise dosis of French influences. What everyone visiting the city should do: book a riverboat tour on the one and only Mississippi.

5. Thailand

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My first winter escape at the end of my first year in Germany was in Thailand. I arrived in Bangkok in the last days of December and the first hours I went through a thermic shock. In Berlin there were some minus degrees and in this city I was hardly able to breath because of the heat wave. Outside the busy Bangkok with its street food and night markets there are many things to see in the Northern region, from temples where one can book a bike tour to hiking, to fancy hotels with swimming pools and silk factories. The North has also cuisine based on fruits and vegetables. The prices are almost symbolical and you will hardly be alone during this time of the year, with many English speaking expats and tourists roaming around. The islands are usually high end destinations with gorgeous hotels and villas to rent, but if you are rather the secluded type, you better do an exhaustive research about where to find your peaceful paradise.

I told to myself more than once that I have one day to learn to ski, encouraged but the saying that you are never old enough to start practising this sport. My friends still hope that one day will finally buy the proper clothes for this weather and use this winter time for some unique trips instead of repeatedly complaying for months about the hard life under the Central European cold – you see, even my conversations are limited because of this weather! I also remember one beautiful winter I spent in Oslo, the first time since childhood when I enjoyed the snow and crispy weather. However, if you will ask me to chose between a sunny destination and one covered by snow, my answer will definitely favor the choice no. 1. After all, one can learn to ski at any age, isn’t it?

 

Photographic Jerusalem

DSCN0002One of the non-fiction books that changed at a great extent my way to see the world was James Elkins’s How to use your eyes, pledging for a reconsideration of our sight focus. Practically, there is no ‘uninteresting’ corner and the street offers millions of opportunities to challenge the classical way of seeing. Such a perspective is especially useful when it comes to visiting places enjoying a particular fame, which might not always be in their advantage. Jerusalem, for instance, is highly reverred for its holy places and traditional lifestyle in some parts of the city. But what about its people and places? Are all the same? Is everything only black – with a bit of white? Or there are some hidden colours too?DSCN0009With these questions in mind, I started my early morning photographic tour with Ouria Tadmor, a local photographer with deep knowledge of the city, and especially of its people, part of a complimentary experience offered by LocalYoo, gathering a network of knowledgeable people all over the world. Another challenges that I was ready to cope with was my relatively limited photographic ability to go more into taking pictures of people instead of the empty streets and lifeless buildings that I usually do.

DSCN0047But what can you do for not bothering people? Or not to feel an intruder in their private street life? You just have to go on and start taking photos. Rarely people will get angry on you and they will end up ignoring you, explained Ouria. The most important is to have patience and set up a standpoint from where you can get the best views. In this case, we established our temporary photographic headquarters near the famous market Machane Yehuda, a favourite spot not only for those looking for fresh vegetables and fruits and other local foods, but also for politicians who are always making a last tour de force here before the first round of voting. We spent some good dozen of photographies at the light train station, spotting the many differet layers of the Jerusalem society.

DSCN0105Entering the market, I kept pushing the button and taking more and more photos. As in the case of writing too, it is important also to have in mind a specific topic for your photographies. Even a simple plastic bag can say a lot about a person, his or her life, choices and also future.

DSCN0119I lived in Jerusalem either as a tourist or as a local many times, but I never have enough of Machane Yehuda. Every time is special and this time it was special too because I was finally learning also how to play with lights and shadows, how to appreciate the smoke of a cigarette which may create extremely interesting contrasts and how to just go on and take pictures. Everything was more alive and started to be even much happier with my photographies.

DSCN0133Not only the people can send a lot of interesting lively messages at Machane Yehuda, but also the modest vegetables getting ready to be cooked for the Friday evening meal. DSCN0149My photographic tour finished after a couple of hours, but now I was confident enough to start putting into practice the knowledge. So, I kept wandering the streets of old Jerusalem looking for some new visual attractions. As expected, did not need to wait for more, and close to the main street, an artist lady was doing open air painting.

