Are you looking for the next cool place? If so, why? And for God’s sake don’t go looking here.
Come to America! Visit scenic lands stolen from the locals! Overpay for fake-buttered popcorn! Observe the sermonizing of once-fêted, belatedly reviled Hollywood phonies! Pray at Walmart! It’s all so fucking amazing!
For almost as long as I’ve been traveling to Israel, and certainly when I lived there, prospective visitors have asked me the same question: where should I go? The answer to that question depends of course on what your chief interests are, but is often followed by whether you should travel independently or book a tour. To which I respond, Would you book a tour to New York City? If you crave structure and the patina of supervision, or are easily daunted by tall buildings or whatever or have another acceptable excuse, well fine. Otherwise, come on: If you’re old enough to swallow a craft beer, you’re old enough to take on pretty much any place on your own (except Florida, of course.)
Israel is a small country, it’s a friendly country, it’s an expensive country. But between flying a low-cost airline into Tel Aviv, doing hotel research in advance and perhaps using AirBnb, you will do just fine and you will also take off from Ben Gurion International Airport with a fatter wallet. Forking over a small fortune to a tour company to take you places you can just as easily get to yourself, and on your own terms and pace, is just silly. Beyond that, travel is about stories and discoveries, not scripted experiences. Right?
With the above in mind, here are four ways and reasons to travel in Israel if not for free, then at least pretty freely.
1. Are you some kind of Heeb? Can ‘ya prove it?
If you are kind of young and demonstrably Jewish, it’s likely you are eligible to travel to Israel for free on a so-called Birthright Israel trip. These free 10-day trips are brought to you by the selectively munificent and devilishly handsome casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. So if you meet the basic qualifications, yay! You’re in! And yes, I realize it’s an organized tour, but it really is free so like, hey now.
2. Are you Kim Kardashian, Conan O’Brien or some dumbass basketball player with a Coke endorsement?
If you are Kim Kardashian, Conan O’Brien or some dumbass basketball player with a Coke endorsement, you may actually be able to travel to and in Israel mainly for free because Israelis, not unlike the French, are impressed by culturally bankrupt American celebrities with small IQs and large Twitter followings. They tend to believe having them peck the Western Wall and pose by the beach in Tel Aviv is tantamount to free advertising (forget that it costs Israel’s taxpayers a bundle) and it’s well-known that the richer and dumber you are in America, the more free stuff you get.
3. Are you L/G/B/T/Q?
If you are a member of the LGBTQ community, you have probably read about gay friendly Tel Aviv somewhere–maybe even the failing New York Times! The Middle East as a whole is hostile to homosexuality and there are sizeable pockets of Jerusalem where all things gay are still largely taboo, but Tel Aviv is one big badass rainbow exception.
Now, that brings me back to the question of New York City. I don’t know of many LGBTs who would trade a week of galavanting around the Big Apple for the rigidity of an organized tour. Between online guides and apps and social media anybody can put together a fly itinerary of their own within hours, if not seconds. Tel Aviv is the Middle Eastern answer to New York City. Easy to get around. The gay beach? Smack in front of the Hilton hotel, easy to find. You can book a day trip to the Dead Sea or Jerusalem from virtually any hotel reception desk and frankly why wouldn’t you? So easy and cheap, too.
Friends, unless you have a very specialized interest in archaeology or the Bible a day in the religiously overcooked Israeli capital is enough. In fact, the Jaffa section of Tel Aviv is older than Jerusalem, and it comes with a sea breeze, too. Just like most guidebooks get Israel wrong (even one I wrote, though it’s otherwise almost perfect, I cannot philosophically recommend because the publisher predictably refused to put Tel Aviv, the commercial capital of Israel, on the cover. Sad!)
In other words people of the pink, you don’t need no guidebook and y’all don’t need no organized tour neither: Tel Aviv should be the locus and focus of your Israel trip. After you book your flights and hotel there, the rest is just hocus-pocus. Save your money.
4. Volunteer, bitch.
There may be ways to travel and stay in Israel for less by volunteering. For example, you could work at an archaeological dig. Or spend a week volunteering for the IDF.
Here you go!
Met these Americans at the airport in Athens. Said Santorini was nice but they couldn’t turn around for fear of having their eyes poked out by someone’s selfie stick. So I say to them maybe you need to go someplace without a volcanic crater. And without selfie sticks.
September in Athens can be toasty indeed, I am rapidly finding out. Every day I start with a mental checklist of things I want to do: the Gaultier exhibit at the Benaki, the store in Kolonaki that sells the spoon sweets, the hike behind Lycabettus…then I have my first espresso freddo from Coffee Island, then the second (with extra ice) then the sun starts displaying its teeth and in a matter of minutes my list shrinks as I go from can-do to torpor beyond repair. But it’s precisely having been brought to that lazy place that let me identify a few fool-proof and mostly cost-effective ways to throw some serious shade at the monolithic heatwave that is your basic September in the Greek capital. Can’t be bothered? I know, it’s hot out. But stick with me…
1. Make a beeline for the nearest museum. And then slow down.
While there may be a deficit of cooling breezes in Athens even in late summer, there is no shortage of cultural refreshment. The hot days are a perfect opportunity to recalibrate and instead of rushing through the centuries with the velocity of a metro train racing from station to station, slowing your pace. Whether you’re at the Acropolis Museum or the Benaki or another, It’s a great way to spend time focusing on a few objects at a time instead of trying to take everything in at once (what are those hoplites smiling about? wait—is it a smile?) and to indulge in the aircon. Plus the heat is a perfect excuse to check out some of Athens’ fantastic museum cafés.
