Where to stay in Jerusalem: Abraham Hostel

When it comes to hostels, I tend to think bigger isn’t better. Why? Well, in my experience, the more people crammed into hostels, the more chances of loud, obnoxiousness (although those travelers can be found everywhere, regardless), and a less safe vibe. Before arriving to Israel, I had planned on staying at Abraham Hostel, despite the 250 (!) bed count.

As far as hostels go, Abraham Hostel is one of the bigger hostels I have ever stayed at.

But, Abraham Hostel, located near the heart of the action and a 20-minute walk from the Old City of Jerusalem, isn’t like those other big-bed hostels. At all.

Hotel Israel Middle East Reviews

Budget digs in Tel Aviv: Gordon Inn

Gordon Inn, from the outside, is quite easy to miss. It’s just off of the major Ben Yehuda Street in Tel Aviv, and aside from a sign at the entrance and a little balcony, people can walk right by it.

I did.

However, while it may seem almost invisible from the outside, the inside of this hostel is another story. Sure, it is in an older building, which means no elevator and for those carrying anything but a backpack, it can be a pain in the ass (I had my Kelty, so this rang true), but that isn’t a reason to not book at this cozy hostel.

Hotel Reviews

Review: Kelty Ascender 22

I go through more pieces of luggage than I do shoes. Especially now, seeing as I really only have two pairs of shoes (but that’s another story). Anyway, as I was saying, I go through luggage like it is my job. And sometimes it kind of is. After all, how else can I tell you what luggage I love that rocks my world and what luggage isn’t worth the major moolah I put down on it?

Even though it has been awhile since I have traveled long-term, it doesn’t mean I don’t still travel. In fact, I pack up a bag pretty often for travel — whether it is nearby like the tropical paradise of Koh Samui, or as far as possible from Thailand (like Delaware).

Regardless of how far from “home” I am headed, or how long I am away, one thing remains true:  I need a good piece of luggage. No, I need an awesome piece of luggage.

Reviews

Tel Aviv’s ultimate street art experience

Gilad Uziely, the founder of Mekomy, picks me up on his motorbike, producing a cushiony helmet for me to wear as we zip along the Mediterranean and head towards Old Jaffa.

It’s a hot day, and the wind hitting my face is welcome as we zoom down the smooth road and towards the ancient city.

The best hummus in Tel Aviv is at Ali Karavan

He’s got quite the afternoon lined up for me — first we’re exploring Old Jaffa, then going to grab hummus at Ali Karavan, which is apparently the best in the country (please order the triple, which treats tastebuds to hummus, flu and masabacha — trust me), then we’re off on a street art tour with one of the city’s most popular artists, Dioz, then to end the day, we’re visiting a new street art exhibition at the Tel Aviv bus station.

Mekomy is Gilad and his wife’s vision after serving as travel agents. When the two were always asked for their suggestions, Gilad saw an opportunity to bring together the curious travelers with the local experts and the start-up was born. Today, his company operates in a few cities and by the end of 2014, he hopes to have experts and tours offered in five cities in Europe and Israel. Guests can select from three tours given by locals: art, culinary and photography.

For me, I find the best way to get to know a city and its subcultures is to check out the street art. In Berlin, I fell in love with the art scene and since then, whenever I can get an opportunity to see the more gritty, creative side of a city, I jump for the chance.

The beginning: Jaffa

The old city of Jaffa in Tel Aviv, Israel

We start in Jaffa, where the summer heat leaves us beading with sweat and we dip into air conditioned buildings to cool off for brief moments before winding our way through the old, historic city.

Jaffa in Tel Aviv

The oldest part of Tel Aviv, Jaffa immediately summons recollections of Europe with its slippery, tiny pathways meandering up hills to secret nooks and crannies. We wander through the ancient port city, climbing the stairs to the top and breathing in the stunning view of the Mediterranean caressing the shore below before Gilad begins to point out street art as we descend towards our lunch break.

Street art in Jaffa, Tel Aviv

A look at an artist’s life

After dining at Ali Karavan, we hop back on Gilad’s bike and drive to the start of our tour — the famous street artist, Dioz’s, house. Located in a run down building with a tiny church below, I enter his home and am blown away.

Street artist Dioz's home in Tel Aviv

It’s the most eclectic, artsy place I have ever stepped foot in. There are works of art everywhere, from traditional paintings hung on walls to unique sculptures.

Street art in a house

To my delight, there is even a cat.

