Published: 00:00, 11 April 2014 |
Updated: 13:18, 11 April 2014
When I told friends I was going to Israel, it was as if I’d declared I was visiting a hotbed of terrorism from which tourists are lucky to return alive.
‘You won’t come back in one piece’, ‘mind those rockets’ and ‘don’t stand next to people with rucksacks’ were just some of the responses intended, I guess, to put me on cautious edge before I landed in Tel Aviv.
But I’m a worldly man - in the sense that I can use the internet - so had already reassured myself with the help of Google that my life and limbs were safe.
And so it would prove.
To many, a large Israeli city would invoke images of barbed wire fences, bombed out buildings and the deafening noise of rockets whizzing overhead.
But it’s not quite the reality. In fact, it couldn’t be further from the truth.
Try a sun-kissed metropolis with head-turning buildings and the sound of waves lapping over miles of sandy beaches.
Tel Aviv is an urban paradise; a sophisticated city which lives up to its billing as the “Miami of the Middle East”.
You can sunbathe in the morning, shop in the afternoon, dine out in the evening and party at night – a perfect day in my book, if you substitute the shopping for a quick nap.
And just a 10-minute bus ride away is the ancient port of Jaffa, which dates back some 4,000 years and is mentioned in the Old Testament.
Its palm tree-lined streets, which give the place a Greek island feel, are bristling with biblical stories, brilliantly re-told in a 3D show at Jaffa Museum.
Its oranges also give their name to a sweet treat at the centre of many a ‘biscuit or cake?’ dispute in the UK – I’ll let you work it out.
And don’t forget your camera, because the views looking back over Tel Aviv will provide a stunning Facebook cover photo or two.
But while Tel Aviv may have all a holidaymaker could need, you can’t visit the city without taking the hour bus ride to Jerusalem.
Stepping off the minibus is like walking into a Year 7 RE class, but without Mr Benstead and his crusty blazer.
“This is where the Last Supper was, this is where Jesus was crucified, this is where King David is buried, this is the last..., this is the first....” - and so it goes on.
There’s an awful lot to take in, so make sure to book a guide to help unravel the significance of the various religious sites.
And don’t let the security points put you off visiting the Wailing Wall – a sacred site said to be the “gate to heaven” for Jews.
Be sure to take your time and soak it in. I’m not religious, but couldn’t help but be taken in by the effect the place has on its thousands of visitors; its pilgrims.
Many feel it’s about as close as you can get to God on Earth.
You’ll be asked to write a note and place it in the wall – a message to the Lord himself, be it asking for health and prosperity or to cleanse you of your sins.
I had my reservations, but thought there was no harm in taking part. Only time will tell if the Big Man answers my prayers for a QPR play-off final win.
How to get there
easyJet is now offering flights from London Gatwick to Tel Aviv for as little as £87.74 (one-way, including taxes), with more than 20,000 people expected to enjoy the new route this year.
Last year the airline flew 340,000 passengers to Tel Aviv from Luton, Manchester, Rome Fiumicino, Geneva, Basel-Mulhouse and Berlin, making it the largest non-Israeli airline operating in Israel.
For more information visit www.easyJet.com.
Where to stay
The 280-room Dan Tel Aviv hotel enjoys stunning beach views and is just minutes from the bustling city centre.
Opening in November 1953, it was the first luxury hotel to be built in Israel and has hosted some of the country’s most high-profile figures.
Its features include a choice of indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a spa, free wi-fi, restaurants and a business lounge.
Prices start from £100 per person for a double room, including breakfast and service charge.
For more visit www.danhotels.com or email email@example.com.
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