I've got a lot to share today! We were out on tour all day yesterday and today, so I apologize for the delay in updating.
Yesterday morning was met with much anticipation as we docked in Haifa, Israel. Now, as most of you know, Israel is near and dear to my heart and I've made life-friends there - both of people that live there and people that I've traveled with there.
The plan, because we had friends there, was to do our own private tour and not a Holland America (HAL) one. We just wanted the freedom to do our own thing and not be at the mercy of 45 other people on the same coach. Several months ago, I contacted Louie, our beloved friend and guide in Israel. He and I talked about what folks in the group wanted to do and what the best way to execute that would be. He agreed to meet us in Haifa and do a personal tour. Unfortunately, he was not able to meet us at the last minute, and instead, sent a good friend of the Dajani family to meet us. Danny was a great guide! We got off the ship bright and early and waited for Danny to meet us. And we waited. And we waited some more. By this time all other groups had been met and I was starting to get nervous. I talked to a few of the other guides there and learned that the Port of Haifa was causing some problems for them to get onto the apron of the dock. So...I immediately started praying that whatever issues were there would be resolved. In a moment, I see a man racing to the apron in a security vehicle. He hops out, displays a paper with my name on it and all is well. Sort of. He rode back with the security vehicle and we walked down to meet him at the gate.
We'd not been to Haifa before and as he said, "there's nothing of interest here". So...away to Jerusalem we went. I must say...Anchorage drivers have a reputation of being a little lead-footed and reckless. They've got nothing on Danny! Several times, we were driving on two lanes at once, nearly running over people...all at 100KM/hr! Yikes...talk about getting people to pray! We arrived and did a whirlwind tour with a viewpoint into Bethlehem. We could not get our passports from the ship in time to enable us to actually go into Bethlehem, but we did get several viewpoints. We went to the Garden Tomb - one of my most favorite spots. We went to the Old City, saw a few of the Stations of the Cross. We ate lunch at Geo's and then went to Dajani's store. We were welcomed with open arms, fresh drinks, baklava and lots of smiles. It's so wonderful to meet friends after a year. They asked about my uncle, they asked about Doc Crowder, and asked about my family. :-) I found the bracelet I was looking for to complete my blue opal set and Liz found an original design of Louie's dad in a Jerusalem Cross. Unfortunately, Rachel - I wasn't able to find an olive wood cutting board! We walked the top of the old city walls and then went to the City of David, Gethsemane, the Western Wall, Mt. Scopus, Mt. Moriah, Mt. of Olives and the promenade that over looks the Old City. We also went to the Upper Room. We accomplished about three days of touring in 9 hours! After leaving Jerusalem, we drove through the West Bank, through the checkpoints and prayed for safety. No "fireworks" were seen, so all is well, Mom! We did see a lot of police presence due to the Festival of the Torah, but that made for easy traffic and good time back. We arrived in plenty of time to board the ship before sailing! We look forward to returning some day - Next Year in Jerusalem! One highlight for all of us was a phone call from Louie to us at the store. Frank, one of the uncles, handed me the phone and said, "It's for you!" What a pleasant surprise to talk to Louie and hear his voice. We've made yet another new friend in Danny and count ourselves blessed.
Today, we were off the ship a little after 6am (Yes, I actually rolled out of bed at 4:30, got ready, ate breakfast and was relatively awake by the time we debarked). We had a fantastic tour to Nicosia (nick-o-see-ah), the capital of Cyprus. Nicosia is the last divided capital in the world and we were able to go to the Green Line - the military zone between North and South Nicosia. North Nicosia is occupied by the Turks and has been for the past 35 years. Only in the past 5 years has there been a checkpoint that allows intermittent passage between the two been available. What an amazing island! As the third largest in the Mediterranean, it has a lively population and a plethora of antiquities. It's absolutely amazing. We saw some of the best-preserved artifacts to date, including full-size statues, earthenware, and Roman glass pieces. We also visited St. John's Cathedral - the best example of painted church that I've seen. The depiction of hell is amazing: it's a fire-breathing dragon, but in his fire is depicted all types of people from the farmer to the church leader. It's a clear indication that no one is exempt from hell without the saving grace of Jesus.
We had a fabulous lunch in Nicosia - a traditional Cypriot feast with wonderful pork sausages, aubergines, mushrooms, and yes, wine. Wine is not my thing at all, but there was lots of Diet Coke! We were late back to the ship as it was a full day tour, but as it was a HAL tour, the ship waited for us. We ran on, went to earn some more Dollars, and then got ready for our Formal Night. Lobster, steak, and all the shrimp cocktail you could eat - I was in heaven! They also did a really fantastic presentation of Baked Alaska. All the chefs did a parade, each holding a Baked Alaska with a sparkler lit coming out of it. The lights were down low, so it was really neat to watch!
We interrupt this message to tell you that a genie just walked by me. Yep...complete with a hat and little pointy shoes. Not sure what that was all about, but funny.
The ship is rolling and pitching unlike anything we've experienced to date. In fact, we were in the pool earlier and it was like a tremendous wave pool! I've not been brave enough to go out on deck and look over, but I'm sure we'll hear about it in the morning from others. Folks in their formal wear are all looking a little intoxicated - whether they are or not - just because it's difficult to walk straight.
Tomorrow is the much-anticipated stop in Alexandria (Cairo), Egypt. We will be gone until late tomorrow night, but we're looking forward to it.
Oh, and about that basket thing...It's not so bad going out of my comfort zone to meet new people. :-) Maybe more about that later, but as I have to be up in a few short hours, I'll sign off for now.
Pleasant dreams and good friendships to all.