Friday, September 10, 2010


Toothpicks - an Israeli obsession. When I was growing up I noticed my parents always wanting toothpicks at the end of meals. I grew up never feeling the need to stick those little pieces of wood in my mouth after I ate. Maybe I don't have gappy teeth, but then no one my age that I ate dinner with in Australia demanded toothpicks, so perhaps it just wasn't a cultural norm.

Then I came to Israel, and the very second you finish your main dish at a restaurant a pot of toothpicks magically appears on your table. Without fail those toothpicks appear, and everyone at the table will proceed to stick them between their teeth to remove all the food - steak, salad, whatever. Of course they do it very modestly with one hand covering the other while it digs out those sneaky pieces of food.

I've been learning this toothpick etiquette over the last few months, and must say I've become almost used to digging into my teeth after every meal, remembering not to speak while I do so, avoiding opening my mouth too wide like at the dentist, and covering my mouth with my other hand so the whole table doesn't look down my throat.

I don't know why Israelis have such an obsession with toothpicks. Do they have gappy teeth? Or do they have particularly good dental hygiene? Is my parent's obsession with toothpicks a sign that they are secretly of Israeli origin?

Well if you really want to know more about toothpicks, I just found out that there is a book all about the history of toothpicks, would you believe it, called The Toothpick: Technology and Culture. It is not written by and Israeli.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Jo Walks Tel Aviv

A few months ago Amit and I decided to take his Canon 5D camera with us for an afternoon stroll through Tel Aviv. The stroll lasted a few hours, we show you what Tel Aviv looks like on a Friday afternoon, and we met a few friends along the way. So here is a glimpse of our city, through our eyes.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Cleaning floors, Israeli style

This country is incredibly dusty. There is more dust here than I have ever experienced in Australia. It must be blowing off the Sahara.

All this means that our apartment gets dirty fast - dust covering everything and that lovely grainy feeling under your feet as you walk on the tiles. Now if I were in Australia I would fix this with a quick dust, a vacuum, and a mop. But no, that's not how it's done here!

So here are the amazing steps to cleaning your floor in Israel.

1) lift everything off the floor. Not just chairs, but everything. Pile chairs on top of tables, couch chairs on top of the couch, computer off the floor, cables off the floor, everything.

2) fill a large bucket with hot soapy water

3) throw the water all over every floor in the house. Puddles are required everywhere.

4) get a water scraper thingo and push the water into every corner of the house so it makes the dust and dirt soggy. Lift up every piece of furniture, beds, giant bookcases, everything. You must catch all the dust and dirt with the water!

Amit cleaning the floor - notice the furniture piled up!

5) scrape the lovely dirty water from all over the house into the hole in the floor, which is usually located up a slope, in a tiny corner of the bathroom.

6) drape a piece of cloth soaked in fresh water over the scraper thingo and use it as a mop to get the rest of the water of the floor. Somehow you are supposed to manage to keep this piece of fabric draped over the scraper. I've no idea how! I ended up standing on the cloth and shuffling around the house.

7) put all the pieces of furniture back, plug everything back in, and you are done. It only took us (2 people) over an hour to complete.

Needless to say, Amit and I have only cleaned the house in this way once. I tried an improvised version (partially throwing water around and scraping it into a whole, partially shuffling around the house on the cloth, pretending I was a mop).

Finally a few weeks ago we bought a mop. Now I'm sweeping and mopping, and not using the Israeli scraper, which I was obviously not born to handle!

Here are a couple of blogs that share my experience with cleaning Israeli style.
You have got to be kidding
Lesson 5 - this is a mop

Monday, July 26, 2010


A few weeks ago, Amit and I went on a one week trip to England. I lived in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne four years ago for 15 months, so the main aim of the trip was to go and visit my great friends there.

The first thing that struck me was that I could understand what everyone around me was saying! I was flooded with voices, other people's conversations, advertisements on walls, shop signs. I'm used to turning off all these distractions in Israel, easy to do because they are mostly in Hebrew.

I just loved walking into Boots pharmacy and seeing all these familiar brands, and so much variety! Israel has most things of course, but it is a small country compared with the UK and Europe so it doesn't quite get the variety.

The architecture in the cities really shocked me as well. I'd forgotten what it looked like, all the intricate details make it so interesting to look up to from the street. I have talked before about how I love the buildings in Tel Aviv, in all their dilapidated glory and minimalist lines, but seeing English architecture reminded me of my love for living history, as seen in buildings that line the streets of London and Newcastle.

Amit on Grey St, Newcastle. Beautiful buildings. From England

We had fun shopping in the mega clothes stores, eating the delightful English cuisine (sausages, bacon, pies, sausage rolls, roast lunch, curry), drinking beer, seeing all the greenery, walking till our feet hurt, and of course seeing friends.

There is nothing quite like seeing old friends. It's like those four years never really happened, and we've been transported to a meeting where we still know each other super well, but we've had all the experiences in between to make our conversations even more interesting! Amit loved meeting my old friends too, as we're both all about the people, and he didn't mind that I dragged him around England meeting 20 people in 7 days.

