Thursday 11 October, 2012

You might think we’ve seen enough of Really Old Places, but half an hour down the road from Kusadasi (a Mecca for sun worshippers and holiday-makers, and our final port-of-call on Turkey’s western coast) is Ephesus – one of the best-preserved ancient cities in the world. And that’s where we headed yesterday, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (after being welcomed ashore by Turkish dancers).

On the way, we detoured up a tree-covered hillside and single-filed through a tiny chapel built on the remains of what’s thought to be the house where Mary, mother of Jesus, spent her final years. (Wait till you hear the fascinating story!) This lovely peaceful site, forgotten for hundreds of years, is now a place of pilgrimage for Christians from all around the world.

As for Ephesus … well, during its prosperous Golden Years, before its ancient harbour finally silted up (the ruins are now 5kms from the sea), it boasted a population of 300,000, and was a major Greek port, with noble houses, marble streets, temples, fountains, sewerage, indoor heating, a library, theatre and (what d’ya know?) even a brothel!  Ephesus was occupied at various times by various conquerors – and the superbly restored site records a long and colourful history.

We Kiwis wandered down the ruin-strewn Arcadian Way … took a zillion photos of a zillion re-erected columns and headless statues  … ogled the stunningly-restored Library of Celsus … and tried our best to imagine what bustling, sophisticated, day-to-day life was like for the Ephesians, some 2000 years ago.

Then those who could sing (or couldn’t – it didn’t matter) climbed up into the partially-restored 35,000-seat Amphitheatre (where St Paul once provoked a riot by challenging local devotion to the many-breasted fertility goddess, Artemis – aka Diana) … and then gathered down on the makeshift stage and sang Pokarekare Ana (to the applause of other tourists)!

Back in Kusadasi, we were treated to a demo of Turkish-carpet-making (from silkworms to glorious hand-loomed rugs) … before browsing the shops and returning to our mother-ship (parked as she was between two much-bigger giant cruisers).

Which brings us to today, as the Prinsendam made its lazy way through the blue-blue waters of the Mediterranean to the western isles of Greece – in flat seas and 29-degree sunshine. It was truly lovely … about as good as it gets … and a welcome break from all this fabulous sightseeing, all this ancient history, all this oohing and aahing and clicking of cameras.


Two more of our little yellow ducks have quacked their way into eager, waiting hands:

  • We’re not sure what Sid was thinking the other day at Iztuzu Beach when he waded out in his shoes and socks, but we suspect he was suffering delusions of grandeur after our boat trip on the Sea of Galilee – and have awarded him the esteemed ‘Walking On Water Award’.
  • Yesterday, for the trip to Ephesus, our group was split into two busloads – and when it came time to leave, Jan was missing. We were about to send out a search party when she sheepishly emerged from the bowels of the other bus – and was promptly nominated for our ‘Stowaway Award’.


We’re back in Greece … and the small village of Katakolon is our gateway to the mystical site of ancient Olympia, 40 kilometres to the east – site of the very first Olympic Games. You never know, we might get to sprint (or hobble!) along the famous stadium!

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this page, and add your ‘COMMENTS’! Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief.



Saturday 6 October, 2012

“Jerusalem,” (according to an intro-pamphlet we got on the ship) “is the very soul of the inhabited world. A centre for prophet and pilgrim, king and caliph, mystic and warrior, the timeless city has endured a long, and often troubled, history. King David conquered the fortified Jebusite city. His son Solomon built the first temple in 586 BC. Nebuchadnezzar later destroyed it, but returning Jewish exiles rebuilt it under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah …”

The pamphlet goes on to list a succession of rulers and wreckers – leading up to the time of Jesus, when the Romans and their puppet king, Herod, were taking their turn. And then, of course, the present day, when Israel’s 5000-year-old walled capital is still sacred to Jews, Muslims and Christians (more than one third of all the people on Earth).



