Header Photo Credit

*The stunning photo in the header of my blog is all thanks to Ron Shoshani. Visit his facebook page for more of his amazing photographs of Tel Aviv!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Looking for a Hotel in Tel Aviv? Why not Boutique it?!

The Diaghilev Live Art Boutique Hotel in Tel Aviv, Photo Courtesy of their website. 
Looking for hotels in in Tel Aviv? I'm not surprised. The tourist season and summer heat are on in full force.  June 21st has come and gone, bringing with it buses of birthright groups, throngs of tourists, long summer days and notorious Tel Aviv humidity.

 So if you're planning on heading to the white city this summer, you might want to consider upgrading from a hostel or basic hotel in Tel Aviv to one of the clean, cool and comfortable Tel Aviv boutique hotels just featured in yesterday's Ynet travel section. Now I can't even afford air conditioning in my dinky apartment in south Tel Aviv. But you tourists are on vacation and I don't know anything that tourists like more than the feeling that they are really on vacation.

This feeling is usually catalyzed by careless spending on totally awesome but absolutely unnecessary amenities which I am telling you you should definitely do because that feeling I'm talking about, that vacation feeling...it's fleeting and incredibly difficult to attain.

A montage of some of the fabulous Tel Aviv hotels you'll read about if you don't get bored and stop here
 To help you out, Ynet's article highlighted the ritziest of the ritzy Tel Aviv boutique hotels with personalized service and an intimate feel, but bemoans the high prices. Their review of what they call the "Tel Aviv's best boutique hotels" includes rooms which can cost guests up to $560 for two per night.

Sadly, I have not been lucky enough to set foot in even one of the boutique hotels mentioned on their list which includes:

While the article did a good job of instilling in me an almost visceral desire to be filthy rich, I did feel a pinch of  surprise when I reached the end and realized that they left out one of the most exciting, most unique and trendiest boutique hotels I know of: The Diaghilev Live Art Boutique Hotel. The Diaghilev is one of two well known Art boutique hotel s in TLV, the second being the aptly named Artplus Hotel which comes up first on a google search for Tel Aviv art hotel. But really, it shouldn't, since the Diaghilev is way cooler and offers way more interesting exhibitions.

Photo Courtesy of the Diaghilev Facebook Page
 Photo Courtesy of the Diaghilev Facebook Page
You'll get a better idea of what I'm talking about if you take a look at the Diaghilev Facebook page. Some of their more recent exhibits have been promoted by the Goethe Institue including the most recent  German Vitra Design Museum exhibit "100 miniatures of classical seats". Check out some more photos of the exhibit here.

In short, there are some fantastic places to stay if you are looking to spend some money on a luxury suite.
If not, you'll have to wait till my next post outlining the best hostels for tourists on a budget! Stay tuned, there's more to come....

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Kutiman's 'Thru Jerusalem' Goes Viral and Then Some

Israeli music video producer and international youtube phenomenon Kutiman has gone a step further with his most recent release, bringing beautiful audio and visual together with his newest youtube montage release of "Thru Jerusalem".  This music video montage of film snippets of Jerusalem musicians, artists, shots of local scenery both intimate and public, brings together the sounds, vibes colors and motion of Jerusalem.

In an interview with wired.com, Kutiman said:

 “I just tried to be a tourist and make the video regardless of race or religion... My only goal was to show the beauty of the city.”

And he succeeded in doing just this. Born Ophir Kutiel, the 29 year old "Yerushalmi", or Jeruslaem nativehas been known for his youtube mixes/collages of musical home-video which he found by scouring youtube on his own for interesting sampling material, as well as mixes of some popular music riffs. With his newest release, Kutiman  decided to go original this time around and cut and paste together his own footage of local talents.

Apparently he specifically requested that all musicians keep their Middle-Eastern improvisations around the key of D.

The video went viral within hours- posted and reposted on facebook by countless fans, and picked up by news sites and blogs such as CBS, Mashable (selected as their June 14th video of the day) and more.  His newest work is being referred to as a "musical journey", an "epitomization of the sounds of the city", a "beautiful tour" and a "beautiful song."

Named the Artist of the Season by Jerusalem's Season of Culture, Kutiman released "Thru Jerusalem" during the ROI Community Summit for young Jewish leaders and innovators. According to the Jerusalem Season of Culture website:

Kutiman's former work, Thru-you, a visual composition that is considered to be one of the most significant musical breakthroughs of recent years; brought together a series of unconnected YouTube videos to form a new viral sensation. His work was described by Time Magazine as one of the most important inventions in the world in 2009. His work has been exhibited all over the world including the Guggenheim Museum in New York. 

