After visiting Bethlehem our tour continued on to Jerusalem. We stopped at the Mount of Olives, a mountain overlooking the old city of Jerusalem. The mountain at one time had been covered with olive groves. It’s now covered with Jewish graves. It has been a Jewish cemetery for over 3,000 years. There are tens of thousands of graves. The mount has been the location throughout history for Jewish events as well as for Jesus and his disciples. The last supper was held somewhere on the mount, as were several other notable events. From the top of the mount you get a great view of old Jerusalem. The gold dome of the Dome of the Rock stands out prominently in old Jerusalem. The Dome stands on the Temple Mount; the sight where God stood before the Jewish people. The holiest place in Judaism. After the Jewish temple was destroyed, the Dome of the Rock was built over the rock where the Prophet Muhammad stood and ascended into Heaven, a very holy place for Muslims.
We moved to the base of the Mount of Olives to the Church of all Nations. The church is built next to the Garden of Gethsemane. After the last supper, Jesus went to the garden to pray about his death, known as the agony. There is an exposed rock near the church alter, said to be the rock Jesus prayed on. Jesus was betrayed and arrested in the garden. There are olive trees in the garden that were carbon dated to be 2,000 years old. There was a gardener working in the garden. He had a pile of olive branches he had raked up. I wish I would have thought to asked him for one of them. We returned to the bus to continue on to Old Jerusalem.
The Roman emperor Herod decreed that every citizen return to their home town to be counted in the census. Joseph and his pregnant wife Mary made the long journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem for the census. Many other people also came to Bethlehem. When Joseph and Mary arrived, there was no room at the Inn. They were allowed to spend the night in the stable. Mary was very close to giving birth to her child. They filled a manger with straw to prepare for the birth of the child.
An angel appeared to the people and said “Fear not, for I bring you tidings of great joy. In Bethlehem, in the stable of an inn, Jesus, Our Savior, has been born.”
This was the first Christmas!
Merry Christmas everyone!
The Basilica di San Nicola in Bari Italy. The tomb of Saint Nicholas is in the lower level of the basilica. Saint Nicholas gave everything he could to the poor. His reputation and stories grew. The Dutch celebrated him every year on December 6th, the day of his death. They brought the tradition with them to New Amsterdam (New York). The Dutch name for Saint Nicholas translated to Santa Claus. Over the years the story and the traditions morphed into the Santa Claus that we know and love today.
Robbie and I had a great day in Crete! Afterwords we had a day at sea to enjoy the ship and get a little rest before sailing into Haifa, Israel. We were in port for two days, so we were able to see several places in Israel. We like to explore on our own whenever possible to save money. Jerusalem and the other places we wanted to visit were several hours drive from Haifa, so the cruise line shore excursions were the best option for this port. MSC told us we would save 20% on shore excursions if we booked before we sailed. So we booked all of the shore excursions that we wanted to do before the cruise. That was not true. On the ship they were offering package deals that were less expensive than what we paid. What’s up with that MSC! Our whole group planned to do the Jerusalem tour on the first day. Once onboard the ship, we noticed there was a tour that went to Bethlehem and Jerusalem that was not available online. Robbie and I thought it would be really nice to see Bethlehem as well, so we switched our tour. Kris, and her sister Kim, switch too. The rest of the group stayed with the Jerusalem only tour. The people at the tour desk were very helpful and switched the tours for us. Although we did have a small issue with the tickets for the excursions we booked online. The first person we talked to didn’t seem to know what the problem was. The second person fixed it easily. Anyway, we got the shore excursions all sorted and ready to go.
I mentioned in an earlier post that there were 11 of us traveling together on this cruise. It was great traveling with this group. Even thought we were traveling together, there were lots of things to do, so we were not always all doing the same thing together. Sometimes we were on our own or with some or all of the group. It was great. So no one had a problem when we switched to the Bethlehem tour.