Dioz is tall and rather soft-spoken for one of the city’s most popular street artists. He offers me a water before he takes us on the tour of his flat, which includes an expansive patio/roof.

Standing on the roof of the building, Dioz extends a finger towards the city.

“There, that is one of my latest works,” he says. I follow the direction of his finger to a painting adorning a wall.

The latest work of Dioz in Tel Aviv

It’s really cool.

Then, the three of us are off.

Hitting the streets

Glass crunching underfoot, we explore the mostly warehouse area of Florentin that has emerged as the scene for street art. Tucked between posh and sky scrapers and more rundown areas, it’s easy to see why this neighborhood has emerged as the place for street art. It is where worlds collide and the artists can have the liberty to create on the blank walls of warehouses.

A street in Florentin, Tel Aviv

But, even the bars and shops here embrace the art. Metal shudders aren’t just metal here, they are art.

Street art in Florentin, Tel Aviv

He and Gilad stop me every few feet to explain the art I am looking at, to show me collaborations between other street artists in the area and work done by people from all over the world.

More street art in Tel Aviv

I’m a sucker for street art and here — in this little Tel Aviv neighborhood just off-the-beaten-path from the tourist trek — I have stepped into a treasure trove of glorious work that is nearly on part with street art in places like Berlin.

Street art by Dioz in Tel Aviv

Where street art gets main streamed

After we explore in the afternoon heat, it’s back on Gilad’s bike and over to the Tel Aviv bus station where his friend, Mati Ale, has done something incredibly special — he has transformed a bland and sterile bus station into one of the largest collaborations of street art I have ever witnessed. (Hurry, it’s only on exhibition for a year!)

Street art takes over the Tel Aviv bus station

The entire departures floor is covered in works from some of the best in the country. Abstract, surreal, whimsical works flood my eyes as they dart everywhere, searching for something I may have missed on first glance.

The street art exhibit at Tel Aviv's bus station

More street art at the exhibition in Tel Aviv's bus station

It’s a long day, and by late afternoon the heat begins to take its toll. Gilad whips me back through the rush hour traffic and drops me back at Artplus. Tired. Happy. And a memory filled with amazing street art.

Street art by Dioz

Want more street art? Check out this week’s Escape  for a full photo essay of the awesome.

Editor’s Note: My street art tour was courtesy of Mekomy, however all opinions are my own. If you have questions regarding this, please read my disclosure policy

 

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Hayarkon 48: the beach hostel to chill at in Tel Aviv

Normally, beach lodging is made up of pricey, resort hotels. However, in Tel Aviv, if you’re looking for a place to rest your pretty little head and meet other backpacking travelers, you can find one a quick walk from the beach.

Tel Aviv's beach

A quick walk from the hostel and guests are treated to this!

Hello, Hayarkon 48.

 Exterior of Hayarkon 48 in Tel Aviv

This hostel, with a rather nondescript exterior, is anything but once you are buzzed in. After three nights in Tel Aviv already, I just want a place to chill out and get some beach time in. The days in Tel Aviv in August are blazing hot and a relaxed vibe, air-conditioning and wifi are all I want when I arrive.

When I enter through the doors, the staff immediately greets me and is super friendly.

“We have a Shabbat dinner tonight, just sign up and you can join our hostel and another for a big dinner,” the staff at the front desk informs me. I swing my head to the right, and there is a huge board showing all of the different activities going on each night for guests, including this dinner and a pub crawl the following night.

While I’m not in the mood to be social, if I was, this would be the perfect place to greet other travelers, swap stories and make friends for a night, a day or a lifetime.

I sidle up to the bar/front desk and give them my information. My room isn’t ready yet, so they take my belongings and tuck them safely into a locked storage area.

After an afternoon shopping, I return and am given instructions to my room. A cool three floors up. With no elevator.

If I had a backpack, it wouldn’t have been a problem. But, this Tel Aviv visit isn’t a part of a backpacking adventure, it is a stop-over en route to America, where I need a proper suitcase. So, hot already, I lug my suitcase and backpack up 60-plus stairs to my room. It isn’t anything I haven’t done before, after all, there are plenty of hostels in Europe where elevators don’t exist. But, at the end of a hot day, I want to magically be whisked to my room with my heavy suitcase, not drag it up flights of stairs. Again, a backpack would have been a lot easier in this situation.