Yesterday began with our ship docking in Ashdod, Israel’s largest port and gateway to Jerusalem – and us cramming onto an air-conditioned coach for a 90-minute drive (on a very modern motorway) to the sun-baked, battle-scarred Old City. We stopped for some magnificent views atop the Mount of Olives (still covered in gnarly, centuries-old olive trees) … and walked through the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus spent the last moments before his arrest. We then motored up Mt Zion and entered the Old City on foot via the Dung Gate – arriving at the Western (Wailing) Wall (what’s left of the vast platform that once supported Solomon’s Jewish Temple, and now supports the Muslim Dome of the Rock mosque) – where we mingled with devout Orthodox Jews who were there in their hundreds (the men sporting black hats, bushy beards, long-sideboards, and tassels) to offer their Sabbath prayers.

We then followed-the-leader (Izik, our guide) through crowded narrow streets (including part of the Via Dolorosa, the ancient route Jesus took en route to his crucifixion) … and entered the Church of the Holy Sepulchre on the site of Christ’s resurrection. (The original sanctuary built here by Emperor Constantine was destroyed centuries later, but a replacement was eventually rebuilt by the Crusaders.)

We departed through the Jaffa Gate, enjoyed a tasty hotel lunch, then climbed back on the coach for a brief drive to the ancient (now Arab) town of Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity, built above the tiny cave where Jesus is said to have been born.

Phew! What a HUGE day! And 49 tired Kiwis were glad to return to their welcoming cabins and fall asleep between cool Egyptian-cotton sheets when it was finally all over.

But take a deep breath, folks, because TODAY was just as huge …

Our ship reached the northern Israeli port of Haifa around breakfast-time, and we were soon motoring through the Jezre’el Valley to Nazareth – childhood home of Jesus. Our visit included the Church of Annunciation, built on the site where Mary is said to have lived (and received the angel Gabriel’s message that she was carrying the Son of God) … and the Church of St Joseph, where Joseph’s small carpentry workshop is believed to have stood.

Next, we travel through Cana – where Jesus performed his first miracle (turning water into wine at a wedding) – to Yardenit, a beautiful site on the Jordan River where several Kiwis took to the famous water in their togs (and one of our ladies chose to be baptised, along with pilgrims from all over the world). After another restaurant lunch, we reached the shores of Galilee (across from the war-torn Golan Heights), before driving to Tabgha (where Jesus performed the miracle of the loaves and fishes).

The highlight of the afternoon was still to come: a one-hour ride in a wooden ‘Jesus-boat’ on the Sea of Galilee (complete with the raising of the New Zealand flag and the enthusiastic singing of our National Anthem).

Last but not least, we enjoyed quick stops at Capernaum (St Peter’s home-village and site of the ancient synagogue where Jesus once taught) and the Mount of Beatitudes (where Jesus preached his famous sermon).

An unforgettable two days? Yes, TOTALLY! But while these words and pix tell you what we DID and SAW, they can’t adequately convey how we FELT … being in this sacred city … touching those ancient stones … walking in the footsteps of Old-&-New-Testament saints and sinners … putting the familiar stories of Jesus in a new (and sometimes strange) context … standing/reflecting/worshipping alongside Orthodox Jews at the Wailing Wall … soaking up the ambience in Galilee (Jesus-country) … getting goosebumps out there on the Lake … praying for peace in this beautiful, troubled land …

If you want to know how it FELT, you’re gonna have to ask us when we get home!


Two new nominees have walked away with quacky yellow ducks:

  • Peter C (not Peter T, who earned one two days ago) was spotted lining up with the ladies at the Old City security check-point (instead of with the men) … and is taking home the Midlife Madness ‘Wailing Wall Award’.
  • Catherine H was seen leaving the restaurant with a hot cup of tea in each hand. No problem there. Except that Catherine, who had watched a magician-show the previous night, performed a trick of her own – causing one of her cups to separate from its handle, smashing (and splashing) all over the floor, and winning her the Midlife Madness ‘Abraca-Dabra Award’.


We deserve a break, after all this high Israeli drama. So we’re gonna cruise all day – taking a north-east route through the beautiful Mediterranean … giving Syria a wide berth (for obvious reasons) … then curving back, eventually, towards southern Turkey and our next port-of-call: Antalya.

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

P.S. If you want to leave a message for someone in our group, just click on the little speech bubble at the top of this page, and add your ‘COMMENTS’! Make sure you say who it’s for and who it’s from – and keep it brief.