Tag-Archive for » mediterranean «

There’s that time in 2013 we went to Greece…

Holy cow! Is it REALLY 2014 already?

Yet again, I find myself desperately catching up on the blog from last year in order to start the new year fresh and ready to keep up with the new things happening. I realized recently that last January I was blogging about our big “summer” trip we took in September and strangely enough, this year is no different. We also took our big trip of the year in September this year and here I am writing about it in January again. At least I’m consistent :)

I have seriously had the worst case of writer’s block lately. I’ve literally been staring at a blank blog page for almost 2 months now with a completely empty brain. As soon as I open the blog to begin a post, all known language drains out of my head and I’m left slowly drooling on the keyboard until Chris comes along and snaps me out it so we can eat dinner.

I think part of it stems from the fact I had really high hopes for this series of posts on Greece. While we were there I filled pages and pages of notes and observations in the hopes that I could turn them into flowing posts of beautiful, yet hilarious prose perfectly preserving the memories of that trip forever. Now, after spending too many hours disinfecting drooled-on keyboards, I think it’s finally time to admit defeat and just write the darn things.

Writer’s block: 1 Chelsea: 0

So here we go:

This one time back in September we met up with Chris&Michi&Baby in Greece after their 2-week sojourn in Germany. Islands were hopped, beaches were relaxed upon, ruins were explored, and tzatziki was consumed in large quanities. And hey! Look! So far no drool. Opa!

 

Cruise: Naples, Italy

“Naples?” you say. “Naples? Haven’t you already been to Naples?” Yes, yes we have. Two Novembers ago, in fact, when Chris went to Naples for work and I tagged along. So instead of doing another tour, we decided to venture off completely on our own. We already had a list of things we wanted to do:

  1. Go to Pompeii (since I couldn’t stop talking about it last time and Chris wanted to see what all the chatter was about).
  2. Get pizza at Da Michele (initiate mouth-water sequence).
  3. Get gelato.

Nice and easy :) Besides, the cruise tour to Pompeii would have given us less time and cost over $100 a piece. Getting there on our own gave us all the time we wanted, and between the train and the entrance ticket only cost us something like 18 euros each. Awesome :)

So while Josh and Kolie boarded a cruise tour to Capri and Sorrento to see a bit of the Amalfi coast….

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

…. we hopped on the Circumvesuviana train to explore Pompeii!

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

C² and Vesuvius

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Gladiator Style

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Pompeii the second time around was just as good as it was the first! You can seriously spend hours exploring and not see everything. We got to see a lot of the places I missed before AND they updated their maps! We didn’t get lost this time!

The next MUST-DO on our list was eat pizza at L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele. We tried it on a friend’s recommendation before and we have been thinking about it ever since (I’m not even joking…it comes up every other time we eat pizza). In case you missed the previous post about it… it’s a little hole-in-the-wall pizza joint that only makes two kinds of pizza: margherita and marinara (ie with cheese and without). And really… two pizzas are all you need. Fresh, brick-oven baked, covered in balls of squeaky buffalo mozzarella cheese….::drool:: You really can’t beat it! We consider ourselves extremely blessed that we got to return to Naples and try it a second time. Although… after too much longer eating Norwegian “Grandiosa” frozen pizzas we probably would have snapped and bought a plane ticket back to Naples anyway just to eat some real pizza again!

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode
And of course, what visit to Italy would be complete without gelato?

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode
Well… that’s it for our cruise folks! We left Naples and docked back in Civitavecchia where we began our journey homeward. I’m sure you’re thinking, “It’s about time! We’ve been hearing about this cruise for weeks now! Let’s move on.”
Yes… let’s :)
Cruise: Jerusalem, Israel

Our love affair with Israel only grew deeper the next morning, when we headed into Jerusalem for the day.

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Being firm believers in Jesus Christ, going to Jerusalem was a bit of a pilgrimage for us. Interestingly enough, the weekend we were there was also a pilgrimage holiday weekend for Orthodox Jews. Despite the massive crowds, it was a special experience to walk where Christ walked (and Nephi and Lehi, for all you other Mormons out there) and to imagine what it must have been like to walk those same streets two millennia ago. So much history! And Jerusalem was the center of it all for such a long time!  Whenever I visit a historic place like this, I like to sit in one spot for a little while and pretend I can watch time moving in fast forward. A time-lapse of history playing out before my eyes. I really think if I could pick any super power imbued upon me I would pick the power to travel through time. I would go right back to Jerusalem and just watch throughout various points in history. Ahhh…. how amazing would that be?

