Oh, Little Town of . . .

Trip Start Apr 22, 2011
Trip End May 15, 2011

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Flag of Israel  ,
Saturday, May 7, 2011

Bethlehem is our destination today. It is really intended as a free day for the beach, but our gung-ho Toto Tourists want to see more of the area, and a visit to the Palestinian Territories (which is not included on our original itinerary) answers their call for additional adventures. The drive from Tel Aviv takes only an hour because today is the Sabbath and there aren't too many cars on the highways. In fact, driving through Jerusalem, we see that few people are even out of doors in this Holy City.

Our guide and driver are Israelis, and they are not allowed to cross into the Palestinian Territory. We are met with a new driver who takes us across the border and turns us over to a new guide for the visit to the Church of the Nativity. It is an enormous building containing three churches from three different branches of Christianity, all of whom have special services in the grotto where Jesus was born. There is an enormous cue of probably more than 2 hours, filled with people waiting to enter the grotto, but since we are a small group our guide is able to get several of us in through the exit and the rest of us by jumping in with a group which is already at the head of the line. I am sure people who had been waiting for hours must have hated us when they saw our special treatment.

There is a frenzy of devotion happening in the lower levels of the church, with people kissing the spot reputed to be where the birth took place, as well as the niche where the Child was supposedly placed into a manger. Christmas carols are being sung in different languages in the middle of May! Masses are being said in side chapels, and you have a sense that this is a high-point in life for many of the aged people who have come here from long distances.

We take a few minutes to walk through Manger Square in front of the church after the tour, and then head back to Israel – stopping to take a photo of the fields where shepherds watched their flocks by night. We have an excellent lunch at a nearby Kibbutz, and are back at our hotel around 2:30pm. It is a wonderful addition to the tour, and we still have time for a nap before dinner!

Our venue for dinner tonight is Cordelia Restaurant at 30 Yeffet Street in Old Jaffa. (Website: http://cordelia.co.il/article.php?ID_Ctg=13 ) We each order the degustation menu consisting of 9 courses of the most wonderful International Cuisine. You’ll see some of the dishes in the photos. It is the most expensive meal we have eaten yet, but no doubt the best!
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