The Toronto Star Visits Tel Aviv

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Another big newspaper, another great review of Tel Aviv. The Toronto Star just visited the city and here is what they had to say:-

TEL AVIV–It's a Wednesday evening and the trendy Boya restaurant is bustling.

Located in this Mediterranean city's upscale port area, Boya is the hot place to be and be seen – where diners sit on terraces watching the sun set while eating tapas dishes laid out in neat rows along the seawall.

This is where the city's inexhaustible nightlife begins and ends – usually in the wee hours of the morning.

It typifies what Tel Aviv is for both the young and the young at heart. Even though it celebrates its 100th birthday this spring, the city is still in its infancy in a country that often counts its years by the thousands.

"Israel is a country of contrasts, and those contrasts are magnified here," explains Rivka Cohen Berman, our ever-patient guide, during our eight-day visit that starts in the country's fun capital, Tel Aviv.

The name of the city itself describes the country's complexities, she says. In Hebrew, a "tel" is a mound of ancient ruins and "aviv" means spring, so really Tel Aviv means "Old New Land." The name was meant to symbolize the rebirth of the Jewish people in the Middle East.

Even before Tel Aviv built its first road (some say it was Herzl St., named for Zionist pioneer Theodore Herzl), there was its older sister Jaffa, located immediately to the south and connected to Tel Aviv by an amazing boardwalk along the Mediterranean Sea.

Jaffa is a small but ancient port that tradition says was built by Japhet, the son of Noah (of ark fame).

The oldest working port in the world, Jaffa is strategically located between Asia, Africa and Europe and over its history has been ruled by ancient Egyptians, Canaanites, Phoenicians, Greeks, Crusaders, Ottomans, British and – finally – the modern state of Israel.

Tel Aviv, on the other hand, is a contrast in modernism, including its architecture (the city is home to one of the world's best collection of Bauhaus-style buildings), upscale shopping, fashionable restaurants, and, of course, its booming nightlife.

Which brings me back to the Boya restaurant, where we sip wonderful Israeli wine and nosh on seafood and pasta and the most fabulous molten chocolate cake – all before heading out for a night on the town.

Although our group picks one of the quieter spots to sit outside, sipping a cocktail and watching the world go by, Tel Aviv has a couple of very famous nightspots, including the legendary Whisky a Go Go, where Israel's top celebrities like to dance the night away. But be warned, the action usually doesn't get started until after 1 a.m.

Israelis love food and in Tel Aviv they celebrate the art of dining. A multicultural city with immigrants from more than 100 countries, its food choices are truly eclectic and chefs take great pride in teasing taste buds with exotic culinary creations.

The city is not kosher – shellfish is widely available (although pork is still scarce) – and from Friday evening until Saturday evening, known as Shabbat or Sabbath, when most everything in Israel stops, the restaurants and clubs in Tel Aviv are still hopping.

After our late night, we're up bright and early the next morning to head out for a tour of the city's famous Bauhaus buildings, designed between 1924 and 1939, when a group of graduates from the Bauhaus School of Art and Design in Germany came to Tel Aviv. The buildings make up what is locally known as the "White City" – 4,000 buildings that boast some of the finest examples of Bauhaus architecture in the word.

Our walking trip starts at one of the city's many Espresso Bar kiosks, where young men and women leisurely sip cappuccinos and lattes.

Cohen Berman leads us along Rothschild Blvd., where the best examples of the Bauhaus style stand, all sporting their trademark box-like balconies, straight lines, flat roofs and wooden shutters.

At the intersection of Sheinken St., one of the trendiest in the city, Cohen Berman points out that many tourists come to the area to soak up the city's cosmopolitan flavour and engage in retail therapy.

But the shopping in the old Carmel market, known in Hebrew as Shuk HaCarmel, is much more fun. The largest open-air market in Israel, the Carmel is always bustling with shoppers loading up on everything from second-hand clothing to some of the finest olives, cheeses, baked goods, nuts and fruit available.

Just 60 kilometres from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv is also the commercial centre of Israel.

It also boasts a world-renowned philharmonic, theatre companies, an opera company and many museums, including Israel's Diaspora Museum, the Museum of Art, Museum Ha'aretz, the Nahum Gutman of Art and the Rubin Museum.

This really is a city of amazing contrasts.

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