After our awesome tour of Nazareth, we had about an hour drive through the countryside of Israel to the Sea of Galilee. The northern end of Galilee is a very beautiful, lush green area. We drove through a lot of citrus groves. Our first stop was apparently closed. That was fine with me because we decided to have our lunch break and then come back later. I was getting hungry! We took a short drive to Saint Peter’s Restaurant.
St. Peter’s is a very interesting place. This area being a highlight of the Holy Land gets quite a few visitors. Most of these visitors, as we did, come in big tour buses. St. Peter’s is designed to accommodate many tour buses. I don’t remember exactly, but I think there were ten or so buses in the parking lot. You may be thinking that this could be a nightmare! It was actually pretty nice. Whoever set this up knew what they were doing. First, the dining room was huge! The tables were large family style tables. I think half of our bus was at my table. All of the people on all of the buses just dissolved into the room. The table was setup with small Middle Eastern/Mediterranean style appetizers/side dishes. Family style, pass the hummus please. In the name of efficiency, we had the option of one of four main dishes. 1. St. Peter’s fish, the house specialty. This is a whole grilled fish. 2. Fish filet, for those who don’t like their lunch staring back at them. 3. Grilled chicken breast for the less adventurous. And 4. Grilled kebab, a beef and lamb mixture. All was served with a side of potatoes. If that’s not enough, there was a huge salad bar with not just salad, but pita, hummus, and more of those Middle Eastern/Mediterranean veggies. I was tempted to try the St. Peter’s fish, being the house specialty, but I can’t pass up kebabs, so I ordered those. They were a great choice, they were very good, all of the food was very good. They must have a small army in the kitchen, the food came fast and hot. I’m pretty sure everyone got the correct order too.
After lunch we had some time to walk around and work off all of that food. I wasn’t hungry anymore. St. Peter’s is on the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee. What a beautiful area! Lots of people were taking their shoes off and wading into the sea. I picked up a few seashells, really small ones. The beautiful Golan Heights dominated the horizon in the distance. We were approximately 1 mile from the Green Line. The de facto border between Syria and Israel until the Six-Day War in 1967. After the war, the border was moved to the other side of the Golan Heights. When I was a kid, I remember hearing the Golan Heights mentioned a lot on the news. Now I was standing there looking at it. One of the things I love about traveling. After we were done sightseeing and digesting, we boarded the bus for our next stop.
The next stop on our Holy Land hit parade was the Capernaum archeological sight. I have said before that I enjoy visiting ancient places. I try to imagine what it must have been like living in this place. Capernaum was a fishing village that was first occupied in the second century BC, probably one of the oldest places that I have visited. Capernaum is called The Town of Jesus. It was the hometown of the apostle Matthew. The apostle Peter, who lived in a nearby town and Jesus from Nazareth moved to Capernaum. It was sort of a home base for the ministry work they were doing around Galilee. Jesus was teaching at the synagogue there as well. The large synagogue with the Roman style pillars, visible today, was built over the 1st century synagogue where Jesus taught. Archeologists have identified the house that Peter owned. In the 4th century a church was built over that sight. Then in the 5th century a larger octagon Byzantine church was built over that church. In 1990 a modern memorial and church was built over the sight. The memorial is raised above the sight with pillars. Inside there is a chapel where services are held. The floor in the center is made of glass to allow viewing of the remains of Peter’s house as well as the octagon church. It’s a very striking structure made of grey stone and glass. There seems to be some debate as to whether Jesus lived in the house with Paul, or somewhere else in the town. The town is on a hill overlooking the sea of Galilee. There is a great view across the sea to the Golan. Capernaum was a great place to visit.
We continued our journey to, Tabgha Church of the Loaves and Fish. The church of today is a rendering of the Byzantine era church that was destroyed. The mosaics on the floor are the original Byzantine mosaics. This is the sight where Jesus performed the miracle of the feeding of the multitudes. He took a few loaves of bread and a few fish and multiplied them to feed 5,000 people. The exposed rock under the alter is believed to be the rock Jesus stood on to perform the miracle. This area is also the sight of his fourth appearance after his resurrection.
Continuing up the mountain we arrive at the Beatitude Monastery. Known as the sight of the Sermon on the Mount. Many familiar quotes come from the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the meek”, “You are the salt of the earth”, “Seek and ye shall find” and The lords Prayer, just to name a few. The church and grounds are beautiful. There are large palm trees and colorful bougainvillea. Ring neck parrots are calling back and forth, flying everywhere. The view of the sea of Galilee is amazing! If I was going to give an important sermon, I would want a place like this.
Traveling south to the southern end of the Sea of Galilee. Where the Jordan River exits the Sea of Galilee is the Yardenit Baptismal Sight. Christians come here to be baptized in the waters of the Jordon River. The sight where John the Baptist baptized Jesus is on the Jordan River but farther south. I didn’t get formally baptized here but I did splash some Jordan River water on me. I brought some Jordan River water home with me. I really enjoyed my trip to Galilee! Mrs. Brumgard my Sunday School teacher would be proud. With a blazing orange sunset to put an exclamation point on a fantastic day of exploration and learning, we boarded our bus for the long drive back to the Port of Haifa and our ship.
The good thing about cruising is that you get to see a wide variety of places. Sometimes you don’t have a huge amount of time in each port. This can leave you wanting more. This would be a good place to plan another trip. Spending two days in Israel was amazing! We were able to pack a lot into our two days. We had a great time in Israel!
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.