On our first day out we headed to Dizengoff Centre, a large mall, in search of a local SIM card for my phone, in order to have affordable internet and cellular access with out any roaming fees. All of the signage is generally in Hebrew but we found everyone we encountered also spoke English and were happy to assist us in finding our way. We found a mobile shop in the centre and purchased a Orange brand SIM card, which the clerk cheerfully installed and set up. The SIM card was a valuable asset on our trip and allowed us to use GPS maps to navigate, find vegan friendly spots on the HappyCow app, look up attractions, post photos etc.
We spent a lot of time walking the streets of Tel Aviv taking in the local scene. I was pleasantly surprised by the urban design including, public squares, gathering places, parks, benches, green space, public art etc. Two very interesting streets are Chen and Rothschild Boulevards, which both have a large green space median down the centre for walking, cycling and Flâneuring. We spent a great deal of time up and down these boulevards, and similar ones, in our wandering. Tel Aviv could teach many other cities about the importance of space to rest, visit, and watch the world go by. Tel Avi had terrific benches in wonderful configurations, including beach loungers set up in some parks. Oh and many many wonderful cats, some of them taking over the benches.
We also spent a great deal of time exploring fabulous museums including: Ilana Goor Museum, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Helena Rubinstein Pavilion for Contemporary Art, and the Design Museum Holon. The Ilana Goor museum was very unique as it is also the residence of the artist Ilana Goor and is filled with her own art work plus her extensive collection of other artists' work. The house had a very passionate and eccentric feeling to it. All areas, except her private bedroom, were open for visitors to explore. We purposefully sought out this museum as we learned that she had sculpture from Galya Tarmu, who painted a painting we were fortunate to have purchased in a Las Vegas antique shop. When we arrived at the museum we were pleasantly surprised to find four art works by Galya! The Tel Aviv Museum of Art had a diverse permanent collection of contemporary art with pieces from Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollack, Max Ernst, Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, to name just a few. There was also a fascinating special installation by Tom Friedman called "Up in the Air." You can see a video below:
Tel Aviv is also home to the "White City of Tel Aviv" a UNESCO Heritage Site filled with unique Bauhaus style buildings. "Tel Aviv has the largest concentration in the world of buildings built in the "International Style". This style was brought to Tel Aviv in the beginning of the 1930's by European graduates of European architecture schools. Their source of inspiration was the modern architecture movement dominant in Europe in the 1920's. The main principles of the modern movement are – architecture is an expression of volume and not mass, asymmetrical composition and regular repetition instead of classic symmetry, avoidance of all decorations that do not have a useful purpose." (Source: http://www.white-city.co.il/english/index.htm). We enjoyed an informative walking tour of some of the area via the Bauhaus Centre.
No trip to the region is complete without exploring some of the religious sites. Even as Atheists we appreciate the history and religious importance of the region. We booked a private tour with Rent a Guide Israel Tours to see Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The private tour was in a comfortable van and allowed us to go at our own pace. Our guide Ofer was very knowledgeable about the history, cultures and religions in the region. We started the tour in the Jerusalem Old City which is divided into four quadrants; Christian, Armenian, Jewish and Muslim. We spent the hours visiting many ornate churches, wandering side roads and browsing market stalls.
We saw the Church of the Holy Sepulchre built on the site of Jesus's crucification and the tomb where he was said to have been buried. We toured the Cenacle which is where the Last Supper was said to have occurred. We also visited the Western Wall (also called the Wailing Wall); "It is a relatively small western segment of the walls surrounding the area called the Temple Mount (or Har Habayit) by Jews, Christians and most Western sources, and known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary (Al-Haram ash-Sharīf)" (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Wall). It is an important site for Jewish prayer and pilgrimage. Temple Mount is an important religious site within Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The Dome of the Rock "is a shrine located on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem. It was initially completed in 691 CE at the order of Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik during the Second Fitna. The Dome of the Rock is now one of the oldest works of Islamic architecture. It has been called 'Jerusalem's most recognizable landmark'. The octagonal plan of the structure may have been influenced by the Byzantine Chapel of St Mary (also known as Kathisma and al-Qadismu) built between 451 and 458 on the road between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The site's significance stems from religious traditions regarding the rock, known as the Foundation Stone, at its heart, which bears great significance for Jews, Christians and Muslims" (source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dome_of_the_Rock).
After Jerusalem we headed to Bethlehem. When we arrived we changed to a Palestinian tour guide who took us through the Israeli West Bank barrier separating the State of Palestine from Israel. On the other side we took a car past the wall, covered in graffiti and political slogans to Manger Square, which sits in front of the Church of Nativity. "The Church of the Nativity is a basilica located in Bethlehem, Palestine. The church was originally commissioned in 327 AD by Constantine and his mother Helena over the site that is still traditionally considered to be located over the cave that marks the birthplace of Jesus of Nazareth" (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_the_Nativity) We explored the church and viewed the site where Jesus was born, which is marked with a silver star on the floor (seen in the photo below). The church is very ornate inside and was undergoing painstaking restorations in some portions. We toured some of the surrounding buildings and ended our tour at a very nice gift shop filled with religious items, souvenirs and local olive wood handicrafts. After shopping we went back through the security gates in the wall and re-united with our original guide. All of the people we met on our tours of both cities were friendly and welcoming.
Church of Nativity
Israeli West Bank Barrier
We loved the week we spent in this ancient region and I dearly wish for peace and prosperity for all.