DSCN0150There is something Jerusalem, and Israel in general, that you cannot find in big Western cities: the openness of the people keen to get in touch with you, help you get for directions or, in this case, explain their work of art in process.  DSCN0157Jerusalem is also a city of art and artists, with one of the most important art academies, Bezalel, being hosted here. In the last years, small design shops and concept stores were created presenting interesting design and especially, my favourite ones, book illustrations. Hidden yards near Machane Yehuda are also precious hideouts of old and new art. If you are into antiquities, the flea market on Agrippa is a good source of inspiration and displays old samples of the history of Israel too. Every time I go there I discovered old objects that we also used to have at home like old weights and books. DSCN0165Hungry for more photography, I ended up for the next hour at another busy spot, the governmental area, where you can also notice a lot of differences and all the many layers of the Jerusalem society. DSCN0171There is also street art present there, under the form of some colourful bikes, that are becoming more and more popular not only in the fancy Tel Aviv – where the electric bikes are the most have, despite the impressive prices.  DSCN0246As usual, my favourite time of the day for photographic adventures and solitary city discoveries is the early morning. Another day, I am back in the center getting into the mood of busy coming and going of people and their colourful wares. DSCN0200

If I want some quietness, I have Teddy Kolek park, on the edges of the old city, named after the famous mayor of the united city of Jerusalem. DSCN0202Another source of infinite inspiration is, obviously, the Old City, which offers always noteworthy details, not only for the photographer, but also for the historian or anthropologist. This time, a massive delegation from Nigeria was visiting the Kotel – the Wall, and by the chance of life, I was there to catch the moment.  DSCN0206Inside the city walls, in the old Jewish quarter, life has also a certain trace of continuity, unbroken by the political, social or any other changes. Old books are made based on the genuine knowledge of the ages. And you can be also there, ready to turn the moment into history. DSCN0211As usual in Jerusalem, the history is the quiet guardian of the present and the hope for the future. One of the symbols of hope is the old Hurva synagogue in the old city – a former ruin changed into a beautiful house of prayer and learning. Hope is also the message sent by the many people, many of them youngsters from all over the world, that stop here for a while during their usual trips to Israel. Maybe sooner or later they will also come back for good. DSCN0215On the way back going out of the old city, the shops all along the way are hiding hundreds of histories about people. Imagine how many stories were told over the tea or coffee made in these metal pans or the emotions of the children lightning their first Hanukka candles! DSCN0236Is not that difficult to put into practice Elkins’ lessons in Jerusalem. Looking a bit higher than usual, I notified the laughing face of the former immigrant shelter of Tiferet Zion v’Yerushalaim, created in 1908 by Rabbi Shmuel Levi, who immigrated from the US. The building was used as a hostel aimed to absorb thousands of immigrants over the years. The sundial and the additional clocks on the facade of the buildings were aimed to show the sunset hours in different parts of the world, useful for calculating the Shabbat times. DSCN0532Jerusalem is also a city of music, not only through its regular open air and special concerts held in small underground bars, but also thanks to its talented street musicians. From the moment I discovered The Rabbi and the Gypsy Lady passionatelly singing I could not resist coming back over and over again. They have the amazing power to inspire you to live your life at its fullest, but with a meaning.  DSCN0233Of course there are so many other things my eyes did not see yet in Jerusalem, but my heart knows they exist. See you soon, Jerusalem!

Review: The Market Courtyard-Jerusalem Suites: your home far away from home

DSCN0336Nachlaot is one of the nicest neighbourhoods of the busy Jerusalem, with its traditional small houses, quiet parks where people can meet to talk the latest news or play some chess or shesh besh, small green streets and local synagogues. During the sunny days, the old buildings are wrapped into the light and made you forget which century you are living in. I passed along HaCarmel street many times before, but never had the reason to stop for more and read its messages. It is close to the famous Mahane Yehuda Market and the flea market from Agrippa Street, but also from the Central Station and the Light Rail. The friendliness of the people and the colours of the streets invited me to stay more and this is what I did before checking my apartment at the Market Courtyard -Jerusalem Suites.

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Once I was given the key, some small details about entering the courtyard and the house and some codes – everything looked very safe – , I am free to discover my residence for the rest of the day and the night. My apartment has a big living room, a bathroom, a bedroom that gives into the interior yard, a kitchen and a balcony where I am thinking to spend as much time as possible.

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The bathroom is spacious enough, with a bathtube, a priviledge that is not easy to have, either in apartments or hotel rooms in Jerusalem. Hot water is available round the day and everything looks white and clean.

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The kitchen is provided with minimal amenities: a fridge, a microwave, coffee machine, coffee and sugar. It is enough space to give you inspiration to cook a family meal and the vicinity to the Machane Yehuda offers more than an opportunity to make yourself, your family and children feel like home. As the table in the living room can be enlarged and made bigger, you can also have a big meal, eventually with your new friends.

