TEL AVIV NOTES – Insider Travel blog for Tel Aviv
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Sesame tea in a Japanese spa and dancing at Café Mersand


Saturday is the perfect day to unwind. Last week Gloria visited me. Together, we booked an appointment for a massage at the Japanese Spa in Jaffa. Opting for the e-bikes, we leisurely cycled across the still-sleepy city on Shabbat morning. On the Ibn Gvirol bikeway to Rabin Square, along Sderot Chen to Habima Square to Rothschild Boulevard. At the espresso kiosk, a few Tel Avivians sat before their milk coffee while early risers strolled along the boulevard with their four-legged friends. Rothschild, catwalk for dogs. 

Further south we turn into Nahalat Binyamin to get to the clock tower in the ancient city via Jaffa Road. The streets in Jaffa are bustling, tourists thrust their way through the alleys, the presence of police is evident. Patrol cars and policemen in uniforms by the roadside.  We cycle uphill on Yefet Street, in an idyllic side street is the Yoko Kithara spa.  A pink bougainvillea is blooming in front of the villa, the door is open and we walk our bikes into the courtyard. It smells of essential oils.

Japanese spa in a Jaffa villa


We kick off our flip flops and slip into white bath slippers. A friendly young man seats us onto a couch where we fill in the mandatory health form, our feet bathing in lukewarm water. We drink water from Japanese porcelain tumblers and eat two cookies. Which will subsequently prove fatal for me. Via a wooden stairway, we get to the treatment room on the first floor. Lying side by side under cool sheets, I have to pull myself together in order not to giggle. With childhood friends, there’s always something to laugh about. The mere sight of both of us on the massage tables is enough to make me chuckle goofily. 

Coughing fit while sipping sesame tea


For a whole 75 minutes, we get thoroughly kneaded. Lying on my stomach, my head hanging out of the opening in the table, the effect of firmly stimulated acupressure points becomes apparent to me. My nose starts running, then dripping profusely. Embarrassed, I ask for tissues. I then feel some undigested cookie crumbs irritating my throat, bringing on a major coughing fit. I’ll never eat cookies before a massage again. After that, I also start to enjoy the massage, while Gloria, in Nirvana, sighs next to me.

While sitting on the couch again with a sesame tee, Gloria has a laughing fit. Contagious. We sit there like two chuckling schoolgirls, tea sputtering out our mouths. Once again embarrassing, given the silence of the Japanese spa, which I warmly recommend to you. The massage was professional and the ambience in the historical house is absolutely wonderful.

Lima beans at Shaffa Bar


Driven by hunger, we end up in Shaffa Bar at Jaffa’s flea market. I’ve never been here on a Saturday before and, even though the shops are closed, it’s busy as hell. We dutifully stand in line after a feisty girl in her twenties admonishes us to wait on the bench for a free table. Israelis like to go out. At any time of day or night. The people in this city live outdoors. In cafés and restaurants, in parks and at beaches. We have my favorite meal, Lima Lima, that is, lima beans with crispy bread to dip in. 

On the way back, we cycle along the Tel Aviv beach promenade. That was a mistake. The midday sun is unforgiving, even at the end of September. We push our bikes past the crowds until we find refuge on the bikeway which extends from Jaffa up to the North of Tel Aviv. At Gordon, we head towards the city. Against the stream of beach lovers who, equipped with towel, dog or surfboard, are looking for sand and waves.

Colorful flags on Ben Gurion Boulevard


Along Ben Gurion, past the packed coffee kiosk at the corner of Dizengoff, we reach Rabin square. At its lower end, Ben Gurion is currently decorated with colorful flags – a feast for the eyes, in my opinion. Finally back home, we drop onto the couch. A massage, e-biking and the blazing sun can really be exhausting.

Wild Thoughts at Café Mersand


In the late afternoon, we hop back onto our bikes to meet our childhood friend Joe and his wife Ella at Café Mersand. The Mersand is one of my favorite cafés, as it has that ingenious blend of old and new. It looks exactly as it did 50 years ago. DJ’s play on weekends, as is the case today, with a Russian friend of Joe’s. We swing amongst linoleum tables to the beats of DJ Khaled’s Wild Thoughts. I already heard that song non-stop when I was in Venice Beach. Outside, sprightly retirees are sitting alongside young couples with children and some bearded hipsters sipping beer. Needless to say, we make a detour to the beach. As with every evening at Frishman, yogis are practicing their handstands while the orange red sun sinks into the sea.



translation: Catherine Bradshaw






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