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

The little hill in the background of the photo above is the Mount of Olives. Does anyone else think it’s surprisingly small? With all of the epic stories and prophesies surrounding the Mount of Olives I had expected it to be a bit more, well…mountain-ish. More like Mount Timpanogos. The similar use of ‘mount’ is very deceiving in this case. The old Jerusalem city center within the ancient walls was smaller than expected as well. Not in a disappointing way, just surprising when you think about it being such the center of civilization at the time. The things you learn when you travel :)

As you can see though, the city surrounding the ancient walls is HUGE and stretches on for miles!

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Massive cemetery on the side of the Mount of Olives.

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Dome of the Rock

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

One of the most fascinating things I noticed about Jerusalem was the combination of all the different religions. While religion has such a power to unite, is also has a great power to separate. It was very clear in Jerusalem. On one hand, you had multiple different faiths gathered together to worship their God. I thought it was beautiful being amongst the Jews during their holiday as they prayed and worshiped. While Mormons and Jews are different, I still felt a kinship with them in their devotion and faith. On the other hand, there was a tension throughout the old city. Armed guards waiting around almost every corner would block us from from random streets with their machine guns with no explanation as to why and there is a clear divide between the Muslims, Jews and Christians over certain holy sites. It was a very interesting dynamic.

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Camera man

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

The huge crowd at the Western Wall for Sukkot.

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

The Western Wall of the ancient temple.

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

The Church of All Nations at the base of the Mount of Olives on our way to search for the Garden of Gethsemane.

One of the must-see places on our list was the Garden of Gethsemane, where Christ atoned for the sins of the world. So important was this that we opted to forgo all of the official cruise excursions and venture out on our own because not a single one of the tours included a visit to the garden. In fact, that was an interesting theme we noticed throughout Jerusalem. There were signs everywhere pointing to the Via Dolorosa (the street Christ carried his cross down on the way to his death), multiple supposed sites of Golgotha (where Christ died on the cross) and even the site where the Virgin Mary was supposedly baptized. But we had to leave the city and walk a ways down a busy street before we saw our first sign pointing towards Gethsemane. We found the deemphasis interesting and a bit sad. In the LDS church, a much greater significance is given to what happened in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Christ took upon himself the sins of each and every one of us to satisfy the demands of justice and pave the way for all of us to be forgiven, than what happened when he died on the cross. While still very important, to us his death was the final seal on the atoning sacrifice he began in Gethsemane. With such a beautiful and important thing that happened in the garden, we would have thought it would be much more of a tourist “attraction” but it was not. It seemed the majority of the tourist sites focused on his death and not on what his death actually meant. While the rest of the sites had grand churches and chapels built around them, the entrance to the Garden of Gethsemane was an unassuming wooden door in a stone wall.

Nevertheless, we made it a point to find it and find it we did…. 5 minutes too late!

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode
Apparently, the garden closes for a few hours during the middle of each day (which information wasn’t found on ANY of the research I had done about how to get there, by the way) and wouldn’t reopen until past the time we had to be on the bus to make it back to our ship. So frustrating! I guess it was alright though, because really… historically they can’t know if it was the actual site of the Atonement. The garden used to span much of the base of the Mount of Olives and the only things that makes this particular patch significant historically are the two 2,000 year old olive trees that were around when Christ would have been there and had managed to survive the Roman ransacking. We still got to see a bunch of other olive trees…just not the really old ones. Although, when someone saw how disappointed we were upon finding the locked gate, they mentioned that if we hiked up some stairs a bit we would be able to see down inside the garden. So we hiked up the stairs. And hiked. And hiked. And hiked…. until we reached the very top of the Mount of Olives! We never found a spot where we could actually see down into the garden, but we got a fantastic panoramic view of the old city! A nice happy accident :)

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Our consolation prize to Gethsemane was getting to see the Garden Tomb. It was also supposed to be closed, but they luckily stayed open that day because of all the tourists in town for the big holiday. Although this can’t be proven officially as the tomb Christ was buried in (there are a few other sites around Jerusalem also claiming to be the spot), it is a tomb contemporary of the time that matches the description in the Bible and was still really cool to see and imagine.

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Loving the markets!

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

If you go to Jerusalem, get the fresh-squeezed pomegranate juice. The stands are everywhere and it’s totally a tourist gimmick…but it’s sooo good! Just avoid the guys dragging on cigarettes while they squeeze your drink…

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

We only had a few hours to explore Jerusalem, and we left thirsting for much more. We would have liked to explore more of the city surrounding the historic center and soak up more of the rich culture and heritage, as well as venture off to the Dead Sea, Nazareth and Galilee and other sites where Jesus roamed and history unfolded.  Israel is absolutely fantastic and we are definitely, DEFINITELY coming back for more!

