We left Haifa late, after 11:30 pm and traveled the short distance down the Israel Coast to Ashdod, arriving the next morning around 7AM. Ashdod is another commercial port where there isn’t much available nearby. But since we were on another all day tour it didn’t really matter as we would be driving from the port anyway.
Since we cleared Israeli Immigration yesterday, we were cleared almost immediately and we were soon on or way to meet our tour group outside the cruise terminal. We had the same guide as yesterday getting us off to a good start since we enjoyed his explanations and were looking forward to another great day. The weather was on our side with partly cloudy skies and moderate temperatures.
Security in the various ports ranges from nothing, to X-ray and metal detectors going in to the port, but not leaving the port, while some have security both directions. An absolute rule is that you only go thru security once returning to the ship. If you are X-rayed in the port, then you won’t be X-rayed aboard ship. If the port has no security, then the ship will set up their metal detector and X-ray machine.
Traffic was heavy this morning as Sunday is a normal working day here, so the lighter traffic on the Israel Sabbath day was missing today.
Our first stop was at a view point overlooking the Walled City of old Jerusalem with the golden dome of the Dome of the Rock being the most prominent feature and the only building with any color other than various shades of desert brown. This view point is fairly large, with plenty of room for many tour groups to huddle with their guides as they explain what we are seeing below and provide an overview of the city below. It was interesting to hear all the different languages being used as there were groups present from all over the world.
After we spent some time taking in the view and getting oriented to the area, we got back in the bus to head down the hill to the Mount of Olives where Jesus met with his disciples on numerous occasions and was a convenient stopping point on their travels to and from Jerusalem. It was from here where Jesus ascended into heaven after his crucifixion and resurrection.
There is zero parking in the area. All the tour buses drive off and park some distance away until they are summoned by the guide when their group is ready to hop onto the bus when it makes a quick stop near the meeting place.
It was only a short ride from the Mount of Olives to the entrance to Old Jerusalem and we were soon off the bus, heading for the entrance which required passing thru airport style security, with different lines for men and women.
Our first stop inside the city was the Wailing Wall which is closest spot the Jews were allowed to get near the Dome of the Rock centuries ago. It remains a popular spot for prayer today with separate sections for men and women. We had about 15 minutes to enter and contemplate before we assembled once more to continue our visit.
We walked thru the old, narrow streets, lined with various shops, ranging from those selling trinket for tourists to bakeries for the local residents.
In a few minutes we stopped at the Sixth Station of the Cross. There are a total of 14 stations which mark the path of Jesus as he made his final journey to his crucifixion. It is important to remember that every structure we were walking on or near didn’t exist 2000 years as all the original structures have been leveled, rebuilt and leveled again before they settled into the final form we see today. This means that the Stations of the Cross represent the symbolic path of Jesus as opposed to his actual path which has been lost to time.
The Stations of the Cross lead you to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which contains the two holiest sites in Christendom: the site where Jesus was crucified (Calvary) and Jesus’ empty tomb where he was buried and resurrected. The line to enter the tomb is typically several hours long so we didn’t have to time to actually go inside today. Once again, these locations have been significantly modified over the years and are now quite ornate as opposed to how they appeared during the time of Christ. The actual Rock of Calvary which is on display under glass has a hole which tradition says was the actual hole where the crucifixion cross was inserted. As we were leaving the church we walked past the Stone of Anointing which marks the spot where Jesus’ body was anointed before burial. The stone that is on display was only added in 1810 so it is unlikely that this stone was actually present 2000 years ago.
We stopped for a quick lunch at Everest Ramzi which was on one of the narrow streets on the way out of the walled city where we enjoyed our choice of a either a Gyro or a small Pizza.
Our final stop for the day would be the Dead Sea where we would have a chance to float in the extremely salty water, which at 34% salinity, is about 10 times saltier than the ocean. It is also the lowest spot on earth at 1,407 feet below sea level. There are several spots where you can swim in the Dead Sea and were we went was different than the spot used by the HAL tours. It’s not clear what the difference is between the various spots, but your spot will be determined by your tour and I don’t know if it really matters where you end up going.
There are changing rooms and showers near the visitors center/gift shop and bar. Outside the changing rooms are locker to store valuables while you are down at the Dead Sea which sits about 50 feet below the level of the parking lot and visitors center.
A series of steps lead you down to a rocky beach with a few chairs and benches where you can undress if you are wearing your suit under your clothes or watch your friends as they enter the water to float for a bit and splash around.
We decided not to float in the Dead Sea, but we enjoyed watching others in our group take part and we helped taking photos and watching their belongings.
Here are a few pointers if you choose to enter the Dead Sea:
- Bring water shoes or old tennis shoes. There are concrete blocks and other debris hiding under the water – not always soft sand. If your guide says you don’t need them, bring them anyway and be happy you didn’t need them rather than the other way around.
- If you plan to cover yourself with the mud, bring an older swim suit.
- Bring Soap, Shampoo, combs and brushes. None of these items were available at our location.
- Bring your own towel and a plastic bag or two gallon zip-locks to store your wet suits and shoes.
We spent about 90 minutes here before we headed back to the ship, about 2 hours away.
There was a line getting back on the ship as many people stayed in the Duty Free shops until right before the all aboard time. Additionally there was only one official from Israel to collect the Landing Cards before we boarded the ship. That was the cause of the biggest delays, but the wait was only about 10 minutes.
Back on the ship the sail away was lightly attended as we bid farewell to a wonderful two days in Israel.
Francisco Yglesia, a harp player was on the main stage this evening. He was very entertaining and in the late show he departed from his normal song list to take a few requests from the audience during the middle of his show.
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