On our second day in Israel, Robbie and I went on separate shore excursions. Robbie wanted to see the Dead Sea. Most of the group picked the Dead Sea, Masada excursion. She had fun floating in the Dead Sea. She took a steep cable car ride up to Masada to see the ancient ruins of King Herod’s Palace. These photos are from Masada overlooking the Dead Sea.
When I was a kid my Grandma and Grandpa would take my brother and me to church on Sundays. In my Sunday school classes I heard all of the stories about Jesus. Most of these wonderful stories took place in Galilee. So I have always been fascinated with Galilee and the Sea of Galilee because of my childhood Sunday school classes. So I signed up for the Sea of Galilee shore excursion. I was joined by Marcia and her husband Jack from our group.
This excursion was jam packed full of historical locations. The first stop was Nazareth, the hometown of Joseph, Mary and Jesus. In Nazareth we encountered a detour, our bus ended up in a part of Nazareth that was not designed for large tour buses. The roads were narrow and the turns were tight. There were parked cars everywhere. We needed to back up and turn around, twice! Our bus driver did an amazing job navigating the narrow streets. We made it to the Basilica of the Annunciation without incident.
The Basilica of the Annunciation is a large, beautiful Catholic church. It’s built over the remains of ancient Nazareth. The Virgin Mary’s home town. The town where the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced that she would bear Jesus, the son of God. Excavations of the old town are visible under the basilica. We entered the church on the lower level. The lower level contains the Grotto of the Annunciation, the childhood home of Mary. On the upper level there is a traditional sanctuary with pews, an alter, and a huge pipe organ.
Right next to the Basilica is Saint Joseph’s Church. I found it interesting how over the years people would build over top of the remains of other buildings. St. Joseph’s Church is built over a Crusader period church, that was built over a Byzantine era church, that was built over Joseph’s carpentry shop, the home of Joseph, Mary and Jesus. We went below the church to see the remains of the Byzantine church. Descending the stairs was like taking a trip through time. St. Joseph’s Church also has a traditional Church on the upper floor. After touring St. Joseph’s Church we boarded our bus and headed to the Sea of Galilee.
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.