Church Of The Nativity In Bethlehem May Become Palestine’s First World Heritage Site

Bethlehem
The government of Palestine is applying to put the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It would be the first such site for the emerging nation.

The government of Palestine is eager to increase its recognition among the community of nations. While 130 countries recognize it as a country, a few don’t, most notably the United States and Israel. When Palestine was accepted into the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization with a vote of 107-14, the U.S. and Israel protested being outvoted by not paying their UNESCO dues.

The church in Bethlehem is built on the supposed site of the birth of Jesus Christ. There has been a church here since the reign of Constantine, the emperor who made Christianity the favored religion of the Roman Empire. Constantine completed a basilica there in the year 333. That building burnt down and was rebuilt in 565.

Despite changes and expansions over the centuries, the interior has many original elements, including early Byzantine mosaics. Beneath the basilica lies a cave that is the purported birthplace of Jesus, with a fourteen-pointed star marking the exact spot.

The World Monuments Fund put the church on its list of a 100 Most Endangered Sites, citing decay of the structure. The Palestinian Authority responded by announcing a multimillion-dollar restoration campaign. Placement of the building on the UNESCO World Heritage List would help bring attention to its fragile state.

UNESCO will decide whether to put the church on the list later this month.

[Photo courtesy Lewis Larsson]

The 25 greatest cities in the world for drinking wine

Dreaming of sipping wine in a little Parisian cafe? Or picturing yourself in trendy Napa Valley, sampling new vintages straight from the barrel? While these well-known areas indeed spring to mind when thinking about the world’s finest vintages, you may be surprised to know that excellent wine is being made and enjoyed just about everywhere.

As a wine judge and hobby winemaker, my favorite wine trips have always been to out-of-the-way places, away from tourists and kitsch. This is where you will find the best wines and the most interesting experiences. Here are dozens of not-to-miss wine experiences to plan into your next trip.

San Gimignano, Italy
San Gimignano is an ancient city in Tuscany whose medieval towers still fill the skyline today. While several grape varieties are grown in the area, the town is famous for its Vernaccia di San Gimignano, a dry white wine made in the region since the 13th century, and made famous by a reference in Dante’s Inferno.

This unique wine is best paired with local fare such as wild boar or mushroom risotto which can be enjoyed in many local restaurants. One of the town’s restaurants, Dorand, even serves authentic medieval food paired with local wines. A luxurious and decadent experience, it will not be soon forgotten.

Beamsville, Ontario, Canada
The Niagara Region of Canada has developed into a thriving wine region over the past thirty years. Its micro-climate is perfect for European-style grape growing and this area is known for award-winning Chardonnays, Rieslings, and Merlots.

The region’s best product, however, is its Icewine. This naturally sweet dessert wine is made from white grapes that have been allowed to remain on the vine into the winter and are picked and pressed during the first hard freeze.

Forgo the touristy Niagara-on-the-Lake and stay in Beamsville to the west. Beamsville is surrounded by small craft wineries and vineyards producing a number of varietals. From Beamsville, wine tours are an easy day trip. Beamsville restaurants also carry many local wines, so you can sample to your heart’s content while planning your trip through wine country.Beaune, France
On your next trip to France, escape Paris and drive three hours south east to the city of Beaune. Even without wine, Beaune is a beautiful, historical city, with centuries-old cathedrals, ancient ramparts, and world-class cafs and restaurants.

The best place to sample wines in Beaune is the Marche aux Vins. The Marche, located in a 15th century Franciscan church, is a collective run by many of the region’s wine merchants. For a mere 10.00 €, you can spend a morning or afternoon sampling a very large selection of Burgundies. You will be provided with a souvenir tasting cup and will make your way through the maze of wines. All of the wines are available to purchase. I most enjoy the heavier, older, and often more expensive vintages which are presented near the end of the tastings. Don’t fill up on the cheap stuff first!

Temecula, California, USA
When one thinks California wineries, the exclusive and hip Napa Valley is the first area that comes to mind. While the Napa region produces some amazing wines, California harbors a wine secret farther to the south.

