I can still see some people cringe when I tell them that I spent a week in Tel Aviv, Israel and I did… nothing. Yes, absolutely nothing.
I believe there were many reasons as to why I decided to experience Tel Aviv as a “non-tourist”. I arrived to Tel Aviv right after my time in Belize, where I spent three months covering the Maya culture from every possible perspective. Those were three intensive but gratifying months where I wore my journalist hat really tight and I kept my pencil as sharp as possible.
Crossing the Atlantic and arriving at Tel Aviv didn’t only change several time zones, it also changed my reason and desire to experience the city. I’m not sure why, but as soon as I set foot there and stared walking the city, my greatest desire was to take off my journalist hat and just be… just be in Tel Aviv.
This was easier than I thought. Tel Aviv is a young city that doesn’t present many “visual-challenges” as there are not that many mayor sights inside the city limits. I walked the streets for a whole week and never took out my DSLR camera. Oh, the sin! I was more interested in seeing and absorbing through my own two eyes and skin, than through the 18-200mm lens. And, as you can see on this post, all my pictures are iPod pictures. Seriously, I didn’t take a single “real camera” shot. It was spontaneous, nothing planned, not looking for anything specific.
I laughed at the funny things that were so foreign to me, yet locals find it either boring or have something against it. Like for example, what my friends and I call the “Hippy Jews”. These are Jews that drive these white vans, covered in hippy-like flowers, and suddenly they stop driving, get off the van, and start dancing on the street. WTF?!! Supposedly, their purpose in life is to pray for Israel and make people happy. So, I’m assuming they translate that by making a fool of themselves they make people laugh… hence they are happy – at least for a moment.
I was highly interested in experiencing life, especially the social life and the random daily life details that make this place unique. To my surprise, that too was easier than expected. I had the luck of knowing a few Israelis that I met previously in NYC plus a close friend of mine had been living in Tel Aviv for a few months now.
Also, have you noticed that Israelis are everywhere in the world?! I think I’ve met Israelis in almost every place I’ve traveled to. That’s the beauty of travel-networking. If you keep the network, it’s easier to “submerge” into that new place where you have your connections.
Even so, Tel Aviv is a concentrated city, so walking everywhere is easy and meeting people happens like a chain reaction. Once you meet someone, you’ll get to meet everyone in a matter of a few degrees.
I had my friends show me around the city, the waterfront, Jaffa, and the social life through their own experience and knowledge. I was absorbing everything I could but not from a touristic cliff-notes perspective, it was more like if I was learning how to live in Tel Aviv. And actually, I liked the feeling of “living” in Tel Aviv.
Now that I think about it, I believe that I was craving a sense of “faux-normalcy” in my life where I would rent a room, do groceries, do laundry, walk around the city with friends, go to the movies, etc. And that’s exactly what I did there. The “normal” daily life.
For me, Tel Aviv is a city to stay and live, not to just tour. Sure, I’ll go back to Israel in a few weeks and I’ll visit a few places like The Dead Sea and Jerusalem (almost by moral obligation), but those will be more like side trips to my short settling time in the White City.
And yes, this time I’ll bring my camera!