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Tel Aviv: eight great things to do

Tel Aviv - often referred to as the Miami of the Med - has been hailed “the destination of the year” and “Israel’s coolest city” by Forbes magazine no less.  And rightly so: Israel’s sin city serves up perfect beaches and a buzzy market vibe, together with and architectural treasures, gastronomy, history and culture.
What’s more you don’t need deep pockets to enjoy some time out in Tel Aviv, as easyJet flies to this city of cosmopolitan cool.
Here’s the low-down on what to do, where to eat and how to get around the ‘Hill of Spring’



Bask on a beach
Tel Aviv is arguably best known for beach culture. The Israeli city boasts a beach for every occasion and character – one to party, play sports, one for families (Metzitzim Beach), a religious beach (Nordau Beach where men and women are segregated) and another for the LBGT brigade (hello Hilton Beach). However for the swankiest stretch of sand, seek out Alma Beach, near the Charles Clore Park. Here you can enjoy the fabulous people watching opportunities, rest, relax and read that book that’s been sitting on your bedside table since Easter. 
 


Admire the architecture
Visiting Tel Aviv and not admiring the city’s beautiful white Bauhaus buildings (there are more than 400 in total) which were declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2003, is akin to travelling to Paris and failing to tick off the Eiffel Tower. Make no mistake: Tel Aviv is all about Bauhaus architecture (think curved corners, horizontal lines and an absence of ornamentation). Two of the best examples of Bauhaus style buildings include the charming Cinema Hotel (Dizengoff Square) and Soshkin House (12 Lillenblum Street).

Make friends with the locals
Whether you are in the party capital of the Middle East, for a day, a week or infinitely longer, expect to be warmly greeted by locals looking to shed the region’s international reputation. TNT defies you to resist the charms of the friendly – and unfeasibly good looking – Tel Avivians, who will bend over backwards to share their coastal metropolis with you. Those that this writer was befriended by couldn’t get over the fact that, back home in Blighty, I don’t know my neighbours: absolutely everyone knows everyone in Tel Aviv.


Shop up a storm
Good retail therapy – expect a competitive parade of preening bling – is another tremendous Tel Aviv asset. Go big on trendy Sheinken Street or Dizengoff Street – packed as they are with independent boutiques (you won’t find any chains here) for you to splash your shekels in.
However if you don’t boast the budget of Neymar and fellow footballers Gareth Bale and Paul Pogba, put the panic on hold and check out the Carmel Market where you’ll find passionate Israelis peddling everything from flip flops to face creams and fresh flowers, for peanut prices. And if you’re in town on a Tuesday or Friday between 10am-5pm make a beeline for buzzy Nahalat Binyamin Street – home to a popular pedestrianised craft market specialising in super affordable (and excellent) paintings, ceramics and jewellery.


Hot tables
Fabulous food food and drink is never hard to find in Tel Aviv, which has become something of a world class restaurant capital. Streets such as Rothschild Boulevard – an elegant avenue lined with imported oak trees and named after the famed Jewish family of financiers – are brimming with cafes and restaurants.
The waterfront eateries at the Old Port (that was given a makeover in the early 2000s by the Tel Aviv municipality) also reward a visit while the historic Old Railway Station (HaTachna) is home to to a whole host of fashionable dining venues including Vicky Cristina, (www.vicky-cristina.co.il/en/ – an outdoor tapas and wine bar named after the Woody Allen film, that’s currently the hottest ticket in town.
But you don’t have to spend a lot to eat well.  Hummus – aka the humble chick pea dish – is dirt cheap and tastes sublime, especially when slathered on a hunk of pita bread. Benedict (www.benedict.co.il/en) is another place where you can live the high life, without paying the vertigo inducing rates.

 



Jaffa jaunt
It would be easy to spend all your time in downtown Tel Aviv but it’s worth venturing to the ancient port city of Jaffa, just south of the city, to see the contrast between slick Tel Aviv and its shabby-chic neighbour.
Once the unofficial capital of the British Mandate of Palestine, today Jaffa is famed for its flea market and for serving as a film location for the hit US TV series Homeland.
Exploring Jaffa from your Tel Aviv base is safe and easy – simply a hire a bike (cycling is the best way to get around) and stick to the designated cycling lanes.


Say hello to the Holy Land
Jerusalem
- which has been seducing travellers and pilgrims since time immemorial – is another destination within easy day tripping distance of Tel Aviv. Trust TNT when we say that nothing prepares you for a visit to the Old City. Even if you aren’t remotely religious, it’s nigh on impossiblenot to be moved by the history and heritage contained within the walls of a city that’s sacred to Christians, Jews and Muslims alike. 
 

