Trip Experiences from our Greece-Turkey-Italy Tour
September 5-18, 2021
(NOTE: the trip is now updated through Friday, Day 13)
The Greece-Turkey-Italy Tour Program:
Days 1 & 2 – Sunday-Monday, September 5-6 – Depart for Greece
Our day of departure finally arrived. God brought together 23 for this revised Greece-Turkey-Italy tour of biblical proportions. Flying out a few departing cities, most in the group met at the Athens Airport, while some met us in Thessaloniki (modern name for Thessalonica). Seventeen of us who met in Athens barely made our flight to this northern city. Aliki, our guide, flew with us.
Upon arriving, we loaded our bus for a brief city tour of Thessaloniki. This is a town of 1.3 million (Greece has a total population of about 13 million). We saw the White Tower (that dates back to the Byzantine Period (although re-used as a prison much later in the Ottoman Period), the Forum (where we read from Acts 17 about Paul, Silas, and a local resident of Thessalonica named Jason), and the Greek Orthodox Church called St. Demetrius. We’ll see the acropolis of the city at the end of the day tomorrow.
We are all thankful for God’s protection in travel, and we look forward to this “footsteps of Paul” trip together.
Days 3 – Tuesday, September 7 – Amphipolis, Philippi, Neapolis/Kevala
Today was our first full day here in Greece. The weather was perfect, with partly cloudy skies and temps around 75. Following a hearty breakfast we left Thessaloniki at 7:40. We read Philippians 1:1-11 as we began our drive to the north.
Our first stop was Amphipolis. Paul passed by this city (Acts 17:1) as well as Appolonia. The lion statue we saw here dates to the 4th century BC. It was set up in honor of Laomedon of Mytilene, an important general of Alexander the Great, king of Macedonia.
We continued northward along the Aegean Sea coastline. We enjoyed a brief coffee and pastry stop on the way to Philippi. This site has been excavation back in the late 19th century. Here we saw the theater, a few later Roman basilicas, the traditional prison used for Paul and Silas, and the agora/forum. We read from Acts 16 about Paul and Silas’ boldness. The actually prison was probably in the area in of the Praetorian at the one end of the agora, and not the traditional one (which is 2nd century AD).
After eating lunch on the premises of the site, we drive to the small stream that provided water for the city. It was here Lydia was baptized following her conversion to Christ (Acts 17:11-15). Nine miles away we drive to Kavala or ancient Neopolis. Paul sailed into the port following his vision to come to Asia Minor at Troas (Acts 16:11). Here we saw a memorial dedicated to Paul and the two-level Roman aqueduct.
In the late afternoon we drive back to Thessaloniki. We enjoyed a panoramic view of the city before driving back to our hotel for dinner and overnight. What a great first full day!
Day 4: Wednesday, September 8: Berea, Vergina, Meteora, Kalambaka.
Today we left Thessaloniki following another very nice breakfast. We had some drizzle/rain today (unusual for Greece in September), and some cloud cover at times, but temps were mild in the 70s. As we departed the hotel, we read from Philippians 1:12-21.
Our first stop was only 45 minutes away. Today the city of 40,000 is called Veria. It is called Berea in the Bible. While there is no archaeological ruins to see here, we visited a very nice memorial in honor of the early church here. Paul visited this site and found the believers here “searching the Scriptures” (Acts 17:11). A number of Greek men and women also became believers. Paul left Berea for the coastline and sailed to Athens, while Timothy and Luke took the inland route to Athens.
Only a few miles away was our next stop, Vergina. This was where Philip II, the father of Alexander the Great, was buried following his death in 336 BC. He was murdered by his body guard in the theater while attending a wedding. His tomb was discovered in 1975. The tomb was untouched, with many of the treasures (lots of gold and ivory!) on display in the museum. His son’s tomb was also discovered three years later.
Meteora – Kalambaka
From here we entered the Pindos mountain range and drove three hours to Meteora. We stopped about half way for a quick bit to eat. Meteora (from a greek word meaning “suspended in air” is famous for the Greek Orthodox monasteries perched high upon the unique rock formations. There are four functioning monasteries today ,and two convents. These date from the the 14th century AD. In the 16th century there were 24 of them. We climbed a few hundred steps and entered the Verlaam monastery.
