I had wanted to visit Israel for a few years, not going to lie – mostly due to what I’d heard about the food! Little did I know it was a yoga mecca with a gorgeous coastline and so much fascinating culture. After making a couple of Israeli friends at different places around the globe, my interest had been growing. It was only when I’d booked onto an Amsterdam yoga training with Shiva Rea that I thought my opportunity was ripe! It’s a long and expensive journey from my home in the north of England and would mean a trip to London on either end which is definitely not desirable. When I looked while living in Morocco, the flight path was also pretty horrendous. From Schiphol airport in Amsterdam however, you can take a direct flight to Tel Aviv and be there within four and a half hours!
A friend I’d made in Morocco, who had come to stay at the yoga centre I was working at, had always told me I was welcome. After I’d booked my trip though, he ended up on a last minute surf trip in Sri Lanka and through some miraculous stroke of luck, generosity and kindness, I ended up situated right in the centre of Tel Aviv in a two-bedroomed, balcony-gardened apartment all to myself! With this as a base, I couldn’t go wrong…
It was one of those trips that was destined to be god damn brilliant. Even while still in Amsterdam one evening after a day of training, I was at a delicious restaurant (more on that in a later post) and found out that the people on the table next to me had been living in Israel for 20 years! They gave me their contacts and we had great chats abut the place I was soon to visit; my excitement and curiosity was now bursting out of me. Then, while on the plane, the guy on the row in front heard me asking the people next to me about the train, to which he explained was not running now as it was getting close to Sabbath and therefore suggested we all share a taxi – sold! He negotiated in Hebrew with the taxi drivers and I later got dropped right at my door. I’d made it.
After a quick shower and change (I’d had a 4:30am start in my Amsteram accommodation for an early flight), I referred to the recommendations I’d be sent from my friend’s brother on the best everything. I knew my first taste of Israel had to be falafel and so I headed out to HaKosem. I walked a mere 7 minutes and found the spot. It was only about 3:30 in the afternoon and the queue was huge. Usually this would be a turn off but I take my food seriously and of course seeing all of the people who were choosing this place over the gazillion other options made me want it even more… I joined the queue and straight away got chatting to the person in front of me, thanks to the staff making extra fresh falafels and passing them down the queue. The tunes were pumping, the falafel was banging and the whole scene was such a fun vibe. Tel Aviv was killing it in my books. When I got to the front, I didn’t understand how to order as every sign was in Hebrew so politely asked for some sort of falafel pitta I’d seen most other people with. The guy in front of me said wow, you did well, they usually bite the head off people only speaking English. An innocent smile always does it! I was passed down to the next available pitta-packer who was so lovely and just as he was about to start asking which bits I did and didn’t want in my meal, I told him ‘I’ll take it all!’. He laughed and filled… and filled… and filled… and just when you think surely no more can fit, some extra salad, 2 more pieces of falafel and an extra drizzle of tahini gets layered on the masterpiece…
OH EM GEEEEE. This was one of the most heavenly dining experiences. I picked around (as there was no way my mouth was big enough to fit around this!) the deliciousness as I sat on a bench and soaked up the good energy. I genuinely felt like everyone was smiling at me! Some people would ask where I was from/if I was enjoying my falafel etc. I think it was clear to see I was having the time of my life just sat on this outdoor bench (I’d come from a very cold Europe) with my pitta! Now I really had arrived.
That whole first afternoon was dreamy. I wandered, scoped out some yoga studios for the rest of my stay, went to the beach, met SO many friendly people who wanted to chat and hear about where I was from/if I was enjoying Israel/if I needed any help finding anywhere etc. One guy asked if he could take my photo as he was a street photographer then one girl literally chased me down on the beach to chat! She’d seen me picking up rubbish by the ocean and felt compelled to meet someone who shared her values and I ended up going to sit with her and her friends as the sun properly set into the sea. My heart was full.
Over my next days, I practiced at Shraddha Yoga, I ate INCREDIBLE food (I recommend Miznon for the cauliflower and all you can eat tahini and fresh, warm pittas – drool), I got a Thai massage at Thai touch Which was truly amazing (not cheap!) and I spent an evening in the old city of Jaffa with some friends and lots of hummus.
On one special day I got picked up by my friend Dan who I’d met years ago when I first arrived in Byron! He was travelling and I was just finding my feet in a place I was going to set up home for the next year. We were both staying in the Byron Bay YHA hostel, talking a lot about tahini and halva and here we were 3 years later eating it together in Israel! Dan so kindly took me out to Jerusalem and basically acted as my tour guide all day.
Dan explained all about the history and the modern day struggles faced in Israel, what it’s like during the years you work in the army, how you feel after, where Israelis can and cannot go and all about the significance of the religious sites that are part of one of the most historic cities in the world: Jerusalem. I was fascinated! (…And I am really rubbish with history.) We explored the walled city, the Western Wall, the church where Jesus is said to be buried and went to an amazing view point seeing one of the most ancient Islamic temples, alongside these significant sites for Judaism and Christianity.
We wandered the cobbled market streets and smelt, saw and tasted the market in all its glory! Just as I had imagined for the years I wanted to come… I tasted about 10 different types of tahini and halva and dried fruits and roasted nuts; I saw the biggest falafels I had ever laid my eyes on and ate the most incredible traditional lunch called sabich, yet made into a vegan version by swapping out the egg for sautéed mushrooms – absolutely amazing. Israel is my cup of tea.
I finished up my last morning with an early run along the boardwalk which was so dreamy, especially since I’d been wrapping up in jumpers and coats at home. I could’t recommend this place more and I definitely want to go back! The world is huge so usually I like to explore new places I’ve never been but Israel totally astonished me and I realise what a tiny taste I had of this magnificent country. One day I will go back and head to the Dead Sea and the Red Sea. Have you ever been? I’d love to hear!