I think Day 5 ended up being AJ’s second favorite day of the whole trip. When going through the pictures that I took (which we did several times to remind her of places we had been throughout the trip), it was this day that she commented on with such happiness until we reached Petra on one of the last days (that was her favorite day).
On Day 5 we started by visiting the Garden of Gethsamane, where we got to see olive trees that date back to the time of Christ. AJ was fascinated by these trees and spent many minutes just staring at them in disbelief. They really were interesting trees:
Then it was off to the Israeli Museum and the Shrine of the Book, where we got to see the original Pontius Pilate stone that I spoke of from Day 3 in Caesarea, as well as some of the original pages of the Dead Sea scrolls, respectively. The story of the Dead Sea Scrolls is fascinating and I’m surprised it has not been made into a movie, what with its crazy random discovery, the subsequent cryptography, then the attempted sale on the black market.
At this point we head to Bethlehem, which has not been allowed during Lon Solomon tours in recent years due to the political upheaval in the area. In case you don’t know, Bethlehem is currently under Palestinian authority, and Israelis are not allowed in without a lot of hassle. Our bus guide, Dan, said that he had to apply for a special pass that allowed him to go in with tour groups. Here’s a sign at the border of Bethlehem that shows you the warning about Israelis going to Bethlehem:
Driving around Bethlehem was downright depressing. Trash everywhere, buildings half torn down, more beggars on the street than tourists. All week Dan had told us to hold off on buying souvenirs since most of the stuff in Israel was made in Bethlehem, and so pricing was better in Bethlehem since that was the place of origin. So once in Bethlehem he drove us to a special shop that was owned by some Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem.
It was here that AJ and I decided to do some shopping for trinkets. By “trinkets” I mean magnets, key chains, Christmas ornaments. This shop was definitely more high end – with gorgeous hand-carved wooden statues and chess sets, diamond necklaces, and antique church icons. Those items all started at $2,000 and went up from there. This was not a typical tourist shop.
Unfortunately, a young man that worked in the shop kept trying to sell me a gorgeous hand-carved statue made from olive wood. It WAS gorgeous. It was also $4,000. I gently said to him, “That’s above my budget,” to which he replied, “I can give you a discount!” I said, “No amount of discount you could give me would put that within my budget.” I think when he saw me put a $4 magnet in my basket a few minutes later he realized just how low my budget was, and left to find someone else.
When we finally finished shopping for souvenirs, we boarded the bus and headed to Shepherd’s Field, which is where the angel appeared to the Shepherd’s to announce the birth of Christ. Knowing it was the hottest part of the day, and that we’d be in the sun, we asked our bus driver, Saeed, if we could chill out on the bus with him. He said absolutely, and so we went with him to the bus parking area where AJ enjoyed a 30 minute nap before Saeed started up the bus again to go pick up everyone for lunch.
Lunch was in a bedouin tent near Shepherd’s Field, and was family style. We sat at a table of eight and had a good time eating chicken, lamb, falafel, and some dessert made with dates. The tent was awesome and someone one table over had a hookah going and it smelled heavenly in there. A bunch of us piled a bunch of innocuous looking carrots into our plate only to discover that they were unbearably hot – hotter than tabasco. I fortunately, ate a small one versus others taking a whole mouthful, so my ability to put out the fire was relatively easy compared to the others.
After lunch it was back on the bus where we drove to the Church of the Nativity, which marks the spot considered to be the place of Christ’s birth. It was undergoing renovation at the moment, so we were not able to see 90% of the church, but we did see a section of the mosaic floors, as well as the altar, and one column that had been left uncovered while all the rest were covered. Once back out on the street, we had to wait for our bus and during that 30 minute wait we were bombarded by street sellers hawking postcards and coins and all kinds of junk. It was constant – and they would not take no for an answer. I think they had the idea that if they badgered someone long enough, they’d give in and buy something just to make them go away.
We finally got back to the hotel after a long day, and I decided to go look at the shops located in our hotel. What a mistake – the jewelry shop in the hotel was magnificent. So many beautiful stone necklaces – I wanted them all! One in particular took my fancy, made of blue agate stones, but it was $390 and I knew it would be irresponsible of me to buy it. But I took more than a couple photos of it, that’s for sure. And went by the store a couple times a day to gaze longingly at it. Isn’t it?
All in all a good day, with the busiest yet to come – Temple Mount, Dome of the Rock and my FIFTH DAY WEARING THOSE DAMN WHITE PANTS.