Following this visit, we enjoyed two panoramic views. The clouds lifted enough to allow us to see the other five monasteries. What a magnificent view! To end the day we drove to Kalambaka and enjoyed a stroll down the main street.
A few miles away is the Amalia hotel. We checked in two by twos (with our temperature checked). We enjoyed dinner and a free evening.
Day 5: Thursday, September 9: Thermopylae, Delphi, Athens
We continued heading south on this new day. We had a good rest last night and are eager to get to Athens by early this evening. We would have a rainy/drizzly morning, but the sun broke through by lunch time, with perfect temperatures around 70. As we left Kalambaka, we read from Philippians 1:27-30.
Our first visit was to Thermopylae, about 1.5 hours south from Kalambaka. This .was where the famous battle between the Persians and the 300 Spartans (and 700 Thespians) took place. The narrow pass between the water’s edge and the steep mountains can still be visualized today where Leonidas and his men got trapped.
Drive to Delphi
Leaving this flatter area, we once again drove through the next set of Greek mountains called the Parnassos. The clouds were thick here, with a light rain. However s we approached noontime, we descended down to the town of Itea located along the Adriatic Sea. We enjoyed a wonderful seafood lunch (although a few had moussaka).
The most classic Greek city nestled up on the mountainside is Delphi. This was our next stop. Upon arriving to the archaeological site, we began our climb up this city known for the Apollo Temple, Treasury, theater, stadium, and the oracles. The Pythia (diviners) were the ones who shared prophecies nine days each year. They were servants of the temple priests who dedicated their lives to this purpose (Paul encountered one in Philippi, Acts 16). Perhaps she served here in Delphi. We cannot be sure.
Aliki took us up past many of these massive structures. The Temple of Apollo (which dates to the 4th century BC, although first built around the 7th century BC) must have been quite impressive with a massive base and pillars. The theater (located above the temple) held 4,500 people. Some in the group hiked further upward to see the stadium. Its total length is close to 600 feet.
Following seeing the site, we visited the museum. A number of significant items are on display here, including the famous bronze horse rider statue and the Gallio Inscription. In 51-52 AD, he was the proconsul of Achaia. He was the one who stood on the Bema in Corinth and heard Paul’s speech in the agora there (Acts 18:12).
Leaving Delphi, we descended down the beautiful mountain range to the highway leading to Athens. The drive took about three hours, with one brief stop on the way.
Arriving in Athens, we checked into the hotel and enjoyed dinner together. We retired after dinner in preparation of our flight to Izmir, Turkey tomorrow. We will return to Athens on Sunday night.
Day 6: Friday, September 10: Flight to Izmir, Turkey, Ephesus
Today we flew to Turkey to replace our originally-planned three-day cruise. It was an early morning for the group, departing the hotel at 7 a.m. We read from Philippians 2:1-11 as we left for the airport.
Flight to Izmir, Turkey
Our flight to Turkey went well. We first flew to Istanbul before flying to Izmir (ancient Smyrna). We made our connections without any difficulty, although we did a lot of walking through the brand-new airports in Istanbul and Izmir.
Once we collected our luggage, we met our guide, Eylem (Elam). He is a very nice and informative Christian guide with archaeological experience. He actually dug over three seasons at Ephesus, our lone site of there day.
Ephesus was the fourth largest city in the Roman world (after Rome, Alexandria, Antioch). The city when Paul was here was about 250,000 in population. It was the center of commerce, located on a port. Artemis (Diana) was the primary deity worshipped here. She was viewed in the pagan world as the goddess of fertility.
We began our site seeing of Ephesus at the top part of the city. We saw an incredible display of marble, columns, arches, and amazing architecture. Among the more impressive ruins was the Library of Celsus and the grand theater. In the agora (marketplace), we read from Acts 19. Paul spent nearly three years here during his third missionary journey. He also wrote 1 Corinthians from here.
