Christmas/Anniversary Cruise 2021: Day 3, Part 3, Christmas Day! Fort San Felipe, Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic
After a great tour of the Isabel de Torres National park, our minibus took the roller coaster ride down the mountain, back to Puerto Plata. As we were walking and driving through Puerto Plata, it was nice to see that most of the people all over Puerto Plata were wearing masks during this time of covid. We stopped along the Malecon de Puerto Plata, a boulevard along the coast. We got out and stretched our legs on the beach for a bit.
We took a short drive down the road to Fort San Felipe. The stone fort was built by King Felipe II of Spain, in the mid 1500s, to protect Puerto Plata from pirates and privateers. This was a quick photo stop, we needed to get back to Amber Cove.
We returned to Amber Cove to board our ship to start our next adventure. We had fun spending Christmas Day in the Dominican Republic. Our next port will be in San Juan, Puerto Rico!
Christmas/Anniversary Cruise 2021: Day 3, Part 2, Christmas Day! Mount Isabela de Torres, Dominican Republic
We had a great time on our walking tour of Puerto Plata. We returned to our minibus to climb the mountain! It was a long steep winding road to the top of Mount Isabel de Torres. We got a good look at the beautiful countryside along the way. The higher we climbed the better the views became. Towards the top, the road was very steep! Our minibus was having a hard time. Rambo told us that we would probably need to get out and push! Luckily the minibus made it to the top without our help. When we arrived at the top we were literally in the clouds. We were there to see the Christ statue on the peak. It was barley visible through the clouds. Puerto Plata below us was totally obscured. The Christ the Redeemer Statue is a smaller replica of the same statue in Rio de Janeiro. The clouds were moving rapidly and we were able to get nice views of the statue and Puerto Plata below. There is a cable car from Puerto Plata to the peak of Isabel de Torres. It was temporarily closed.
The Isabel de Torres National park has a beautiful botanical garden. After we took in the views of the valley below, we took a walk through the garden. The stone pathway wound its way through the beautiful lush garden. We came to a small cave. Rambo said he brought a group of 14 here and only 13 came out! He was kidding, I think….
There was a replica of an early Dominican home complete with its own herb garden. Rambo was very excited to tell us all about how the early Dominicans lived. He plucked herbs from the garden and invited everyone to smell how fresh they were. He was really having fun showing us how they used a device that looked like an old butter churn to grind coffee. He was very funny shaking his booty as he ground the coffee. He was telling us all about the house and how they lived. The roof was made from the base of palm fronds. It was a very interesting place. The path wound its way down the hill and was fairly steep! We were worried that we were going to need to go back up the hill! We were happy to see that Rambo had the driver bring the mini bus down the hill to meet us.
After touring the Palace of the Grand Master, we wanted to check out one of the elaborate gates through the city walls. The Gate d’ Amboise, one of the nicer ones, is very near the Palace of the Grand Master. Walking through the gate you cross a bridge overlooking a grassy area. It’s dry now, but this was the moat. It added another layer of protection to the city.
All of this sightseeing made us hungry. We made our way to Hippocrates Square. The square is surrounded by shops and restaurants. The centerpiece of the square is a large fountain. We picked Archipelagos restaurant for lunch. We had a table on the balcony with a great view overlooking the square. The food was great and the drinks were refreshing!
After a rejuvenating lunch, Barb and some of the others wanted to do some shopping. Barb loves to shop, she got in as much shopping at each port as she could. I wanted to walk around and take some photos. Robbie and Jerry kept on relaxing downstairs in the sidewalk cafe. I find some of my best photos by just following my nose. I started following the shoppers down the main shopping street. This was not the type of area I was looking for. I found a narrow cobblestone street and followed its winding path. I found myself in a residential area. This was what I was looking for! I loved the colorful stone walls and the narrow streets. The creepy puppet hanging on the wall was awesome! When I came across the door with the tattered and torn picture of Venice, I knew I was in the right place! There was a Cuban restaurant that reminded me of our cruise to Havana. I saw an African Grey parrot on a perch outside of a home. It reminded me of Bogie, our African Grey at home, Sandy, Spencer and Loki too! I really enjoy getting off the beaten path. Amazingly, I found my way back to Archipelagos to meetup with everyone.