Nita and Ken took us on a road trip through the Northumberland countryside to the beautiful Belsay Hall - a fantastic mixture of historic house, castle and gardens, with an amazing art exhibition exploring the impact of scale.

Enjoying the green at Belsay. From England

It was a strange experience going back to somewhere overseas that I once lived. I remember when I thought that the culture there was normal, it was part of my everyday life. I remembered the streets I walked on everyday, I remember the music I was listening to, I remember the people I knew there. All sorts of things. But in those four years since living in England I've experienced so many things that have led to me living in Israel with my man. Walking through the streets of Newcastle four years ago I could never have predicted moving to Israel! I also felt that I am living in the right place. Tel Aviv is the place for me.

Upon returning to Israel two thoughts dominated my mind:
1) I need to eat some Israeli salad!
2) I missed hearing and speaking Hebrew, strangely enough. The trip made me realise that speaking another language is an exciting thing, and I've been spurred on to study more Hebrew now.

A slide show of our England photos...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tel Aviv - its evolution

Tel Aviv has the amazing ability to re-invent itself. It is the first modern Jewish city, founded in 1909 on sand dunes next to the old city of Jaffa. It is a bubble in a region of constant conflict, as unless you read the news you wouldn't know that there were missiles falling near Sderot. Tel Aviv was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003, as it has the world's largest concentration of Modernist-style buildings (Bauhaus).

Walking the streets you feel like you are walking though a european city in the height of summer. There are tree lined avenues, cafe's filled with people, and designer stores everywhere. There are differences of course: the lovely beaches a few minutes walk from the shopping district, the crazy traffic and drivers who like their horn a little too much, and of course the language!

Did you know that Rothschild Boulevard is such a lovely wide road because it is actually a filled-in river bed (a wadi), so no one wanted to build their houses on it? It was called Rothschild Blvd because the founders of Tel Aviv hoped Rothschild himself would donate some money for the city. Apparently he was more interested in developing the rural settings, so he never paid a penny to have the best street in Tel Aviv named after him. Anyway, watch the movie for other interesting facts about this vibrant city.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

my favourite places to eat in Tel Aviv - take 1

Food is a constant topic of conversation here. Everyone wants to know where you ate, what you ate, whether they should go. Most conversations go something like this:

"You ate at somewhere? Which restaurant? Was it good? Where is it? Give me the details immediately! (because I can't believe there is a good restaurant in Tel Aviv, or the whole if Israel, that I don't know about)".

So here are some of my favourites - they are mainly eateries rather than restaurants, which perhaps reflects our budget more than anything. I expect I'll have another list of favourite restaurants in Tel Aviv soon - there are some many tasty restaurants!

La Gaterie

184 Ben Yehuda St, Tel: 077 2180077 and 97 King George Street, Tel: 052 5035003
The story goes that the two owners of this place travelled to France and spent two years learning how to make the perfect croissant. The croissants are served with freshly sliced cheese and meat (salami or prosciutto), and a poached egg. I was skeptical at first, but it makes for the most delicious combination. I think I'm addicted... but I'm trying to limit myself to one per month. I celebrated my birthday breakfast here with a long black (americano).

Me eating the delicious croissant from La Gaterie. From Israel

The Pizza (הפיצה)
51 Bograshov, 03 5281077
The Bianca pizza here is incredible - wood-fired oven pizza with mozzarella, parmesan, feta, olive oil and parsley on top... the most authentic pizza in Tel Aviv in terms of the type of pizza base (not too thin or too thick), cooked in a proper wood-fired oven, with yummy fresh toppings.

Borgashov 58, 03 6291155
This place does amazing sushi. I really didn't expect there would be so many great sushi restaurants in Tel Aviv, but this city continues to surprise me, especially on the food front!

The sushi in Tel Aviv is different to what I've had in Australia (and Japan), nonetheless it is delicious in it's uniqueness. The fish is fresh and delicious, the styles are interesting and diverse... I want to eat more of it!

Amazing sushi at Moon. From Israel
Update: Amit and I ate at Moon tonight. The food was tasty and delicious, but the service was not up to scratch - we had to wait a long time for a table while there were free tables not cleared. Basically looked like they were understaffed, which is a shame. One of our friends worked there for many years and loves the place, so maybe we caught it on a bad night....

Tony Vespa
267 Dizengoff St, 140 Rothschild Blvd. Tel: 03 5460000
I had my doubts about this one, but after a fun night with dutch friends recently, Amit and I had some salami and cheese pizza and it went down very well... Perfect for a late night snack, it has a crispy thin base, fresh toppings, and is priced by its weight - you just tell them how big you want your slice to be!

WolfNights chef burger
40 Lilenblum Street, Rothschild Quarter. Tel:  03 517 7155I and 53 Yehuda Maccabi

I've never really been into gourmet burgers, but WolfNights may have changed me. Amit is obsessed with these burgers. Whenever we are thinking about where to eat Wolfnights is at the top of the list. Amit always goes for the Wolfnights special - a gourmet beef and lamb burger with emmental cheese and crispy bacon on a soft sesame seed bun. I quite like the beef burger with mushrooms. Addictive, not so good for the waistline, but super delicious!

