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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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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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As we left Egypt and headed for Israel, all of us were eager to arrive, even though the news of Hamas militants firing rockets into southern Israel was being watched on the news. Our port of call, Ashdod, is just north of Gaza, so the cruise line and our tour group were paying close attention to everything concerning safety. Everyone was assured we would be secure, and having been to Israel before, I was eager to return to see our friends, beauty and history once again. The purpose of my blog posts is to discuss disability issues and to encourage disabled people to get out and live life. However, because of what is happening in Israel right now as I am typing this (Hamas militant terrorists set off a bus explosion in Tel Aviv) I am going on a brief rabbit trail to express my personal opinion against terrorism and support for Israel. For those of you who know me, I am a Christian, and I firmly believe that Israel as a nation has the right to exist and protect itself.

And now on to Ashdod. When we docked in port, we were met by our guide and driver like always. We drove to Old Joppa, toured the city for a bit, and then met the rest of our group for a wonderful outdoor lunch. The many and varied foods were delicious, but I think one of my favorites is always the warm pita bread and hummus. One thing to mention about rolling around in a wheelchair at the ancients sites – go slow. Most places are ramped or level but are not what I would call smooth. Cobble stones that are 2000 years old tend to be a little on the bumpy side. But taking things slow and easy make it very doable. And let me add here that other people in our group were eager to assist me wherever they could. So anytime something looked like it might prove difficult to maneuver, I had a friend helping me before I could even ask. If I worried about always being on flat smooth surfaces, I would never leave home! And who wants to live a life like that?

After lunch we drove to Caesarea. We visited the ancient portion of the city that has been excavated and is filled with many artifacts. Caesarea was built by Herod the Great as a port city about 22 – 10 BC. Herod the Great built this man-made harbor out of jealousy over the natural harbors in Egypt. He wanted something to rival other sea ports and give him excellent connections to all parts of the Mediterranean world. We saw ancient ruins of the port, public buildings, a theater, an amphitheater, hippodrome, two aqueducts, a colonnaded street and a temple dedicated to Caesar. The theater here seats about 4,000 people and is the first thing you see when entering the archaeological park. Looking out to sea, the hippodrome is on the right. It was fun to look at it and imagine chariot races like most of us are familiar with in Ben Hur.  The disciple Peter preached here and this is where the apostle Paul was in prison for two years.

When we left Caesarea we drove to the Moshav (village) Yad Hashmona. It is located in the Judean Hills just a few miles west of Jerusalem. The scenery here is beautiful and even has a view of the Mediterranean coastline. Here we were taken on a tour through the Biblical Gardens. This was like stepping back into biblical times and seeing many aspects of that life including an open air synagogue, watch tower, olive press, grape press, threshing floor, burial cave, a Mikveh (ritual bath) and many varieties of fruit trees and beautiful flowers. Here Wendy and I also got to reunite with some very dear friends from our last visit to Israel.

When we left here we drove back to the docks for a late dinner aboard our ship. After a long day of touring we were eager to get to bed. Jerusalem was our destination in the morning.

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I am quite certain that all of you have been invited over to a friend’s home for a “fun-filled” evening of listening to endless stories about their family vacation. Garnished with numerous pictures of places that you care very little about, and stories that make you wish your hearing was anything but perfect, you stifle your yawns and pretend to be interested. I must admit that I am feeling like that boring host. Being somewhere in person, seeing the sites, smelling the new smells and tasting the new foods is a wonderful thing – relaying those feelings of awe to others is a totally different thing.

But…a friend of mine, a very famous author in her own right, wrote something once to all aspiring authors: Be prepared to be lonely…the world is not waiting with baited breath to read anything that you have written.

For me, writing is a release. I way of expressing myself in a world that often times I am the only inhabitant. So as I continue telling you about my journey, I hope that you see and feel a touch of the wonder and fascination that I saw and experienced. So continue to join me on my journey as we visit Alexandria, Egypt.

Wendy and I started our morning early on deck five with a steaming hot cup of coffee and a wonderful blueberry muffin. When the gangway was let down, we were eager to get started on our last day in Egypt. Today’s itinerary included Egypt’s Ancient Lighthouse, Library, and King Farouk’s palace. We met our guide and bus driver at 7:00 AM and started off for our tour around Alexandria.