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The decorations are minimal, but with good taste, especially the old black-and-white pictures from the old city or the posters about art exhibitions. The furniture is custom made, with serious brown and red pillows that brings more life into the room.

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The residences are tailored for short, medium and long stay, as you can rent them for the day, week, month and even year. It works very well for couples, single travellers longing for the feeling of being at home, families with or without children. The wireless works very well and there is TV and air condition too. Well-written and interesting books about Jerusalem and history of Israel are inviting you to plan more wisely the next legs of the trip.

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The bedroom reminded me a bit of a bungallow, and as in the rest of the house, the details are minimal, offering enough space for moving and thinking freely. Who needs too much furniture when you are on vacation? The closet is big enough to accommodate different wardrobe needs. Mine gave to the courtyard and was quiet for this time of the year – beginning of January.

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The Market Courtyard (or the Hatzar Hashuk, in Hebrew) is a historical building, preserved and reinvented as an apartment building, keeping in mind the traditional elements of the Jerusalem architecture. Its internal courtyard leads to a 3-storey building, each new and provided with modern facilities. Every residence offers a different view of Jerusalem: either the Nachlaot or the marketplace bustle. If you are lucky enough to stay at the top floors, you can even have a view of the Israel Museum, the road to Gilo, or the Supreme Court Building.

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My balcony offered a view over Nachlaot, without too many people outside during the day, but apparently with its own secret life during the night. In the middle of the night, a guitar player and singer in the park, made me think about some local Romeo and Juliet story, and these thoughts kept me busy enough for not trying to bother the solo concert. The balconies are big enough to allow you spending a good part of the morning there and if you want to better understand this city and its people, this seems to be a good standpoint to start with.

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The courtyard offers a fascinated view, and its interior yard offers opportunities to the guests to meet and, who knows, to plan some trips together. The green plants hanging fhe balconies give an air of familiarity and friendliness. The main construction was originally built in 1886, and was part of the larger efforts to bring more Jewish population outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem. The old stones of the courtyard can be a reminder of the old and many untold histories.

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When it was about time to go to my next destination, I had the feeling that I have to leave a place that I was just starting to become too familiar with to abandon without regrets. The Nachlaot and the secrets kept into the courtyard were calling me back. I wonder if the guitar musician still singing in the park?

For more insights from this accommodation, check the dedicated Pinterest board: https://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/the-market-courtyard-jerusalem-suites/

Disclaimer: I was offered a one-night stay at the Market Courtyard – Jerusalem Suites, but the opinions are, as usual, my own

Friday afternoon walking in Jaffa

DSCN0698It is Friday afternoon in Tel Aviv, and for a short while, the life is slowing down, but just for a couple of hours. Everyone is getting ready to join the usual family gatherings of the evening, marking the start of Shabbat, the day of rest. There ae even less tourists on the streets, so quiet now that you can hear the waves of the sea nearby. For me, this is the perfect time to go back to Jaffa, walking slowly on the beach till I reach the area of the port, with its coquette shops hidden between ship repairing garages.