 

Stroll the promenade
Of course chances are you’re probably after a holiday not a history lesson so, back in Tel Aviv proper, spend your final evening strolling along the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Promenade. This always lively walkway is a great place to stop for a coffee, to eat a long, late dinner (this is a city that personifies la dolce vita and even at 3am every venue is heaving) at one of the many eateries, indulge in some serious people watching or simply to listen to some of the best music buskers you’re ever likely to encounter.

 

Words and pictures: Kaye Holland

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10 reasons to visit Dubai

Kaye Holland has the low-down on why you should add the Middle Eastern metropolis-on-sea to your travel bucket list for 2017

 

As recently as two decades ago very few of us had heard of, yet alone been to, Dubai. Now the emirate is a permanent fixture on the winter sun scene thanks to its promise of guaranteed rays, without the need to fly halfway around the globe. But there’s more to this ambitious Arab emirate than merely sun and sand. Scratch beneath the shiny surface and you’ll find another side to the ‘city of gold’. Alongside iconic modern skyscrapers like the Burj Al Arab (the seven star hotel shaped like the sail of a dhow) sit historical sites such as Bastakia and the creek where you can watch abras and dhows (traditional Arab sailing boats) weave their way across the water as they have done for centuries.
The emirate might not be entirely to your taste - much like Marmite, you’ll either love it or hate it - but one thing you can never accuse Dubai of being is dull…

 

Ascend the Burj Khalifa
Soaring 828 metres above Dubai, the Burj Khalifa - currently the world’s tallest building - represents a union of art, engineering and heritage. It's home to thousands of metres of office space, 900 private residences, the 160-room Armani Hotel and At The TopSKY, a record-breaking observation deck on the 148th floor that offers dizzying views of Dubai’s skyline, punctuated as it is by skeletal hotels and stellar shopping malls. The Burj Khalifa is also an art lover's paradise: expect to see more than 1,000 specially commissioned works of art from Middle Eastern and international artists alike, on display throughout the building.
www.burjkhalifa.ae

Shop till you drop
If shopping was an Olympic event, Dubai would virtually be guaranteed a gold medal: there’s a whole host of super sized shiny malls dedicated to the joys of consumerism. The Mall of the Emirates (home to a ski slope complete with 6,00 tonnes of real snow that falls over night at around minus 10 degrees Celsius) has long been the king of the castle, but is now been given a run for its money in the shape of The Dubai Mall. The largest mall in the world by total area, it boasts enough shops (1,625 no less) to clothe you for life, together with buzzy bars and restaurants. The mega mall also houses an on site aquarium (the largest in the world, natch) should you bee interested in scuba diving with sharks, an Olympic sized ice rink and the world’s highest dancing fountains. Make no mistake: Dubai’s charismatic ruler, Sheikh Mo, definitely subscribes to the theory that bigger is better.
www.thedubaimall.com

Marvel at The Palm
The desert destination’s man made islands are arguably the most audacious of all of Dubai’s breathtaking projects. These three palm-shaped artificial archipelago are often referred to as the eighth wonder of the world as they are one of the few engineering feats that can be seen from space. The best way to see these awe inspiring islands- home to scores to sumptuous resorts such as the marine themed, celeb studded Atlantis that’s loved by the Made in Chelsea cast -  is by boat. You’ll find plenty of private tour companies who will happily take you out on either a yacht or speedboat. Alternatively jump on the Palm Monorail (www.palm-monorail.com) that runs to the Atlantis resort (www.atlantisthepalm.com).

Check out the creek
Given the emirate’s enthusiasm for glitz and glamour, people tend to have the wrong idea about Dubai – believing it to be all about shopping and skyscrapers, malls and modernity. Not so. Don’t get us wrong: Dubai definitely loves its designer shopping and futuristic skyline, but the beating heartbeat of the former fishing post has to be the creek. On the Bur Dubai side, you’ll discover the colourful Textile souk selling curly Aladdin-esque slippers and fine silks for a snip while on the Deira side, follow your nose to the Spice souk where exotic spices and dried fruits are sold out of large open sacks making for sensory overload. Then go to the Gold souk - regardless of whether you looking for a statement jewellery piece for peanuts (the price of gold is generally a lot lower than in Europe) the gold souk is a must see when in the ‘the city of gold’.

