The Eager Tourist — Ross Belfer Gives Us a Tour of Tel Aviv
Story by Ross Belfer
Story by Ross Belfer
Ross Belfer is a publicist, photographer and entrepreneur based in Tel Aviv. Born in New Jersey and bred in New York City, Belfer handled media relations for the Israel Tourism Board on behalf of WEILL PR for 7 years, before launching his own creative agency, Xhibition, in October 2014. Through Xhibition he creates international media exposure for clients spanning from travel/hospitality, entertainment and culture.
Belfer is also the founder of Eager Tourist, a hyperlocal travel concierge based in Tel Aviv that will expand to other cities and envelope an online travel magazine in 2016. When not working (which is a rarity for this self-defined create-aholic), Belfer enjoys downtime with friends, cycling across Tel Aviv and living life to the fullest.
“My love affair with Tel Aviv started from afar. I had visited this complex, vibrant micrometropolis on the Mediterranean just a handful of times before deciding to relocate for the foreseeable future. Tel Aviv was the one place in the world where I wasn’t looking at my watch or thinking I was ready to leave. Its Fikus tree-lined streets are dotted with cafes, restaurants, bars and cultural oddities that are hard to describe, and may not even make sense, but that is the beauty of the city. The contrast between urban and sea; Levantine and Middle Eastern; Jewish, Muslim, Christian. Local & foreign. These characteristics create a city that can be as beautifully described like an excerpt from Calvino’s Invisible Cities. Tel Aviv is either 20 years in the past or 20 years in the future. Its outdatedness mixed with super-high-tech culture makes for a city of the present. For that reason alone, it is worth a visit.”
White City – Bauhaus Architecture
In accordance to Tel Aviv’s multicultural flare is the city’s massive collection of Bauhaus architecture-style buildings, second only to Germany and a deemed UNESCO World Heritage Site in its own right. It is quintessential not to miss some of the city’s most spectacular Bauhaus buildings, which would be relatively impossible, considering they are scattered across the city and in well-known districts like Lev HaIr (Heart of the City), Bialik Street and Neve Tzedek. Each year Tel Aviv throws an annual party called White Night to celebrate UNESCO’s appointment of its 4,000+ Bauhaus-style buildings. While the festival focuses more on late night, citywide ragers and family-friendly style events.
The Crevasses of Neve Tzedek
While Shabazi Street is this original neighborhood of Tel Aviv’s most known street, the real magic lies in the small alleyways, passages and hidden walkways inhabited by locals. Take a walk past the Eden Theater, Tel Aviv’s original house for cinema, through the stunning Sharabi Street with its Bougainvillea trees and adorable, eclectic architecture-style houses to coveted shops, as well as the heralded Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance and Theater. Just don’t forget to bring your camera on this charming, local walk through Tel Aviv’s most gorgeous district.
Where all the gourmets do their shopping for unique products, Persian spices and some of the best cheese and ethnic food in the city. What started as a “black food market” in the 1960’s has evolved as an epicenter for Moroccan, Turkish, Persian, Greek and Bulgarian-style eateries, not to mention some of the best hummus in the country. Simply wonder along Levinsky Street and the surrounding alleyways and find yourself as a self-induced food tour. Turkish deli Yom Tov and Salimi, a three-generation-old Persian restaurant, are personal favorites for no-frills, delectable cuisine. For a special treat to cap off the market crawl, stop by Cafe Levinsky (Levinsky 41) for an organic gazoz drink, an artisanal spin off the early-Israel carbonated beverage that bursts with vibrancy, both in taste and sight. Lemongrass, pomegranate syrup, melon and homegrown sage are just some of the herbs and florals adoring the insides of your beverage cup.
Once a massive housing and workplace district in South Tel Aviv created with Socialist intentions in the 1950s, Kiryat Melecha has been transformed into one of Tel Aviv’s most vibrant arts districts, with dozens of galleries, studios and art workplaces housed within the multi-floor, industrial buildings, such as Raw Art, or the studio of renowned street artists Klone Yourself. On Thursday evenings, most of the galleries host exhibition openings and parties, and the neighborhood’s landmark vegetarian restaurant, A la Rampa, is the perfect haunt to sit for drinks or dinner before or after an art-filled excursion (HaMeretz Street, HaAmal Street, Tel Aviv).
Who knew that Tel Aviv-Jaffa’s southernmost beach is also its nicest? The Ajami district of Jaffa is home to a gorgeous Mediterranean beach that shies away from the crowds and built-up coastline of hotels in central Tel Aviv. Walk along the flavorful and vibrant Kedem Street to the far end of Jaffa, make a right once you arrive to the Peres Center for Peace Studies and marvel at the gorgeous, locals only beachfront surrounded by sandy bluffs that can make you feel as if you were in France, Italy or Spain.
Eat, Stay, Move, Understand
Dining in town
Tel Aviv’s strongest allure as of late is its heralded food culture and dining scene. You won’t find Michelin-starred formal restaurants, but prepare to feast on some of the most innovative cuisine your tastebuds have yet to experience. Tel Aviv culinary institutions like CoffeeBar, HaBasta, and Oasis are staple experiences for a true taste of international-caliber cuisine using local Israeli ingredients and an innovative approach to gastronomy. Then new-comers Mansura, Igra Rama make the most of the Mediterranean bounty in well-designed indoor/outdoor spaces. Of course, street food across town, in the markets and in the homes of residents define the true culture of Tel Aviv dining.
Where to Stay
Tel Aviv’s boutique hotel scene has explored over the past several years, with more than 20 new properties opening in the past year and many more set for the years to come. While many visitors tend to flock to the beachside properties for morning views of the Mediterranean, staying in one of the urban, boutique hotels in the city’s cultural core is the preferable option for a true hyperlocal experience. Boutiques by Brown hotels, such as Brown TLV, The Lighthouse and The Poli House are all recommended options, as is the 12-key Hotel Montefiore, which boasts stylish rooms and one of the best restaurants in the city.
Tel Aviv can be seen as a biker’s paradise: the city’s relatively flat terrain and year-round temperate weather can make for an ideal urban biking experience — which allows you to cover more ground for less spend. From the ancient port and Old City of Jaffa, along the city’s vibrant Mediterranean promenade, to the historic port, biking in Tel Aviv is a surefire way to get around, and fast. But there is a downside. As in most major cities, drivers can be quite aggressive, and locals on electric bikes can be seen riding on sidewalks at rapid speed. This is the Middle East, after all. In the end, mapping each day’s activities by neighborhood and traversing the city by foot is the best way to get around. Throw in a taxi or two — which shouldn’t run more than $10-$15USD for a ten-minute ride — if time is of the essence. Uber and GetTaxi work 24/7, 364.
How to Embed Yourself in Tel Aviv
Finding a new friend, or local to talk to, is the least of challenges in Tel Aviv. Where the Mediterranean meets the Middle East, overbearing warmth and straight-forward hospitality is the law of the land. This can come as shock to most foreigners, but fear not, Tel Aviv’s secular and progressive attitude paves the way for a free-flowing travel experience removed of judgement and social norms. The norm in Tel Aviv is being a true individual and remaining open to just about any experience that can come knocking on your door.