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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I visited the Church of The Nativity in Bethlehem, Palestine last month. It was an interesting place to visit. I thought it would be nice to make a Christmas post with some of the photos. Merry Christmas!