Alice Plays Tour Guide
This is normally Goody Two Shoes’ job, but she’s on vacation, so stepping up to the plate: Alice!
I normally have Goody Two Shoes help me take people around Bethlehem because I don’t know my way around too well. This time I didn’t have a choice really, and the place my guests wanted to see was very easy to find – I had been there twice already. So, off we went for an adventure.
My guests: 2 Israelis, 1 American, and 1 Japanese
This was a very interesting group - all in their 30’s, all knew each other in the United States for years. Two had even been my students when they were small and I was teaching a kids Bible study at the Messianic congregation in Virginia 25 years ago!
The Assignment: The Banksy Hotel in Bethlehem - the Walled-Off Hotel
The Walled Off Hotel is a boutique hotel opened by an artist (Banksy) from the UK who anonymously paints graffiti in the middle of the night, which then has sold for upwards of $200,000 in different parts of the world. This particular “art installation” is a hotel based on the Waldorf Astoria. It’s a play on the whole idea – as this hotel is advertised as the WORST VIEW IN THE WORLD (the hotel faces the separation wall). There is a restaurant on the ground floor where you can have several mocktails with an ironic twist, locally brewed beer or high tea with scones. There is a small museum dedicated to the Balfour Declaration and what it has led to – the role it’s played in the conflict since it’s establishment.
The rooms are all decorated by various famous artists. The one I saw was the Presidential Suite, complete with bar, jacuzzi (waterfall is a water tank with bullet holes to allow the water to flow) and a fake animal skin sofa. Of course, a small balcony looks over the wall to an empty parking lot for Rachel’s Tomb.
When I picked up my guests from the local mall in Jerusalem, we drove past several settlements coming into Bethlehem. Talk quickly began of cost of living, what area this is, who is legally responsible for each area in Israel and Palestine – normal banter.
One of the Israelis in the car asked if I could show her the way as she had wanted to come to Bethlehem but didn’t know the streets. Easily, I guided her down the street and around the curves, pointing out landmarks to her so she could find her way again.
Arriving at the Walled Off Hotel, my guests were busy taking in the wall graffiti, trying to figure out how tall the wall was (it’s like 30 meters!), following me around the wall’s one lane road (used by traffic flowing in two directions and causing people to back up from time to time). We entered the hotel to the very welcoming staff, and friends from Bethlehem were already in the lobby waiting for us. Introductions ensued all around and ordering of local brews, and then the guests went upstairs to see the rooms.
After being severely impressed, and taking lots of pictures, I reminded the one traveling back to the US – better put your pictures on the cloud. At the airport, sometimes they check your phone to see where you’ve been. Better NOT to have the pictures of this hotel when going through Israeli security.
Onwards to a local eatery on the side of a mountain, overlooking the valley between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. After several Arabic dishes and some more beer, I took the group back to their car.
MORAL: Just another group, another tour, another hotel for those of us who live here. But a potentially life-changing, perspective adjustment for those visiting. Let’s Hope!