Mike and Renée
Cruise the Med to the Holy Land
November 4-17, 2007

And then -- The Holy Land. Sacred to three of the world's great religions, a symbol to the world of both peace and dissension, pilglrimage site for millions. What a thrill it was to finally be here!

We were met at disembarkation by our wonderful guide, Eva Yaron, arranged for us by Avitours. She was very flexible and aware of our needs and worked out a great plan. We drove through the Negev, the Southern desert, and into the Judean mountains, passing by Gath and Beersheva. The huge dry desert produces amazing scenery.

Our first stop was the clifftop fortress of Masada, last holdout of the Zealots against the Roman conquest. We ascended from 350 feet below sea level to the top at sea level by cable car. From the top of the ship shaped cliff of Masada the Dead Sea and the valley spread out before you, across to the hills of Jordan on the other side. It is an amazing view

It is a very interesting place, and it is amazing to look down from the walls to the spot in which the beseiging Romans camped from 70 to 73 AD before taking the fortress. Eva told us the whole story of the defenders who refused to be conquered, which is an inspiration to the new Israeli nation.

A short drive up the road brought us to the spring of En Gedi, where King Saul camped while chasing the guerilla leader David. This oasis is surrounded by tall barren cliffs and it is easy to visualize the young man David climbing the cliffs and calling down to Saul's camp as the Bible records.

En Gedi means Spring of the Ibex, and a herd of these marvelous antelope was grazing on the hillsides, just as if they were waiting for us. Our guide said we were very lucky to see them.

Eva then drove us to the Hod Hamidar Hotel on the banks of the Dead Sea, and after a very good buffet lunch we had spa privileges, a very special benefit of this tour. We changed, and received instructions on how to bathe in the Dead Sea. Then it was down to the beach for this unusual experience. It is very true that you cannot sink in the Dead Sea. It is easy to float on your back with your toes out of the water. But what is not said is that your legs float too, so it is very difficult to put your legs down in the water and stand up! There seems to be a special technique involved!

After a few minutes bathing in the Dead Sea itself, we went into the spa and found it much easier to experience the mineral water when it was contained in a nice heated pool. This is extremely relaxing and makes the skin refreshingly tingly!

So after an exciting day touring, we returned to the ship to have the open seating dinner and fall into bed to be ready next morning.

The next morning we were met by our guide Avinoam,again arranged for us by Avitours. Once again we had a wonderful guide. We set off on the drive to Jerusalem.

Our first stop was the famous viewpoint at Mt. Scopus. Scopus is Latin for "see" or "look," so we named this Lookout Mountain! Here the whole panorama of the old city is laid out before you, from the Mount of Olives to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It is an absolutely stunning sight to see so many places we have know since childhood actually displayed in front of us.

We drove on into the city of Jerusalem, and our first stop was at the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives. This Garden is full of ancient, gnarled and twisted olive trees and is a very beautiful spot. Sadly it is so full of tour groups that there is no possibility of contemplative thought here.

We continued our tour on Mount Zion with a visit to the Church of the Assumption, dedicated to Mary, and to the Upper Room which is the traditional site of the Last Supper.

Then it was on to Mount Moriah, or the Temple Mount, for the incomparable experience of a visit to Jerusalem. We entered the temple complex, and saw the Western Wall before us, the remaining structure of the Second Temple. As we were on a Sabbath Day, photography was not permitted in the prayer area itself, and although many tourists were violating this rule I felt that as a matter of respect it must be followed.

We went on into the prayer area, separate areas for men and women, and with head coverings required. It was not very heavily populated and I spent some time at the wall in my own private way. Of course I left a prayer in the niches of the wall. I will tell you what I prayed for: "Salem - Shalom - Salaam Aleikum - Peace on Earth."

I think it is an experience that only those who have been there can understand. Truly, the Great Architect of the Universe has touched these stones.

Then it was time to walk the Via Dolorosa, traditional route followed by Christ on his way to the crucifixion. Today it ls a rough narrow way, in places lined with tourist shops of every sort and description. Along the way various plaques mark the Stations of the Cross, and at the end of it is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

We returned to the ship for dinner and bedtime, knowing we had to be up early again next morning. We arrived in Egypt, and on leaving the ship found our wonderful guide Faris and driver Tamir waiting for us with a large comfortable minibus. Our travel agent had booked this tour through EGYPTIAN EXPRESS and it was a wonderful itinerary from beginning to end. Faris is a graduate Egyptologist and full of information on all subjects Egyptian. During the three hour trip to Cairo he filled us in on modern Egypt, pointing out everything from ships on the Suez Canal to pigeon hutches on top of houses.

