Our visit to Israel and Palestine was, first and foremost, to celebrate the wedding of a friend and her Palestinian fiancé, so we tried to avoid spending time and money in predominantly Israeli areas. We did, however, treat ourselves to a day out in Tel Aviv and Jaffa, partly on the advice of the groom himself.
His recommendation for lunch,The Old Man and the Sea, is a Jaffa institution. It’s superb. Situated right on the seafront, the standard order is ice cold homemade lemonade accompanied by a “mixed salad” – a comprehensive spread of every imaginable meze dish, from taramasalata to calamari – to kick things off, followed by fish. Picking your fish is tricky since the menu is roughly translated from Hebrew to English, meaning that a lot of the names aren’t what you’d expect. I went for mullet, expecting one large and getting six smallish, fiddly and bony – absolutely delicious, but my neck was sore the next day from stooping to pick through the bones. In hindsight, it’s possible the locals tackle them whole, bones and all. Sea bass, whole and filleted, and “denis” – gilt head sea bream – also grace our table to excellent reviews.
Jaffa itself is so beautiful you can almost forget that 50,000 Muslims who called it home were forced to flee the violence that erupted there during the Naqba. It has plenty to see, including some excellent street art, of which walking tours are available, and plenty of Bauhaus architecture if that’s your thing. I opted for a Northward stroll along the beach as Jaffa gradually becomes Tel Aviv. Jaffa itself still looks and feels like an oldish, traditional Palestinian town, as does much of (especially East) Jerusalem. Not so Tel Aviv.
The beachfront is rightly iconic. Lying at the Eastern edge of the Mediterranean it boasts excellent surf, and with glitzy high-rise blocks lining the pristine, sun-drenched beach front it’s reminiscent of LA. The sea temperature, in the August afternoon, is that of a mug of tea that’s been left out for about twenty minutes. The beachfront is a pleasant walk, and if you want to cover it faster there are Israeli equivalents of Boris bikes available to hire.
In the evening we sit and drink on the beachfront before taking the bus back to Jerusalem around 9pm – these buses take around an hour between the cities and run fairly frequently, so a day trip from one to the other is more than doable. We were there for sightseeing more than a beach holiday but if the latter is your preference then base yourself in Tel Aviv and nip out to Jerusalem to see the highlights, not vice versa. In an otherwise packed trip of walking and seeing things, the beaches of Tel Aviv were for us a decadent stint of sitting still.