I think everyone has some places that trigger curiosity, excitement, interest. Places we want to visit, we fantasize about, without really a reason behind it.
One of this places for me was Lisbon, Portugal.
After my brother introduced me to the movie Lisbon Story, by Wim Wenders, I got fascinated by the simplicity of the city and in 2004 I did managed to go there and eat some bacalau.
Another place I always felt attracted is Israel.
It’s one of those places mistreated by the media, one of those places we tend to think that only bad things happen.
The proof was that when I told people that I was going to Tel Aviv for business, the most common comment I got was a sad “don’t take the bus!”.
I was there last time in January 2012, the last of three visits I had chance to do. Runnng on the beach at sunset with 15C while Amsterdam was frozen.
Here are two or three things about Tel Aviv, or T.A. for the friends.
Get ready to get there
The most daunting task going to Tel Aviv is passing the security checks, that are equally intense on the way to and out the country.
On my first trip there I received a call the moment I entered Amsterdam Schiphol Airport:
“Mr Besana? This is El Al, are you flying with us today? We’re waiting you at the security checks”.
There’s a gate dedicated to security checks to passengers going to Israel.
I have been left in underwear – literally! – apparently because “Besana” doesn’t really sounds Italian to them, or maybe as I discovered last week because is a word similar to “tits” in Arabic language (thanks Mouw), or most likely because of the wild beard, or again because I have stamps from United Emirates, Morocco and Egypt on my passport.
Not for nothing is called the promise land.
Sleep is overrated
My first night in Tel Aviv was a Monday.
I went out alone looking for food and having a salade in the central Dizengoff street.
Mondays are quite everywhere, I concluded, but on the way back to the hotel, around midnight, I could not believe the amount of young people walking in the street in clubbing dresses… what the heck??
Welcome to TA. The New York of the Mediterranean sea, the city that never sleeps.
In Israel is normal going out at midnight, partying and going home around 5am – on a weekday!
Then going to work the day after like nothing happened.
Nobody could explain me how they do it. Not the people there, not the (many) Israelis I’ve met backpacking in Latin America. They all replied with a laugh.
Does anyone of my 7.5 readers know?
Salsa is in Tel Aviv too
I quickly found myself dragged in the same lifestyle, staying out till indecent hours in the morning, mostly swallowed by a vibrant Salsa scene where was easy to made connections and Facebook-friends, taking advantage of the “news effect” that a visitor always has.
Best place was the Havana Club, 5 minutes walking from my hotel (by pure coincidence!).
Friday night fever
My new friend Efrat invited me to a Salsa party in Ramat Gan, on Friday night.
Friday is not only weekend time in Israel, but also the beginning of Sabbath, the Jewish weekly celebration.
What did I know about Ramat Gan? Only that is a place close by Tel Aviv, obviously.
But Ramat Gan is not Tel Aviv, and being on a Sabbath in the dead center of a town very much into Jewish religion ain’t fun!
Without options for diner, I could only find a fancy seafood restaurant with a group of people celebrating something, a singer with a cowboy hat, and 20 minutes left before closing time.
Just enough to get an amazing tuna steak with sesame seeds served on lettuce, a glass of white wine and a private restaurant with a private singer that chatted me up curious to know what the hell a tourist was doing in Ramat Gan on a Sabbath, when Tel Aviv is in full party mood 15 minutes away.
He then sung for me “Tu Vuò Fa’ L’Americano” from Renato Carosone in an impressively good Napolitano dialect, asking for a feedback but refusing my offer to buy him a drink.
Soon after a very skeptical taxi driver took me to an area where, I was swearing, there was a Latin club.
Yessss, Salsa is in Ramat Gan on a Sabbath too.
Drum Circle at Banana Beach
The one thing I wanted to experience in Tel Aviv was the Friday night drum circle on the beach, even if the beach is called Banana Beach.
Imagine the sun settling down over the Mediterranean sea on one side, and dozens of people playing percussion on the other side.
That was pure magic – the strong rhythms carrying everyone in trance, the beauty of the nature, the happiness and connected-ness of the people playing and listening.
Impossible to stand still, after some time I felt the urge of being part of it…. beating (or playing?) an empty Gold Star bottle (the Israeli beer) with a 1 Euro coin for couple of hours 🙂
It was well after down when the energy of the group went down, people started passing away and I left.
This is the video I took, but it doesn’t get even close to the sensation of being there when they play!
I think the real reason of the tensions in middle-East has to do with the origin of Hummus.
Seems that Lebanon won a trial over the invention of this delicious dip, made with chickpeas, lemon and tahini, but the dispute is still ON and in Israeli is considered traditional food.
I had the best hummus in Ali Caravan, in the Arab part of Tel Aviv called Yafo (actually the full name of the city is Tel Aviv-Yafo), where I was accommodated on a table with a couple of friendly locals and served with a plate of hummus with onions.
The onions are used as bread to scoop the hummus – really lovely till your digestion doesn’t kick in.
P.S. Sorry if any wrong information is reported in this post, but today (18 Jan 2012) Wikipedia is blacked out to protest against an act that is under discussion by the US Congress so I had to wild guess most of the factual data.