I am sorry it's taken me so long to write to you. I have not been feeling well. Got a sudden case of chills and diarrhea on our first day in Israel. The diarrhea was cured quickly with Immodium but the chills, temperature, soreness and general lethargy has stayed with me. It was so bad that neither Russell nor I went on the shore excursion to Jerusalem when we were docked in Ashdod (yesterday). We did go on the excursion in Haifa but I was feeling so miserable I am afraid I didn't get much out of it. Tomorrow we have an excursion I in Greece (Piraeus) to visit the Corinth Canal but I am thinking I won't make that one either. Russell will go though so I should have some pictures for you. Today we are "at sea" sailing from Israel to Greece.
Now that I've gotten you all caught up with the news, I can tell you that the Suez Canal is not the Panama Canal. Although I am sure this comes as no surprise to you, on some level it did to me. The differences? Well for one thing the Suez Canal has no locks. It's all the same level. For another thing the Suez Canal is basically a ditch in the sand whereas the Panama Canal was this heroic battle against nature (or so we are told). Other differences include the fact that the Suez Canal is for much of its length just one way. We were in a convoy of several dozen ships escorted by a naval ship (U.S.? Egyptian? Not sure). There is a lot more security on the Suez Canal with fences and guard towers (in use) along much of its distance. And, lastly the Suez is longer than I had imagined that it would be. It took us ten plus hours to transit.
Russell got up early to roam the ship and take in the sights as we entered the canal. Me? I am just not up for dealing with people or "exploring" first thing in the morning. The weather was certainly odd -- again it was hazy and hot and I never did get a good answer as to whether
it was sand, fog or what. Later when we hit the Mediterranean, the temperature dropped rapidly (from 90s to 60s) and the seas got rougher.
Our stops in Haifa and Ashdod were at very industrial ports with nothing scenic in sight. After making it through immigration (they had to see each person individually) and the labyrinthian security we set off for the Carmellite Monastery. We were only allowed to view a small portion of the facility. Namely, the seemingly old (I never heard a date of construction) and relatively petite church dedicated to Elijah (not sure whether it contained his tomb; there was a crypt but I didn't get close enough to read the inscription). Next stop was the "Hanging Gardens" of the B'Hai faith. First let me just say that "hanging gardens" is a little shore excursions flight of fancy. These gardens are terraced into a steep hillside. They are decidedly not the Hanging Gardens of Babylonia (were those just terraced too?). Based on R's pics though (I stayed on the bus) they seem quite lovely and well maintained by the faithful. Apparently there is some connection between the B'Hai (no I had never heard of this group before this cruise) and this specific part of Israel.
We then drove to the walled, port city of Acre which has been continuously occupied for over four thousand years. Since the town has been there for so long there are many layers of structures, all built one atop the other. They have done extensive archaeological work within the last decade or so and the work is still ongoing. The town has done a professional job of making the most of what they have though I certainly could have done without our trip down an escape tunnel which necessitated bending nearly in half in order not to hit your head on the uneven ceiling.
After visiting the seaside, we had some time to explore the alleyways. It was Saturday so while Haifa was closed up tight, Acre -- where the merchants are mostly Muslim -- was still open for business. This brings up an interesting point. It was important to our guide that we leave her tour knowing that a.) Israel has freedom of religion and b.) Muslims can and do live happily in Israel. It was also important to her for us to know that you can't always believe what the press says and that it's important to learn stuff for yourself and that the best way to do that is travel. Seems to me that she was doing a little preaching to the choir -- I mean we are here in Israel visiting so obviously we think travel is important.
At any rate, by now I was totally worn out and I just wanted to get back to the bus. We managed to find our way back to the bus parking lot which greatly impressed our guide but more importantly for us it meant that we avoided the "shopping opportunity" (at a copper and jewelry "artisan" shop).
Back on the boat, we quickly came to the conclusion that going to Jerusalem on what was scheduled to be a twelve-hour tour (departing at seven a.m.) wasn't going to happen. I guess we will just have to come back another time. As someone on the ship said to Russell there is no way you can see Jerusalem in what is really -- once you factor in the drive to and from, the bathroom stops, the "shopping opportunity" -- more like a five hour time frame. So I felt better when Russell told me about her comment and frankly I hadn't done enough research to get the most out of a visit at this particular time. I need to read up and then we will come back when we have more time.
I am sorry that my last two entries haven't exactly been uplifting. I guess it's getting to be about that time when my thoughts turn to "What's next?" and life after the cruise. R and I have discovered that three months seems to be about our ideal length of time to be away from home. But bear with me. We still have some good stuff coming up -- including Rome, Barcelona, Nice and Madeira before I even have to think about the "L" word (luggage!)