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

PS: If you are wondering where TCSE were through all of this, they did their own excursion to the Dead Sea for the day. We meet back up with them for excursions coming up in Turkey!

Cruise: Tel Aviv, Israel

Sigh… I have such high hopes and grand plans for this blog. I really do. I have all sorts of things I want to share with you all, but here I am trying desperately to catch up on a vacation we took back in October. In OCTOBER!  And now we are almost halfway through January already! alkdjreoighdfjkf.

Oh well. Just gotta keep moving along!

The next stop on our cruise after Egypt was Israel. We docked in Ashdod for a day and a half and spent most of our time in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Let me tell you… after all the craziness of Egypt we completely fell in love with Israel. We got only a brief taste of what it has to offer, but after our dinner excursion into Tel Aviv on the first night we made a goal to DEFINITELY come back soon to explore the country more thoroughly!

After the ship docked in Ashdod on the first night, Chris and I ventured off to Tel Aviv for an evening out. We LOVED Tel Aviv right off the bus. We spent the first few hours trying to find a restaurant that served traditional Israeli food, but after asking around we realized there was none to be had unless we wanted to take a 45 minute cab ride. Odd. We were starving by that point though so we gave up and picked the first restaurant we happened upon, Allora, which ended up being a charmingly cute Italian place with delicious food! Although, I’m sure anything would have tasted delicious at that point… but you can take a look at the pictures as proof!

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Pasta carbonara and hazelnut gnocchi.

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

We ended our evening with a walk along the beach. It was balmy and warm (even in October at 11:00 at night), the lights of Tel Aviv were a beautiful backdrop against the dark Mediterranean Sea, and we just wandered and talked about life, the universe, and everything. It was seriously perfect! (Ugh… listen to me. That sounds so campy. But that’s actually how it was so that’s how I’m going to tell it!)

Did I mention we loved Tel Aviv?

 

Cruise: Egypt

First stop: EGYPT!

Going to Egypt was pretty much the primary reason the 4 of us picked this particular cruise…and we almost didn’t get to go! Because of all the uprisings and political riots going on in the country, the same cruise the week before us didn’t get to stop in Egypt! Luckily everything calmed down just enough for us to be allowed off the ship. A bit of a miracle!

Cruising to Egypt was initially Kolie’s idea. She thought it would be a great way to see a fairly intimidating place like Egypt from the safety and security of a cruise ship and tour guides. I would definitely have to agree. As adventurous and daring as I like to think we are, stepping fresh off the plane and trying to figure out how to get to a hotel with all the signs in Arabic and few people speaking English would have been flat out terrifying! The wisdom of this idea was solidified when we got on our excursion bus to head from the boat in Alexandria to Giza and armed guards with automatic rifles got on the bus with us. So if you feel intimidated by a particular location, but really want to travel there, I definitely think cruising is the way to go!

The port of Alexandria

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Chris and I walked away from this experience with a love/hate relationship with Egypt. On one hand, we got to see the Great Pyramids, the Sphinx, some amazing architecture, the Sakara Cemetery, plow through the dessert in jeeps, and ride some camels as well as experience yummy new foods and a brand new culture:

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode
 

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

 

 

On the other hand though, we discovered that while all this was the picturesque, magical side of Egypt that everyone expects:

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

 

THIS is the actual reality of Egypt (viewed from the opposite side of the previous picture):

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode
Egypt underneath the breathtaking tourist layer was incredibly filthy. Steaming trash piled up everywhere you turned, freaky mangy dogs roaming the streets, and canals that looked like they were breeding the catalyst for the next major plague. It was quite a bit of a culture shock (especially since this was my first experience in a third world country. Definitely an eye-opener!). The worst part for us though were the peddlers. We thought we had done enough research and heard enough warnings to be prepared for it, but we weren’t. They would get up in our faces, touching our clothes and our hair, jumping in front of our cameras while we tried to take photos, following right behind us until we stopped walking for even a brief second, and shoving their goods into our hands as we walked by all to get us to buy something or tip them for some un-asked-for service. And when we didn’t, they would give us the nastiest, crustiest, hateful looks a human face can muster. And no matter where we went we were targets because we looked obviously and undeniably like the tourists we were.

 

Not cool Egyptians, not cool.

 

While I fully recognize that our touristy experience was not representative of the entire country and culture and that most non-peddling Egyptians are very likely incredibly nice and interesting… it made for a rough two days. Although, looking back on it, I’m glad we got to experience what we did. I feel like even though we were in Egypt for only 2 days, we were able to get a decently well-rounded look at what the country is like. We discovered there is a beauty even in the trash piles if you look with open minds and open hearts.

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Photo by Kolie Sheehan

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

Shashin Error:

No photos found for specified shortcode

 

Next stop: Israel!