La Brasserie
70 Ibn Gvirol, 03 6967111
This place has a great vibe, some delicious food (I love the bone marrow - I'd never had it before and it's so yummy!), and is open 24hours! With classy service, it's not exactly cheap, but it's a lovely night out. It is a little noisy inside, but you can sit on the street.

 La Brasserie's bone marrow, served with roasted garlic and toast. Yummm

For some reviews of good places to eat in Tel Aviv (including a few I've mentioned here), check out Taste TLV

Thursday, May 06, 2010

photo shoot on a roof

Today I spent half the day on a Tel Avivian rooftop helping with a fashion catalogue photo shoot for the local label ShuShine. Amit was the photographer - his first time shooting a catalogue, and I was giving him a hand.

There was clothes, shoes, accessories, a large cat, make up, hairstyles, schnitzel, hummus, tehina, and lots of large cameras, but what I enjoyed most was being on the roof top and peering over the white rooftops of Tel Aviv.

Fashion, models, and the gorgeous Tel Avivian rooftops

It is a strange landscape - most buildings are about five stories high, with a flat tops glittering with solar hot water heaters. Over 90% of Israeli homes have solar hot water heating on their roof tops (1). Australia, in contrast, has a measly 5% of homes using solar hot water systems, which seems fairly ridiculous considering it is the continent with the highest about of solar radiation(2)! And heating water accounts for about 30% of your home electricity bill, so Israeli electricity bills are tiny!

You can see the hot water heaters on the roof (and a beautiful dress!)

It is true that on occasion (rarely) the sun doesn't shine here, and then we have to remember to turn the boiler on so we will have hot water. I have been stuck without hot water in the morning a few times, and that is something I really don't like - no hot water in the morning makes for a grumpy me.

Another thing about the skyline of Tel Aviv is that it's so random. There are a few skyscrapers, but there is no order to them, they are dotted all around the city. They are not very interesting to look at. The real highlight of this city is the masses of white apartment buildings, mostly with Bauhaus and minimalist architecture, mostly dilapidated and covered in electrical wires, but there is so much charm in that.

one of the random skyscrapers in the background

Getting back to fashion and the photo shoot, it was Amit's first photo shoot, but he really enjoyed it and there are some amazing pictures, as you can see. The designer, Shira, is super lovely and great to work with. I am amazed by people who can turn their ideas and creativity into designs and fashion, who can see their vision being worn by people.

You can see some more photos from the photo shoot in this gallery.

Great t-shirts, complete with Radiohead reference
Amit with his new toy - Canon 5D

Me with Shira's business card, the ShuShine label

Update 8 May

You can buy the new ShuShine summer collection at the following locations:
רד מאונטיין - שבזי 31 ת"א
ענת מיקולינסקי -דיזינגוף 121 ת"א, קניון רמת אביב
מאיפה זה? - בוגרשוב 57, ת"א
ONE BEDROOM - מרגוזה 12 יפו
אמילקה -סוקולוב 63 רמה"ש
אמילקה - אחוזה, רעננה
ריפ - הרצל 142, רחובות

You can find ShuShine on ebay as well

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Tel Aviv, Eilat and beautiful Jerusalem

I stumbled across this article published in The Times about travelling to Israel. I think it captures the energy of this country, and the diversity.

Tel Aviv, Eilat and beautiful Jerusalem

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Week one at the Ulpan - learning Hebrew

After two months of being surrounded by Hebrew I am really wishing I knew what people were saying. Things are changing now though, as this week I started learning Hebrew at Ulpan Gordon in Tel Aviv. I go from Sunday to Wednesday, from 9am to 1pm, for five months.

On the first day I discovered that most of the people sitting around me had similar stories to me - they had moved to Israel to be with their boyfriends or girlfriends. Seems like Israelis are going round the world and not just coming home with a tan, they are bringing girls and boys back with them! Mind you, it is mostly women in the class, so it appears that Israeli men are doing a better job at this importing business. The other half of the class are new Jewish immigrants to Israel.

The list of nationalities in the class of 40 people is impressive by any standard. I'm the only Australian, but there are people from the US, Argentina, Sweden, Russia, England, Germany, Brazil, Spain, France, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Kenya and Colombia (I'm sure I've left some out...).

The teacher is very good, but hasn't spoken any English after the first day. Things move quickly, we cover grammar, masculine and feminine forms of nouns... I'm just hoping it all fits into my head.

I've realised I'm terrible at grammar so that is what I'll be practicing most. Fortunately Amit helps me with my homework - learning the Hebrew script letters at the moment, and filling in the gaps of things I missed in class.

