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Our Holy land cruise witha pre stay in Istanbul. Part one.

Our Holy land cruise witha pre stay in Istanbul. Part one.

Dec 1st, 2011, 04:28 PM
  #21  
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OMG! It sound like you need more that Coca-Cola.
Ok so we were supposed to port in Ashdod or the main southern israeli port, them spend two days there and see Masada, Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. So at 0230 I got up to use the bathroom and saw a note under our door. Well Palestinian Gaza had launched a rocket attack and the port had to be closed to cruise ship traffic so we were headed to Haifa to spend 4 days there instead of the two as planned Now what. I went to the internet cafe to check my email and our guide Avi told us this and to meet him in Haifa but we had to get started early. OK so off we go at 0730 and we see a whole bunch of private tours guides waiting at the pier but not ours so I asked one of them whats going on and he said some of us know how to sneak in. Huh?? There was like a dozen or so. I thought this was the land of the super secure. Oh well so off we went on the bus to the terminal. And on and on we went. Well the driver got lost. He called to get directions and finally we arrived after a 20 min. ride which should have taken five. Well I must say that Haifa is one of the most confusing ports I've ever seen. We bussed it to the terminal 4 times and twice the driver got lost. i counted like 13 turns just to get there. It mush have been designed by someone obsessed with mazes. . So we met Avi our gude, a big bear of a man who was a former Israeli tank commander and off we went. Avi suggested we go for coffee so we stopped and an Israeli Starbucks like place called "cafe in cafe out." I later learned that the out part refers to a pit stop. Anyway here is where there is a lost in translation moment. There was coffee on the menu so I ordered it along with a shot of expresso. The guy looked at me like I was from Mars. So I repeated it and he said "I never hear this before." So I said again, "yes, coffee and put an extra shot of expresso in it." he said "you must like it really strong." I do. Well when i saw him bringing a tiny cup I knew what happened. To them reg. coffee is like Turkish or Arabic style. The add expresso and look out. I put milk in it but the color didn't seem to change . Well so as to keep my cool and hide my mistake I drank it and on the way out said "thanks,thats just the way I like it. hey, gotta keep my cover. Soon I needed "cafe out." So on to Masada. Along the way we passed the caves where the dead Sea scrolls were found and approached the formidable flat top mountain that is Masada. This is where Jewish rebels held out for quite some time against the roman army rather than surrender and becomes slaves again. They decided on mass suicide and left out their weapons and food so as to show the Romans they could have held out longer but would never be slaves again. One can walk up Masada BTW but most take the cable car for a nominal fee. So after this I asked Avi to take us to lunch at a place where I can get a local brew which i like to do when we travel. Unfortunately this place was our actually. Darn! So now it was on to the Dead sea. It is so called because nothing can live it in due to its mineral content. Its best described as minerals in water really. Its the lowest place on earth, some 1100 feet below sea level and its impossible to sink in it due to the bouyancy the mineral create. So even though I can't swim I floated with the best of them. Now I told Sue and Avi told Sue DON'T taste the water. Well sometimes she listens like Lots wife and all of a sudden I heard her shriek "oh yukky it tastes so bad! I can't get the taste out of my mouth." Hun, I tried to tell ya. So were about to go to the indoor pool here at the spa which has the same water BTW when I see Avi coming towards me with a big grin. And a can of Goldstar a local brew. Eureka! Pretty good too. We showered, had the freshest dates I've ever had (the fruit 0f course. ) and went off to go back to the ship. Along the way Avi told me to look. Remember the rocket attacks. Well we saw at least 5 Merkavas or Israeli super tanks headed into harms way. Thats life here. Avi said that as israelis we have to be better because the country is so small and is surrounded by enemies or potential enemies. You see armed soldiers every day and Avi calls them our "babies." He says this with a sense of pride but also with the knowledge of what can happen if things become hot. I really can't say enough good about Avi. he had to take us because the regular guy had a family emergency and it was up to him. That day his own mother was getting chemo for rx. of leukemia so there was a lot on his mind and he was in contact with her several times. However his expertise as a guide was 100% and I admire him for that. We asked if he could drop us at the ship vs. the terminal so he called a colleauge who told him how to do this though it was about as difficult to find as our ride to the terminal in the morning. We arrived safe and sound and will have memories and knowledge that will last
forever. We had a late dinner. Tomorrow Jerusalem. Say tuned.
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Dec 8th, 2011, 07:02 AM
  #22  