An hour from San Diego, Orange County, and Los Angeles, Temecula has been quietly gaining a name for itself in the wine industry. The hills to the north and west and the ocean breezes make for a perfect grape-growing climate.

If you enjoy gaming as well as wine, the Pechanga Casino and Resort just outside of town provides both. Or take a self-guided tour through Temecula’s small boutique wineries and discover vintages that you will be unlikely to see on your supermarket’s shelves.

Mainz, Germany

When you visit other cities, add a new wine to your repertoire. As years go by, when you taste that varietal, it can take you back to your trip.

Mainz sits perched on the banks of the Rhine as it has for almost two thousand years. The surrounding countryside is famous for its Rieslings, Sylvaners, and Muller-Thurgau. The cultivated vineyards encompass over 65,000 acres and, like many wine-growing regions along the Rhine, their soil imparts a unique character to these delicate white wines.

In Mainz, you can sample wines at many of the local vineyards, or take a boat ride down the Rhine with wine glass firmly in hand — my favorite activity when I visit Germany. Stick with the Rieslings and forgo the more everyday Mullers. They want to be Rieslings when they grow up.

Valencia, Spain
The Mediterranean Sea keeps the vineyards around Valencia at just the right temperature. The Valencia area is famous for paella and its locally-produced wines; two treats that can easily be combined into one outing to one of the city’s many Spanish restaurants.

The wineries in Valencia are some of the largest in Spain due to the city’s large port and ability to ship large quantities of wine around the world. The area produces deep red Riojas, unique roses, and complex aged sherries.

There are several wine tours, both guided and self-guided that you can sign up for to see the wineries and sample a wider variety than what is available in restaurants.

Bellingham, Washington, USA
Washington is one of the great wine regions of the United States. Although just coming into its own in the past decade, Washington is now the second largest state producer of wine in the country.

While wine towns can be found in most areas of the state, Bellingham, near the Canadian border, is a fun experience and a short trip from the British Columbia wineries to the north.

Bellingham is known for its wine bars and local wine can be found in every one of them. The pace of life in Bellingham tends to be a little more laid back than you may be used to so sit back, enjoy the wine, and listen to live music. If visiting in the fall, include tours of local vineyards in your plans and watch the winemaking happen first hand.

Brisbane, Australia
Brisbane makes the list, not because of its own wine-growing identity, but because of its location. In Brisbane, you can sample the fruit wines produced to the north, on the Sunshine Coast, including pineapple, kiwi, or mango wines. You can also sample more traditional wines from farther south

Australia is known for its Shiraz, a red grape originally from Europe and there are many to choose from in Brisbane restaurants. My favorite way to enjoy wine in Brisbane is to find an outdoor table at one of the restaurants surrounding South Bank park and sip some of Australia’s finest while watching kids play on the man-made beach.

 

 

Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town is the center of South African wine-making and both reds and whites have been made here for almost 300 years. All of the great grapes of Europe can be found here including Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz (called Petit Syrah in France), and Sauvignon Blanc.

Many of Cape Town’s upscale hotels offer packages that include tours of the 130+ vineyards (or ‘wine farms’ as they are called in South Africa), wineries, food pairings and accommodation. This is the best way to see Cape Town’s surrounding wine country and an opportunity not to be missed

Pelee Island, Ontario, Canada
Pelee Island is the southernmost tip of Canada and is, in fact, farther south than parts of California. This tiny island is inhabited by only about 500 full-time residents but boasts some of the best vineyards on the continent.

Pelee Island Winery grows all of its grapes on the island (over 500 acres). A weekend on Pelee Island is a great opportunity to get away for a romantic weekend, which I do as often as possible. There are several bed and breakfast inns on the island and the winery offers various wine tours, tastings and educational sessions. And when you tire of drinking wine (an unlikely occurrence), you can enjoy the nature preserve or take a bike ride around the entire island.

— The above was written by
Angie Mohr, Seed contributor.


