Saturday, July 13, 2013

White Night Wanderlust

The excavation session 1 has already ended and I am now settling back into the comfortable familiarity of Jordanian culture. This means I am also so behind in my blogging, but that is partly because there is so much blog-worthy material on this trip! My first weekend in Israel was very eventful, and I had so much to write that I have split it up in two - one part in Tel Aviv and one part in Hebron. This post will describe my experience of White Night, a biannual event in Tel Aviv in which shops, restaurants and museums are open all night and there is live music out on the streets.


The exhausting week of pushing myself to my physical limitations in removing more dirt manually than I had thought physically possible (at least with my lack of substantial muscle) ended with a quiz, a shower, and a mad rush to the train station. I treated myself to an iced coffee, a staple in any Israeli cafe, which tastes more like a very sweet mildly coffee-flavored milkshake. We caught the train to Tel Aviv, which takes about two hours and has excellent wi-fi. Israel has a great train system running punctually and regularly throughout the whole country. The whole infrastructure is very modern and the cost isn't too steep. It's another reason why Israel feels more like a European country placed smack-dab in the middle of the Middle East.

We had all decided to wing it when it came to accommodation, so the first thing we did in Tel Aviv was go hostel hunting. Fortunately one of our staff members on the dig was kind enough to show us the way to a charming little hostel in the American colony, Beit Immanuel, in which you get a bed in a dorm and breakfast included for 125 NIS. The place is tidy, in a quiet neighborhood but a short walking distance from the thumping beachside nightlife of Jaffa. The dorms are spacious and the shared showers and bathrooms are well-kept. When we went to book our beds we found out that the whole hostel was occupied with more archaeologists, in Israel to excavate Ramses' Gate.

After that we ventured in a random direction and ended up venturing like a pack of lost lambs into Tel Aviv suburbia. We eventually used our common sense and moved in the opposite direction, which happened to be on the beach. The benefit of our little foray was that I came upon the best food invention ever: shawarma with mango sauce, for only 30 NIS. Filling, delicious, and slightly sweet – it was the perfect dinner to have while watching the sunset on Jaffa Beach.

After dinner we came upon a free concert outside Jaffa Gate by a band that sounded like an Israeli version of Franz Ferdinand. Although the music was pretty good, the best part was the backdrop of Tel Aviv's heavily developed commercial shoreline twinkling below the historic walled city of Jaffa.

We soon left the concert to explore some more, and an image display outside Jaffa Antiquities Museum of a person pickaxing felt too relatable after our first week of being archaeologists to ignore. Inside they had a free exhibit of miniatures - think dollhouses. The art was stunning, with small rooms, buildings, and scenarios brought to life in the most minute and meticulous detail. Perhaps when I'm retired and not busy writing theses or pickaxing I can become as skilled as these people in creating miniature worlds reflecting and highlighting the beauty of our own experiences and memories.

As we left the Jaffa Antiquities Museum, we passed the Arab Jaffa theatre bursting with commotion. We decided to slip inside and see what the party was all about and ended up being handed plate fulls of Israel's national dish, shakshuka, a spiced egg and tomato dish scooped up with scrumptiously soft slices of challah. It was the best shakshuka I've ever tried, and it was free! The Arab Jaffa theatre also sported some stunning photography made by 10-yr old and 13-yr old bedouin brothers, highlighting the struggles of sedentarization of Bedouins, a historically nomadic people, in Beer Sheba, a central town in the south of Israel.

After having two dinners, it was finally time for dessert: Ice cream! With our scoops of ice cream (I got chocolate coconut and ferrero rocher) we walked around the buzzing Jaffa district, leisurely observing the antics of White Night. 

That is how we came across my favorite bar in Tel Aviv – Main Bazar. This bar has excellent German beer on tap (Paulaner Hefe-Weisen), free wifi, cool decor (not only is the bar made of pianos, but the DJ table sports an old-fashioned hairdryer) and awesome beats (an eclectic combination of indie, world, and electronic) spinning all night long. They even served me pepsi in a glass bottle! 

After getting our fill of chilling in Main Bazar and befriending the bartender, we moved the party outside and danced to the skilled reggae band playing on the street corner outside. We then moved down a block and danced to some ridiculously cool drummers.

Since we had two dinners, why not have two desserts? On the way back to the hostel we stopped in at Abouelafia to buy my favorite Arabic dessert, kunefeh - warm white cheese, covered in stringy phyllo dough or semolina flour, topped with crushed pistachios, and doused in sugar syrup. We also got BluDay, the Israeli version of Red Bull, to keep ourselves awake so that we could make the most of White Night, despite having woken up at 4:00 that morning. We quickly devoured the kunefeh in the hostel and then went to smoke shisha down the street, where we had memorable conversations about where we come from, where we have traveled, and where we are going in life. I finally crawled into bed at 3:00, after having been awake for 23 hours straight.

Despite my lack of sleep, I woke up  at 7:30, bright-eyed and bushy-taild enough to venture down deserted streets to the Mediterranean sea for a morning swim. On the way, however, I did stop to get a large cup of Arabic coffee for 10 NIS. The beach, the flawless sky, and the memories of a beautiful and exciting evening made me feel like the world was smiling at me, as I danced around in the gentle surf of the Med, and packs of surfers perched on their boards out at sea for the first waves of the day. The only other people on the beach were a couple of elderly tourists and two men in motorcycle helmets, fast asleep in the soft sand.

After getting back to the hostel to pick up my things, we headed towards the bus station for phase two of my weekend. At the station I bought three enormous buttery pastries (sounds so good as I am trying fasting for ramadan) at the bus station for 10 NIS pastries. I then grabbed the 18 NIS bus to Jerusalem, followed by a tram to Damascus gate, and bus 21 to Betlehem. The rest of the story, which journeys into the West Bank, is to be continued in the next blog post.


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