Biblical Israel Tour experiences from the Greece, Turkey and Italy Tour, October-November, 2014
October 29 – November 8, 2014 (with optional extension from Nov. 8-11)
Days 1 & 2 – Wednesday/Thursday, October 29 & 30
Our departure day finally arrived for our Greece – Turkey Tour. This “Footsteps of Paul” trip started out well, with everyone making their connecting flights. 14 of the 32 in the group flew out of Chicago, while others flew out of Dulles. After our night flight to Europe, we all arrived in Athens Thursday afternoon. Our agents were there to meet us. We boarded the bus and drove about an hour to the Titania Hotel in downtown Athens. The weather was perfect, with sun and clouds and temps in the 60s.
Once we arrived, we enjoyed a free late-afternoon. Some took a nap while others explored a bit of Athens. For a good few opening panoramic pictures of this city of 5 million people, Pastor John ran to the top of Mt. Lycabettus. From here the view is wonderful. The sunset looking west towards he Aegean Sea was spectacular as well!
We gathered at 6:30 for an orientation meeting, followed by dinner at 7 p.m. An optional walk was enjoyed to end the evening. We walked to the “Constitution Square” and watched the guards of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers do their drills. are excited to be here in Greece, and are looking forward to the 7-day cruise that begins tomorrow afternoon.
Day 3 – Friday, October 31
Today was our first full day here in Greece. Sunny skies and mild temperatures awaited us as we embarked on our journey to the Peloponnese, the southern region of Greece. We met our guide for the day, Kostas, a Greek archaeologist from Mycenae. Our first stop on the way to Corinth was the famous Corinthian Canal. This is a 4 mile canal that waterway that connects the Aegean Sea to the East towards Turkey and the Ionic Sea to the west towards Italy. The canal built in 1892 is 75 feet wide. It is 275 feet down to the water from the bridge above. The actual water level is only about 70 feet deep. Crossing the bridge and driving about 10 minutes is the ancient site of Corinth. Paul spent 18 months here (Acts 18) planting a church here among primarily Gentiles, but also Jews too. There were 14 pagan temples here the oldest one built in 540 BC and dedicated to the god Apollo. We also read from 2 Corinthians 1 while standing on the bema, perhaps where Paul himself boldly shared the Gospel. Among the other ruins we saw included the Roman villa, the cardo-maximus (main Roman street), and a pillar with a Menorah etched on it, giving evidence of a Jewish community living here (although this dates to the 2nd century AD after the time of Paul). The acropolis of the city rises nearly 1,000 feet above the lower city.
Leaving Corinth we drove back to the eastern end of the canal where we enjoyed lunch. Many were introduced to the great Greek dishes of food here. From here the bus ride took about two hours to one of the ports of Athens, Livonia. After the embarking procedures, we boarded the Louis Cristal, a small cruise ship. We had a brief orientation meeting, followed by the usual life-jacket drill. We “set sail” towards Thessaloniki about 7:30 tonight. We enjoyed dinner together and a relaxing evening.
We all are looking forward to our first port stop tomorrow morning.
Day 4 – Saturday, November 1
It was another sunny day here in Greece. Following breakfast, we gathered for our first port stop. Thessaloniki (ancient Thessalonica) is the large city in this northern region of Greece. The population of this city liberated from the Ottoman Empire in 1912 is 1.1 million. We visited some of the ancient ruins where Paul “reasoned with the Jews from the Scriptures” for three Sabbaths about Jesus being the Messiah (Acts 17:1-9). We stopped by the Marcos Monastery and the traditional place of the house of “Jason (17:5) as well. We also saw on of the 3 round towers of the ancient Roman wall (4th century AD), with great view of the harbor below.
From here we drove to the city of Berea, about an hour away. We traveled on the Via Ingatia highway, following the ancient road Paul would have taken. In Berea, we did not see any ancient ruins (there are none) but stopped first at the Church of Anatasis, built in 1351 AD and dedicated to the resurrection of Christ. We then walked about 15 minutes to a monument that preserves the story in Acts. Unlike at Thessalonica, many who heard Paul share the Gospel here believed, including not only noble Jews but also “prominent women and many Greek men (Acts 17:12). From Berea, Paul sailed south along the coastline to Athens, while Silas and Timothy stayed in Berea (Acts 17:14).
After visiting these two sites, we drove back to the port of Thessaloniki. Most enjoyed some free time in café shops before boarding the ship for dinner. It was a great first full day here in northern Greece.
