Luxor (Safaga), Egypt – Day 1 – Ancient Luxor

November 11, 2011

Arriving at the port was interesting, we saw piles of duffle bags from Egyptians who were traveling to the Mecca. It seemed unorganized I don’t know how they would find their luggage when they arrive at their destination. Today we were going to have the longest day of driving 3.5 hours to get to Luxor to see ancient Egyptian architecture and see fascinating mysteries of centuries old culture and hieroglyphics. Once again it was nerve-wracking to know that we had a security guard on our bus who had an Uzi.

Duffel bags heading to Mecca

Security guard with an Uzi
Security guard with an Uzi

We arrived in Luxor we had a nice lunch at the Sheraton Hotel. After lunch, we continued our drive and crossed the Nile River proceeding to the West Bank area for a visit to the Valley of the Kings. We had a chance to see the tombs of Egypt’s ancient kings, their families, and other Egyptian nobility. It was amazing to see the hieroglyphics and how old they are, the colors were so vibrant. The only thing that was upsetting was that they didn’t allow any photography but luckily I was able to take two pictures before they told me I couldn’t.

Maria & John by the Steigenberger Hotel in Luxor
Valley of the Kings Entrance (I was lucky enough to take two pictures)
Valley of the Kings (I was lucky enough to take two pictures)

Next stop was the Hatshepsut Temple. This mortuary temple was buried under sand for centuries and was built by Hatshepsut, the only woman to rule and become a Pharaoh. Built into the mountainside, it stands as an incredible monument to the powers held by pharaohs.

Hatshepsut Temple

Following that tour, we had a second photo stop to see Colossi of Memnon, two massive statues that originally flanked the entrance to Amenhotep III’s mortuary temple. Unfortunately, the temple itself was destroyed in an earthquake; the magnificent statues still stand guard today.

Colossi of Memnon
Maria & John at Colossi of Memnon

The final stop was the most impressive Luxor Temple complex. The complex was a collection of breathtaking ruins, obelisks, and temples that date back to the 14th century BC.

Obelisk in Luxor
Maria & John at Luxor
Maria at Luxor
John at Luxor
Maria at Luxor
The Avenue of the Sphinxes

Local goats

Suez Canal Transit

November 10, 2011

Today we sailed through the Suez Canal which is also known as The Highway to India. The canal is an artificial sea level waterway in Egypt, connecting the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. It took ten years to construct, and it opened in November 1869.

Follow us on our journey the next stop is Luxor (Safaga) for two days.

Locals fishing in the Suez Canal
Locals fishing in the Suez Canal and waving at the passengers
Military bridges in case of conflict on the side of the Suez Canal
Outlet pipes pumping water into Suez canal from desert construction of new section of Suez canal
Military soldiers on the side of the Suez Canal
Largest wind farm in Africa at the exit of the Suez Canal
El Ferdan Railway swing Bridge is the longest in the world and it is on the Suez Canal
Sarapeum (Serapeion) – Mosque on bank of Suez Canal

Haifa, Israel – Day 3 – Historical Bethlehem

November 9, 2011

Today we were getting a tour of Bethlehem.  We were excited to see the ancient streets and the Church of the Nativity which is the oldest church in the Holy Land which is still being used today. Driving through the Judean Hills and seeing the Valley of Elah, which gets its name from the Elah tree, a type of oak tree that produces turpentine.  I’ve read that biblically the valley is known as the area where David fatally wounded the fearsome Philistine warrior Goliath with a stone plucked from the nearby Elah Brook.

We finally arrived in Bethlehem, the birthplace of David and Jesus.  We took a tour of the Church of Nativity.  We looked through the trap doors on the wooden floor and saw the original mosaic tiled floor below.  We also saw the low Door of Humility that prevented anyone from entering the room without bowing, and the grotto, which is supposedly the birth place of Jesus.

Follow us on our journey next stop is Luxor (Safaga) via Suez Canal Transit.

The exterior of the Church of Nativity
The interior of the Church of the Nativity
Door of Humility
The mosaic floor in the Church of Nativity
The mosaic floor in the Church of Nativity
The mosaic floor in the Church of Nativity

Haifa, Israel – Day 2 – A Day in Jerusalem

November 8, 2011

We drove from Haifa into the Judean Hills to get to our first stop which is Mt. Zion. We arrived at Mt. Zion and visited the Room of the Last Supper, where according to tradition Jesus’ last meal with his disciples and the descent of the Holy Spirit took place.  On the ground floor is the Tomb of King David, which is one of the places most visited by the people of Jewish faith. Next up we saw the Dormition Abbey, a beautiful structure with a high domed bell tower.

Mount Zion
View of Haifa from Mt. Zion

After getting a bite to eat, we began our walking tour of the old city. Entering Jaffa Gate, we walked past some of the most sacred sites in religious history.  We passed by a cool bazaar which was very colorful. We saw the Christian Quarter which is right next to a part of the famous Via Dolorosa, believed to be the route Jesus took as he carried his cross to Calvary. We also saw this golden topped Dome of the Rock. This breathtaking shrine is considered the third holiest site in Islam. One of the wildest things that we saw while walking were these big round metal bins that are used for suspicious packages found.