Turkish Carpet/Rug Co-Op
Before driving to our hotel in Izmir, we stopped at a carpet-making co-op right outside Ephesus. We were first fed a very nice home-made meal before seeing how they made the carpets. We enjoyed the full display ofthe carpets.
We eventually arrived to our hotel for checkin and overnight. It was a long yet wonderful day! Thanks be to God for the safety of travel.
Day 7: Saturday, September 11: Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Smyrna
Today was another long yet great day here in Turkey. The sun was bright, with perfect temperatures around 80. We drove many kilometers today through the beautiful countryside of western Turkey to see four more of the seven churches of Revelation. We read from Revelation 3:1-7 as we departed the hotel around 8 a.m.
Our first stop was to ancient Smyrna. It is located within the modern city of Izmir. We read from Revelation 2:8-11 before we got off to see the very limited ruins from outside the fence (they closed the site because of current excavations). However, also outside the fence of the archaeological site the weekly farmer’s market was setting up. It was fun to walk through the market. There was so many fresh vegetables and fruits!
From here we drove about and hour and a half to Pergamum. On the way we stopped at a small store for restrooms. They also sold premiere olive oil here. Many of us bought some!
Before arriving at the site of Pergamum, we read from Revelation 2:12-17. At the site, we took the cable car to the acropolis. What an impressive view from here! We saw many temples (Trajan Athena, Demeter, etc.). We also saw the aquaduct and the Altar of Zeus. Most impressive was the theater. This was the steepest theater in the Roman world. It held about 3,000 people. After descending down to the bottom, we enjoyed a great lunch nearby, with classic Turkish foods.
We drove further east another hour or so to the next site, Thyatira. Prior to arriving we read from Revelation 2:18-29. Like Smyrna, this site has only limited ruins, mainly from the Later Roman Period.
Our last site of the day was Sardis. We read Revelation 3:1-6 as we approached the site. The visit included walking through the ancient synagogue and gymnasium. We also saw the most impressive Temple of Artemis. This temple had about 120 massive pillars. It dates to the 4th century BC. Before leaving the site, we enjoyed seeing how raisins are prepared. A local Turkish family was happy to greet us.
We drove 1.5 hours back to Izmir, arriving back to the hotel for a late dinner (but not as late as last night). We fly back to Athens tomorrow.
Day 8: Sunday, September 12: Flight to Istanbul & Athens, Cape Sounion
Today was another travel day. We had two great days here in Turkey. We visited biblical sites as well as got a good taste of the culture of the country. We were once again greeted by mild temperatures and full sunny skies today. Following breakfast, we boarded our bus and headed to the Izmir Airport.
Flight to Athens
All our flights and connections went well today. Our flight from Izmir to Istanbul was a short one. Upon arriving, once again we did a lot of walking in the Istanbul Airport. We had to go through further passport checks, but made it to our gate for our short flight to Athens.
We landed in Athens and were greeted by Aliki and Stathis. Directly from the airport we drove to Cape Sounion. The drive along the Aegean Sea was ver nice. The Temple of Poseidon was quite impressive. Poseidon was the god of the sea, offering protection to sailors. Perhaps Paul past this temple on his way to Athens. If so, he would have seen this coastline temple from his ship.
Following the visit to the site, we enjoyed dinner at a nice Greek restaurant located right on the Aegean Sea. It was really good! We then drove back for a late check-in at the hotel. We look forward to two more days here in Greece.
Day 9: Monday, September 13: The Peloponnese: Corinth, Mycenae
Today we drove south into the Peloponnese region of Greece. We first enjoyed breakfast on the roof level of the hotel with a great view of the Parthenon! Throughout the day we also were blessed with sunny skies after mid morning and perfect temperatures around 80. As we departed the hotel at 8 a.m., we continued our reading of Paul’s letter to the Philippian church (2:12-30).
We drove about an hour before stopping at the Corinthian Canal. It was started in 1882 and completed 11 years later in 1893. It connected the Aegean and Adriatic Seas. It is 4 miles in length and only 70 feet wide at its base. The depth of the water is only about 25 feet. In ancient times, goods were transported by land from one sea to the other.
