Since we are “Platinum” members of the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) AND I now walk most of the time with a cane, we usually have priority boarding. Doesn’t really mean much because you are either waiting at the terminal to board or you are waiting somewhere on the ship (usually one of the dining rooms) until you are allowed access to your cabin.
As I mentioned earlier, this cruise is somewhat of a “maiden” cruise for the Norwegian Spirit since it is just coming out of a major renovation and dry dock to two months, but we have learned that “maiden” or “renovated” does not necessarily mean GOOD. Based on what we heard and seen from other passengers, we had it pretty good. We heard stories of people walking around for days, bouncing from room to room while their assigned room was getting “fixed” for whatever reason. Some had no working toilets or a leaky sink (leaking into the storage drawer below), no hot water, no cold water, no electricity, etc. One passenger complained about his TV hanging on the wall with all the wires disconnected which were also hanging. The Cabin Steward told the passenger that he would call someone “right away” to get the TV fixed. He purportedly picked up the phone to call Maintenance and the phone and all its wires fell apart in his hand.
We had two minor problems with no remote for the TV and the safe that was already locked so we couldn’t open it, but these were fixed almost immediately. The second day our cabin began “sucking” ALL the cool, air conditioned air from the gangway into our room. By day three our room was colder than the refrigerator. Took five calls to the Cabin Steward, Maintenance and Guest Services to get a team to fix the problem. We’ve been in good shape ever since and it looks like just about everybody else is getting fixed ….. slowly.
After leaving the port of Civitavecchia our first stop on the Norwegian Spirit cruise ship was for three days in the port of Haifa, Israel. Our first tour took us on a two hour bus ride from Haifa to Jerusalem. The whole tour included stops on the Mount of Olives, the Old City, Via Dolorosa, Holy Sepulchre, Wailing Wall, Mahne Yehuda Market, a culinary tour with samples and a traditional buffet lunch at the Panoramic Garden City.
This was a fascinating city with religious “trappings” to cover just about every faith and every belief. A few other things, outside of religious, really caught my eye. For one was how expensive things seem to be here; wasn’t expecting that. The second was how green most of the lands appeared. We were told that this year was the one with the most rainfall so all are happy. When the Jews first arrived in the 40’s and 50’s, they pretty much had nothing but sand to work with. They pumped water from the Sea of Galilee, over the mountains to the towns below to create the very productive farms they now have. Also saw a “monument” to a war hero that I missed taking a photo of. Should have taken the photo since there are now plans to tear down the monument after they found out the guy had definitely killed two of his three wives, maybe all three.
We did a walking tour of parts of Jerusalem, including a nice stop in the Old City. Saw a lot of shops that reminded me of the shops in Taiwan, Japan, Korea and others. I really like these open shops. The lunch was fairly good, but I didn’t know what half the “food” was. I always count on my food taster, Julieann, to protect me from all seafood and she did a good job. My main course was a beef kabob that was very good.
Our final stop was the Wailing Wall, which BTW has changed its name to the Western Wall. Evidently, when the Jews did not have control of the city it was the Wailing Wall, but when they took control the powers-that-be decided that the Jews shouldn’t be wailing anymore. They still say their prayers and/or stick pieces of paper in the crevasses which are all cleaned out a few times a month.
Jerusalem is a city in the Middle East, located on a plateau in the Judaean Mountains between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea. It is one of the oldest cities in the world, and is considered holy to the three major Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority claim Jerusalem as their capital, as Israel maintains its primary governmental institutions there and the State of Palestine ultimately foresees it as its seat of power; however, neither claim is widely recognized internationally. Like our visit to Egypt a few years ago, we’ve been told that if anyone starts digging anywhere in or near the city they will strike “history”. Most buildings, churches, Mosques, etc. are built on one, two or three “layers” of other buildings from history. So instead of tearing down a building they didn’t like and build a new one, they would just fill the old one up with sand and continue building on top of it.
Another interesting note, “The Jesus Trail”. The owner of the Cana Guest House suggested to the town council that since they “supposedly” knew the streets Jesus walked during his time that they make a walking trail for the many hikers coming to town. The total walk would be around four days and cover around 50 miles. The council didn’t think it was such a great idea so the landlord made his own trail with directional and information signs posted in key locations and the whole walk became a big hit with tourists. The council then decided that yes, this is a good marketing idea, but the landlord had already laid claim to the route, names, etc. The council then had their own trail built along a different route and called it “The Gospel Trail”. This went bankrupt in less than two years.