Some of my Hebrew homework - learning how to write the cursive script (looks like a bunch of squiggles hey)

I never expected I'd be learning Hebrew in my life. The language of the bible is a pretty strange thing for a non-religious Australian to learn. But then I never thought I'd live in Israel, or meet the love of my life on a cooking class in Vietnam, or talk about the science of slime to thousands of Australian kids, or write a blog, or talk about chocolate on BBC radio, or walk to university in the snow in Montreal, or ride a camel in Jordan either. Life is full of the unexpected, and that makes it wonderful. Learning Hebrew is another part of this adventure, and it has a great reason behind it - making a life with Amit in Israel. Love is always the best reason for doing unexpected things, in my opinion.

And here is a fantastic song by Feist. It has some great lyrics, like "I feel it all, I feel it all". That's what I'm trying to do right now, feel everything that life makes me feel. Hope it makes you feel happy too.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Visiting the doctor, Israeli style

I've had a cough for a week so it was time to see a doctor. I have health insurance here for tourists, so I called up to make an appointment with the local clinic. There I encountered my first problem: recorded instructions in Hebrew. I got an appointment for the next day eventually (with some help from Amit).

I go into the clinic and report to the desk, where they give me a piece of paper and send me off. I sit down on a chair, a nurse comes and says "Are you seeing the nurse? Blood test?" I say no, I'm here to see the doctor. She says to sit next to the doctors door so he can see me and he will call me in.

So I go and sit next to the doctor's door, and he doesn't call anything. It seems the way to see the doctor is to push your way through the door. Open the door when he has a patient with him, retreat, but as soon as that door opens you jump up with your elderly charge and push into the room. An alternative tactic, performed by a religious lady with three kids, was to barricade the door entrance with her double pram and push her way in at every moment.

After 30 minutes I was really wishing that Israel had queues, lines, a doctor who went down a list of names, and people waited their turn, despite being older, more invalid or more religious than you, like in Australia or the UK. Lucky I had my book with me, to say the least.

With all this time passing I continued to sit there and ponder the fact that in Israel elderly people hire young female Filipino carers to look after them, so these old people and their carers can be seen on their daily walks hobling through the park (or being wheeled in their chairs), or being escorted through the doctor's door in a typical Israeli pushy way. In Australia old people go to nursing homes, or live with their children, and are generally not living in the middle of big cities. They hang out with other old people, and I must say I barely saw an old or invalid person in Canberra - like there were all hiding in the suburbs. Here old people are in your face, everywhere, very present. It actually makes me feel like Tel Aviv is more of a real place, with old people, babies, and everything in between.

Eventually the elderly, disabled, religous and crazy had gone ahead of me, I'd waited for 40 minutes, and I finally got in. The doctor started the meeting by saying "Why do you want to live here? People are so rude, I saw you sitting there but I didn't know it was you who are on my list, and all these rude people pushed in front of you! Why do you want to live here, you are educated, polite, well mannered. Israelis are so rude? Are you really going to stay?"

I laughed and said I was here because of my boyfriend, and that it will be much easier to push in when I understand Hebrew. I think he was still wondering why on earth I'd want to live here, rather than in Australia.

Result: He gave me some drugs for my cold, and they were free! And I'm going to learn how to be more pushy...

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

A kibbutz experience

The day after the passover Seder meal the whole family went for a drive north, to visit some relatives who live at the Sasa Kibbutz, in Northern Israel, very close to the border with Lebanon.

View from Kibbutz Sasa

The Kibbutz is in the mountains, with beautiful fresh, crisp air and lovely green scenery. Amit's Dad's cousins live there, and all their families were visiting for the holidays. One of the cousins, Varda Yatom, is a ceramics sculptor, and we visited her gallery, filled with interesting pieces.

Sculptures by Varda Yatom

Every Kibbutz has a factory of some sort that is a main source of income. Amongst all this lovely scenery I was surprised to discover that the Sasa factory produces vehicle and body armor for vehicles, with large contracts with the Israeli and American defense forces. We had an interesting tour of the factory there... not at all what I'd expected to find!

me with sculptures

Saturday, April 03, 2010

My first Passover

Monday night was the traditional Passover dinner, called the Seder. Amit's family gathered at his parent's place, where we had toasts for the holidays and exchanged some small gifts - mainly books and clothes.
Amit's dad and nephew reading the Haggadah
Before the meal we started reading the Haggadah, which is the book about the exodus from Egypt, and the Jewish people's freedom from slavery. It talks about Moses, the ten plagues on the people of Egypt sent by God so the Pharaoh would let the Jewish slaves leave Egypt, etc. It's a good story, and the reading of the Haggadah is punctuated by traditional songs. The songs were fun, and I could sing along as they were quite repetitive.
Singing the pesach songs, complete with actions
The food you eat on Passover (Pesach) is very traditional, and you eat different things to represent different aspects of the Jewish people under slavery in Egypt and how they were freed. We ate eggs in salt water, Gefilte fish (eww), matzoh (unleavened bread), chicken soup with Matzoh balls (yum!), and lots of other delicious food... so much food yet again, and our fridge is now full of leftovers from Amit's mum!

