Biblical Israel Tours: Greece, Turkey, & Rome Tour Experiences from March, 2011
Sunday/Monday, March 13 & 14 (Day 1 & 2)
We arrived in Athens for our Greece and Turkey Tour this morning. Upon meeting our agent and leaving the airport, we had a a few leisurely hours of walking around downtown Athens. Some exchanged money, some enjoyed the guards at Memorial at Constitution Square, while others enjoyed soaking up the Mediterranean sun with a cup of coffee. upload the site. We border the ship at the port of Athens called Piraeus. Upon securing our rooms, we enjoyed a wonderful dinner together and our first group gathering. Most retired at 9 p.m. after a long flight and day.
Tuesday, March 15 (Day 3)
During last night and throughout this morning, we sailed north along the coastline of Greece in the Aegean Sea to the biblical site of Thessalonica (called as “Thessaloniki”). After enjoying breakfast, a lecture on the ministry of Paul, and lunch, we left the boat for a tour of this city, the 2nd largest in Greece today. We read from Acts 17, as well as selected passages from Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians. The view of the Upper Citadel of the city was spectacular, providing a panoramic view of the harbor below.
From here we drove about 50 minutes to Berea, also mentioned in Acts 17. Paul’s ministry here encouraged these early believers to “search the Scriptures daily” in their pursuit of truth.
Lastly, we returned to Thessalonica and toured the largest Greek Orthodox Church of St. Demetrius (martyred in 304 AD). Parts of the church date to the 4th century AD. We returned to the ship for a buffet dinner and rest. We all look forward to seeing Philippi tomorrow.
Wednesday, March 16 (Day 4)
Sailing through the night, we arrived at the port of Kavala (called Neapolis in Acts 16). So this morning we woke up early for breakfast in order to leave the ship at 8 a.m. We drove to the city of Philippi (named after Phillip II, the father of Alexander the Great). Here we saw the well-preserved ruins of the agora (market place), a theater, and even an ancient prison where Paul and Silas were jailed. We all enjoyed a special presentation in the theater, with someone portraying Paul, reciting from his letter to the Philippian church.
We returned to the ship at 1:30 for lunch. Another lecture took place at 2:45, with Captain’s Dinner at 5:15. After dinner, we enjoyed another group gathering for worship, reflection, and Scripture.
We sail through the night to Istanbul, Turkey.
Thursday, March 17 (Day 5)
This morning we arrived in Istanbul, Turkey. We sailed up the Bosporus Straight. After breakfast, we began our tour of this large city of 7 million. We visited the Blue Mosque (built in early 1600s), the Aya Sofia (originally a church built by Justinian in 6th century AD), and the Top Kapi Palace.
Over lunch, a highlight for Pastor John was to arrange a remarkable private visit with the Patriarch of the Armenian Church in Istanbul, Mesrob, an old friend from his Jerusalem days back in 1981-82. It was a humble privilege to visit with him again.
In the afternoon, we enjoyed visiting a carpet shop as well as shopping in the Great Bazaar, one of the largest ones in the world. We returned to the ship for dinner and a special Greek performance that followed. Tonight we sail south along the western coast of Turkey to the port near Pergamum.
Friday, March 18 (Day 6)
Today we arrived in the port of Dikili, on the western coast of Turkey. After breakfast and another great lecture on the ministry of Paul and John in Asia Minor, many of us explored this small Turkish town. We enjoyed walking around the quiet streets, talking with local Turks, and buying snacks.
After lunch, our first stop was Pergamum. Most of the site is on the acropolis (high part of the city). We took a cable-car to the top. The ruins, dating to the 3rd century BC through the Late Roman period, are massive. We saw huge fortification walls, gates, temples, many archways, and the steepest theater in all of Turkey. Even though it rained for the first time on the tour, we all enjoyed the site. We read from Revelation 2, remembering John’s words to Pergamum., one of the seven churches.
The next site was Asclepion. Here we saw a fairly well-preserved ancient Greek hospital. The city, named after the Greek god of healing, Asclepius, has a few underground tunnels that were used to transport sick people from one area to another.
We arrived back to the ship in time for another great dinner and a group gathering before retiring for the night.
Saturday, March 19 (Day 7)
Today we ported at a town called Kusadasi. By bus once again, we traveled about one hour to Miletus, mentioned in Acts 18. It was the city where Paul met the elders from Ephesus, who walked about 3 days to say farewell to Paul as he sailed back to Israel at the end of his 3rd missionary journey. In the theater we enjoyed a presentation by someone portraying Paul. We also saw other structures, including a huge Roman bathhouse.
From here, we visited Ephesus. What a huge and impressive site. We spent about two and a half hours here, seeing many statues, Roman streets, the famous Library, and the huge theater where the story of Acts 17 took place. From here we enjoyed lunch at a Turkish restaurant, a fashion show at a leather shop, and shopping in the bazaar in Kusadasi. A buffet dinner awaited us on the ship in the evening, allowing many of us to enjoy the Turkish culture.
The ship left the port at 11 p.m., heading for the Island of Patmos.
Sunday, March 20 (Day 8)
We visit Patmos this morning, a small island where only 3,000 Greeks live. Awaking to a beautiful sunrise in the Aegean Sea, we boarded our bus at 8 a.m. Our first of two stops was to ascend about half way up the southern hillside of Patmos to what is called today as the “Cave of the Apocalypse” (Apokalisp). Here, according to tradition, is where John, the author of Revelation, penned his vision. Although a cave today, it is also used as a place of worship by the Greek Orthodox. Our second stop was to the Monastery further up the hill. This monastery dates back to the 10th century AD. Here, passages from Revelation 1 and 21 were read. The view of the Patmos harbor below was spectacular!
