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!
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.
The first Space Coast rocket Launch of 2021. SpaceX launching a Turkish telecommunications satellite into orbit. Photographed from Kirk Point Riverside Park in Titusville Florida.
Continuing on with our tour from the Church of All Nations, we entered Old Jerusalem through the Dung Gate. Entering the area of the Western Wall there was a security gate. The security gate has an entrance for men and a separate entrance for women. The men and I went through the men’s side, Kris, Kim and Robbie went through the women’s side. This took us into a large plaza. The Western Wall is on the far side of the plaza. The wall was built all the way around a hill known as the Temple Mount by King Herod. He built the second Jewish temple on the top of the mount in the place where God stood. In the Jewish faith, it’s known as the Holy of Holies. To this day, the Jewish people believe that in this spot you are in the presence of God. This is why the Western Wall and the Temple Mount are so important in the Jewish faith. The Western Wall is the largest remaining section of the wall. After the destruction of the third Jewish temple, the Dome of the Rock mosque was built on top of the Temple Mount. Muslims believe that the Temple Mount is the place where God created Adam. The scull of Adam was said to be found at the base of the cross of Jesus. The rock at the top of the Temple Mount is also the place where the Prophet Muhammad began his journey to heaven making the Temple Mount a most holy place for Muslims. The Western Wall is part of the border between Jewish and Muslim Jerusalem. This is why today the Western Wall is the closest that the Jewish people can get to the Holy of Holies. The wall is also known by some non-Jews as the Wailing Wall. The Jewish people would go to the wall to mourn the destruction of the temple and could be seen weeping. I don’t think the Jewish people like that name. When I was a kid, that’s how most people referred to it.
When visiting the wall there are a few things that you need to know. Like the security gate, there is a men’s side and a women’s side. Robbie was quite fascinated/disgusted with the gender separation thing. Men need to cover their heads with a hat or a yarmulke skull cap. This is to remind you that God is always above you. If you don’t have one, no worries, they have them there for you. I had my trusty fedora, so I was covered. Women need to cover their shoulders and their knees. It is customary to wash your hands before praying. There are several places to wash beforehand. I didn’t know about this at the time, but you should not turn your back on the Holy of Holies. So the devout back away from the wall. People write prayers and wishes on paper and place them in the cracks of the wall. You may only photograph the wall from the plaza, no photography at the wall. On the Sabbath or Jewish holidays there is no writing and no photography, even from the plaza. Visiting the wall was quite an experience. It’s one of those places that I heard about most of my life. I wasn’t sure that I would ever actually get to see it. There I was in front of it, touching it.
After visiting the wall we were all sort of standing around. It turned out our tour group was supposed to be using the restroom. A few of the people, including myself, didn’t realize that. By the time I was done in the restroom, the group had started to exit the plaza through security. I was able to catch up, since the line was moving slowly. I started to take a few photos. I could still see the last person in our group, but I was about ten or so people behind. Just as I was going through the security gate, they stopped letting people through. Apparently a group of VIPs needed to get to the wall before sundown to pray. I needed to wait for them to go through. Our group was behind schedule, so our guide was in high gear, walking really fast. When I finally got through the security gate, there was a “T” in the path. I could go left or right. There was no sign of our group in either direction. After starting to go left, I chose to turn right. That was the correct choice. I caught up to the group down the street a bit. Unfortunately one woman from our group was not so lucky, she was lost. Our guide went back to look for her, but no luck. We continued on our way without her. We were walking through narrow walkways, going up ancient stone steps. There was a bazaar, with lots of shops selling all sorts of things, very colorful and full of people.
When I do any tour, I usually try to get as much photography in as possible. As a result, I tend to miss out on some of what the guide is talking about. Things like it’s time to use the restroom. The fact that we were on our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher would have been good info, so when I got lost I would know what direction to go. Oh, and most importantly, what we should see when we get there. Aside from walking really fast, our guide, I found out later, was not quite a fountain of information. I thought it was me not paying close enough attention. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is a fairly complicated building. It contains the locations of events before, during, and after the crucifixion of Jesus. It pays to know what and where the events are inside of the church. Some of the key events are, the Latin Chapel, where Jesus was nailed to the cross. Calvary Rock, where the cross was erected. The rock is exposed for viewing. Adams Chapel, under Calvary, where the skull of Adam had been found under the cross. The Stone of Anointing, just inside of the entrance, where Jesus was wrapped in the shroud. And finally, the Tomb of Jesus, the Holy Sepulcher, in the main rotunda. I was always under the impression that these places were a little farther apart, guess I was wrong. The whole area was an abandoned quarry that had been turned into tombs before the time of Jesus.
