Mosques, ancient ports, a labyrinth of alleys lined by crumbling stonework buildings, and apricot-sand beaches graced with water several shades of robin-egg blue… all of it pulsating in the hot July sunshine: welcome to Israel in the summer.
How do you do Israel in 4 days and 3 nights? Honestly, you can’t. But we set ourselves an itinerary that would allow us to experience several jaw-dropping World Heritage Sites (Beit Guvrin-Maresha, Masada, Old Acre), the Dead Sea, and several beaches, all within our limited time period, while not running ourselves ragged.
DAY ONE: Old Jaffa and Charles Clore Beach, Tel Aviv.
We landed early in the morning and rented a car from the airport (easily done; after clearing passport control, go out exit door 3, cross over the road, and turn left… voila, Hertz, Sixt, Budget and more!) and with the GPS provided, headed into Tel Aviv, our home-base.
Horrified at the cost of hotels in Tel Aviv, we rented an apartment at Sweet Inn (available on booking.com–for six nights, $900 U.S. dollars), an unprepossessing looking building on the outside but spacious, clean, crisp, modern, and air-conditioned on the interior. Towels, soap, shampoo, in-suite laundry with detergent, tea, coffee & sugar provided, and a kitchen far superior to my own at home.
Located two minutes from the Clock Tower, a five minute easy walk to dog-friendly Charles Clore Beach, 1 minute from a Tourist Information Centre, and right at the cusp of the delightful maze of Old Jaffa’s lanes, the only drawback is that check-in isn’t until 4pm. Address: 6 Hamelech Hiram street, Tel Aviv, 6802602, Israel. CAVEAT** For business purposes, David had to stay 2 extra days in Old Jaffa while I returned home. Both nights, a shop directly behind Sweet Inn blared music at an insanely loud volume until 2am and made sleeping utterly impossible.
Using our car as our temporary `home-base’ until check-in, we discreetly changed into bathing suits and headed straight for the beach, to be pleasantly pounded and tumbled by wonderfully warm surf. Charles Clore Beach is dog-friendly, so canine companions romp freely in the waves with their humans. Signs everywhere declare “Swimming Prohibited”, but in true Israeli fashion, the signs are resolutely ignored by all. What they really mean, a local informed us, is that you swim at your own risk, due to the strong undertow. Everyone stays fairly close to the shore because of it. We boldly swam out, experienced the frightening undertow, panicked, floundered closer to the shore, (wiser & wary) and enjoyed ourselves immensely in the crashing surf and silky warm water for the next couple of hours.
Coated in salt and merrily exhausted from escaping several near-drownings, we changed back into clothes and headed into the flea market, which was going full swing in the lane just behind Sweet Inn and throughout the twisting alleys below Old Jaffa.
To escape the crowds, we climbed the hill to Old Jaffa. Amazingly, in the blazing summer heat (30+ degrees), the shady ancient stone-work alleys were all but deserted. Every turn and dip lent itself to a view more picturesque than the last. Panoramic shots of the Tel Aviv-Yafo coastline abounded.
Hot and hungry, we paused for a cold glass of tamarind juice in a cafe in Kedumim Square–the price was staggering ($5 a drink) and the beverage so sickly sweet it was like drinking corn syrup. A quick glance at menu prices warned that all cafe goods came at a special tourist price.
Radiating from Kedumim Square is a delightful maze of twisting alleys, each named after a Zodiac sign. The Zodiac theme is endearing, despite being blatantly tourist-oriented. The cartoon figures of the Zodiac fountain are odd, indeed.
Come late afternoon, we staggered down from Old Jaffa to the cafe-lined Yefet street (where the Clock Tower resides) and devoured several falafel at a tiny, bare-bones Lebanese cafe artfully named Lebanese Restaurant (entire meal for two came to just under $15). A hummus dish is vegetarian, and gluten-free if you leave off the pita bread and eat it like the locals, as a hot main meal accompanied by a variety of olives, raw tomatoes and onions, and grilled and pickled vegetables.
After gorging ourselves silly, it was 4pm and time to check into the apartment. We’d received the code to the building via email, and once in the building (with a lovely cool courtyard), we located our `key-box’ and entered the immaculate and roomy two-bedroom suite. We showered, bought a few groceries at a handily located AM/PM market five minutes away (more exorbitant tourist prices–$3 for one apple!–location: 11 Sderot Yerushalayim Avenue) and returned to the hotel to collapse for the night.
Have you been to Israel and have comments? We’d love to hear from you!