Two Days in Israel

The Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights

The Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights

Two ports of call during our 2012 Mediterranean cruise on the Costa Pacifica were in Israel: Haifa on April 23 and Ashdod on April 24. In both places, we had booked full day excursions: first touring Galilee, then visiting Jerusalem and Bethlehem. This page features photos taken during these two days. A more complete collection of images is available as a Web gallery. After our 2004 and 2007 cruises, we published web pages about our entire itineraries. This time, we will not do this, but for those who are interested, there is an illustrated Travel Log in PDF format available (left click to view, right click to download).

Click on any image to see a larger (1500 x 1000 pixel) version!

April 23, 2012: Touring Galilee

Touring Galilee was like being on a Sunday School field trip! Regardless of whether one is a believer or not, it is definitely impressive to see the places described in the Bible firsthand. Today, Nazareth, where Jesus was raised and lived until the age of 30, is a predominantly Muslim town. Its main attraction is undoubtedly the rather recent Basilica of the Annunciation, completed in 1969. This is the largest church in the Middle East, and according to the Roman Catholic faith, it is built on the spot where the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was going to give birth to Jesus. Inside the church, there is a grotto that marks the spot where Mary is said to have lived. Needless to say, the basilica is an extremely popular place for pilgrims and tourists alike, and it was probably a good thing that we were there before 11 o'clock in the morning.

Nazareth
Tourists on Al Bishara in Nazareth The Basilica of the Annunciation...

Tourists on Al Bishara in Nazareth

The Basilica of the Annunciation...


...is the largest church in the Middle East Statue of the Virgin Mary Detail of the basilica's door

...is the largest church in the Middle East

Statue of the Virgin Mary

Detail of the basilica's door


Nazareth pilgrims Inside the Basilica of the Annunciation

Nazareth pilgrims

Inside the Basilica of the Annunciation


People filing past the grotto... ...built on the spot where the angel appeared to Mary.

People filing past the grotto...

...built on the spot where the angel appeared to Mary.


Outside the basilica Heading back down Al Bishara

Outside the basilica

Heading back down Al Bishara


Nazarene fruit juice vendor Jewish state, Muslim town, Christian tourism

Nazarene fruit juice vendor

Jewish state, Muslim town, Christian tourism

On the way to the Jordan

We continued our journey by bus, heading towards the Sea of Galilee. We drove through Cana, where water was turned into wine at a wedding many years ago, and eventually reached an outlook (32º 43.019'N, 35º 33.000'E) from where we had a spectacular view of the Sea of Galilee and the valley of the Jordan some 200 meters (~ 650 feet) below. All the more surprising, then, that a sign informed us that we were at sea level! The Dead Sea, into which the Jordan flows, is the lowest point on Earth at 424 meters (~ 390 feet) below sea level. We continued our drive to the Jordan and the baptismal site of Yardenit. After a wonderful buffet lunch at the Kibbutz Ginosar, we were driven to Capernaum.


Colorful steps in Nazareth Overlooking the Jordan valley — 200 meters below sea level!

Colorful steps in Nazareth

Overlooking the Jordan valley — 200 meters below sea level!


The Jordan Baptismal area on the Jordan

The Jordan

Baptismal area on the Jordan

Capernaum

Capernaum was the center of Jesus' activities in Galilee and the home town of his disciples Simon (later called Peter), Andrew, James, and John, as well as that of evangelist Matthew who referred to Capernaum as the home of Jesus: "And leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast [...]" (Matthew 4:13). Extensive excavations have been conducted in Capernaum; they have revealed that under the ruins of a 4th Century synagogue, there are the remains of the temple assumed to be the one Jesus taught in. Archeologists have also found what they believe to be the foundations of Saint Peter's home. Today, the whole archeological site and the gardens belong to the Vatican and they are considered a holy place that demands a certain code of conduct as explained by this sign.


Statue of St. Peter Columns of the 4th Century Synagogue Looking towards the Sea of Galilee

Statue of St. Peter

Columns of the 4th Century Synagogue

Looking towards the Sea of Galilee


The Sea of Galilee at Capernaum Foundation of St. Peter's house

The Sea of Galilee at Capernaum

Foundation of St. Peter's house


Main prayer hall of the 4th Century Synagogue Capernaum excavations

Main prayer hall of the 4th Century Synagogue

Capernaum excavations

Tabgha

Our next stop was Tabgha and the Church of the Multiplication, so named because it is built on the spot where Jesus is said to have fed a crowd of people with just five loaves of bread and two fishes: Matthew 14:13-21. The church floor is covered with restored 5th Century mosaics, including one showing two fish and a basket with loaves of bread. Immediately next to the church is a hill which is believed to be the place where the Sermon on the Mount was delivered.


Courtyard of the Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha Church of the Multiplication

Courtyard of the Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha

Church of the Multiplication


Loaves and fishes mosaic Where the Sermon on the Mount took place

Loaves and fishes mosaic

Where the Sermon on the Mount took place

The Yigal Allon Center in Ginosar

After leaving Tabgha, our bus took us back to the Kibbutz Ginosar where we visited the Yigal Allon Center (our guide had to re-arrange the order of visits because the excavations at Capernaum closed early). In 1986, following a drought, the water level of the Sea of Galilee had dropped significantly; this lead to the discovery of an ancient boat that was stuck in the mud. The boat was recovered with great difficulty and carbon-dated to the first century, in other words to the time of Jesus. Today, the 2000 year-old boat, promptly dubbed the "Jesus boat", is displayed in a museum built for just this purpose and named after Yigal Allon, one of the cofounders of the Kibbutz Ginosar. This was our last stop for the day; when we left, the bus took us back to our cruise ship in the harbor of Haifa.


