My love affair with Tel Aviv began back 2005, when I was a student at the university on a study abroad program for six glorious months. Late morning classes and a bike ride to the beach were followed by evenings smoking hookah on the balcony and parties at boites all over town. I interned at Time Out Tel Aviv and quickly became familiar with the incredible offerings of the metropolis by the sea. But exploring my beloved city on our family vacation last month, I couldn’t help but muse upon how much we both had changed since I last visited. Crumbling buildings have been replaced with gleaming modern construction. The Jaffa flea market, a former dump of mid-century household goods and cheap souvenirs, is now home to boutiques with artful displays and chic shop girls. And, much to my delight, it seems that everyone in town has a new baby.
Yet, many things remain just the same as I remember. All across the city, beautiful, bronzed Israelis spilled out of bustling cafes on to the sidewalks ; the men behind the shwarma counters beckoned with friendly smiles while Levantine playlists blared overhead. Young chassidic crews in white skullcaps and wispy sideburns danced to techno blaring out of their van at the city’s main intersection where freshly squeezed pomegranate juice is as easy to come by as American Apparel. Basking in the Mediterranean light, sounds, and flavors was the most perfect way to celebrate my 30th birthday. It was thrilling to be back in town.
On this trip, as we dined at new restaurants and ordered my favorites at old hangouts, I mused on the Tel Avivian aptitude for creating ambiance. In each little corner of the city, one can discover the most inviting, groovy, I-want-to-come-here-every-night vibe that reminds me why, despite the limitations of parenthood, I still love going out to see how creative folks can transform a space into an experience. I could go on forever about the way this tiny town stacks up against bigger urban destinations like Barcelona, Copenhagen and even New York. The street art, the boutiques, the bars, the crowd, the food––oh, the delectable, gorgeous food!––leaves no doubt that Tel Aviv holds its own.
The last time I visited, in 2010, the Mr. was fresh out of law school, and we were not yet engaged. We spent a few debaucherous days in Tel Aviv, went road tripping through the beaches and ruins of Israel, and followed it all up with a week in Egypt visiting a grad school friend born and raised Cairo. It was an incredible, spontaneous and carefree adventure that brought us closer in a way that only traveling together can.
This trip provided a whole new opportunity for reflecting on travels of my past and reveling in the present adventure. Overall, I came away with a glimpse of my future hopes for my family. Feeling confident after two successful flights and a great family weekend spent exploring Rome on our layover, we landed in Tel Aviv brandishing 3 passports at customs. Perched in her new nautical themed stroller and loving every new flavor and playground stop, my little jetsetter didn’t stop my grand plans to visit all my old haunts. Instead, she slowed us down just enough to enjoy the stunning rhythm of life in Tel Aviv.