I’m sure you’ve noticed my love for Tel Aviv. It’s one of my happy places. This is in part due to my friend Naomi Bubis, who has made it her mission to show me the best corners of her beautiful city.
Naomi has been living in Tel Aviv since 1997. Before she packed her bags back then and made the big move, she was a journalist in Frankfurt, writing for local papers, worked for the Hessischen Rundfunk and discovered television as medium for herself. Together with her co-author Sharon Mahler, she produced and created TV documentaries.
The work on their documentary “Die Zerbombte Hoffnung,” which translates to ‘Shattered Hope’ about a Palestinian suicide bomber who took his life in 1996 along with 13 Israelis at the Dizengoff Center in Tel Aviv left a big impression on her. During the research for the movie, she fell in love with the city and decided that she wanted to live there.
She spent many years as an international correspondent for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Then it was time for a change and she spent two years studying integrative medicine. Since then, she’s switched to a plant-based diet and now lives in the north of old Tel Aviv with her three children and their dog. Her blog telavivnotes offers lovely perspectives on the many facets of this special city.
Last fall, she opened a sweet pop-up café with Udi Sahar – also known as Urban Shaman. It took off immediately and this April/ May Urban Shaman will move into a new, bigger space which – so I hear – will even offer spa services. I’m sure that it will become Tel Aviv’s new hot spot and when the time comes I’ll add all of the relevant details here.
Naomi, you’ve been in Tel Aviv for over 20 years now. How did that happen?
I always wanted to live in Tel Aviv and somehow knew that I would land here eventually. I just didn’t know when. I spent most of my summer vacations as a child in Tel Aviv. I loved the city’s unique vibe. When the time came, the decision made quite spontaneously – that’s how I am.
I was filming a documentary for German TV in Tel Aviv and was fascinated by this new perspective on the city, as journalist. It was a new experience to suddenly work in Tel Aviv instead of just spending my holidays here. When I arrived back in Germany, I simply packed my things. I wanted to try actually living in Tel Aviv. That was 1997, and I’m still here.
Many people are scared to travel to Tel Aviv. What’s your take on safety issues here?
Considering that the whole world feels pretty unsafe at the moment, I feel safer in Tel Aviv than anywhere else. I still spend time in Europe and other countries, but in Tel Aviv I feel more secure. The Israelis have a long history of dealing with safety issues, and are perhaps better equipped to deal with them than many. The whole world is a target for terror these days, and in that context, I’m glad to live in Tel Aviv.
What’s special about Tel Aviv in your eyes?
I’d say the people. The vibe. There’s not so much planning, and much more being in the here and now. I’m sure this is also due to country’s long history with terror. We’ve gotten used to living from moment to moment. I love the spontaneity, the sincerity. I love the intensity of even fleeting connections here – the immediacy of the contact. Tel Avivis are a very communicative people, very open. I like that.
In order to understand Tel Aviv, you must eat here. Eating is very important. Israel is a very emotional country, which suits me as I live more from the heart than from the mind. That’s why I feel so at home here.
Life tends to take place out of doors. Children have so much freedom here and spend much of their time outside. You also never feel alone in Tel Aviv – it’s so easy to connect. Tel Aviv embraces you.
Let’s stick to food. What would you recommend to visitors?
Tel Aviv has the best food in the world. It’s fresh, seasonal, and full of vegetables. Of course, you should try some hummus. Vegans have tons of fantastic options here. You have to really try to NOT have a great dining experience here. Even the smallest cafes have a wonderful selection and everything is fresh. There are fruit and juice stands everywhere. It doesn’t even really matter where you go – you’ll find something delicious just about everywhere.
Which spots do you recommend most highly?
The Bucke Café is basically my living room – it’s just around the corner from my house. When I want to go out for a meal, I like the Zakaim (unfortunately closed now!). It was the first vegan restaurant in Tel Aviv and the vibe is great there. I also love Eyal Shani’s places a lot – wonderful food there as well.
How would you describe the Tel Aviv Yoga scene?
It seems like the whole city does Yoga. Everyone’s carrying a Yoga mat under their arm or in their bike basket. There are no Yoga centers with a big hype – most studios are quite simple and basic, like in India. Many Israelis travel to India as well. It’s a very active Yoga scene.
Recently, on the International Day of Yoga, there was an event in the middle of the city, and everyone was on the mat. All age groups are represented. It’s very diverse, unpretentious and tons of fun to practice Yoga here. There’s no pressure to be ‘good’ or to show up in the right Yoga pants. I really appreciate that.
Which is your favorite Yoga studio in Tel Aviv?
I always go to Ella Yoga because it’s at the beach. I love gazing out to sea after a Yoga class and breathing the fresh air. Ella Yoga is also very personal and has a huge course-schedule: you can go to a class at any time of day, and the teachers are great! All ages welcome.
When is the best time to visit Tel Aviv?
Let me turn that around: the worst time to come to Tel Aviv is in July, August or September because it’s simply too hot. If love heat, however, then you’ll be in heaven. Many tourists like the hot weather. The humidity is extremely high in summer, which really drains my energy.
I love spring and winter here. When Europe starts to get cold, we’re still enjoying a balmy 22 degrees. It stays pleasant until December. January and February tend to be rainy. The fall is beautiful here, and the ocean still warm.
Where are the best places to stay as a visitor to Tel Aviv?
Behind the main hotel drag is a nice area to stay – close to the beach and very central. The areas surrounding Gordon, Dizengoff and the small streets there are quite pleasant as well. Anything near Rothschild Boulevard, although this area is a bit pricier. This area is known for old townhouses, it’s the old city center. For younger visitors, I’d recommend Florentin – there’s lots to do at night there. If you’re traveling with family, the old northern part of town is lovely as well. It’s a bit more low-key and you’re close to the beach.
- I love the HaYarkon Park – it’s the central park of Tel Aviv. I live close by, so I’m there quite often. There are always people out and about, jogging and playing sports. It’s a nice vibe.
- The sea. The beaches around Gordon, Frishman and Mezizim are lovely.
- The Rotschild with its boulevards, kiosks and cafes is quintessential Tel Aviv.
- I love the fleamarket in Yaffo – it was completely re-done and there lots of sweet cafes in the side-streets. A great place to get lost in exploring and enjoying.
- The borough of Neve Tzedek. It’s a totally unique part of Tel Aviv. A bit like a small French town – quite unexpected and very charming.
What’s the first thing one should do upon arrival?
Friday morning finds the whole city celebrating in the streets – and then suddenly the streets empty as the Jewish day of rest begins. It’s quite magical. I also think that renting an e-bike upon arrival is a great way to explore the city. On foot is great as well. Try less planning and instead letting your feet wander.
In your blog telavivnotes you write about your city. Where do you find inspiration?
I’m outside a lot. I take most mornings off, grab my e-bike and cruise around town. Tel Aviv is quite lively, and I constantly discover new input for my blog. I read a lot and look for inspiring personalities. I seek out the people who make Tel Aviv the special place that it is…and I’m very nosy.
What can we Germans learn from the Tel Avivis?
The nonchalant, uncomplicated, spontaneous, open-house, life-loving way without getting too bogged down in thoughts. We can definitely do with a slice of that.
Thank you, Naomi!