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Published: June 20th 2017
Dear Blog Readers,
Opened the curtains to shocking weather this morning - at least two clouds in the sky!? Breakfast has now become a game of seeing who has the weirdest breakfast - our favourites so far are '5 Peaches' and 'Piling Up the Kugal Man'.
We debated whether to pay the $140 for a trip to the Dead Sea but decided to rent a car for $50 instead. The car rental took a bit of finding but once there we were asked for our passports...damn. In the now sweltering heat (where have my two clouds gone!?), I trudged back to the hotel and returned with them. My request for a Nissan Note fell on deaf ears and we settled with a Kia. The bloke showing me how to start the car was a little concerned when I opened and sat in the passengers seat. Driving on the wrong side of the road took a bit of getting used to, as did driving an automatic, but after a couple of wrong turns we were on the main road to Bethlehem!
Just before arriving, disaster struck as we realised we were crossing into Palestian territory so we weren't actually allowed to drive into the city itself. We parked up outside as a taxi driver tried to offer his services for 'only $150' before his last gasp effort to make us pay $15 to park the car. We declined both offers of fleecing us graciously and began our walk over the border. The West Bank is separated from Israel by over 400km of 30ft high wall. I suppose its the closest we would see to a Berlin Wall in use. A mixture of emotions when seeing the wall for the first time - amazement at its sheer size, appalled at its existence and intrigue at how something so divisive is covered in the most amazing art work.
It wasn't long until we recognised a few Banksy's on the wall before stumbling on The Walled Off hotel. It only opened a couple of months ago by the English graffiti artist boasting the worst views of any hotel in the world. Inside, it is like stumbling into a posh English hotel complete with leather sofas, a grand piano and amazing artwork on every wall. They have a great museum at the back, local artist galleries on one floor and a Wall Mart shop next door. It was surreal having a superb afternoon tea looking out onto the wall for a view.
We then walked about 25 minutes into Bethlehem city centre (clocking up most of our 28,000 steps today) which has a lot more hustle and bustle than we were expecting and a distinct lack of donkeys. We found the Church of the Nativity after a few wrong turns but it was well worth the walk. The church seems to be under a lot of restoration. Reminded me of York Minster's never ending site of scaffolding holding it up. We had a good look around and finally managed to get into the grotto of the Church which has a beautiful star where Jesus was born and the site of his manger next to it. There was a fleeting moment of serenity before another tour group piled in and were instructed by a security guard to go down two at a time which took the shine off it! Walking back, we stopped for an interesting lunch - Laura ordered the thyme sandwich which did exactly as it said on the tin. We had a good view over the city as we ate and tried to spot a few more Banksy's on the walk back to the border crossing. If it hasn't happened already, I genuinely wouldn't be surprised if Banksy ends up being the main draw to Bethlehem.
Once out, thankful our car was still there, the taxi driver waved us off with a smile. Onwards to the Dead Sea - a wonderful hour long drive along the motorway. Out in the desert, the scenery was spectacular and the ride downhill went quickly. We soon passed sea level and it wasn't long until we were 450m below at the lowest point on Earth. The Dead Sea has most of its H2O evaporated leaving a strong concoction of minerals and a salt level 10 times higher than usual. Consequently, as you enter the water, you just float and the water leaves an oily feel on your skin which is soon removed by covering yourself in the mud deposits. Your skin ends up feeling silky smooth and the whole experience was relaxing and unlike anything we have experienced. We would definitely recommend going later in the day (closes at 7pm) as you miss the tours and the temperature is still a sweltering 32 degrees.
Driving back to the hotel towards the sunset was great. We went out into the old city via Demascus Gate through the Muslim quarter which was a hive of activity and out through the more solemn Jewish quarter through Jaffa Gate and towards a great kebab place in downtown which we went to on our first night. The ice cream here is cracking too so we have certainly eaten like kings and are now finding our way around the new and old cities like we are locals - even using the tram!
Tink and Laura x
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