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Ok. Here we go again. Coffee out so lets get started. Our driver today was Jacob who works for the same company we used the day b4. So off early again to meet him as of course we are in Haifa and not Ashdod. This time the bus driver didn't get lost so we got to the terminal in about 5 mins. jacob met us and on we went in his nice Toyota land cruiser to Jerusalem and yad yashem or the holocaust museum. BTW a few nights ago I was speaking to someone I had met for the 1st time that night and was having a nice conversation about our trip and mentioned yad vashem. She sort of shuddered and mentioned about how that is only one perspective. Now I know she meant the overall situation in the middle east but I wasn't talking about that. So I asked what other perspective there is inre to the events depicted in yad vashem. Well lets just say I don't think that if we ever meet again we will talk about this as I'm still waiting for an answer. Oh well. So we begin our long drive to Jerusalem. Jacob takes us to an elevated spot overlooking the dome of the rock or perhaps the most famous structure on the Jerusalem panorama. Here we view the walls of the ancient city and it just takes you back in time. Its amazing to think the ancients could build as they did not matter what country they were in. Its fascination. We then drove past the mount of olives church and went to the Garden of Gethsemane church. This is where Jesus was betrayed and where the term the "kiss of Judas" or kiss of death originates. This is depicted in a mural inside. What is so fascinating about Jerusalem is this is where history was made over and over again as you will see. There was a group of Filipinos there who sang a religious song in the garden and you saw several latino groups as well. Of course as these cultures are primarily Catholic its easy to see why they would flock to Jerusalem. We took some leaves from an olive tree for my mom and learned that they can live to about 900 yrs! Amazing. Afterwards in was on to old Jerusalem to shop and observe. Walking thru was like being in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. The shops seemed to go on forever and we saw the 4 quarters there, the Jewsish, Christain, Muslim and Armenian. I don't imagine they have changed much since they we built centuries ago. Our next stop was the Church of the Seplecure or the church built around the spot were Jesus was crucified and buried. This is one of the holiest places for Christians in the world. The slab he was cleansed on and his tomb can be touched and many do, some even kiss the slab. The rock that supported the cross is encased as ell. Some have asked me how all this is known and the best answer I have is that it is a question of faith or belief. After this it was on to the western or the wailing wall. This is the only part left of the original structure or platform that supported the temple of Herod. What you notice is that there are many pieces of paper in the crevices of the wall and these are private prayers that worshipers put there. You also notice that sexes are divided here. Men and women are separated by a barrier. There were also two bar mitzvah ceremonies taking place and really it was pretty neat. It was Israelis celebrating their faith in a sense and our guide just spontaneously began singing with the celebrants. I sort of got a few goose bumps really. Afterwards there was more sightseeing, a drive past the Israeli parliament or the Knesset and then to a more modern shopping area for lunch. Well as we found Turkey to be economical Israel is quite expensive, easily at least 30-40% more for a lunch out. But hey lets eat! As I am a watch collector I had to check out a jewelery store here to see the prices. Wow! Prices are very high, in some cases about double for a watch I can get back home. Well gas is $10.00 per gal. here. We then went to Yad Vashem. Part of this memorial is a separate children's wing. There were 1.5 million children who were victims and it was dedicated by a family who survived the holocaust to thier son, Uziel, around age 6 who was a victim of it. His smiling face is carved in the stone wall as you enter. There is also a statue of a man who was head master of a Jewish orphanage who went with his children to the camps rather than leave them alone. The children's memorial is basically like lights surrounded by reflecting glass walls or like prisms really and the effect is like looking at and infinite number of stars in the sky. W/I the holocaust museum which has zig zag like walks ways are all sorts of depictions of the events leading up to the camps including the propaganda, all sorts of photos of the times, letters, artifacts and so on. We have seen the holocaust memorial in DC as well. Yad vashem is bigger but the effect of each is the same. How such a thing could have happened is beyond me and do remember this is only a page back in history. I am not trying to be political but I will say this is why there has to be a state of Israel. I also wish that lady I had mentioned could see this. We also saw the beautiful Bahai temple and gardens and I learned that B4 the British had control of Palestine it was part of the Turkish empire which changed after WW I, something I didn't know. Well now it was time to return to the ship. Unfortunately Jacob could not negotiate the maze that is Haifa and return us directly to the ship. And he tried! He even called Avi who found the way the day B4 but despite this it was just too difficult so he got us to the terminal where the bus took us back to the ship. We have a late dinner in the buffet restaurant. I had osso bucco. Not bad but last night I had it a a nice ital. place in downtown Chicago. A lot better but to be expected of course. I must say that I was very pleased with our tour company, Avitours. Along the way back we got a call from the office to be sure everything went well. They took great care of us. Tomorrow Galilee, Nazareth and Akko. Stay tuned.
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Dec 8th, 2011, 08:29 AM
  #23  
 
