You don’t have to spend a fortune to see Tel Aviv. Luckily there are a number of free guided walking tours which can give you good inside information about things you might miss if just wandering the city by yourself. Continuing our busy week, on Thursday morning we took advantage of this and walked to the nearby Old Port Area for our first of three free walking tours in three days. We met our guide outside a cafe on the beach boardwalk promenade and joined just three other people. The port was founded in the 1930’s and quickly flourished, turning into the country’s biggest working port, but with the shift to container shipping and much larger ships it rapidly fell into dereliction. However over the last fifteen years this once social outcast has been transformed into a place buzzing with culture, leisure, shopping, dining and entertainment. One of the first things that grabs you is the dramatic undulating wave shaped wooden decking that sprawls the 1400 square meter promenade complete with huge sandpits for kids and rock shaped seating.
At night the area morphs from an oasis for kids to an adult playground of night life. We sampled food at the farmer’s market, perused some designer clothing shops and visited an art gallery with our guide.
Within a one square kilometer area six very significant events happened back in the 1930’s. Adjacent to the port area is the original site of the 1932 Maccabiah Games also known as the Jewish olympics that continue to be held quadrennially in Israel. Within a few short weeks a sports stadium was hastily constructed in which thousands gathered to watch the hundreds of athletes from twenty-five countries compete. Their one claim to fame that they continue to bring up is that Mark Spitz competed here in 1965 at the age of 15 and won four gold medals to begin his remarkable swimming career. In 1934 Tel Aviv’s first international exhibition, the Levant Fair was held. In only eight months a unique Bauhaus compound was built and over 600,000 visitors attended. In 1936 the port referenced above was hastily built and in 1938 the Reading power station was built in nine months which provided power to the fast growing Tel Aviv. At the same time in 1938 the airport just north of the power station was paved and their first international flight took off.
Friday morning is our free Sarona Market tour. Sarona is a newly renovated complex in the heart of the business district with retail outlets, boutique stores, food markets, cafes, restaurants and high rise apartments surrounding the beautifully landscaped original German Templar community. The German Templar colony was started in 1871 and has a history that is so convoluted that we have difficulty understanding it, much less explaining it in brief. 33 of the original simple two story buildings over a cellar have been painstakingly restored and some moved. We were given a detailed tour of the visitor center building which has each room restored to different functions and time periods.
The tour concluded with a walk through an old tunnel which connected the original winery and brewery which are now both restaurants aptly named The Winery and Whiskey.
We had another great meal of mussels and calamari sitting at a bar surrounding the kitchen area. After lunch Jim tried his hand at spinning a Dapo star. It is harder than it looks.
At sunset we went to what is called Alternative Shabbat which is held at the Drums Beach. For twenty plus years musicians from around Israel have descended on a small stretch of paradise on the beach to pound out the weeks frustrations and welcome Shabbat with continuous drumming. We sat on the breakwater enjoying the beat as we watched a beautiful sunset over the Mediterranean.
Our last free tour was a historical and architectural exploration of the Bauhaus area which is known as the white city. The Bauhaus style is simple with straight lines and very functional, “form follows function”.
We actually prefer the eclectic buildings which are much prettier and more decorative. This tour started out with about 30 people and ballooned to at least 50 which made it difficult to walk around this very bustling city and also difficult to get close and hear all that was being said. None the less, we enjoyed the tour and learned a few more facts about the city and its architecture.
After this very busy last week we stayed in on Super Sunday. We went to bed at 7pm, getting up at 1am to watch our Patriots fall victim to the Philadelphia Eagles. After the game we dragged our sad sleepy bodies back to bed and slept until early afternoon waking up with a Patriots jet lag hangover. Oh well, at least we have the Olympics to look forward to. Go team USA and also team Israel.