Nazareth & the Jesus Trail

Coffee and donkeys in Nazareth

After a week at a wonderful international school near Hertzliyya, we are now in Nazareth.
We are happy to be staying in the old parts of cities, which have a very authentic, and much different, feel from the ‘modern’ parts of cities. Here, no busses and motorbikes race by. It is quiet because there  is no traffic. The roads are alleys, just a few meters wide, if that. They are steep, often with steps. Here the alleys also have gutters for run-off, making it awkward to walk. When the market stalls are open, and goods spill out into the street, there is not enough room for all of the people making their way up and down the hilly town. Here, among the vegetable and fruit vendors, it is easy to imagine how Jesus walked these same narrow roads.

We followed our noses to the coffee and spice vendor, bought Turkish coffee in a small stall and walked to the Church of the Annunciation where, according to Christian belief, the angel Gabriel told Mary of her immaculate conception.
The skyline of Nazareth is filled with churches, mosques and minarets. We were surprised to learn that no Jews live in this Arab city, but make their home in nearby Nazareth Ilid.
We had fantastic fried pancakes filled with cottage cheese and pecans, and drenched in honey.
We bought bread and fruit for our upcoming long distance hike and did our laundry. The hotel in which we are staying is a fun, ancient inn. Our room has stone arches and feels like an old wine cellar… The courtyard is full of birds and plants, even a lemon tree.

This afternoon we visited Nazareth Village, an open air museum where the time of Jesus is reenacted in the village and farm style, clothing and way of living. Only 500 meters from old Nazareth, they have unearthed an ancient wine press area in the rocks, as well as terraced farm land. Old, gnarled olive trees shelter the sheep and donkey that roam around while children play in period clothing and adults demonstrate herding, a guard station, weaving and more. There is even a carpenter named Joseph…  Everything is very enjoyable and interesting. Except the gift shop which sells plastic baby Jesus dolls.

We found a great restaurant where we’ve gone back twice for dinner: Tishreen Restaurant:
Check out:


What Would Jesus Do? Well, He Didn’t Take The Bus!

What would Jesus do if he still lived here?

Well, as the brochure of the Jesus Trail states “Jesus didn’t take the bus.” So we do the same – we walk the Galilee while we are here.
We booked this hike through the JesusTrail Tours, which means we still hike just with the two of us, but they arranged our overnight accommodations along the trail, the meals AND they transport our luggage. A perfect arrangement.
Leaving Nazareth this morning, we followed the orange trail markers, through the alleys of the old city, up 350 steps and out of the city. The trail took us through old olive groves and yellow fields of mustard seed.
Whenever we pass through a town, children and adults alike called out ‘hello’ and ‘Shalom’! These are Arab children and ‘shalom’ is a foreign word so they yell it at foreign visitors. Everyone is very welcoming and kind.
We had a snack of nuts and fruit outside the gates of Zippori, a historic national park including Roman ruins dating back to 700 BC.
Then we headed down into the city of Cana where Jesus reportedly performed his very first miracle: turning water into wine at a Cana wedding feast. Now, Cana proudly displays jars of clay (as in the famous music group Jars of Clay) and sells mineral water as Cana wine… or perhaps they bottle real wine.
There are two churches, a Catholic one and an Oxthodox church right next to each other, each claiming to be the original site. Our guest house in Cana is immediately next to the churches. The very welcoming Arab Israeli hosts served us fresh lemonade, made from the lemons in the backyard, before showing us a room.
It is interesting to note that Arabs and Jews still live in very separate areas of town, if they even share a town. Cana has a Christian side and a Muslim side. Some towns only have one or the other but not both. Apparently they get on well enough on the surface, but many nuances play a role in the deeper understanding of how both cultures mix or don’t mix.
Our host just came and served us Turkish coffee. Tonight they will serve us a traditional dinner.
Stay tuned for tomorrow’s adventure as we spend the night at an orthodox kibbutz. Not sure if there will be wifi.

Best date I ever had!