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Hey jacket. I'm too mean to write more - you know hoew expensive the internet is at sea - but in 48 hours I'm on the ground in Mumbai. More praise then.
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Dec 8th, 2011, 10:57 AM
  #24  
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OK. I sort of thought you might be cruised out by now. I look f/w to hearing about your adventures. Or lack of them I wonder if you will still be a fan of Azamara after this. Anyway all is well here. Been running all day after this latest installment of the TR. Gonna make some Indian food for sweetie and later sip the only regional award winning Scotch (Cragganmore) I have yet to sample. Life is good. Thank God. Cheers, Larry
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Dec 10th, 2011, 12:33 PM
  #25  
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Well its about 0200 on the 11th in India so the dogster is close to disembarking. Can't wait to hear all about it.
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Dec 10th, 2011, 02:51 PM
  #26  
 
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oops got Mumbai mixed up with Mombasa in Kenya !
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Dec 11th, 2011, 01:29 AM
  #27  
 
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Heya jacket: yup, I'm, finally back on dry land, snug in my low-life hotel in Mumbai. Like all cruises, I've forgotten my month on Azamara completely.

But this is YOUR report, not mine. Keep writing, eh? Oh, and consider the word 'paragraph'... lol.

I'll give you the juice on Azamara later. I was certainly paid back for my previous articles... the words 'persona non grata' come to mind. Right now, I'm deep in Mumbai. It's a lot more fun.
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Dec 11th, 2011, 07:53 AM
  #28  
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OK. I am at work 12 hrs. today so not enough time to continue. Will resume Tuesday at the latest.

Stay tuned.
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Dec 12th, 2011, 01:57 PM
  #29  
 
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Jacket, I'm enjoying your trip report. I was just in Haifa last week (work, though, so no time for fun). I'm truly amazed, though, that you went from Haifa all the way down to Masada and the Dead Sea as a day trip, and then on the very next day, went back down to Jerusalem. Those must have been VERY long days! Israel is small, but the traffic sucks. I guess given the last minute change of ports, it would have been too hard to try to change the itinerary (e.g., spend a night in Jerusalem instead of returning to the ship in Haifa).

(And Dogster, I'm eagerly awaiting your next Azamareport.)
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Dec 12th, 2011, 02:45 PM
  #30  
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Thanks a lot SPT. I'll continue tomorrow as it was pretty busy at work today. Fortunately we had little traffic except for day one leaving Haifa. After that it was fine. I was offered the chance to stay overnight in Jerusalem but my wife was skiddish about that after the rocket attacks. I think she felt safer on the ship and she could get her special food request there as well. Yep those were long days and as you will see we did that trek a 3rd time to see Bethlehem. Well I drive 35 mi. one to work so it wasn't too bad really. Stay tuned. Larry
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Dec 12th, 2011, 10:18 PM
  #31  
 
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Larry is being positive. I took the vastly expensive ship's tours - SPT, that shlep was horrible...
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Dec 13th, 2011, 02:30 PM
  #32  
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Ok let us continue. I thought the long drives were over by now but tomorrow that would not be the case. More on that later. We met our driver Omri for a tour designed to start from Haifa so basically we were going east. Our bus driver, a different guy, got lost going from the ship to the terminal. Again, 2 of 3 days a 5 min. trip took like 15 mins. Oh well. We met Omri who is working for GTI (guided tours Israel) and off we went . Our 1st stop was Nazareth and we began at the church of the Annunciation or the spot where the angel announced to Mary that she was pregnant with the son of God. This of course is a sacred place in Christianity. There are many works of art here from many countries which depict this sacred event, perhaps 18-20. I don't recall exactly how many. What is interesting is how Mary is depicted as having Asian features in the portraits from Asian countries. You can see this in the pics I posted. I also found out that its quite likely that mary lived in a cave, which I never knew. Many people from this time were cave dwellers.

