Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel

Even if you’re not religious, you might have heard people referring to Israel in Western Asia as the ‘Holy Land’. As you would expect, the north of the country is full of sites of religious significance. What you may not know is that it is also full of amazing nature. After checking out some interesting sites in Southern Israel, the next logical step was to explore some of the major religious sites and nature of Northern Israel.

Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel – Nazareth

As Israel is a relatively small country, it only takes around two hours to get from Tel Aviv in the south to Nazareth in the north. The change between the two cities is nothing short of amazing. You could be forgiven for thinking you had slipped into another country. Tel Aviv is a mainly Jewish city whereas Nazareth is known as the Arab capital of Israel. You may also have thought that the town would be full of Christians, given its biblical significance, but almost 70% of the population are Muslims.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel. Nazareth
Nazareth

Not to say that the residents in the south are unfriendly, because they’re not, but the north just seemed friendlier. Arabs were an almost invisible minority in the south, yet they seem to share a genuine camaraderie with people from other ethnic and religious groups in the north. You really get the sense that no one in the north cares about race or religion, which means the atmosphere is very welcoming. You can expect to be greeted like a long lost friend upon entering almost any restaurant or sweet shop in town.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel. Sweets in Nazareth
Sweets in Nazareth
Thoughts on Palestine in Nazareth

With such a huge Arab population in Nazareth there is definitely a lot of support for a two-state solution for occupied Palestine. Sometimes, you can even find people’s thoughts on the walls.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel. Nazareth Brings Us Together Mural K in Motion Travel Blog. Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel. Palestinian Remembrance Mural in Nazareth

Walking Into Another Century

Staying in the old town of Nazareth was like walking into another century. If you’ve heard any of the stories of Jesus in Nazareth, being there can make those stories come alive for you. The people of Nazareth from olden times must have been very fit. The old town is built on a hill, so if you want to get anywhere else in the city you’re going to have to walk up or down the hill. There is also no vehicular access to the old town, which makes it lovely to walk around!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel. Nazareth Old Town Passage K in Motion Travel Blog. Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel. Nazareth Old Town Passage With Decorations

The Jesus Trail – Combining the Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel

If you have not heard of the Jesus Trail, it’s a 65 kilometre hiking trail from Nazareth to Capernaum; ‘The Town of Jesus’. The route has 8 sections, from J1 to J8. It runs through many religious sites of importance that Jesus visited throughout his lifetime. I have to confess here that although I am aware of many of these religious sites, I am not actually religious. I wasn’t doing the Jesus Trail for the religious aspects, I just wanted to hike!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel. The Jesus Trail.
https://jesustrail.com/about

J1 – Nazareth to Zippori

As the trail is quite long, I was only planning to do the first two sections; J1 and J2. The first section of the trail starts uphill from the old town of Nazareth.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel. Looking Down on Nazareth

At this point, you need to walk along a road to find the start of the trail. On the way, this shiny thing caught my eye.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel. Mosque in Nazareth on the Way to the Jesus Trail

The trail markers were painted on rocks or trees along the trail, but as I found out, some markers had been lost to the elements. Of course, I didn’t get lost at all because of missing markers. Nah uh. Not me!
K in Motion Travel Blog. Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel. Jesus Trail Marker

Full disclosure, I lost a bit of time trying to find some markers, but luckily someone had prepared a resting place for me!
K in Motion Travel Blog. Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel. Sofas on the Jesus Trail

And I got to chat to some locals.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel. Cows on the Jesus Trail

Eventually, I made it to Zippori and it felt like I was in the middle of nowhere! I hadn’t seen another soul since I’d left Nazareth. Apparently, Zippori is the midway point between the Mediterranean coast and the Sea of Galilee. Jesus may have also done some work there.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel. Zippori National Park on the Jesus Trail.

It was hot and I wanted a bit of relief from the searing heat. So I went and spoke to the attendant for the Zippori National Park. I wanted to use his little booth’s shadow to shield me from the sun for a bit. He also gave me some cold water before I continued on my way. That was nice. You see, I actually had plenty of water, but the intense heat had made it almost too hot to drink.

J2 – Zippori to Cana

I continued along a very open trail with no shade as far as the eye could see.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel. Very Exposed Jesus Trail.

