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Archive for December, 2012

When we left Athens, we started the drive along the coast to the ancient city of Corinth. Before we got there, we stopped at a place to eat lunch that was right beside ofIMG_0610 the modern day Corinth Canal. Construction on the canal started in 1881 and was completed in 1893. It is four miles long and about 23 feet wide. Cut through solid stone and built at sea level, there are no locks involved. But because of the canal being so narrow, it serves very little purpose economically today and is mostly used by tourists with small boats. Even so, it is still impressive to see.

If you were to study the geography of Greece, it is easy to see why the ancient city of Corinth was such a strategic place for military and commercial reasons. Located on a narrow isthmus connecting northern and southern Greece, Corinth was the first century hub of Greek civilization. The narrow isthmus virtually provided southern Greece from any land invasion. A very small military regiment would be able to defend the land with little difficulty. And commercially, anyone traveling north, south, east or west would pass through Corinth with money to spend.

IMG_0602At the time of the Apostle Paul, first century AD, Corinth stretched the four mile distance across the isthmus. It would have been thronging with merchants, IMG_0605sailors, travelers and military. The central focus of Corinth, the Agora, was located near the Corinthian Acropolis which was close to 2000 ft. above sea level. This was the main thoroughfare to go from the Mediterranean Sea to the Aegean Sea, and Corinth took full advantage of that. The merchants shouting to the passing crowds to buy their goods, eating places with delightful smells enticing people to spend their coins, places to rest and spend the night, and many temples for the gods making their fortunes from the very old profession of prostitution. It is believed that the temple of Aphrodite had over 1000 temple prostitutes.

Because of an earthquake in 1858 which destroyed the city of Corinth, people rebuilt the present day city of Corinth about three miles away on the coast. This allowed unhindered excavation of ancient Corinth that has been going on since that time. One of the most imposing structures found was the temple of Apollo. Seven of the 35 original IMG_0607columns remain standing. And in the middle of all of this hustle and bustle, the Apostle Paul arrives to preach Christianity to the Corinthians. There was a large Jewish population in Corinth that did not like Paul’s message. They accused him before Gallio of breaking the law. The bema, that Paul would have stood on for his trial, has been found in the center of about 30 shops and businesses. Surrounded by unbelieving gentiles and Jewish people, Paul was prepared to defend himself and his message, but Gallio spoke before Paul could utter a word. He told the people that Paul had broken no laws and that they needed to deal with it themselves. So basically the case against Paul was thrown out of court. For those of you that might be interested, the account of this can be found in the Bible in Acts chapter 18.

While we were there in the middle of the excavations, looking around me, it was very easy to picture the entire scene of that time. I was asked to share a short devotional here which was very humbling. I say humbling because I had to ask myself “would I have had the courage of Paul, to stand so strongly for my beliefs, facing the opposition that he did?” I doubt it. Like many, I am content to live my faith in a very mediocre version. I certainly left Corinth with much to think about in my own life.

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One of my favorite poets. I hope you enjoy one of my favorite things, and that each and every one of you have a blessed Christmas.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
By Robert Frost 1874-1963

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

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imagesIMG_0577Welcome to Athens! Named after the goddess Athena in Greek mythology, Athens is a beautiful city with its highest point being the “The IMG_0569Acropolis,” home of the Parthenon. For those of you that may not be familiar with Greek mythology, Athena arrived on the scene springing from the forehead of her father Zeus, being fully grown and clad in armor. Now I have two daughters, and I might even have had one or two headaches over the past 25 years induced from being a father of daughters…but nothing like the headache Zeus must have had! lol

We docked in the Port of Piraeus at 6:00 AM and were eager to get started on a full day of site-seeing. Once again we were on a smaller private bus equipped with a wheelchair lift and our own guide. When we arrived at the Parthenon, the larger tour buses were parked near the bottom of the Acropolis and everyone was faced with a long walk ahead of them. Our bus had permission to drive us to a nice parking area right at the base of Mars Hill and the Acropolis.

When I got off the bus, we started a fairly steep climb to the main park entrance. The path was flat but certainly was not smooth. Remember as a kid when you would jump from rock to rock to get across a stream? Maneuvering my wheelchair here was something akin to that. I would jump/bounce my chair from one flat surface to the next trying to avoid the cracks and holes between the stones. Of course considering the stones had been set in place around 450 BC, it was actually pretty good. Wendy of course was helping me and taking it slow and easy I made it just fine.