2. Ride the bus to Limanakia.
Mykonos is great, but you can’t get there by bus. But hop on the 122 from Elliniko metro station and don’t get off until you hear “Limanakia A”. There are lots of little coves starting at about Vouliagmeni, but only at Limanakia (Greek for “little port”) will you find a spot that blends city beach energy with island getaway atmosphere. But you go there less for the vibe than the water which is a clear and shimmering emerald-blue. Remember, there’s no sand here: you just walk down some rough steps, maybe grab a drink at the lone beach bar, and dive right in. Warning: the bus ride is long, crowded and bumpy and making friends along the way is not assured, but once you get there you’re going to love it.
3. Drink this lemonade.
There’s nothing like a cold frappé to start the day, but when I see Greeks clinging to their caffeine under the hot afternoon sun it makes me wonder if they have overlooked the awesomeness of the Hellenic lemon. And not all are created equal: there is something about the lemons squeezed into the Chios Fruits lemonade that will literally knock your socks off (but hopefully you are already wearing sandals by now). Because I had not tasted lemonade this completely fantastic since going to the county fair as a kid, I had to ask Yiannis Trantalis, the juice co.’s Chief Commercial Officer, what makes it so good. “We carefully select all of our citrus crop,” he told me, “paying special attention not to receive any rotten or non A-class fruits. We do all the squeezing ourselves, using the lemons’ own essential oil and pulp.” They also pasteurize the lemonade just once, “to keep it as fresh as possible.” If you can find this lemonade at a kiosk near you, and manage to get your hands on some ice cubes, you will have the answer to an Athenian heat wave in a glass.
4. Cut your hair off.
If the trip to Limanakia and the pitcher of Chios Fruits Lemonade has still not managed to keep the sweat from your brow, follow suggestion number four and cut your hair off. Okay, not all of it (although it’s certainly an option), but have you noticed all the fantastic vintage barber shops in Athens? The sun is so bright it can be easy to overlook them, but trust me they’re there and Athens could right the book on impeccable grooming. In fact it’s hard to recommend just one, but I’d say make an appointment at Aki Pierro Barber & Shop on Solonos St. Heck, I haven’t even had my hair cut there yet but I’ve visited and can tell you the guys leaving the shop look ready to walk onto a movie set. Cool stuff.
5. Party all night and sleep all day.
It was almost 9:30 the other night and was getting testy (via text, of course) with Panagiotis for making me wait to go out to dinner. “It’s still early,” he wrote. However, I have realized that if you shed the Anglo-Saxon skin a bit and start having dinner later, then go for drinks say, in Gazi later than that, you can easily transform yourself from a diurnal being dodging the bright sunlight into a creature of the night. It may not work every day of the week, but if you can live by the night two or three days a week in the hot season, you’ll feel better in the morning. Because you’ll be sleeping through it.
6. Book this room.
Finally, if your air conditioner broke or you just can’t be bothered to schlep to the beach, check into the Presidential Suite at the King George Hotel. Because there’s nothing like a view of the sun-drenched Acropolis from the comfort of your own private swimming pool. And I checked—it was booked this week, but there’s always next, and guess what? If it’s September, it’s probably gonna be hot.
1. According to Greek press reports, when Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were still married, they shacked up in a semi-private, fully secret micro-resort on a rocky outcropping opposite the crowded holiday island of Santorini, where the swimming pool is all:
2. The fact that Brangelina were there does not preclude the possibility of Jennifer Aniston having also stayed there, but if she did she probably did so with someone other than Pitt. Because Jennifer symbolizes limitless talent, beauty and love, we think she might have swum (swam?) naked here as well, at the beach of Aphrodite’s rock which is technically in Cyprus, but on the Greek side of the island.
The lady on the left is very clearly possibly Jennifer Aniston, and it’s possible that after I (right) left the rock, she plunged into the aquamarine waters and had a little swim.
3. It is very likely that either Brad or Jen may have possibly at one point or another, together or separately, frolicked in the Grecian buff on the shores of this beach on the island of Milos. Milos, where they shot that stupid video for that awful song (if God exists, may She ban it), and that hasn’t yet been overrun with snarky Gallic junior executives from Louis Vuitton like the Ile-St-Louis or…Mykonos. Seriously, take a look at this piece of beach:
4. You may have heard that sexy-back-in-1984 Tom Hanks has a house on the petite Greek island of Antiparos, pictured below. Who cares, when the fact is that Jennifer Aniston was once really possibly seen on a secluded beach here swimming NAKED?
5. The 69th place on our list of places where Brad and Jen may have swam/swum naked (missed numbers 5 thru 68? We didn’t buy your booze!) is of course Mykonos. Pictured here is the Mykonos Blu Luxury Resort, which has this great beach…
….where there have been reported Aniston sightings. For our exclusive account of what happens at an amazing Greek island resort when you are neither Jennifer Aniston nor swimming naked, check out our Grecotel Caramel hotel diary here.