I spent last week in and around Tel Aviv for work. This was my first visit to Israel, even though I've been working for an Israeli company for about ten years. I flew with El Al, which involved much more intense security checking than any other airline I've flown with, but wasn't quite as intrusive as I had feared.
As you might expect, it was pretty hot there, but I was not out too much during the day. Mind you, it stayed warm in the evenings too. My impressions of Tel Aviv were of a busy city that is building a lot of new high-rise buildings, whilst still having a lot of older, very tatty areas. It seems to be generally safe to wander around. The only real sign that something could be wrong are the plain-clothes armed guards outside many buildings such as some hotels, shopping centres and restaurants. I was asked once if I had any 'guns, weapons or bombs', but it was with a smile.
I ate pretty well there. Lunch was from some very good sandwich and other fast food establishments. Dinner varied from a slice of pizza from a street stall to a very nice meal in one of the nicer hotels. All this was at lower prices than what you would expect in the UK.
There were lots of signs of religion. There was actually a mosque near the hotel, but not many other obvious signs of moslems, but all sorts of variants of the jewish faith were to be seen in the way people dressed. A large proportion do not wear any special clothes, but many men wore a yarmulke (skullcap). There seemed to be several varieties of the more orthodox branches, each with their own style of dress. Alongside this you have a fair number of very obvious lap-dancing bars and sex shops. A 'tourist guide' I picked up in the hotel had a map of the city surrounded by 'escort agency' ads.
I didn't get enough time to really experience the country, but I've at least had a taste of it. I didn't get a chance for a guided tour from one of my Israeli colleagues that might have exposed me to more local culture, but I still managed to dine at some less touristy restaurants that didn't even have an English menu.
I got back in the early hours of Friday. I managed to get a few hours sleep then I was out in the afternoon to play in a short gig with Secret Bass at the Multiple Sclerosis Trust in Letchworth. I didn't get much chance to rehearse, but it went pretty well. Malcolm has written his own review.
Sunday was spent with the family at Marston Vale for an event called Woodworks. This was generally a celebration of the use of wood in crafts, but also included various other crafts and environmental stalls. There was also some live music from folk bands. I got in some more drumming at workshop by Chris Puleston. He runs a drum circle near here, but has a different performance style to Malcolm. He did a pretty good job of getting the audience to play along.