We made our way through the city walls to the waterfront area. The old wooden fishing boats in the crystal clear Mediterranean Sea were amazing! Walking along the old port we saw the old stone windmills of Rhodes. Along with shopping, Barb likes cats. I have several photos of Barb with cats. Continuing along the port brings us to our old friend Saint Nicholas. The fort of Saint Nicholas anyway. It was built to protect the harbor from enemies. A lighthouse was built in the fort that now protects ships in the area. The deer statues on pedestals on either side of the port could be one of the places where the Colossus of Rhodes once stood. There are several places it could have stood, nobody knows for sure. It was a huge statue of Helios, the sun god. Built in 280 BC, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It only stood for 54 years when it was toppled by an earthquake. It laid on the ground for 800 years! At that time the bronze was melted down and sold. It was so impressive even laying on the ground that it became an ancient tourist attraction. Because Colossus was the sun god, I think it would have been in a high place, closer to the sun. A more likely place for it to have stood would have been the Acropolis of Rhodes. Also it had been laying on the ground for a long time. If it had been in the harbor, it would have fallen in the water. After a wonderful day of exploring the beautiful medieval city of Rhodes, we made our way back to the ship.
Our next port was the old city of Rhodes on the Island of Rhodes. I enjoyed all of the ports on this cruise. Rhodes was one of the ports I was looking forward to. Rhodes is a well preserved Medieval city. The whole city is protected by a huge Medieval style stone wall. There are several gates that have castle style facades. The cobblestone streets are filled with Medieval stone buildings. Just the type of place that I like to explore.
The cruise terminal of Rhodes is just outside of the old town city walls. There are lots of sights to see within walking distance of the ship. So a few of the others in our group plus Robbie and I, opted to save some money and see old town on our own. Disembarking the ship become much better. After a very short walk, we found ourselves at the Gate of the Virgin. I think this gate has been added in recent years to provide access to the city closer to the port. Just inside of the gate were the ruins of the Church of the Virgin of the Burgh. It was a large Catholic cathedral that was bombed during WWII, most of it was destroyed. The three apses at the end of the church and they are all that remain. A few blocks down the street we came across a restaurant that had several parrots on perches. Robbie and I are parrot owners, so we were very interested in seeing the parrots. This is also why we could not be away from home for too long. Our dear friend Cassy was watching over our flock while we were away, thank you Cassy! The guy at the restaurant let us hold one of the macaws! That was nice, we were missing our birds! It was too early for lunch or we probably would have eaten there. We continued our stroll through the city. The beautiful cobblestone streets were lined with restaurants and shops. It was like strolling through a Medieval bazaar. The shops were selling all sorts of wares, they had art, clothing, gifts and some very interesting bottle openers.
One of the most significant buildings in Rhodes is the Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes. The island of Rhodes was an important stopping off point between Europe and the Holy Land during the Byzantine era. We visited a lot of Byzantine era sights on this trip. In a nut shell, the Byzantine era began when the Roman Emperor Constantine came into power. The Roman Empire became fragmented, Constantine ruled the eastern portion. He moved his capital from Rome to Byzantium, modern day Istanbul Turkey. He renamed it Constantinople. He also converted the empire to Christianity. Rhodes was sort of a base camp for the Knights Hospitaller or the Knights of Rhodes. The Knights Hospitaller were protectors of the Holy Land. The palace was the headquarters for the knights and the home/office for the Grand Master. The palace is a large Medieval castle Today it is a museum. We paid a small entrance fee and took the self guided tour. I wasn’t sure how interesting the castle was going to be. It turned out to be a very nice tour. This was a beautifully restored Medieval, stone, fairy tale style castle. The halls would have been echoing with the sound of knights in shining armor moving from place to place. When you think of a Medieval castle, you think dark, dingy, and cold. This actually would have been a very nice place to live. It was far from dark, dingy, and cold. It was fit for a king! The Palace was heavily damaged in an accidental explosion in 1856. It was restored to its original splendor by the Italians when they had control of Rhodes. During the restoration, the beautiful Hellenistic mosaic floors were brought in from the island of Kos. It was used for a summer home for the Italian king and later Mussolini.
