Life & Culture

Revealed, the smallest hotel room in Israel

Misha Mansoor wanted a bargain break in Tel Aviv. What could possibly go wrong?


August 2022 probably wasn’t the most sensible time for a single mother like me to take her three daughters on holiday to Tel Aviv (now officially the most expensive city in the world) but lockdown had kept me away from the falafel, beaches, and my big Israeli family for over three long years and I was desperate to make it happen.

Scouring the comparison sites I was flabbergasted by the figures. Did Trip Advisor think I wanted to buy a two-star hotel? Equally unsuccessful with Airbnb and keen to avoid sleeping on the beach for two weeks, I impulsively opted for something called The O Pod Hotel in Neve Tzedek. This promised Japanese-style ‘capsule concept’ rooms from as little as £55 for a double per night, meaning for the four of us it would cost me £110 per night — hundreds cheaper than anywhere else I could book, and it was next to the sea.

I paid in advance and saved a few more shekels by opting for the “no cancellation” option. How bad could it be? A little cramped? On holiday, how much more than a bed does one need anyway? I soon found out.

The hotel is situated on the fourth floor of an enormous block of shops and offices. Arriving tired, late in the evening, our check-in, with Omri and Eli at reception, was smooth, welcoming and friendly. My credit card was requested, even though I’d paid upfront. “Is it for the minibar?” I asked. They laughed.

Check-in completed, Eli told us to leave our cases while he showed us to our rooms. The four of us followed him through a bright, sea-facing lobby, with a view of Jaffa, up a flight of wrought-iron, see-through stairs.

Upstairs, the floor was also constructed from gaping wrought-iron. We discovered dozens of strange little numbered squares, windows with little curtains, stacked up on both sides of the walkway. Pairs of shoes were neatly arranged outside them. It was like walking along a washing machine aisle in a warehouse. “What odd little boxes,” I thought, and wondered if they were storage lockers. The floor below, had the same setup. Suddenly Eli stopped and opened the doors to two top row ‘lockers’. “Here are your rooms,” he said with a straight face. I laughed to show I appreciated the joke. He wasn’t joking.

I stared into a cavity that looked about three feet wide and three feet high and just long enough to lie down. This was meant for two of us to sleep in. There was a thin mattress with an equally thin pillow each and two very thin white duvets. Also provided were two extremely thin little white towels which I strongly doubted would conceal even a third of my not-so-thin body.

I realised that I’d hitherto been thinking of the word ‘pod’ as more of a ‘pad’. I’d never come remotely close to imagining their truly minuscule reality. A little ledge allowed you to place your small essential items next to you and the pod had two USB points and a plug socket as well as a light and aircon. There were three little footholds outside the capsules which I was supposed to use to heave myself up like a rockclimber.

“I will show you where you leave your baggage,” said Eli, taking us back down the transparent walkway and down the transparent stairs to the other side of the hotel and an overcrowded luggage room.

Retrieving only our essential toiletries and valuables, we said goodbye to our luggage and, like docile new prison inmates, shuffled off to our little cells to fetch our 2mm thick towels and have our showers.

Other inmates, sorry, guests, were sitting around the public areas. One woman sat at a wrought-iron table, directly under our wrought-iron staircase eating a probably, iron-rich salad.

The women’s showers were decent but the changing room was horribly humid. Wrapping the inadequate towel around my over-adequate body, I then had to do my walk of shame, strategically holding my toiletries and dirty clothes to cover the flesh revealed by the towel’s gapes. Unfortunately the towel was also very short.

As I squelched up the stairs trying very hard to keep my legs together as much as possible, the woman sitting beneath looked up. Water dripped off me (at least I think it was water) and, distressingly for both of us, just as we made unwanted eye contact, I dripped onto both her salad and her face.

I now had to try and get inside my top row cell with my teeny tiny towel on. Nearby were other guests, climbing in and out of their cells, some with ease and some not. People were milling about on the floor below. The hotel’s stairs and floors were an upskirter’s dream. I knew if they looked up they would see everything.

I was reminded of a joke I’d once heard about Crocs shoes: “See those holes? That’s where your dignity leaks out.”

Finally entombed in our pod, I dried and wriggled into my nightie. I wondered if the embarrassment of the towel walk, the squelchy staircase incident, and the bottom-revealing pod entry would ever pass.

Over the next few days we began to acclimatise somewhat to podlife. One thing I couldn’t do though was stop gawping at people in their little cages. Walking past rows and rows of people sitting or lying in their pods was like visiting a human zoo or dystopian science laboratory. I posted anonymised photos of people in their pods onto my Facebook page. Obviously I tried to do this respectfully. My Facebook friends were shocked and most found it hilarious. Every embarrassing incident was met with unabashed glee and, I suspect, Schadenfreude.

My mother was appalled.

“Misha, it’s disgusting. I can’t believe this. How could they do something like this in Israel? It’s like a concentration camp. How do they think survivors would feel if they saw this?” Considering that I, still in my fifties, was barely able to negotiate the infrastructure I doubted we needed to worry about that.

Sharing a small capsule with a daughter wasn’t too difficult. What was tricky though was being organised with my stuff. Clothes, shoes, laundry, toiletries, books, devices —it was all a bit chaotic. The worst thing of all remained the showering. It seemed impossible to avoid walking past the peoples of the world (we met tourists from every continent) in the skimpy excuses for a towel. By day five I had abandoned any attempt of maintaining dignity. My undercarriage was open viewing for all who chose to look up.

By the end of the second week I had, however, come to appreciate the O Pod. What it didn’t have in solid floors, or indeed any floors, it made up for with its spacious communal areas, amazing views and friendly staff. There was a water cooler and a couple of vending machines in the lobby and the back end of the Carmel Market was only five minutes’ walk away. The outdoor terrace was a gorgeous place to sit with my kids in the mornings, eating the fresh market deli food I’d buy most mornings.

We may have been staying in one of the cheapest hotels in the city, but sitting on the terrace, breakfasting on delicious fresh market food and enjoying the beautiful views of Jaffa and Tel Aviv seafront, I doubted the guests paying 20 times more than us at all the nearby five-star hotels could be any happier.

The hotel, with its 119-person capacity, only opened earlier this year and has been a huge success. As well as double pods, there are single pods, pods you can stand up in (but no floor) and even pods you can stand up in with a small area of actual floor.

We met people from all over, including Brazil, South Korea, Germany, Denmark, The Netherlands and even from other parts of Israel. To my surprise, I discovered that at least two people were living there full-time. “It’s cheaper than renting an apartment,” said Eli. “It costs them only NIS4860 to live here and that’s a lot less than anywhere else.”

My son came out to join us for the second week. Like my other kids he took it in his stride. “I’ve always wanted to sleep in a coffin or pretend I’ve gone back into the womb,” he joked.
That accurately sums it up. It was like being in the womb, and everyday I’d emerge, bottom or feet first, like a breech baby, stumbling out and gasping for air, hurting my feet on the hard iron grid, wondering how it had all come to this point in my life but then I would see the impressive views again, clutch my 2mm regulation towel, shoes on, chin up, and head down the stairs (hoping, of course, that nobody looked up to see my impressive views).

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