Holy Land Cruise on the Celebrity Constellation
10/21/16 to 11/2/16

Due to the length of the review, it is in 5 parts to help with the download time. The links to the other pages are at the top of each page. 

Page 1 - Pre-Cruise in Athens, Greece and Ship
Page 2 - Ship continued; Ports of Call:   Kusadasi, Turkey;  Rhodes, Greece
Page 3 - Ports of Call:  Limasol, Cyprus; Haifa, Israel
Page 4 - Ports of Call:  Ashdod, Israel - Day 1l
Page 5 - Ports of Call:  Ashdod, Israel - Day 2;  Valletta, Malta; Disembarkation in Civitavecchia, Italy  

Ports of Call

Limasol, Cyprus
After arriving in the beautiful Rhodes port area the previous day, Limasol was not much to look at, plus it was hazy.  Cyprus was added to our itinerary when we lost the overnight stay in Istanbul.  From what I was told, this was the first time that Celebrity had been to Cyprus. 

   

We always look forward to visiting a port that we have not previously been to.  We had booked a private tour, since we wanted to see as much as possible.  With the ship arriving at 10:00 AM, we didn’t have as much time to tour as the normal full day tours do.  The company we used Ascot Travel (http://ascotcyprus.com) assured us that since just the four of us were going, we would have adequate time to see the main tourist attractions; but not everything they include in their normal full day tours.  Our guide for the day was Harry. 

He had just been working for the company for a month.  To be a licensed guide in Cyprus, they have to study hard and pass tests to prove they are knowledgeable.  He did seem to know his stuff and he tried very hard to show us as much as he could.  The Mercedes van was most comfortable for the four of us.  Paul and Gail had been to Cyprus before; but had not previously gone to all the places we would be going to.

The island had a very well maintained road system, which we appreciated.  Like in England, they drive on the left side of the roads in Cyprus also.  I was surprised to see so many pine trees.  Harry pointed out our first destination in the distance on top of a mountain, Kourion.  A town has been in that location for 7,000 years.  Most of the structures we would see came from around the 1st century AD.  This was a very ancient town.

When we got to the site, the excavated sections of the city were covered with a roof for protection.  Inside there were walkways that allowed visitors to see the buildings from all angles.  It was well done.

   

   

   

   

They had some very nice mosaic floors.  I am always amazed how this type of art survives over the ages; but am so glad that it does.

   

Further down the hill to the ocean is Greco-Roman theater.  Harry said that they still use it today for various events.  It is a beautiful setting overlooking the ocean.

   

After looking at theater, I took a photo of Harry with Gail and Carol.

Driving along the coast to our next stop, we were intrigued by striated stone mountains.  Harry pointed out that there were many caves there also.

   

We continued along admiring the different terrain, with views of the ocean.

Harry pulled over to a scenic stop, so we could take photos.  It was overlooking a beach area that we would soon be stopping at.  It was quite gorgeous.

   

I took a photo of Carol and Harry took photos of the group.

   

When we drove down to the Petra tou Romiou beach area, we had to climb down some steps and go through a very narrow tunnel to get to it.  The beach area was quite pretty with some unusual rock formations; but there was very little sand.  It was mostly smooth rocks.  It was still quite a popular bathing area.

   

   

Our next destination was the ancient town of Pafos.  In town, we passed by a very attractive modern church.

We then stopped at the Solominis Catacombs.  Since there were a lot of people waiting to go into the catacombs, we just took photos from above.

   

Our next stop was at St Paul’s Pillar.  It is supposed to be where St. Paul received forty lashes for evangelizing on the island.  The grounds themselves were interesting with pretty mosaic floors in some areas.

   

When Harry pointed to where the pillar was, I thought he was pointing to the tall single standing pillar that I took a lot of photos of.   Unfortunately, the real pillar was a much smaller pillar that was on the other side of the raised walking path.  I did get a photo of it in the background of another photo, so, the one below doesn't show the whole thing.

 

A wedding was taking place in the newer church that adjoins the historic ruins.