Day 5 – Sunday, November 2
During the night we sailed to Kavala (ancient Neapolos). Paul sailed into this same port after receiving his “vision” to come to Macedonia (Acts 16:6-10) and share the Gospel in this region. After breakfast, we left the ship around 8 a.m. and loaded the buses and drove to the ancient city of Philippi. Once again, it was here that Paul eventually planted a new church. Paul’s first experience in Philippi, was a difficult one, for it was here where both he and Silas were imprisoned. A traditional location for the “prison” is preserved here at the site. Among the ruins we was many Roman structures, including the “agora” (market place), the octagonal church (4th century AD), the basilica (6th century AD), and the theater. In the theater (that could hold around 4,000 people),
The next stop was to the nearby river right outside the city of Philippi itself. Traditionally, it was along this small river where her baptism took place. Here we combined with the 4 other imagine Tours & Travel and held a brief time of worship and Scripture. It was a joy to join our hearts together as brothers and sisters of Christ in this time of worship. We read the story from Acts 16:11-15 about Lydia’s conversion as well as other passages from Philippians. Today, a Greek Orthodox chapel preserves this event.
We drove back to Kavala and the ship. We had about 2 hours of free time at the port. By 3:30 everyone was boarded on the ship. We began to sail to Istanbul, Turkey through the Dardanelles Straight (with Europe on our left and Asia on our right. We enjoyed dinner (“Captain’s Night”) and a relaxing rest of the evening.
Day 6 – Monday, November 3
During the early morning hours we traveled through the Dardanelles Straight. Upon awaking we were greeted by brilliant sun and temperatures in the 40s as we sailed into Istanbul, the ancient city of Constantinople that straddles two continents. Istanbul was once the capital of the Byzantine Empire for more than 1,000 years and capital of the Ottoman Empire for more than 500 years. Istanbul is famous for many beautiful places, churches/mosques, and museums.
After leaving the ship, we were once again greeted by our bus and guide. Our first stop was the Hagia Sophia (Divine Wisdom), one of the greatest churches in the world, built by the Byzantine Emperor Justinian in the 6th century AD (built from 532-537 AD). It was a church for 900 years before being converted into a masque in 1453 AD. It is now a museum since 1934.
Within walking distance is the Blue Mosque, the most splendid mosque in the city. This mosque is distinguished by six slender minarets and the interior decorated with blue Iznik tile. It was built in 1609 and completed in 1616 AD. It is about a third the size of the Hagia Sophia.
Following lunch we visited the quite impressive Topkapi Palace, known for its Ottoman Treasures. Many of the sultans of the Ottoman Empire lived here and in this area of the city. From here we drove to the Grand Bazzar where we enjoyed some shopping until 6:30 p.m. We had great fun bargaining for the best prices and taking in the rich Turkish culture of the area.
We then boarded the bus and returned to the ship for dinner and an optional gathering to end the evening.
Day 7 – Tuesday, November 4
It was another sunny day here in Turkey. With temps in the 60s, we enjoyed our visit to the sites of Asclepion and Pergamum.
The morning was leisurely as we waited our arrival at the port of Dikili located on the western coastline of Turkey. Following a devotions and lunch, we were greeted by our guide, Oz, when we made port around 12:30. We drove to Asclepion, a Roman site known to be the second largest health center in the Roman world. Here we saw many ruins, primarily from the 2nd century AD. This included a beautiful theater and a Roman street. We walked through the underground “healing tunnel” that led to the place where the sick we’re taken to be cared for.
Boarding the bus from here we drove 10 minutes to the huge site of Pergamum. We took the cable car to the acropolis. The view from here was spectacular!! Here we saw the Temples of Dionysus, Trojan, and Athena/Zeus. The theater here was one of the steepest in the Roman world.
We drove back to the ship for dinner (it was “blue night”). The rest of the evening was free.
it was another great day here in Turkey, ending with an almost full moon!
Day 8 – Wednesday, November 5
It was a smooth ride last night as we traveled further south along the western coastline of Turkey. We arrived at the port of Kusadasi shortly after breakfast. Having Oz once again as our guide, we boarded our bus and drove towards one of the largest archaeological sites in Turkey, Ephesus.
The tour of the site began on the main Roman street that runs down towards the famous Library. Ephesus was known for it’s great Temple of Artemis (Diana). Paul visited this site briefly at first at the end of his second missionary journey, but also on his third journey when he would spend more time here. Ephesus is also one of the seven churches of Revelation, the one who “lost their first love” for Christ.
Along the walk on the Roman street, we saw various kinds of ruins: pillars, capitals, a relief of “Nike” the famous god of victory, and a quite impressive public bathroom. At the end of the street is the famous Library. Although it dates to a time after Paul, it stands impressively above everything else.
At the end of the tour of this amazing city, we stopped in the theater where we had a combined worship time with the other imagine Tours & Travel groups. We enjoyed singing a few songs together as well as listening to the reading and sharing of Acts 18, Ephesians 3, and Revelation 2.