Close by is the site of ancient Corinth. In Paul’s day, this was a city of between 400,000 – 500,000 people. It has 14 pagan temples. We first visited the area of the theater. While this structure is no longer intact, we saw the Erastus Inscription. Acccording to Romans 16:23, Erastus was the city’s “director of public works.”
Next, we viewed the small museum, and an inscription verifying the presence of a synagogue here. In Paul’s day, many Jews lived here. He befriended Aquila, Priscilla, and Crispus (Acts 18), among others. The structures we saw included the Apollo temple, the agora, and the Bema where Gallio ruled on accusations made against Paul (Acts 18:12ff).
We exited the site where there were a number of restaurants. We grabbed a bite to eat here before driving to the acropolis. We climbed the steep entrance into this fortress for a great view of the plain below.
About 30 minutes away is the Late Bronze site of Mycenae. Those who lived here (as well as those who lived on Crete (Caphtor, Jeremiah 47, Amos 9) were the forerunners of the ancient Sea Peoples or the “Philistines” of the Bible. They migrated to Israel about 1,200 BC.
At the site of Mycenae we saw the famous Lion’s Gate, the shaft tombs, the palace, and water cistern. The site is perched high on a higher rocky scarp. Discovered here from back in the 1800s were the famous golden masks. Before leaving the site, we saw the impressive beehive cave of King Agamemnon.
We drove back to Athens (about an hour and a half drive) for dinner and an optional walk to Constitution Square. Some even hike to the top of Liccabetus. Tommorrow is our last fall day here in Athens. Some will be flying to Rome and then to Naples tomorrow evening.
Day 10: Tuesday, September 14: Free Morning, Plaka, City Tour, Acropolis/Parthenon
Today was our last day here in Greece. We enjoyed a leisurely morning at the hotel. We once again enjoyed the view of the Acropolis from the top floor breakfast area.
Covid Rapid Tests
At around 9:15, we all had to get our Covid Rapid test. This is required for those entering Italy (for the 15 of us) and for those flying home tomorrow. It went a bit longer than expected, but we are all thankful for negative results.
At 11 a.m., we went to the Plaka, Athens marketplace. We were dropped off right at Hadrian’s Arch (a 2nd century AD Roman emperor). We all had time walking through the shops and grabbing a bit to eat for lunch.
At 1 p.m. Stathis our driver picked us up and took us to the base of the Acropolis. This is the highlight of Athens. We walked slowly up the steps of the Propylaea (gateway/entrance) to the top. Here we saw the Erechtheion. This was the most important shrine. Athena, Posedein and Erechtos honored here.
The Parthenon is the most identifiable structure on top. It was built with 17 pillars on the long side and 8 on the short side (9 x 4 was the classic ratio). The columns are of the Doric order. It was finished in 10 years (447-438 BC). Another 5-6 years was spent in decoration. In 432 BC it was finally completed. The architects were the best Greece could offer. Phidias was one of the supervisors. 4000 people worked on the Parthenon. It was not built by slaves but rather the best. The Athena statue stood inside the temple. It was 40 feet tall. 5000 pieces of marble taken in early 19th century by Englishmen. This collection is now displayed in the British museum.
Rock of Aeropagus/Mars Hill
We met at the bottom of the Acropolis and walked together up to the Rock of Aeropagus (Mars Hill). This is where Paul spoke of his faith to the philosophers of the day. With the Acropolis above us and the marketplace below us, we could almost hear Paul’s words as he spoke. We read his words shared precisely at this location from Acts 17. A few of those who listened to Paul came to faith.
Flight to Rome & Naples
For 15 in the group, we drove to the Athens Airport to board our flight to Rome. Eight in the group who were not doing the optional Italy extension stayed behind at the hotel. They fly home tomorrow. The rest of us made a connecting flight to Naples. We arrived at 10:40 (and to our hotel by 11:30). We hope to get some sleep before visiting Naples and Pompeii (close by) tomorrow.