   

We then headed to the ruins of old Kato Pafos.  With the ruins being close to the ocean, a popular tourist area is right next to it.  This gave us the opportunity to stop for lunch.  With it being 1:30 PM, we were very ready and headed down through all the restaurants to pick one out.

   

Since Paul and Gail had already been to Pafos and Carol didn’t want to go into the ruin with her TravelScoot, I headed that way as soon as I finished lunch.  There is a modern entrance where tickets can be purchased.

Upon entering the historic area and climbing up to the main level, there are signs directing you to the various buildings. 

   

Most of the structures were out in the open with elevated platforms around then for viewing.

The House of Aion was enclosed.  Once inside it was obvious that they were protecting the gorgeous mosaic floors.

   

   

I then moved on to the other buildings to check them out.  There were a lot of people enjoying this stop.  It was much nicer than I was expecting.  They have done a very nice job making it possible to see the buildings and mosaics without exposing them to damage from the visitors.

   

   

   

   

The UNESCO World Heritage Site itself is quite large and would require more time than I had allotted to see everything; but I did see the major structures. 

I also wanted to see the Pafos Castle that was at the end of the path where the restaurants were at.  It is actually an old fort that they call a castle.  I had to hurry, since I didn’t have a lot of time before we were supposed to meet back up with Harry to head back to the ship.  On one side of the castle was a small statue of a young girl perched on a rock.

   

There was a small fee to go into the castle; but since I was able to see the ground floor without purchasing a ticket; it was good enough for me.  Plus, I just didn’t have the energy to climb anymore stairs to see the old building.

   

On the way back to the ship, we went a different way.  The terrain was quite different and there weren’t any trees or much of any other vegetation other than small bushes.  We got to pass through the new tunnel that cut through the mountains.  It did make for a faster return trip to Limassol.

   

   

When I got back on the ship, I noticed that there was a small church in the port area.  It must have some historical significance for it to be there in the middle of so much port activity.

It had been a most enjoyable and interesting day, even though we didn’t have much time to see some of the other popular attractions on Cyprus.  I hope that Celebrity makes Cyprus one of their regular stops for Mediterranean itineraries, since there is much to see and do there. 

Haifa, Israel
Our main reason for booking this cruise was to see the Holy Land in Israel.  Due to violence that occasionally strikes Israel, cruises that stop there are sometimes cancelled, as they had been the prior year.  I had been watching the news closely for months worrying that something would break out in the area or increases in terrorist activity.  We had already lost the chance to see Istanbul; and missing Israel would have been so upsetting.  But the area had remained peaceful and we were getting ready to dock in Haifa.  I was so excited, I couldn’t stand it.  I had dreamed of visiting some of the places we would visit over our three days in Israel for all my life.  When we arrived in port it was still pretty dark and it was hazy; but I could see that Haifa appeared to be a modern and lovely town.  I was interested in the gold domed building midway up the mountain; but had no idea what it was.

   

I had set up tours for all three days with a company called Guided Tours Israel www.guidedtoursisrael.com.  They are a very popular and highly rated company.   I had put a group of nine of us together so that we would be able to have the large mini-bus that holds 19 passengers with a guide and driver.  We only needed to have eight people in the group to have the larger vehicle; but since they didn’t recommend that Carol go on the tour due to the amount of walking and steps that would be required.  It was the right recommendation, since there was no way she could have done the tours.  She instead went on a couple of panoramic tours offered through the ship.

Our tour guide for all three days was Ronni.  She was an awesome guide and just a wonderful person!  Everyone loved her.  She didn’t overload us with too much history; but what she did provide was very interesting and most helpful for us to understand what we would be seeing during our stops.  She was raised in Canada, which made it very easy for us to understand everything she said.  We really lucked out having Ronni as our guide,

Ronni met us outside the ship.  When she walked us over to the large mini-bus, everyone was thrilled with how much room we had. 

Our first destination was to see the Bahia Gardens. Roni pointed it out as we passed by it before heading up the mountain to our destination.  When I saw it, I realized that the gold domed building I had been admiring when we arrived in port was the main building in the Bahia Gardens. 