Kim, Kris, Robbie and I boarded our bus for the two hour ride to Bethlehem. Disembarking the ship went pretty smoothly this time. We had a fairly long wait in one of the lounges. When it was our turn, we were off the ship in no time. We were on highways most of the way. We drove through Tel Aviv on the way. It was nice that we got to see a little of that city passing by our window. Bethlehem is in Palestine in the West Bank. We needed to go through the wall that separates Israel and Palestine. I’m sure this changes, probably on a daily basis, but today we just drove right through. There was no checkpoint, show us your papers, thing. Our first stop was a gift shop full of nativities carved from olive wood, among other things. After our shopping adventure we went to the restaurant next door for lunch. It was a pretty good lunch with Middle Eastern style veggies, pita, hummus, chicken, and fish. Everyone got back on the bus for the short ride into Bethlehem.
The bus parked in a huge parking garage for buses. From the parking garage it was probably about a half mile walk through the streets of Bethlehem to the Church of The Nativity. We were following our guide. It was a fairly steep up hill climb the whole way. I am no spring chicken, but I was probably one of the younger people on the tour. Our guide was keeping a blistering pace up this hill. I was falling behind because I was taking photos; that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. But really, I am usually the last person because I’m taking photos, but I was having trouble keeping up the pace. Other people were falling behind too, and they were not taking photos. That was the beginning of people not being very happy with our guide.
Once we were at the church our guide gave a brief explanation. Guides are not allowed to talk inside of churches. We were to meet back outside at a certain time. To enter the church you need to go through the entrance of humility. There is a very small opening that you need to bend over to go through. There was originally a huge entrance. Over the years they kept making it smaller, to restrict access and to prevent looters from taking things out in wagons. You can make out the different entrances in the stone work. The inside of the church is beautiful. There are rows of roman style columns. There are openings in the floor so you can see the remains of the original mosaic tile floor. The birth place of Jesus is in a grotto below the church. There was a very long wait, in a very long line, to see it. Unfortunately, there was not enough time for us to see it. We heard there was a “guy.” If you talked to him, and greased his palm accordingly; he would take you in the out door (in other words, to the front of the line). We never saw the “guy.”
When we were finished inside the church, we took a look around Manger Square. There was a music festival of some sort going on, lots of music and dancing. On the way back to the bus we passed a food vendor in an American Eagle Outfitter tee-shirt, selling something yummy. Then we passed a Squarebucks coffee shop, not Starbucks, but Squarebucks. There were guys every 75 yards or so selling rosaries. Oh, there was a Kentucky Fried Chicken in the bus parking garage. Everyone got back on the bus for our next stop, Jerusalem.
Our cruise made a stop on the island of Crete, in the port of Heraklion, the capital of Crete. Heraklion is a nice city with lots of things to see. The port is fairly close to the city, but it’s not quite walking distance. Just outside of town is the archaeological sight for the palace of Knossos from the Minoan civilization. There was a city bus that would take you to Knossos and the city. Robbie and I thought it would be nice to see a little more of Crete. So instead of seeing the city, we booked a shore excursion from the cruise line called, the Villages of Crete. This was a bus tour that visited several villages. Disembarking the ship today was a breeze. We met up in the big showroom and our group was one of the first ones to leave the ship. The first village that we visited was Krista. It was a beautiful little Greek village surrounded by olive trees. There were narrow cobblestone streets. It was on a hillside with nice view of the valley below.
The next stop on the tour was a Byzantine church, the Church of Panagia Kera (Church of the Virgin Mary). The walls and ceilings are painted with beautiful 13th century frescoes depicting the life of the Virgin Mary. I didn’t think this little church was going to be very interesting. I was wrong about that. This was a very interesting little church, and I was glad we got to see it.
