Our Bethlehem Tour started at the Gilo-Bethlehem Checkpoint at the Palestinian Territories border. A taxi driver met us and drove for a little while, then we picked up our tour guide, then we drove and parked in Manger Square, right in front of the Church of the Nativity with the spire from the nearby Mosque of Omar visible.
Church of the Nativity. We entered through the Door of Humility, we walked through the main part of the church up to the Main Alter and the Alter of Circumcision. Our tour guide then took us down the steps to Grotto of the Nativity We saw the Nativity Manger, the 14 point Star of Nativity (place of Jesus’s birth). Along the way, our tour guide told us about the history, reminding us that the Muslim, Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholic religions each had a different places to worship in and near this church.
This church dates back to the times of Constantine (380 AD). The building we toured was constructed in the 6th century and has been updated, restored and remodeled many times over the years. Our tour guide gave us an excellent overview of many parts of the structure including the interesting role of the Crusaders.
Church of St Catherine. We left the church, moved our way over to the Cloister of St Jerome, then the Church of St Catherine. This is the Church from which we see mass on TV Christmas Eve from the Holy Land. There are many beautiful statues, reliefs and other pieces of art. While this church’s current form and design are from the 1800s, with recent remodeling in the 1940s, the church dates back to the 15th century. St Catherine shares a wall with the Church of the Nativity.
After our tour, our driver and tour guide took us to a gift store, then drove us back to the Gilo 300 Checkpoint. While nowhere near as big as Jerusalem, Bethlehem was a very good place to visit.
Gilo 300. Just so you know, the process of going through the Gilo-Bethlehem check point at the separation wall, was not that bad. It was a little unnerving just being dropped off and trusting that someone would be on the other side waiting for you, but there was, and we had no problems. Further, the Bethlehem tour guide and driver were both very, very nice.
Tour Guide “shopping” process. Another point for you to know, there’s an unwritten expectation that you will patronize the gift shop. They sell very nice wood carvings, jewelry statuettes, books and post cards. I bought a couple of really nice tour books. I’d budget spending $30. I’d been through this with other tours in other countries; this is how our tour guide makes money; if you like your tour guide, buy something nice; if you don’t, just buy a little trinket. Our guide was learned, respectful, and made an extra effort to tailor his presentation to each member of the group.