Christmas Eve Bansky hunt – Palestine 🇵🇸

I am a big admirer of Banksy, the British street artist/political activist and have been to various spots around the UK to see his art. I had heard that he had opened a hotel in Bethlehem, that also housed a museum, art gallery and restaurant, so I eagerly started planning my visit once our flights to the region had been booked.


You can book specific Banksy tours over in Palestine, taking you to some of his work found around the area, as well as to the hotel, but we decided to make our own way on public transport and enter Palestine on foot via the notorious Checkpoint 300.

When you tour Palestine on a tour bus you are let through the border without any hassle, its quick, safe and easy, but a privilege that actual Palestinians don’t have. Having had that tourist friendly experience earlier on in our trip, I wanted to make the journey on foot this time and experience it as a local would.

We boarded the 234 bus from Damascus Gate in Jerusalem which stops right outside the Checkpoint on the Israeli side, it takes about 25 mins to get there and costs around £3.

I didn’t take any pictures as we made our way through the border checkpoint, maybe you weren’t allowed, but also, out of respect for all those who aren’t free to wander between the two countries like I did with my British passport.


When you arrive on the Palestinian side you are greeted with a combination of Israeli Army personnel and lots of eager taxi drivers. We avoided both, as its only a short walk from the checkpoint to the hotel, but we arrived about an hour before the hotel opened for our Christmas Eve lunch on purpose, so we had lots of time to walk alongside the separation wall, which in part has been turned into a ‘museum’.

This ‘museum’ comprises of 270 stories pasted onto the wall, recalling tales from local Palestinian women and children, telling the daily struggles they face living inside the walled off region. It gives a human face to the conflict, and a narrative usually missing from world news reports, it made a somber reflective morning walk, but it was an important part of why I wanted to visit. If I just wanted to enjoy sun, sand and sanitised safe tourist spots, I would have just stuck to the Spanish coast for my holidays.

We continued our walk, alongside the wall, taking in all the art and stories, spotting some of the more well known pieces of graffiti, including ‘make hummus not war’, a alternative New York subway transit sign, a possible sighting of a Banksy rat and the Angels, which is a certified Banksy.

If you keep following the direction of the wall from the checkpoint with the wall to your right hand side, its probably not more than 10 minutes to walk to the hotel, but of course if this is your first visit, like it was for us, it will likely take you a lot longer to walk there, as you take in all the messages and artwork on the concrete.

Soon Banksy’s hotel came into view, called ‘The Walled Off Hotel‘, a play on the famous Waldorf Hotel, as well as by means of its location as it’s effectively ‘walled off’ from the rest of the world. Opened in 2017, this boutique hotel has 10 rooms, varying from presidential suite, to no frills budget room with shared bathroom, all with the worst view in the world, the 8ft concrete wall outside.


The hotel is open to none-residents from 11am – 10pm daily, wanting to make sure we would get a table for our Christmas Eve brunch, we arrived just as the doors opened. On arrival you enter straight into the Piano Bar, fashioned on an old colonial style dining room, you can sit down for food or drinks, surrounded by many of Banksy’s works as well as a haunted piano, playing works recorded specifically for the hotel from musicians such as Flea and Trent Reznor.


We ordered a ‘walled off salad’ with some dips and bread and whilst we were waiting a camera crew walked in, only the day before a new Banksy installation had been put on display in the hotel, some friends had even texted me from home about it. So overwhelmed and excited to be in the hotel, we had walked straight past the ‘Scar of Bethlehem’ in the entrance, a take on the Nativity scene, which instead of taking place in a straw laden manger, takes place beside the concrete wall, complete with bullet holes.

By the time we had finished our brunch complete with virgin cocktails, the camera crew had left, so we had space to investigate the piano bar further, along with the nativity scene, the place was packed with Banksy paintings and installations, including my favourite Flower Thrower.