After seeing this church it was on to the sea of Galilee from which you can see the Golan heights. Today would turn out to more relaxing and refreshing. Jerusalem is pretty involved but of course thats what makes it so interesting. We next went to the mighty river Jordan which surprised me for a number of reasons. One, swimming in it were nutria, a large, rodent like animal about as big as a beaver or a bit bigger. They were introduced here somehow as they are not native to this region of the world and have thrived. I remember seeing an episode of Bizarre foods with Andrew Zimmern who trekked to the bayou waters on this particular episode. His guide basically clubbed one of these animals and cooked it Cajun style. I was more than surprised to see them here. what else is surprising about the "mighty" Jordan was that its pretty small and very green. It reminded me of the Chicago river on St. Patricks day which is dyed green. I suppose I was expecting something more, well mighty but it was kinda small really. The Jordan is used commonly to baptize people as Jesus was baptized here. There is a souvenir shop which seemed to have pretty high prices but had some neat stuff like old Roman coins and other ancient artifacts.

Afterward it was on to lunch. Omri picked a nice local place. Well of course it was time for a local brew so this time I had an Israeli beer called Maccabah. This one I realy like, nice and clean and crisp. Soon our waiter was putting about 10 or so appetizers on our table. It was all sorts of snacks like olives, cheeses, eggplant and many others. Utterly delicious. We had a main course followed by some of the best coffee, and I like coffee, I've ever had. Its cardamom flavored and is served in a metal carafe. Wonderful flavor I must say. They we had some fresh, plump dates and some halvah. Great meal.

We then decided to meander the markets in Nazareth. what struck me was the many young men just sitting around smoking hookah pipes. Omrii said the unemployment is high around here so I suppose that is what many do to be active. As a health care professional I am always saddened to see young adults smoke . we continued to explore which to me is a great thing to do while on vacation. Omri was helping himself to samples in the bakeries and no one seemed to mind so we did too. Fresh baklavah folks. Not bad and you can't beat the price.

Our next stop was decided upon on the fly so to speak. I've always wanted to see the ancient city of Akko which was the scene of many battles throughout the Crusades and exchanged hands several times between the Christian forces and the Saracens. So here we are now in the ancient city with its ancient walls, small streets and of course more modern structures as well. The crusaders built an escape tunnel to the Med in case the city was taken and they had to use it at some point. Omri took us there so we had to crouch down to enter then followed it to its exit point which is actually the Med. Pretty cool. we waled along the sea and all of a sudden our great guide from day one, Avi was driving past with another client so he stopped, and we exchanged a few pleasantries. As Avi is very sociable we could have talked a lot more hey this is his livelyhood and he was on business so we cut things short so he could continue his tour. Actually the three guides we had during our 4 day stay all knew each other or of each other. They seem like a close knit group. Avi knew of Omri and as it turned out on day two with Jacob he chatted to another guide who turned out to be Omri. All three were terrific.

So we had a long but more relaxing day and tomorrow was to be more of the same in the Galilee area but Sumi decided she wanted to go Bethlehem. All the way down there again. Well when the ladies start working their magic you just gotta go with it. . As a married man for over 30 yrs. I have learned that for certain things you just say yes. So tomorrow Bethlehem. Stay tuned.
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Dec 13th, 2011, 04:40 PM
  #33  
 
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I am staying tuned.
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Dec 21st, 2011, 12:04 PM
  #34  
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So sorry for the delay in posting folks. Been very, very busy. So on to Bethlehem. Actually the day B4 Sue decided on the way back from Akko that she wanted to see the church of the Nativity. I'm like huh, you want to go that far again?? We were to go see the more of Galilee and of course have shorter commutes but she sort of got that look so, well you know you have to have peace and with that look comes memories that won't fade if we don't go so married guys guys you know what we did. Omri was very surprised BTW that we had not seem Bethlehem while in and around Jerusalem. In retrospect me too.