And here is your “official” history lesson:
During its long history, Jerusalem has been destroyed at least twice, besieged 23 times, captured and recaptured 44 times, and attacked 52 times. The part of Jerusalem called the City of David shows first signs of settlement in the 4th millennium BCE, in the shape of encampments of nomadic shepherds. Jerusalem was named as Urusalim on ancient Egyptian tablets, probably meaning "City of Shalem" after a Canaanite deity, during the Canaanite period (14th century BCE). During the Israelite period, significant construction activity in Jerusalem began in the 9th century BCE (Iron Age II), and in the 8th century the city developed into the religious and administrative center of the Kingdom of Judah. In 1538, the city walls were rebuilt for a last time around Jerusalem under Suleiman the Magnificent. Today those walls define the Old City, which has been traditionally divided into four quarters—known since the early 19th century as the Armenian, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Quarters. The Old City became a World Heritage Site in 1981, and is on the List of World Heritage in Danger. Since 1860 Jerusalem has grown far beyond the Old City's boundaries. In 2015, Jerusalem had a population of some 850,000 residents, comprising approximately 200,000 secular Jewish Israelis, 350,000 Haredi Jews and 300,000 Palestinians. In 2016, the population was 882,700, of which Jews comprised 536,600 (60.8%), Muslims 319,800 (36.2%), Christians 15,800 (1.8%), and 10,300 unclassified (1.2%).
According to the Bible, King David conquered the city from the Jebusites and established it as the capital of the united kingdom of Israel, and his son, King Solomon, commissioned the building of the First Temple. Modern scholars argue that Jews branched out of the Canaanite peoples and culture through the development of a distinct monolatrous — and later monotheistic — religion centered on El Yahweh, one of the Ancient Canaanite deities. These foundational events, straddling the dawn of the 1st millennium BCE, assumed central symbolic importance for the Jewish people. The holiness of Jerusalem in Christianity, conserved in the Septuagint which Christians adopted as their own authority, was reinforced by the New Testament account of Jesus's crucifixion there. In Sunni Islam, Jerusalem is the third-holiest city, after Mecca and Medina. In Islamic tradition, in 610 CE it became the first qibla, the focal point for Muslim prayer (salat), and Muhammad made his Night Journey there ten years later, ascending to heaven where he speaks to God, according to the Quran. As a result, despite having an area of only 0.35square miles the Old City is home to many sites of seminal religious importance, among them the Temple Mount with its Western Wall, Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Outside the Old City stands the Garden Tomb.
Today, the status of Jerusalem remains one of the core issues in the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. During the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, West Jerusalem was among the areas captured and later annexed by Israel while East Jerusalem, including the Old City, was captured and later annexed by Jordan. Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan during the 1967 Six-Day War and subsequently annexed it into Jerusalem, together with additional surrounding territory. One of Israel's Basic Laws, the 1980 Jerusalem Law, refers to Jerusalem as the country's undivided capital. All branches of the Israeli government are located in Jerusalem, including the Knesset (Israel's parliament), the residences of the Prime Minister and President, and the Supreme Court. While the international community rejected the annexation as illegal and treats East Jerusalem as Palestinian territory occupied by Israel, Israel has a stronger claim to sovereignty over West Jerusalem.
The next day our tour took us on another two hour drive to Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee. We toured the Greek and Catholic Churches of Annunciation, the Old Market, the Capernaum, Tabgha, Yadenit, and Magdala. We also had another sit-down lunch of a local style. This tour included a Baptism in the Jordan River for any brave souls in our group and we had two takers. For $25 they got a robe and received a certificate, a towel and a hot shower after the baptism. They warn you (as they definitely should) that you MUST wear a bathing suit under the robe. When that sucker gets wet NOTHING is left to the imagination.
Our final tour on the third day was in the town of Haifa we were docked in to visit German Town and the Baha’i Gardens. The German Village, built by those “go by the book in all things” Germans years ago, built houses with a pitch on the roofs and topped them with red tiles. When asked why all the roofs were shaped like triangles the standard, German answer was “So the snow falls off easily”. Uh, guys, it doesn’t snow in Israel. The houses definitely stand out from the flat roofs surrounding them. We also passed by a few Beer Gardens, but they were all closed during the day.
I’ve seen some pretty nice gardens in our travels, but nothing as beautiful as the Baha’i Gardens were. They have around 100 gardeners working full time to tend to the gardens and they do an outstanding job. You can see what I mean when you look at our photos. Interesting note: money needed for the upkeep of the gardens is collected in the usual way, from the folks who are part of the religion. Big difference is that ONLY those of the Baha’i religion are allowed to contribute. Another interesting note:
“normal” tourists are not allowed IN the gardens. They must be satisfied with viewing the beauty of the gardens from afar or along the outside fences. Only church “higher ups” and those accompanied by tour guides who have been specifically been tested and licensed to escort groups INTO the gardens can pass through the locked and guarded gates to the gardens. Rules are very strict and guards watch our every move once we entered the gates. It was well worth the “bother” just to hear all the guide had to say and to get as close as possible to the flowers, bushes, shrubs, etc. The walk was a bit difficult and no one with a wheel chair could make the trip. There are purportedly 700 steps, but our guide said we only did 650. I’m pretty sure that I, personally, climbed at least 1100 steps. At least, that’s what my body is telling me.
We depart beautiful Haifa tonight and reach the Suez Canal at around 3 AM. It will take most of the day to cross the canal so we don’t plan to be awake when we arrive and we’ll just catch the views after the sun comes up. More later…..