Upstairs there is an art gallery to visit, this time no Bankys here, this space is purely for Palestinians, some known artists such as Suliman Mansour have their work on display here, as well as a temporary area for rotating new and up and coming work. There was some really cool stuff on display and we felt lucky to have been able to see artwork that due to restrictions you wouldn’t normally get to see outside of the country.

Back downstairs is a museum dedicated solely to the separation wall. It’s a really modern interactive space, as you would expect if Banksy was involved along with the help of a British university professor. There’s lots of information about the history of the wall right up to present day with little films, audio, military artefacts and a camera on display from the incredible Oscar nominated Five Broken Cameras, which I really recommend watching. The plan is for the exhibit to be expanded as more artefacts are collected over time, but it was a thought provoking, humbling experience to see and hear how this wall has changed the face of the landscape and its people on both sides.


Final stop was obviously the gift shop, where we were lucky to chat to the manager of the hotel. A lovely man called Wissam Salsaa, he was keen to know where we had travelled from and what we thought of the hotel, in short I told him, if we were to return to the area, I would absolutely plan on staying here next time around.

There were a few Banksy items for sale in the gift shop, and I did think long and hard about a £70 keyring, which was the cheapest item for sale that was certified by the artist. But then the frugal part of my brain kicked in and I just bought postcards and a couple of tote bags instead, realising I could use that £70 for another flight somewhere instead (not realising Covid was about to happen and I wouldn’t get away for almost another 2 years!).

I desperately wanted to stay for longer, but we had really explored every part of the hotel that is open to none residents, also we were conscious that it was Christmas Eve and the tourists would be flocking to the centre of Bethlehem for the celebrations. So we headed back to Checkpoint 300 which was practically empty as we passed back through, the security guard barely looking at our British passport, and the local bus was waiting ready to return to Jerusalem on the other side. With so many places I still have to see, I rarely make plans to return to a visited place but Palestine makes that list and hopefully one day I can return, whether the political situation will be any calmer, I’m doubtful.


Winter in the West Bank 🇵🇸

My last trip abroad before Covid hit was another Christmas spent in the Middle East, using East Jerusalem as our base, we travelled around Israel and Palestine both independently and with guided tours.

Our first trip was a full day booked with Abraham tours, leaving by the old Jaffa gates of Jerusalem.  It wasn’t long before the separation wall came into view, with evidence of recent tension and fighting becoming apparent, with abandoned buildings and barbed wire taking over the view from the well paved roads and souvenir shops. Once we had officially passed into Palestine, our guide jumped on board, as he wasn’t allowed into Jerusalem without paperwork, our first experience of the many restrictions facing the people of this torn land.

We alighted the coach on arrival into Ramallah, a place I had only really heard of via news reports I am sad to say, but now is a bustling, busy city. The main business and cultural capital of Palestine, full of coffee shops, offices, and people rushing past to get to their next destination, all the while I was still very aware of the concrete wall that now surrounded us.

Although Ramallah is a predominantly an Islamic city, historically it was Christian, and so being a few days before December 25th, it was no surprise to see a Christmas tree erected in the centre of the city. We had time to explore around Al Manara Sq and saw the infamous Star and Bucks, as well as many Palestinian flags proudly flying in the cool winter sunshine.

Our next stop was just outside the city centre, to the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s mausoleum. A temporary resting place, Arafat actually wanted to be buried in East Jerusalem, but of course like the rest of the Palestinians, alive or not, he’s not allowed to cross beyond the separation wall. The area comprises quite a minimalist, simple white building of glass and stone, with water on three sides and although not visible, there’s an underground rail track, ready to take him to his final resting place at some point in the probably far distant future.

Jericho is one of the oldest continually inhabited places in the world, and was about an hours drive, through the Judean desert from Ramallah. The sign that welcomes you to the oldest part of the city, states that there has been a settlement here for around 10,000 years, making it an incredibly important site where historians can learn about the first group of humans that settled in a one place and made the move away from being nomadic hunters.

