My husband and I second-guessed this trip approximately one million times. We had actually planned our visit before the lovely Trump debacle, which left us in a bit of a predicament afterward. Was it safe? Was it ethical? The answers to those questions are pretty complicated and still not entirely certain.
In the end, it was curiosity that won. One of the reasons we choose to live abroad and travel is because we have always believed that the world is so much more than what is portrayed in the media – an instinct that has so far been proven to us countless times. When class was dismissed for the last time for the semester, we eagerly grabbed our bags and headed to the airport with open minds, plans unchanged.
We woke up bright and early in Tel Aviv to find a place that felt both strange and familiar. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of Florida with its skyscraper skyline and long stretches of beach. Perhaps less like Florida were the hordes of people working out literally everywhere – on the stairs, jogging down the sidewalks, doing push-ups on the beach; I made a mental note to do a better job of sticking to my workout regimen after our trip.
Tel Aviv proper is a lovely, modern city filled to the brim with great restaurants and cafes. Brunch seems to be a popular concept there and I did not mind one bit. My immediate impression was that the city was very laid back and liberal and I learned before arriving that it is one of most gay-friendly cities in the world, which is not what generally comes to mind when people talk about the Middle East. It also didn’t hurt that the long stretch of Mediterranean coast that outlines the city was one of the most spectacular walks I have ever experienced.
Following that coastline leads to the nearby Old Jaffa, which is suspected to be the oldest port city in the world. We had scheduled a free walking tour with SANDEMAN’S because we had had such a good experience with it in Prague. In the end, I was so glad I did because I gained a lot more understanding of Tel Aviv, Jaffa, and Israel in general.
I had not realized how much of Israel was once part of Ancient Greece, which is very apparent in the architecture of old Jaffa. I also had a miniature nerd meltdown when the tour guide told the story of Perseus and Andromeda (which happened to be my favorite Greek myth as a child) because it supposedly took place in Old Jaffa, lending its name to Andromeda Rock (pictured above).
Another fascinating tidbit from the tour was the story of Simon the Tanner, who, according to the bible, played host to Saint Peter. While on the rooftop, Saint Peter had a dream which would change the course of Christianity (and, unquestionably, the course of humanity). In the dream, two angels approached Saint Peter with tons of animals to eat, including pigs and shrimp. He turned down the gift because, at this time, Christians still followed a kosher diet; however, the angels insisted, telling him that nothing they could sea with their eyes was unclean. This dream was important for two reasons: 1) Christians could now eat bacon and 2) Non-Jewish people could thenceforth be converted to Christianity, which was not the practice prior to this dream.
To be honest, I’ve never been very religious, but I found this story to be very interesting because I recognize how much it has shaped the world we live in today. Also, bacon. After our awesome tour of Jaffa, we walked back along the coast and stopped for a lovely dinner, where we enjoyed some local brew.
Even as I write this, I feel like I can’t find the right words to describe Tel Aviv. It felt so much like an American city at times, yet it is ancient. It was like many other places I’ve visited, yet unlike anywhere else. What I can say is that I enjoyed my time there not only because it changed my perspective on that part of the world, but also because it is genuinely a safe and pleasant place to visit.