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Undiscovered Nazareth

Most tourists when they come to Nazareth only have the chance to visit the Basilica of Annunciation, which marks the important place where Mary received the news from the Angel Gabriel that she would birth Jesus. It is the largest Church in the Middle East and is an impressive site. However, travelling in a group navigating Nazareth can be a pain to find parking and the one lane traffic allows only for a brief visit.

On a private tour however, you can have a chance to actually wander the streets and meet some of the locals. Immediately up from the Church is the entrance to the market which provides many photo opportunities:

Finjans for preparing cardamon infused coffee

You may wander past the Synagogue Church where Jesus was cast out of Nazareth on your way up to Abu Salem, the oldest coffee shop in Nazareth and in the owner's opinion in all of Israel (since 1914)! The scene inside is where locals gather to pass the day playing cards, backgammon (shesh besh), and sipping the bitter turkish coffee (cafe botz - coffee that the beans settle at the bottom leaving a "muddy" remnant) or an amazing cinnamon delicacy. Cinnamon is brewed in hot water for hours on end and infusing into the water thereby creating a warm drink that is served with walnuts that soak up the cinnamon and give it a crunchy edge. Cinnamon is a natural anti-inflammatory which is an extra reason to try it if that description wasn't enough already to tickle your tastebuds.

It is quite the experience!

Although the market may appear half empty, you will pass a few historic places which are easy to miss like the White Mosque and some amazing mansions with red tiled roofs built in the late 1800's which you may also find in places like Akko, Jaffa, Jerusalem, Ramla and Nablus. One of the striking features of these mansions are the delicately painted wooden rafter ceilings. These breathtaking works of art were carried out by local artists of the time such as Saliba Yohana who originally trained in painting religious icons and transitioned into ceilings as the demand rose with the rise of European powers settled in the Holy Land at the end of the 19th century. I would describe the style as "Turkish baroque" bordering on Rococo.

If you find yourself wandering the streets and starting to get peckish head directly towards Al Mashadawi Bakery. This family owned establishment is the local bakery of choice of residents. It is hard to choose savoury or sweet but I must direct you towards a spinach pastry that has an omelette in the middle and wild spinach hidden in the crust known as sabanech - which literally means wild spinach, it is sprinkled with spices and everything nice (sumac and nigella seeds) that will fill any hungry tummy.

To end this adventure head towards Mary's well to visit the Greek Orthodox Church of Annunciation, where the source of the spring is located. In the Orthodox tradition this is where the event of Mary received the news of her future destiny. There is a very beautiful iconostasis painted in 1766. You may go to the crypt and collect holy water from the spring in a bottle to take with you.

If you have the opportunity for an a few hours in Nazareth rather than just a drive through... take it!!

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