Not too long of a taxi ride in the pouring rain, and eventually made it to my hotel, the Park Plaza Orchid. I’d booked it because I had lots of Club Carlson points to burn, and I expected a nice hotel of Radisson standards. Unfortunately, that was not really the case. There was nothing particularly wrong with the hotel, it just felt really old and a little…off. The room was ok, bed was comfortable, the AC worked well, etc, it just felt like it was a bit cramped and older. For free, however, it was great.
The staff, however, was a completely different story. Throughout the three nights I was there, the front desk staff was almost universally surly and unfriendly, and although they would answer questions I definitely got the feeling I was a bother each time I asked. In fairness to them, I did see them dealing with several customers from Hell, who would yell at them and chew them out. Mostly all demanding, nasty stereotypical New Yorkers. Several times I just stood in the lobby and watched the interactions in disbelief that people could be that nasty to each other.
I had about an hour to grab a quick shower and rest up before meeting up with Ian, a reader of my blog from New Jersey who I met via FlyerTalk and who happened to also be visiting Israel at the same time, although staying in Jerusalem. Ian showed up almost on time (thanks to the Israeli train system’s stunning punctuality – I wonder if they hire consultants from Fiji Airways?) and we got ready to head out for Thanksgiving dinner. Yes, it was Thanksgiving, and yes, we were promised dinner. Max, another reader of my blog who I met via FlyerTalk and who lived in Tel Aviv had heard about the dinner through a local events list and thought it looked fun…so recommended it to us. Thanksgiving Dinner in Tel Aviv? Can you GET a more awesome cultural experience? Signed up, paid, and waited.
In the meantime, I did a little research into what I’d actually signed up for. The event was called “My Big Fat TLV Thanksgiving” and was hosted by an organization called Nefesh B’Nefesh. It was one of their activities in their “post Aliyah group” but made no mention of who was welcome. It described a “lively crowd of Young Professionals, Internationals, Israelis and Lone Soldiers for a delicious and traditional Thanksgiving meal with fine Israeli wine and Negev brewed Beer.” There would be beer, I was sold. I was pretty sure we’d be the only non-Jews there…and at this stage I didn’t even know what an “Aliyah” was…so when the event registration asked if I’d made one I decided I probably hadn’t. I wasn’t sure what a “Lone Soldier” was either, but hey, again, beer and turkey were promised.
When we showed up fashionably late, the event was already in full-swing:
The table was already pre-set with the first course. Some salads, hummus, and wine:
After maybe 45 minutes or so, the yams, rice, turkey, and stuffing came out:
Eventually, our table filled up, pretty much with 20-25 year old men with American accents…pretty much all from New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. Oh, and their one random Colombian friend. They had all “made Aliyah”” and joined the Israeli military. Rather than mangle it, I’ll let Wikipedia define Aliyah: “Aliyah (“ascent”) is the immigration of Jews from the diaspora to the land of Israel. Also defined as ‘the act of going up’ or as in progressing towards Jerusalem.” The stories these guys told were pretty fascinating, but all had similar themes. They’d finished high school in the states, wandered about a bit, never really “found their thing” and then came to Israel where life suddenly made sense and had meaning. Several said they’d “found a sense of purpose.”
It was quite interesting dinner conversation. Especially due to the wine. And beer. And when that was gone they found whiskey. Then, one of the servers came around with arak shots. Things were pretty messy at this point. Like 20-25 something males worldwide when the source of alcohol ran out, the conversation turned to where they would go to find more…and where it was cheapest. And where they could pick up some company for the night. We also learned from them that if you really want to find willing companions, you should go to a Kibbutz, because apparently everyone there is on the prowl. The only sign you were in Israel and not the US, is several of them, despite being in street clothes, were toting automatic weapons. I mean, I always put my gun on the Thanksgiving table…don’t you?
Proof there might have been a little alcohol consumed:
It was an amazing cultural experience – fascinating, and a perfect introduction to “real” Israel and a side we likely wouldn’t have seen otherwise. While walking to find taxis we decided it was early (I was still on US time after all) so it would be good to have another drink or two. We were right by Yitzakh Rabin Square and found a fun bar that served tasty Belgian beers al fresco:
It was nice – maybe around 17-18C and 65F out, which with the heat lamps made it a nice evening to have some drinks. By this point I was fading fast, and it was time to head back to the hotel and call it a night. We had tried to find a tour for the next day (Friday) but had been unsuccessful, so I decided to use the day to wander around Tel Aviv and try and get over jetlag while Ian hung around Jerusalem.
Slept in rather late, before heading out to find coffee. Anyone who knows me knows I have priorities. I googled “best coffeeshop in Tel Aviv” and was directed to Noah Coffeeshop on a quiet sidestreet about a 20 minute walk from my hotel. There was a lovely garden outside the coffeeshop where I had an amazing almond croissant, fresh orange juice, and a couple of double espressos.
After coffee, I decided to walk to the beach/sea and walk along that for a bit to start:
Next, I walked towards the Dizengoff Centre. I always find shopping venues to be a fascinating introduction to local culture. When I saw this amazing food court I knew I’d hit the mother load. I had a couple of little tasty things I can’t even remember, but they were great:
This guy was watching over the mall. Be afraid, be VERY afraid:
The mall was super confusing. Arranged in a rectangular layout around a central atrium, I couldn’t figure out why I’d walk around a level then suddenly be on the next level. Turns out one of the sides of the rectangle was ramped, and brought you from one level to another. Far too much for my jetlagged brain to comprehend. I found another double espresso and some water, and moved on with my day of wandering.
A friend who’s done a lot of work in Tel Aviv recommended that I check out Miznon for lunch. I managed to find it, despite no signs in English:
The menus were printed on paper bags, in Hebrew only, so I had to ask for a bit of help. Got things sorted, ordered the chicken liver pita as I’d been recommended, and stalked the tables. They were first come first serve, and all full when I arrive. Just as my food got called out a table opened up. Perfect timing!
Far and away the most delicious pita I’ve ever had. Yum. After this very late lunch, I went back to Yitzakh Rabin Square to sit for a bit and read:
The sun was starting to set at this point, and people were slowly starting to leave the streets. Shabat began at sunset, and the more religious/observant Jews were headed out to do things with family. Me, I headed back to the hotel to have a sunset beer on the patio. Another great view:
Jetlag was hitting me hard at this point, and I didn’t feel like wandering far, so I asked some Israelis also sitting on the patio for a recommendation in the neighbourhood. I kid you not, they recommended a Mexican restaurant. In Tel Aviv. Ok, that was worth checking out if for no other reason than to see how odd it would be.
The menu definitely promised odd. I have no idea what this is instructions for, but…
…but there were margaritas. Decidedly below average, WAY too sweet, not nearly enough tequila, but hey…they were margaritas!
The tostadas carne starter was actually quite tasty:
The enchiladas pollo were also surprisingly good!
By this point it was a bit after 9 and I was totally wiped out. We’d booked a tour the next morning that left Tel Aviv at oh-dark-thirty and I was already flirting with less than eight hours of sleep. I headed back to the hotel, laid town, and that’s the last thing I remember until morning….