by Stephanie Gold
TEL AVIV Introduction
Tel Aviv is a big, modern city (Israel’s largest after Jerusalem), and some visitors can’t figure why they should bother with it. So many bus routes and busy streets, so many highrises and new buildings--why go to Israel to see all that? Akin to the Sabra cactus symbolizing the Israeli attitude (prickly on the outside but warm and sweet within), Tel Aviv’s appeal isn’t immediately evident, but a little effort reaps big rewards--the city grows on you.
Tel Aviv reveals the essence of Israel, the core without the artifacts and shrines. Want insight into Israeli culture? Spend some time hanging out on the beach, in restaurants and cafés, in theaters and clubs, and don’t think of it as hedonism--it’s anthropological research of the best sort, and it can always be supplemented by their fine museums. And if you still manage to get bored, ask residents why they prefer Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, then sit back and enjoy the earful.
Tel Aviv (Hill of Spring) started quite recently, by Israeli standards, as a Jewish suburb of Arab Jaffa in 1909. The Balfour Declaration in 1917, the anti-Jewish Jaffa riots of 1921, and the advent of Nazism in Germany all encouraged development of the empty sand dunes. When Israel declared independence in 1948, Tel Aviv became home to the provisional government, and its population grew by 60%.
The municipality (including Jaffa) has a population of 357,400 while the larger metropolitan area (known as the Tel Aviv District) spreads over 170 square kilometers and has a population of over one million individulas. Though Jerusalem was named as the country’s capital in 1980, Tel Aviv still serves as the headquarters for the Israeli Ministry of Defense, Histadrut, and some foreign embassies including the US Embassy.
While Tel Aviv is home to roughly 50% of the country’s industrial plants (such as diamond polishing) as well as the Stock Exchange, it’s also the hub of Israeli education and culture (Jerusalem residents would, of course, disagree), with Tel Aviv and Bar-Ilan Universities, the Israeli
Philharmonic and national theater (Habima), as well as a plethora of museums (the Museum of the Diaspora topping the exhaustive list).
From time to time, Tel Aviv has been the object of terrorism, especially as the Israeli-Palestinian peace negogiations approach critical agreements. Usually claimed by Hamas or Islamic Jihad (two militant Islamic groups opposed to the peace), suicide bombings have torn up buses, lives, and emotions. But one of the most notorious and injurious attacks came from a Jewish individual, one Yigal Amir, who assassinated the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in November of 1995, during a peace rally Rabin was conducting in Tel Aviv's Kikkar Malkhei Y'Israel (Kings of Israel Square), now renamed Kikkar Rabin, in his honor.
While there is no way to determine future targeted sites (such being the nature of terrorism), Sunday morning clusters of soldiers returning to base have at times been the focus of attacks. Between the rare incidents, life returns to normal in Tel Aviv, though with a hightened awareness of the continued precarious nature of their existence.
Best of Tel Aviv
•the ALEXANDER, 3 Habakook, Tel. 03-546-2222, Fax 03-546-9346, has single suites for $190-$225, doubles are $225-$260, and a 4-person suite is $300. This suites-only place has elegant rooms with a luxurious feel.
•GRAND BEACH HOTEL, 250 HaYarkon, Tel. 03-543-3333, Fax 03-546-6589, costs $98-$105 for singles and $154 for doubles + 15% service charge, and including a big buffet breakfast. They have a pool and are big, friendly, quiet, and across the street from the beach.
•AMBASSADOR, 56 Herbert Samuel Esplanade, Tel. 03-510-3993, Fax 03-517-6308, costs $65-85 for singles and $90-100 for doubles, full Israeli breakfast included. The Ambassador is a charming, very friendly 3-star place right on the beach.
•GORDON INN, 17 Gordon, Tel. 03-523-8239, Fax 03-523-7419, costs $16 for dorm beds, $50 for private rooms. This hostel is meticulously neat and attractive.
Best Food & Drink
•CAMELOT, 16 Shalom Aleichem, Tel. 03-528-5222, offers nice tables, good music, and a suave, interesting crowd who do a good job of compensating for the somewhat steep prices.
•ELIMELAKH, 35 Wolfson (close to Shalom Tower, a block from Ha’aliya), Tel. 03-518-2978) offers traditional Jewish foods in a warm, friendly, old neighborhood establishment.
•ASRAF, 86 King George (not far from City Hall), Tel. 03-622-6685, has great home-cooked Moroccan/Tunisian food, tasty and innovative.
