Daily Life in Tel Aviv

Trip Start Jul 29, 2007
Trip End Ongoing

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Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Hello again loyal readers. Hope you all enjoyed your labor day weekend. I didn't get one. :(

A quick "shout out," as we young ones say, to my friends from Sharon, who are now also reading this blog. I hope you find it interesting. And enjoy your semester at home. HAHA :)

Today I would like to go through the growing list of things that I have been meaning to write about. Just random things that I have been jotting down, about daily life in Tel Aviv, which may or may not be interesting to you. Its all pretty mundane actually, but I think it gives you a bit more flavor for the life here. So, in no particular order really, except one that might only make sense in my head, here we go.

To get to downtown Tel Aviv from my neighborhood, Ramat Aviv, you basically have four options: taxi, sheirut (slightly larger, van-like taxi with no specific route), bus, bike. You could also walk. If you like huge, painful blisters on your feet. I've taken the sheirut once. I think you pretty much just tell the driver where you want to go and he decides on a price. It all happens very quickly. They are extremely impatient. Not a great option if you don't know exactly where you need to go and/or have poor Hebrew knowledge. Good for more than four people traveling together. The taxi is also an option. We use it on Shabbat. To get to the city costs about 40 NIS - a little less than $10. Split four ways, that's...cheap. Much cheaper than any taxi in the states. The bus is your best bet, especially if you're traveling alone. Yes, during rush hour its crowded, but the buses are efficient, you never have to wait long for one, and fare from Ramat Aviv into the city is only 5.10 NIS - a little over a dollar. Or you can buy various passes like a 'cartissiya,' which I like because it gives you 10 rides but you only pay for 8. At first, I was a little unsure about whether I was going to use public transportation. Yes, these are targets for terrorist attacks. But Israelis have no choice. They cannot live their lives with this fear over their heads. If they do, the terrorists win. The first few times, I was a little nervous. But now I love the bus. Its comfortable and air-conditioned. If you come to Tel Aviv, do use it.

Today, however, I purchased a new form of transportation: a bicycle. Used, 2 wheels, creaky gears, not much to look at. Paid 200 NIS for the bike and 50 NIS for the lock. I went all the way down to Jaffo for it. That's where the cheap bikes are. Because they're stolen. The Arabs come down to the main part of Tel Aviv, steal the bikes, and then sell them in Jaffo. Its a beautiful cycle. (I'm just kidding guys. Actually I'm not.) After several hours of unsuccessful bargaining, we (my friend Arin and I) found a small bike shop where an Israeli offered us a good price. We took our bikes and our dinner down to the main beach and I have to say, that was probably the best moment I've had so far in Tel Aviv. It was just a perfect afternoon. The bike path runs all the way down the main beach and its just gorgeous, an amazing view and a light breeze. Perfect.

We then proceeded to ride back to Ramat Aviv during rush hour. The city itself, at least the route we took to get back, is not very bike-friendly, especially with tons of cars and people trying to get home. It took us an hour and a half, but it was probably only about six or seven miles. A long journey but well worth it. I really just need the bike to get to class and to get to the gym. My dorm is the farthest from the university and honestly, I'm just sick of walking. I walk at least one or two hours every day. The bike definitely improves my commute. A compulsive purchase, but necessary nonetheless. I'll probably sell it to someone before I leave, so it won't be a total loss.

I've been to the downtown shopping area in Tel Aviv quite a bit. Its not a hard city to navigate, even though its not built on a grid. Most of the streets are labeled well and Israelis are very willing to help with directions. I've also been to the biggest shuk (market) in Tel Aviv, Shuk HaCarmel. Its a zoo. You can buy ANYTHING there. The main draws are the outdoor produce stands. Lots of cheap fruits and vegetables. I don't think I'd ever buy meat or dairy there though. They've got clothes and toys and shoes and odds and ends too. A little ways down from the shuk, at the big interesection where King George, Allenby, and Sheinkin all meet, there is a huge outdoor crafts fair set up, where you can find beautiful Judaica and art. During the day it is extremely crowded. I won't go all the way to the shuk for something unless I can't find it anywhere else, or its really cheap.

Malls (kanyonim) are a big deal in Israel. There are malls EVERYWHERE. Every little neighborhood has at least one. The kanyon in Ramat Aviv is very nice inside, all the trendy stores, with lots of little cafes and restaurants. And its air-conditioned! Sometimes I'll go in and walk around just to escape the heat.

There are three grocery stores within 10 minutes of my apartment building. They all have their pros and cons. The one that's closest has the funny little Spanish-speaking security guard - at first, we really couldn't communicate, he would just laugh as he looked in my bag, checking for a 'bomba.' Now I use my simple Hebrew with him. He still laughs at me. There are also two other stores, at the mall and on my way to the university, next to the falafel stand. Food is pretty cheap (except for the American brands, most of which I have learned to live without). Especially produce. However, unfortunately, I learned in ulpan the other day that this is about to change. Rosh Hashanah will mark the seventh year in the seven year cycle that has been going on for thousands of years in the Jewish calendar. Hundreds of years ago, when Israel was mainly an agricultural land, tradition dictated that every seven years, the land would 'rest.' Nothing would be grown, and it was said that the crop in the year before and after the seventh year would be especially good, to compensate. Today, some farmers still follow this tradition. Either they stop farming altogether for an entire year (and spend the year studying Torah, as was customary) or they farm 'above the ground' in raised containers. Inevitably, this raises the price of produce for the year. I'm really not sure by how much, but it is rather unfortunate.

