Travel Postcard: 48 hours in Bethlehem
By Mustafa Abu Ganeyeh
BETHLEHEM, West Bank (Reuters Life!) - The birthplace of Jesus is hardly an easy "weekend getaway" spot, but for a taste of how today's Holy Land feels, this hospitable Palestinian town draped over the steep hilltops outside Jerusalem is an essential place to visit.
Most foreigners fly into Israel's Ben Gurion Airport, an hour away from Jerusalem, and enter via Israeli checkpoints into the occupied West Bank. Security remains tight but there is currently no tension to deter the hardy traveler.
Visitors love to come at Christmas, when a crowded Bethlehem celebrates its most famous date at the Church of the Nativity in Manger square. But the town hosts tourists year round. In the summer it's hot. In winter, there can be a veil of snow on the rooftops so warm clothing is advisable.
Local correspondents help you get the most out of a stay.
From your hotel on Manger Street (www.palestinehotels.com) you can easily tour the inner city by foot. The hills are steep and good walking shoes are a necessity. Taxis are inexpensive and plenty. A wider selection of hotels, restaurants, theatres can be found at (www.thisweekinpalestine.com).
10:00 am - Head to the Church of the Nativity, the oldest church in the Holy Land, and bend down low to pass through the worn stone lintel of the Gate of Humility. Among whispers in many languages from groups of awed pilgrims, compare the sweetly incensed air and hanging lamps of the Orthodox Church with the quiet, glassy light of the Roman Catholic Church beside it.
Be sure to see the beautiful mosaic tiling of the ancient floor exposed beneath your feet as you pass down ancient steps to the gloom of the Grotto where Christians believe Mary gave birth to the baby Jesus. A silver star embedded in white marble bears the Latin inscription "Here, of the Virgin Mary, Christ was born." Continued...