Fittingly our tour began at the Step Pyramid of Sakkara, the oldest pyramid in Egypt, designed by Imhotep for King Zoser. Our Egyptian group consisted of Bambi, Renée , Mike, Connie,Nancy and Susan. It was a lot of fun to be together for this exciting experience!

Here Faris took us off the beaten tourist path to tour the nearby mastaba (low flat rectangular grave) of the nobleman Mere Ruka. It contains many wonderful wall carvings, some of which still show the original paint. They depict many every day activities, from farming to metalworking.

Then, continuing in historical order, we went to Dashur to visit the Red Pyramid and the famous "bent" pyramid. It is something of a mystery exactly why the builders changed the angle of the sides of this pyramid to produce its unusual shape. It still retains most of its original polished limestone covering which is lost on most other pyramids. This pyramid field has fairly recently opened to the public and still is little visited. We had the place entirely to ourselves, except for the tourist policeman mounted on his camel, willing to pose for a little baksheesh.

Next were the most famous ones, the Great Pyramids at Giza. In response to my question about the Orion Hypothesis, Faris our Egyptologist explained how the layout of the pyramids exactly matches the alignment of the stars in Orion's belt.

Of course, this was our opportunity to ride camels. All the ladies bravely mounted and rode off into the desert! Well, not very far, but it was still an exciting opportunity. Nearby the pyramids we had a look at the sphinx.

Egyptian Express specializes in first class tours. We next went to an elegant country club, within view of the pyramids, for a wonderful lunch. Looking out the windows at the palm trees and the pyramids as we ate was delightful!

Then, also following the Egyptian Express recommendation of "sightseeing before shopping," we went to the Karnak Bazaar shop for wonderful jewelry, objects of art, and papyrus paintings. Several of our party ordered gold cartouches, and I bought a magnificent papyrus of the Court of the Dead. Faris told us this was the place to buy quality things for ourselves and our families, and tomorrow's shopping stop will be for cheap souvenirs!

It was then on to the Nile Hilton where we had very nice rooms, and a candellight dinner far above the city, with wonderful desserts.

We were awakened early the next morning by the muzzein's call to prayer from the nearby mosque, just in time for a great buffet breakfast and then a walk across the road to the banks of the Nile for a sail in one of the famous Nile feluccas. In the morning breeze this was a delightful beginning to another exciting day in Egypt.

The Nile Hilton turned out to be the perfect place to stay, because a walk through its courtyards put us right in front of the Egyptian Museum, just at opening time before TOO many buses arrived. Faris proved his expertise as a guide by leading us right up the stairs and directly to the Mummy Room! We were positively the first ones there, and we shared the room only with Rameses II, the female pharoah Hatshepsut, and the other Royal Egyptians. It was thrilling to be there in silence with those noble mummies.

I only have a picture of the outside of the museum because photography is prohibited inside. We saw one woman try to sneak a picture, and the guard immediately confiscated her camera. Faris told us they would take the entire memory card away from her. Quite a punishment which will hopefully teach her about respect.

After plenty of time in the museum, it was off to the famous Khan El Khalili Bazaar. Our first stop was the elegant Naguib Mahfouz restaurant, wholly in keeping with Egyptian Express' first class reputation. In these elegant surroundings we had a kebab lunch.

Then, under Faris' watchful eye, we ventured out into the Bazaar itself. This amazing place sells everything any tourist or citizen could want, from the cheapest junk to high end merchandise. As Faris had promised it was the place for all sorts of souvenirs for kids and friends back home.

Faris did not really approve of me trying to bargain on my own. I spent about 20 minutes on some packs of papyrus bookmarks, finally getting the guy down to $13 for 12 packs. Shortly after, at a shop around the corner, another of our party saw some, and Faris picked them up and said, "These are $1 apiece!" So much for great bargaining-- but it was fun!

All too soon it was time to make our way back to Alexandria and the ship. Faris filled the three hour journey by discussing with us the Five Pillars of Islam, which was a very interesting opportunity. He also quoted the verses of the Koran which tell good Muslims that they should NOT try to hurt or kill unbelievers. He was a wonderful guide, and our driver Tamir was a miracle worker. We had a marvelous time in Egypt!


With the sea days, Split Croatia, and post cruise in Venice

We like to discuss our travels. Email us at thehalls@bully4.us


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