You can read more about the Seder meal here.
 Amit and me reading the Haggadah

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Israel and Australia, a few facts and figures

I was browsing the internet learning about the Passover holiday, which starts tomorrow, when I got sidetracked on Wikipedia (an inevitable consequence of me going on that site). I came across a few interesting stats about Australia and Israel. These are taken form Wikipedia, so doubt them as much as you like, but it does make for interesting comparisons.

Land area:
151 largest country, 22,072km2, 0.01% of the world's surface (Excluding the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip; including the Golan Heights).

 - 2009 estimate: 7,465,002 (96th)
 - Density: 356.8/km2 (34th)

GDP (PPP) 2008 estimate
 - Total: US$202.562 billion (50th)
 - Per capita: $28,473 (31st)

Judean Desert, From Israel

Land area:
6th largest country, 7,692,024km2, 5.2% of the world's surface     Includes Cocos (Keeling) Islands (14 km2/5.4 sq mi), Christmas Island (135 km2/52 sq mi), Macquarie Island (128 km2/49 sq mi), and Lord Howe Island (56 km2/22 sq mi).[12]  Excludes external territories of Norfolk Island (36 km2/14 sq mi), Ashmore and Cartier Islands (5 km2/1.9 sq mi), Coral Sea Islands Territory (0.91 km2/0.35 sq mi), and Heard and McDonald Islands (372 km2/144 sq mi). Excludes claims on Australian Antarctic Territory  (5,896,500 km2/2,276,700 sq mi). Largest country in Oceania.

- 2010 estimate: 22,203,464
- Density: 2.833/km2 (232nd, only Greenland has a lower population density)

GDP (PPP)     2008 estimate
 - Total: $799.054 billion (18th)
 -  Per capita: $36,918 (15th)

Kata Tjuta, From Central Australia
Out of interest, the largest country in the world is Russia, and the smallest of the 233 countries in the world is Vatican City.

Read up more on Israel and Australia on Wikipedia if you feel like getting sidetracked....

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Israelis are not alcoholics (like Aussies)

Last night we were heading to a friend's birthday party at about 9pm. I thought it would be nice to take a bottle of Cava (Spanish sparkling wine that is popular here), a cold one of course so we could drink it. Then Amit tells me that bottle shops aren't open at this time of night. "What?" I say, "How ridiculous! It's Thursday, which is like an Australian Friday! Every bottle shop should be open!".

Then came more incredulity as we drove from supermarket to corner store to whatever other shop, only to find that no one sells cold sparkling wine, or even white wine. You might find a few bottles of beer in a fridge, and tonnes of milk and cheese, but no cold wine (I lie, there was a bottle of Lambrusco, but I really don't rate that as much of drink).

Now this is unheard of in Australia. We are always in bottle shops (Bottle O's as I usually refer to them) in the evenings, buying wine for a BYO restaurant or a party we're going to. And you will always find at least 10 white wines and 5 sparklings of some description, along with tonnes of beer in the fridges of Bottle O's and supermarkets (in those states that allow that).

This latest incident illustrates the completely different drinking cultures in Israel and Australia. Aussies must be considered alcoholics by international standards. Nice to realise these things I suppose. I was just very mad that I couldn't find a cold bottle of wine! (Maybe I'm in withdrawal from being a normal Aussie.)

We went to the party empty handed, and that appeared to be the norm. There were some beers in the fridge, red wine on the table, and people were having a few drinks. I mean like two drinks. Then they'd be sensible and stop. And then go home. Pretty much the most different to an Australian party as you can get.

I'm drunk on the goodness of Israeli food, no need for Cava.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fly on the Wall

Amit recently started his new photography business called Fly on the Wall, and he launched his website. I've been helping with it, including the About page, which took us a good two hours to edit because we are both compulsive editors as it turns out.

Check out the Fly on the Wall website where you can even see a gallery featuring me called "Tales of the Redhead", which is in the top left corner.

Amit takes amazing photos natural photos of people, with no fake smiles in sight. So if you're looking for someone to take photos of your event, or you're coming to Israel and want him to follow you around (not stalker like), or even if you have an idea for an exhibition he should put on, please let us know!

You can also become a fan of Fly on the Wall of facebook, using this little widget below.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Tel Aviv beaches

One of my favourite things about living in Tel Aviv is the beach being a 10 minute walk away. And it's a beautiful beach, with white sand and blue water stretching to the horizon. Sometimes there is even a decent swell and some nice waves rolling in that keen surfers are catching (in their full length wetsuits). True, it has been too cold for me to go in the water since I arrived in February, but I have every intention of going for a swim on a warm day soon.

But how do the Tel Aviv beaches compare with Australian beaches? As Aussies will know, our beaches are the best in the world. So on a case by case comparison, South Broulee (south coast NSW) beach kicks Tel Aviv beach's butt. However, you can't do straight comparisons.

To get to the beach here you walk along tree-lined european streets and boulevards crowded with cafes, felafel bars, boutique clothes stores and gelaterias to a street with large hotels next to the beaches. The sand is covered with sun lounges, permanent umbrellas, chairs and people. The life guards sit in wooden towers, speak through large speakers, and there are no red and yellow flags to swim between.

