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10 Days in Egypt & Israel – Day 8

By tam-admin | December 7, 2007

We grab breakfast and drive northeast to Nazareth. This small, but growing town is concentrated in the hills just west of Mt. Tabor. With building after building lining the steep, narrow, winding streets, and non-stop traffic congesting the area, it’s difficult to find a parking spot. Due to the concentration of locals and tourists in this area, parking is creative to say the least. There do not seem to be rules about where (or how) to park, as long you’re not blocking the road – and everything from parking on the sidewalk to using the median center lane is acceptable.

A short walk down El-Bishara St. and Barclays Bank St. will give you the opportunity to see the majority of historic sites. Our first stop is the beautiful Basilica of Annunciation. As with nearly any historic site in this area of the world, it’s layered with history. It’s theorized that this was the original location of Mary’s house and some believe it’s the spot where the Angel Gabriel appeared to her. According to the documentation posted on the current building, in 427 A.D. the first Byzantine church was built over the site. Thousands of years later (in the 12th century) after the Byzantine church was destroyed, the Crusaders built a church over the ruins. And, finally, the current Basilica built in 1969, and now the largest church in the Middle East, was built over the ruins of four previous churches. In various locations inside and outside the Basilica are elements preserved from its past.

Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth.

Photo: Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth.

Next to the Basilica is St. Joseph’s Church where it’s speculated the site was once Joseph’s carpentry shop. Further north you’ll find Mary’s Well next to St. Gabriel’s Church. Some believe that the Angel Gabriel did not appear to Mary at her home (the current site of the Basilica), but here at the well while she was fetching water. Don’t miss the building behind the small courtyard with the Cactus Gift Shop where an ancient Roman bathhouse was discovered.

Mary’s Well in Nazareth, Israel (the yellow building behind it contains an ancient Roman bathhouse)

Photo: Mary’s Well in Nazareth, Israel (the yellow building behind it contains an ancient Roman bathhouse)

We take our time and walk the hills and sites, past souks and the numerous felafel stands and grab a snack before heading to the Sea of Galilee.

Our first view of this famous body of water is from Tiberias. From there we wind our way north along the sea, through the stepped hills and vistas dotted with olive trees. The north side offers a concentration of discoveries and sites. Our first stop is the beautiful Franciscan Church of the Primacy of St. Peter. From the altar you can see where the church was built over the Mensa Christi where it’s said Jesus ate with his disciples and consulted with Peter. We walk out the back door onto the beach and along the rocky steps where it’s believed Jesus was standing when the disciples first saw him after his resurrection.

Afterwards we visit the Church of Heptapegon, home to the altar of the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves & Fishes, followed by a tour of Capernaum National Park. Believed to be the home of Jesus, the park contains an ancient synagogue, the ruins of St. Peter’s House, and an ancient olive press.

Entrance to Capernaum National Park, just north of the Sea of Galilee.

Photo: Entrance to Capernaum National Park, just north of the Sea of Galilee.

A short drive north will take you to the Mount of Beatitudes where disciples listened to the sermons of Jesus. We tour the church and walk around the surrounding gardens which offer beautiful panoramic views of the Sea of Galilee.

View of the Sea of Galilee from the Mount of Beatitudes.

Photo: View of the Sea of Galilee from the Mount of Beatitudes.

From the Mount we watch the sun set over the valley and then wind our way back to Tiberias in search of a good eatery.

Our first stop in Tiberias is the Torrance Restaurant in the Scots Hotel. Famous for their views and fresh menu selections, we are disappointed to learn that reservations are recommended and that dinner does not begin until 7pm (it’s not quite 6pm, and we’re too hungry to wait for a “possible” opening). We walk across the street to another famous restaurant – Decks. This steakhouse is known for charcoal grilling just about everything. Once again, however, we’re disappointed. Although the restaurant is virtually empty, the staff is preparing for large groups arriving later in the evening, and apparently they are concerned with little else. After waiting just to get a seat at one of the dozens of empty tables, we’re told we have to be finished within two hours. Yet 15 minutes after being seated, not one of the four or five staff members milling around the restaurant has so much as looked in our direction. We’re hungry, extremely frustrated and disappointed at the blatantly appalling lack of service. We grab our things and leave.

In this restaurant-concentrated corner of the town there must be some place that offers both good food and decent service. Wrong again. We walk down the block to an Asian restaurant called Pagoda. We’re seated outside, and the restaurant is approximately 25 percent full. Again, it appears as though the staff is more focused on setting up tables for larger groups arriving later that evening. We wait. Ten or fifteen minutes pass and again we have yet to be noticed by the wait staff. We finally get up and grab someone to request service. We’re not off to a good start, but hunger motivates us to stay. The food does arrive quickly and is quite good.  However, our waitress never returns, and we’re forced to track down someone every time we need something as simple as a drink refill. We’ve never been in such a concentrated area of horrendous service.

Another thing we noticed at both locations was that dogs were allowed to roam the restaurants, including the cooking and preparation areas. While I’m an avid dog lover, there’s something disturbing about the wait staff petting the dogs and then serving your food.

With our bellies finally full, we head to our next destination – Jerusalem – and grab an inexpensive, but comfortable room at the Crown Plaza.

Check back to find out what happens tomorrow for Day 9 in Israel!

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