No, not a date with my husband but fresh dates bought on the market in Nazareth. I have never seen or tasted such incredible dates. Oy Vey! Soft, sweet, huge.
We left the Cana Wedding Guest House, after breakfast of tomatoes, cucumbers, pita bread, hummus, yogurt and omelet.
IMG_1022Hiking out of Cana we grinned at the shoe store. Would have never known this was a shoe store… But yesterday my boots were killing me and the son of the guesthouse owner took us to this store. It was closed and no shoes in sight. A lady across the road came with a key and sold me a pair of running shoes. This is why I am now hiking the hills of the Galilee in fluorescent green shoes…. Oy vey again!We are on day two of the four day Jesus Trail. Yesterday we hiked for 15 KM, same today. The weather was overcast but no rain. And it’s perfect to do this hike without sun beating down on us. You can only do the hike in spring and fall, because the summer’s heat is too much. On the outskirts of Cana we were appalled by all the garbage strewn left and right. People seem to dump everything they don’t need anymore on the outskirts of town, in the hills. There are empty bottles and plastic bags but also broken office chairs, TV’s, a whole playground set, and more. Kees said “there are not many places in Israel where you cannot see any garbage.” And this is right, the beach being a big exception where every little bit of garbage was picked up. But if the government wants to promote tourism through hiking trails, people will have to learn how to clean up! The scents of Israel to me, right now, are heavy sweet blossoms mixed with rotting garbage. There must a millions of cats in the country, living around all of the open garbage cans we see.The trail today led through rocky, green hills and along wheat fields. At one point it turned into a narrow cattle trail, leading over hills. Our view was mostly of the Golan Heights to the east.
We also walked through a lovely forest of olive, laurel and pine trees. We had a picnic lunch at the base of a sign, in Hebrew, that had two words in English: Frican Forest. There was no place to sit but we shared a chunk of wood at the base of the sign to eat our pita bread with cheese, freshly roasted pecans and amazing dates! As soon as we walked into the Frican Forest, we saw picnic tables! And not just one or two but many! The Hebrew sign had probably said that there were picnic tables coming up!

When we got close to our destination, the Kibbutz Lavi, we could see the buildings on the top of a hill but no road or path leading to it. We got lost trying to follow the trail and looking for the right path. We probably walked some 2 KMs wrong but eventually took a road straight up the hill, arriving huffing and puffing at the hotel (at least I did, Kees is in much better shape after hiking in Spain for 10 days).

The hotel is beautiful and has a huge indoor pool. Which we used! Dinner was kibbutz style in a huge dining room: fish, chicken, roast vegetables and much more. It is interesting to note that this is a traditional, orthodox kibbutz and all food is prepared according to strict rules under supervision of a rabbi. It was very tasty!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A Day of Firsts!

This is Day 3 on the Jesus Trail and we hike from Kibbutz Lavi to Moshav Arbel.
The sun breaks through the clouds and the sky gets blue. The weather, this week, is perfect for hiking.
But it is the first time we hike among cows and even the odd steer. They are huge, but just curious and we don’t get charged.
We do follow their little, narrow trails through fields, among boulders and up and down hills.
It was the first day we had to climb up and up and up, rounding some high, rocky outcrops called The Horns of Hattim. Hard to imagine, as we walk the green fields with wildflowers, that the is the very spot where, in 1187, the army of Saladin defeated the Crusaders!
It was the first time ever I have visited a Druze site.
The Druze are an Arabic group of people, living in Israel, who are recognized as a separate religious culture. Check out this link if you want to learn more about them:

The Druze have ties to the Prophet Jethro and to Moses.
We visited their temple Nebi Shu’eib.
The men wear white turbans or a fez, while the women wear white headscarves. The temple dates back to the year 300, parts were constructed in 1187. Pretty darn old.
My one blister is getting bigger so I limped into the area and was happy to sit down for a little picnic lunch of fruit, pita and eggs.

We decide to take a short cut to the village Moshave Arbel, rather than hike the extra 10 KM through the hills. All day we had a view of our ultimate goal: the Sea of Galilee. As we enter the village in which we are staying tonight, I notice it is clean, with wide streets, sidewalks and lots of greenery. Turns out this is a Jewish village, as opposed to the many Arab towns in which we have stayed. I didn’t know this but Arab Israelis don’t pay local taxes and thus their villages don’t have the services of villages like this one.