I agree that "Thru Jerusalem" it's not only an artistic feat (as I think all nearly all of Kutiman's compositions are) but also a unique, modern and exciting way to express the allure of Israel through art and music.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Tel Aviv Gay Pride Parade 2011

Photo Credit: Burghard Mannhofer
The Tel Aviv Gay Pride Parade has flaunted its rainbow colors yet again and filled the streets and beaches with gorgeous drag queens, bikini-clad lesbians, proud supporters of gay rights and everyone in between. The parade somehow seems to get bigger and better every year, drawing larger crowds and higher numbers of tourists.

This year statisticians estimate that more than 100,000 Israelis and an added 5,000 tourists took part in the parade entitled "It's good to be gay – marching for social equality."

"I have come to say that being part of the gay community, to be gay or lesbian or any other member of the community, is not a political choice as is the choice to protect the gay community and its right for social equality," opposition leader Tzippi Livni told Haaretz.com, adding "we are here to fight together against any phenomenon of hate, to fight for Israel's values."

Photo Credit: Burghard Mannhofer
What I love about the Tel Aviv Gay Pride Parade is first and foremost the fact that it dominates the entire city, but with such welcoming energy that it's easy to participate. In fact, if you are in the White City on the day of the parade, its nearly impossible to avoid joining in the festivities.

Throughout the course of the day roads are closed down, colorfully costumed people pour through the streets and the biggest beach, Gordon beach, is turned into a huge performance stage and outdoor bar.  The parties continue on through the evening, the rest of the weekend and the rest of the month- as June is designated as Gay Pride month.

Photo Credit: Burghard Mannhofer

People come from all over the world to participate or simply observe Tel Aviv's annual Gay Pride Parade as Tel Aviv boast one of the largest and most active gay communities in the world. In fact, according to Tel Aviv's  deputy mayor, Asaf Zamir, nearly17% of the city's population is gay.

"It's a very strong community here, a comfortable arena for the gay community. Two men walking hand in hand is a very normal thing," he told UK newspaper, The Guardian.

This year's 2011 Tel Aviv Gay Pride Parade got tons of international press  from newspapers such as The Guardian, the AFP, el Mundo and The Sydney Morning Herald, and rightly so.

To give you a taste, I put together a small slideshow of the events calendar for the entire month, including the parade itself, as well as some snapshots by a great Israeli Photographer, Gadi Gilon. Hopefully this will help you get an idea of the extravagance and exuberance of this year's 2011 Tel Aviv Gay Pride Parade.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Leaving Tel Aviv: Day Trip to Masada and the Dead Sea

One of the things I do love about Israel is how varied it is in topography in such a small area.  This means that getting from the dry desert plateaus to the lush northern mountains is only a drive or bus ride away.  Israel's size also makes it easy to get out of any metropolis, including Tel Aviv, to quickly reach a destination flush with natural beauty.

So, when my friend's from the states swung by for a, Israeli wedding and invited me for a "day trip" to Masada and the Dead Sea, I simply could not refuse. We decided to leave Tel Aviv at night (~12:45am), and arrived at the foot of Masada by around 2:30am. We pulled into the parking lot at the eastern entrance where there are picnic tables, garbage cans, and restrooms close by. We then had time to drink some coffee, eat some snacks and get organized before heading up the snake path at around 4:00am to catch the sunrise.

As you can see, during our walk up and after we arrived at the top, we encountered a hefty number of tourists, mostly Birthright participants.  So, I elbowed my way through towards the rising sun to try and snag some iconic shots of the sunrise over Masada.  

Me, harnessing the power of the sun between my fingertips! 
In addition to the countless Birthright teens and post-teens that dotted the face of the desert plateau, we also encountered a well-attended bar-mitzvah which I assume had commenced in darkness.  If you take a look at the photo below, you can see their congregation in the far back.

We wandered around checking out the main attractions: the synagogue, the baths, the water storage and well-preserved frescos and mosaics from Herod's palace.  We tried our best to creep close-enough towards the Birthright groups on their 10-day trip to Israel so we could overhear the guides explain various anecdotes and historical Israel facts, but once the sun started getting hotter, we decided it was time to head back down. 

So we stumbled back down the snake path and back to our car, pulled out a map, and headed towards the nearest accessible dead-sea beach that provides dead-sea mud.  We ended up at the Ein Gedi Spa which offers tourists access to their beach, their spa, their showers and their mud. They have a variety of different packages depending on the level of luxury you are looking for.  We, of course, took the cheapest package and proceeded to pull on our bathing suits and head to take a dip in the salty sea. 

 We bathed in the sulfurous water until our skin started burning. Then we headed towards the hot salt-water springs, the wet mud, and their lovely chlorinated swimming pool before showering off and heading home.

Some shots of the dead sea on the way back:

Definitely a fantastic day/night trip that I highly recommend to anyone in Israel: tourist or resident alike.

