We get up at 6am as we want to be in Nazareth at the Fauzi Azar inn by 9:30 for a free walking tour of Nazareth which skips religious sites almost entirely and focuses instead on the colorful sights, sounds and smells of daily life in Nazareth. We leave the house right at 7 as planned and take a taxi to the bus station rather than waiting for a bus. Unfortunately we have to wait at least 30 minutes before our bus finally comes along and by then we are too far behind schedule to even think of joining the tour late. We arrive in Nazareth about 10am and are surprised at what a bustling, congested noisy metropolis it is.
According to Fodor’s “The Nazareth where Jesus grew up was an insignificant village in a hollow in the Galilean hills, but today’s city of 65,000 pulses with energy”. The first thing that Sandy noted were the colorful sights, sounds and smells. Right off the bus she ducks into an aromatic spice shop and almost loses Jim as he kept walking.
Wednesday is their slow day as many shops close and indeed at 10am a lot of shops were closed. We walked a bit down the main street looking for a coffee shop as we needed coffee and breakfast. We stopped at Cafe Vero and found a few women in the corner smoking a hookah pipe. One of them understood enough English to let us know that they did have coffee and food. They did not have an English menu so we just asked for coffee, eggs and a salad as that is a breakfast staple here. We were rewarded with a very nice plain omelet with sides of pesto, cheese, olives, feta and tahini.
There was also half a loaf of delightfully light but crusty bread and a startlingly fresh green salad. All that for $18 tip included. After breakfast we continued down the main street until we stumbled upon the Souk (market) in the old town. The old streets are very narrow and the shops are tiny but are packed with goods spilling out into the walking path really rather than a street. Even Jim enjoyed this market as he could browse without being harassed to buy by the shop owners.
We just wandered, took pictures and enjoyed. Our only purchase was some freshly baked spinach samosas similar to spanakopita but with a more doughy than flaky crust. We wandered in circles trying to find an entrance to one of the many churches in the area and after asking a few times finally found the entrance to the Roman Catholic Basilica of the Annunciation which is the largest church in the Middle East. Consecrated in 1969 this Basilica is built over the ruins of four earlier churches dating back to the first and second century. It enshrines a small ancient grotto which is supposedly the home of Mary. What supports this claim are the numerous inscriptions on the walls mentioning Mary which were left by pilgrims and visitors in early Christianity. It is believed that the angel Gabriel appeared to her here and announced she would conceive and bear a son and she would call his name Jesus. Before one enters the church there is an impressive mosaic display of Madonnas from around the world. Pilgrim devotions suffuse the site throughout the day and we were there for one of them.
There is an adjacent small Church of St. Joseph built over a complex of caves, granaries and wells which were used by the early dwellers of Nazareth and this area is traditionally identified as the workshop of Joseph the Carpenter.
After viewing these two churches we took an off the beaten track narrow lane heading back to the bus stop. We then took the bus to Haifa and the train from Haifa to Tel Aviv and another bus home, just over a two hour trip. The buses here and all over Europe are amazing as they negotiate the narrowest streets with agility and ease. The views of the Northern District agricultural valleys are stunningly beautiful.
On a more somber note, the first premature death in the Steen family over Jim’s 68+ years occurred yesterday, February 27. Will Willis, the husband of Bonnie Steen, daughter of Jim’s younger brother Philip passed away on his 34th birthday less than one year after being diagnosed with a rare form of untreatable kidney cancer. Will was way past being just a good person, he was the penultimate husband, father, volunteer firefighter at the age of 16, EMT, church elder, electrician and Asheville North Carolina firefighter. He also died with such dignity at his home in Mars Hill North Carolina. He did not fight death but accepted it and planned everything beforehand, buying a pine casket which he put in his basement, asking his family to bury him immediately without any funeral home interventions. He even asked his mother and wife to bathe and clean him immediately prior to his last breath. Will leaves behind his wife Bonnie and four children aged 2-9. God bless you Will, it was a pleasure to have known you.