Walla Walla, Washington, USA
This small town is a four-and-a-half hour drive from Seattle, and it’s a completely different world. Besides having a semi-arid climate and little-to-no traffic, Walla Walla is one of the world’s hottest wine regions. Scattered throughout the countryside are vineyards and tasting rooms (highly recommended is Pepper Bridge Winery, one of many great producers in Walla Walla).

In the small but charming downtown there are enough tasting rooms to keep a wine tourist busy for days. Add in a few very high quality restaurants (Saffron and Brasserie Four, for example), and Walla Walla is one of the world’s most inviting and laid-back wine towns.

Saint-Emilion, France
The wine-tourism capital of Bordeaux is an obvious pick for this list. The vineyards of Saint-Emilion surrounding the ancient town center (a World Heritage Site) produce some of the world’s most sought-after wines. Chateau Cheval Blanc and Chateau Ausone are the only two Chateaux to receive Saint-Emilion’s highest ranking, and great vintages of the wines frequently fetch over $1,000 per bottle. There are plenty of more economical choices though, and with nearly all of the 13,600 acres dedicated to wine production, there’s plenty to go around.

Portland, Oregon, USA
The largest city in Oregon sits on the banks of the Willamette River and is a mere half-hour drive from many wineries in the Willamette Valley, one of the world’s premium Pinot Noir growing areas. If touring the vineyards isn’t on the agenda, there are numerous great wine bars and restaurants. Check out Alu Wine Bar, which claims a stellar wine list of both Oregon Pinot Noirs and intriguing imported selections.

Cochem, Germany
Cochem is one of dozens of small towns along Germany’s Mosel River, and it is particularly charming. The Mosel is famous for producing some of the world’s best — as well as age-worthy — Rieslings. The wide range of wine styles guarantees a hit with every palate. The town is surrounded by steep hillside vineyards, and a thousand-year-old castle on a hill overlooking the town square adds to the atmosphere.

San Francisco, California, USA
One of the most diverse cities in the United States also has plenty of choices when it comes to wine. Dozens of wine bars are scattered throughout the city center — try Yield Wine Bar for an earth-friendly wine list or the aptly named WINE for a constantly rotating glass selection.

Bonus: Outside the bustling downtown, Napa Valley and Sonoma are easy day trips to sample some of the best U.S.-made wines.

Los Olivos, California, USA
Rather than fighting the crowds in Napa Valley try this quaint Victorian town just north of Santa Barbara. The area is now famous as the setting of Sideways. Don’t let the Hollywood connection scare you away though: the region is stunningly beautiful and is one of the best Pinot Noir producing areas in the United States (alternatively, swing by Andrew Murray for some killer Syrahs). The historic downtown is home to over a dozen wine tasting rooms in a small area.

 

Chateauneuf-du-Pape, France
The town name is translated as “new castle of the Pope,” from the days when the Pope ruled from nearby Avignon. The Pope no longer lives there, instead you’ll find some of the best wines in the world in this on the rise region. The stellar 2007 vintage is getting a lot of attention around the world, so a visit is recommended before the crowds become unbearable, which seems almost inevitable for good reason.

Montalcino, Italy
It’s hard to imagine any better place to be in the summer than in Tuscany. This old hilltop town has been booming since the 1970s when its now world-famous wine, Brunello di Montalcino, began to receive praise. It’s now surrounded by the world’s premier Sangiovese vineyards, and provides a stunning view of the Tuscan countryside.

Tampa, Florida, USA
While this city is not even close to a major wine region, it does have events and restaurants to make it one of the East Coast’s best wine destinations. Possibly the biggest draw is Bern’s Steak House, which has an absurdly huge wine list. There can’t be many other restaurants in the world offering a 1970 Pauillac for $18 per glass. If that doesn’t suit your style there are 150 other wines by the glass to choose from.

Pro tip: The Florida Wine Festival is held every April in nearby Sarasota.

New York, New York, USA
If money is no object, but drinking wine is, New York is hard to beat. There’s a particularly high concentration of wine bars in the East Village and Midtown. If you’re in Midtown, check out Clo WineBar above Columbus Circle for a high-tech, interactive wine experience. The wine list is displayed on a touch screen bar top, and the wines are dispensed automatically throughout the room.