Of course Omri our guide can't enter beth. as its Palestinian but he has connections so he arranged for a pick up near the check point. We stopped at a souvenir shop just outside of Bethlehem to await our next escort. By now unfortunately my stomach was beginning to wall off what turned out to be the noro virus. I felt like nothing I had for breakfast had gone down at all but I was OK to move on. Our Palestinian driver came and we went past the check point where a sign clearly said "no Israelis allowed." It felt like we re going into forbidden territory and one notes that instead of seeing the IDF with western weapons you now see soldiers with the unmistakable symbol of the "other guys" . AK 47's of course. We were met near the church of the Nativity which marks the birth place of Jesus. Our Palestinian guide Ramzi was rather tall and quite friendly and along with another couple who were honeymooning we toured the church. BTW the new bride was Jewish and I could not help but think what she must be feeling. I mean the sign at the entrance would be clear even to Ray Charles God rest his soul. Anyway on we went. Of course the highlight here is the famous star below the altar which commemerates the birthplace of Jesus. Now you see two lines here, well one really long one and one very small. On the left side of the church is the line formed by people from bus tours. I read that sometimes its a two hr. wait just ot see and touch the star and today that was the case. However for folks from private tours (translate that as a lot more $$$$) the entrance is on the right side and the wait is practically nil. We crouched down to see the star, touched it and saw the spot where the manger was as well. Again folks Israel IS history. Amazing stuff. We toured the church more but by now I was feeling a bit worse and we decided to go back to the ship. Anyway that was the plan to begin with, to see this church, then head back and try to have a lighter day. I tipped Ramzi as as he smiled broadly i assume he was satisfied. Well as I was getting chills by now I asked our driver who was with another fellow, Chris, who actually works at the shop just outside Bethlehem to take me somewhere so I could get a jersey or sweater so he took us to a clothing store where he buys his goods. Pretty nice. I got a nice sweater for a nicer discount and was surprised to see the monetary unit is the Israeli sheckel. He then gave us a tour of the wall. Bethlehem is completely walled and of course you will see lots of graffiti which translates to political expressions. It reminded me of the Berlin wall and of course its quite sad. I was told that for most Bethlehemites leaving is cumbersome. There is a lot of paperwork and red tape to navigate and that they must leave through Jordan if they want to go abroad. Normally I would have liked to soo more of this and hear more but my stomach was getting worse by the minute so I had to ask the guy to get me to the shop. he understood and obliged. There I had to use the WC rather urgently. Chris saw i was not looking too well so he offered me a shot similar to ouzo or rahi, the anise liquoer. This stuff is made in Bethlehem and i must say for me it was the best tasting anise liquoer I've ever had. Well maybe I just have Greece and Turkey a reason to come closer together. I was glad for the sweater as the chills were coming on and I was feeling rather so so by now.

By the time we got back in our cabin what ever I had eaten came up a few times and I was at least grateful we got to see what we wanted to see. Well the next day was a sea day which could not have been better timed. I was Ok by the next morning but of course was wiped out a bit by a temp and fluid loss. For the 1st time ever I order room service breakfast, just hard boiled eggs and toast and tea and basically stayed in bed. The next day, Athens. More tomorrow. I hope.
jacketwatch is online now  
Dec 21st, 2011, 03:43 PM
  #35  
 
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Oh my goodness, sorry to hear about your discomfort on the tour to Bethlehem.

But like you said better to be "under the weather" on a Sea Day , than a touring day.

Waiting for Athens ( since I was there ,never been to Bethlehem )
Percy is online now  
Dec 21st, 2011, 04:25 PM
  #36  
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Well fortunately it was OK all in all. The ship had 97 reported cases of NV though upon debarkation we were asked to report if we were ill so those particular cabins could be given special cleaning. I'll bet the actual number was much more. Unless you are really sick you don't want to report it for fear of being asked to stay in your cabin.

Well its between periods now. Old school original six, Hawks vs. Habs. This is always good. See ya!
jacketwatch is online now  
Dec 21st, 2011, 07:48 PM
  #37  
 
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Yep, nothing like the Old Six, last I heard it was 2-1 for the Chi( rhymes with sky) Hawks !!
Percy is online now  
Dec 23rd, 2011, 12:41 AM
  #38  
 
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Hey Larry - it's me, recovering from a complete computer melt-down - hence 'dogster1'. All my passwords are gone, all my E-mail, lordy - what a mess when I'm traveling..

So that why I havn't been responding. I guess the above chapter might explain why I didn't see you around the ship.. lol. Poor old thing. It was YOUR fault we all had to wear plastic gloves and hospital gowns after Israel. As you know, I jumped ship in Athens so my part in your report is over. Tell us about the last bit and Istanbul...
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Dec 23rd, 2011, 04:49 AM
  #39  
 
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dogster(1)--the time has come to move at least your electronic life to the Cloud.
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Dec 23rd, 2011, 06:12 AM
  #40  
 
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Wow, dogster, what a drag! So you jumped ship in Athens? When do we get the story?

jacketwatch - so sorry to hear you got sick. It's so miserable to be ill when traveling.
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