Bethlehem, West Bank


I woke up this morning early so I could get down to the Church of the Nativity before the tour busses.  Fadi and Abeer had told me I could get the bus right on the corner in front of the house.  I went out there for a bit and caught a servee (shared taxi) for 3NIS to the Central Bethlehem bus station.  This also meant I had NO idea where I was at!  I followed the women (a good strategy in Arab countries) onto the elevator since the bus station appeared to be at the bottom of a large shopping complex.  I found my way out onto the street and figured out where I was.  The Lonely Planet guidebook maps are severely lacking.  The one for Bethlehem was okay, and I was able to find my way to Manger Square.  This is basically the center of the tourist area.

It was still early for the Visitor’s Center to be open, so I went over to the Church of the Nativity.  The monks were having morning Mass in the crypt which houses the “rock” that marks the spot where Jesus was born, so there were quite a few of us sitting around, waiting for them to open it.  I was fortunate enough to get in the middle of a small tour group and a large tour group when it opened.

They basically move people through like cattle, each person bending down and touching the rock for a few seconds, then if they take too long, the priest or monk standing there moves them along.  It’s quite the sight to see.  I stuck around for a bit afterwards and watched.  I was trying to get a picture of the rock but was fairly unsuccessful.

I continued walking around the church, snapped a few more pictures and then went to see if the Visitor’s Center was open.  I was hoping for a good map of Bethlehem, but the one they had was pretty basic, with just the “sights”.  I ended up buying another one that had been made for when Pope had visited Bethlehem.  It had more detail and I thought would be more helpful if I got lost.

There was supposed to be a place nearby with free wi-fi so I went to go find it.  I ended up in the souk at some point and bought a ball of goat cheese that I had no idea what I was going to do with.  An older woman was selling it and looked like she could use the shekels.  I found the café with the free wi-fi but ever since I updated my Blackberry software the wi-fi hasn’t been working.  I had a coffee and went back towards Manger Square to find a servee to Shepherd’s Field.

Eventually, a servee came along that was going to Shepherd’s Field and hopped on.  I was let off just down the hill and given directions how to get there.

I walked up the hill and found a few gift shops close by the entrance of the Shepherd’s Field.  I stopped at one of them, not really intending to buy anything but I ended up having a great conversation with the girl working there about what life is like in the West Bank.  She told me a story about a friend of hers who was engaged to someone who lived in the Gaza Strip and how she had to be snuck out of Gaza in order for her to be married in the West Bank.  She wasn’t even able to have her family with her for her wedding!  Then they had to sneak her back into Gaza at great risk of being caught or killed.  It was an interesting story and unfortunately, is the reality of life in Palestine.  I bought a small icon of Christ the Teacher and a rosary bracelet.

I walked over to the Shepherd’s Field and headed towards the main church, but there was a group of pilgrims celebrating Mass there, so I went into the other chapel in the “cave” and wandered for a bit, finally settling on a bench outside the church and waited for the Mass to end.

I went into the church and spent some time looking at the murals in the alcoves depicting the shepherds and Jesus being born.  They were very nice.

It was a particularly hot day, so I stopped for some water and juice at one of the shops nearby before heading back to the apartment.  I decided to walk back, since I was pretty sure I was close.  I was right.  I was very close and it took me about fifteen minutes to walk back.  I stopped at the ice cream store, Flavours, next to the apartment and had some