As well as being the oldest, it is also the lowest city in the world as it is situated so close to the Dead Sea, so it’s no surprise this place should be on everyone’s itinerary who visits this area. Our tour avoided the more modern centre, concentrating on the excavated ruins of the ancient city, including Hishams Palace, one of the Desert Castles found across the Middle East. It really was other worldly wandering around the dusty, sandy walled remains, with the Judean mountains towering in the background, it really felt a special place, even if I couldn’t quite comprehend how it must have looked all those thousands of years ago.

As lunchtime was approaching we headed down to the River Jordan, which also acts as the border with Jordan itself, and the previous year we had been on the other side as we spent Christmas in Amman. As the people on our tour excitedly visited the baptism site of Jesus and looked on as pilgrims got blessed in the river, mother and I grabbed a drink, found some shade and investigated the souvenir shop, There were a lot of soldiers on this side of the river border and lots of religious tourists in white robes queuing up to go in the river, I remember it feeling much more peaceful and calmer on the Jordanian side, but I’m happy I got to experience it from both countries.


One of the things I loved about travelling in this part of the world was the incredible history, literally everywhere you went. For example, the countryside views surrounding the cafe where we stopped for lunch was said to be where the story of the 3 Wise Men took place, as in was in the adjacent fields where they saw the Star of Bethlehem in the clear night sky as they hiked on their way to Jerusalem.

Our final stop on this particular tour was back close to the ‘border’ and a place that must have changed beyond all recognition from biblical times, Bethlehem. It’s a place swarming with pilgrims just like Jerusalem is and if you have any passing interest in history, then this place must be on your to do list. The main draw is the Church of the Nativity, Jesus was born in a grotto on this spot and the church itself was built over the top, and as a result it’s one of the holiest spots for the Christian religion. It’s such an important site to the Christian community, but because the religion itself is split into many different denominations, this church is one of a handful of buildings shared between different Christian communities, with the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox and Catholics all sharing various parts together.

As it was only a few days from December 25th, the church was decorated and packed full of pilgrims from all over the world, often wearing T-shirts with their particular church logo’s on, all of them queuing up to see the exact spot where Jesus was born.

Although I love a religious building of any kind, I don’t class myself a follower of any, plus we didn’t have time on the tour to queue for what would have been probably an hour for a quick 20 second peek at the site of his birth inside the dark grotto. But our tour guide took us ’round the back’ down into the cave to explore from the other side, so I feel we still got the same experience, but with less crowds anyway.

The church itself was quite plain, with the exception of Christmas baubles and ornate incense burners hanging from above, red limestone pillars along the sides and various fresco’s partly uncovered on the walls, but of course, the decor isn’t why you visit. There is another church just off to the side, actually sharing a wall with the Nativity Church, called Church of St Catherine of Alexandria and it is here where the televised service from Bethlehem is filmed every year. After visiting both churches, we had a brief explore around Nativity Square where a large Christmas tree had been erected, and the whole area was in the midst of getting ready for the crowds of worshippers who would be visiting on Christmas Eve, so we planned to return later on our trip at our leisure.

Before returning to Jerusalem, we had a walk along part of the separation wall, which is only a short distance from the heart of Bethlehem. Graffiti from famous international artists cover large swathes of the wall and we successfully spotted a few Bankys’, all the while being aware of the imposing watch towers looming overhead.

It was then back to the bus for our return to Jerusalem, but for an introduction to Palestine and the region as a whole, it was outstanding, it was an experience I feel incredibly privileged to have had and the memories will stay with me forever.

We were to return a few days later, venturing back past the wall under our own steam, for a completely different adventure . . . .