Private digs

I’ve got a private room for three nights — my first truly private room ever — and when I open the door I love it. In the late afternoon, the sun casts a golden glow through the multi-colored curtains opening up to a private balcony. A. Private. Balcony. Granted, when I step outside, I don’t see the Mediterranean, but I still love the fact that I can step outside without having to haul it down to the main floor.

The private room at Hayarkon 48 in Tel Aviv

The room is huge. Bigger than what I expect in any hostel for a private room. And, there is a flat screen TV that rivals my TV in Thailand, hanging from the wall. I hop on the bed, and it is hard. Thailand hard. But, I don’t expect beds in hostels to be plush and perfect. Hostels are a budget option, and I cannot recall a bed in a hostel that hasn’t had coils, or a hardness to it. But, it isn’t bad. I pop on the air-conditioning and check out the bathroom.

It’s clean, with a shower curtain separating the little shower from the toilet and sink. The hostel provides soap and towels, which for me is a definite bonus since I’m traveling sans these things.

The view from the roof of Hayarkon 48

I head upstairs to the top floor, which is a gorgeous rooftop terrace with a spectacular view of the sea. I can imagine plunking down here and enjoying the breeze and sunset. Apparently, they used to have a bar upstairs, but it stopped because it was difficult to lug the stock up all of the flights of stairs (yeah, I can imagine). But, it is still a fabulous place to chill out and relax above Tel Aviv.

What’s included

With my stay at Hayarkon, I get complimentary breakfast each day. While the sign at reception tells guests it is toast, it is a far nicer breakfast than just that. The full kitchen offers up eggs you can cook, veggies and yes, toast. With Nutella. Of course, I’m happy. Israel is expensive, and not having to shell out the sheckels for breakfast is nice.

Wifi is also included in my stay. However, at three floors up with the router on the first, the wifi is anything but good. It doesn’t even get acknowledged on my iPhone, and the signal goes in and out on my laptop. While I can get the general stuff done while in my room, if you’re staying on the third floor, don’t expect the wifi to be up to par … unless a stronger signal or more routers get put in. Sometimes, late at night, I can go out on my balcony and pick up a signal for my phone, but it was only on occasion. If I want to send someone an iMessage, I have to go downstairs to the first floor to be able to do so.

The hostel is very secure. You cannot even get in the front door without getting buzzed, and no guests are allowed anywhere beyond the main area. There are also lockers which can be used, and locks to rent.

I love some of the little things that are included — like access to sun block as you walk out the door to the beach and free ear plugs in case you have noisy bunkmates. It’s stuff like that which can make a superfly hostel.

The bottom line

As far as hostels go, Hayarkon 48 is really good. I’ve stayed in nearly 100 hostels during my travels, and this one ranks as one of the better, if not one of the best. The staff is friendly, the rooms are clean and I always feel secure. The atmosphere can definitely be social without being too much of a party hostel, and I love that they organize outings with guests to encourage meeting new people. They can even arrange a taxi to the airport for you for less than you would get on the street. The only downside for me is the wifi. I love places with good wifi. It is important to have good wifi. Hell, I’d even pay to have some wifi that worked all of the time in my room. The location is stellar. There is a bus line that takes you down the main drag of the district tourists want to see, and staff is wonderful.

Editor’s Note: My time stay was organized by Hostelworld and courtesy of Hayarkon 48, however all opinions are my own. If you have questions regarding this, please read my disclosure policy

 

Hotel Reviews Travel

Capturing culture: Tel Aviv’s Artplus Hotel

It is late when I arrive to Artplus Hotel in Tel Aviv, a collaboration between Atlas Hotels and Doron Sabag. What I really want to do after nearly 20 hours of traveling from Thailand is to crawl into bed and fall fast asleep. But, when my cab driver drops me off at the boutique 62-room hotel located on Ben Yehuda and a quick walk to the glistening Mediterranean, my senses are awakened.

Even before I step foot through the glass doors, I realize this hotel is different.

Hotel + Art

The lobby at Artplus Hotel

Photo courtesy Artplus

The covered entryway from the street houses Zadok Ben-David’s sculpture, “Evolution,” which overtakes most of the long wall leading to the hotel.

Upon check-in, the friendly woman at reception with perfect English explains to me the concept of Artplus Hotel — which isn’t just a hotel, but also serves as a rotating art exhibit of some of the country’s most talented artists. In fact, the entire property is dedicated to incorporating art into its spaces and giving visitors a taste of the art and culture in this vibrant city. Created with this in mind, the hotel itself is minimal. The concrete floors and white walls are offset by sculptures, paintings, mirrors, and LCD screens with art on display.

