No such luxury of a lie-in this morning as we had a full day of travelling, with a few stops, ahead of us.
So, we said goodbye to the Mount of the Beatitudes Pilgrim Guest House and its nice breakfasts and dodgy dinners and headed towards Tiberias before taking a sharp right (well, it felt like a sharp right!) and took the Nazareth road.
On the way we passed through Cana. Had there been any weddings we might have stopped for a drink but all was quiet so we pressed on to our first stop of the day – the largest Arab town in Israel: Nazareth.
Loay dropped us off by the Orthodox church of the Annunciation. The church is built over the only fresh water spring in Nazareth and, as such, would certainly have been a place visited daily by Mary. There was a service being conducted in the church and Brian invited us to reflect how we would react if, on a Sunday morning, coach loads of tourists wandered around our church, whispering and taking photographs…. Probably not with the equanimity and good grace of the churches we have visited so far.
Walking through the market we next came to the Latin Catholic Basilica of Annunciation, consecrated in 1969 and the biggest church built in the Holy Land for 800 years. Built over 3 tiers, the first being the cave level, contemporaneous with the level of the town in the first century. Ground level is a huge, open basilica whilst, above it is the local ‘parish’ church used by the Latin Catholic congregation of Nazareth today.
Picking up the bus again (once we’d found it – parking isn’t easy in Nazareth!) it was on to Qesaryya (also known as Caeseria Maritima) passing Mt Tabor in the distance on our left, along the plains of Jezreel with Megiddo (or Armageddon) on our right to the Mediterranean coast along the Via Maris.
Despite everything I’ve done for them the group would not let me slope off for a game of golf so it was more amphitheatres, bath houses, amphorae and a hippodrome …. still, after a walk along the promenade and a lovely lunch overlooking the harbour, Brian made up for my disappointment by letting me buy him a double scoop ice cream from Bella’s on the harbour before taking the bus a short trip up the coast to see the remains of the double aqueduct which Herod had constructed to bring fresh water to Caesarea from Haifa.
And from there to our final hotel: 4 nights in the beautiful Notre Dame hotel opposite New Gate in the Jerusalem city walls. Waiting for us there were Khalil, Eliane and their eldest son, Fayez. It was good to see them again and they, well, Eliane (she works here) gave us a potted history of the building. After an evening meal of wonderful tasty, well cooked food (Beatitudes Pilgrim House take note) we walked down to the Damascus Gate and up to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (or Church of the Resurrection, if you prefer – which I do). There were no queues for the ‘tomb’ so we all took the opportunity to see inside the ugly structure which commemorates the spot at which Jesus was laid to rest.
The evening being pleasantly cool we walked over to the Western Wall expecting it to be quiet. We were wrong. It wasn’t. Well, the wall was obviously, walls may have ears but mouths are significantly lacking but there was a huge celebration going on as those conscripts who had started their military service in 2010 were being demobbed at the Western Wall. The place was heaving with soldiers happy to be reunited with their loved ones.
A short walk back up through the Muslim and Christian quarters brought us back to the New Gate and our hotel.
Please note: WiFi is no longer free at Notre Dame unless, apparently, you’re a Reverend. The remaining instalments if this blog have cost me $10.
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