I can’t blame you at all if you want to get away from the winter blahs and this crazy weather. It’s finally time to take a break, and head to the warm climes for a while.
You’re not going to believe this, but you can spend a week in Israel, and spend less than $1,000.
I know, because I did it.
Wow Airlines serves Tel Aviv from Toronto, and with a keen eye on fares, you can nab return flights for about $400 off-season – less than half of other airlines, on a good week. (Small carry-ons are free; bags are extra.)
It makes a stopover at Keflavik airport for two hours. So for the same price as Mexico City, Los Angeles, Jamaica or Bahamas, you could be sitting under the Mediterranean sun.
This budget trip can also include the obligatory visits to the Wailing Wall, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Arab Souk, Masada, the Dead Sea, yadda yadda, that you don’t have to spend more than a bus ride on.
Where to sleep
As travellers know, the best way to save money on accommodations is to use Airbnb – which I did. But know also that there are hotels that, for a little more cost, can offer an extra slice of comfort and pampering.
My journey began at the recently-launched Dave hotel, on Gordon Street. I kid you not – Dave, on Gordon Street. Momentary stun turned to giggles from the concierge, taken aback after she asked my name for check-in.
Mine was a cozy, and well-kept room, with the added wackiness of having a bulky vintage 1970s television set parked right beside the toilet. All part of Dave’s charm.
Toss in a tableside daisy-yellow grandma-style rotary phone, a mint-green painted door, a package of complimentary candied sticks near the flatscreen stand, and a welcome note from the management, and right there are four conversation pieces.
The main-floor lounge, with its wall-shelf library and caramel-coloured leather-clad smoking chairs, could easily sub-in for a scene with The Most Interesting Man In The World, posing with his Dos Equis beer.
Housed in a preserved Bauhaus building, it is steps away from Tel Aviv’s chic shopping/dining strips of Dizengoff, and Ben Yehuda streets, and a five-minute walk from the beach.
For breakfast, The Dave has arranged for two local diners, a couple minute’s down the road, to offer the meals. There’s a reason why so many people gush about Israeli breakfasts. Breads, spreads, tuna, eggs, fruit cup, salad, coffee, juice, and you’re tanked up for the next few hours.
Traveller tip: Find hotels, like The Dave, that is just-opening, hunting for your business. The Dave enticed guests at a half-price fee ($100) for a limited time during its soft-launch.
Trip Advisor online offers inexpensive day-tours from Tel Aviv to a variety of destinations. I chose the combo Caesaria, Acre, the stunning Bahaii Gardens in Haifa, Rosh Hanikrah tour for $130, beginning at 7:45 am and ending at 5:45 pm.
The trip included the port-side natural rock formations and grottoes of Rosh Hanikrah. Truly majestic to watch the rushing sea waters splash through hollow crags. Close to the Lebanese border, Rosh Hanikrah was at one point home to the Peace Train. During World War Two, the train ran from Rosh Hanikrah, to Beirut, Syria and Jordan – but sadly, closed down around the time of Israel’s independence.
In Caesaria, see the first century Herodian Hippodrome, where horse races once took place (think Kentucky Derby but with ancient stone auditorium seating). Also discovered and unearthed are ancient bathhouses, intact busts and statues, two thousand-year-old mosaic flooring, Roman columns, and the recently-renovated first-century acoustically incredible amphitheatre.
And in Acre (also called Acco), the Crusader ramparts and ruins are a sight to see, and on this tour, they also brought us through dungeons.
Traveller tip: It’s tough to beat a full day tour at $130, which includes fascinating tidbits from the guide, ample time to wander, and transportation. Plop yourself in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, and self-guided walking tours of landmarks can get you your fill, for free.
Food and Drink in Tel Aviv
There’s no shortage of sweet-priced restaurants in the touristy areas – falafels, shawarmas, salads, pastas, pizzas, and so forth – irrespective of major Israeli city you visit.
For fresh cheap food, stroll through the buzzing outdoor Carmel Market in Tel Aviv (or its grander-sized doppelganger in Jerusalem, Mahane Yehuda).
Both are a fab destination for fruits, bread, fish, freshly squeezed juices, and made to order street grub. Navigating through the sea of hundreds of people, and sampling the day’s fare, is all part of the experience.
My favourite gastronomic delights included grabbing a just-baked 11-inch baguette and a 4oz. container of puree red pepper sauce for dipping, while doing a nibble-and-sightsee. I also noshed on a hand-sized pita, drizzled with olive oil and Mediterranean spice Zaahtar, still warm enough that it was limp in my palm. To say it was divine is to understate; I still dream about it.
Also in the market, I had a scrumptious garlic lamb-kabob in half-pita, stuffed with salad and topped with gooey tehina. All food, enough to fill me for an entire afternoon, set me back 29 shekel, or about $10.
People have asked me why, oh why, would I ever indulge in burgers in Tel Aviv, when I could have it at home. For one, I like burgers. Two, it was cheap. Three, they make them there with a Mid-East flair.
Memphis, a burger joint on Carlebach Street, attracted me because of its raves on social media and did not disappoint. Me and my dining mate both agreed that the portion sizes, the flavourings and texture made us want to stay until we could do it all over again. The only critique I’d offer was being disheartened they ran out of mustard, and their “hot sauce” was that dastardly overly-commercialized Sriracha sauce.
Meanwhile, for real cheap eats, the newest burger disruptor, Eight, with franchises in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, takes its name from how much each item on the menu costs – eight shekels ($2.80).
Coffee’s nice, but tea is godly. The Wissotzky Tea Company has been around since 1849, and it’s practically Israel’s national beverage, save Maccabee beer. Enter the Wissotzky Tea House, on Hashmoniam Street, to enjoy a fresh brew, or to grab any number of the exotic blends lining the walls.
For nighttime enjoyment, have a seat at the Roza Parks bar on Dizengoff St., where after 9:30 pm you can buy yourself a beer, and your friend drinks for free (or vice versa).
Traveller tip: With some creativity, you can eat and drink yourself silly for virtually what it would cost you to grab those same items from the supermarket.
There you have it – flight, food, touring, etc in the Holy Land, all for what it costs for a flight anywhere else in the Middle East.