If you have questions, or need more info about the trip, e-mail me or leave your comment here!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Tel Aviv Park Darom: A Hidden Gem

Park Darom, also known as Manachem Begin Park
Some people lament the fact that The Yarkon Park which runs along the tiny Yarkon River is the only real Park in Tel Aviv.  Yes, Park HaYarkon is large and sprawling, yes it's great for cycling, and I definitely do enjoy all of the attractions there - but it just doesn't keep out the city like the great city parks do. You still hear the traffic, see the tall buildings tower over most of the trees and you definitely feel the "dinkiness" of it. Plus, its SO far from so much of the city!

Most visitors write this off to the fact that the city's entire western border of Tel Aviv is the beach- a public park in and of itself, making it unnecessary to ensure that the Yarkon Park is something truly spectacular. But what most people, even Tel Aviv residents, don't know is that there is another a large, grassy Tel Aviv park that is super-awesome- it's just not smack dab in the center. 

This is Park Darom (פארק דרום also known as Park Menachim Begin) and it is one of the hidden gems of Tel Aviv. The park is extremely well kempt, with the grass always mowed and watered, and the paths always safe and clean. In fact, the park even has its own website that you can check out here which showcases all of the activities, attractions and great things about the park. Don't worry, since the site is all in Hebrew I won't leave you hanging. Here are the awesome features in random order:

1) Huge Lake
There is a massive lake in the center of the park.  This is a shocker to anyone who knows Israel's relationship with water at all.  As it turns out, the lake is quite shallow, but it is still full of fish, and a nice, hefty layer of water.
See? The lake is quite large
2) Water Ski
The huge lake is home to a water-ski, wake-boarding arena for kids, teens and adults. On most warm weekends the line is long and the fun is unending. You get an hour worth of wake-boarding for 90 shekels with options for water-skiing too. Some skaters and surfers (especially beginners) use the park for weekly or monthly practice, and it makes a great activity for celebratory events as well.

3) Boating
If you don't like extreme sports, but you do enjoy gliding gently across the water, you might be more interested in their boating. You can rent a small old-school paddle boat, a sweet race-car-style paddle boat, a canue, or even a small boat specially designed for little kids for 55-65 shekels . Paddle around by yourself or with friends while feeding the ducks some stale pita bread.  

Photo Credit: Park Menachem Begin Photo Gallery

4) Carting & Bike Rentals
There is a carting park, which helps put on carting races several times a year.  The carting park is small, but cool, and the carts look like lots of fun for kids.  There are also bicycle rentals if you want to bike around the park with friends or family. 

Photo Credit: Park Menachem Begin  Photo Gallery
5) Petting Zoo
Now, I'm not really an animal lover, nor do I like the general smell of petting zoos, but I know it's an attraction and there is something cute, strange, bizarre and entertaining about a petting zoo with reindeer in Israel.  The zoo also cages-in ostriches, peacocks, chickens and roosters (hope I'm not leaving anything out!) 

6) Special Rentals: Celebratory Events
You can actually rent, specially, a wide variety of things including ponies, horses, inflatable amusement moonwalk-type stuff, small "trains" and more for your kid's birthday party at the Park.  I know, it sounds totally weird and crazy, but really, it's AWESOME.

Birthday Ponies!

7) Work-Out Areas
You've seen these all around Tel Aviv (since about two years ago when the municipality installed them all over the city) and they are in Park Darom too!  They are intended for adults to use to stay fit and to enhance their regular work out sessions. But, whadda you know, they have since been seen used mostly by kids who defy the large signs saying "For use by persons 14 years of age or older."  I don't mind either way, as long as they help me keep my abs like steel for free.

8) BBQ Stations
Looking for a great place to have a BBQ outdoors? Well look no further. Tel Aviv Park Darom is built for the BBQ. Sadly, I have no photos of this. But, with tables, nice soft grass, garbage cans and designated BBQ areas, you are well equipped.

You can kind of see the garbage cans and picnic tables in the background here.
Right there in the upper left-hand corner?
9) Public Restrooms
Accessible public restrooms. Yes, they are gross, but they are easy to get to and they make life so much easier when you are in the middle of a long run and desperately have to pee.  So, now, even though I don't have an iPhone, I  know that there is a place nearby where I can to relieve myself.

Photo Credit: SorryThatUserNameIsTaken Blog

10) Tons of Other Awesome Stuff
There are basketball courts, endless lengths of unused grassy-ness, trees, and even a nice stream that runs along the south-west side of the park. (I've actually been to rock concerts held on just along the river which were fun and intimate). So, if you haven't been to Park Darom, or if you are looking for a place to hang, ahve a bbq or take your family/friends to chill, head down south and check it out!

Operating Hours:
Open all day every day
Office Hours: 9am-10:30pm, Sun-Thurs, Fri: Open until two hours before the beginning of Shabbat, Sat: Closed
Phone: 03-7303471
Address: Birnit Street, Menachem Begin Park

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