From Tel Aviv friends and scenes

And then there are the people. Tel Aviv is very multicultural, so there are people of all backgrounds on the beach. Girls wear bikinis and sunbake. Guys wear shorts and play volleyball or soccer. Some guys just pose with their ghettoblasters playing loud electronic music (does anyone say ghettoblasters anymore? You know what I mean). Couples play paddleball - wooden bats, squash ball, and an incessant bang bang bang floods the beach. Families play in the water.

So there aren't any cricket, rugby or Aussie rules games on the beach. And the kids aren't wearing full body protecting swimming suits and hats to hide from the sun. They might be wearing a t-shirt or a hat. Or nothing.

If you go towards Jaffa to the beach there are muslim women swimming in the full length suits and headscarves with their kids running around amidst scantily clad sunbathers. On the grass next to the beach on a Friday you will find lots of families gathered with the delicious smells of mini BBQs cooking meat.

Towards the north there is a 'Separated beach' - where religious Jewish people have the opportunity to swim without having to see the temptations of the opposite sex. Of course if they exit the walled area they will immediately see acres of bare flesh in front of them, but not while they are swimming.

From Tel Aviv friends and scenes

Does it look like the dog in this picture is wearing a yarmulke (skull cap)? It does to me! Jewish doggies only allowed (with leads) on the separated beach!

So like I was saying, I would say the beaches in Tel Aviv are not more beautiful than Aussie beaches, but they are different, and I really like them for that!

I was thinking today that learning to love another country is about redefining your definition of beauty. Expanding it to incorporate all the new things you are discovering. I could be going around Israel saying the landscape is not beautiful, as Australia has wide open spaces and natural beauty and a huge blue sky, while Israel is covered with towns and cities, agriculture and desert. But I'm learning to appreciate the beauty in this country. In the dilapidated Bauhaus buildings. In the Mediterranean seaside. In the old streets of Jaffa. In the window boxes full of red geraniums. Luckily, the people and the food make this country very easy to love.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

a concert in Jerusalem

On the plane from Korea to Israel a few weeks ago I sat next to a really interesting man, Yitzhak Yedid, a composer from Israel who lives in Brisbane with his Australian wife and child. He told me about few of his concerts that would be on in Israel while he was here, so last night Amit and I headed up to Jerusalem for an evening at a cool venue called the Yellow Submarine. A trio of piano, violin and cello played a few pieces, some more jazz, so more celtic music, and also a world premier of Yitzhak's piece called Senstaions.

After the concert Yitzhak was in a bit of dilemma as his sister in law had taken off with his phone, wallet and keys. We drove around the beautiful streets of Jerusalem at night, with their old stone walls and atmospheric neighbourhoods. Luckily we found the sister-in-law and Yitzhak directed us out of the confusing streets of the city.

You can see some of Yitzhak's performances on YouTube.

On the way home from Jerusalem we picked up a hitchhiker, a teenager with a guitar, and dropped him further down the road. Hitchhiking is really common in Israel. I realised I have a bit of a phobia about it due to the backpacker murders in Australia. However, I think I'll get used to it here (although I don't think we'll get into a habit of picking up hitchhikers!).

Purim = randomly dressed up people in Israel

Purim is a Jewish festival about some time in history when an evil guy called Haman tried to kill the jews in the ancient Persian empire, a few hundred years BC. A few people, including Queen Esther (secretly Jewish), managed to foil the plot with the use of disguises and people hiding things. So during Purim everyone dresses up in all sorts of disguises and costumes, kind of like Halloween.

During the week leading up to Purim I'd be walking through Tel Aviv and amongst the street filled with normal looking people there would be a guy dressed up as a leprechaun. In the cafes and restaurants the staff would be dressed up as fairies or other random things.

The dressed up waitress, and my coffee served with Haman's ear - From Tel Aviv friends and scenes

Also on Purim you are supposed to eat a feast and drink tonnes of alcohol. Sounds good to me. Normally Amit and his friends would go to a huge street party in Florentin, a cool suburb of Tel Aviv. But it was raining so we were lame and didn't go out.

However, we did have a big feast at Amit's parents place, which was amazing! And we ate Haman's ears (because he's the bad guy, we eat his ears every Purim). Amit's nephews were dressed up for Purim too, super cute.

The feast at Amit's parent's place - From Tel Aviv friends and scenes

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The very Israeli butcher

This is about my encounter with the butcher. I told this story to Israelis and they wondered what I was going on about. But to me it was an example of just how different a foreign country can be.

I went to the butchers just down the street from Amit, it has a narrow entrance and you walk past rows of long freezers with not that much in them to a butchers window display at the end, with two butchers behind. I had a piece of paper with 'chicken breast' written in Hebrew on it that Amit gave me, and I'd looked up how to say it in Hebrew (חזה עוף or 'khaze off'), but the butcher spoke English of course. I said I wanted two chicken breasts. Then came the questions - how many people is it for? Four people I said. Well two pieces is not enough! You need more! What are you cooking? How do you want it cut? Is 800g ok? I still don't think it's enough! I was in shock, what was this butcher doing telling me how much meat I needed, why was he cutting the meat for me, where were the prices? 