Weekend in Bristol


Consistently being voted best place to live and study in recent years, this South West English city, located by the River Avon is just short train ride from the Welsh border and packed full of things to keep you busy over a weekend for sure. There is the pretty waterfront at the Harbourside, beautiful cliffs and Georgian houses in Clifton, the eclectic and graffitied Stokes Croft, the historic old part of Temple Meads, as well as a vibrant city centre full of shops, bars and restaurants. I probably visit twice a year due to having friends here and with so much going on in the city, there is always a reason to return.

Arrivals – Around a 2 1/2 hour drive from London, and 3 1/2 hour drive from Manchester and Liverpool, it may be better to take a train instead of fighting the motorways especially if you are travelling on a Friday.  Bristol Temple Meads is the main train station, and its possible to get direct trains here from a lot of the big UK train stations, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, London, Portsmouth, Cardiff and its one change if you travel from destinations such as Liverpool or Swansea. There is also a National Express bus station for those on a tight budget but have time to spare.

A lot of the sights around Bristol are walkable, but there is a good system of buses that stretch all across the city and lots of taxi’s and uber’s. The tourist information centre also sells tickets for the hop on hop off tourist bus and its here where you can book onto one of the walking tours aswell.

History Bit – There has been evidence of people living in the Bristol area since the Stone Age, no doubt the River Avon playing being an important factor over the years. During the Roman Era, Sea Mills (a current suburb of Bristol) was recorded in a registry and a road was created from here, linking it with Bath. It was in the 13th Century that Bristol really developed into a busy port and by the 14th Century was said to have become Britain’s 3rd largest town. By the mid 1500’s Bristol became a city, but in the 1600’s the city was damaged badly during the civil war. Prosperity returned in the 17 & 1800’s as it became an important part of the slave trade between Africa and America. By the 1900’s the main industries were tobacco and cigarette manufacturers, the now large empty warehouses converted into modern apartments, art spaces and cafes such as the one in Southville.

Sights – Temple Meads is the largest train station in the city and the first train station built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel so seems a good place to start, as many people arrive from here. Isambard’s particular part of the station is no longer operational, but still present and now a grade 1 listed building. About a 5 minute walk in the direction of the city centre is where you come across Temple Church, a grade II listed building which was built on a site originally housing a church of the Knights Templar. It is definitely  worth an explore on your way in, but wrap up warm, as all that is left now is the exterior walls and a leaning bell tower. The Quay area around is a new developing part of town full of cafe’s, bars and restaurants and makes a good stop off if you’re about to board a train onward.  If you have just landed though, ignore that growling stomach and wait until you make it into the heart of the city.

Harbourside – This riverside area is a great place to explore whether you want history, ships, culture, entertainment, or just good food and drink. Probably the most visited site here is another one of Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s creations, the SS Great Britain. Although £14 per adult, the ticket allows you a full years access, and this includes touring the ship from the hold, to the steerage and up out onto the weather deck. There are different talks on different days, so check the online calendar to see if you can time your visit with something of interest and a Victorian dressing up area complete with photo booth is also included in the ticket price. The surrounding dockyard is also worth a wander, full of grade II listed buildings it really gives a sense of how it must have been like during the busy days, when it was full of sailors and merchants ready to set off and explore the seas. Anyone interested in Isambard Kingdom Brunel may want to visit the Brunel Institute to get a greater understanding of Britain’s most famous and prolific engineer, the institute is free but closed on Sundays, Mondays and the middle two Saturdays of each month.

M Shed is part of the Bristol Museums group and is located here at the Harbourside inside a 1950’s transit shed. Celebrating all things Bristolian, its free and well worth an hour of your time in this part of the city, as it tells the tale of Bristol from prehistoric times to present day, featuring videos, photographs and artifacts as well as the obligatory cool souvenir shop and coffee bar. More and more of the old buildings are being regenerated into quirky art spaces, restaurants and theatres around here, so if more art and less history is your thing, visit Arnolfini or Spike Island, regardless; a visit here to the harbourside should be on anyones Bristol itinerary.


