After checking in at the hotel at about midnight last night, we took ourselves on a walk around Tel Aviv. The Israeli culture favours late nights, largely, I assume, because only a mad Englishman would be out on the baking streets during the day. We went straight down to the floodlit beach, where children were still playing and swimming. Couples were siting by the water's edge on plastic deckchairs. It seemed so bizarre to think that it was so late at night. I think Jewish people tend to party hard at sunset on Shabbat, so I guess Saturday night is the big night.
We took our shoes and socks off and paddled in the sea, whilst the reflection of a perfect half moon danced on the surface. The sand was soft and cool, the water was surprisingly warm. There are all sorts of beach bars along the promenade which stay open late into the night. Their lights twinkle in the darkness. Tall Art Deco buildings watch over them. Further north, the sound of the sea echoes magically on the sandy cliffs, creating the curious sonic illusion that waves are crashing somewhere inland.
It strikes me that Tel Aviv dances to the rhythm of its own drum. We witnessed some fairly eccentric sights including night time metal detectors wading out into the waves. People sit by little fires along the water's edge. The gay beach here is right next door to the orthodox beach, where men and women are separated by giant fences. It was only around the Orthodox beach that we actually saw any of the hardcore religious folk who'd filled the streets of Jerusalem. This city is definitely far more secular than its inland neighbour. Its residents are younger, more self-assured and shiny. It's very rare to see a kippa, let alone a homburg.
This morning I took myself to a cafe opposite the National Theatre where the pavements are so lightly coloured that they actually hurt your eyes when the sun shines on them. Which is constantly! Without sunglasses I was forced to stumble along with my hands over my eyes. It was surreal. It took me rather a long time to recover!
I ate the most delicious pesto and feta toasted sandwich served with a salad which had toasted nuts on top. It was so so delicious - particularly after a somewhat forced diet of pizza and chips in Jerusalem! I suddenly realised, with great relief, that I was on the Mediterranean again.
Tel Aviv is full of rainbow flags. Scores of buildings fly the flag from their windows and balconies. It's really very wonderful to see, because, in this country, that simple, life-affirming symbol also says "religion will not dictate our way of life."
Another thing there are a lot of in Tel Aviv is cyclists, all of whom seem to cycle on the pavements with a sense of great entitlement. I got bashed by one with such force that he managed to leave a bruise on my arm!
This afternoon we went up to Jaffa, which is the old part of Tel Aviv. It's still a largely Arabic district, and sits up on a hill over-looking the gleaming white buildings of the rest of the conurbation. We visited a very lovely flea market which was rammed-packed with useless little trinkets. Both of us wanted to buy something - anything - but all we could find were endless pairs of earrings, lengths of ethnic fabric and silly necklaces. It's the same with every market I've visited in Israel!
We walked down to Jaffa port where millions of tiny fish were feeding on a load of pitta bread which had been thrown into the harbour. At about this point we began to realise we'd walked five miles in blistering heat and were beginning to suffer the consequences. My hands and feet started to swell, I got a prickly heat rash and my knees started to feel like they were burning... We had no option but to continue because it's nigh on impossible to hail a taxi in these parts, so continued our odyssey in as much shade as we could!
The white Art Deco, often Bauhaus, buildings of Tel Aviv make really good canvasses for quite spectacular graffiti. Quite a lot of them are slowly being done up, but there are some curious contradictions. At one point we stumbled upon matching buildings on two sides of the street, one had been renovated and looked as fabulous and gleaming as the day it was built. The other looking like something from war torn Yugoslavia. Apparently it's the gay community who are gentrifying large parts of south Tel Aviv. You can tell. The whole area buzzes. Lime and pomegranate trees line the pavements. Scores of trendy little cafes and art shops pour onto the streets.
After a meeting with a young drag performer, we had dinner and then went down to the beach where we ate ice cream and swam in the dark waves whilst the moon rose. A group of frum women sat in the water on the edge of the beach. None had taken any of their clothes off. They didn't seem to care. It was a truly magical moment.