Wednesday, March 9, 2016


People travel around here whenever there is any sort of break.  I don't know how many people asked me if we were going anywhere for Christmas, but my standard answer was "no, we don't like traveling over Christmas.  I would much rather be at home."  That was until someone (Jen!) mentioned that they were most likely headed on a cruise to the Holy Land.  Wow!  Then she told me the price.  Double Wow!  I mentioned it to the friend (MaryAnn) who had informed Jen about the trip and who was also going.  She said, "you should come along."  I told her no way, but she said, "I'm going to send you all the information."  We got the information Sunday night and I showed Rob.  Rob said, "I think we should do it."  And I said, "no!"  I was sure it was a scam and was set in my answer of, 'we don't travel at Christmas.'  Monday Rob came home from work and said that he had everything arranged.  He had people to cover his shifts (they did shifts the whole 2 weeks around Christmas instead of everyone coming in every day,) he had gotten the approval for time off and we should do it!  The whole time he was signing us up I was in another room shaking my head.  "He is falling for a scam.  We are going to lose $1300."  Wednesday I called up the cruise company, because I couldn't get 'our documents' to work with the cruise website.  They couldn't find us either, but then the guy stopped and asked, "where are you calling from."  When I told him Germany, he explained that he couldn't look at the European sites, but that the numbers sounded like their numbers.  I finally found the German website and low and behold our numbers worked.  Reassurance?  Not so much.   I still wasn't sure it wasn't a scam.  Meanwhile our friends  (MaryAnn's family) found out that their tourist passports would expire before the 6 months time frame that the cruise and Israel required.  So in the end they brought both their official and tourist passports and hoped they would be allowed on the cruise and off in Israel.  Jen's family got approval to go on Tuesday.  We left Thursday at 3:30 am.  Yep- it was that fast.  I was running around like a chicken with it's head cut off the whole time thinking, well at least I will get to see Genoa, Italy before we have to drive home, rejected!  I continued in that thought process all the way until they actually gave us cards to embark.  I looked at Rob with wide eyes and whispered, "they're actually letting us on!"
 Genoa in the background

And that's how we 'conned' a cruise ship to take 5 people in 2 rooms on an 11 day cruise for $1300!  So in case you are wondering we went through the site and it wasn't a scam!

First stop:

Olympia, Greece

Greece decided to have a strike of all their park workers just for us!  This meant they locked up all their national parks and monuments and most of the museums.  We walked around and saw as much of the original olympic stadium that we could until the boys- with some strong encouragement from Mom- jumped the fence and had a good old race on the track.

I love that they did that and wished I had too, but one of the families we were with where so mortified they had to totally disassociate themselves with us.  The other family came around and started filming too. 

Besides not being caught by police for jumping a fence, we were not caught for picking oranges off of trees in public areas and eating them.

Again one of the families, not so pleased that we were doing that, but they really were public trees and they were really good oranges!

Second stop:

Athens, Greece

I was not able to get off on this stop as Joseph started puking.  We had just been to Athens 6 months earlier, however, so I was fine.  I got off and walked around the harbor, just for some exercise, but otherwise I just rested and made sure Joseph was doing OK.  The family barely made it into Athens.  The bus we used 6 months before either stopped coming there or only worked in the high tourist season.  Either way, they found their way to the city eventually, but of course everything was closed again.  They climbed up Mars hill (something we hadn't done before) and saw everything from there. 

Mars hill is where Paul testified.
Luckily we had more than Rob looking out for the kids on those crowded Greek buses!

Third stop:

Rhodes, Greece

Rhodes has a cute little walled city that was fun to walk around in.

We found the temple of Athena.

We also found an old fort outside the walls.  It was a pretty day to just walk around.

Fourth stop:

Haifa, Israel

We had to give up our passports at the beginning of our trip and then get checked out by Israeli guards the day before we got off the ship.  This was touch and go for MaryAnn's family, but they allowed them to use their soon to be expired tourist passports.  By this time we had booked a private tour to both Jerusalem and Galilee and they were going to have to pay up whether they got off the boat or not.  
Our first day we did Galilee.  It was peaceful and beautiful. 
Loved the sea of Galilee and the Mount of Beatitudes in Tabgha.  

 My shame- I can't walk on the sea of Galilee
 Max can, though.

We also saw Capernum with Peter's house (?) and an old temple.

And the River Jordan. 
 They made part of it into a baptismal font where they did baptisms for people in the river Jordan.  We declined.

I believe it was on the wrong side of the Sea of Galilee, but the right side would have been on the "wrong side of town" where our guide, a Jew from the Bronx who had moved back to live in Israel, couldn't go.
Nazareth was done as a drive by in the evening, as was the city of Tiberias and Migdal.

The second day we headed to Jerusalem. 

 Beautiful spices

This day was far more rushed and my least favorite.  I doubted most of the sights they showed us, like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre 

which claims to be the site of his crucifixion, preparation of the body of Christ and the burial.  It's in the middle of the city.  The place where they said the cross was, is in stone.  And then a burial place right there next to it.  First of all we sing the song: "There is a green hill far away, with out a city wall, where the dear Lord was crucified, who died to save us all."  This was neither a green hill nor with out the city walls!  Also they didn't bury people inside the city!  And what loser soldier was tasked with making a hole in a stone to hold a cross?
  And the upper room where Jesus had the last supper. 