When we arrived at the church, our guide told us what time to meetup back in the courtyard. Guides are not permitted to talk inside of churches. That’s pretty universal all over. While we were supposedly touring the church, he set off to search for our lost woman. Remember her?! The courtyard was filled with people. The doors of the church seemed to be only open a tiny bit. Nobody was able to enter. We were all waiting and waiting, still no movement. A group of pilgrims carrying a cross entered the courtyard. We pretty much had resigned to the fact that we were not going to get inside of the church, so we relaxed for a while. I noticed the doors had opened and a few people were going inside. I guessed there was some sort of service going on, not sure though. We were running out of time. I went inside for a quick look around. Robbie, Kris and Kim stayed outside. I was able to see the Stone of Anointing and the Chapel of Adam. In the photo of the chapel, behind the alter is what looks like a picture frame. That is a window to view part of the Stone of Calvary in the area where Adam’s skull was found. In the photo of the Stone of Anointing, people are rubbing clothing on the marble slab to get the essence of Jesus. This slab of marble is on top of the actual Stone of Anointing to protect it. If I would have had more information, I could have seen the tomb as well. I was running out of time and I didn’t know exactly where it was. Our group had reassembled in the courtyard waiting for the guide to return. A short time later, he did return, with the lost woman, yeah! I’m not sure how he found her in the sea of people, but he did. We headed toward the bus at a pretty fast pace. Some people started asking the guide to slow down! As we exited the walls of Old Jerusalem we could see the Tower of David in the far corner of the wall. It was a long day and we had a two hour drive back to the ship. Despite a few issues, it was really great getting to see Old Jerusalem.
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.
After dinner we walked back to Piazza San Marco to see the lights. There are several cafes in Piazza San Marco that feature live music. We stopped to listen for a while. San Marco is really pretty at night. We started the walk back to Piazzale Roma via the Accademia bridge. Robbie and I said goodnight to the group near our B&B. Everyone else continued on to the bus stop.
We found out the next day that there was a horrible incident on the bus ride back to Mestre. One of our friends had her purse stolen. She lost money and her passport! The cruise line would not let her on the ship without a passport. Unfortunately, she needed to go to Florence to get a temp passport, then a flight home. It was a very sad situation; we all felt so bad for her. Buses all over Europe are notorious for pickpockets.
After our time in Murano, we boarded an even more jam packed vaporetto to Burano, our next stop. Burano is a small village on an island in the Venetian lagoon. Burano is known for beautiful items made of lace and its brightly colored buildings. Burano may not be the most colorful place in the world, but it’s probably close to it. The lace is gorgeous and painstakingly made by hand. We walked through the village taking in the sights to San Martino with its leaning tower. It has a 5° lean, the same lean as the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Unfortunately, my camera is incapable of taking a bad photo, so it looks straight. It really was noticeably leaning. While the rest of the group was sightseeing, shopping, and drinking wine, I set out on my own to take some photos. I found an awesome residential area. I could not get enough of these brightly colored buildings. I loved the laundry hanging out to dry. When I was a kid we didn’t have a dryer and mom hung our laundry out in the yard to dry. I still remember the fresh smell of line dried laundry. Burano was great, I would like to spend a few days there. I’m sure there were some really great spots that I missed.
We had a great day in Murano and Burano. In Burano we boarded the #12 Vaporetto, there were a few seats this time. The sun was setting as we arrived in Piazza San Marco. I was able to get a few sunset photos. There was a woman posing in a wedding dress, I think it was a fashion shoot and not a wedding. We were getting pretty hungry by then, so we walked a few blocks away from the San Marco area. The San Marco restaurants can be a little pricey. We found a nice little out of the way restaurant and had a nice dinner.
No trip to Venice would be complete without a visit to Murano, one of many small islands in the Venetian Lagoon. Murano is famous for making beautiful glass products of all kinds. There are many glass manufacturers and shops on the island. I’m not sure why Venetians started making glass but early on they recognized the danger of having glass furnaces on the main island. So the glass furnaces were moved to the island of Murano.
Murano is about a 40 minute vaporetto ride from Venice. Vaporettos are the public transportation for Venice and the islands in the lagoon. It is a large boat that is in effect a bus on the water. You can buy passes for one to seven days. During our four days in Venice this was the only day we used a vaporetto. We walked everywhere we wanted to go. In addition to visiting Murano we also stopped in Burano. So we purchased a one day pass for 20€. We used the 4.1 vaporetto from Piazzale Roma. The 4.1 also stops at the San Michele cemetery. Napoleon didn’t think it was a good idea to bury people on the main island so the cemetery was moved to another island. We didn’t visit the cemetery but it’s a nice stop. Murano is a popular place, the vaporetto was standing room only and jam packed full! There is a high probability that you may not get on the first vaporetto and need to wait for the next one.
We visited the Vetreria Murano Arte (Murano Art Glass) glass furnace and shop. We got to see a glass blowing demonstration and the beautiful glass items that they produce. It was a very interesting stop. We then took a walking tour of the beautiful island of Murano. We found a nice restaurant with outdoor seating for lunch. Oh by the way, the weather was awesome! For the end of October (2019) it was unseasonably warm. We made our way to the vaporetto stop on the far side of the island to continue on to Burano.