The Basilica of John was our next stop. Located very near the famous Temple of Artemas, this traditional burial place of John was interesting to see. The baptismal area, like most of the rest of this area, dates to the Late Roman period.
From here we enjoyed lunch at a carpet shop. It was quite interesting to hear about how silk is spun from the cocoons of silk worms as well as to see how the carpets are made.
We ended the day with traveling about an hour through the rural country-side to Melitus. We sat in the huge theater (that originally dates to the 2nd century BC but modified in the 2nd century AD) and listened to the touching narrative of Acts 20. It was hear where Paul said goodbye to those from Ephesus who came to see him off to Jerusalem at the end of his 3rd missionary journey.
We returned to Kusadasi about 6:30. Since boarding time back on the ship wasn’t until 11 p.m., many enjoyed time shopping or sipping Turkish coffee or chai (tea) in cafés. With all boarded, we began our night voyage to Patmos. We look forward to visiting this island tomorrow.
Day 9 – Thursday, November 6
This morning we arrived at the Island of Patmos at about 6:30 am. Following breakfast, we departed the ship for our bus that took us to the highest point of the island. Here, the Monastery of St. John the Divine, as it is called by the Greek Orthodox, is located. The view from this location of the harbor below was spectacular. Between 17-34 monks maintain the monastery that dates back to the 11th century (1088 AD). It was built by a monk named Christodoulos Latrenos. According to the Greek Orthodox, Patmos (next to Jerusalem) is regarded as the second most important religious site. The museum here houses two most significant items, including iconoclastic art work of “Jesus, the Sufferer” done by El Greco, and portions of a 5th-6th century AD manuscript of the Gospel of Mark.
About half way down the hill is the traditional location of the cave/grotto of John while he was exiled on the island. Once again the Greek Orthodox maintain this site commemorating the receiving of the “Revelation” vision. After seeing the cave, we gathered together to read from Revelation 1 & 4, reflecting on Christ being our vision in our walk of faith.
We boarded back onto the bus at 11 a.m., sailing to Syros, a Greek island located in the center of the Cyclades. We arrived around 6 p.m. Our entry into the port was beautiful, complete with all the lights reflecting on the water and a gorgeous full moon. We enjoyed time walking around, shopping, and tasting a few Greek delicacies. The first reference to Syros was made by Homer under the ancient name “Syrie.” The first settlers of this island may have been the ancient Phoenicians in the 7th century BC.
We boarded back on the ship by 11 p.m. Our night journey takes us back to the port of Athens.
Day 10 – Friday, November 7
Today was the day we disembarked from the ship for the last time. These last 7 days of seeing various biblical sites in Greece and Turkey was great. It was here at the Lavrion port where we once again met Kostos, our guide. Upon loading up the bus, we returned for a full day in Athens, not before taking the coastal route that went past the famous Temple of Poseidon located at the tip of Cape Sunion. Paul would have sailed past this massive Temple while sailing to Athens from Thessalonica.
Upon arriving in Athens, our first stop was at the Olympic stadium reconstructed in 1896 for the first modern Olympic Games. The stadium can hold 45,000 people. We continued to the Acropolis area. We ascended Mar’s Hill (Areopagus in Greek) where Paul addressed the Athenians. We read from Acts 17 and Romans 1 from on top of this rock formation. From here we could clearly see the Acropolis, our next destination. From Mar’s Hill, we also could see the agora, various temples, and Lycabettus, the highest mountain that overlooks the entire city of Athens.
Climbing to the Acropolis we past the Temple of Nike, the Odiom (theater), and the Temple of Dionysius. On the top of the acropolis is the Propylea, the Erechtheion, as well as the famous Parthenon in honor of Athena, the goddess of protection over the city. From the top, we also could look down to the Temple of Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch. The Parthenon, built about 2,500 years ago, is one of the world’s most impressive structures.
Upon descending the acropolis, we continued our walking tour to the Plaka, the old part of Athens. Here we enjoyed lunch and some shopping before re-boarding the bus. Passing Constitution Square and the Tomb of the Unknown soldier, we arrived at our hotel. A few enjoyed walking up to Lycabettus while others walked around the streets of Athens. After dinner, we all retired early because of the early flight to Rome in the morning.
Day 11 – Saturday, November 8
It was a very early start for us this morning. With the need to leave the hotel in Athens and drive to the airport for our flight to Rome, our wake-up call was 2:30 a.m. We left the hotel by 3:30, got the airport in plenty of time, and arrived in Rome about 7 a.m. We were greeted by sunny skies (with eventual temps around 65) as well as our guide, Gabriela. We loaded up our bus and began the 3 hour drive south to the ancient city of Pompeii. We stopped half way for our first taste of Italian cappuccino coffee. We drove past Monte Casino Abbey, established in 529 AD by San Benedicto. In WWII, it was famous for the Allied bombing of the site in September, 1944 (thinking the Nazis were there).