The Yigal Allon Center with... ...the 2000 year old boat.

The Yigal Allon Center with...

...the 2000 year old boat.


Looking out to the Sea of Galilee The Sea of Galilee at Ginosar

Looking out to the Sea of Galilee

The Sea of Galilee at Ginosar


April 24, 2012: Jerusalem and Bethlehem

Our bus left Ashdod harbor a few minutes before 9 o'clock in the morning. Because we lost a bit of time in a traffic jam, our tour guide decided to make a pit stop en route while at the same time giving us the opportunity to have a cup of coffee or a nibble at a well-known Israeli eatery. Around 10:15 in the morning, the bus pulled off the road again, this time to allow us to admire a magnificent view of the city of Jerusalem. We stayed there long enough for everyone to take all the pictures they wanted and then drove down to Gethsemane.


Stopping along the way... ...to get a good view of Jerusalem.

Stopping along the way...

...to get a good view of Jerusalem.

The Mount of Olives and Gethsemane

According to the Bible, after the Last Supper, Jesus went to pray in the garden of Gethsemane where he was betrayed by Judas and apprehended by the Roman soldiers. The Church of All Nations, also called Basilica of the Agony, is built on the spot where these events occurred. This church is rather new; it was completed on 1924 and is built on the foundations of two previous places of worship: a 12th Century chapel that was abandoned in the 14th Century, and a 4th Century Byzantine basilica that was destroyed by an earthquake in 746. The current church was built using funds from many nations, hence its name.


The Mount of Olives The Garden of Gethsemane

The Mount of Olives

The Garden of Gethsemane


The Rock of Agony The Church of All Nations in Gethsemane

The Rock of Agony

The Church of All Nations in Gethsemane


'Judas, must you betray me with a kiss?' The central aisle mosaic Looking from Gethsemane to Jerusalem

"Judas, must you betray me with a kiss?"

The central aisle mosaic

Looking from Gethsemane to Jerusalem

Jerusalem

The bus then took us to the entrance of the old town from where it is just a three-minute walk to the Wailing Wall, also called the Western Wall because it is a remnant of the wall that surrounded the courtyard of the old Jewish Temple. The huge blocks that make up the wall are thus well over 2,000 years old. The wall is one of the most sacred sites of Judaism. Why "Wailing Wall"? Because Jews bemoan the destruction of Solomon's Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BCE. From the Wailing Wall we walked up parts of the Via Dolorosa, the path Jesus is said to have walked bearing his cross on his way to the crucifixion. We ended up at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher built on Calvary Hill, or Golgotha, on the very place of the crucifixion. The church also contains the place where Jesus was buried, hence the name "Holy Sepulcher".The historic significance of all these places was just incredible!


The Wailing Wall Jews praying at the Wailing Wall

The Wailing Wall

Jews praying at the Wailing Wall


Stop five on the Via Dolorosa Climbing up the narrow streets... ...of the old town.

Stop five on the Via Dolorosa

Climbing up the narrow streets...

...of the old town.


The Church of the Holy Sepulcher Dome mosaic of Jesus Christ

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Dome mosaic of Jesus Christ


Inside the church... ...one can find quiet places... ...without hordes of tourists.

Inside the church...

...one can find quiet places...

...without hordes of tourists.

Bethlehem

After a buffet lunch in a Jerusalem hotel, our tour bus took us to Bethlehem in the Palestinian Authority controlled area. Normally, Israelis are not permitted to enter that area, but our tour guide had a special permit and was thus able to accompany us. We had to go through a checkpoint reminiscent of the ones known from Berlin and numerous papers were checked before we were finally waved through. After an obligatory stop at a souvenir shop, the bus took us to the center of town from where we walked up to Manger Square (yes, really) and the Church of the Nativity. This is actually a compound made up of two churches: The Basilica of the Nativity itself, maintained by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and the adjoining Roman Catholic Church of Saint Catherine. The Grotto of the Nativity beneath the Basilica is the place where Jesus is said to have been born; we could not visit it because the wait was far too long. On the way back, once we had reentered Israeli territory, the bus took us on a short sightseeing journey through Jerusalem before bringing us back to Ashdod.


Bethlehem and the wall separating it from Israel Looking towards the Church of Nativity

Bethlehem and the wall separating it from Israel

Looking towards the Church of Nativity


By the Church of Nativity Inside the church 4th Century mosaic floor

By the Church of Nativity

Inside the church

4th Century mosaic floor


Saint Catherine Church By the Franciscan courtyard Bethlehem street

Saint Catherine Church

By the Franciscan courtyard

Bethlehem street

The Costa Pacifica left Ashdod that evening, bound for Izmir and Ephesus. These two days were truly unforgettable; the sense of history and cultural significance was almost overwhelming, and as much as one likes to say that one wants to return to places visited during a cruise, Israel will definitely figure in our future travel plans. We want to go to the Dead Sea, visit Masada, go to the Golan Heights, and spend more time in many of the places we saw during these two days and where we had to leave when it was time for the group to move on.

As mentioned above, more photos are available on a Web gallery and an illustrated Travel Log in PDF format is available for viewing (left click) or download (right click). Enjoy!




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