“Think you’re escaping and run into yourself. Longest way round is the shortest way home.” Ulysses
On Sunday, two friends and I went to Nablus for the day. Nablus is in the northern West Bank, founded in 72 CE as a Roman town. Since 1995, daily administration of the city is conducted by the Palestinian Authority, but Israel controls all the entrances and exits to the city.
So we drove first to the Old City and found a solid, local place to eat lunch – mixed grill kebabs and hummus and salada. Then we went on an adventure to find Sebastia, a town of Roman ruins supposedly near Nablus. Thank goodness we had a car, first off. But then we had a solid 30 minutes of surreal, trying to ask people on the streets how to get to Sebastia and getting the most ridiculously random answers! It’s one of the things I love most about being here, in the West Bank, where you can ask anyone on the streets for help with just about anything and they will do their damnedest to help. Especially since I look foreign, most of the time help is just offered to me, whether I need it or not! In Nablus, a much more conservative city than Ramallah, we had our male friend, who also was our driver, ask the men on the streets for directions. Finally, after incredibly amusing attempts to get directions, we found Sebastia, where in actuality, there is a church where John the Baptist’s head is buried.
But more importantly (or is that sacrilegious to say??!), there were beautiful, beautiful views of the countryside.
So we toured the ruins for a little, and then drove back to Nablus itself, with some time to walk around. We stopped in this big park right near the center of the city, which is really a great idea – I’ve been pretty surprised with the number of cities here that have decent size “parks,” as I’ve heard that places like Amman, Jordan have really no such places for kids to play/grow up. This park, like others I’ve seen, however, was filled with trash and was pretty empty. Except for a horse tied up near the entrance:
Then we walked around the Old City of Nablus, and wandered down a side alley and found the city’s massive, incredibly long (like took us an hour to walk down it completely) souq! It was so busy and fun, and I got lots of side comments, since I’m so clearly a foreigner. Our favorite of the day was from some teenage kid selling something on the side, at about 4:30 pm, who said, “Good morning, teacher!” to me.
And then of course we ate kanafeh – what Nablus is famous for! It’s the most famous Nablusi sweet, it’s made of pastry sheets with honey-sweetened cheese in the center, sprinkled with crushed pistachios. Though it’s now made throughout the Middle East, kanafeh Nablusi maintains a level of fame, partly due to the particular cheese used, jibneh Nablusi. It’s so sweet, and really filling, so we actually just had that for dinner and then went to have coffee and smoke argileh at this restaurant with fantastic views over the entire city for the sunset. It was a great way to end a great day trip! Though of course we had to stop at a few Israeli checkpoints, even though we never ventured out of the West Bank at any point… Interesting.