It was hard to even view this area, because there was another group trying to all out pray each other.  Very distracting!  
The Mount of Olives was beautiful 

and the Garden of Gethsemane- whether it was that place or not, gorgeous.

Unfortunately, it was tiny and all fenced off with people selling stuff like crazy outside.  It was hard to be quiet and feel the spirit. 
We ate bagels and schwarma which is a lot like a doner

 and bought our jewish plates (one which is already broken.)

Just as we got to the square before we ducked down the alley to buy our plates, police started streaming into the square.  We hurried to get our plates and make our way back.  We found our guide and he told us that there had been a knifing/shooting 10 minutes walk from where we were.  He wanted to get us going, so that we could make it out of Jerusalem before they started shutting the city down.  We stopped briefly at the Wailing Wall
 Covered heads and segregation- The women weren't allowed on this side.

and saw the Dome of the Rock. 

Our last stop of the day was at the Dead sea.

We loved that part and everyone said it was their favorite.  There is nothing quite like the feeling of that water.  You could float standing straight up with your hands in the air.
 Nobody was actually standing in this picture.  It was too deep to touch!

It was so weird!  A couple people went under and Rob was pushed under by a very bad teenage boy named Sam and those people regretted it!  Red, painful eyes from all the salt!  The trip that we were accepted for with CES oh so many years ago would have been so different.  If only I hadn't gotten pregnant and had been able to go.  But then Sam wouldn't be Sam.  We didn't get to do a big spiritual trip of The Holy Land.  Our guide was Jewish, not LDS.  He liked to tell Jewish history, talk about Catholic traditions and defend Jewish reaction to Jesus.  I was actually Ok with this, but it wasn't the same as a trip with an LDS scholar and with a week or 2 to explore and feel of the spirit of the place.   Still I am so glad that I got to see it at least once in my life.  
The boat didn't leave for two hours after it's scheduled time and then we were escorted by a military patrol boat until 2 am.  The boat didn't leave on time, because the two tour buses from the boat ended up near a shooting as well.  I breathed a sigh of relief as we left.  I felt like the worst mother ever, bringing my children that close to a war (Syria is right next door on the north side, close to where we docked), besides the lack of safety in the country I was bringing them to.
Other adventures: Jen's husband running off to see the other site of the tomb, called The Garden tomb which was in the muslim part of town and which our guide wouldn't take us to and driving an hour on the border of the west bank, somewhere the State Department said Americans shouldn't go.

Fifth stop:

Crete, Greece

Christmas day!  Santa brought our stockings, but nothing else.

Also the cruise line invited Santa to pass out gifts to all the girls and boys under 12.  Max got a lego helicopter.  
Crete is the home of King Menelaus and the Minotaur. 

They actually opened on Christmas day for us, but only until 11 am.  Anyone that decided to enjoy a lazy Christmas morning was disappointed- and there were plenty of them.  The man at the gates just said, "It's Christmas for me and my family as well" when they complained.  We enjoyed exploring the area and climbing trees.

We also enjoyed a little time at the beach on the way back.   Jen's family went to a beach on the other side of the island, but we knew it would be too cold to swim, so we just enjoyed the beach next to the docks and skipping rocks.

Sam, King of Greece

Sixth stop:

Rome, Italy

We already crushed Rome, so we decided to enjoy the ship, the hot tubs, the different restaurants and enjoy the town that we docked in.  We walked forever to find some old Roman baths, but finally the way got to treacherous and we headed back to the boat.  We found a family later that had done the same thing.  They actually made it.  They said we had been really close to the ruins of the first baths.   They were told the working baths were just up the road.  They said they walked another 45 minutes to find them.  By the time we stopped walking we had gone over 6 miles already, so I can't imagine how far they went!  Once they got to the baths they were tiny and packed, so they didn't even go in.  Glad we didn't go with them!!

We went on one of MSC's newer boats.  It is a European company and they are trying hard to compete.  The boat was grand.  We loved the diamond staircase!

Everything is said in 4 languages.  It gets a little tiring.  The food has a European flare, which wasn't bad when it came to the pizza they made 24 hours a day.  That pizza was amazing!  But the entertainment wasn't quite up to snuff and the pools were too cold, even the indoor one.  There were no movies under the stars and the only English speaking channel was news.  So anytime we were sailing and not eating, you could find the kids all together playing games.

They had so much fun with one another!  They couldn't seat us all together, so we were the odd men out.  We sat at a table with a gay couple and one of the guys parents.  They were very nice and even gave the boys some ornaments on Christmas.  Our waiter was fun and attentive.  He had Joseph serve him one time.

We gave him our bottle of wine that was accidentally put in our cabin.  It came with a plate of fancy hors d'oeuvres which made me glad I wasn't fancy!  Yuck!  All in all, an amazing trip with amazing people for very little money!  So many miracles, so much to be thankful for!