IMG_0554IMG_0555Once we got to the main entrance, everyone else geared up for the long walk up the trail and stairs to the Parthenon. We veered left and took a trail that went up around the side of the Acropolis. It was pretty steep but made out of some decent pavement. Our guide was bringing us to an “elevator” that would bring us to the top. I’m still smiling thinking of the look on the face of a friend in our group as he saw the elevator. What it actually was, was a caged box that went up a sheer cliff wall on a single geared monorail type of IMG_0581system. The closer we got, the more nervous he got. I on the other had found it fascinating and looked forward to the ride up. We finally arrived at the bottom of some stairs where I rode a wheelchair lift up to the elevator. The operator, our guide, and Wendy and me piled into the small box, cage doors slid down with a bang behind me, and the entire thing rattled and shook as we started our ascent. Once above the tree tops, the view was breathtaking! There were holes and crevices in the cliff side that birds were sitting on their nest in watching us as we continued up and up. We finally reached the top with a slight jolting stop, the cage door slid open on the opposite side and I rolled out onto a ramp that hung over the top of the Acropolis. And there in front of us was the smaller Temple of Erechtheion and the Parthenon.

IMG_0575IMG_0564The smaller temple was dedicated to the Greek hero Erechtheion. The most fascinating feature to this temple was the “Porch of the Maidens.” Each maiden was uniquely sculpted and served as the columns to hold up the roof. There was a street that curved aroundIMG_0574 and up from here to the Parthenon. This was some very rough going for a wheelchair. However, once again people that I did not know at all came to the rescue. A guy volunteered to pull my wheelchair up the steep and rocky street so that I was able to sit right at the base of the Parthenon. I got to take plenty of pictures of the amazing structures that surrounded me. When I started back down, the same guy appeared and carefully brought me all the way back down to the ramp. I always found some amazingly nice and helpful people wherever I went.

I rolled out to the end of the ramp hanging in space and waited for the lift to come up for me. We got into our clanky little cage and started our descent down. Once at the bottom I “jumped” my wheelchair from stone to stone working my way back to the bus. Any accessible issues were minor indeed. I was just sitting in front of a 2500 year old temple from the past. Now how cool was that?!

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IMG_0459Our first stop in Turkey was the ancient port city of Miletus. Visiting Miletus today certainly gives no indication that it was ever a port city. Over the centuries, the Maeander River has been depositing heavy silt, and the “port city” of Miletus is now 5 – 6 miles from the Aegean Sea. It was difficult to imagine that Miletus was once on a peninsula withIMG_0472 three major sea ports.

The focal point when driving in was the large and dominating Roman theater. Built in the 4th century BC, it was the second largest theater in Turkey with a seating capacity of 15,000. Still remarkably preserved, the larger part of our group was able to explore it uninhibited. And it was fun to watch all of them come pouring out of the “vomitoriums” (I just love that word!). Since the theater itself is not wheelchair accessible, I remained in front of it and was able to roll back and forth looking at all of the architectural wonders.

IMG_0462I want to mention something here that highly amused me but has absolutely nothing to do with Miletus or the theater – dogs. Most countries that I have visited always seem to have an abundance of stray cats. Miletus however had an abundance of stray dogs. Like the cats, they are homeless, skinny and I wanted to bring all of them home with me (Nasty look from Wendy). The amusing thing about theseIMG_0476 dogs was their behavior. For the most part they just sort of roamed around following our group hoping for a handout. They acted very “doggy” with slow wagging tails and their tongues hanging out. But they had one habit that made me snicker. They would be walking around with us, when without any warning they would just tip over and take a nap. And when I say “tip,” I mean it. At first I thought they must all have some medical condition to cause such strange behavior. I asked our guide and he just shrugged his shoulders, saying they all do it. It mattered not if they were under a tree, on a rock or in the middle of the road. Then some sound or smell would make them jump back up again until their next nap attack would strike. They actually reminded me a bit of myself!  Lol

We left Miletus and headed for Ephesus. The ruins of this ancient city were remarkable and it was very easy to see what a splendid city it must have been. We were looking at about 10% of the original city that has been excavated and that took approximately 140 years to accomplish. The main emphasis now is more on conservation and restoration of what has been unearthed rather than on further excavations.