— The above was written by
Steven Washuta, Seed contributor.


Yountville, California, USA
Tucked into the vastness that is Northern California’s famous wine country, is this 5-mile-long, cozy village. Wine country has many excellent dining opportunities to enjoy with their world class wines — but Yountville beats them all with top restaurants (several are Michelin). It’s hard to say which is better — the wine or the food — but wine pairing is what this area is all about. Stay at the Villagio Inn, and explore the town’s antique shops and art galleries. And at night, get ready for Wine Pairing 101, taught by some of the world’s best sommeliers.

Oetigheim, Germany
This quaint town is home to Germany’s largest open-air theater, the Volksschauspiele. Nestled along the French border, this area also has it’s own understated wine country: many of these vineyards grow the grapes that make German whites so famous and versatile.

The tiniest restaurants here pride themselves on their schnitzel or other old world dishes. Pair a favorite with one of the regional, world class Rieslings — some are produced in such small quantity, you may not find this nectar anywhere else in the world.

Steamboat Springs, Colorado, USA
When you visit other cities, add a new wine to your repertoire. As years go by, when you taste that varietal, it can take you right back to your special trip. While known for world class skiing, Steamboat is a summer haven — to enjoy fresh mountain air, wine and music. A tiny specialty grocer, Market on the Mountain, can assist you in packing the perfect picnic basket with your favorite cheeses, crusty bread and a Pinot Grigio, so you may enjoy the majestic beauty of Mt. Werner and the Yampa Valley.

Pro tip: try to visit during “Strings on the Mountain” — Steamboat’s summer music festival (though Strings also runs a winter concert series, as well).

London, England
London has it all — excellent wines from all over the world to pair with multiple cuisines, entertainment, and easy ways to get around without driving. Start out in one of Mayfair’s excellent restaurants (we like the Greenhouse). Ask the sommelier for a brand new release — or a warming Cabernet before taking the tube to the West End. SoHo’s wine tasting and dancing venues top off the night, and grab a taxi back to your place. Wine, food, entertainment and transport are all integral to global scale, “good times” in the London scene.

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, USA
Host to the nation’s largest music festival (Musikfest), Bethlehem has an historic “Party Hearty” reputation. This may have originated with the 1741 settlers: Moravians (who were wine-makers) moving in alongside Germans (who, even today, remain devoted wine-drinkers).

Gaining recognition is the region’s wine industry; Rieslings and Chambourcin are local favorites. Stay in the historic district in one of the B&B’s (we like Morningstar Inn) and discover the town. Tour the wineries: Amore’, Franklin Hill and Blue Mountain. This area’s unique mix of history, music, and party provides lots of good times for Vino Explorers in search of new regional finds.

Pro tip for novice oenophiles: Where ever you live — your town (and home) can become The Best Place for Wine Drinking. Take time to train your palate by starting with a single varietal, maybe a Merlot, and stick with it for a while. Then add another — perhaps a Pinot — and try that for a couple weeks. Soon, you’ll be able to tell the difference in a blind taste test. When you’re ready, try adding a Cabernet to the mix, but don’t push this one. And, when you visit other cities, add a new wine to your wine repertoire. As years go by, when you taste that varietal, it can take you right back to your special trip.

–The above was written by
Kris Myers, Seed contributor.

Christmas in Spain

¡Feliz Navidad!

Spaniards are big into Christmas. The eating, the gift giving, the shopping craziness, it’s all here with a distinctly Spanish twist.

Hold off on the presents

The day for gift giving isn’t Christmas, but Epiphany on January 6. Christmas Eve isn’t a time for anticipating what’s under the tree but for sitting with the family chowing down heaps of good food while ignoring the king’s annual speech on television. Epiphany is the chance for another Big Feed. Spaniards don’t really need an excuse to have a giant dinner with all the family!
Shopping continues right into early January. After Epiphany there are Las Rebajas (“The Sales”) when stores try to get rid of their excess stock. Spaniards wanting to save money can give a notice that they’re going to buy someone something, and then buy it when the big sales come. This year many shops have started Las Rebajas early because of La Crisis. I’ll let you translate that one for yourself.