After an hour of that, I was on a ridge looking down on a farming settlement.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel. Farming Settlement in the Distance

Then a short while later, after passing through an eerily quiet village, I came across these structures.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel. Structures on the Jesus Trail

Having walked 16 kilometres in what I later found out was 40Β°C heat, I arrived in Cana around four hours after leaving Nazareth. I did not pass one single person on the trail or even bump into any people in the villages I went through. The locals were clearly smarter than me and were staying inside where it was cool. I may have been feeling a little bit like this guy.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel. Random Sad Ball on the Jesus Trail

Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel – Cana (Modern Kafr Kana)

If you’ve heard of Cana, you’ll know it’s famous for the first miracle and weddings. In fact, people come from all around the world to renew their wedding vows at the Wedding Church.
The Wedding Church in Cana

Right near the Wedding Church was another fenced in church. I guessed it was a church from it’s gate, but all I could really see was the fence. The fence had biblical inscriptions on it.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel. Scripture in Cana

Inside, the Wedding Church was a bit smaller than I had expected. Some of it was closed off and there were some ruins in another section.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel. Wedding Church in Cana K in Motion Travel Blog. Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel. Ruins in Cana.

Strangely enough, even though I’d walked 16 kilometres along the Jesus Trail to get to Cana, it was only a 5 kilometre walk back to Nazareth via the road. So Jesus could do miracles, but couldn’t walk in a straight line!

Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel in Galilee – Capharnaum/Capernaum

Another site of importance along the Jesus Trail is Capharnaum, the Town of Jesus. It is also the end of the Jesus Trail.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel. Capharnaum, The Town of Jesus

You have to pay a small fee to enter the ‘town’, but it is quite clearly well-tended. There are gardens and ruins.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel. Ruins and Gardens at Capharnaum K in Motion Travel Blog. Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel. Ruins at Capharnaum.

And more ruins.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel. Capharnaum Ruins K in Motion Travel Blog. Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel. Ruins in Capernaum

They even built the White Synagogue on top of the remains of the Jesus Synagogue.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel. New Synagogue on the ruins of the Old One

The area is quite small, so you would need an hour at the very most. Just remember to go all the way to the back of the ruins to get this view.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel. View at Capharnaum

Sea of Galilee

You’ve probably heard of the Sea of Galilee, but did you know it’s not a sea? Just like the other ‘sea’ in Israel, the Dead Sea, it is actually a lake. Before heading to the shore of the Sea of Galiee, I stopped at Mount Beatitudes where the Church of the Beatitudes has been built.

Jesus is said to have given the Sermon on the Mount there. One interesting thing about the hill is that it is the lowest peak in the world, at only 25m above sea level. It’s still 200m above the Sea of Galilee though. That means you get a pretty good view of the lake from the manicured gardens surrounding the church.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel. View of the Sea of Galilee from Mount Beatitudes

But nothing beats dipping your toes in at shore level.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Religious Sites and Nature of Northern Israel. Sea of Galilee Shore

As you can see, there’s SO much to do and see in Northern Israel. So much, in fact, that it can not be contained by just one post! Stay tuned for the next installment; History and Nature in Northern Israel.

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Oman

I was so excited to be going on a road trip to Oman from the United Arab Emirates, that even waking up early wasn’t enough to dampen my spirit. It was good to be doing a road trip with my good friend Ashleigh. I was also happy to be on well-maintained roads where it was easy to cover 100km in an hour. That meant that the drive from Sharjah to Muscat would only take 5 hours! I was very thankful for air conditioning too, as the outside temperature was around 45 degrees.

Smooth road ahead

Along the way, I saw shifting sands trying to encroach on the road and found out that it can sometimes be a huge problem during sandstorms. There are people employed solely to remove this sand from the road. Although it was kinda flat and boring at the start of our drive, we soon got some lovely views of desert mountains, which have a beauty all of their own.

Desert Mountains

Once at the border, we ran into a slight problem with insurance. Oman requires all cars within its boundaries to have additional insurance on top of the insurance from the country of origin. Although Ashleigh had this, the officer wouldn’t accept the paperwork and therefore wouldn’t stamp us in until additional insurance had been purchased. If it weren’t for the time spent dealing with that and people constantly trying to jump the queue, it’s possible that passing through this border would’ve been relatively quick.

Short Stop in Sohar
Sohar is a small coastal city around 200 kilometres from both Muscat and Sharjah, making it a great place to break up our trip. The city had at one point in history served as the Omani Capital, but is now the fifth most populated area in the country. My friend Ashleigh had a friend living there, so we all decided to head out to the local mall for some food.

Food pitstop

The Safeer Mall, as it’s known, is one of 2 malls in Sohar. It looks very flashy from the outside, which made it all the more surprising to walk into the restroom and see women with their legs up on the bench while washing their feet in the sinks. I had figured that a country with a majority Muslim population, would’ve had some kind of foot cleaning facilities next to the prayer rooms in their malls.

While chatting at the cafe in the mall, I got the feeling that Sohar was a rapidly developing city. Ashleigh recalled how much it had changed in the months since he had been there last, while his friend informed us of many other projects that were currently, or soon to be, under construction. I guess I’ll have to visit again soon to see how much different it looks!