I got out of the butchers shop with a bit more meat than I thought I needed, and it was a reasonable price for such attentive service. Having the butcher cut the meat for you with his very sharp knife is pretty handy actually! It was just so unexpected, after an Australian or English butcher who will offer advice only if you ask for it, always display the prices, and would never challenge you if you know what you want. You could describe this as very Israeli - being challenged by someone you're giving money to, and getting advice when you didn't really need it.

I used the chicken that night for my first ever dinner party in Israel, with Ido (who I'd met with Amit in Vietnam) and his girlfriend Efrat. I made stir fry with chicken, mushrooms and broccolini and a teriyaki sauce and rice. It was super quick, and turned out yummy. And it was finished up by the boys, so I guess the butcher was right about how much chicken I needed after all.

Efrat and Ido smoking the nargile (also known as the hookah, sheesha or water pipe)

I had planned on spending a few hours cooking that day, and a different menu for the dinner, but my domestic goddess practice was put on hold when Amit's mum picked me up and whisked me off to Zikhron Ya'akov for a delicious lunch. It is a beautiful town about 40mins north of Tel Aviv, on a small mountain looking over an ocean, with a paved street with cafes and cute antique shops along it. It was very picturesque, and with Israel looking so green at the moment after the winter rains it was a gorgeous drive there.

Paved street of Zikhron Ya' akov

Sunday, February 21, 2010

week two in Israel

Settling in
I cooked my first meal here in our kitchen. I managed to go to the supermarket and buy ingredients without being able to read most of the labels. In the bigger supermarket I was very confused that I couldn't find any bacon... turns out it was a kosher supermarket. I made spaghetti bolognaise, a classic fave of mine, and it turned out fine, despite me buying veal mince instead of beef mince... That's what happens when you can't read labels!

The spaghetti sauce - From Our apartment in Tel Aviv

Smoky bars
I realised that it had been years since I'd stepped into a bar or pub and been assaulted by cigarette smoke when I came across it here. There are signs in every bar saying no smoking, and there are no ashtrays on the tables or anything, but everyone it smoking inside! The bar tenders make ashtrays from folded cardboard coasters, so if the police come in they can say that they had nothing to do with encouraging the smoking. It's another little thing that tells me I'm really in the wild west, rather than a western country! And I really do hate that smoke of course, it makes your clothes stink and your eyes water, so unpleasant.

Seeing the country
I went to the area near Be'eri twice in the same week, just by chance. It is about an hour or so south of Tel Aviv, close to the Gaza Strip, that is famous for the red anemone flowers that are (supposed to) carpet the grass fields there. The flowers don't seem to be that cooperative this year though, probably due to the very hot weather we're having (about 28 degrees C each day - lovely!). 

I went first with Amit's mum for a drive around the area to visit some memorials (including an ANZAC monument, how unexpected!) and to view Gaza from a safe distance. We couldn't see much, just a densely populated city in the haze. It is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. We drove through towns nearby and saw the missile shelters on the streets, as missiles randomly land in these areas. It was an interesting experience, and made me think about the fragility of peace in this country. In Tel Aviv and surrounding areas you would never think there is any danger, yet 80km away missiles could land on your street. Amit's mum said something about how Israelis don't really talk about the weather in Israel, there are more important things to talk about, like life and death.

View album - Heading south - looking at Gaza

I went again to Be'eri on Friday (the weekend is Friday and Saturday here) with Amit, Noa and Yair. We had a lovely picnic in a eucalypt plantation (very common here) and then a 'hike'(what we would call a walk or a bush walk) through some lovely grassland dotted with wild flowers. See photos on Amit's album.

The Synagogue
On Saturday we went to a synagogue in Petah Tikva (where Amit grew up) for a religious ceremony related to Elad and Einat's wedding last week. After the wedding the husband goes to the synagogue to say a prayer and say basically that he will be a good husband in front of god. Amit and his friends go to the synagogue only very rarely, so everyone felt a little out of place at this event, not only me!

Men and women are segregated in synagogues, with the men downstairs in the main part, and women upstairs, behind a curtain, so the men aren't tempted by us (apparently). So we go upstairs, and you really can't see anything from up there - you can peek through the curtain but the religious men don't really like that. Us ladies sat up there and whispered about what was going on, wondering when Elad would finally get to speak... Once he spoke we all threw wrapped lollies on Elad (and all the men down there), which was quite fun. Then we escaped to the outside.

That was about it. I would describe the experience as being just as dull as a church, but without being about to see the people speaking or what is going on, or understanding a word that was said! Also, the building was very modest, not decorated and grand like a church. This was Bulgarian type of synagogue with it's traditions by the way, there are many different branches of Judaism I hear. While we were sitting in the synagogue, Amit's friend pointed out a line in the Torah, a very famous prayer that says something like "Thank you God, king almighty, for not making me a woman". She said that explained one of the reasons she wasn't too enamoured with the religion... Fair enough!