As the tour ended by 10:15, that provided free time for shopping, coffee, etc…. We boarded the ship for lunch. In the afternoon we enjoyed yet another lecture, followed by our own group worship service, with Communion.
Tonight’s dinner, the last on the cruise ship, as once again excellent. It a followed by a special performance. We then packed up as the ship traveled through the night back to Piraeus, Athen’s port.
Monday, March 21 (Day 9)
We made port back in Piraeus. Once disembarking the ship at 7:15, we toured Athens. First, we circled Athens, seeing the highlights of this “Olympic” city. Then we visited Mars Hill (the “Rock of Areopagus”). We ascended this rocky scarp in full scale of the Parthenon up on the Acropolis, as well as the “Agora” (market place) down below. In the windy and cold conditions, we read from Acts 17, the story of Paul confronting the Athenians in all of their “religiosity.”
Next, we walked to the top of the Acropolis. Wind gusts were 50-60 mph, blowing us practically over. Despite the wind, the view from on top is amazing! Here stands the amazing Parthenon, 100 x 53, with 46 pillars. This temple dedicate to Athena, the Greek god of wisdom, must have impressed even Paul, Silas, and Luke! In every direction, one can see for miles!
We checked in to our hotel about 1 p.m., with the majority of the group going out on our own and exploring the city. We taxied then walked to the ancient Agora, as mentioned in Acts 17. Along the way, we saw a Greek demonstration in front of the Constitution Building. Of course, we peacefully passed by with no issues. 🙂 After the Agora, we enjoyed coffee, hot chocolate, and Greek baklava in a local cafe to warm up a bit.
We took the Metro (subway) back to the hotel. We enjoyed a great dinner together. A few went exploring/walking after dinner to the Lycabettus Hill. We took the cable car up to the top for spectacular view of the lit-up city of Athens.
Tuesday, March 22 (Day 10)
After an optional pre-breakfast hike up Lycabettus Hill, we left out hotel for Corinth. Our first stop as at the famous Corinthian Canal. This canal links the Aegean Sea with the Ionian Sea. We arrived at Corinth 30 minutes later. We visited not only the site itself, rich with Greek and Roman history, as well as impressive ruins of the “Bema” (Acts 18) and the Temple of Apollo, we also enjoyed the Corinthian Museum.
We returned back to the canal for a lunch stop before our 2 hour ride to the western coast of Greek, Padra. It as beautiful to see this western coastline of Greece. Here we boarded our high-speed ferry to the eastern coastline of Italy. We enjoyed dinner on board at 7:30 p.m. before retiring early in preparation for Pompeii tomorrow.
Wednesday, March 23 (Day 11)
Our night ferry from Greece arrived at the port of Brindisi, Italy about 8 a.m. The drive from here along the Adriatic Sea was beautiful. The highway was lined with olive trees, grape vines, and peaches blooming with pink blossoms. The drive through this section of Italy’s countryside towards Napoli to Pompeii took about 4 hours. After having lunch at a pizzeria, we visit Pompeii. We spent 1.5 hours here, seeing ruins from the city that succumbed to the Mt. Vesuvius volcano eruption on August 24, 79 AD. About 12,000 lived in Pompeii at the time of the eruption, leaving 21 feet of debris and completely destroying the city.
At 4:30, we began our drive to Rome. The drive took about 4 hours, with a 30 minute break half way there. We checked into the hotel, ate a late dinner, and retired to bed. The next two days will be spent in Rome.
Thursday, March 24 (Day 12)
We woke up to a brilliantly sunny morning here in Rome! After breakfast, we began the day at 8 a.m., making the Roman Coliseum our first stop. Built in 72 AD by Emperor Vespasian, this massive “amphitheater” was quite impressive to visit. Remarkably, it took 8 years to build. 75,000 people could fit inside. Next, we walked to the Roman Forum, and saw the the Arch of Constantine, Titus, and Septimus Sererus. Nearby was also the traditional prison of both Peter and Paul (called the Prison of Marentina). Next were the Fountain o Trevi, the “Spanish Steps,” and Column Square. We enjoyed lunch at the Trevi Fountain area, buying pizza and gelato, Italian ice cream!
Also most impressive was the Temple of Pantheon, originally built by Marcus Agrippa in 25 BC, but reconstructed probably by Hadrian about 120 AD. This structure boasts of the largest dome of any building, spanning 160 feet across. Later in 609 AD, it was turned into a church by the Pope at that time.
The day ended about 4 p.m., with some taking some free time to explore even more and enjoy the culture of Rome. After dinner, we walked to St. Peter’s Square to experience the Vatican building at night.
Friday, March 25 (Day 13)
Our morning started early with a visit to the Vatican Museum. We followed our guide, Marta, our excellent Italian guide, through each room and hallway, admiring the art and history. From here we entered the Sistine Chapel. The fresco work of Michael Angelo on the ceiling of this chamber is beyond imagination! We exited to the area of St. Peter’s Square and Church. We entered the church, the largest one in the world. Inside are many displays of Popes from centuries before. The traditional tomb of Peter himself could be seen in front of the church. Upon exiting the church, we enjoyed an hour of free time in St. Peter’s Square.
In the afternoon we drove to one of dozens of catacombs, ancient underground cemeteries. The one we entered extends to four levels. It was a unique visit to see so many tombs. From here, our last stop of St. Paul’s Church Outside the Walls. This is the traditional burial place of Paul, who died, as suggested, at the hands of Emperor Nero.
We ended the day with saying goodbye to Marta. After dinner, we enjoyed our last group gathering.
Saturday, March 26 (Day 14)
We fly home on an mid-morning flight back to the States. What a great trip!