Los Reyes Magos, not Santa

Santa is known here, of course, and you see lots of inflatable Santas hanging from people’s windows, but he takes second place to the The Three Kings or Wise Men. Gaspar, Melchor, and Baltasar showed up on Epiphany to give gifts to the baby Jesus. Every year they fly into Madrid and other cities to much pomp and ceremony and go on a big parade through town.
Baltasar, the African king, is the kid’s favorite. You see him and his buddies hanging out in department stores taking requests from excited children, and kids send lists of toys to them like American kids do with Santa. Baltasar used to be played by Spaniards in blackface, something that doesn’t have the cultural baggage here that it does in the United States, although I still haven’t gotten used to seeing it! Luckily the influx of African immigrants in the past few years has provided a ready supply of real Africans to play the favorite Wise Man.
On the night of January 5 people put one of their shoes in the living room for the kings to place presents next to. It’s also nice to leave out some milk and cookies for the Kings’ camels. They have to walk all around Spain in one night and they get hungry.

%Gallery-80910%Bethlehem, not Christmas trees

Because the Wise Men are so popular there’s a long tradition of making dioramas showing them coming to see the infant Jesus in Bethlehem, Belén in Spanish. They’re called Belénes and can get quite elaborate, with entire towns containing hundreds of figures. Check out the gallery for some examples. Many private homes have a Belén and shops often put them in their windows. A pharmacy near my apartment has the best in my barrio. It fills the entire front window and takes a couple of days to set up.
Christmas trees, originally a German tradition, have never been big here. Considering the size of most Spanish apartments you couldn’t have a very impressive tree anyway! Besides, if you had a big tree there would be no room for a Belén.
Check out the gallery for some fine examples of Spanish Belénes and others from around the world, featured in an exhibition by Caja Duero on until January 10 in Madrid.

El Gordo

There’s also the big national Christmas lottery called “El Gordo”. The grand prize always runs into the millions of euros and there are lots of smaller prizes to tempt people who don’t understand statistics into playing again and again. There are so many winning numbers that the drawing takes most of the day. The numbers are sung out by schoolchildren on TV and radio and their high-pitched sing-song recitation of the numbers is one of the sounds of Christmas here.

So what about Spanish New Year? One distinct custom is that as the clock starts striking twelve you have to eat a dozen grapes before it finishes. That’s harder than you think. Other than that people hit the town, drink a lot, and make out with people they probably shouldn’t. Some traditions are universal.

10 Tips for visiting Bethlehem this Christmas

Those of us who travel to Bethlehem soon discover the huge gap between our happy Sunday School expectations and the heavy realities of visiting the West Bank in person. It’s not such an easy place to get to, though world interest makes Bethlehem far more accessible than say, Ramallah or Jericho.

Out of 133 destinations rated in this month’s issue of National Geographic Traveler, the West Bank’s little town of Bethlehem ranked the lowest. Sad but true, travel experts consider the birthplace of Jesus Christ to be the world’s worst travel destination, one that’s surrounded by a giant concrete wall with difficult checkpoints and generally tangled in a political rat’s nest.

Still, for those in search of a geographically-correct Christmas, Bethlehem offers a nice dose of nostalgia served with a serious side of political pondering. It’s also a bit of a circus, like Las Vegas with Franciscan monks and machine guns. In such a place, it helps to have a guide. In lieu of a bright star shining in the east, behold ten hints for helping you navigate the dark streets that shineth:

