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FancyBeard: Soaking Up Sexy Tel Aviv on the Cheap

FancyBeard: Soaking Up Sexy Tel Aviv on the Cheap

FancyBeard: Soaking Up Sexy Tel Aviv on the Cheap

With all those gorgeous men luring you into bars, Tel Aviv is not the easiest to do on 20 bucks a day. But it's possible, according to our bearded explorer.

Introducing our new FancyBeard series, in which a hirsute, globetrotting gay man makes peace with his limited budget and an affinity for the finer things in life. This trip: the Beard Hits The Holy Land.

It was my last day in Israel and money was tight. I had a planned dinner that evening with a group, sort of a goodbye dinner, at a very expensive but well worth it restaurant. Herbert Samuel is one of the best restaurants in Tel Aviv and with best, comes pricey. It would prove to be super exclusive later that night, when the former President of Israel walked in with his security detail and dined just one table from our group. But back to me being on a budget. It was lunch time, and I couldn’t bear to eat any more falafel, as that was my go-to, cheap Israeli meal. Across the street from my hotel was a gas station, so I figured I could get along just fine with a beer and some chips, at least until dinner. Picking a beer wasn’t an issue, as I always go for the darkest in color, but what consumed most of my time in that convenience store was trying to sort out what flavors each chip bag was. Not understanding how to read or speak Hebrew, I just based my choice on the color of the bag, as they didn’t even have illustrations to help with the guessing game. I ended up going with purple, which much to my disappointment, ended up being plain tortilla chips. But it all wasn’t chips and beer during the trip. I actually didn’t spend my entire four days in Tel Aviv, but opted to see more of Israel before settling in to my fancy hotel.

This was my first trip to Israel so I made sure to ask the right questions before heading over. We all know Tel Aviv is the gay mecca of that region, but the rest of the country serves as a holy land for several religions, and I didn’t want to offend anyone with my tattoos or, well, beard. I was mostly worried my beard would portray me as someone who I wasn’t. After careful consideration, and by my own choice, I opted to cover the tattoos while visiting holy sites, but uncovered when just walking around the cities. Israel ended up being exactly what I expected it to be, visually stunning and rich in culture and history.

Jerusalem was where I started the adventure, and after seeing the panoramic view of the Judean Desert from Mount Scopus, I knew I was in for an experience of a lifetime. The city is filled with memorials and museums, all which should appeal to most travelers, as it helps paint a picture of where you are standing. Once it became truly clear how important the land I was in to so many people, that’s when my experience took a different turn. I’m not the most religious person, and don’t even claim a religion, but once you are there, you can’t help feeling the power or energy of all those around you. Jerusalem has Muslim, Christian, and Jewish quarters. I think that’s what surprised me the most about Israel were the mixed communities living together in one area. Obviously, this isn’t the case in one region of the country, but for what I saw, it worked out just fine. This was mostly true in the city of Haifa, where I drove through on my way to Tel Aviv. The city is known for being the most unified city of mixed religions within Israel. It’s a model example of what is possible. But before I reached Haifa, I went straight for the Dead Sea.

Before arriving to the famous sea, I had a quick pit stop in Masada to visit the fortress-palace built by King Herod. This guy had built some of the most impressive structures throughout Israel, including a Roman theater, hippodrome, and bathhouse (which partially is still visible) in Caesarea, a now national park along the Mediterranean Coast. But it was the Dead Sea that took the prize for the most unique experience I had while visiting. The water is so dense with salt that you actually float and cannot sink. Besides being careful not to get it in your mouth or eyes, floating around in the hot sun was rather magical.

After a couple of days seeing all that I could see, and soaking in all the history, it was time to reach my final destination, Tel Aviv. And yes, it’s true, everyone is gorgeous there. I place full blame on mandatory military service, because these kids come out all fit and stay fit. It’s an unfair advantage, but one I didn’t mind looking at, everywhere I turned, especially at the beach. I had been budgeting wisely and not spending much during the first two days, saving up for Tel Aviv, as that is where the big bucks are usually spent in Israel. The hotel and the few upgraded meals I opted for at Wilhelmia and Messa, took the majority of the funds, so I was eager to make friends who could potentially buy me a drink or three. Beer is by far the cheapest liquid option to order when out at a bar, but will still break the bank, so plan accordingly. Grocery store beer is about a third of the price, so I just pre-gamed… a lot.

Tel Aviv is completely different from the rest of the country. Someone told me the city’s unofficial motto was something like, “Pray outside and play inside .” That was pretty much the case for what I saw. Oh, and here, no need to cover up anything. It’s about as liberal as any major Western city — tattoos, beards, and very little clothing when near the water. Luckily my hotel came with breakfast included, so I would load up for the day and hold out until dinner, except for that last day with the great chip debacle. I walked the city, and even made it to neighboring Jaffa, an ancient seaport with really unique views of Tel Aviv. I checked out one gay bar, and was mildly disappointed, as it wasn’t as big as I thought it would be. I actually had more fun at the larger “mixed” clubs and a private party I somehow found my way to. Everyone is extremely nice, especially when out and about at night. Apparently I wasn’t afraid to ask for sips of drinks or directions to the late night parties. It’s a killer destination that definitely hurt my wallet, but by eating street food, buying beer in the markets and walking instead of using taxicabs, it’s possible to survive on limited funds. As for seeing the other parts of the country, the best bet is to pay for a tour with a guide. It will end up being the safest and most economical option.

How To Get There:
There are tons of flights to and from Israel, but since I travel on a budget, I went with the most interesting option. El Al is Israel’s national airline and a great option. Just make sure to arrive to the airport with plenty of extra hours as the check-in process is one of the most intrusive (for everyone’s safety), and lengthy that exists. I went with an open mind, so when I was asked to hand over my bags and computer, or prove who I was by showing my work online, I wasn’t upset. Also, try to get seats closer to the front as the back of the plane is usually full of men praying… all flight. I sat in the last row, so had some personal space issues, but now you know.

Where To Stay:
In Tel Aviv, I stayed at the Carlton Hotel, not to be confused with the Ritz-Carlton, the luxury hotel that’s actually not in the best location in Tel Aviv. The Carlton is not the top hotel, but it certainly is above the majority. It’s located right on the beach and about a block and a half from the “gay” beach, but really, all the beaches are pretty gay. The rooms are spacious, have cute balconies for people watching, and it has a very fun rooftop pool, which has a perfect view of the public pool across the street.  There are “club” levels for those of us who enjoy that extra attention, but really, any room is an upgrade from the standard hotel room in the area.

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