Alexandria was founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BC and is the second largest city in Egypt. After the death of Alexander the Great, his general, Ptolemy I, became the ruler of Egypt and continued Alexander the Greats’ dream by creating two significant harbors. This is the location of one of the great wonders of the ancient world, the Egyptian Lighthouse, unfortunately destroyed by an earthquake. Stone blocks from the lighthouse have been used over the years in construction of other buildings, very similar to what we saw of ancient sites in Italy.

We also saw the area where the ancient city of Herakleion (named for Hercules) is located. Also destroyed by an earthquake and sunk into the sea. If I understand correctly, there are some tentative plans to turn the ancient harbor into a museum of sorts which would be fascinating to see. We enjoyed the sea here watching fishermen fish in the ancient harbor, as some very content cats patiently waited nearby for their share of the daily catch.

Another place we visited was the old palace of King Farouk, whose reign was ended with the revolution of 1952. The buildings and grounds were magnificent as we drove slowly through the winding roads. Controlled now by the Egyptian army, permission is granted for visits and the palace is sometimes used as a hotel for foreign dignitaries.

Our guide got me out of the van and pushed me around the grounds so that Wendy and I could get a better feel of the beauty. It certainly was a place of beauty but also filled with many interesting stories. We learned there was a nearby palace for King Farouk’s wife. The purpose for this was so the king could entertain “ladies” as he chose. Times and seasons may change, but man’s heart certainly does not.

The Egyptian Library was incredible. Completely designed to capture natural light and have perfect acoustics, the building is an architectural design of beauty. The university is across the street and the students have access to millions of pieces of literature and artifacts that are now digitally available. The Library is constantly adding more to its database and is available for the world to use at no cost. Their web site is www.bibalex.org I hope that you take advantage of this and do some exploring of the ancient world via the web. It will be almost like you are there.

After leaving the library we headed back to the ship for a late lunch. We pulled away from the docks at 7:00 PM. Wendy and I were on our balcony as we saw Egypt disappear into the distance. We sailed back out into the Mediterranean for our next port of call at Ashdod, Israel.

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After we left the Great Pyramids of Giza we drove across the Nile into the heart of Cairo. Since I already told you about the traffic, I won’t bring it all up again, but I am so thankful for our wonderful bus driver and his ability that got us safely to the Egyptian Museum.

The current museum is only large enough to display about 1/3 of its total antiquities collection. We saw the location and construction in process for a new museum that will be large enough to display everything. It is hoped that it will be completed in three years.

Of course the most celebrated collection in the museum is the artifacts of King Tutankhamun. The amount of gold in the collection was astounding. His coffin alone was made of solid gold and weighs 243 lbs. There were thousands of statues, busts, sarcophagi and other artifacts throughout the entire museum. We also saw Canopic jars that the internal organs were removed and placed into during the mummification process. Pictures were not allowed inside of the museum, so I have attached some from other sites so you can get a sense of what the place was like.

The museum for the most part was completely accessible. The one thing that was not accessible was the restroom. And of course, just my luck, the clock told me it was time that I use a restroom. This was a definite experience. I’m not sure why, but in the design of the building, the restroom was located between the first and second floor. The elevator did not make a stop on the restroom mezzanine. So in order to get to the restroom a person had to hike up a very large stairway from the first floor, or hike down a very large stairway from the second floor. And I might add that the stairs are not carpeted but are made from fairly slick marble. Looking at this situation, I was more than willing to look elsewhere for a restroom. But my guide was determined. So from the second floor he grabbed a museum worker and they lifted my wheelchair down the very long slippery stairway to the restroom. Wendy just walked beside of us ready to make a grab for me if anyone slipped. And of course once I got to the restroom, it was not wheelchair accessible! But I have learned to make do and this was no exception. Then they lifted me again to carry me down to the ground floor. I could tell from the face of the poor museum worker that this was a first for him. Lol

After leaving the museum my guide lifted me into our van and off we headed back to the ship in Alexandria. I enjoyed the drive and scenery and asked many questions of things I saw along the way. We also had an interesting experience of needing to get some diesel fuel. Evidently diesel is difficult to come by at the moment and even though I could not understand anything of the exchange between the throngs of people at the pumps, I gathered that the price is not set, but is rather bartered for in very heated exchange. But our guide got us right to the front of the lines, we got the diesel, and continued on our way to Alexandria.