One very important lesson that I have learned: NEVER go grocery shopping on a Friday morning. Everyone in the entire country is at the store, doing their shopping before Shabbat. The stores start closing around 2 or 3 in the afternoon. I was sick and I had to go get food and medicine for the weekend, but this is definitely not recommended.

I went to lie by the pool and read yesterday. Something was not right. I couldn't quite put my finger on it. The lounge chair was comfortable, the water was clear, the sun was shining - but it was quiet. Perfect, blissful silence, except for the gentle laping of waves in the pool. And then I realized: children went back to school this week. Lovely.

In Israel, security is what we call a BIG DEAL. Deal gadol. Everywhere you go, malls, supermarkets, restaurants, stores - a security guard is always there to check your bag and wave a little 'explosive-detector thingy' (the technical term) around you. And, unlike in the US, they all carry guns. (The stupid Brandeis police don't even carry guns!) The US should really take a page from the Israeli handbook. It doesn't understand how to provide security for its citizens at the most basic level. I will probably be more nervous when I come home and no one checks me. It also takes some getting used to to see these young soldiers slinging huge machine guns around with them everywhere. At the same time, though, it is rather reassuring.

Like most Israelis, I now hang my laundry out to dry on the clotheslines on my balcony. The first time I did it I felt as though I had stepped back in time about a hundred years. I have never done that before. It requires a little extra effort, but it saves me 8 shekels on the dryer, helps the environment, and keeps clothes in better condition. Plus, it only takes about an hour or two in the midday heat.

There are cats all over Tel Aviv. I mean, CATS. If there was one musical to describe this city, it would be CATS (Jerusalem would get Fiddler on the Roof). Especially in Ramat Aviv. There are cats everywhere, all the time. Big, small, black, white, orange, old, fat, kittens. In the neighborhood and on the campus. They wander into restaurants to beg for food, they lie on the lounge chairs by the pool at the gym, just like people. Someone said its because there is no animal control or shelters that are able to take them. But the sheer volume of them is just incredible. No stray dogs, just cats. And it doesn't help that there's an elderly living complex just down the road, where the old ladies come out and feed them every day. Some are very cute, but I wouldn't touch them.

For anyone who has checked my pictures recently, I posted a series from "Mini-Israel." I went there two weeks ago. It is overpriced and hokey and although the pictures may look cool, do avoid it. Its a miniature replica of all the famous landmarks in Israel, but it is becoming quite rundown and because it is outside, you really cannot go before four or five in the afternoon. Better to go and see the actual landmarks, full-scale.

I see and hear strange things from my balcony. There is apparently someone giving voice lessons in a house across the street. Mainly opera. When they are teaching, the sound carries right into my room. Some of the singers are good. Some are not. But listening to twenty minutes of opera scales is not fun. No matter how good they are. A few nights ago, we saw great fireworks coming from what I think might be Jaffo. The fireworks are usually for the Muslim weddings. But they were pretty nonetheless.

There is another ulpan happening simultaneously with the Hebrew ulpan for the overseas students. It is only for the Russian immigrants. There are hundreds of them, they all look in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties. It is supposed to be much more intense than our ulpan (I don't know how much more intense it COULD get). I wonder how many of them are Jewish. Its very strange to for me to see actual Russians, not just the children of immigrants that I know in the US. They have probably grown up in an entirely different environment from me, and yet, we both converge in Israel, for very different reasons. They are probably looking for better job opportunities and trying to build a life in a new place. I wonder how much they enjoy being in Israel, or if they really had no other choice.

Next week is the beginning of high holidays in Israel. What a place to be for the holiest days of the year. I will only have class next Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. Wednesday night is the beginning of the new year, and it ends on Friday night. Unfortunately, this is precisely when Shabbat begins, so logistically, this means: all stores, businesses, and public transportation are not working for almost four full days. Its a good thing I'm going to stay with family friends. Quite literally, I would not be able to survive here on my own. I'm actually rather glad that I will be here to experience the holidays. Yom Kippur is supposed to be surreal. The streets are empty. Televisions do not work. The country is just...silent. It should be an amazing thing to experience.

I'm going to Europe from September 25 - October 10. I will be traveling with a tour group, but I will have an extra two days by myself in London and Paris. We will be traveling through: England, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Italy. I will come back broke and I'm not sure how I will survive the remainder of my time in Israel, but it will be well worth it. More on my specific itinerary next time.

I love you all. Leave comments! 
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