   

We didn’t have time to go into the gardens themselves, in part because they didn’t open until later in the day; but mainly because we had a very full day already planned.  We stopped at a viewing area near the top of the mountain.  The tiered gardens looked spectacular.  The main reason we came to this viewing spot was to get the panoramic view overlooking Haifa.  But the gardens overpowered the panorama.  It was quite a beautiful place and would be worth a visit back if we ever return to Haifa.

   

Our next stop was in Nazareth.  As we were driving through town Ronni pointed out Mary’s Well.  This well is reputed by the Greek Orthodox to be the site where the angel Gabriel appeared before Mary to announce to her that she would bear the Son of God.  They say that the actual site is along a spring that runs under the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation, which is 150 yards away.  The well is fed by that spring.

The main destination in Nazareth is the Basilica of the Annunciation. This was built above the Grotto of the Annunciation, which is believed by many, including the Roman Catholic Church, to be the original childhood home of Mary where the Annunciation took place.  I got a kick out of the type shoes that were being sold close by the basilica.

The basilica is a modern building having been built in 1969.  It also quite a beautiful building.  Upon entering the building, we were in a large courtyard with artwork that had been sent from countries all over the world.  It was quite a sight.

   

   

After entering the building itself, it was disorienting walking on the floors; since the pattern made me feel like I was supposed to be stepping down rather than just walking on the flat floor.  It sure didn’t look flat.

   

Our first destination was in the basement, to see the grotto where the Annunciation was supposed to have taken place.  It is quite a stunning place with a large opening in the ceiling and the small grotto below.

   

   

There was a line of people waiting to see the grotto, which our group soon joined.  When we got to the grotto, it was a bit challenging to take photos, since my camera lens was wider than the openings in the protective gate.  But I found a way to get some.

We then moved upstairs to the main floor of the new church.  It was quite a striking place with gorgeous artwork on the walls and the opening in the middle of the room, that we had just looked up through earlier from the basement.

   

We then moved outside to a different part of the courtyard.  In this section Ronni pointed out the ruins from ancient Nazareth.   The excavations were under the basilica itself. 

Also in the courtyard is a beautiful statue of Mary.  It took a while to get a photo without throngs of people taking selfies with it. 

As we were getting ready to leave, I noticed the decorated doors that I hadn’t seen when we first arrived.

When I first read about this church, I was disappointed that it was a new building.  After seeing it for myself, I was most impressed with how beautiful it was and how they had presented this most important religious site. 

As we were getting back on the mini-bus, I still couldn’t believe that I had actually just visited Nazareth; a place’s name I had heard for all my life, and now I have actually experienced it.  I would be feeling this way for the next three days at every place we visited.  I still can’t believe, now that I am home, that I have actually visited some the holiest sites in the world to all religions.

Ronni thought that we needed a break while on our way to the next destination, so we headed for an area with restrooms and to a small bakery.  She bought a bunch of pieces of baklava for everyone.  They were of a size that was easy to just hold and quickly devour.  It was a slightly different tasting baklava than I was used to.  The sweetness wasn’t overpowering. 

We then began the drive to Galilee, where we would spend most of the day. The drive to our first stop would take an hour.  With Ronni telling us about what we would see and pointing out places we were passing, the time passed quickly.  As we got closer, we were able to see the Sea of Galilee in the distance. 

A friend of mine had recommended that I read a book about the Holy Land, Jesus, a Pilgrimage, by a priest named James Martin, who spent 3 weeks touring Israel and visiting many of the places we would be visiting.  I took his advice and was so glad that I did.  I was familiar with many of the bible stories; but the author described the places in detail explaining what actually happened in each of them from a historical and religious point of view.  I highly recommend the book if you are thinking of visiting Israel.  It was a great preview to what we would see and brought the sites to life when we were there.