Visit Jumeirah Mosque
For further local flavour, factor in a tour of Jumeirah Mosque (Dubai is after all an Islamic state even if it isn’t quite how you’d envisage Arabia) on Beach Road. Snowy white (the mosque was built entirely from white stone in the medieval Fatimid tradition), this intricately detailed house of worship - twin minarets frame a large central dome - is easily Dubai's most beautiful mosque and, crucially, the only one that welcomes non-Muslims (women must wear a scarf) six days a week. One-hour guided tours are run by the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding and conclude with a Q&A session where you are free to ask any question about Islamic religion and culture.
www.visitdubai.com/en/pois/jumeirah-mosque

Beach life
If all you want to do is fly and flop (and let’s face it, we wouldn’t blame you given the arctic weather in Blighty), Dubai won’t disappoint. Dubai has brilliant beaches boasting sand whiter than a dentist’s chair, although most are owned by the city’s hotel and resorts. Translation? If you’re Airbnb-ing it, you won’t be able to access them. But don’t despair! For just a few dirhams, you can stretch out on the sand atJumeirah Beach Park where facilities include showers, sun-beds, changing rooms, children’s playground areas and an array of F&B outlets selling snacks. However if you want a slice of sand to yourself, make for Al Mamzar – the beach park that most of Dubai forgets owing to its slightly off-the-beaten tack location (it’s situated on the outskirts of the city).

Saddle up
When you want to escape the concrete jungle - and after a few days, chances are you will - sign up for a desert safari. Every tour operator under the sun offers safari tours, which typically include a camel ride and cultural activities- think music, dance, henna, falconry and local food - at a traditional Bedouin desert camp. Trust TNT when we say that as experiences go, a desert safari should top any Middle East itinerary list.

Gawp at the skyline
The Dubai skyline changes on (an almost) daily basis - change is the only constant in this glitzy, desert oasis - but mustn’t miss skyscrapers include the Burj Al Arab (the self proclaimed seven star hotel, shaped like the sail of a dhow), the triangular tips of the Emirates Towers on Sheikh Zayed Road and the wave like Jumeirah Beach Hotel. Bottom line? Whether you’re on the beach or downtown around the Burj Khalifa, an amazing view of the city’s twisting towers, majestic mosques and lavish modern souksis pretty much guaranteed.
www.visitdubai.com

Culture vulture
It’s detractors may say that a pot of yoghurt has more culture than Dubai but, thanks to the arrival of a new opera house, it’s legion of fans beg to differ. Locatedin the glittering Downtown area, Dubai Opera - which opened on the 31 August 2016 with a powerhouse performance by the Spanish tenor, Placid Domingo - is billed as the city’s first purpose-built multi-format performing arts theatre. Developer, Emaar Properties, says that the dramatic dhow shaped exterior could one day be as iconic as the Sydney Opera House. Forthcoming shows include West Side Story (February 2017) and White Nights in Dubai (March-April 2017) starring Welsh mezzo-soprano, Katherine Jenkins. Check out the full programme at www.dubaiopera.com

Art attack
The United Arab Emirates’ second largest city hasn’t always been associated with art but times - they are a-changin. The epicentre of Dubai’s art scene is arguably Alserkal Avenue (www.alserkalavenue.ae). Dubbed Dubai’s answer to Shoreditch, this edgy warehouse district is chock full of contemporary art galleries and impressive outdoor installations. And be sure to check to Cuadro Fine Art Gallery (www.cuadroart.com) over in the Gallery Village art hub, where you’ll find work by artists like Gita Meg and Dale Chubby. But whichever part of the city you find yourself in, keep your eyes open for Dubai Walls (#DubaiWalls) - an initiative launched last March to promote street art in the Middle East.

An awfully big adventure

Kaye Holland explores Hawaii's Big Island and discovers that this  Pacific Ocean outpost has many dimensions beyond the beach

Hawaii is often written off as little more than beach and tiki bar destination - albeit a brilliant one of course - but there’s more to this exotic island chain than merely sun and sand. Here’s something you might not know…. these palm fringed islands are home to a 1,500 mile string of volcanoes, the lion’s share of which can be found on Hawaii Island -  the largest (it’s bigger than all the other islands combined) and one of the least populated (less than 200,000 people live there) of the Hawaiian island chain.

 

Make no mistake the Big Island, which is relaxed even by the standards of the other islands, is all about the lava. Much like Gary Barlow, the Big Island has waited patiently for its moment of glory and that time is now: the Big Island (also called the Island of Hawaii) is this year celebrating the 100th birthday of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.

Kailua-Kona - where King Kamehameha, the revered Hawaiian leader who united all the islands - was born and lived out his life and Hilo, the island’s commercial harbour, are the two gateways to the Big Island. I touched down in the former - well if it was good enough for Hawaiian royalty - and a short drive later checked into Hilton Waikoloa Village where holiday harmony is guaranteed.