So many wonderful and amazing memories of everything we saw in Cairo. Truly a land of wonders.

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We awoke this morning with the lights of Alexandria, Egypt coming into view. Wendy and I went to breakfast early so we could be back on our balcony and watch the ship dock at 7:00 AM. The tugs and pilot boats were effectively doing their jobs as we neared the mammoth boat docks.

Our first view of Egypt was a mixture of the ancient with the modern. With a couple of quick pictures taken, we went to meet our group, ready to exit as soon as the gangways were put out. For anyone in a wheelchair, exiting and entering the ship was fairly simple with lots of assistance. Wendy and I were ushered to the front of the line, checked off the ship, and then helped over the gangway.

We were no sooner on the docks than we were greeted by EO representatives acting like we were long lost friends. Once again, EO had every detail worked out to perfection. The people knew our names, welcomed us to Egypt, and ushered us to our private touring van. Our van here was an ordinary van with the sliding side doors, but no lift. I thought this would become a nuisance transferring in and out of all day, until I met our guide and bus driver. They were both good sized guys, and after looking the situation over carefully, they just picked me up out of my wheelchair and placed me in my seat!  Lol I assure you that is no light task. I’m not huge, but I still weigh in at 180 lbs. But EO chose well, and over the next two days they lifted me in and out of the van several times a day with no apparent effort on their part. At times, just one of them would lift me. Wendy and I laughed about how up close and personal we got to know each other!

We left the docks, drove through Alexandria, and headed for Giza/Cairo about an hour away. I guess now would be a good a time as any to mention what driving in Egypt was like. I have been to about 20 countries, and even driven in some of them, but I would never even attempt to drive in Egypt. I read recently about someone’s trip to another country, and he said “that at best, driving laws were merely a suggestion.” In Egypt, I don’t think there was even anything to suggest. The population of Cairo and surrounding suburbs is about 23 million people. I do believe that all 23 million have a car and they are all on the road at the same time! From our perspective, the only rule of thumb was survival. Mere fractions of an inch between vehicles at all times, Smart cars, huge touring busses, mopeds, people running between cars to cross the road and the constant sound of blowing horns all made for an adventure of sheer terror mixed with the thrill of defying death. Wendy did her best to suppress her screams, but an occasional yelp would slip out every now and then. Our driver and guide acted like it was no big deal and pressed on. The driver would weave in and out of seemingly impossible situations, while our guide would point out things of interest along the way in the most nonchalant manner. Truly an experience that you must add to your bucket list!

Our first glimpse of the Great Pyramids of Giza made it all worth it. One of the seven wonders of the ancient world and we could definitely understand why. Their purpose, a giant tombstone, was not outstanding, but the architecture behind them was incredible. Just imagining moving the huge blocks of stone to build them was mind boggling. The Great Pyramid of Giza is the oldest of the seven wonders and remains largely intact. It is believed it took between 10 and 20 years to construct around 2560 BC. It stands approximately 454 feet high, covers over 13 acres, with over 2 ½ million blocks of limestone weighing anywhere between two and seventy tons, and was the tallest man-made structure in the world for over 3,800 years. Surrounded by two smaller pyramids, they make for a very imposing skyline. Then add in the nearby Great Sphinx, and it truly is something to see and remember. The great Sphinx guarding everything brought all of the movies about ancient Egypt to life.

We met the rest of our group here and took many pictures. Surrounded by very eager locals to sell gifts to tourists was a challenge, but my guide watched over me like a hawk so I just got to enjoy the sites without the least amount of hassle.

Driving from Giza into Cairo we crossed over the Nile River – the longest river in the world at 4,130 miles long. It flows through 10 countries and it was a wonder to see it and remember all of the history surrounding it. I could just imagine Cleopatra, “Queen of the Nile,” sailing here.

I hope you enjoy the pictures, and in my next post we will go to the Egypt Museum and the King Tut treasures.

 

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