DSCN0699Especially in this moment, when there are not too many tourists and the shops are getting ready to close, the streets usually crowded with visitors can reveal their mysteries and stories, testimonies of the long and rich centuries of history.DSCN0702Compared to other historical places, here in Israel or elsewhere in Europe, you don’t have the ovewhelming feeling of being in a museum of human history. The human presence integrated the rich past into through the colouful windows and the green alleys that spring from the millenial cobblestones.DSCN0703Beyond each massive door mysterious stories seem to hide in their well locked wooden boxes. But right now, I can only hear my steps on the stones and the sound of intensive preparations in the kitchens.DSCN0708Either there are private houses, art galleris or antiques shops, you feel invited not to buy, but to stay, hear stories and eventually take a decision while admiring the streets, with a glass of fresh lemonade or a big cup of hot black Turkish coffee in the front of you. DSCN0709Every time I visit this part of Israel, considered as one of the oldest in the region, I feel that there are always so many things that I want to learn about: about the three different religions coexisting here, and the various religious symbols can be noticed on the streets outside the old city, about the history of architecture of the country, about its nature and beautiful trees, about its old and new traditions, visible in the variety of art styles dispayed in the many art galleries. DSCN0713Like in the old city of Jerusalem, there are so many short streets and houses that are so close that you can mistake them as part of the one and only block of buildings.DSCN0719Besides the art galleries and antiquities shops, another important landmark in the area is Ilana Goor Museum, hosting an interesting collection of works, that can be eventually introduced by the artist herself who is often there talking with the visitors. DSCN0720But today, I rather want to feel free, taking the advantage of a sunny December afternoon and walk as much as I can, together with my friend which wants to learn so much about the art, history and the controversies associated with the region. But when you walk these old streets and you see everything with your own eyes, you don’t need any more to get your sources from the biased media.DSCN0721The art courageously dispayed on the antiques walls make me feel less guilty for not visiting too many art galleries this time. Only one every ten minutes. DSCN0727The artists and the gallery owners are there not only to help you take the right decision, but also to tell their and other people’ stories. The beautiful pieces of jewellery from Yemen or Morocco are especially beautiful, displaying old crafts for ever lost in Europe. At one antiquities shop that is about to close, I am showed different Seder plates brought from Jews home from all over the world. My favourite is one made shortly after the creation of the State of Israel, provided with a little machine that sings for a couple of minutes Hatikva, the national anthem talking about hopes and love for freedom.  DSCN0730For me, nothing can represent better the spirit of this place than the 1993 work of Ran Morin – Oranger Suspendu ( in English, Hanging Orange Tree). Made of steel, artificial stone and orange tree, it can be read as a narrative about strength and resilience, that needs to fight against unexpected artificial problems but tempered and helped by the given natural destiny. This piece of art is considered one of the top photographic attractions of this area, so during the busy week expect to wait a bit in line till you will be able to take your selfie here. Morin, who lives in Israel, is the author of several full-sized living trees.DSCN0735While my mind is thinking maybe too much for this time of the week, the streets are getting empty and I feel somehow compelled to find our way outside the area, maybe going back to Tel Aviv for the Friday evening meal with a view over the sea. DSCN0739

The streets are getting cleaned and the tables are ready to be set. The quiet stones are ready to hear more family stories. DSCN0746Accoding to the Biblical story, Jaffa was the location from which Jonah set sail before his encounter with the whale. A massive statue of a whale by Ilana Goor reminds the visitors about this reference. Another story says that the famous cedars used in building Solomon’s Temple were shipped to the Jaffa port.DSCN0751Right now, the port is quiet and the touristic restaurants serving fish dishes and the tasty local versions of Mediterranean food are ready to open. Far away, but still very close, I can see the lights of the beautiful city with its sky scrapers and creative high tech industry. This is the moment when past and present meet and I am happy to be here and hear this story of hope and resilience.

Travel Israel: Where history meets Google

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The travel experience to Israel is not only safe and pleasantly surprising, but very affordable too, with more and more direct and less expensive connections from all over Europe and the world. Especially from Germany, many low-costs lines were introduced in the last years, and a smart early booking can give you the chance to fly to Tel Aviv and back for less than 300 Euro.

Regardless of the time of the day you are landing in Tel Aviv, there will always be something open as the city never sleeps. Clubs and bars and restaurants and shops are calling your name. The new brave architecture insinuated in the urban space around old traditional houses, palm trees are bordering walls with creative graffiti. And if you were a bit scared that you will have some communication problems, don’t worry, you are in the country where the main world languages are easily spoken.

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In the evening, there are always beach parties. Open air dancing and cocktail tasting is for everyone. Lala Land beach is one of the many places where you should be at the beginning of the night. Elegant hotels but also cozy hostels where one can meet new friends are strategically places near the beach. The prices may differ of the season, with big differences during the Jewish high holidays, especially April – Pesach – and September – Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana. The sooner you make the reservation, the better. Compared to Europe, the weather is good all round the year – with high temperatures during August – so you don’t risk anything if you start your exploration of Israel in January or February, for instance.

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Tel Aviv is the place of arts and creative minds par excellence. The passionate arts scene is featured by the Tel Aviv Museum of Art or Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art. At the Beit Hatfutsot – the Diaspora Museum – there is a chance to understand more about the history of Jewish communities from all over the world. Before you enter through the gates of any museum, there is the architecture of the city who tells you a story. Jewish architects that escaped Germany before and during the war, brought the Bauhaus spirit in the city and built around 4,000 houses, part of the White City, nowadays included on the list of UNESCO World Heritage.

