A short drive from Tiberias, Nazareth is renowned all over the world for being a city in the north of Israel. It is thought to have been the childhood town of Jesus, Him of Christianity fame. And is considered to be the arab capital of Israel, and claimed by some to be the founding place of Kenafa (sweet and cheesy desert), but hotly refuted by others.
As a continuation of the months’ theme, I was totally out of my depth christianity-wise. Yes the Basillica of the Annunciation is big and beautiful, but I can’t bring myself to type it into wikipedia.
But I do recall a whispy voice appearing in my ear whilst looking in incomprehension at a nativity scene, “….” it announced mysteriously. I took it to be a message from on high of an incoming pregnant pause in my life.
Still, it’s the number one place to see brown-robed monks waving their crucifixes for photo opportunities.
Not to mention a bizarre billboard poster aimed at christian pilgrims slap bang in front of the church.
We lodged at Abu Saeed Hostel, tucked in the narrow streets of the old town. The owner, Abu ’call me Ramzi’ Saeed, was (and still is) a small ex-policeman who can be found at all times sporting a long black cloak and watching cheap films on his computer.
We had arrived in the evening and so, after a short rest and copious thimble-full cups of complimentary coffee from Ramzi, we went off in search of nosh.
Shwarma restaurants, falafel stalls and shisha cafes line the streets. It’s like coming home, we thought as we tucked into a greasily delicious kebab sandwich and side-plate of disco-veg (illogically fluorescent pickled vegetables that are common in Palestine and Jordan).
Bellies full, I spied what looked like from the outside, a shebab (lads) and sebiyya (ladettes) -friendly cafe. So up the stairs we trod and opened the door. A heavy fog of shisha rushed out as if fleeing a crime scene of flavoursome proportions.
Once the smoke had cleared we could see the whites of the eyes. The curiously suspicious and confused eyes of arab man when confronted with three foreigners (one of whom is a comely blonde) in their prized establishment of coffee, smoke and football.
There was a pause, you could call it pregnant (…epiphany…). The saloon doors swung on their creaky hinges, the piano player stopped and tumble weed rolled past the way it does.
“Ahla wa sahla! Merhaba tfuddl,” said a great big grin from a waiter, greeting us like old friends. Seats were found and our bums were placed on them.
Then came a small commotion from round the corner, hushed and hurried discussion before a finger was pointed at a well-to-do looking man sitting by himself. A member of the first group went and whispered something in his ear. The well-to-do man looked up at us and surveyed the scene before walking over with a smile,
“Hello my friends, what is you wanting, hubbly bubbly?”
To which we replied in arabic.
“Ha! you speak arabic sorry! Welcome to Nazareth”
We shared a smirk with the guys beside us who had been part of the initial meeting to find an english speaker for the poor, lost foreigners. It made for a nice atmosphere and we passed the evening in a fog of our own, drinking warm and delicious qilfy (cinammon and walnut drink).
The following morning I went looking for a bakery. The only directions Ramzi had given me was the classic ‘follow your nose’. And he wasn’t wrong. Wedged inbetween two houses, a small entrance opens up into an aromatic drive-through bakery.
That is, the bakery is made up of a factory floor covered in flour and whatnot, as well as enormous conveyor belt oven. You give your order to the till, whether it’s pizza, or just bread and it comes rolling out piping hot from the oven within several minutes. Ideal.
Whilst out looking for things to do, Duncan pointed to a derelict church on top an opposite grassy hill. So there we went. We reached it after some fence hopping and barbed wire avoiding, which told us there might be a reason for it being derelict.
Birds of prey circling above us, green slopes, blue skies, red and yellow flowers and the odd preying mantis made for a perfect afternoon.
Just as we were getting into the swing of the shisha the door opens and in walks a huge group of spanish tourists. We shared looks of ‘here we go again’ and watched the confusion unravel once more. By that point we were on Facebook terms with mohammad the waiter, so he turned to us for help.
I did my fellow Boy Scouts proud by becoming the groups translator, conveying their order of drinks and shisha to Mohammad. But whilst talking in english to the groups’ apparent spokesman he suddenly cut me off, looked at me with a furrowed brow and said,
“I sorry but are you sure english is first language?”
“Totes bruv,” I replied and carried on, berating myself for not reading the Oxford English Dictionary as often as I should.
Such was our brief stay in Nazareth. Next stop was back to the Middle-East’s very own hipster factory, Tel-Aviv.