Metal bin for suspicious packages
Shopping Bazaar

The next stop on the walking tour was the Western (Wailing) Wall, the holiest site in the Jewish world. We wrote a prayer on the piece of paper and John stuck it in the wall.  The wall is believed to have been the closest to where the Holy Ark once stood.  We also had the chance to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  High on top of the hill known as Golgotha, the church marks the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial, and resurrection.

Western (Wailing) Wall
John putting our prayer into the Western (Wailing) Wall
Western (Wailing) Wall
The back side of Western (Wailing) wall
The doors into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Immovable ladder on ledge over entrance to Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Stone of Anointing where they washed Jesus’ body in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Greek Orthodox Chapel of the Crucifixion
Disc marking traditional place, under the altar, where Jesus’ cross stood.

After boarding our tour bus, we drove to our next stop going through the Kidron Valley. We saw the Church of All Nations at the Gardens of Gethsemane, as well as the sacred churches on the Mount of Olives – the Church of Ascension, Dominos Flevit, and the Church of St. Mary Magdalene. Our tour guide took us to a local store where John and I purchased a gold Jerusalem cross, and a beautiful hand carved Nativity set made from olive wood.

Our olive wood Nativity set

One of the things that I love that Oceania Cruises does in certain ports that we are in they decide to entertain us while boarding the ship, they had a lot of the crew members lined up and were clapping along with music being played by the band that is onboard.

Oceania Cruises staff welcoming us back
Small alley in Jerusalem
Another alley in Jerusalem
Church of Saint Catherine of Alexandria
Church of Saint Catherine of Alexandria
Church of Saint Catherine of Alexandria
View of the Dome of the Rock
Pretty Sunset View

Haifa, Israel – Day 1 – Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee

November 7, 2011

Our second stop on the itinerary was an exciting one and a nerve wracking one.  Israel is always on guard because of the threat of terrorism in the Middle East.  We were told that we can’t get our passports stamped in Israel because when we get to the other ports on our itinerary they wouldn’t grant us entry.  We were given landing cards and a photocopy of our passport.  John and I are both religious I am Greek Orthodox and he is Catholic so visiting Jerusalem today is something we both have always wanted to do. 

Bahá’í World Centre from top of Mount Carmel
Panoramic view of Haifa from the top of Mount Carmel

It is believed that Jesus lived, preached and performed his miracles in this beautiful place.  It might not be exactly where we were but it sure is close. The first stop on tour was the top of Mount Carmel.  We had a great panoramic view of Haifa.  After taking great pictures of the city, we headed towards Nazareth the place where Jesus spent his early years.  We saw the amazing Basilica of the Annunciation, one of Christendom’s most revered shrines and the largest church in the Middle East.   The Basilica is built on the same sight where the Archangel Gabriel revealed to Mary that she would be the mother of the Messiah.  We were mesmerized by the grotto where Mary had lived.  A 170’ high cupola that rises high above the upper church adds to the Basilica’s grandeur that allows the interior to be lit up by natural light.

Next stop was the Church of Joseph, which is built over the chambers that once housed Joseph’s carpentry shop where Jesus worked with him.  From here we went on a small walking tour through the colorful bazaar past Mary’s well, a white stone fountain that serves as a shrine commemorating the Virgin Mary.

Joseph’s Carpentry Shop
Joseph’s Carpentry Shop

After boarding our tour bus, we headed through a town called Cana, the place where Jesus performed his first miracle of turning water into wine.  Then we moved on to Tabgha, where Jesus later multiplied the loaves and fishes.

Tabgha – Mosaic of fish and bread

Next stop on tour was a trip to Capernaum located on the shores of the Sea of Galilee; this is considered the center of Jesus’ ministry while he was living in the area. We had a chance to see the synagogue with a lovely mosaic floor which was recently discovered.

John at Capernaum

Our last stop was Yardenit baptismal site where the River Jordan separates from the Sea of Galilee. We were lucky enough to see a few baptisms happening while we were there.

Yardenit Baptismal Site
Watching a Baptism at Yardenit
Grotto of the Annunciation
Church of the Primacy of Saint Peter
Church of the Primacy of Saint Peter
Maria & John by the Sea of Galilee

Athens, Greece (2011)

The Parthenon

November 3, 2011

Excitement is traveling to the Motherland!

Flying to Greece to visit my godmother, Roula, and godbrother, Basili. It is exciting; I haven’t seen them since September 2000 I was looking forward to a great reunion.

Maria – with My God Brother Vasili & My God Mother Roula

John has heard so many stories about them but has never met them. Unfortunately, my lovely Godfather Evangelos passed away a few years ago he was an unbelievable person. He was Greek but was born in Egypt, and he spoke nine different languages.  He had so many great stories enough to last a lifetime.