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The contemporary urban culture is a different and equally fascinating layer of Tel Aviv. Answering the curiosities of tourists and locals, graffiti tours are regularly offered in English, covering the most interesting areas of the city. As many of the graffiti messages are connected with the daily life and politics of the Israeli society, a little bit of guidance is more than welcomed.

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Transportation in the city is easy: either by bus or by foot. Taxis can help you too, and the very often the prices can be negotiated. Exchange offices or banks are open 6 days of week – Saturday is the official day of rest.

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Saturday is the day of rest – Shabbat – and most part of the shops are closed, as well as public transportation. In Tel Aviv, however, one can always find something open or some parties going on – strongly recommended the rooftop parties in the White Cities, many of them arranged as gorgeous gardens, from where you can have a view of the city night life. Resting one day the week is not a bad idea either, and on Saturday evening, one can notice how everything goes back to normality. A must-see is the spontaneous dancing show at Gordon Beach. Many similar street dancing are taking place near the clubs as well.

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From the center of Tel Aviv, one can walk for a while reaching the artist quarter of Neve Tzedek. Small streets, bordering colourful and individual houses, hosting small galeries or pop-up stores, but also good restaurants and bakeries, especially French and Hungarian, bringing back home flavours and childhood long-forgotten tastes.

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Another tasty and interesting part of Tel Aviv is Jaffa, with its small houses with flower gardens and delicious Oriental restaurants.

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The best place to find something special to buy or eat or admire is on Dizengoff Street, where you can find exquisite design shops, the big mall at no. 50 and restaurants for all kind of tastes and budgets. As for me, I also love to walk on Eli’ezer ben Yehuda street, checking the latest French bakeries or the newest frozen yoghurt parlour. And there is something else that no one should miss while in Israel: the big checking list of breakfast, traditionally including boiled eggs, tomato salad, labneh, hummus, olive oil, pita bread, fresh fruits and the unforgettable strong coffee – preferably with cardamom. Curious for more shopping malls: check Azrieli, a couple of bus stations away from ben Yehuda.

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On Dizengoff and ben Yehuda I always discover the most interesting and creative art galleries, featuring modern local and European artists.

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Tel Aviv is also a friendly city to travel with children. Besides the beach and the many gourmet temptations especially offered for children by many restaurants, there are plenty of parks, playgrounds and the interesting safari that I recently discovered.

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Israel is a small country and you can easily move within a couple of hours from a part to another. By car or by taxi, or using the shared cars, but also by train or bus, many of the main cities can be seen in one day. One of the most spectacular areas is around the old fortification of Masada, where the natural landscape is hiding centuries of history of the land.

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The easiest way to arrive is via Jerusalem, by bus. The buses have air condition but once you are out, you should be careful as during the high season of August, the heat can be unbearable. From the top, one can see the Dead Sea and the small green oasis, the kibbutz, many of them offering affordable accommodation to the tourists.

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Elegant resorts appeared in the last decades, with high-class spa and luxury services. Most are using the Ahava products, based on healthy mud and other natural ingredients.

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From the highest altitudes, one can embrace the mysterious landscape. A country that used to be covered by sand and stones is turned into a rich agricultural area, using the best of its natural resources and beauty.

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Every year, Masada is hosting a majestic opera festival, with many representations starting early in the morning, the best time to watch the sunrise.

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Travelling across the country reveals the diversity and the pace of a country aimed to succeed. In Rishon LeZion, high scrapers were built fast to accommodate the waves of people coming back home. The vertical landscape is ironically punctured by colourful playgrounds. In Ra’anana, the Friendship Park was designed to accommodate visitors with special needs.

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One of the cities that took me a lot to come along with is Haifa, the working-city where people are always busy. Here is where the logo of Google can be easily seen on the way to the beach and where Intel established its first center outside USA in 1974. Since then, the American company opened another 4 centers in the country and is planning a $6 billion investment in a chip plant. Rambam hospital, one of the best health centers in the area, is treating patients from all over the world.

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As local people are so busy working, the beaches are perfect for those looking for more quietness and privacy. There are not too many beach parties although enough beach bars open till late in the night. Wifi facilities will help you to keep connected with the busy world anyway. Dado Beach, for instance, is considered as one of the best for families with children, while Carmel is more often the meeting place of students and young people in general.

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The local zoo was initially launched as an educational school center, but nowadays is has a lot of attractions for children. It is situated close to Carmel Center, one of the two areas – besides the German colony – where to find the best pubs, bars, clubs and restaurants. I sipped some good cocktails once at Barbarossa and definitely loved the Japanika sushi treats, including the design and ambiance.

