Saturday, November 15, 2008


There's something about walking where Jesus walked. It's a very cool feeling. I'll sheepishly admit I really never had a huge desire to go there, but I'm SO glad we did.

I guess I was so excited about going to Jerusalem and Bethlehem and wasn't thinking straight because I forgot my camera! I know, can you believe it? Me without my camera is like a White Spot burger without the Triple-O sauce ... just not right. But luckily I have 2 wonderful friends who let me steal some of their pictures and make a few collages so I have something to show for the day.

We docked in Ashdod very early in the morning and it was about a 45 minute drive to Jerusalem. Our first stop was the Mount of Olives which overlooks Jerusalem. According to the Book of Zechariah, the dead will be resurrected on the Mount of Olives in the days of the Messiah.

Picture 1 - Welcome to Jerusalem - so very cool - never thought I'd be there

Pictures 2 & 4 - Looking out at The Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount

Picture 3 - Me on the Mount of Olives looking out over Jerusalem

Next we went to Gethsemane (Pictures 5 - 9). Gethsemane is a garden at the foot of the Mount of Olives believed to be the place where Jesus and his disciples prayed the night before Jesus' crucifixion. Picture 6 is the Church of all Nations. The church is built around a rock that is said to be where Jesus prayed before His arrest. One of the gentlemen that sat at our table works in Ontario with an order of Nuns. When we were at this church, he pointed out the rock outside in Picture 7 and said, "I bet you this is the actual rock where Jesus prayed. It would be just like those nuns to say it's the one inside but really it's this one." I thought that was kind of funny, so we took a picture of the one outside as well. Picture 8 is the actual Garden of Gethsemane. This is said to be the garden where Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. I could actually picture it happening as I stood there and got a little teary eyed.

Picture 1 below - olive branch

Picture 2 - Me with the Kidron Valley in the background. Kidron Valley runs along the eastern wall of The Old City of Jerusalem, separating the Temple Mount from the Mount of Olives. The Bible calls the valley "Valley of Jehoshaphat - meaning "The valley where God will judge."

Pictures 3 & 4 - This is the Golden Gate. In Jewish tradition, this is the gate through which the Messiah will enter Jerusalem. Ottoman Sultan Suleiman I sealed off the Golden Gate in 1541 to prevent the Messiah's entrance. It baffles me that someone thinks they can prevent the Messiah from doing anything.

Ezekiel 44: 1 Then he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary, the one facing east; and it was shut. 2 Then the LORD said to me; This gate is to remain shut, it must not be opened, and no one shall enter through it. It is to remain shut because the LORD, the God of Israel, has entered through it. 3 The prince himself is the only one who may sit inside the gateway to eat in the presence of the LORD; he is to enter by way of the porch of that gate, and go out the same way.

Picture 1 below - This is a road that was uncovered recently. They think it led to a market place, therefore, have put up a mural at the end of what it might have looked like back in that day.

Pictures 2 through 5 - The Wailing Wall
Jews may often be seen sitting for hours at the Wailing-place bent in sorrowful meditation over the history of their race, and repeating oftentimes the words of the Seventy-ninth Psalm. On Fridays especially, Jews of both sexes, of all ages, and from all countries, assemble in large numbers to kiss the sacred stones and weep outside the precincts they may not enter. - copied from Wikipedia.

Pictures 6 & 7 - Via Dolorosa (Latin for "Way of Grief" or "Way of Suffering") is a street in the Old City of Jerusalem. Traditionally, it is held to be the path that Jesus walked on the way to his crucifixion. It is marked by nine of the fourteen Stations of the Cross. The last five stations are inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (pictures 8 & 9). It is a focus of pilgrimage. - copied from Wikipedia.

I feel a little ripped off about the Via Dolorosa. We had been told about the market that we weren't aloud to stop and shop at so many times that all I thought about was shopping in the market. Of course you want to do it more when you're not allowed. Because we talked about this so much, I don't know if I wasn't paying close enough attention or if our guide didn't point out the fact that this was also the path that Jesus walked on the way to His crucifixion. I think I would have been in a little different state of mind if I had been focused on that instead of shopping.

