Suez Canal, Israel and Cyprus

Tuesday, April 18, 2017
Limassol, Limassol, Cyprus
Day 101 Suez Canal. Cool am (65), warm pm (75). Partly cloudy.
We entered the canal at 5:00am . We were actually up, and looked out before going back to bed. There are no locks on this Canal and it's mostly desert on both sides, so there really isn't all that much to see. But, we all spent the morning pretty much just staring out at the desert. We did break the monotony with a few mimosas! There was big excitement when we went under "Friendship Bridge", because, well, that's as exciting as it was going to get! DB got her nails done for a mere $106. We attended a lecture on the 7 Wonders of the World in the afternoon, before coming out into the Mediterranean Sea around 4:00pm. We went to a Cocktail show by a singer/dancer/comedian/musician. He was surprisingly pretty good. No 9:30 show tonight or tomorrow night because all the tours both days start early and end late. We had a drink with Wyndham and Nancy at the piano bar, before we all went off for dinner in CR.

Day 102. Haifa, Israel. Cool am, warmer pm. 60-80, hazy but mostly sunny.
Happy Easter. We were expecting being here on Easter Sunday/Passover would be a traffic nightmare, but, actually there was very little traffic . Our tour was "Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee ", and we started at 8 and got home at 5:30. ( Not bad, tomorrow's tour is 12 hours!) We first drove to Nazareth and spent well over a hour visiting The Basilica of the Annunciation and the Church of Joseph. The Basilica is built over/around the Virgin Mary's supposed actual house where Gabriel came to her and told her of the impending birth of "Emanuel". The Church of Joseph as well had some interesting archeological remnants. We were kind of shocked that we would be allowed in these sacred places on Easter Sunday, but somehow they managed to schedule our tours of these structures around the many scheduled Masses of the day, so we in no way impinged upon any rites. From Nazareth we drove to the Sea of Galilee where our first stop was at the (ruined) village of Capernaum. Here was the remains of "house that Peter built", the first Christian Church. It was a fairly large site, including a large Temple/synagogue, built in the 1st century and all in ruins from subsequent earthquakes. From here we went to lunch at St Peter's Restaurant on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The most amazing thing about lunch was watching people waterskiing on the Sea of Galilee! I mean, one sort of thinks of the Sea of Galilee in ancient terms..not expecting water skiers, windsurfers, beach parties, etc.! Well why not? It's a recreational spot for the locals. After lunch we visited two more sites at Tabgha, both churches that Constantine's mother had built in the 4 the century . These also were not intact, but were rebuilt over, but there are remains of some of the original 4th century structures. We then, basically circled the Sea of Galilee, driving by the base of the Golan Heights (sure surprised us we were at the Golan Heights!), arriving at the place where the Jordan River enters the Sea of Galilee, the Baptismal Site ( except this wasn't were Jesus was baptized). Here, some actually donned robes and entered the water, some waded, some shopped. After this, we returned to Haifa, where we ascended Carmel mountain for a spectacular view of the bay and the Gardens of Bahai, before returning to the ship. No surprise, we guzzled a few cocktails and had room service. (Tour tomorrow leaves at 6:15am).

Day 103. Overnight in Haifa. Low 59- high 75, sunny.
Out tour today was to Jerusalem and Bethlehem. It was a 12 hour tour, starting at 6:15am. We started off on a 2+ hour drive through Tel Aviv to Jerusalem . It was a fairly important Jewish holiday so businesses were closed there was very little traffic. Our first stop was at Mt. Olives for a panoramic view of the city. For all that there was little business traffic, there were hundreds and hundreds of tourist busses everywhere. Our guide gave us headsets for listening to him throughout the day . This was great as, with the crowds, it would have been impossible to stay close enough to him to hear his dialogue. Our next stop was the Church of all Nations and the Garden of Gethsemane, which we toured. The olive trees in the garden are said to be over 1000 years old. Next we drove to the Old City and entered by the West Wall. We were not allowed to take pictures here because of the holiday. We then passed through the West wall tunnel and followed the Via Dolorosa, following up and up the first 10 stations of the Cross, arriving at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where the last 4 stations of the cross are located. Our guide kept telling us how uncrowned the Old City was, but we felt very jammed into a barely moving mass of people, particularly in the Church . We did not go into the last station, where the line, on this uncrowned day was over 2 hours long. We then continued through the Christian quarter and exited the Old City through an ancient gate. We were pretty surprised at the whole look and feel of the Old City. 50,000 people actually live here and the "streets" are really very narrow dark alleys, lined with markets with everything from butchers, to fruit and vegetable stands, to clothing shops and of course souvenir shops. From here we had a very nice lunch at a 5 star Hotel, the Olive Garden. After lunch we drove maybe 10 miles, into Palestine, to Bethlehem. Who knew, not us, that Bethlehem is in Palestine! Perhaps Palestine didn't have this Jewish holiday, because traffic was dreadful and the crowds were huge. The streets were narrow and lined with markets and the surrounding hills were covered with residential structures, all of the architectural style that we had been seeing in Jordan and Egypt. We parked and pushed our way through the crowds up hill several blocks to the Church of the Nativity . The courtyard was jammed filled with people, but our guide ( now a different one, cause Palestine insists on having their own..our guide became a tourist in our group) led us to an uncrowded entrance where we waited for a guide to unlock a gate, and we entered a chapel, then down steps to the cave where Jesus was born. We were the first group allowed in this day ( it's now 2:30pm) ! It was a small one way in, same way out confined space, and a few groups entered after us. So it was getting kind of tight. Anyway, our guide asked us if we wanted to sing a Christmas Carole, and in the cave, we all sang " Silent Night" right there where Jesus was born! As cool as that was, we were happy to get out of there, and see the rest of the Church, which is under renovation. Our final stop of the day was at a Christian Shop, for souvenirs. Unfortunately, they didn't have all that much that was appealing. Our drive home took us through the new city of Jerusalem, past the parliamentary buildings, then, 2 hours through the countryside, back to Haifa. As so many of us had been out for 10-13 hours, were welcomed back at the dock with our band playing and champagne. We went to the fantail for a martini sail-away with the Buckleys, and ate upstairs at a casual Greek buffet.

Day 104. Limassol, Cyprus. 60-75, sunny.
We decided to take it easy today, after so many long tours, so took the "panoramic" tour. Good decision, as we got a very good feel for the countryside and got to see several highlights, without too much effort. We first went to Kolossi Castle for a photo op, then on to an overlook of beautiful Koution Beach. We then went to visit the Apollo Temple ruins, which were particularly beautiful as they were overgrown, in a manicured way, with wild flowers. From there we went to an overlook of the birthplace of Aphrodite, then down to the beach by Aphrodite's rock, before returning back to the pier. We got back in time for lunch and a few libations before our 4:00pm sailing.
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