The Street of the Knights is a main thoroughfare leading up to the Palace of the Grand Masters. There were several countries that sent knights to Rhodes. The street is lined with buildings from each country. The buildings were the living quarters for the knights.
No rest for the weary! We had two wonderful days of sightseeing in Israel. But we didn’t stay up too late partying. We needed to get an early start the next morning. We had a short 170 mile cruise to our next port of call, Limassol, Cyprus. We opted to do a shore excursion in Cyprus. Limassol is a great town with a beautiful waterfront area, but when in ancient Greece/Rome, we should see ancient Greece/Rome.
We took a trip to the Kourion Archeological site with a wine tasting stop afterwords. The Limassol area of Cyprus is a big wine producer. The ancient city of Kourion was a thriving Greek city. It was taken over by the Romans in approximately 58 BC. They gave it all of the Roman amenities. First we entered the house of Eustolios. The house had very elaborate mosaic floors. There were several Roman baths. They had a very sophisticated water supply system throughout the town. We could see the remains of the clay water pipes in the ground. They almost seemed like they were from 1900 rather than 200. There was a beautiful Roman style amphitheater with an amazing view of the Mediterranean Sea. I think at first they held theatrical performances there. After the amphitheater was expanded, they held gladiator contests and man against beast type contests. They still perform ancient Greek plays in the amphitheater today. I think the amphitheater would be a great place to see a show.
We took a short trip down the road to the other side of Kourion to see the Sanctuary of Apollo Hylates. This is where the citizens of Kourion came to worship the god Apollo Hylates. Who was Apollo Hylates? Hylates was the Greek Cyprus god of the forest or nature. Apparently he sort of morphed into the Greek god Apollo who was the god of many things, mostly the god of light. Greek mythology seems to be a bit willy-nilly. The Apollo Hylates combo, as far as I can tell, was only worshiped on Cyprus. He was considered the god of the forest or nature of Cyprus. I was wondering how the Greek gods changed after the Romans took over Kourion. It turns out that Apollo is one of the few gods who is the same in Greek and Roman mythology. But maybe that’s how Hylates and Apollo came together, hmm. The alter in the sanctuary was considered very sacred. In fact, anyone who touched the alter who was not a priest, was taken to a cliff and thrown off! Kourion was inhabited from the eighth century BC until the fourth century AD. It saw several earthquakes and wars. Most of the city had been damaged and rebuilt. There was a rather large earthquake in the fourth century AD that was probably its demise. As far as ancient ruins go, Kourion was very interesting. It wasn’t hard to imagine all of these buildings in their full complete splendor. Romans in togas and sandals wondering around town taking advantage of all of the high class Roman amenities.
We had about a 30 min. bus ride to our wine tasting stop in the village of Omodos. There were hills and valleys all over the island. As we were driving through the countryside, it was interesting to see the terraced hillsides all around us. Some of them seemed bare, but they were created to grow the grapes for the wine we were on our way to taste. We arrived at Taverna Ambelothea; a beautiful old stone building. They had a table set up with three different wines to taste. The wines were very good. We were thinking about taking a bottle with us. But back at the ship you need to turn in any alcoholic beverages to be kept until the end of the cruise. They would like you to buy their alcohol please. We ended up not taking any back with us. We relaxed on the porch taking in the wonderful view. Barb found another cat. We headed out for a tour of the village.
We had a nice walk through the village. They make this odd looking confection called Sousoukos. It’s made from surplus grapes from the wine making and almonds. They string the almonds up and dip them in the waxy grape juice mixture. They look like candles, they are made like candles, and they sort of taste like candles, with nuts. Omodos was a wonderful traditional small village. We had a wonderful afternoon exploring the village.
Limassol cruise terminal’s architecture is very interesting. I thought the oval windows were pretty. I liked the way the light came through them.
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!
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.”