It’s not often you carry out a casual bit of vandalism on holiday – and get away with it
Israel gets a bad rap. It’s often seen as a place of danger and tension, or as being overly religious. But mostly, normal people live their day to day lives there. When I visited Israel, I was shocked with how much I fell in love with the country and to this day, it’s my second favorite country in the world (after India, where I live).
It is a land of innovation. So to say: “There are a lot of things to do in Israel as a tourist,” would be an understatement. They have new unique restaurants popping up, boutique hotels, artistic city tours, wineries, whiskey distilleries, and basically anything you can think of. Israel is on top of things in the hospitality industry.
Here are some experiences I had in Israel that I will never forget.
Doing some light-hearted vandalism in Tel Aviv
This experience was only semi-illegal, in that it is technically illegal but not really frowned upon – the graffiti in Tel Aviv is a huge draw pulling tourists into the artistic Florentine district.
In fact, when good graffiti gets covered, the Government will ask an artist to redo the original work.
There are dozens of graffiti tours you can take in Florentine. I took one with famed street artist, Oren Fischer.
While on most tours they just show you around, we managed to do a little art for ourselves which, to me, felt quite mischievous – but it’s definitely not. Much of it is Oren’s work after all and I’m sure he knows what he is doing.
I added an impeccably drawn Facebook love button to the wall I was working on. I’m sure that if it is ever covered then the government will realise that a terrible mistake has been made and repaint it.
Floating in the Dead Sea
You can’t come to Israel and not go to the Dead Sea. Unfortunately, the Dead Sea will likely disappear in the next 50 years because too much water from the Jordan River is being used for irrigation.
Floating on your back in this super salty water is a very cool feeling and, if you get a shot, it’s definitely going to be your new profile picture on Facebook. Bring towels and soap to shower after, and do not get this water in your eyes or even near your face for that matter. And if you find a patch of mud, cover your whole body in it – your skin will be as smooth as silk afterwards.
Exploring the Mediterranean town of Akko (Acre)
Akko should be high on your list of towns to visit. They have this really neat idea going on where local artists are painting the walls and ceilings inside local women’s homes. Those women then use their home as a homestay and earn an income.
This town looks like it could be in Italy or Greece, not Israel. It’s also mostly Arab, not Jewish. So, the views the town gives you over the Mediterranean, combined with the call to prayer is really something extraordinary. The seafood here was excellent and Uri Buri was a fantastic place to give it a try.
I stayed at a boutique hotel, Efendi, which was stunning. It has been completed with same design the artists are doing the local homes in, and it’s a piece of art.
The magic that is the nightlife of Tel Aviv
Come to here ready to party, please. Tel Aviv is a city that never sleeps and Israelis know how to party. They dance well into the next day, at the Breakfast Club. There are so many small hidden pubs and speakeasies as well as larger dance clubs all over town. My favourite was Sputnik, which had all these little rooms, like a maze, to walk through.
The vibe is very “too cool for school” so leave your club dresses and heels at home. You can wear jeans, shorts, combat boots, leather jackets, breezy dresses, and even flip flops or trainers. No one gets dressed up in Tel Aviv and it seems like black is the colour to wear if you want to blend in.
Devouring the local food at a cooking class
When I had my first glass of orange juice from a street stall, I asked them not to add sugar. After they gave me the juice, it was so sweet I thought for sure they had put in loads of sugar. But they hadn’t – the fruit in Israel is just so flavourful.
Israelis also do not only eat falafel and hummus. There is so much to try, such as kebabs, modern Israeli food, seafood (which is very tasty here), many types of salads, and the breakfasts are just out of this world. You can basically eat a big breakfast and you won’t even need lunch.
I took a cooking class through the Golan Heights Winery and it was interesting to see how simple Israeli food is. They can take a vegetable and add high-quality local olive oil, herbs, and lemon to make the tastiest little salad. The bread that is served at Shabbat dinner – OMG, you’ll die. It’s so good.
Getting invited to Shabbat dinner
Since I have told you about the bread, you should know that you’ll probably get invited to Shabbat dinner at some point. Israelis are very welcoming to tourists and once you get to chatting they love to go for a beer or hang out until four in the morning just talking about life. Soon enough, they will invite you to dinner.
While not all Jewish Israelis are practicing Jews, most Jewish Israelis still eat Shabbat dinner more out of tradition than religion. This was explained to me by the family that I ate with. They served, as mentioned, the best bread I’ll probably ever have in my life. But, the bread wasn’t what was memorable; it was seeing them switch from English to Hebrew as they recited prayers with their kids and go through the full tradition of Shabbat with us as guests. It felt cool to be let in like that. So, be weird and make friends with locals until you’re invited to their homes. It won’t take much convincing.
While these six things were some of my most memorable experiences in Israel, there is so much more to do here. Surfing in Tel Aviv is one of them. Plus, I haven’t even mentioned the history of Jerusalem and how magnificent it is to walk through the Old Town where 5,000 years of history can be explained to you by a trained guide.
Israel is a mix of old and new – religion and rebellion. While you see Orthodox Jews in some areas of Jerusalem and Kosher McDonalds (there’s no cheese on those burgers), you’ll also see the city come alive at night when the local fruit market, Mahene Yehuda, turns into a row of bars.
I’ve only scratched the surface here, you’ll have to visit Israel to experience all the rest.