After a month in South Beach and 3 weeks in Vegas, I decided to hit the road again and ventured off to the Middle East for the first time. The first stop was Tel Aviv, Israel as I'd been told by quite a few people to see this beach city. To say Tel Aviv did not live up the hype is an understatement, I thoroughly had a bad time in Israel over 2 weeks. It just fails in so many aspects and I apologize now for this blog and future ones to people from these places, as I am going to ultra brutal with places and not sugar coat anything.
Tel Aviv has one thing going for it, and that is the really nice beach that lines the city and is packed with paddle ball players up and down. The water is rather clear and inviting, with a great water temperature to boot. That is where the good of Tel Aviv ends, so if you visit I recommend going to the beach for a few days and then skipping town.
The first downside is how strict it is at the airports, you have to go through extensive searches each time due to high high security risks as every country remotely close to it in the Middle East wants to pretty much attack it. I will get in to the fucking hassles I went through at the airport towards the end of this blog.
The highlights of Tel Aviv - The Beach - below are some shots of me in front of the beach or with it in the background. The beach was a great temperature, enough to be refreshing and not cold at all. The beaches are filled with people playing paddle ball that it is even hard to move in some areas. I recommend lounging on the main beach area and taking in the scenery. What is highly unique is that the beautiful beach is right outside of the main city area, which is not the case in many places in the World. The ones I know of are Miami, San Diego, Rio de Janeiro, and I'm sure some others. This is right up there with them as far as how nice the beach is and its proximity to the city.
Now for the bad about Tel Aviv which was more or less everything else for me. I understand kosher and everything about it, however I know many people are not in to kosher foods, so be prepared to get no cheese on anything. The city itself is okay, but nothing special at all and rather run down. The rent is extremely high for what you get here...a comparable amount in Miami will get you a nice place near the beach whereas here it will get you a unit with not many amenities in a mediocre part of the city. Which brings me to the cost of living. It is outrageously high here for what you get. Most beers out cost $8-12 and entry costs were high as well. Couple that with the average annual salary not being very high and this leads to less people being able to afford buying drinks while out. The phrase "real city that never sleeps" may be the most laughable way I've heard a city described in all of my travels. First off, Fridays are rather dead as they have the Holy Day on Saturday, with Thursdays and Saturdays bring the bigger days. There are two or three pretty okay clubs in the city, but hardly anyone drinks or gets drunk while out. It is almost completely sober cliques that are cut off to everyone else and just having normal conversations w/ minimal music. Adding this all together with a culture that is not very attractive, and you wind up with one of the more boring cities I've been to in all of my travels. So much for the city that never sleeps. On top of that they make you wait in unorganized lines at the club that take forever to get in to.
Another bad issue is the internet, it is very unreliable and expensive for what you get. In addition to the cutting out, a lot of sites are blocked by the Israeli government.
On a positive note, the English is extremely good here and it is easy to talk to people if you need directions.
THE UGLY - Let me preface this section with the fact that I do have a bunch of stamps in my passport, which can bring you under more intense scrutiny with countries, as well as my profession drawing flags. However, the policies at these airports and for everyone was so much stricter than I have ever seen. With good reason as every country in the Middle East basically wants to bomb them so they have to be extra cautious. Every person has their bags checked individually at each airport that I saw, where they go through each possession and run the chemical wand through all of it to detect bombs. There are also no real sights to see as well, basically just the beach.
My experience - While trying to travel WITHIN THE COUNTRY, that is Tel Aviv to Eilat where I am just a US citizen, they had Thomas and I questioned detained for quite a while which was a nuisance, but no where near what we were going to encounter at the next stops. I will get in to the country of Jordan in a later blog, but to get there and to the Lost City it is best to travel to the beach town of Eilat (which Egypt tried to bomb 5 days after I left, unsuccessfully).