The pictures below are from inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which is said to be Golgotha or Calvary, where Jesus was crucified (Pictures 1 & 2), laid after being taken down from the cross (picture 3) and buried in a tomb similar to the one in picture 4.

Of course this is all alleged and I have heard that other people have gone to Jerusalem and been taken to a place where they were told Jesus died and was resurrected and it was all outside instead of in a church. It was really hard for me to picture it with a church built over top of the sites. Not how I had pictured it at all.

Although when we were just about to walk into the church and turn the stairs going up to the hill, there was construction going on outside and we heard a man hammering in nails. A few of us stopped and listened to that sound and thought it was a bit ironic to hear that just as we were entering this site.

After our tour of Jerusalem, we hopped back onto our bus and were on our way to Bethlehem. Did you know that Bethlehem is only about 8 km from Jerusalem? I had no idea they were that close to each other. Our tour guide who I believe is an Israeli citizen is not allowed to cross over into Palestine, so she left us and another tour guide joined us once we crossed the border.

Here we went to the Church of the Nativity. This church is said to be built over the cave that tradition marks as the birthplace of Jesus (but apparently there are about 3 different places you can visit where "they" say Jesus was born). Again, a little hard to really imagine when a church has been built over top of it.

Picture 1 below - going down into the cave.
Picture 2 - said to be "THE" spot where Jesus was born.

Picture 3 - said to be "THE" spot where Jesus was laid in the manger.

Picture 4 - me coming out of the tiny doorway to the church. The Door of Humility was created in Ottoman times to prevent carts being driven in by looters, and to force even the most important visitor to dismount from his horse as he entered the holy place.

Again, we didn't get to shop at the places where I think there would have been cheap souvenirs, but instead they took us to an expensive souvenir shop. I bought myself a small nativity set that says "Made in Bethlehem" on the bottom.

I thoroughly enjoyed our tour of Jerusalem and Bethlehem but didn't feel like half a day was enough time. On our drive back to the ship our guide pointed out many places where things from the Bible happened and it was so great to see these places with my own eyes. She even pointed out to us the valley where the David and Goliath event happened. I would LOVE to go back and spend more time in the Holy Lands. We were so close to the Dead Sea and Mount Sinai and many more landmarks that I could definitely see myself planning another trip there someday.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Trip of a Lifetime - 1st part of week 2 (Athens & Cairo)

Here I am. The bad blogger. Back for another installment. I can't begin to tell you what's been going on in my life outside of blogland ... let's just say I've had a lot on my mind. Some good, some bad, but either way it kept me from blogging. All I can say is that I'm sorry to those who were faithful readers. Did not mean to disappoint, just dealing with some stuff. Some may say, "But I see you had time for Facebook," but you must admit that Facebook takes less time to post and update than a blog. Nevertheless, I'm back for now. Can't promise when my next post will be, but here's the next stop on my Trip of a Lifetime. I hope you enjoy.

After Santorini, we flew back to Athens and had 2 nights before getting on the cruise ship. The first day we walked around and explored on our own.

Hey, when in Rome, right? Maybe I should change the saying to, "when in Athens." After being so tardy in posting here, I thought I might as well admonish myself by putting up an embarrassing picture. Am I forgiven, now? :)

We did a LOT of walking this day ... no, please read that again A LOT of walking. In the collage below, you'll see that we are up on a hill looking over the city of Athens. The first 2 pictures are of the Acropolis (Parthenon) in the distance. Our hotel was at the base of the Acropolis, but did we walk in a straight line from our hotel to this hill? No, way! That would be silly. We walked waaaaaay to the right of this picture first, then back and THEN up this hill. Good for the thighs, calves and cardio, though.

We also walked past the Parliament Building where this nice fellow (picture #1 below) was standing outside on guard. I believe Karen's words were, "Do you think he did something wrong and this is his punishment?" Just might be, Karen. The 2nd picture below is a sneak peak at the Parthenon from the street where our hotel was.