The tour continued to the village of Agios Nikolaos (Saint Nicholas). Here is our old friend St. Nick again. I’m not sure if he spent time here, but Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors and Greece. Agios Nikolaos was an important port with lots of sailors. Located in the center of town is lake Voulismeni. It’s said to be bottomless, but it’s probably just really, really deep. There is a beautiful stone walkway around the edge of the lake lined with shops, restaurants, and a small whitewashed church. There are lots of old wooden boats tied up along the way. We had a nice Greek lunch at one of the restaurants. After lunch we walked, well almost ran to the bus, to get back to the ship on time.
Bari Italy was our first port of call. A port city on the Adriatic sea on the heal of Italy’s boot. Bari has a nice little old town within walking distance from where the ship docked. Cruise companies offer lots of shore excursions for each port. For some ports a shore excursion is a good idea. Shore excursions, as nice as they are, can blow your budget out of the water! Especially on a long cruise with lots of ports, like this one. When we cruise into a port that’s very walk-able, we like to save some money and see it on our own.
Our day started with another huge logjam of people. I’m really not sure what the problem was. The only thing I can think of is that most of the passengers had the same idea we did and were exploring on their own. Normally more people take shore excursions and disembark at different times through a different exit. We were late getting to Bari for two reasons. One because of the late departure from Venice due to the fog. Second the ship was undergoing some scheduled maintenance and was unable to travel at top speed. So our time in Bari was cut short! Due to the maintenance issue, all of our other ports were cut by about an hour. Bari’s old town takes you back in time. If you take away the scooters and cars, it’s not hard to imagine being back in time a thousand years ago. I find really old places like this interesting and I enjoy visiting them. This cruise was full of really old places. We stopped by the ruins of the church of Santa Maria del Buonconsiglio, a byzantine church. All that remains are the roman style columns that held the church up.
One of Bari’s best known points of interest is the Basilica San Nicola. Below the basilica is the tomb of Saint Nicholas. It was interesting to see the resting place of the inspiration for, in fact whose spirit may be, Santa Claus. Nicholas was a bishop in the Greek church. It was interesting how he kept popping up on our trip. He had visited a lot of the places we were visiting.
Bari has a really nice waterfront area. You can walk along the water for miles. I really liked the small brightly colored wooden boats. We walked along the water back to the ship.
Authors note: We took this trip in Oct./Nov. of 2019. I took a gazillion photos. It takes me a long time to sort and edit my photos. My plan was to write most of the posts about this trip before I started to post them. I am not the fastest writer by any means. It’s surprising how long it takes to write 500 or so words when you choose your words carefully. So I knew from the beginning that it was going to take me a while to start posting about this trip. Anyway, I’m ready to start posting and BAMM!! We find our self in the middle of a global pandemic! Cruise ships are stranded at sea and people are dying onboard! That sort of took the wind out of my sails. I didn’t think this was an appropriate time to start posting about a wonderful cruise. So I shelved my cruise posts. Time flies when you’re not having fun. It’s now been a year since we departed on our trip. What a year its been! I’m not sure what the future holds for the travel industry. I was hoping to be traveling again in the spring of 2021. Now it may be longer and even longer yet for the cruise industry. For now I hope that you will enjoy reading about our Italian, Aegean Sea cruise.
It’s boarding the ship day! We had our bags all packed and ready to go. We checked out of the Ca della Corte. We really enjoyed our stay there; we didn’t want to leave. The cruise port is very easy to get to, at least for now. There has been a big push to move the cruise port out of Venice. The B&B was a short walk from Piazzale Roma. For a small fee, we could have had someone take our bags on a cart. But we just rolled them to Piazzale Roma from there we took the people mover to the port. The people mover is an elevated tram that takes you from Piazzale Roma to the port. We purchased tickets from a kiosk for 1.50€ each. You swipe your ticket and the gate opens. Robbie swiped and went through. I was rolling our two large bags. I swiped and got the first bag through and the gate closed! So I needed to push the second bag under the gate and then crawl under the gate myself. Well that was fun! It was a short ride to the port. If you are interested in the boarding process keep reading. It was quite the adventure. Otherwise feel free to stop here.