Onto Muscat
On the drive to Muscat, Ashleigh had joked that there were no right turns in the more newly developed parts of the city and that you just had to keep turning left to get where you want to go. It turns out he wasn’t really exaggerating that much. I found it rather strange that the only access point for a mall on the right-hand side of a highway, was an offramp on the left-hand side of the highway. How convenient!

Muscat is a very spread-out city with only about 5 buildings that have more than 5 floors; all hotels, of course! I like the low rise idea, but the positioning of some of the roads in relation to some buildings, can only be described as odd. If you approach a building from the wrong side, you may have to take a several kilometre detour to turn around and access it from the correct side, as I found out first hand.

The city is definitely not geared toward pedestrian traffic and it’s downright impossible to cross a lot of roads as a pedestrian. I guess with the price of fuel being so cheap and the scorching summer temperatures, locals are inclined to drive everywhere, even if it’s just across the road. While there are road rules in Oman, it seems that the penalties for being on the wrong side of them are so miniscule, that many locals are willing to openly break them. This makes Omani roads fun, in the nail-biting kinda way.

Old and New

Muscat Gate

Road traumas aside, Muscat is a beautiful city. Once passing through the city gate, Old Muscat lies near the waterfront, surrounded by barren mountains and sea. It is a lot more pedestrian friendly, but a little less car friendly, than New Muscat and it seems to be quite lively. At the centre of the old town is the Mattrah Souq, which I’m told could be one of the oldest marketplaces in the Arab world. The old style buildings in the area are delightful to look at and it almost feels like you have stepped into another time.

Mountains of Old Muscat

Down on the waterfront, some relics from bygone eras have stood the test of time and are open for people to explore. One such relic is a small watchtower, high above the promenade. A 5 minute walk up a lot of stairs will get you to the top, where you can not only look out over the sea, but also over the whole of Old Muscat.

View from the watchtower

While there is definitely a visible difference between the old and the new city in Muscat, it seems that some architectural themes flow effortlessly through both. For instance, the colours of buildings are pretty much the same in both, mainly off-white, cream and beige. These colours aren’t really inspiring, but they are very earthy and definitely fit in seamlessly with their surroundings.

Both residential and commercial premises seem to have sleek designs with smooth facades, high ceilings and grand Arabian style arches. This means that every building you walk into feels big and airy. I probably noticed this more because I live in a place where housing can be ridiculously small, but I still think it’s lovely.

Beach in New Muscat

Problems Unique to Oman
You probably know that Oman is a majority Muslim country, ruled by a Sultan. As such, there are many things seen as taboo there. One of those is an unwed or unrelated female staying in the same room as an unwed or unrelated male. While many of their other conservative regulations can be overlooked when it comes to foreigners, apparently this one is a must follow rule.

I’ve been told that, if you book just one room in this case, hotels can ask you to provide proof of your familial relationship or marriage. If you cannot provide such information, then you could be subject to refusal of service. I think this wouldn’t be enforced on foreigners in practice, but it seemed that it would just be easier to book two rooms to avoid any uncomfortable questioning.

Two more uniquely Omani laws disallow speaking about the Sultan’s private life and showing anger in public. Doing so could actually land you in some pretty hot water, legally. If you’re formally charged, you can’t leave the country until all proceedings are finalised. So that’s how you legislate civility, I guess. It certainly explains why Omanis were very friendly and even-tempered; they don’t want to go to court for shouting at someone! Obviously, it’s better to just be nice.

Ready For a Drink
You would think that such a conservative Muslim country would not allow drinking, so you might be surprised to know that it’s not against the law, in certain circumstances. Many establishments, like hotels and bars, are licenced to sell alcohol and it is completely legal to imbibe at those places. It is, of course, illegal to show any signs of intoxication in public, so it’s probably best to just have a few quiet ones if you’re out and about.

Ashleigh and I were quite pleased when we found a cute little Irish pub near the beach, where we could sit down and have a quiet drink, guilt free! We ended up having a great chat with the foreign owner of the pub, who had been in Muscat for many years, whilst digging into our delicious Irish pub grub.

πŸ‡΄πŸ‡²Oman SummaryπŸ‡΄πŸ‡²

In a few words – old and new
Language – Arabic and English
Currency – Omani Rial (OMR)
WiFi availability – πŸ“ΆπŸ“ΆπŸ“ΆπŸ“ΆπŸ“Ά
Wifi is widely available in shopping centres, cafes and restaurants
Transport – I would presume that the transport in Oman is not that great, as everyone seems to own cars and I didn’t really come across many tourists while I was there.
Roads – πŸ›£πŸ›£πŸ›£πŸ›£πŸ›£
Omani roads are immaculate and all look like they are brand new.
Scenery – πŸœοΈβ›°πŸœοΈβ›°πŸœοΈ
A lot of desert and dust with some baron mountains thrown in for good measure.
Prices – πŸ’°πŸ’°πŸ’°
As a fairly developed country, many high priced items can be found there, but if you eat more local fare, prices tend to be a lot more reasonable.
Border efficiency – πŸ›‚πŸ›‚πŸ›‚
Except for a small insurance issue on entry, passage through the Oman immigration area, on both entry and exit was fairly smooth.
Overall – πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘

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United Arab Emirates

As it had been several years since my last visit, I was looking forward to visiting the UAE once again. Last time I’d spent a lot of time exploring historical areas and souks around Dubai Creek. I also went to the top of the Burj Khalifa, because who doesn’t want to say that they’ve been to the top of the highest building in the world? This time it was more of rest before my long trip home, with the added bonus of catching up with some old friends.

Luckily, my friend was willing to collect me from the airport at 2am, when my delayed flight finally touched down in Dubai. The immigration department at the airport seems to have streamlined their service a lot since my last visit 4 years ago. Within 15 minutes of landing I was out of the airport, which gave me enough time to grab a tea from the overpriced coffee shop near the airport entrance, before my friend arrived.

His place was a 30 minute drive away in Sharjah, which is actually the next Emirate, or state, over from Dubai. Even though it was night time, it was still easy to see that the UAE does everything on a grand scale. You could definitely see a difference in the architecture between Dubai and Sharjah. While Dubai was trying to touch the sky, Sharjah was keeping buildings low and spreading out. In fact, there were more than a few developments that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. I mean, no residences within in many miles, but still shiny new commercial complexes had been constructed.

Malls, Meals and Music
When the morning came, my friend had to head to work in Dubai, so I tagged along with him and hung out at his restaurant, in the Jameirah Lakes Towers (JLT) area for a little bit. JLT seems to be the happening area, where all the hip young kids and expats hang out and drink on the weekends. Or even on Thursday, which was the day that I had arrived and also the day before the start of the Emirati weekend. So yes, I tried to blend in with the cool kids that night. More on that later.

Mall of the Emirates

After a delicious brunch at my friend’s restaurant, I met another friend for lunch at the Mall of the Emirates. I’d first met her in Istanbul last year, but she is originally from Kyrgyzstan, which I found out I’d been pronouncing wrong my whole life, D’oh! The Mall of the Emirates is home to Ski Dubai, an indoor ski slope and snow activity centre. I looked on in amusement as people paraded around in their snow jackets while it was over 45 degrees outside. Only in Dubai!

Ski Dubai

We settled into a Lebanese restaurant for a delicious lunch, followed by a walk around the mall. My friend decided to join me and my other friend at an Irish Bar in JLT for some drinks. We were later joined by some other party people and made a night of it.

Drunken photography

The next morning, My host and I were back at the same pub for a stomach stretching, 5 hour all-you-can-eat-and-drink buffet. Apparently the musical theme for the day was 80s and 90s music. We were all okay with that.

Brunch

Time for Oman
As I’d had a few days in the UAE to relax and eat my body weight in food, it was time to get moving again, on a road trip to the Sultanate of Oman. I’ve posted about my unfortunately short-lived adventures there, in my next post. I returned to the UAE a few short days later to catch my flight back home, which would sadly conclude my summer holiday.

Final Thoughts
While it’s true that I didn’t really have many adventures in the UAE on this visit, I did get to see the place more from the point of view of someone who lives there, rather than a tourist. Whatever I happen to see when I’m there, I’ve always found it to be a pleasant place to visit and I always look forward to going back to discover another facet of the country.

Immigration was again a breeze on exiting, which gave me plenty of time to relax before the flight. The flight was really full, but the lady sitting next to me was lovely. As I sat down, she told me to let her know when I was going to the bathroom so she could go too and wouldn’t need to disturb me later. How thoughtful!

??UAE Summary??
In a few words – desert and developments
Language – Arabic and English
Currency – UAE Dirham (AED)
WiFi availability – ?????
Unlimited free WiFi is widely available in shopping centres and bars.
Transport – ???
? Dubai has a very modern metro system, but it gets very crowded and with only 2 lines offers very limited coverage of the city.
? Modern buses are available for inner city transport and cover much larger areas than the metro.
I’m not sure about inter city transport, as I stayed with someone who has a car.
Roads – ?????
All the roads in the 3 Emirates I visited looked shiny and new.
Scenery – ???β›°?
Desert and buildings are all you can see in the city areas, but when heading towards Oman, you pass through a range of treeless desert mountains, which have their own very unique beauty.
Prices – ????
As a very developed country, the UAE can be very expensive, but at the same time, there are many reasonably priced items to be found in the area.
Border efficiency – ???
Airport immigration is much quicker than it used to be, but it seems that officers enjoy delaying people at the land borders.
Overall – ????

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