Of course we had to do some shopping (picture above on the bottom left) and then after a long day we deserved to have a good meal. If you ever go to Athens, the place we went shopping is called The Plaka and it had some stores that were fairly decently priced. I must admit that after travelling to Malaysia and Thailand, the prices did surprise me a bit. I didn't come home with as many souvenirs as when I went to Asia, but I did spoil myself and buy a few things to remember our trip by.
The next morning we joined up with our tour group (Trafalgar Tours). We had a tour guide take us around Athens and show us the sites. First we went to the arena where the 2004 Olympics were held and then we went to the Temple of Zeus.

I don't understand how they moved these massive blocks of stone back in their day. Amazing.
Then we were on to the Acropolis. As we were climbing up, our tour guide told us to turn around and look at this rock (pictured below). He said that this is said to be the spot where Paul preached his "Love is patient. Love is kind" sermon (see 1 Corinthians 13 in the Bible). Isn't that cool? I loved that. The Biblical history of our trip was starting to take shape for me. Can you picture a crowd of people sitting on this rock listening to Paul preach? I sure can.

This plaque was mounted on the rock.

Then we moved onto the Acropolis. I've seen it in movies and on TV, but to see it in real was pretty cool. Picture #1 is our tour guide Alex who was very knowledgeable. I guess you have to be if this is your job. Picture #2 and 3 are of the Erechtheum atop of the Acropolis. This temple was built between 421 and 407 BC and is made of marble and black limestone. Picture #3 is of the Porch of the Maidens.

Picture #4 is looking back at the hill where we had walked to the day before.

Picture #5 is looking down on the Temple of Zeus that we had visited that morning.

Picture #6 - me and the Parthenon atop of the Acropolis. The Parthenon was built between 447 and 431 BC and is again made of marble.

Picture #7 - Bren showing how strong she is ... or maybe not. :)

Picture #8 - I'm not sure if you'll be able to see it if you click on this collage and enlarge it, but there is Greek writing inscribed on this column.

Picture #9 - Herodeon Theatre at the base of the Acropolis. The night before when we were coming home from the Plaka, we could hear music being played in the distance so we followed the sound and stood outside of this theatre listening to the opera going on. The sound was incredible.
I thought I'd put in a video of what it looks like atop of the Acropolis. I also thought that if I took a video, I'd be able to remember how incredibly windy it was up there. Take a look/listen.

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The girls and the Parthenon. Amazing to be there.
The picture below is looking back at the Parthenon while standing on the rock where Paul preached. Again, an amazing feeling.

After our tour we got back on the bus and they took us to the dock where we boarded our ship. I will preface this by saying that I had a great time and am so glad we did this cruise, however, Bren and I had both been on a Royal Caribbean cruise and had been spoiled with a HUGE ship and good entertainment. While everyone on our ship was super friendly, it paled a little in comparison to a big cruise line. I know, I know. You all feel incredibly bad for me to have to suffer through this. No, that's not what I'm saying. The reason we took this cruise line was because it was the only line that had the itinerary we wanted. I just thought I'd put a little of my feedback on my blog in case someone is thinking of taking a cruise someday and wants to know my thoughts. Honestly, I would totally go on this cruise line again, however, if a larger cruise line did the same itinerary for the same price, I'd probably go with them. If you want something a little more luxurious, you should stick to a larger cruise line.
Picture #1 - walking onto our ship.

Picture #2 - our teeny, tiny room for 3

Picture #3 - going through our safety drills.

