Where we’re at: I’m recapping my travels in 2019, including this retreat research trip to Israel in September. There are more details about our Israel retreats, postponed to 2021, at the end of this post.
It’s a weird time to write about travel, as the world both emerges from COVID lockdowns and faces a larger, more crucial conversation about race, power, and privilege. After a week-long pause of respect, while I continue to reflect on how Alex in Wanderland moves forward, I am back to publishing my previously scheduled blog content. Wishing all of you love and peace as we march forward.
It’s one of my favorite feelings — the privilege of arriving in a faraway land, one that once felt exotic, and having it start to feel like home.
It was my third journey to Israel, when the tiny country already started to feel that way for me. And while this kind of travel can make for less-than-dazzling blog content, it really makes for some of my favorite kinds of trips — not doing a single tourist thing, just living my life in one of my new favorite cities.
After leaving Lebanon, my plan had been to head to Israel to attend the press preview of the Middle East’s largest yoga festival before hopping over to Egypt for my fall Wander Women Retreats in Sinai. I had been super excited about covering this gorgeous event and was crushed when the dates were moved a mere week before my arrival (very on-brand planning-wise for this region, ha), and I could no longer attend.
However, in retrospect I probably really needed to spend that week working to get all the final details of my Egypt trips together, rather than downward-dogging in the desert — shoutout to the universe for sometimes giving me what I actually need instead of what I think I want.
And so aside from a spontaneous, secret sneak-away to a mystery destination up north — blog post coming soon — I basically spent the week cafe-hopping with my laptop in my beloved Tel Aviv, soaking up the final stretches of a beautiful beachy summer in Israel.
Working from cafes is common in Tel Aviv, home of the original start up nation, and lingering over a laptop all day is not just tolerated but welcomed.
I loved returning to old favorites from my previous two trips, like Citizen Garden, first introduced to me by the Vibe Israel team, and new obsessions like The Little Prince, a bookstore with a hidden garden cafe in the back.
I walk basically everywhere in Tel Aviv — mostly a result of being very intimidated by the bus system, ha. But I’ve tried to maintain my ignorance, in a way, because I like the exercise, I like getting to know the city better by hitting the road, and well, who doesn’t like free transportation? But one day, I hitched a motorcycle ride all the way up to the Tel Aviv port for lunch with my girl Jannah at Wix.
We had lunch in the shuk, or market, where we ordered the special of the day and were given a shot of arak as a bonus, because Israel. After lunch in the sunshine, we both retreated for a few more hours with our screens (which I have to admit, was a lot more fun post-drink.)
When we finally clocked out and wandered towards the beach to catch sunset, another very Israeli thing happened: we ran into our talented friend Or on the street, working on a photography assignment we’d accidentally walked into the frame of. The population of the entire country of Israel is about eight million. That’s the size of New York City. And yet in the short time I’ve been visiting Israel, I run into friends randomly on the street more often than I did in my years in New York.
Summer in Tel Aviv feels like a kind of never-ending celebration, and so when we finally found the optimal sunset vantage point, bubbles on the beach felt perfectly appropriate.
Summer nightlife in Tel Aviv is legendary! And while this trip in particular didn’t involve any major wild nights out (see: work pressure, tonsillitis recovery, weekend getaway, etc.) I still did manage a few cocktails with friends, here and there.
Speaking of my tonsillitis recovery — and of dates — I was charmed senseless when a new suitor in Tel Aviv booked me in for a healing massage after I expressed anxiety that I wasn’t feeling fully recovered ahead of my upcoming marathon of retreats.
Running around the city, arriving at the mystery address of the massage therapist, I thought okay, yes, this is an example of international dating being quite fun.
Most of my time, however, was spent with my new canine coworker — the dog I happily walked all week in exchange for full-time companionship, street cred, and cuddles.
Nothing makes you feel more like a local than temporarily dognapping a pup as your own.
Actually, there is at least one thing that makes you feel more like a local — showing someone else around. When I realized that my Good Karma Studio aerial silks teacher Mara’s first trip to Israel was overlapping with the end of mine by a day, I excitedly made plans to welcome her to one of my favorite countries as she and her husband set off on a road trip around it.
I knew exactly where to start: Jaffa.
I mean, I won’t lie: the fact that my friends Jannah and Nim have an unused parking spot in one of the most parking-starved cities in the world, right in Jaffa, definitely drove (pun intended) that decision.
After brunch at Raisa, where we were lucky enough to have Nim meet us — and order for us — we wandered the streets around the Yafo Flea Market and Abrasha Park, finally remembering to snap one sole cell phone picture of Mara and I. Facepalm.
Jaffa is such a beautiful part of Tel Aviv — a gorgeous blend of old and new. I’ve loved getting to know it better, lately. Alongside antique stores and hundred-year old clock towers sit modern galleries and swish cafes.
This is also where the vast majority of Tel Aviv’s Arabic population lives, making mosques and minarets a common sight. While many are aware that Israel is the only Jewish nation on Earth, few know that over 25% of the population is another religion — about 18% Muslim, 2% Christian, and 2% Druze. I love learning about these religions and cultures.
Writing this made me curious what other nations have large Jewish populations, and I was surprised to see the US has almost as large of a “core” Jewish population — those identifying as Jews above all else — as Israel itself. Having grown up in New York State, home to almost 9% of the US’s Jewish population, probably is a factor in what makes Israel feel so culturally familiar. That, and Tel Avivians tend to think of New York as their sister city.
(If you’re curious, France, the West Bank, and Canada come up next — as very distant third, fourth, and fifths.)
Of course, what many the world over are aware of is Israel’s tension with Palestine. I frequently get called out, mostly on Instagram, for not having written about this in my coverage of Israel. Unlike many, I don’t feel the need to apologize for traveling to Israel — as a citizen of the USA, I know better than anyone that the government does not always reflect the will of the people, and I don’t see visiting any destination to celebrate its landscapes, culture and people as a tacit approval of the actions of its military. And as the graffiti below shows, I think the population of Israel is pretty conflicted, too.
I’m sure the people of Palestine have perspectives of their own and actually, as this blog post goes live, I was meant to be there for the first time, which I was looking forward to in order to continue educating myself on the complex conflicts in this region. While COVID delayed this trip, I know someday soon I’ll be staying at the Banksy Hotel in Bethlehem, visiting Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, and sipping wine in Ramallah. I can’t wait to share that too.
Because wow, I love this part of the world — and have yet to find a corner of it that didn’t excite, educate, and surprise me.
This was another trip for the books.
I traveled to Israel twice in the year that I was caring for my mom and twice it was such a comforting place to be. This is not a nation of small talk — people dive right in and dive deep. They are comfortable with grief — and it intermingling with joy. It’s a complex place, perfect for feeling complex feelings. I can’t think of a better place to heal a broken heart.
From my very first trip to Tel Aviv I declared “I could live here someday!” and of course the more time I spend there the more clearly I can see how many challenges that would entail — but it’s still fun to try it on for size.
Clearly, I can’t wait to be back. In the meantime, I’m loving reliving these magical trips with you.
Thanks for following along, friends. Have you been to Israel? Is Tel Aviv on your bucket list?
Want to explore Israel with me? Be sure to nab one of the last few spots to our Wander Women Israel: A Yoga, Diving, + Adventure Retreat for May 27-June 3, 2021 or High Flying Israel: An Aerial Arts + Yoga Retreat for June 5-10, 2021.