We arrived in Pompeii at 11:15. Here, Vincento, our local guide, showed us this famous site that as destroyed by the ash cause by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius on August 24, 79 AD. About 20,000 people lived here in the 1st century. Excavations of the site began in 1748, and still continue to some extent. Among the 68 acres of ruins we saw the city theater, a number of the 300 shops and houses, many colorful frescos, mosaics, the theater, and the forum. Most daunting was to see the plaster casts, representing those who were buried alive by the 25 feet of ash that fell. Pliny the Younger offers us a moving personal testimony of what he saw from the Bay of Naples when Vesuvius erupted.
After a great lunch (with many ordering pizza and/or pasta), we returned to Rome. Arriving around 7 pm., we checked into our hotel, enjoyed dinner together, and an optional walk following dinner.
Day 11 – Sunday, November 9
It as a great first full day in Rome, with sunny skies and temps around 65. With the energetic and humorous Gabriela guiding us, we left about 8 a.m. for our first stop, St. Peter’s in Chains church. Built originally in the 5th century AD, but later in the 15-16th century AD, this is where, according to mere tradition, the chains that once bound Peter both in Jerusalem and in Rome that ‘mysteriously melted together” are on display. Within the church, we also saw Michelangelo “Moses” sculpting.
Close by is the famous Coliseum. Started in 69 AD by Vespasian, and totally finished in 96 AD by Domitian (yet inaugurated in 80 AD duing the reign of Titus), this massive amphitheater was quite amazing to see. We walked around in it before walking from here to the Roman Forum. We passed the Arches of Constantine and Titus (complete with a relief of the Jewish Menorah from the Temple in Jerusalem that was destroyed in 70 AD). In the Forum we saw the ruins of the Temple of Saturn, Vesta, Vespasian, and Titus (Roman emperors were considered gods themselves).
Leaving the Forum, we boarded the bus and headed to lunch. From here we visited the Di San Callisto catacombs (named after a Pope from the early 3d century). This is only one of 60 catacombs, or underground cemetaries used by the Romans in the first number of centuries. Thee are up to 20 kilometers of pathways spanning 4 levels deep, with nearly a total of 500,000 actual tombs discovered.
Our last stop of the day was the “St. Paul Outside the Walls” basilica. Built initially in 329 AD to commemorate Paul’s burial place, it was later expanded in the 11th century. While it burned in the 1800s, it was re-built in 1854. All 266 Popes are remembered here with their own relief that surrounds the sanctuary. We ended the day with a 30 minute worship time of singing and Scripture.
We drove back to the hotel for some free time before dinner. A number of folks walked to St. Peter’s Square. It was a great day here in Rome!
Day 12 – Monday, November 10
This was our last day on the tour, and it was another good one. With sunny skies once again (and temps around 65), our first stop was to the Vatican Museum. With our group reservation, we were able to avoid the long lines. We entered without too much delay. We saw the highlights of the museum, which included a number of sculpting, tapestries, and large maps. At the end of the map section, e entered the Sistine Chapel. While the sides were painted by a number of artists, the ceiling was the work of Michelangelo. Born in 1475 (the same year as the building of the Sistine Chapel, completed in 1482), Michelangelo was called to paint the ceiling. It took him 4 years (1508-12). We was 33 years old when he started this project (he died at 89).
Leaving the Sistine Chapel, we entered the largest church in the world, St. Peter’s. The church is 196 meters long. Of the 266 Popes, 128 are buried here. The first church here was built by Constantine in 329 AD, but the present-day church started in 1506, finished 120 years later in 1626. Following the tour of the church, a number in the group climbed 450+ steps to the top of the copula. What a great view from here!
After lunch and some free time, our afternoon included a visit to the St. John’s Church in Chains, the early foundations dating to 326. This served as the residents of the Popes until 1305. Nearby are the “Holy Steps” supposedly by tradition were brought from Pilate’s palace in Jerusalem to Rome. It was on these steps that Martin Luther felt convicted and left the Catholic church. This would be the start of the Reformation movement.
We ended the day by visiting the Trevi Fountain. Unfortunately it was under construction. We then ended the day by visiting the Pantheon, a temple dedicated to Hadrian (2nd century AD). The temple’s dome is actually larger than the one at St. Peter’s Church.
We drove back to the hotel for dinner and bedtime since we fly home early tomorrow morning.
It as a great trip blessed by God in many ways!
Day 13 – Tuesday, November 11
We had another early wake-up and departure for the Leonardo De Vinci Airport in Rome. With our group on different flights, we arrived back in the States. Thanks be to God for this unique opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Paul!