Picture #4 - out on deck

Picture #5 - our great group of Canadian friends we got to sit with for dinner.
Picture #6 - one of the pools
Pictures #7 and 8 - we soon realized that one of the problems with being on a smaller ship is that it might not be quite as stable as the bigger ships. It was really windy (more than usual, we were told) that week and picture #7 is when you would rock to one side and see the sky, then rock to the other side and see water - picture #8. I was lucky enough to never get terribly squeamish or think we were going to capsize, but unfortunately, I can't say the same for my roommates. Sorry guys. Wish I could've shared my sea legs with you.
Picture #9 - first formal night ... and also my birthday!
The collage below shows how I spent my birthday. Start off with a toast, then a steak dinner, then singing (not just once through Happy Birthday, but twice) topping it off with a great cake and little swan cream puffs. YUM!
Our first stop on our cruise was Port Said, Egypt. Can you believe I'm in Africa??? I was very excited. Port Said is where large ships go to enter the Suez Canal.
Picture #2 is the sunrise over the entrance to the Suez Canal.
Picture #3 is our wonderful tour guide telling us about Egypt.
Picture #4 - While driving down the freeway listening to our guide speak, she told us to turn to our left and see a ship going down the Suez Canal. This ship was massive and seemed so weird right next to the freeway.
The drive to Cairo was 3 hours long so I took a little sleep and when I woke up, I saw we were in a town. Then Karen turned around in her seat and said to me, "See the pyramids?" (picture #5) I didn't think we'd be in the middle of a town when we saw pyramids. Can you imagine doing dishes and looking out your window above the sink and that's what you see? Ok, I know that looking at Mt. Baker our of your window is beautiful, too. :)
Picture #6 - this is more what I pictured when thinking of pyramids. Out in the middle of the desert.
Picture #7 - 9 - camels, camels and more camels.
Yes, I got to ride a camel in Egypt. Not many people can say that. It was short, but sweet. My camel got hitched to the back of my fellow Canadian's (from our table on the ship) and off we went.
The guy leads the camel out into the desert a few minutes from our bus and then turns around, sets you up and takes your picture and it turns out like ...


Doesn't my camel look like he's smiling? I think he liked me.
Here's a video of Bren's camel sitting down to let her off. Watch how his legs fold up? Kind of looks like a grasshopper or something.

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Crazy! I can't believe we rode camels ... in Egypt ... in the desert ... with pyramids in the background. So cool!
Next we got to take a closer look at the pyramids. Although they were very cool and it was all a great experience, I don't think I need to go back. The vendors at the pyramids were the pushiest vendors I've seen in all my travels. They physically pushed their wares into you to try to get you to buy something and if you didn't, they would pretend they wanted to give it to you for free, so you put out your hand and said thank you, but as soon as you started walking away, they would yell at you for stealing their stuff. It was very irritating. You just want to stand there and admire the amazing work that was put in to build these monstrous structures, but they won't leave you alone. The people that rode the camel with me even had a problem with their guide who wouldn't let the lady down from the camel until they paid him more money. It got to the point where a security guard from our bus had to come over and talk to them to help her down. Not cool. I've heard from other people that Egypt is one of their favorite places they've ever visited. While I'm glad we went and it was really cool, I can't say that I'd say the same. Here are a few pictures we got while NOT being accosted by vendors (pictures 1 - 5).
Pictures 6 - 9 are of the Sphinx. This was amazing and there were less vendors there, but we had very little time.
I forgot to mention that I can now see why large cruise ships don't have Egypt on their itinerary. Our ship only had 500 passengers and for the excursion into Cairo, we had about 20 Greyhouse sized buses lined up in a convoy. We weren't allowed to leave until all the buses were loaded, we had (what they called) an FBI agent on each bus, we were led by a military escort and every street we went through in town was blocked by military guards with HUGE guns. Is there something I should know? Even though I didn't feel like we were in danger, it was strange to have so much security around. One of the buses broke down on the way back to the ship and we heard that they had to wait for another bus to come and once it was parked behind them, the guards made a line for them to walk through one at a time to the new bus. Hmmm. Like I said, I'm glad I went and I have great pictures to show for it, but don't feel the need to go back anytime soon.
So, this is just the first stop on our cruise and I've filled up another post. Next stop, Israel and I know I'll need another whole post for that as well. It was one of my highlights of the summer. I'll try not to take as long to get that post up.