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