How much can you really learn about a city in 14 hours? Not much, especially when at least half that time will be dedicated to curing jet lag after escaping a deadly tornado by only a couple of hours on our journey to Israel.
Tel Aviv was the first stop on our Israeli adventure, and while it wasn't the highlight of our travel package, this Mediterranean beach town would not at all be a bad place to spend a weekend of R&R.
"If I could stay in Tel Aviv full-time, I absolutely would," said a flight attendant on our flight from JFK to Ben Gurion Airport in TA. She looked to be in her mid-30s, had clearly seen her share of beach towns and bar crawls across the world, and if she would pick this town as a permanent location, there was probably something more to it than merely a jumping off point to all the major religious attractions.
Our company tour guide said that while Jerusalem is the religious center of Israel (and, I suppose, the world), Tel Aviv was the place of excitement, always hopping. He compared it to New York City (although obviously a lot smaller). It reminded me a lot of some of the coastal towns in Greece, with lively restaurants, cafes, bars lining an extensive boardwalk where the ocean meets the land. There are actual sandy beaches in Tel Aviv though, a rarity in Greece.
It was also hard to ignore the hundreds of small, business-card sized ads showing only photos of voluptuous women in lingerie and displaying a phone number littered throughout many city streets. Someone in our group speculated that these were merely creative advertisements for realtors or hairdressers, but the evidence seems stacked against that hypothesis. On some street corners, you couldn't cross the street without walking on them. Quite - I would hope - different from Jerusalem, where in a few short days I'll be walking through the gate where Jesus entered the city walking over palm fronds to give us Palm Sunday.
In addition to the restaurants and bars, Tel Aviv had nice public beaches with lounge chairs, volleyball nets, even exercise equipment all available for public use. Bikes and motorbikes battled with pedestrians for right of way along the promenade, and joggers bounded through the painfully slow gawking tourists and speeding cyclists.
We only had time for a brief stroll through the seaside town before dinner, and another one after. Tel Aviv at night was an incredible array of light shows, both man-made and naturally-occuring. Lightning flashed over the Mediterranean, as we wandered aimlessly through a maze of neon red, blue and green signs and fake palm trees lined with strings of lights. More photos on my Facebook page.
Now, finally, time for bed. Tomorrow it's off to Nazareth, Acre, Caesarea and Cana, the site of Jesus' first miracle.