The word I have perhaps heard most of, here in Israel, is “welcome”! Everyone is incredibly welcoming. The hosts at Arbel Guesthouse welcomed us with a jug of lemonade. We have the top floor of the house, with a jacuzzi, bed and small kitchen. First time ever I have seen a simple hole in the wall serve as bathroom vent.
And, first time ever, we were given the key to the house but also the key to the gate that blocks access to the entire village! When we walked past, I wondered why there was a huge gate that could close off entrance to the town. Things like war or invasion of tanks crossed my mind. Never did the real reason occur to me. Our host explained that nearby farmers will come and steal sheep. That’s why we now have a key to the village! We and the sheep will be safe tonight!
Addendum: tonight we enjoyed the best possible dinner. In such a small village nears the shores of Galilee we ‘discovered’ that the owner of our guesthouse, Arbel Guesthouse, is an amazing chef. Yishmael served us fresh mousse of mango, followed by delicious soup. Then the best roast chicken we’ve ever had (hope Karla doesn’t read this!!), with salad with cranberries and nut and FIVE different vegetables, mashed potatoes topped with sweet potatoes – all beautifully served. Then we had homemade strawberry and lemon sherbet, followed by homemade limoncello. OMG – fabulous meal worthy of any 5 star restaurant. Moshev Arbel should be on the map just for this!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014: We Made It!

Ancient synagogue excavations

Gorgeous blue sky greeted us on the last day of our hike. Arbel Guesthouse outdid itself with breakfast: fresh grapefruits and avocados from their own garden, olives, cucumber, tomatoes. Fresh yogurt. Homemade tea. Bread, granola and baked eggs. This was by far the best gourmet place we stayed at in Israel.
We hoisted our day packs onto our backs and set off – immediately down a green valley of wildflowers and past ancient ruins of a synagogue. We descended along narrow cow trails into a steep valley, rock cliffs rising on both sides. We met several herds of cows with new calves.
At the bottom of the valley we skirted the Bedouin village of Wadi Haman, walking through orchard after orchard of grapefruits, olives, oranges and bananas.

And then we saw it up close: the Sea of Galilee! I touched the water and marveled at the idea that we were now at 200 meters below sea level! The Sea of Galilee is Israel’s largest lake. Directly across from the sleepy villages is the Golan Heights, and then Syria. We don’t hear or see much of any violence. The only military presence we have seen, so far, is the odd soldier, a helicopter now and then, and two huge tanks in the middle of a forest. When we got closer we realized that we completely inflatable! Decoy tanks?

It is interesting to note that all Israeli Jewish men and women (except the ultra orthodox) serve in the army swell as the Druze. The Arab Israelis are exempt from military service.

As we walked along the sea of Galilee to our final destination, we saw the Church where fishes and bread were multiplied, according to the gospel. We saw the place where Mary came from, Mount Beatitudes where the sermon on the mount was delivered, and finally ended by in Capernaum (interestingly pronounced Kafh Na Ghoom), the village where Jesus reportedly lived, picked the disciples and more. Ancient ruins are being preserved and busloads of Christians from around the world visit the site.

65 KM!
My toes are sore but we did it.
If you are interested in hiking AND in visiting Israel, we highly recommend this experience.
You can hike the entire trail on your own by following the orange symbols. It is a good idea to buy the book and map of the Jesus Trail. We booked through the organization that has developed the trail:
When you book with them, they advertise this as a 6 day hike. In reality it is only 4 days in which you walk 65 KM. Day 1 is the day you arrive, on your own, in Nazareth and stay at the Fauzi Azar Inn. Day 2 is meant for exploring Nazareth. The Inn offers a free tour. That was the only part we did not like. True, we are not good tour people, but 45 minutes into the ‘tour’ we were still standing in the same spot and had only heard about the guide herself and about the Inn’s owner. It felt a bit like one of those time share promo talks. We actually left the group and explored on our own, having a wonderful time.
The organized hike is not cheap but when I prized out different hotels along the route to look at making all of our own bookings, it seemed to be about the same price. The organized hike includes all breakfasts and all dinners while on the trail. And, best of all, it includes having your luggage moved for you. This worked like a charm. Our luggage was always waiting for us. On the last day, the taxi driver who had our luggage, picked us up at the end and brought us to a hotel we had booked in the city of Tiberias.
On our very first day, a volunteer (in our case a lovely American girl) accompanied us. This made us feel comfortable and helped them make sure that we could find the trail on our own. 
So, now we are resting our feet (Kees is having a cold beer!) and tomorrow we take public busses through the entire length of Israel, via Jericho, the Dead Sea and the Negev Desert, to Eilat – the southern most town in Israel.

End of the trail!

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