Israel, the ‘Holy Land’, and country of growth, development and immense beauty. We at Seen in the City had the pleasure of recently being whizzed off to this truly stunning country, with special thanks to the Ministry of Tourism, and I can safely say that it now has a home in our hearts. Israel is a country that is not only branching out, but up, and all while retaining its deep-set roots firmly in the ground of tradition…
Israel – a BEAUTIFUL DESTINATION STEEPED in CULTURE
Pride is something that was immediately felt as soon as our plane touched down in the sunnier climate of Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport. A cheer and applause broke the typically awkward landing atmosphere and radiated throughout the plane – a happiness that was hard to ignore and even harder to not join in with! An infectious experience that is something we have only witnessed, so far, in Israel and we continued to witness this deep-set pride throughout the rest of our four days. Israel is a country that is proud of its traditions, of its growth but especially of its future generation – and this introduction was a truly unforgettable start to our Israel trip.
A breath-taking city of biblical proportions. Nestled on a plateau in the Judaean Mountains between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea, Jerusalem is one of the oldest cities in the world and a natural first location for our trip.
We began in the old-city, an ancient slice of Jerusalem which only spreads across 1km, and an old-living-city where a variety of monotheistic faiths flourish within its walls. Entering in through the Jaffa Gate, on the western side, it was hard not to be enamoured by the rich history surrounding you.
It seems around every corner in the old-city is an epic story (it even contains the tomb of Jesus Christ), however, one of the biggest tourist attractions – of which we had the privilege to see – is the Western Wall. An ancient, holy and cherished limestone wall where messages and prayers to God are written on paper and then lovingly placed into the cracks, men and women are separated to worship alone and star-struck tourists just stand in awe at the overwhelming presence. If you are taking a trip to Jerusalem then the old-city, and the Western Wall, are a must-see as they stand as an ideal opportunity to learn the many stories waiting inside.
On the other side of Jerusalem is the Mahane Yehuda market, a covered souk which is a great little spot and easily one of the best covered markets in the Middle East – best witnessed on the Sabbath. If you are after exotic fruits or spices, or have a craving for tahini or halva, or just wanting to meander around the stalls whilst soaking up the smells and the sun, then this is the place to go.
This market breathes life into this city, by day crowds flood the small market streets and by night it becomes a centre to drink and socialise with friends. What is even better is that Jerusalem, and indeed Israel, is experiencing a fevered-approach to being an entrepreneur. Individuals as young as 20 are jumping on board, opening bars and starting businesses. On our first night in Israel we delved into the market scene and were introduced to one such start-up, a cocktail bar called Tap & Tail which combined two of our great loves: cocktails and tapas, and what more could you want?
Jerusalem represents many identities, it’s soaked in tradition and rich in culture yet places like this market show an emerging developing side to Israel. Our first destination on this trip was one which we would recommend to anyone as it is a city that should be seen, tasted and experienced.
Before moving on to Tel Aviv we visited a more unknown gem in the Jerusalem district – Ein Karem. Birthplace of John the Baptist, it is an ancient village with an ethos centred on art.
Our tour guide and local famous artist, Haya White, gave us a glimpse of what it is like to live in this unique village. A refreshing community where everyone who lives there creates. A reflection of this creativity is seen by the homes, individual houses reflecting individual characters. It is a place that is home to all kinds of creative outlets, be it photography, writing, acting, or something else – it’s hard to be in this community for more than 5 minutes and not begin to feel the juices of your own creativity boiling away. To describe this village as a paradise would simply not be doing it enough justice, it is the perfect destination for an artist retreat and one which should be on your bucket list.
Referred to as the city that never sleeps, only in the Middle East, is Tel Aviv. Distinctly warmer than Jerusalem and located by the coast with unbeatable views of the Mediterranean Sea, Tel Aviv is the biggest metropolis in Israel where the only way is up is taken very literally. Tall, sky-scraping buildings are on the rise and re-developments are happening any which way you look.
It is also home to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, where we ventured to the morning after our arrival. Private collections were showcased which included famous artists such as Picasso, Monet, Klimt and Toulouse-Lautrec. If modern art is more your scene then you can simply step into one of the many exhibitions currently running, our favourite was one called ‘Regarding Africa: Contemporary Art and Afro-Futurism’ which showcased art made in or about Africa from an Afro-futurist perspective. After a morning of feasting on art our tour took us to the Sarona Market, an indoor market where as soon as you enter you are not only met with a variety of truly delicious looking food, but intense smells and a general hubbub of chatter. A great little spot perfect for lunch, ice-cream, browsing or, all of the above.
If you head further down the coast to Jaffa, you will find another great little location, the Ilana Goor Museum. Ilana Goor’s home and museum showcases both her work and her vast and incredible art collection. Her home by itself is simply incredible and it’s impossible to not develop home-envy when being taking around her almost endless-roomed abode. With perfectly unique rooms made even better by her collection, incredible sea views, a kitchen which actually makes you want to cook and a roof-terrace where you can quite easily imagine spending a long lazy day soaking up the sun, it’s fair to say we had to be coerced into moving on.
If there was an ultimate way to end our long weekend in Israel it would be in Safed. Situated in the Galilee region this picturesque city is home not only to Jewish mysticism, Kabballah, which is an inner spiritual teaching of Judaism but also to the Yosef Caro / Alkabetz Street. Full to the brim of art galleries this street is a popular site for tourists and is an ideal location for anyone looking to top up, or indeed start, their art collection.
Safed is a deeply spiritual, ancient place that thrives on creativity, with a scattering of street-art which only adds to the backdrop rather than de-face it. The locals were enchanting, incredibly friendly and willing to take time to sit back and tell you endless stories of how they arrived in Safed and simply never left.
Ending this trip with a glass of red wine at the Abouhav Winery, gave us time to reflect. Israel is not only a country of rich and diverse culture and history, sheer indescribable beauty – not to mention the glorious weather- but a start-up nation and a country which possesses such an enthusiasm for art in all forms. Israel should be on your must-visit list. As we at Seen in the City are already planning our next trip back, there is only one thing left to say, lechaim!
Monarch, the scheduled leisure airline, operates year-round flights to Tel Aviv from London Luton and Manchester airports with fares, including taxes, starting from £116 one way (£174 return) . For further information or to book Monarch flights and Monarch Holidays, please visit www.monarch.co.uk