We arrived in Ramat Hasharon, a town on the edge of Tel Aviv, still in the night morning. All were asleep except for Max, a giant golden canine, who welcomed us in his smelly and furry way. Soon we joined the rest of the house in slumber land only to wake a few short hours later to the noise of the Nudel-Caspi family in the throes of their weekend morning routine.
Emmily was introduced to Hila, Dotahn’s cousin and her children Yuval, Daniella, Eligh and the three month new arrival Itamar. Emm had already had a sleepy intro to Shai, Hila’s Husband when he picked us up earlier that morning from the airport. The house which we were to stay at for the next week was the same house that Dotahn lived in for six months in 1997. It had undergone some radical changes and was now a beautiful and open, flowing house for a large family. Once the home of Hila’s father and Dotahn’s uncle Uzi, it had been inherited by the Caspi-Nudel’s. A lot of memories were to slowly emerge in Dotahn’s brain as he wandered around the neighbourhood.A giant breakfast/lunch was served with the whole family and Dotahn’s and Emmily’s dreams of Israeli cuisine was realised for the first time with the indulgent knowledge of more to come. The rest of the day was spent in a sleepy daze as our body clocks battled with the changes in time zones.
To get a taste of Israel and its history we decided to go to the old city of Jaffa. Smooth stone balustrades and tiny alleys curved their way to the beach, housing many small artists shops and curios. We walked along the beach and came upon the fleamarkets of the Arab quarter. Bustling hallways filled with scents of the middle east and eager vendors grabbing our arms and insisting we “just look”. Strings of trinkets, brass, beads and lamps hung and surrounded us, swathes of carpets, fabric and clothes. After a hearty lunch of Shakshuka and salads we wound our way back to the beach to the sound of the afternoon prayers, haunting and adding a real middle eastern edge to the dusty back streets. We worked our way along the coast accompanied by the nice breeze from the ocean, towering bauhaus style buildings like white stone pillars standing guard over the sea.
It proved quite difficult to discover the more underground side of Tel Aviv and the more contemporary edge of the arts scene with our lack in hebrew. With a few tips from Hila we made our way back into the city on the following day and explored some art galleries in the heart of the city. From there we made our way into the neighbourhood of Florentine. Filled with warehouses and still un touched by gentrification, it is a hub of youth culture. Walking its streets we came across a shop with a man air brushing T-shirts, all freeform designs there were some cool shirts. We talked to the guy who ran the shop and got some hints as to where to explore. Walking past a lot of street art we made our way to a couple of bars and ate dinner at a cool cafe.
Days of humid heat and cool breezy evenings followed with trips to the beach, picnics in the Tel Aviv parklands, family BBQ’s and hanging out on the back porch with Hila and Shai chatting about where to travel in Israel. A dinner was arranged to meet up with Nir, who we had met in Ecuador, and his expectant wife Arava. They took us to a favourite restaurant of theirs in Ramat Hasharon, all Israeli home style cooking. We had a lovely meal and made plans to meet again.
As we were in Tel Aviv, a city infamous for its nightlife. We decided to take a night out on the town. We started out walking, a little bewildered from our lack of direction, around Rothschild street. Turning on to HaSharon St, confused by all the signs in Hebrew and a little frightened by the cover charges we found a small bar with no signage and no line. Walking in to the sound of ‘the pixies’ we decided we had found the right place. A friendly barman, great selection of music and interesting art. Leaving a little tipsy we were ready for a boogie and followed the sounds of drumming to a packed place with a small cover charge that included a drink. African drumming, a weird selection of pop including a lot of South American dance music made for a strange and funky time.
With our time in Ramat Hasharon drawing to a close we were invited to go to dinner with the whole Nudel-Caspi family. We were taken to Hila’s favourite restaurant, a very new, very fancy Asian fusion restaurant called Zepra. With incredible design, the dining room is ranked among the top ten restaurants in the world when it comes to interior design. Utterly spoilt, our food dreams came true once again.
A fitting way to spend our first week in Israel and the beginning of the onslaught of stories this country has to offer. Emmily was particularly impressed with finding out about the nature police when she asked about a beautiful tree in Hila’s backyard. An olive tree some 500 years old and sacred to Israel for its role in the story of Noah, she was told by Hila that the tree comes with a certificate of authenticity and that it is illegal to cut it down or move it without permission from the nature police. Even the moving of rocks in certain protected places can get you a fine from the nature police.