Eilat was a nice and relaxing beach city with the airport right in the heart of it. You can actually just jump off the flight and walk to the beach within a few minutes which was fun. This beach seemed to be full of a bunch of teens that I am sure come here for their vacations and to party. The beach here and the vibe seemed very relaxed and much better than Tel Aviv to us, however we were basically just passing through to see the country of Jordan for a day. I recommend staying a few more days than we did in Eilat and I would certainly recommend it over Tel Aviv.
The view across the water to the country of Jordan
I will dive in to Jordan and the Holy City of Jerusalem in my next blog, but for this one on Eilat and Tel Aviv, I'd like to touch on what happened to us at various airports along the way. Re-entering Eilat from Jordan was quite the hassle as they are rival countries. The border shares an understanding for travel though and it should not have been this difficult. Again, they took out everything from our bags and gave us about 20 questions each. 30 minutes later, we were allowed back in to Israel. The worst part about this was the lady stamped our passports which means we will be under high scrutiny if we want to visit Dubai or another Middle Eastern country as they all have feuds with Israel. Originally they stamp a separate sheet for you so that it is not in your passport but this lady missed the memo and gave us the stamp we highly did not want in our passports.
A few hours later is where it gets much worse. Thomas and I were leaving Eilat for Tel Aviv when we got stopped again at this airport. They asked us why we were in Jordan and we replied that we wanted to see The Lost City like everyone else that did this trip. Next they wanted to know why we each only had a back pack on us to which we told them we only did a two day trip and the rest of our stuff was in Tel Aviv where we were staying for 2 weeks. This did not add up to them as they don't see people come with such little. In addition, they go through our passports...I have quite a few places that they do not like, mainly Malaysia and Indonesia. After giving them the explanation that I was just a tourist a few years ago in these places with an ex-girlfriend, they decide to separate us to interrogate us individually. We were questioned separately for 20 minutes each roughly. The conversation was suspect and I did not want to lie, but I understand stuff sounds ridiculous to the person when they have not heard of it before.
Lady - "Where do you live"
Me - "Nowhere really, I am in Tel Aviv for 2 weeks and then I'll probably go live in Europe for a little"
Lady - "Where did you live before Tel Aviv"
Me - "I was just in Las Vegas for 3 weeks, and prior to that I was in Miami for 3 weeks, Mexico for 2 weeks, and Europe for 2 weeks."
Lady - "And before that?"
Me - "Before that I lived in Cape Town, South Africa for 6 months"
At this point she is so confused, she asks what I do for a living and I tell her that I play poker to which she does not understand. Thomas is going through the same questioning and after having four people question both of us, they realize our stories are the same, but decide we are of the highest threat level and take us to a back room. In the backroom they make us wait for a while and get down to our boxers. We had to sit there for a good 20 minutes and then go through more questioning and searching (no anal cavity search thank god). Finally, after a little over an hour they rush us to get on our flight and do not apologize or anything for it...it's just routine in Israel.
Fast forward to leaving Israel, the same exact thing happens and this time they can't fathom how I can need 3 laptops and a monitor. They try to convince me that they are pretty sure my monitor is a bomb and they take it from my possession. I am told I can get it at the airport in Istanbul whenever I want. Well, when leaving Istanbul, my monitor miraculously is gone and they have no evidence or sign of it, how convenient. I am so pissed even thinking about my experience that I am going to cut the blog off here. I'll write up about Jerusalem and Jordan in my next blog...until next time.
Cliffs on Tel Aviv and Eilat :
-Eilat is a nice beach area with a younger and more friendly crowd
-Tel Aviv has a very nice beach
-Tel Aviv is very expensive, an unattractive culture, has bad internet, terrible nightlife, rude and cliquey culture
I believe people talk about Tel Aviv being better than it is due to the Birth Right trip where basically people with Jewish ancestry fly people for free to see the country. This is different than how I see it as these people get guided everywhere, meaning they probably have friendly guides and see it in a different light. Also, they are less exposed to the locals and hang out with the tourists in their own group. They also have this group to socialize with. Couple that with the fact that it's one of their main trips abroad and less to compare it to, and that is why more people talk highly on Tel Aviv.
Until next time,