Day 11: Wednesday, September 15: Naples, Pomeii, Rome
Today 15 of us woke up to a nice breakfast in the city of Naples, Italy. Others in the group grew home this morning back to the U.S. For those of us doing the Italy extension, this day would another good one, with full sun and temperatures in the mid 80s.
Because of the late arrival last night, we enjoyed a 9 a.m. departure from the hotel. We were greeted by our local guide, Annalisa. Valentino was our driver. We enjoyed a city tour by bus. From a distance we saw Puteoli (Acts 28:13), the port where Paul sailed into from the Malta. From here, Paul took the Appian Way to Rome. Naples also has its own beautiful port as well. This is a city of about 1 million.
About 30 minutes away is the archeology site of Pompeii. This was a city literally buried in ash as a result of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. Pompeii was a city between 11,000 – 15,000, with many visitors because of its location and function as a port on the Mediterranean Sea. The size of the city was 66 acres, with 44 acres hang been excavated to date. The city was covered with 7-8 meters (up to 25 feet) of ash. Houses were completely covered, and all those who stayed in the city did not survive. The eruption lasted 3 days. To date, 100 casts of people have been made.
We saw many things as we walked through this city that ended abruptly. We saw the smaller theater (the large one is being restored), personal houses and villas, and shops. In the houses we saw, the colored frescoes were impressive to see. In the area of the forum (where we took a group picture) we saw the Temple of Zeus, with Mt. Vesuvius in the background. There were a total of 11 temples in this pagan city. After visiting the site, we enjoyed some over-baked pizza at the base of the walls of this ancient city.
Drive to Rome/Appian Way
Following lunch, we drove to Rome. This provided a much-needed nap for many of us. 🙂 Approaching the city from the southeast, we stopped to see the original pavement of the Appian Way. Paul walked on this road when he entered Rome (Act 28:15-16). Close by is the hotel where we are staying for the next three nights. We enjoyed dinner together. We all are looking forward to two full days in Rome.
Day 12: Thursday, September 16: Rome: Vatican City, Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Cathedral, Trevi Fountain
Today was our first of two days here in Rome. The sun was bright in the morning, with overcast skies in the afternoon. The temperature was in the mid 80s. We did a lot of walking today.
Rome is a large city of about six million (three million living inside the city limits, with three million living around the city). There are 453 churches in Rome. The ancient Roman walls that we saw from time to time throughout the day (dating from 269-275 AD) are about 11 miles long.
St. Peter’s Square & Basilica
We left the hotel at 8:15 and headed directly to Vatican Square. This is a large open space for people to gather for special occasions as well as to hear the Pope address the crowd once a week. We were thankful for the limited number of tourists. From here we entered St. Peter’s Basilica. It is the largest in the world. The original church was built in 319-326 AD, but the present church was built in 1504. It took 120 years to complete! When Michelangelo was 73, he started designing the dome of the church, the largest in the world.
As we walked through the church, we saw the famous Pieta sculpture of Mary holding the crucified Jesus. We also saw the remains of a few popes who earned “sainthood” after their deaths. Before leaving the church we went to the lower levels to see the tombs of some of the Popes.
About 850 people live in the “Vatican” today, the world’s smallest official “state.”
Vatican Museum/Sistine Chapel
Walking through the museum was not as full as before Covid. On average, 36,000 visit the Vatican. Today, only about 10,000 on average is there number in recent months. The museum was filled with ancient artifacts, tapestries, and maps that are breath-taking. Even the ceiling of the hallway is amazing! Finally we arrived at the Sistine Chapel. The uncle of Pope Julius II built it in 1483 when Michelangelo was only five years old. So many of his teachers began painting the images in the chapel. The ceiling was left blue, with golden stars until Michelangelo began his masterwork in 1508. He was 37-38 years old at this time. It took him four years of painting the ceiling. Much later (when he was in his 60s), he also spent another five years to complete the Last Judgment scene on the front wall of the chapel. The chapel is simply stunning! Upon leaving the museum, we exited to a number of restaurants where we enjoyed a good Italian lunch!