The vibe at Hilton Waikoloa is a home from home - provided your home is very deluxe that is. This is where service was invented - staff remember your kona coffee (excellent coffee cultivated on the slopes of Hualalai and Mauna Loa in the North and South Kona Districts of the Big Island) order, even if you're only there - as I was - for two days. There’s just something in the Hawaiian spirit that is gracious and welcoming and considerate...

The resort is full of fab restaurants and shops (although admittedly it helps if you have a trust fund to raid) but the setting (think 62 oceanfront acres full of tropical gardens and wildlife) is so fine, chances are you’ll want to laze about and do nothing.

 

Although my first day had hardly been strenuous , consisting as it did of basking in the rays on Hapuna Beach - world famous for its magnificent half-mile stretch of white powder sand - while sipping a Mai Tai and cooling off from the 30+ degree sun with a swim, I opted for a Lomi lomi massage at Waikola Village's Kohala spa.


This Hawaiian treatment which means to rub, press, squeeze and work your way around a body as though with the claws of a satisfied cat, might not sound in the slightest bit relaxing, but surprisingly it is and left me feeling relaxed, re-balanced and already planning my return.

Make no mistake: once you have settled in at Hilton Waikola you won’t have an easy time leaving but do because Hawaii Island’s biggest draw by far is Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, a wonderland ruled by Pele - the female goddess of fire.

Founded on 1 August 1916, Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (HVNP) is older than the National Park Service by 24 days and predates Hawaiian statehood (August 1959). Honoured as both an International Biosphere Reserve (1980) and a World Heritage Site (1987), HVNO hosted nearly 1.7 million visitors in 2014 and boasts two active volcanoes: here’s looking at Mauna Loa and Kilauea.

The latter is the younger sibling and the earth’s youngest and most active volcano. Since 1983 Kilauea’s East Rift Zone has been erupting almost nonstop - adding well over 500 acres of new land to the Big Island - and providing visitors with a front row seat to one of the world’s greatest shows: every evening the crater glows pomegranate red.

 

The modest 1983 eruption of Kilauea covered 30,000 acres with lava, created 180 acres of new land off shore and resulted in US$62 million dollars of property damage. But this is nothing compared to the geological forces these volcanoes can unleash.

The largest recorded earthquake in Hawaiian island history is Mauna Loa which measured 7.9 on the Richter scale in 1868 and whose aftershocks continue to the present date.

 

All of which means if you want to properly explore this fascinating park full of active volcanism, biological diversity, and Hawaiian culture, past and present, you need a guide - this is no place to get lost. Plus, travelling all that way, you will to see as much as possible and only an experienced and trained guide - I can vouch for David at Hawaii Forest & Trail - can truly take you into a world before time, across ancient landscapes and hidden moonscapes.

It’s not often that a 4.30am wake up call feels worth it but my Twilight Volcano adventure was one of those occasions, when it was totally was.

Our exploration of the park’s 333,000 acres offered a unique opportunity to see science in action. In an instant, as our group peered into a glowing lava lake while watching piles of gas and ash waft skyward, the early start was forgotten.

Descending through a lush rainforest filled with birdsong to the floor of the solidified but still steaming Kilauea Iki Crater, walking through an ancient lava tube and marvelling at how ferns and endemic ohi’a trees thrive amid a lava pumice landscape created during a 1959 eruption were just a few of the many, many standouts of our tour.

The real highlight for me, however, was evening stargazing atop Mauna Kea - Hawaii’s highest peak and one of the holiest places in Hawaiian spirituality - which afforded the opportunity to browse the the night skies in all their glory.  Make no mistake: the view from Mauna Kea volcano is unmatched in clarity - you’ll be able to see whole of Hawaii beneath.

 

It can be cold (layers and long trousers are necessary) but trust me when I say that you won’t be sorry you left the beach unless, of course, your forget your camera. (You’ll want to text friends, take pictures and post to FB and Instagram for this is an extraordinary place, a feast for the eyes, whose hyperbole is more than justified).

 

Staring at the stars - all of which have a story to tell - you'll feel a long way from the office. If you can’t a little perspective on life here, there’s something wrong.

Or  in the words of writer and author Paul Theroux, who splits his time between Cape Cod and Hawaii:

“And I thought at last, I am where I want to be.
People elsewhere said how distant I was and off the map but no - they were far away, still groping onward. I was at last where I wanted to be. I had provided what I had always suspected that even the crookedest journey is the way home.”