IMG_0534The streets here are paved with very large stones that are worn smooth, cracked and some pretty rough going for wheelchairs. But my guide and bus driver were eager to help so I was able to move slowly along the streets and see everything. Once again the key is to have patience and take it slow. Three things here that I want to point out that have been excavated: the Celsus Library, the theater of Ephesus and the Temple of Artemis.IMG_0520

The one that I enjoyed seeing the most was the Celsus Library. It looked exactly like the pictures in all of the history books but it was so amazing to actually sit in front of it and take IMG_0537it all in with its surroundings. Some of it had been restored, but much of the original was still intact. It gave off an aura that bespoke of splendor. Ephesus, which had an approximate population of 250,000 in the first century BC, was one of the largest and busiestIMG_0504 commercial port cities of its day. The library certainly gave testimony to that fact. We also saw the theater of Ephesus which once again dominated the entire area. It was the largest Roman theater which seated approximately 25,000 people. It was still in remarkable condition and restoration projects were in progress to maintain it. The Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, was no longer much of a wonder. When the temple was built it had 127 columns that stood 60 ft high. Today, only one column has been partially resurrected to indicate where an ancient wonder once stood. I did include a model picture of what it would have looked like.

Miniaturk_009I end with a quote – “I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which is a road for chariots, and the statue of ZeusIMG_0488 by the Alpheus, and hanging gardens, and the colossus of the Sun, and the huge labour of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, ‘Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand.’”

Antipater, Greek Anthology (IX.58)

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fruitWhen we left the port of Haifa, the next day would be another full day at sea. Days at sea were nice because there was no set time to wake up. Wendy and I got ready for the day at a nice easy pace. We left our cabin and headed to the breakfast buffet. By now we had settled into a routine of where we enjoyed sitting best (a window seat) and the order of the things we ate. Once seated, the waiter would bring us a cup of steaming hot coffee and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. I love the smell of coffee. Even if I didn’t drink coffee, I think I would want to smell it each morning to start my day off right. Then we would get a plate of fresh fruit: pineapple, watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, grapes, bananas and strawberries. It was always fresh and delicious. Then Wendy would usually head to the hot cereal bar for a bowl of homemade oatmeal. I on the other hand would get some scrambled eggs, bacon and a sourdough roll. The waiter was always nearby to refill our coffee cups when he noticed they were getting low. After all of this, I would sometimes get myself a bowl of raisin bran cereal and Wendy would explore the endless assortments of new foods. We certainly never left hungry.

Since it was Sunday we planned on going to church. The ship had a beautiful chapel but our group had a conference room where we met together for services. It was a great time of fellowship and we even attracted some visitors along the way to join us.

Since we were at sea, all of the stores in the mall area were open for business. We enjoyed browsing the shops, sidewalk sales and listening to allmall the many languages being spoken around us. One of my favorite things to do in life is to buy gifts for Wendy. So I had fun seeing what would catch her eye and then go back later by myself to get it for her. I love surprises!

We would usually meet up with more people from our group and head to deck 11 for the lunch buffet. I’m sure that most (if not all) of you have been to buffets. I believe that I would have to have tried very hard to think of some food that was not available. Everything looked delicious, smelled delicious and was delicious. All of us seemed to try different items and then rave about it to the others. Of course that meant I had to then go try it also. I certainly am glad that I do not eat like that every day or I would have a serious weight problem! So many choices…so little time.

Mid afternoon we attended a lecture series of our next port of call. What we would see, why were going to see it and how it related to the Apostle Paul. This was also the time when our phenomenal EO representative would lay out the logistics for the next day. She was a champ and kept everything running smoothly.

deck 12Then the rest of the day and evening was ours. Wendy enjoyed going to deck 12 and walking with a couple of other ladies on the outdoor track or going to the workout center. This was when I would sneak back to the mall and start buying! Then I would go to the track and do a few laps around in my wheelchair. Deck 12 was always alive with people dining roomwalking, swimming, sitting in hot tubs and joining in the many activities available. This particular day, our group went and saw an Ice Capades show which was great fun. I also did my best to squeeze in an afternoon nap. Dozing off to the sound of the sea outside our balcony was wonderful.

ship1Our days at sea always ended with a formal dining experience in the grand dining room. So everyone would dress up and just have a lot of fun doing something out of the ordinary, or at least out of the ordinary for Wendy and me. We tend to be a lot more casual at home. We do have a formal dining room at home but it gets imagesCAWWXT1Edusted more often than used.

