Today was our last day in Palestine (tear!). But a very good last day, so no worries. This morning we all drove up to Bethlehem together – me, Stephen, Jad, Shadee, George and Mariam. Transport to and from Bethlehem is pretty restricted given that the wall is built around the city’s northern edge and cuts through some of the neighborhoods. So, surprise surprise, another checkpoint to enter in, and then finally, we were in the little town of Bethlehem! Mariam had some work to do, so the rest of us set off exploring the city.
It’s a beautiful place – cobblestone streets, busy markets, and SO much history. With all the turquoise and light blue painted doors, it reminded me a bit of Greece. Our first visit was to the Church of the Nativity, built over the spot where, according to Christian tradition, Jesus was born. On our way there, we walked under an arch, labeled the ‘Old Gate: Qoos Az-Zarara,’ which is apparently the Qoos (arch) through which Mary and Joseph entered Bethlehem, before Mary gave birth to Jesus.
Just like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the Church of the Nativity was built in the early 300s CE, under orders from Helena, Emperor Constantine’s mom, when she discovered that Jesus had been born on the site. This original church burned, and the modern church dates from the mid-500s CE, when it was rebuilt by Emperor Justinian I. Don’t you love my nerdy history lessons?? Indulge me, pretend you do. 😉
Inside the church, and down a flight of stairs, is the Grotto of the Nativity, a cave beneath the church and over the site where Jesus was born. Near the altar that mark’s Jesus’ birth spot is another altar which apparently marks the spot where Mary lay Jesus in the manger. Cool beans.
After visiting the church, we walked around Bethlehem some more with a stop for souvenirs and some ice cold water. Okay, random tangent – a lot of the signs here in Palestine, and also in Jordan for that matter, are written in Arabic and also in English. The thing is Arabic is written phonetically – you write words exactly as they sound – unlike English. So, translations are sometimes full of cute mistakes…
Around 3pm, it was time to go so we said goodbye to George and Mariam, and Stephen, Jad, Shadee and I took a cab from Bethlehem to the Israeli border with Jordan. It was 115 degrees Fahrenheit/46 degrees Celsius!!!!! I felt like an egg sizzling in a pan. It was insane. Waiting waiting waiting, the car was searched, questions were asked, visas were bought, more questions were asked, more waiting and finally we were through. Significantly easier getting out of Israel than into Israel.