•THE SHAKESPEARE, 140 Hayarkon (near Gordon), Tel. 03-522-2194, is a pleasant cafe in the British Council with English newspapers for free.
•ESPRESSO MERSAND, 70 Ben Yehuda, Tel. 03-523-4318, may not be chic, but they make the best coffee you can find in the city for less than NIS 5.
•Betzal El Market, down Beit Lechem, off King George at #3, is the best falafel stand in the city. Huge salad selection, and build-your-own-pita for NIS 7.
•Beth Hatefutsoth--The Museum of the Diaspora, Tel Aviv University campus, Tel. 03-646-2020, is one of the best museums in Israel, with fascinating geneology databases as well as music, culture, and artifacts from Jewish communities around the world.
•Camelot, 16 Shalom Aleichem, Tel. 03-528-5222, features live music, (usually rock, jazz, or blues) in The Back Room and is the most popular Tel Aviv spot for the local music scene.
•Logos, 8 Hashomer, Tel. 03-516-1176, is off 14 Nahalat Binyamin, but the sign isn’t in English. It's a friendly hang-out cafe with live music (jazz and blues) nightly and Friday afternoons.
•Shanboand Josephine, 25 Lillenbloom, Tel. 03-510-6739, are beautifully decorated new discos (upstairs and down for posh or funky) for dancing and an interesting crowd without that meat market feel.
It starts before you even get there. Cairo. The name itself conjures up images rich in imagery and fantasy, melding pyramids and crowded streets, elegant Arabic decor and teeming poor masses of people, the gateway to Africa.
Then you get there and you’re aswamp with it all, up to your nose in smells of foods, spices, dust, and garbage, up to your ears with honking, belching cars, up to your eyes with just everything. Typically, the traveler establishes a relationship with the city. Heady love at first sight, where all you want to do is roam the streets, chat with the friendly Cairenes, eat the fantastic food, and absorb it all. Then there’s the spat, where you’ve just had it, had enough with all the noise, the filth, the whole rotten pace, and you want out. So you head off for a day trip or more, see some of Egypt that isn’t Cairo, and begin to miss that great cafe, that particular restaurant, even the site of hundreds of men clad in immaculate white jalabiyia (Egyptian robes) crossing intersections flooded with moving traffic. And it starts all over again.
About 2,000 years ago the Romans built a fortress called Babylon on the site of present-day Cairo, and in 640 CE Arabs established a military camp here called al-Fustat. It wasn’t much of a city, though, till 969, when the Fatimid dynasty made Cairo its capital. Saladin ruled from 1169-93, the Mamluks reigned in the 13th-15th centuries, and the city kept on growing. Its population is estimated to have reached half a million during the mid-14th century, the height of its medieval prosperity. Then the city began a long decline, the result of plagues, a Mongol attack and, finally, Turkish conquest in 1517. It didn’t recover until the 19th century, when, under Mohammed Ali (who ruled from 1805-49), Egypt became virtually independent of Ottoman Turkey.
Modern Cairo dates from the mid-19th century when the Egyptian ruler, Ismail Pasha, began European-style construction projects. From 1882 to 1922 Egypt was under British control. Then, since independence, Cairo has been expanding and expanding some more, so that Cairo’s population is around 6,335,000, with more than 8 million in the metropolitan area (compared to the 56 million who live in Egypt). Not surprisingly, Cairo is extremely overcrowded, and its grand old buildings aren’t enough to meet the needs of its rapidly increasing population.
Streets and traffic really shape your day in Cairo. Maps are all very helpful with the street names written in English, but the streets themselves are less obliging, rarely bothering with English street signs. People are friendly, however, and it doesn’t take long to find someone who will tell you the name of the street you’re on or point you (or lead you) to where you want to go. The dirt in the air is a different matter. It’s so filthy that when you blow your nose your handkerchief comes away black. On the other hand, no need to apply mousse or hair spray – a walk down the Cairo streets acts as a natural hair styler.
The people in Cairo also make a big difference to your visit. While the values quickly become apparent (if you see a crowd on a street, chances are they are ogling the wares in a shoe store), folks are more cosmopolitan than elsewhere in Egypt. Most possess a lively sense of humor, and the men are much less on the make than in some other more provincial tourist sites like Luxor, for example, or Aswan. But despite the Coptic community and the urban (and urbane) tone of the city, it would be well to remember that Egypt is a Muslim country, and with the fundamentalists on the rise, so you should dress and act with Muslim sensibilities in mind, especially if you’re female.