Hello my friends,
This has been a very informative cruise. We’ve seen many new places and definitely learned some new things about this part of the world.
When we were in Athens, it was raining and windy. Luckily, we visited the Acropolis on a previous trip, which was amazing! For this one-day stop, we hailed a cab and went to the Plaka, a really fun area for shopping and eating. It was pretty cold, so I popped into a store owned by a very nice lady and her daughter and bought a warm sweater!! I ended up wearing it for the next three days to help keep warm!! Our taxi driver, Constantine, shared that the country is still very depressed; he says that the unemployment rate is around 35%. Yikes. Very sad.
Next stop: Haifa, Israel. Israel was truly a learning experience. We learned about the three zones: A, governed by Israel, B, governed by Palestinians, and C, jointly managed by both the Palestinians and the Israelis. The older parts we visited, following the well-known Biblical places frequented by Jesus, were mainly under the governance of the Palestinian Authority. We spent two days in Israel and saw the Old City in Jerusalem, home of the Western (or Wailing) Wall, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, believed to be the site of Christ’s crucifixion, entombment and resurrection. We went to Bethlehem and visited the Church of the Nativity, Jesus’s birthplace. We bussed to the Sea of Galilee and the Jordon River to a spot where some historians believe John the Baptist baptized Jesus. So many places we have all heard and read about whether religious or not! It was simply amazing to actually be there and see all the historical sites and learn about the various cultures in Israel. Here are a few pictures:
We then sailed down the Suez Canal, which passes through Egypt and the Sinai (also Egypt). I was surprised to discover that it is a sea-level channel and requires no locks. Completed in 1869, the Suez Canal Company carved a waterway through the Isthmus of Suez, saving ships about 4,300 miles from having to go around the Cape of Good Hope at the southern-most point of Africa. The waterway passes through three lakes in the region. The Egypt side was largely developed with agriculture and industry, while the Sinai Peninsula side was mostly desert and dunes. There are apparently plans to develop the Sinai to take advantage of the waterway. It was truly an incredible voyage through the Canal. Here you can see the contrast between the two sides and the fascinating Suez Canal:
After we passed through the Red Sea and into the Gulf of Aden with Somalia and Yemen on either side, the ship’s captain, crew and passengers practiced a “safe haven” protocol. We were not allowed on deck after dark and private security personnel were on the look-out. Apparently, there is serious concern about the possibly of pirates attempting to board ships and the company is taking precautionary measures. Good to know they are prepared for such an event, though no cruise ship has actually been seriously threatened.
Entering the Arabian Sea, and next to Yemen, is the little country of Oman, where we stopped at Salaleh. Knowing absolutely nothing about Oman, we were pleasantly surprised by what we saw and learned. Oman is a very safe Islamic country, with absolutely beautiful beaches! They are noted for their frankincense industry; frankincense is actually an aromatic tree resin. Their income is based largely on oil and gas, and all citizens have medical and dental coverage, education through college (for girls as well!), internet access and NO TAXES! At the age of 24, each young adult is given a plot of land to build on, keep or sell. They are very fond of their Sultan who has helped unite the country and is, they believe, responsible for their pride and prosperity. Here are some pictures of this hidden gem:
We will arrive in Dubai late tomorrow and I will fill you in on what we learn about that modern city. The pictures we have seen look amazing and we are excited to experience it!
Happy adventures to you all.