I turn up to lunch with my friend Seth at an Arab seafood restaurant in Jaffa, having just come from coffee at Puah, a café in the Jaffa flea market. 'Oh, that place,' Seth says, gloomily. 'I was eating breakfast there once when someone came along and bought the table.' It is an occupational hazard of eating at Puah — every chair, table and picture, every piece of bric-a-brac, all furnished from the surrounding junk shops, comes with a price tag inviting you to buy it, and if it's your bad luck to be sitting on a chair someone else has just purchased, you'll be invited to move elsewhere.
Which is why most residents of Tel Aviv and Jaffa find their local café and stick with it, a place to hang out, work on their laptops with the ubiquitous free WiFi, meet friends and display their style. There's an uncharacteristic heatwave when I visit in February yet the chic women are still wearing their winter boots. 'We have ten months of summer here,' a friend tells me, 'so if the calendar says winter we're going to wear our winter clothes whatever the temperature.'
When I first came to Tel Aviv, in 1998, it was the most overlooked city on the Mediterranean, a 20th-century metropolis ignored by the visitors to Israel who disembarked at the airport and headed east to Jerusalem, home to three world religions and epicentre of the perpetual Middle East crisis. Tel Aviv, fast, cosmopolitan, stylish and secular, within a decade has become one of the most exciting city destinations on the Mediterranean rim.
Even through the years of terrorist attacks, Tel Aviv remained defiantly a party city, emerging as a place to go for its bars, restaurants, beach raves and the emerging Israeli fashion industry. On that first visit, I wandered by accident into Neve Tzedek, a small neighbourhood of sun-washed, crumbling one- and two-storey, 19th-century houses, alleys overgrown with bougainvillea and a single pioneering café in its central narrow street full of shops selling electrical spare parts under dusty Cellophane wrappers. Now, all those shops are gone, replaced by cafés, bars, restaurants and jewellers, a world-class performing arts centre and the most expensive real estate in the country.
Way to go
British Airways flies to Tel Aviv daily from London Heathrow. Flight time: four and a half hours.
Join the Executive Club and earn up to 11,080 BA Miles when you fly First to Tel Aviv. Or redeem your BA Miles. For example, 20,000 BA Miles will get you to Tel Aviv (World Traveller return, exluding taxes, fees and surcharges).
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