Sunday, 20 December 2009


After a morning of running around in Haifa, doing all the things I hadn't managed to fit in to the rest of my stay, I caught a bus to Nazareth. I didn't have any plan really to visit Nazareth - my lack of foreplanning is really becoming an issue here, and when I discovered that nowhere in Tzfat (my next intended destination) had vacancies for that night, I made the choice to go somewhere I'd heard good things about.

The journey was quite pleasant. Generally I enjoy travelling on bus more than train, as the scenery is much more interesting. Nazareth itself has no train station, so my decision was made for me anyway.

I got off my bus into a crowded and bustling high street - attempts to orientate myself failed (as usual), and I spent about twenty minutes ambling and feeling confused before (1) asking someone. This was pointless. I was already at the gates to the 'old city', and all the young chap next to me could say was "inside, inside, everything in old city". Yes, but where was the specific place I was looking for? OK, (2) I phoned the hostel. On they had sounded amazingly helpful, even offering to pick up travellers if that helpled. An arab lady answered the phone and entirely failed to speak sense to me. What advice I could glean from her seemed to amount to "try walking".

I think I probably would have done this anyway. Happily, it was the correct plan because as soon as I was inside the old city the Fauzi Azar Inn was signposted. Then signposted again - and again, and again and again. Finally, I arrived at this door:

Am I wrong in thinking this is like something out of Alice in Wonderland? This four-foot tall entrance was obviously not made for backpackers. It took me three attempts before I was inside.

But hey! I was here. This is a wonderful place. Here's the dorm:

Cool, huh? It's an old arab family mansion - owned by Fauzi Azar two generations ago, who died trying to save it from a fire. It is now owned by a Jewish couple who turned it into a hostel, and employ the granddaughter of Fauzi Azar as front of house staff (yes, that was her on the phone). Many people were unhappy with the arangement, accusing pretty much everyone involved of selling-out to the wrong people. However, the new owners made such a success of the establishment, respecting the heritage and bringing people into the centre of Nazareth to the great benefit of the local economy, and generally being nice that now everyone loves them. Well, this is the gist of the second-hand report I heard. I remain impressed though, it's somewhere I'd definitely recommend - and further, everyone I've mentioned Nazareth to has asked if I stayed there.

And this is the external social area (there's also a big kitchen and huge lounge/reception)

Right, so I had about sixteen hours to explore the city before travelling to Tzfat, having managed to book the next two nights there. First stop is the Basilica of the Annunciation, just outside the old city.

Check out these doors. If it weren't for the Fauzi Azar, I'd say these were my favourite doors ever.

Inside was very quiet. There were two other people when I entered, and while I was there only two more came in.

Gabriel annunciating to Mary.

Really nice altar.

There are many images created by artists from different countries on the walls. I don't know why these are so blurry, sorry.
-From Japan

-From China (where Mary is Queen, apparently)

This last, particularly abstract one, is from Canada.

And the outside, just as the sun was setting.

I went to the Church of Joseph, just next door.

This is the place of baptism, I think.

Can you see how much this looks like an eye? That's not just me, right?

Then I went to the White Mosque. This is again right next door to the Churches. I felt a little nervous about taking photos inside, but no one said anything. I also didn't want to go wondering around, as I couldn't tell where were the male and female areas and didn't want to cause offense.

I went back to the hostel (after eating some felafel), and hung out with the other guests for a few hours. This was nice and I had some interesting conversations about religion. They had cooked a kind of green Arabic wheat called (I think) Freeke. Unfortunately, as I was about to spoon a moutful onto my tongue, they remembered they'd put chicken stock stock into it...but at least it smelt very nice.

The next morning I got up early and took a walk through the old city. Nazareth is basically organised just like Jerusalem: the old city is a walled market town, narrow streets and usually bustling with traders of everything from fruit and veg to cheap plastic childrens' toys. Strangely, the streets are not named here but numbered. One big difference is the number of Jewish souvenir stalls - almost entirely absent here. There are also (as far as I could tell from my tourist map) zero synagogues. The city has a clear and obvious Christian connection, and the Arab Muslim population is also very noticeable. But in terms of Jewish presence there is really very little.

Inside the old city
I got to the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation. Having enjoyed the Greek Catholic Church in Haifa, I figured this might be worth the visit.

Another image of Michael and the Dragon.

Mary being annunciated unto.

The entire inside of the building is decorated like this - not one inch of plain wall.

Then I went to the Greek Orthodox Cemetery. This was very unlike cemeteries I'm used to. Check this out for example:
Not only do they have pictures of the people on all the gravestones, many people are buried above ground, in a filing-drawer sort of system. The empty spaces will soon (not too soon, one hopes) be filled and sealed.
I had to dash back to the hostel to get my bags, check out and find the bus to Tiberias. On my way though I met this tiniest kitten who was very sweet. She can only have been about four weeks old. It's made me very sad to see so many strays in Israel. I wish there was something I could do to help them all.

After talking to the cat I bumped into a Canadian man who -strangely? I'm not sure- had moved to Nazareth Illit (the village outside Nazareth) to work here as a street sweeper. When he found out I was from Birmingham he enthusiastically asked whether I supported Birmingham City or Villa. I didn't want to admit that I couldn't care less, so I told him I had a penchant for Wolves, having lived close to their ground for many years. We talked for a while about national sports and jazz before I headed off.

I was catching the bus to Tiberias in order to connect then to Tzfat, home of Kabbalah and city with a very interesting character. While waiting in Nazareth I was accosted by an elderly gentleman who waved and called "Shalom!" in a gummy kind of way, from two seats to my left. "Tiveria?" He asked. Yes. "Ah." Toothless grin. "My Name Salii. Everyone like me." Mm. Good. Tov, I said. He told me again, two times. I nodded sagely (what else can you do?). He still didn't seem quite sure I'd understood how popular he was (and he also tried to demonstrate this by waving and shouting at passersby, most of whom ignored him), but we were interrupted by a young guy who took a concerned interest in my I Ching tattoo. I tried to explain what it was, but I think he got the impression it was some kind of Triad symbol. It earned his respect anyway and he gave me his phone number and told me that anything I needed in Nazareth I could call him and he would provide for me - at the best price, of course.


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