City Centre – This is where most visitors will be spending the majority of their time (and money), and with good reason. There are brand new shopping centres jam packed with shops, restaurants, cinemas and cafes, loads of live music venues and theatres too and I always tend to time my visit with a gig at the Academy or Bierkeller. Venture towards the old part of the city centre too, taking time to explore St Nicholas’s Market with its vibrant food markets and beautiful Georgian buildings and Queens Square which used to be the city rubbish dump back in the 17th Century, but is now a gorgeous tree lined park. Park Street and College Green have a great selection of boutique shops, bars and restaurants as well as more stunning Georgian buildings and last time I walked through they had a Sommes of the Shroud display to remember WW1. Oh and keep a look out for the Cary Grant statue who although went on to find fame and fortune in Hollywood, was actually born in Bristol.




Those wanting a more eclectic, bohemian experience head up North to Stokes Croft, the road is named after the mayor in the 1300’s John Stokes, but the side streets and surrounding area has now also taken on the nickname as well. In the early 19 Century it was a busy thriving part of the city, but the whole area had to be rebuilt after WW2 and has now developed into a centre for arts, music and food. If you want an alternative history of the area then you must visit the Stokes Croft Museum Hungry? then visit the first Pieminister to be opened in the UK, or if you fancy a local cider and live music (it’s also a hostel should you need an overnight stay) then head to the Full Moon.

tumblr_o2j7gat6YC1tapupdo1_400 Trying the local cider always leads to a good night out

Heading a bit further north on Stokes Croft, you’ll end up on the Gloucester Road, known as one of, if not the longest street of independent shops in Europe, I havent had the chance to explore it yet, but will report on it next time!

Clifton is an area I only just started to explore on my latest visit to Bristol which was earlier this month (Dec 2017). As well as Clifton Village the main draw is yet another Isambard Kingdom Brunel masterpiece, the Clifton Suspension Bridge. On the Leigh Woods side there is a visitors centre, when I visited there was limited parking and I was tired and cranky from my 3 1/2 hour drive. With the rain starting to fall, my anxiety got the better of me and I ended up driving to the other side of the river via an A road to admire the bridge from afar. Although its only £1 to cross if you are driving but take note, the toll machine didn’t take notes, and although you can get change from the visitors centre, I couldnt find anywhere to park, so ended up doing a 3 point turn and heading off. Frustrating!! But I shall return to walk or drive it next time with my £1 ready!


So close, yet so far, I’ll try again next visit.

A cool local area I discovered on my latest visit was the area around North Street in Southville and Bedminster where my friend now lives. Full of small independent shops, cafes, organic supermarkets and art spaces, it makes for a good wander, look out for the amazing street art too, the John Lennon mural made me feel like I was back home in Liverpool 🙂


Speaking of street art, you cannot fail to ignore the impact that Banksy has had on the art world and even if his identity is still largely a secret, it is known that he is a Bristolian. His art can be spotted in many places around the city and a quick google search will give you some good tips on where to spot them, or you could tailor your trip to Bristol around a Bansky Walking Tour.


Eating and Drinking in Bristol would need its own blog post and as I often stay with friends when visiting the city, we don’t always eat out, so I would say just head to the city centre or Harbourside and explore, there are so many cool little finds. A couple of gems I have found during my trips are the epic cat pub (Yes cats!!) called Bag o’ Nails which as well as lots of cats and kittens just chilling around the place, has a great selection of ale, board games and a decent amount of vinyl. Close by is a great little organic cafe that serves delicious brownies and coffee with none dairy options too, called the Salt Cafe. If you fancy a bit of a different night out, I can recommend Thekla which is a live music venue, club and bar on a cargo boat. Moored in the Mud Dock not far from Queens Square, its the first time ive been to a gig on a boat and loved it.

More to see. . . . Step aboard Concorde at the Aerospace Museum, get hands on at the We Are The Curious science museum and go on a treetop walk at the Westonbirt Arboretum.

Always be polite -Alright my luvver? is basically Bristolian for Hello!