I've wanted to go to Israel for as long as I can remember. When I was still in school one of my friends went and stayed on a kibbutz and came back with all sorts of stories and made me a meal with houmous and pitta and lots of little dishes which we ate sitting on the floor! My dad was a strong Christian and talked about Israel a lot. I remember him having books and maps of it. He wanted to call my brother Israel! Well, earlier this year in-between changing jobs I finally went. I was going to go on my own, but at the last minute Chris decided to come with me. Our first stop was Nazareth where we based ourselves for 3 nights while we travelled the North part of Israel.
We booked to stay at the Fauzi Azar Inn, in the old town, but as we were booking so late it was full and they put us in Simsim guesthouse around the corner but we had breakfast included at Fauzi Azar, so we popped over there each morning. Fauzi Azar is a 200 year old arab mansion which is now a guesthouse run by the same family. We also made friends with a couple of Afrikaans sisters (who had been volunteering in Jerusalem and were about to do the Jesus trail) who invited us over for tea and cake. It is a beautiful house built around an open courtyard, with frescoes, balconies, vines and high ceilings... it really is lovely.
Nazareth is mostly Arabic with majority Muslims and Christians, unlike Jerusalem which is majority jews. In the bible, Nazareth is where Jesus spent his childhood. We spent our first afternoon walking around the old town to see the main sites. It is not that easy to get around as most of the streets lack names. They have numbers which are not really used by anyone. Luckily its a small place!
The town is obviously a lot bigger and higher than what is was all those years ago. There are no more dirt roads or donkeys wandering around. The old town is all little alleyways and cobbled streets. All sorts of churches have been built around areas of significance. The Basilica of Annunciation, the biggest church which most people go to see has been been built at the site where (according to Roman Catholics) the virgin Mary's house was and Angel Gabriel told her she was going to have a son. The Greek Orthodox church believe this happened when Mary was drawing water from a spring, so this is where the Greek Orthodox Church of Annunciation is built. St. Joseph's church is popularly believed to be where Joseph's carpentry shop was. It also has some very old steps down to an underground cave that once served as a grain store. Mary's well is a symbol of where the well might have been. But in Israel it is often the symbolism that is important.
We did day trips to the Sea of Galilee, Haifa and Golan Heights over the following two days which I'll do separate posts about. As part of one of these trips our first stop was the Mount of Precipice which is just on the outskirts of Nazareth and has some brilliant views of the city. On our last day before heading to Jerusalem we joined a walking tour around the old city in Nazareth with Fauzi Azar Inn. This was brilliant. We started in the grand old house and heard about the history of the house and of Nazareth. And then walked through the old cobbled streets, the souq (market) where we stopped at a coffee shop and bought some cardamom coffee and a stall selling olive oil soap. We visited the Elbabour Galilee Mill, a spice lovers dream, and a beautiful traditional clothing and make-up shop. One of our last stops was Abu Salem cafe. An unmarked cafe in the old town, frequented by its regular all-male elderly clientele who have been going there since they were young men. They drink coffee, smoke and play backgammon round the back. We tried their 'inar' a naturally sweet hot cinnamon drink topped with nuts... it was sweet and tasty!
We had some really good food in Nazareth. A lot of things, especially drinking turned out to be really expensive in Israel, so we didn't do much of that. We did go to the Liwan culture cafe though, which was below our hostel and tried some of their Palestinian beer. They had good music and great decor. We were mostly the only people in there. We tried the following places:
- Kitabon - This was our first Israeli food and we had a feast! We had a bowl of houmous, pitta, aubergine and tahini, roasted cauliflower and tabbouleh... we were both in food comas afterwards.
- Breakfast at Fauzi Azar consisted of pitta, salad, curd, boiled eggs, herb pizza bread, halva and leftover cake from the day before
- Hani Restaurant - We were looking for somewhere to try shwarma and this place was packed! We joined the queue and being the only tourists looked totally lost when we got to the front. They spoke English and went out of their way to explain the menu and look after us. The shwarma was good too.
- Falafel Khazen - We were served by a cute old couple and ate falafel in pitta with freshly squeezed orange juice, on little wooden chairs in the old town. SO GOOD!
- Alreda - Slightly more pricey Arabic Restaurant. It felt like stepping back in time. Good music. It had an old world charm with its decoration, old furniture and people smoking at their tables (there was a note in the menu to say if you don't like it you're better off finding somewhere else). The food was interesting... not the best I've had, it was really unusual flavours. The reviews on trip advisor are all 5 star though, so I think you just need to know what to order!
- Abu Ashraf Restaurant - Our hostel recommended this to us. It looks like an old-style antique shop packed to the roof with all sorts of interesting things. The old man who runs the shop stands in the window every morning preparing katayef (the stuffed pancakes he is famous for). When we went it looked like he was closing up but he stayed open just for us. He told us what he thought we should have which we did. We had lamb shwarma, freekeh, houmous, pitta and salad with a mint tea and katayef to follow. We had one with nuts and cinnamon and another with goats cheese, both drowned in syrup. Great experience!
- Almahdi Sweets - Arabic sweet shop very close to the Basilica. For someone who loves sweet pastries this place is heaven. Rows and rows of all sorts of different pastries. We shared a couple with coffee. Yum!
- Liwan culture cafe - This was a lovely cafe below our hostel with good music and great decor. We tried some of their Palestinian beer. We were mostly the only people in there.
- And of course Abu Salem cafe with their pensioners and sweet 'inar' cinnamon drink, which I've already mentioned :-)