  1. Check the border situation constantly: security in Israel varies wildly. Peace or violence in one location does not pre-determine security in other locales, especially in Bethlehem. CNN, BBC, and US State Department travel alerts are interesting but rarely compelling. Instead, ask around in country. Learn to listen beyond the bias and get the inside scoop as to which entry points are ‘hot’ and which ones are getting less traffic. Which brings us to the next point:
  2. Plan a window of extra time: crossing into the West Bank is always a gamble. In some cases, you may not even make it, so don’t write “Bethlehem” into your travel planner between 10:00 and 12:00. Instead, plan a range of days and hope that your first attempt is successful. If not, try, try again.
  3. Hire a Palestinian taxi driver with Israeli license plates: When it comes to straddling a tumultuous border, get the best of both worlds: A Palestinian driver with Israeli papers (and driving a car with Israeli plates) is pre-cleared and faces far less hassle when crossing back into Jerusalem. They will also be much safer escorts for you while you are in the West Bank. Again, ask around and seek trusted insights from insiders.
  4. Avoid big bus tours: though safer in principle, taking a tour bus into Bethlehem is often a recipe for a painful wait at the border in either direction. Add fifteen minutes for every olive wood sculpture of the baby Jesus in your backpack. If possible, travel ultra-light (passport, camera and a bottle of water) and in small groups.
  5. Visit the Church of the Nativity backwards: the supposed birthplace of Jesus Christ is anything but peaceful, with all the wailing Russian Orthodox pilgrims and nit picky clergy who voraciously guard their little corner. Take a second to relax your religious connotations and realize that you are in a major tourist destination with crowds like those at the Empire State Building or Dollywood. Visiting the church in reverse order–saving the Grotto of the Nativity for last–can help you skip some of the longer lines.
  6. Don’t go on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day: I know, I know, that’s kind of the point, but know that it will be a Christian madhouse. Try going instead to visit first thing in the morning of December 24th, otherwise (insert joke about there not being any room in the inn, ha, ha.)
  7. Dinars or dollars: shekels have very little use in the City of David and most ATM’s disperse Jordanian dinars. Get some cash before you enter, or use US dollars. Again, the lighter you travel, the better.
  8. The Shepherds Fields of Bethlehem is a hoax: What? You mean the shepherds that saw a star shining in the sky and then heard angels singing, “Glory to God”–they weren’t actually hanging out on that specific hilltop that happens to be a ten-minute drive from the Church of the Nativity? No, sorry. The chapel and twisted olive trees are a nice reminder of a cool event, but it’s a Victorian-era invention for tourists like us.
  9. Bring a bible: The Book of Luke is probably the best and only guidebook to take with you. The book never gives false information about restaurants, opening hours, or directions, and offers some great context about the town itself.
  10. Keep apolitical: It sounds way obvious, but a trip to Bethlehem is not the time to show off your cocktail conversation about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Be assured, no matter what you say, you will offend least one person. Even UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon would put his foot in his mouth in Bethlehem, so better to shut it. Talk about the weather and delve deeply into your clueless tourist persona–on this border, it’s the safest way to be.

Refusal to tip for lousy restaurant service results in arrest

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Tipping is a really complicated issue in the US. What was once introduced as a way to reward good service, has now turned into a way for patrons to actually pay the salary of restaurant workers. One of my biggest pet peeves with tipping is the mandatory tip on groups. This used to be added to groups of 12 or more, then it dropped to 8 or more, and nowadays most places consider a group of 6 people to be large enough to warrant a mandatory 18% tip – no matter how lousy the service.

Leslie Pope and John Wagner encountered this stupid rule at the Lehigh pub in Bethlemen, PA. Their group was served by a pretty useless waitress who made them wait over an hour for their order, forced them to refill their own drinks and even navigate the restaurant to get their own napkins and silverware.

When it came time to pay, they were presented with a $73 check, plus a $16 tip. When they refused to pay the tip, the pub called the police and had them arrested. They were actually handcuffed and placed in the back of a police car.
The owner of the restaurant claims he offered to comp them their food, and admitted that it look a long time to serve the food. At the moment, the couple have been charged with theft, but chances are the charges won’t hold up in court.

To me, the big question is whether the Lehigh Pub really thinks all this is worth the horrible publicity they are getting – to have a restaurant actually call the police when someone attempts to refuse paying for lousy service is a surefire way to make people avoid your restaurant for years to come. Because of their actions, reviews on sites like Yelp, and Rateitall have dropped to one star. Serves them right.

What do you think? Should you pay the “mandatory group tip” even if the service was really bad?

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