We flew into Athens two days before we were supposed to board the cruise ship for our 18-day voyage.  Our itinerary was from Athens, Greece to Dubai, UAE.  This was the first time I was going to be on a cruise which made me nervous and excited. I wasn’t sure how I would do with the rocking of the boat at night so wish me luck. The next day we had a private tour of the city.  I had seen all the monuments already, but I thought it would have been a good idea to hire a guide to explain things better especially dates and facts.

The first place we visited was the Acropolis sitting high above the city. You can’t miss this archeological site. It is truly spectacular to see it in person. I just can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to erect these structures. We primarily spent most of the time at the Acropolis and at the museum there is so much to see.  I have posted some pictures of the main monuments that we saw at the Acropolis such as The Parthenon, Temple of Hephaestus, the Erechtheion, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus & the Theatre of Dionysus.

When I was younger, you were able to walk up to the Parthenon and touch it, but over the years people were destroying the structures with graffiti, so they have all of the monuments roped off.

We also had a chance to visit Syntagma Square it was right by our hotel when we first arrived in Athens it was at night, so John didn’t get a chance to see the soldiers guarding the building, so we made sure he saw that. After the tour, we decided to meet my godmother and godbrother for dinner at one of the local restaurants that Roula loved.

The one disappointing thing was that we were staying at Hotel Bretagne and that is right next to the Parliament building, and at night there was a lot of protesting going on.  The people were breaking off marble from the surrounding buildings and throwing them at the presidents home.

Amazing staircase at Hotel Bretagne

We board our ship in the morning and cruising the mediterranean sea to our first port which in Cyprus. Follow us on our journey next stop is Limassol, Cyprus.  

Temple of Hephaestus
Odeon of Herodes Atticus
Theatre of Dionysus
Photo courtesy of Greek Gateway
Photo courtesy of Greek Gateway
Photo courtesy of Greek Gateway
Riot Police

Johannesburg, South Africa

March 25, 2009

Growing up I had family that lived in South Africa I always dreamed of one day visiting them and figured that would never happen because Africa is so far away. When I started dating my husband in 2008, I had told him that one of my good friends Tina had just moved back to her hometown of Nelspruit which is a town in South Africa. The last thing she told me was that I had an open invitation to visit her whenever I wanted to, as soon as I told John that she extended an invitation he jumped at the opportunity and started planning the trip the next day.

The flight to Johannesburg is 20 hours we flew from JFK to Atlanta, GA to catch our connecting flight from there we flew to Dakar where we had to get out of our seats while security checked the plane. The last thing we wanted to do after flying about 15 hours was to be hassled to check the plane. Either way, after they checked our plane and we refueled, we were off to Johannesburg. Finally, we arrived at our first destination after 20 hours.

Unfortunately, our luggage didn’t make it in time, so we were without our belongings for one day. We checked into an amazing hotel called the Four Seasons Westcliff. This hotel embodies luxury and style. With its beautifully landscaped gardens and sitting high above you have a fantastic view of Johannesburg’s suburbs. It is breathtaking. A must see if you are traveling to South Africa.

Westcliff Hotel

After checking into the hotel, we had to take a drive to the local mall which was the last thing we wanted to do to get a change of clothes. The concierge advised us to take security with us, and we told them that we would be okay without the security, but they insisted which kind of made me nervous even though I grew up in Jamaica, Queens and John grew up in the Bronx. If you are unfamiliar with New York, Jamaica is not the best part of Queens. I had to go through metal detectors every day to get into my high school, so I was used to being in a bad neighborhood. I survived so I guess it can’t be that bad. We didn’t spend too much time at the mall because it was nighttime and we still needed to have dinner and get settled in and rest since the next day we were flying to Mpumalanga.  Follow us along our journey next stop four day on Safari.

Mpumalanga International Airport

Limassol, Cyprus

Mosaic from the House of Eustolios

November 06, 2011

On our tour I think I was the only person who was Greek, so I was able to communicate with the tour guide in Greek which was pretty cool.

Our first stop was at Kourion where we had a chance to see the Greco-Roman theater formerly used to host gladiator tournaments and the House of Eustolios, with well-preserved mosaics and baths.

Our next stop on tour was the rock which is the birthplace of Aphrodite, goddess of beauty and love, in Petra Tou Romiou and hear of ancient Greek legends. There is a picture of it below.

Next stop on the tour we visited the small harbor town of Pafos (Paphos) which is part of UNESCO. While in Pafos we visited the House of Dionysos which was from the 3rd century AD which is famous for the unique mosaic floors that look pristine. I found to be the most impressive stop throughout the entire day. The mosaics are considered to be the finest in all the Mediterranean.

Follow us on our journey our next stop is Haifa, Israel for three days.

House of Eustolios
House of Eustolios
House of Eustolios
Birthplace of Aphrodite – Goddess of Beauty & Love
Mosaic – House of Dionysos