Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Egypt and Israel (and a half day in Athens)

We were thrilled to meet up with my parents in Athens the night prior to boarding our 12 day cruise.  It was sooo good to hug them and catch up with the goings on the past 3 months.  We get to spend most of the next month with them, first on our cruise and then also on safari in Africa.

The first day we went for a quick walk up the Acropolis before catching a taxi to the port.  It's very impressive.
Mom and Dad on the roof of our hotel with the Parthenon in the background

The Rotterdam is a very nice mid sized Holland America cruise ship.  We were all four in one stateroom, but for a cruise ship cabin it was quite roomy.  We especially enjoyed the abundance of American style food on offer.  The problem we had then was trying not to eat too much of it.

We chose this cruise for the days in Egypt and Israel (and also because we got it at $258 per night including tax) and we were not disappointed.  It felt like a really nice break from our travels, even though we were actually still traveling, and also allowed us a glimpse into the Middle East.

Cairo, Giza and the Pyramids are about a 3 hour drive from the port.  That meant we didn't have very much time to marvel at the last surviving wonder of the ancient world.  They are every bit as impressive in person as you'd think - very big and very old.  The Sphinx on the other hand is smaller than I expected, and it is all quite close to the city - not way out in the desert as I had always assumed.  After the requisite photos on a camel ($1 per person) we headed to a big tourist boat for lunch, a show and a cruise on the Nile.  I wasn't super thrilled with this lunch arrangement.  We usually prefer a small local place, but our guide was booked through the ship and she categorically refused to take us anyplace not pre-designated.  She claimed there was too much danger of us getting sick.  This didn't seem reasonable to us, but we lost the argument.  At any rate we didn't care much for the lunch or the show but the cruise on the Nile was very nice.  I think we would like to come back to Egypt for a multi day cruise on a local boat (called a fecula) to Luxor and Aswan.

Shots from the top of our boat on the Nile.

In Israel we were supposed to dock two days in the northern city of Haifa and then move south to Ashdod for an additional day.  As it turned out there were rocket attacks from Gaza in the area of Ashdod during our first day (one man was killed) so the ship elected to stay in Haifa for all three days.  We had two very full days of touring but then opted to cancel our last day as it would have been a very long drive to Masada and the Dead Sea from the North.  I couldn't help being a little disappointed though as I'd really been looking forward to that particular day.  Floating in the Dead Sea will just have to remain on my bucket list for now.

It was definitely very interesting to tour the Holy Land, to see the places where the bible stories are set, where Jesus was born and lived and died.  Equally interesting was hearing the locals explain their perspectives on the current conflicts, the causes and their hopes for peace.

We spent our first day in Jerusalem, a very important city for Jews, Christians and Muslums alike.   We stood on the Mount of Olives overlooking the Old City.  We saw the place said to be where Jesus was born.  We saw two different places that each claim to be the spot where Jesus was was laid in a tomb.  Our guide was a very high energy and informative guy who had immigrated as a child with his parents from Holland.  He got tired of my questions about how they knew exactly where Jesus was born, or baptized or died or was buried.  In the end though, we didn't care about the exact spots, if they were accurate or not.  It was enough to know that these were indeed the same towns and roads and rivers and lakes we had been reading about our entire lives.

When we got to Bethlehem our guide had to leave us to walk through to the Palestine controlled area unescorted, where a young Christian Arab named George took over for this portion of the tour.  We were there to see the Church of the Nativity built over the stable believed to be the spot of the birth of Jesus.  As interesting however was just to see the other side of the wall.

Church over the supposed place of Jesus' birth

People line up and wait hours and hours to kiss the spot (we didn't)

A highlight of our day in Jerusalem was of course the Western Wailing Wall - the most sacred of Jewish sites, where people place papers with their prayers written on them in the cracks of the wall.  We also enjoyed walking the stations of the cross through the Old City.

On the second day we toured though the Northern part of the country.  We drove to Nazareth where we saw the relatively new Church of the Annunciation that is dedicated to Mary in her hometown.

We went to the Sea of Galilee and the ruins of the temple where Jesus preached.  We went to the banks of the Jordan river and watched people line up to be baptized.

We visited a kibbutz operated winery and bought some award winning wines to take back to the ship.

We also drove through the Golan heights and marveled at the views of Syria and Jordan on one side and the Sea of Galilee on the other.

Our sea days we spent eating, doing laundry, playing shuffle board and ping pong, laying poolside and eating.  The kids got lucky as there were 6 other english speaking kids between the ages of 13 and 17 to hang out with.

Kids in their Halloween Costumes (nothing to rival the Larkins)

 Mark and I walked a 5K for breast cancer on the ship one morning
 We also celebrated my Dad's birthday with an adults only evening at the fancy steakhouse.

The second half of our cruise will consist of two ports in Greece and one outside of Ephesus, Turkey.


  1. I found your blog while researching RTW plane tickets online...
    I am working my way from the beginning of your trip, through, entry by entry. Our family is living vicariously through yours! :) What an amazing trip!

  2. Hi Emily! How exciting for you. I'm happy to answer you questions you might have. Email me at markymail@msn.com - Carrie