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The city also has a very active, even though not obvious, art life, that you first notice while walking the streets, trying to read the hidden messages of the street art and installations. I discovered here the most important collection of Japanese art at the Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art, close to the beautiful Louis Promenade. For children, and not only, there is an interesting Museum of Science.  For more art, the Ein Hod artists village can offer different surprises, but also the possibility to talk directly with artists about their work.

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One of the most famous landmarks of the city are the Baha’i Garden, in a city where various religions co-exist – and there is also a Carmelite Monastery and several churches and mosques. Haifa also has one of the smallest subway network in the world – Istanbul being the other one – with its colourful 6-station of Carmelit funicular railway, re-opened in 1992. Another unique transportation in the city is the cable car which connects the beach promenade with Mt. Carmel.

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The naval life left a certain trace on the character of people. Sailors are reliable people, but not very talkative. Either they like you or not, they will tell you openly. A couple of trips after my first visit to the city, I am more used with it. And from a trip to another, I gathered new reasons to come back.

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Jerusalem is a different kind of encounter. Walking the thousands of years of cobbled old streets brings the visitor back in time. And even if you are completely ignorant about any history, you might want to know more at the end of your journey.

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Before going to the library, try to discover more only by tasting the food, the tempting and delicious pitas or various breads offered in different shapes. A new wave of gourmet restaurants were opened in the last years, one of the best by far being Mantra, Hachatzer or Rooftop. The wines are the natural company of the good foods: in the last years, an impressive number of boutique vineyards were created, many offering regularly wine tasting events.

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The streets of the old city are a oasis of quiet, especially if you decide to walk around my favourite time of the day to start a journey: early in the morning. Shortly before 10 o’clock the old streets are back to life, waken up by the noise of the vendors opening their shops or the men rushing to study in many of the synagogues situated in the neighbourhood.

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Many rush to the Western Wall, where people from simple Jews to world presidents left a small note asking for a wish.

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The area went through various transformations in the last years. The former ruin of the 18th century Hurva synagogue (hurva means ruin in Hebrew) was turned into a new building. There are regular guided tours offered that will lead you to the top of the building from where one can have a panoramic view of Jerusalem and its vicinity.

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For many Western visitors, the cats are the unexpected cute encounters. They are everywhere, on the beach, in the yard of the synagogues or at the entry in elegant malls. When they don’t run after mice or beg for a little piece of food, they rest in the most unexpected places.

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Mahane Yehuda is where you can smell and taste the Middle East. The spices are in the air, and I rarely need long hours to find out what I am looking for. As usual, I end up with lots of perfumed bags that will put at hard trial my culinary skills and imagination.

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I am not more literate when it comes to the fruits either, but the colours are tempting enough to convince me they are worth a little bit of extra tasting.

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The weight of history may be enough for not doing anything else besides the Old Quarter. Parks and the biblical Zoo are good destinations for family with children. Otherwise, there are some places that I always want to see again: the interesting Italian synagogue, introducing the special world of Italian Jewry, the Museum of Islamic Art, the Israel Museum with an impressive archaeological collection, including the famous Dead Sea scrolls, and Yad Vashem Museum, the living memorial of the Jews murdered during the Holocaust. Another interesting attraction, relatively newly introduced on the to-do-list in the city is the tram which goes fast from a part to the other of the city, a good opportunity to have a better view of various areas and to observe or get in touch with the local people. As in the case of Tel Aviv, Segway tours are also available for small or bigger group of tourists, with or without a guide included.

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Those that don’t have claustrophobic problems and are ready to walk barefoot through water can try to make a tour of the City of David. I did it, despite coping in the first minutes of the tour with a deep emergency to run back to light, and was delighted with the high quality of the English explanations and the overall setting.

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The tour – that lasts an average of 3 hours – leads the visitor through underground tunnels, exploring the place of birth of the ancient city of Jerusalem. When you are finally out of the darkness, one learns to better appreciate the light. Back in the real life, there is the busy life from Mamilla Mall with the very talented street artists singing something beautiful. Everywhere, there is something to do and many reasons to return. Even though it’s only for a small piece of cake that you only tasted at home. And home is where your heart is.

For more pictures from Israel, have a look at the dedicated Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.com/ilanaontheroad/israel/