Five artists were commissioned for Artplus to add ambiance and their own style to the separate floors in the building — Maya Attoun, Tali Ben-Bassat, Ayelet Carmi, Olaf Kiihnemann and Doron Rabina. In addition, the foyer and lobby house work from Ben-David and Sigalit Landau, thanks to Sabag’s private collection.

I stand in the lobby taking in at creativity around me.

“Every night we have a happy hour from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. with free wine and snacks,” she says. “And tomorrow night is your lucky night. We are having an opening for the new artists’ work on display in the hotel.”

The new exhibition (there are three to four every year), entitled “Playground,” which involves original pieces from local artists is on display in the lobby, plus there is access to the five rooms with art from the hotel’s artists.

The room

Art Plus art by Rabina

Photo courtesy Artplus

I head up to the fifth floor, where Rabina has painted a thick band of green with whimsical black down its walls, and enter my room. It isn’t big, but it doesn’t need to be. On the wall hang more! art. I fling my bag on the chair, change into comfortable clothing and do what I always do first — I check out the bed.

My room at Art Plus Hotel in Tel Aviv

Covered with two fluffy duvets, it is soft and inviting.

Then, I do the second thing I always do — check the wifi connection. And, it is quick. Quicker than Thailand.

After a brief chat with my parents in America, I head out of my room to check the rooftop patio and take in my first real moments in Tel Aviv.

I can smell the saltiness of the sea from there, although in the darkness, I cannot see it. Around me, large buildings with illuminated signs in Hebrew nail it home for me — for the first time in nearly a year, I am out of Southeast Asia.

There are no sputtering tuk tuks to clog my hearing, no toilet paper to throw in trash cans.

I smile to myself as I stand on the terrace, then head back to my room and back to bed.

I wake up early my first day in Tel Aviv, but feel refreshed thanks to my first sleep in a comfortable bed since Koh Samui. Fortunately, breakfast starts early and features the best coffee I’ve had in ages, plus delicious Israeli food (hello, olives!) along with a variety of pastries, yogurt and fresh fruit juices.

After a day at the beach, which is about a 10-minute walk down the bustling Ben Yehuda, its time to get some culture.

Perks

In the evening, I return to Artplus for its happy hour and am treated to wine while I watch the events (or lack thereof, fortunately) unfold on television. Then, it is time for the opening.

I head back to the lobby where locals, guests and artists mingle together, sipping wine and snacking on pretzels while a local photographer snaps photos. With others, I wander through the floors, visiting the five rooms where local artists have taken over the decorum. My favorite room is done by Yochai Matos, which is two hearts made up of a string of warm white lightbulbs twinkling above a bed.

The amenities

Artplus is a boutique hotel with fantastic basic amenities. It’s got complimentary breakfast, complimentary wifi — which is actually a huge bonus since most hotels in the area don’t offer the service for free (sigh), a hair dryer in the room, a nice flat screen with a hand-full of channels, and free parking (something not really heard of with boutique hotels in the city) — the things I’ve come to expect from a hotel. But, it is the atmosphere here that serves as the most valuable amenity. I love the little touches, too, like colored pencils and sketch paper instead of the tried-and-true notebook with hotel pen.

 

Pencils at Artplus

The staff go out of their way to be friendly, to tell you where to go, what to do. And then, there is the art, which stands on its own and treats guests to a small sampling of Israel’s art scene. There is no spa, there is no restaurant, but there doesn’t need to be. There is plenty of that out the door and in the city.

The bottom line

Three nights in a prime location were not enough for me. I could have stayed there the entire trip and simply gone off on adventures since the bus stop was just outside the door. The rooms are small, but comfortable. I love hotels that encourage guests to interact, and had it been a busy time at the property, I could see the happy hour being bustling and perfect to get to know others. That being said, I loved the happy hour. Tel Aviv is very expensive, especially coming from Thailand, so being treated to complimentary wine each evening is a nice “thank you” to the guests for staying there. But, the art is really what stole my heart. It isn’t often I find hotels without the standard paintings or photos you expect. Having unique works of art from locals helped me to feel like I was a part of something, that I was being treated to something other people visiting Tel Aviv don’t get to see. And, that is the most important part of traveling to me.

Editor’s Note: My time stay was courtesy of Artplus Hotel, however all opinions are my own. If you have questions regarding this, please read my disclosure policy

 

Hotel Reviews