Thursday 4 April 2013

Israel Take 2 - Day 4

Yesterday was our first full day in the Galilee and our second day of a sand storm. We woke up to sunshine and haze the colour that only sand can make. Not very nice. It was also the last day of passover so the plan was to head to Nazareth, an Arab town, where most of the sights would still be open.

We arrived in Nazareth about mid-morning, though not first without driving through the small town of Cana, where unfortunately the church commemorating the wedding feast miracle was closed. Sad fish.  In Nazareth itself,  we parked just outside of the main bazaar (where Stephen almost failed in taking directions from the elderly, but very patient, parking attendant). Inside Nazareth, you'd never know it was anything other than a normal working day, which was good news for us even despite the storm. We headed through the first section of the bazaar before coming to the Basilica of the Annunciation. After Branson had to don sarong (due to wearing shorts and that in and of itself was something of a to-do), we headed into the main church itself.

A beautiful, rebuilt 1960s church that replaced both a Byzantine and Crusader church, it's probably one of the most striking churches that we've ever seen. In some ways it's a shame that more of the Byzantine structures weren't preserved, but they've kept some of that spirit alive by having many different countries and diocese contribute mosaics to the outside wall and inside the main worship space.

The church is built in 3 "layers" - the main floor with a few small altars, the grotto underneath the main floor where the annunciation itself was said to have taken place, and a second floor above these two where the main church is housed. It's amazing how different and yet complementary the two spaces are. Definitely one of my favourite churches ever.

Around the corner from the basilica is the much smaller church of St. Joseph's, built on the site of where they think either Joseph's workshop used to be or the family home (or, not any less unlikely, both). It's a much more traditional church with some beautiful stained glass, also set above the original foundations where the workshop/house used to be. However, with the way the church is arranged, it's hard to see much of the original structures, but the spirit is readily apparent if not the actual thing itself. I get the impression that this church is much more often used for services for the Franciscans who are responsible for both this little church & the grand basilica. it had very much the feel of a local, parish church. A lovely little church, if rather overshadowed by it's more elegant and impressive neighbour.

From there, we headed back through the bazaar, poking our heads around the various corners, and in doing so discovered the tiny "Synagogue Church" nestled in behind the bazaar under one of the arches supporting another street above. Thanking the doorman on the way out, he asked us where we were from and hearing that we were Americans, took us next door to an unassuming building, but which turned out to be the seat of the Greek Catholic community! What stunning moment! Much more elaborate and finely worked than is usual in Catholic churches, but complete with an iconostasis more common in Orthodox churches. A really interesting blend of eastern and western elements. Another intense thank you and back out into the bazaar we went. 

Coming around another corner we spotted the White Mosque and were just about the head inside when the noon call to prayer sounded. I really love the sound of muslims being called to prayer - its somehow more personal than bells and certainly very effective! As the call to prayer sounded, many merchants closed up their shops temporarily and hurried inside. We stepped out of the way to sit out of the sun with some fresh squeeze juices and consider where to have our lunch since it would probably be a goodly while until the mosque was open again (and we had no wish to disturb their services). 

Branson had a friend who had recommend a place on the other side of town, nearly to the new Jewish settlement above the main town, and so we headed off in search of that for lunch. It proved a little challenging not being found on google maps and only very hazily on bing, not helped by an extremely complex road network. A few calls and almost an hour later, we finally found it. . .only for it to be closed. Fortunately a little further up the road was a town where Branson knew of a good steak restaurant, so that direction we went saying good-bye to Nazareth. 

Our original plans also included either a hike in the hills overlooking Nazareth (put paid to by the ongoing dust storm, which only seemed to get worse as the day went on) or heading to Tsipori for some additional historical sightseeing. Unfortuntely, due to the combination of holiday hours (meaning everything closed early) and our very late lunch, that too was out. So instead we headed to Tiberias where we hoped more might be open and perhaps low enough (200 meters below sea level) that the dust storm might be less obtrusive (poor Stephen's asthma was really starting to act up). Unfortuntely, not much at all was open, but the air quality was a little better, so we enjoyed a stroll along the water front of the Sea of Galilee before grabbing some wine to go with our dinner and heading back to the Kibbutz before sunset. With the visibility was so bad, we didn't fancy driving after dark if we could help it.

So not quite the day we planned, but pleasant enough. Fortunately, the falling temperatures and sharp winds from the south would finish off the dust storm over night, just in time for our hiking day.

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