A City of Contrasts and Beauty – Tel Aviv
“A little over one hundred years ago, Tel Aviv was a nothing more than an empty beach. Settlers in nearby Jaffa had been overflowing the old port city’s boundaries and living space was at a premium. So a small group of immigrants met on the beach to plan and layout what would become Israel’s newest city,” our tour guide was relating the origins of this UNESCO World Heritage site on The White City free walking tour. She had a binder full of old black and white photographs that helped to bring alive the past. We could almost imagine the wind blowing sand around us in a desolate and empty corner of the world. But the revelry was quickly broken as a passing bus honked it’s horn and slammed on it’s brakes to avoid a zig-zagging moped careening down Rothschild Boulevard. Today, the heart of the White city is an expansive, green tree-lined boulevard with playgrounds for children and park benches for the young and old alike to while away a balmy Saturday morning.
There was no rest for our weary bones, however. We were ending a ten day self-drive in and around Israel and were scheduled to fly out that Saturday afternoon at 2:00 P.M. Just enough time, we thought, for a morning coffee and then a guided walking tour of Tel Aviv. The tours are offered by the municipality of Tel Aviv at no cost, though a tip for the guide is recommended. They have a number of tours to choose from, and if we had more time we would have liked to also go on the “Tel Aviv at Night” and “Old Jaffa” tours. The White City tour starts on Saturday morning at 11:00 A.M. on the corner of Rothschild Boulevard and Shadal Street.
We were able to find parking around the corner at around 9:00, so with the rental car safely settled in, we found a spot at a table at a busy corner cafe on Rothschild named Benedict. Yes, they did have eggs Benedict, delicious, but also a good cup of coffee and a good vantage point to watch the city coming to life in the morning. We loitered there comfortably until it was time to head across the street and meet up with our tour.
We found a small, but growing, clump of tourists on the appointed corner waiting quietly and patiently for the tour guide. She showed up, right on time, and immediately launched into an in-depth and lively story explaining the origins of Tel Aviv. I wasn’t expecting the binder of old photographs, but, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Those old black and white photographs certainly helped tell the story of the rapid development and growth of the city. Ten minutes later, with the “origins” story finished, we set off down the path in the central green strip between the two sides of the boulevard, our group of twenty or so tourists walking through the park. We would stop for a few minutes at a building, learn about it’s historical importance and then hear an interesting story about previous inhabitants and then move along down the street to the enxt stop. This part of Tel Aviv is the heart of the so called white city, designed and built in the 1930s by recent European immigrants fleeing the coming storm in Germany. They brought with them the ideas and influences of the Bauhaus School of Art and Design with it’s clean, functional lines. Many of the buildings are well maintained and still in use today. Some, however, have fallen into disrepair and are waiting some benefactor to come in and restore them to their former simplistic beauty.
Along the walk we noticed most of the buildings were covered in dark splotches of brown and black. Some sort of preservation work, one fellow tourist speculated. Alas, no, the splotches were not man-made but rather were deposited by the many bats flying around at night. The residents had at one time tried cleaning the guano off the white buildings but quickly discovered it was impossible to keep up with the bats, and so, at least when we were there, the bats had won the battle. I suppose, if it is a question of shit-stains or mosqito swarms, I’d choose the bats as well.
The city of Tel Aviv offers a few different free walking tours, you can learn more about them at their website: www.visit-tel-aviv.com. It was easy for us to find parking, and I think that would generally be the case for a Saturday morning. If you don’t have a car you can take the 502 bus from the Airport to the Helen Rubenstein pavilion and switch there to the number 5 bus which will take you for a ride down Rothschild Boulevard. If you get there early, have breakfast at Benedict on the corner of Allenby and Rothschild.