Summer is finally here.
If you read that previous line and didn’t cringe/hyperventilate/start sobbing uncontrollably please stop reading this now. This has nothing to do with you.
I used to love summer. Back before I was married with a kid. Back in my high school days when summer meant working a menial job during the day and heading to Tel Aviv at night to party. Or heading to the beach and getting wasted with friends without a care in the world (well, impending induction into the army, global warming and buses exploding in Tel Aviv not withstanding – this was 1996 after all)
But now summer means ridiculously expensive summer camps, obscenely expensive electric bills and absurdly ill-fitting clothes that used to fit last summer, but for some mysterious reason no longer fit this summer (I blame the washing machine and the clothing manufactured in China or Sri Lanka).
And what about a vacation? Forget Greece. Turkey? Yeah right. I tried suggesting Antalya and my wife slapped me in the face and said: “How dare you? How DARE YOU?” What? I got no beef with Turkey. Eilat? Fuck you Eilat. Not because I don’t covet the rest and relaxation, the “beten-gav” as they call it here. I do. I need it. I NEED it. But I don’t have to leave Or Yehuda to get a close up glimpse of the type of people you see in Eilat. They’re all around me here. Barbequing downstairs shirtless with hairy backs. Cutting me off at every roundabout in their Mazda 323 (or, the new Mazda 323, the Kia Rio) playing awfully loud Mediterranean music while singing along and spitting out sunflower seeds. No thank you.
So what does that leave me with in terms of a summer vacation? With no money, no vacation days left, and nowhere to go? I’ll tell you where. The best fucking day trips you can imagine. Because say what you will about the people here sometimes, this place is an absolute paradise if you know where to go. You’re an hour away from the mountains, the desert, ancient ruins, urban art, national parks. So I’ve rounded up the 10 best spots you can hit up for an inexpensive day trip on a Friday and a Saturday on a half tank of gas and less than a 100 shekels and literally feel like a tourist in your own country.
1. Haifa Flea Market (Saturday morning). Most people know about the flea market in Jaffa. Shuk Hapishpeshim. It’s great. I love it. Most people know about the antique flea market in Dizengoff square on Friday mornings. Not as great but awesome if you’re making a period film about Communist Russia and you need props. The Haifa flea market on Saturday mornings is one of the best kept secrets around. Just get there early enough before it gets too hot.
2. The pool of the Arches in Ramle (Friday). Granted, this city has a reputation for being the home of organized crime, but it’s historical landmarks and tourist attractions are often overlooked. Start the day at the shuk and when you’re done, hit up the pool of the arches for a short, underground gondola ride. When you’re done, you can apply at one of the organized crime families for an entry level position whacking people in broad daylight.
3. The burial caves at Beit Shearim (Saturday). Explore the burial caves at the Beit Shearim National Park. Kids love it. Me, not so much. Too many fucking spiders. That and my wife kept jumping out from behind the tombs screaming “boo” causing me to squeal like a little girl.
4. The American Colony in Jaffa (Saturday). My wife and I used to live on Herzl Street in Florentine for years and never knew about these 19th century Colonial style houses (built by Mormons) located right off of Eilat Street. They have tours on the weekends. And this guy, who’s been sitting here for the past five years “guarding” a construction site. Talk to him. He has great stories to tell and some outsider art that he’s been creating.
5. The Matkot Museum in Neve Tzedek (Weekday). If you’ve been to the beach here you know about one of Israel’s most obnoxious national pastimes. Matkot. Off of Shabazi Street, there’s an actual museum devoted to the history of the Matkot. You can’t really make reservations, as it’s some guy’s house, but if you see him sitting on the corner, ornate matkot all around him, ask him to give you the tour. He’ll be thrilled.
6. The eco-park at Mount Hiriya AKA Trash Mountain (Saturday). Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. A huge trash mountain? Sounds awful. Doesn’t smell great either, I’m afraid. But they have built an amazing eco-park with wonderful areas to picnic and play with a great view of the city.
7. Wolfson Park in Tel Aviv (Saturday). This architectural wonder is also a park known to locals as ‘Batich Hill,’ as in Watermelon Hill, but pressed as to why they call it that nobody really knows. It is quite charming with geometrical shaped edifices, a reservoir and great views of the city as well as a picnic area.
8. Levinsky Shuk (Friday). If you’re sick of fighting the masses of tourists at the Hacarmel Shuk, check out the much more authentic Levinsky Shuk. Plenty of workers restaurants and places to buy nuts. And see nuts. Check it out before the hipsters and jaded Tel Avivians destroy it.
9. Ein Kerem (Friday). This town just outside of Jerusalem is a gem. With Churches, small cafes and wonderful views, this is the perfect getaway on a Friday morning. Just don’t use WAZE from Tel Aviv. You’ll end up on a dirt road arguing with your wife about whether or not you should drive down said road in your family sedan. Trust me. You won’t win that argument.
10. Wahat As Salam Or, Neve Shalom in Hebrew. A beautiful, idyllic town near Latrun that boasts co-existence between Israelis and Arabs. I highly recommend spending a night or two here. Or an afternoon with a few beers (possibly a joint) sitting at the silence dome and shutting the fuck up for a change.
So there you have it. Ten places to go this summer that won’t break the bank and you’ll be in home in time to make dinner and sit in front of the air conditioner wondering how many more days left until school starts again.
For more marginally amusing anecdotes follow me on twitter – @privategilberto or read my blog.