Later on our first full day in Venice, we returned to our B&B. After we freshened up a bit, we decided we needed a few things at the store. We stopped at the Prix grocery the day before, so tonight we thought we would try Crai, another grocery store in a different direction. Both stores were nice but we liked the Prix better. Anyway, we took a few photos along the way.
Our friend Sandy found a great deal on this cruise and invited us as well as several others, there were 12 in all. On our first full day in Venice, we made plans to meet up with Sandy, Jerry and the rest of the group at the Campanile di San Marco. The large tower in St. Marks Square.
Robbie and I started our walking tour of Venice. First we needed to find our way to the Accademia Bridge. Venice is a maze of narrow walkways/streets. Some of them are very narrow and are covered. They look a bit dicey to say the least. Robbie was a little apprehensive about walking down some of them. I was able to convince her (sort of) that Venice has a lot of streets like this and we would be fine, and we were. We never had a problem in the streets of Venice, even at night. The buses, we later learned, were another story. We found our way to the Accademia without getting too lost. The best way to see Venice is to get lost! The Accademia Bridge is not only a Venice landmark but one of two bridges that cross the Grand Canal in order to get to St. Marks. You get a great view of Venice and the Grand Canal from the top of the Accademia. From there we continued on our way to St. Marks taking in the sights along the way.
We arrived in St. Marks and the Campanile to meet up with our fellow travelers. The time to meet had come and gone, but no sign of our group. We were only able to communicate with them when they had access to WiFi. We had international phone and data through Google Fi. It worked great everywhere; we always had service. No extra cost by the way, it’s the same as in the states. Anyway, we were unable to contact them. We took in the sights of the St. Marks area. We found the Bridge of Sighs, another famous Venice landmark. It’s quite a popular place and you need to wait your turn to get a good look at the bridge and a photo. The Bridge of Sighs is a small bridge, more of a covered walkway that crosses a canal between two buildings. One building was the courthouse and the other building was the prison. Convicted criminals would cross the Bridge of Sighs from the courthouse to the prison. They would look out of the window on the bridge, take one last look at Venice, and sigh.
We received a message from our lost friends. They stopped for lunch and were using the restaurant WiFi. Apparently public transportation had scheduled a one day strike, what?! So it took them a while to find a bus to get from Mestre to Venice. They were late but on their way. We found a nice restaurant and had out first pizza in Italy, it was great! After lunch we met up with our fellow travelers. Most of them we knew, a few of them we met for the first time. It was great seeing everyone and hearing about their travels. Some of the group wanted to do a tour, some wanted to do some shopping. Robbie, Jeanine, Barb and I made our way toward the Rialto Bridge, one of two bridges that cross the Grand Canal from St. Marks. We stopped for refreshments under the Rialto. A good way to have access to a restroom is to buy some drinks. After we were refreshed we continued on to Piazzale Roma where we all met up again with the rest of our group. We made some plans for the next day. Everyone else took the bus back to Mestre. They found out earlier that this was the only bus out of Venice due to the strike. So it was important to be on that bus. Robbie and I walked back to our B&B. We had an awesome first day in Venice.
Venice is on many travelers’ must see list. It was on mine for sure. So when we decided to book this cruise, I wanted to spend a few days in Venice before the Cruise. Our fellow travelers were planning to do the same. They opted to stay on the mainland in Mestre, a short bus ride away from Venice. Although you can save a few euros by staying in Mestre, I wanted the full Venice experience. I also wanted to be able to walk out of my door and start photographing Venice.
When you stay in Venice, you need to decide what area of Venice to stay in. Venice is a island, an island where the only vehicles are boats. When you come to Venice from the mainland by bus, train, taxi or any other form of transportation you will end up in Piazzale Roma. From Piazzale Roma you either hire a boat or walk to your destination. The most popular destination in Venice is Saint Marks Square. Everybody wants to be in Saint Marks Square. So the question becomes, do you want to stay close to St. Marks and hire a boat to take you and your luggage to St. Marks, or do you want to stay close to Piazzale Roma and walk with your luggage to your room. Venice is a very walk-able city you can walk to anywhere in Venice in about a half hour. I decided that rolling our luggage to our room close to Piazzale Roma was the better option. Although being close to St. Marks sounds convenient, the closer you are to St. Marks, the more expensive the rooms become. Also I thought that by walking to St. Marks from our B&B would give us an opportunity to see more of Venice. There is more to Venice than St. Marks.
I found several inexpensive B&Bs close to Piazzale Roma. They were all in classic older Venetian buildings adding to the Venetian experience. I chose the Ca’ della Corte, a very short walk from Piazzale Roma. The Ca’ della Corte was awesome! It was clean, comfortable, and the people were great. The breakfast was classic continental, with coffee, cappuccino, croissants, hard boiled eggs and other goodies, very tasty. Interesting to note, starting with our hotel in Miami, we ate hard boiled eggs every day of out trip. That was more hard boiled eggs than I have eaten in the past several years. We enjoyed our stay and would definitely stay there again. We were staying in the piano room. It was huge! The piano room features a baby grand piano. I wish I would have been able to play something on it.