Trevi Fountain, Pantheon
We board the bus after lunch and drove to the edge of the city. We then walked straight to the Trevi Fountain. There was a smaller crowd gathered around this famous tourist attraction. The date of the building of the fountain is 1735-1765. Many of us enjoyed eating gelato in front of the fountain and enjoying some free time.
Leaving the fountain, we walked about 10 minutes to the Pantheon. This was first built as a small pagan temple by Marcus Agrippa around 30 BC. 150 years later, Hadrian enlarged it in the early 2nd century AD. It is the best preserved Roman structure in Italy! The ceiling is made only of cement. Uniquely, there is a large hole/opening in the middle of this ceiling. In the 6th century AD, it was converted into the Church of St. Mary.
We walked to our bus and drove back to the hotel. While our legs are tired from a full day of walking, we saw so very much here today! After dinner, some walked to the Colosseum to see it at night.
Day 13: Friday, September 17: Rome: The Catacombs, Colosseum, The Forum
Today was our second of two full days in Rome. The weather was a blessing, with showers only in the morning hours, and partly sunny skies in the afternoon. Temperatures were around 80. We read from Philippians 4 as we left the hotel.
After a great breakfast, we departed at 8:45 and drove straight to the Domitilla Catacombs. This is one of the three largest underground cemeteries in Rome (a total of 64 catacombs have been discovered). This one was the first Christian graveyard and it dates from about 200 – 800 AD. This catacombs here consist of 4 labyrinth layers of graves spanning about eight miles. It was incredible to see so many of them.
St. Paul’s Church Outside the Walls
From here we visited St. Paul’s Church Outside the Walls. The church originally goes back to around the time of Constantine, but it was completed in 390 AD. It was rebuilt many times. A fire in 1823 destroyed it, but it was rebuilt shortly later in 1827. By tradition, Paul was buried here. The traditional hand cuffs that bound Paul are also displayed here. 267 Popes are also displayed here all around the sanctuary. The church is owned and maintained by Vatican City.
Next we drove past the Circus Maximus (a stadium that held 300,000 people to the area of the Colosseum. After lunch on our own (it was fun to explore the small restaurants once last time!), we visited this massive amphitheater that was built between 72 and completed about 80 AD. Finishing touches on the Colosseum were done until around 90 AD. The first 8 years was just to prepare the foundation and lower levels. Over 300 tons of iron (e.g., pins) was used to hold the structure together.
The Colosseum held up to 70,000 people. Gladiators fought here for 450 years against both animals and other men. By last use of the Colosseum was 523 AD. Later, two earthquakes destroyed about half of this structure. Going inside the Colosseum was amazing! We went to the top for a panoramic view from all sides. We then descended down to the lower level. 54 lifts or trap doors were used to lift both animals and gladiators.
Constantine’s & Titus’ Arch
Exiting the Colosseum we next past by Constantine’s Arch. This was built in 315. It is one of seven arches still standing today. Titus’ Arch was built shortly after the Jerusalem campaign in 70 AD. Inside of this are the Menorah can still be seen.
Before leaving the area, we walked through the Roman Forum. We past by all kinds of Roman structures, pillars, and the open area of this ancient marketplace. Standing by the Basilica of Julia and the Temple of Castor & Pollux, we read from Acts 28 (28:11 mentions these two “twin gods” of Jupiter, gods of protection for sea-farers and warriors), and sections of Romans 15 and 16. Flowing Paul’s successful ministry here in Rome (and probably in Spain), he comes back to Rome where he is tried most likely in the Basilica of Julia. He was beheaded in 67 AD. God used him in amazing ways to spread the Gospel to so many! It was special to stand nearby where he was condemned to death. He gave his life for the cause of Christ!
We went back to our hotel. At 6:30 we had the required Rapid Covid Test for our flight home tomorrow. Dinner followed, with a few taking a walk to the Colosseum after dinner. Thanks be to God for a great group joining together for a great trip as we followed in the footsteps of Paul, God’s faithful servant.
Day 14: Saturday, September 18: Flight back to the U.S.