After the synagogue we went to Elad's sister's house in a town nearby. There we had a fantastic lunch, reminding me of probably my most favourite thing about this country - the food! It is incredible - huge quantities, amazing variety, great quality and super fresh. I could go on and on about it... and I will, but later, after I've eaten the delicious leftovers from Friday dinner at Amit's family's place. His mum is the most amazing cook!

Finally, the people
I've reached the end of this blog post without talking about the people here, which is a huge oversight. Of course everything I've talked about couldn't have happened without the amazing people facilitating it all. Amit's family have been so welcoming, asking me for lunches and dinners and taking me on day trips and cooking amazing food. Amit's friends are lovely and making sure I'm enjoying life here. The people I meet are so open, warm and friendly, it makes me feel so excited to be here. It is hard to describe how wonderful everyone is, hopefully you can see it throug the smiles on our faces in the photos. 

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Tel Aviv, some observations

I'm past my first week in Tel Aviv now. It's an amazing city, so different from where I left - Canberra! The streets are always filled with people. The boulevards are lined with green leafy trees. There are no houses, only apartment buildings, all about 5 or 6 stories high, and all white. Some are covered in tiny white tiles that shine subtley in the sun. A lot look very run down, showing that this is a new city, built quickly with population explosions. There are cats everywhere, tonnes of stray cats. There is tonnes of dog poo on the pavement.

From First week in Israel

And then there's the people. I have never been in a more multicultural city. Forget Melbourne, forget New York, Tel Aviv wins in multiculturalism hands down. There are people from everywhere - the middle east, europe, asia, africa, india... there is amazing cultural diversity. I can be walking down the street feeling very white, when someone much whiter than me speaking Hebrew walks past, and I remember that this is a melting pot of every kind of person.

And of course there is the reason I'm here - Amit. Things are going great. It is wonderful to finally be in the same place in the world... I've put my things into his apartment, I'm fitting into his life here and finding my own way too. It's great.

From First week in Israel

Sunday, January 24, 2010

So I'm moving to Tel Aviv, cos I've got problems with my sleep

(slightly modified quote from a song by The Wombats... works because Tel Aviv is the New York of the middle east!)

I'm moving to Tel Aviv to be with my boyfriend, Amit. It is a big move - I'm leaving my my friends, my family, my Canberra lifestyle, my job, my apartment and everything familiar behind me.

But I'm going for some very good reasons. Probably the best reasons one can have. Love. Amit and I met in Vietnam in April 2009 (see my blog post Hoi An has swollowed me whole), and since then we have exchanged hundreds of emails and phone calls and 1000's of text messages. I went to Israel in July for two weeks. Amit came to Australia in October for three weeks. We like the same things, complement each other, want the same lifestyle, have the dreams for the future.

Frequently asked questions about my move:

Isn't it dangerous in Israel?
No, no more than most other countries in the world. Tel Aviv is particularly safe these days. Yes, Israel has a huge army, every Israeli does compulsory army service. There have been many terrorist attacks on Israeli soil. Israel is surrounded by countries that don't think they should exist. It is very complex. Tel Aviv is like a bubble though, there you feel like you are in a cosmopolitan Mediterranean city, full of life and young people and beautiful beaches.

Do people speak English there?
Yes. In Tel Aviv everyone does. Waiters will even translate menus for you if they don't have an English one handy. All Amit's friends speak fluent English. However, I do plan to learn Hebrew, as it is the national language, and it will help me get by.

Do you have to wear different clothes and cover your skin as a woman there?
No. Israel is a completely western country. People in Tel Aviv wear casual clothes, bikinis on the beach and miniskirts to nightclubs.

What will you do there?
Firstly, I'll learn Hebrew at an Ulpan. Ulpans are an immersion language school. I will go to classes for half a day four times a week, for five months!

After a few months I hope to have a visa sorted out and I'll look for work in my field of science communication. Or something like that. There are a lot of possibilities.

Where will you live?
With Amit, it central Tel Aviv.

Won't you miss Australia?
Of course. I'll miss my family and friends. But right now I'm so excited about my big adventure, about being with Amit, living in the middle east in a vibrant city on the sea.

Do you have a question for me? I'll answer it on here if you send it through. Right now I'm getting back to packing, tidying, chucking out stuff, and packing some more.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Keystone Cockroaches

Claire, Rod and me on the radio on Sunday... post my farewell party!
What is a Keystone Cockroach? Listen to Fuzzy Logic for the startling news on this groundbreaking concept. The end of oil, waste paper biofuels, cleaning nuclear waste, and lots more fun science topics brought to you by Jo, Claire, and Rod.

Listen on the player below.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Fuzzy Logic science radio

Where did laughter come from? Are imaginary friends useful? Flies aid hearing research.

Take a listen to me and Rod on 2XX community radio in Canberra.

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Photo by Rod Taylor

Monday, January 04, 2010

Christmas on the coast

Here are my photos from Christmas holidays back home with my family on the Gold Coast. It was lovely spending time with the family, relaxing, enjoying the warm weather and catching some great waves at the beach!

2009 Christmas