After dinner we would head back to our cabin and sit for a while on the balcony enjoying the moon shining over the water. Then Mr. Sandman would wind down our day as our eyes got heavy with sleep. We were eager for morning to come so that we could visit Turkey and see sites that we had only ever read about in history books.

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In the immortal words of Willie Nelson…”On the road again.”

There are many things in life that give the appearance of hindering anything a person attempts to do. This is not a new concept, but for people with disabilities, it does seem like the “curve balls” come faster and harder. Giving in, or quitting, to the trial often seems like the only course of action to be taken. And then we start to see the light at the end of the tunnel (praying it is not an oncoming train) and press forward. So that being said, let the journey continue.

IMG_0408Leaving the port of Ashdod behind us, we sailed our way northward to the port of Haifa. The city of Haifa slopes upIMG_0411 steeply from the coastline to the top of a small mountain. The view from the ship was beautiful as we were docking at 7:00 AM. Haifa is located in northern Israel and from here we would be touring many sites in the Galilee region: Mt. of Beatitudes, Tabgha, Church of the Primacy, Church of Loaves and Fishes, Capernaum, and a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee.

I had visited all of these places on my last trip to Israel, and despite my memory of some IMG_0412IMG_0417accessible challenges ahead, I was eager to see them again. Of all the places to visit in Israel, the beautiful region around the Sea of Galilee is probably my favorite. From the sloping hills of the Mt. of Beatitudes, to the steep Arbel Cliffs, the area isIMG_0423 filled with biblical history. The churches have a peaceful simplicity to them that welcomes a person to slow down and reflect. Our guide was wonderful, and made sure that each place we visited we saw and heard about it in great detail. She was completely at ease with me being in a wheelchair and anything that I wanted to attempt she was eager to make it happen for me.

The two sites here that I am going to focus on are Capernaum and our boat ride. The ancient city of Capernaum is amazing to say the least. Excavations here are remarkable including the remains of a synagogue dating back to the Byzantine period. Because IMG_1227IMG_1239Jewish culture demanded that the ground where a synagogue would be built had to be sanctified, it would be marked as holy ground. Rather than going through this process again, any new synagogues would be built on top of the older ones. So the remains of the fourth century white synagogue that we were able to be in is built on top of the first century IMG_0434synagogue that Jesus would have taught in. Just outside the steps of the synagogue there is an excavated site of the first century village. The homes were communal in fashion with larger central rooms for cooking and family gatherings in open courtyards. As the family grew, rooms were added to the central home for expansion. We also saw the site of what is believed to be St. Peter’s home. There is much biblical evidence, and physical inscriptions that have been excavated, for proof of its location. This park area is owned and maintained by Franciscan Monks, and once again, offers the tourist a place of peace and quiet to walk (or roll) around the grounds soaking up the serenity.

IMG_0448When we left Capernaum we headed to Nof Ginnosaur where we would get on a fishing boat for our ride on the Sea of IMG_0452Galilee. The last time I was here, getting from land to the boat proved to be a very accessible challenge. I was absolutely amazed this time! The dock area had been completely reconstructed with a smooth ramped surface taking me right to the boat. Last time I had to have men lifting me up and down stairs and slippery ramps to get me to the boat. This time I had complete independence and rolled my way along with no problems at all. When I got to the boat, three men lifted me and my wheelchair from the dock and set me in the boat. The entire transition was seamless and without fault. Once on the boat we headed out onto the waters as the crew played the US National Anthem and then the Jewish IMG_0794National Anthem. Once we were out quite a ways, the motors were cut off and silence and calm surrounded us. Our guide pointed out all of the many locations around the sea and then the party started!  Lol They played traditional Jewish folk music for us and taught anyone willing how to dance. The boat rang with music, dance, laughter and many good friends. Needless to say it was a wonderful time and I hated to have it end. But like all good things, end it must.

Once back on shore, our bus driver was waiting for us. He drove us back to the port of Haifa where we boarded our ship at a rather late hour. But there is 24 hour food available and wow, were we hungry! The smells coming from the buffet tempted our senses and we ended our day with a tremendous meal and many great memories.

As Wendy and I went to bed that night we felt the movement of the ship as we left Haifa and headed for the port of Kusadasi, Turkey.

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