We arrived in Haifa early this morning, but before we could go ashore we would have to go thru a face to face immigration check with Israeli officials. The check would take place on Deck 5 in one corner of the dining room. The day before we received letters assigning us a number so they could call us down in specific groups to avoid long lines. About 7:30 am they started calling groups who were assigned letters beginning with “F” and then “S”. After about 10 minutes they started with the number 4. We were number 16, but we had no idea if that was 16 out of 16 or 16 out of 50. Our private tour was scheduled for 8:30 am, leaving us an hour to get processed, but we didn’t expect it to take that long. As time went by they started grouping numbers together and 8:15 am, 45 minutes after they started, they called groups 16 and 17, which turned out to be the final two groups.
Once we were on Deck 5, the line was only to the entrance to the Microsoft Classroom and moved quickly, almost to the point where you never really stopped. At the head of the line were a couple of tables with 4 officials going thru the passports and our landing cards. Back in 2008, Israel quit stamping passports because some Arab countries will not let you enter their country if you have an Israeli stamp in your passport. In the place of passport stamps, they give you a landing card, which repeats some of the information in your passport and gives them a place to put a stamp showing the date you entered the country.
After I reached the front of the line, I handed my passport to the official who took a quick glance at my picture, then me and verified that the name on the landing card, matched the name in the passport. He then quickly thumbed through every page of my passport looking at the various stamps and visas without comment. I imagine if I had a stamp from Iran, Afghanistan or Yemen, I might have been asked to step aside for a one on one conversation. When complete he smiled and said “Welcome to Israel” and we were on our way.
We met our group outside the cruise terminal and it turns out we were the last to arrive as everyone else had lower numbers and went thru immigration sooner. It was still 10 minutes before our scheduled departure time so we were able to get off a little early. Note to future private tour organizers: Consider the size and configuration of the bus you are using and limit participation so no one is forced to use undesirable seats. Also consider singles and couples and how they may affect the seating use and allocation. If you leave 20% of the seats empty, you will probably pay a little more, but it will be worth the extra cost if you are going to spend a lot of time on a bus.
Our guide’s name was Yazel and after a brief introduction we were on our way to Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus.
After 45 minutes of driving thru Israel’s modern highways, with light traffic, we arrived at the Church of the Annunciation. This is the location where the Angel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus, the Son of God. As we toured the beautiful church I realized what was probably obvious to others, that most of the structures and churches we would see today are relatively modern and not original to the time when Jesus was walking the streets. What was always more interesting was the terrain and physical features that have remained unchanged for the last 2000 years.
Judy collects the Robin Ruth hand bags known for having the names of cities written in a distinctive style. We found one in Dubai, but surprisingly we couldn’t find one in Hong Kong or Singapore. Judy was excited to see one in Nazareth with the distinctive logo spelling out the city name. Unfortunately, upon closer inspection, the bag was a knock off and not an original Robin Ruth. We’ll keep looking.
We spent about 1 hour touring the Church of Annunciation before we got back in the van to drove another hour to the Sea of Galilee where we would see the Benedictine Monastery and Church of Primacy of Saint Peter, in addition to the Sea of Galilee itself. The Sea of Galilee is the largest freshwater lake in Israel, about 13 miles long by 8 miles wide. It also sits about 700 feet below sea level.
The Benedictine Monastery sits on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and is where Jesus walked on water and the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fishes occurred. The area surrounding The Sea of Galilee is green and covered with date palms and other vegetation. We walked down to a shaded area near the water’s edge where our guide read Bible verses applicable to where we were. It was interesting to hear the familiar stories in the actual area where the events occurred and try to visualize what it may have looked like here 2000 years ago. After listening to the verses, our group went down to the rocky beach – there wasn’t any sand – and spent a few minutes wading in the water and taking pictures. There were a couple dozen other people in the area posing for photos and walking up and down the shoreline, but we learned that it can get much busier during the peak tourist seasons. After about 10 minutes we headed back to our bus for a very short ride, only a couple of minutes, to our next stop: The Church of Primacy of St Peter.
We probably could have walked to the Church of Primacy of Saint Peter, which was built on the spot where Jesus reinstated Peter as the chief of his apostles, but we would save some time by driving even this short distance. It sits above the Sea of Galilee and has a wonderful view of the lake and surrounding area. The most prominent feature here is a large bronze statute depicting St Peter sitting on a rock inscribed with a verse from Matthew 16:18, “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church.”
Capharnaum, Jesus’s hometown after he left Nazareth, was our next stop and we spent about ½ hour exploring the area. It was also home to disciples Peter, Andrew, James, John and Matthew. There isn’t much left from that time, but it is also interesting walk around and get a feel for the area and imagine what it was like years ago.
It was time for lunch and we went to St Peter’s Restaurant, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. The restaurant was a single, large room, containing moveable tables and chairs that can rearranged to accommodate many groups of different sizes. The buffet menu was simple enough for the waiter to simply list the choices: Tilapia Fish aka Sea of Galilee fish either served baked as a filet, or pan fried as the entire fish – bones and all. There was a salad bar available and a waitress pushed around a drink cart serving beer, soda or wine with the prices clearly marked in USD.
NOTE: We learned in many cases that the local “street” exchange rate of 4 Shekels to a $1 was actually better than the bank rate by about 5% since the conversion was so much easier using the 4-1 (Bank Rate was 3.76 shekels to the dollar). We didn’t go to any non-tourist areas, so maybe in other spots, the USD was less accepted, but if you stick to the tourist spots for the standard cruise ship day tours, I doubt if you need to change money.
The food was delicious and served promptly and we all settled our checks at the bar where they accepted credit cards or cash.
Our first stop after lunch was the Church of the Beatitudes which was constructed on the site where Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount. This sermon is Jesus’s longest on record and includes some of his best known teachings including the Beatitudes and the Lord’s Prayer. As I mentioned earlier, the modern structures and churches are interesting but unremarkable as compared to the exciting history the occurred in these locations and chance to take in the geography, flora and fauna which have remained largely unchanged over the years.
The Jordan River was the last stop in this area and is famous for being where Jesus was baptized by John. The visitor center sits about 50 feet above the river. They sell white robes and facilities to change if you would like to be baptized or simply immerse yourself in the river. The river itself is only about 75 feet across and doesn’t flow very swiftly. Yardenit runs the operation and the facility it is well maintained and organized, it wasn’t very crowded for our visit. It would be interesting to see how well it operates during a busy season. There is no admission fee to get to the Jordan River, but using the changing room costs about 50 cents. Judy went down to the edge and got her feet and hands wet, but no more. There was a steady stream of other visitors doing full immersion baptisms and there is a separate section for them.
Right before we returned to the ship we stopped by a vista point with a beautiful view of Haifa, the Amsterdam far below. It was peaceful for a few minutes until two other tour buses arrived and then we realized this stop was on everyone’s schedule.
Back in the cruise terminal we spent a few minutes shopping in the Duty Free shop but didn’t find anything of particular interest. The terminal has free Wi-Fi but as is usually the case, is unusable for anything more than downloading email, unless you find yourself with only a few other people.
There wasn’t any show tonight so we enjoyed another nice dinner in the Main Dining Room before heading off the bed. We didn’t leave port until 11:30 so there wasn’t any sail-away.This entry was posted in Uncategorized