We were sailing on the MSC Lirica. MSC had a shuttle bus to take us from the people mover to the terminal. At the terminal we waited in our first line, to check our bags, show our passports, boarding passes, and enter the terminal. Once inside of the terminal we were given a group number and directed to a large room with lots of chairs. We waited and waited. We were looking for our friends and didn’t see any of them. We started to think we were in the wrong place. We got a message from Sandy and Jerry. It seems that there were two large rooms. Everyone else was in the other room. We moved to the other room. We found out that there was heavy fog earlier and the ship was unable to enter the Port of Venice. It had just docked. I would have been nice if they would have told us that on the way in. We should have already boarded the ship. Now we needed to wait until the previous cruisers disembarked. We were way late and still waiting. Finally, they started to call the numbers for each group to board the ship. Robbie and I were in the last group for our room, the other room was still waiting. Here is where things really went down hill. I’m sure the fog played a big part, but everything was a bit disorganized. After they called our group number we got into a line to show our passport for the second time and go through security. After security we were in another line to get onto the gangway to board the ship. Once on the gangway we waited in another line to board the ship. We had to show our passports and boarding passes again for the third time to get on the deck of the ship. Once on the ship we were in a huge logjam of people on the promenade deck. The ship is very long and the line was half of the length of the ship! The line moved very slowly. We finally entered a restaurant at the back of the ship, it was closed, they were just using the space. There was another line through the restaurant. At the end of this line they were collecting everyone’s passports. This was a bit strange to us, but apparently not unheard of for a European cruise. This was our first European cruise, but we have been on many Caribbean cruises. This was the hardest time we have ever had boarding a ship! Like I said, I’m sure being late due to the fog was a big issue. Still I think it could have gone a bit more smoothly. I think for one thing they called the numbers for the groups too fast. They should have waited until one group was almost finished before calling the next group. We would have waited in the big room longer, but we wouldn’t have been standing in lines forever!
We found our cabin and were able to freshen up a bit. We were happy with our cabin. Going the cheaper route, we opted for an interior cabin. This one was much roomier than our cabin on the Cuba cruise where we also opted for an interior cabin. Next was the mandatory safety drill. You must gather at your assigned lifeboat and they explain the emergency procedures. By then we were starving! It was too early for the dining room and the buffet was between lunch and dinner……… Grrrrrrr! Luckily the pizza station and the burger and fries station were open, Yeah! We were exhausted but on the ship finally!
I was in downtown Titusville to photograph a night rocket launch. The rocket launch was scrubbed. So I started roaming around town taking photos. I really like this old Hotpoint sign. I have photographed it several times over the years. The woman’s clothing boutique that is now located in the old appliance store was named for the sign. It is called Hotpoint Boutique. I was happy that they restored and kept the old sign.
Oh no, it’s our last full day in Venice! Robbie and I are on our own today. Everyone in our group is doing their own thing. We took a walk to the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute. The basilica is the beautiful domed church that stands out as you look down the Grand Canal from the Accademia Bridge. Along the way we stumbled onto the Venice Photo Lab. A photography exhibit of photographers that were chosen from Instagram. There were quite a few interesting photos on display. We stopped by the Accademia Bridge and found it fascinating that there was actually a phone booth. There were also public toilets or WC (water closet). If you need to use them, and we did, you will need 1.50€ in coins. They were clean and very nice. The basilica is right along a busy Grand Canal. It’s interesting to watch all of the boats zipping up and down the canal. From the top of the basilica steps you get a nice view across the canal toward St. Marks Square. We were getting hungry and started to look for a restaurant. The problem is, Italians eat early and then late. So lots of restaurants close for the afternoon. Unfortunately, when you’re out and about seeing the sights the time you think about getting something to eat is the time most restaurants are closed for the afternoon. There are many restaurants that do not close in the afternoon. We seemed to be in an area where most of them were closed or pricey. We found the Bar dell Accademia close to the Accademia Bridge. We had a very relaxing and tasty lunch. Robbie and I had a great day exploring a new section of Venice.