Our first stop in Galilee was at the Yardenit Baptismal Site on the Jordan River.  This is a very popular place for people to be baptized, since the Jordan River was the original site for baptisms.  The signs at the site say that it is close to where Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River.  Although this is not the actual site, it is a beautiful place and well worth visiting.  After all it is the Jordan River.  There were several places along the river with steps going down to the water.  I had to walk down and dip my hand into this famous and most religious waterway.

   

   

   

We next took a short break at a small shopping center for a quick lunch.  Paul had told me to try a chicken shwarma sandwich if I had a chance.  The snack bar in the shopping center had a turkey shwarma sandwich, so I tried it.  It was a lot like a gyro; but a different taste.  Like gyros, I am sure they are different wherever you get one.  It was quite good. 

Since I still had a few minutes before we were supposed to return to the mini-bus, I walked into the grocery store.  I always enjoy seeing the different types of foods that are available around the world.   I was immediately attracted to the large spice bar.  I was not expecting anything like that in a supermarket. 

   

The next place that we were going to in Galilee was Capernum.  This is the town that Jesus actually lived in during his preaching years.  The city is very proud of this fact.

   

The main attraction there is the ruins of St. Peter’s House, where Jesus was supposed to have lived.  A large church is built above the ruins.

   

   

From inside the church, visitors can look down into the house through the glass floors in the center of the building. 

   

Next to St. Peter’s House is the ruins of a synagogue and other structures from old Capernum.  The 4th Century synagogue was built upon the ruins of the synagogue of Jesus. 

   

We were most fortunate to be visiting Israel in the fall, since the weather was very pleasant and in the upper 70’s.  But it did get hot walking around in the direct sun.  I would not want to tour Israel in the summer.  Ronni told us that she goes back to Canada in the summer due to the heat.  Ronni is a smart woman.  At one end of the large open paved area was a nice statue of St. Peter.  There was also a beautiful mosaic on the ground.

   

   

On the other side of the statue was an unpaved area that looked out to the Sea of Galilee.  It was quite peaceful and nobody was there.  When I walked closer to the water, I could see a boat.  It reminded me that this is the place where the Apostles fished and Jesus walked on water.

   

Our next stop was at the town of Tabgha.  This is a town where many biblical events took place.  Below is from a sign at the Church of Heptapegon, that lists many biblical events that took place there.  Outside the church Ronni showed us the old mill that was used to make olive oil.

   

   

This particular church was built over the stone that is purported to be where Jesus laid the bread and fish that would feed 5,000 people.  This church also had some nice mosaic floors.

   

But the highlight was the rock that was under the altar.  A very famous mosaic of the loaves and fishes is in front of it.  That image was available on every type of souvenir you could think of.  It was a special place.

   

While walking back to the mini-bus, I passed by a stand that was selling fresh squeezed pomegranate juice.  I had never had any before; but since Ronni had mentioned that we were in pomegranate season, I decided that this was the time to finally try some.  It was delicious and well worth the 8 Shekels it cost, or about $2.

It is so strange to see street signs that are directing you to famous biblical places.  We were headed to the Mt. of Beatitudes, where Jesus gave the sermon on the mount.  Signs like this would thrill me throughout our visit in Israel.

When we got to the top of the mountain and got out of the mini-bus, we passed through a lovely garden.  Along the path were markers with each of the twelve beatitudes on them.  There was also a large sign stating what was not to be done at this holy place.  There were only six of them.

   

I took some photos of the church exterior and then went inside, where there were some lovely decorations and more beautiful floors.

   

   

   

   

My favorite part of this stop was walking around the garden area and looking down the mountain to the Sea of Galilee below.  I could imagine thousands of followers down below listening to Jesus words. 

   

   

Before heading back to the ship, we took the opportunity to get a photo of our group.  Seven of us would be together for all three days and a different couple would replace one of the couples on the last day.  We had a very friendly group, which made the tours a real pleasure.

Ronni told us that with the ship being in port until 9:30 PM, we would be able to get photos of the illuminated Bahia Gardens.  It was difficult to get a photo showing the full gardens; but the below shows how large of an area that it covers. 

   

It had been an amazing day and we still had two more to go. 

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