Saturday, November 6, 2010

November 2, 2010 – London, England -

We slept pretty well – the airport noise was not an issue.

The Breakfast buffet was also very good: Waffles, eggs made to order, breads, pastries.  No unidentifiable British items on the buffet.

We caught the Hoppa Bus to Terminal 5 and checked in.  The agent assured us that our bags would get on our plane.  We arrived at Gate B48 to find our 777 waiting for us.

BA295 Ready to go (Small)

BA295 (777) ready to go

We had a little time before boarding so we found an internet kiosk and for a 3.0 pounds we purchased a half hour of connect time.  We checked e-mails and wrote the kids again.  They indicated they would pick us up so they got yesterday’s text message.

While we were on the computer, we heard “Last Call for BA295” – they must have called our flight earlier but we did not hear it.  We signed off quickly and made our way to the gate and onto the plane.  The BA 777s are configured differently that the AA 777s – they have two coach sections – 2–5–2 and 3–3-3.  We were supposed to be across the aisles in the second coach section but would up with aisle seats in the center.  A passenger traded seats with us and we sat next to each other.  The good thing was that we were in the bulkhead seats with the only leg room on the plane in coach.

The plane took off about a half hour late but the pilot said he would be able to make up the time – besides we had an unusual tail wind of about 20 mph (going west, planes usually face a head wind). 

I was disappointed that, because of the seat assignments, I couldn’t take any pictures on this flight (or the other BA flight).

We had a very smooth flight – the seat belt sign was off the entire flight.  The service was good – we had a great vegetarian pasta for lunch along with miniature cokes (4 oz – the attendant gave us each three of them).

We landed on time, went through immigration quickly, found our luggage, and got picked up without a problem.

A little crazy with the return flights but a great – although somewhat exhausting – trip overall.

BA295 11:41

Monday, November 1, 2010 – Fiumicino, Italy – 60s - Rain

Rainy, windy, and cold…

Slept so so…

The breakfast at the hotel was OK – cold cereal and milk, croissants, rolls, other sweets.  They did have an automated coffee dispenser so I had a Cappuccino (no decaf), which was very good. 

Our shuttle departed early at 9:10 AM.  Checking our luggage at the airport was very fast and efficient and soon we were at our gate for our flight to Heathrow.  There was no plane at our gate but it was still pretty early.

 Shuttle to FCO (Small)

In the Shuttle

The plane arrived about 11:30 AM so it was clear that we would not make our 11:55 AM Departure.  Our flight was to arrive at LHR at about 1:40 PM and our connection to ORD was scheduled for 3:30 PM so – if the flight got turned around quickly -  we had some wiggle room. 

BA549 A320 (Small)

BA549 Airbus A320 arrives at our gate

It was very complicated but we did not get on the plane until about 12:30 PM and did not take off (weather, air traffic control, who knows?) until about 1:45 PM.  Flying time to LHR was 2.5 hours so theoretically (factoring in the time difference), we would miss our connection with AA91.  The flight was smooth – and they did serve us a tasty egg salad sandwich – but we did land about 3:40 PM local time.  AA91, our flight, had departed about 10 minutes earlier. 

We went to the rebooking desk at British Air in a different terminal.  The clerk was very helpful but indicated we had also missed the 4:15 PM non stop flight and there were no other flights out until tomorrow.  She did book us on a British Air Flight (BA295) at 11:45 AM the next morning – she also gave us vouchers for the Renaissance Hotel Heathrow, two dinners, two breakfasts, and two roundtrip shuttle tickets.  Our bags would be held and would be retagged when we checked in tomorrow.  While we wanted to get home, it had gotten so late that staying over gratis was a much better option.

LHR waiting for Hoppa Bus (Small)

Waiting for the Hoppa Bus (Hotel Shuttle)

We checked into the Renaissance Hotel (a very nice hotel) and got our vouchers. Our room was just a few hundred feet from one of the active runways but the double paned windows made the room pretty quiet.  We texted the kids to let them know our new plans and took a few minutes to relax before getting something to eat.

Heathrow from Renaissance Hotel Window (Small)

View from our hotel room of Heathrow

At 6:00 PM, we were the first two customers at Duos Restaurant for Dinner.  It was a very nice buffet, with Salad Bar, Rolls, Pasta, Fish, Side Dishes, and Desserts.  A very good – non-British type – meal.

E at Duos for Dinner (Small)

Waiting for Duos to open

Back to room to rest up.  We are all set for tomorrow.

Sunday, October 31, 2010 – Civitavecchia, Italy – 50s - Rain

Distance traveled from Haifa:  1,330 Nautical Miles

The Equinox has returned to Civitavecchia and our Holy Land Pilgrimage has come to an end.  It is a miserable day in Civitavecchia – rainy and cold. 

Equinox back at Civi (Small)

The Equinox docked in Civitavecchia

We have transfers to Fiumicino Airport, from which we plan to catch a shuttle to our hotel in the town of Fiumicino.  We also have a late disembarkation at 9:45 AM so we don’t have to rush.  We decided to eat in the Dining Room – much more peaceful there on disembarkation day.  

Finally our bus number is called and we are on our way to the airport.  The ride takes about an hour and the guide on the bus is certain that the Best Western has a shuttle from the airport.

On our way to Fiumicino (Small)

The Ride to Fiumicino – Tyrrhenian Sea in the distance

Based on instructions by agents at the airport, we drag our bags to the shuttle pick up area.  After some time – in pouring rain – I inquire about the shuttle.  As it turns out, the Best Western Shuttle only runs until 10:30 AM on a Sunday (we arrived after that so we would not have been able to use the shuttle anyway).  We ultimately decide to take a cab to the hotel (20 Euros).

The Hotel is OK but it is located right in the middle of a residential neighborhood a few blocks from the beach.  In the summer, this would have been a very nice place to stay.  But on a rainy and cold Sunday (nothing is open), not so much.  The room has a view of the water.

Fiumicino Beach (Small) 

View from Room 407 – Best Western Riviera Hotel

We venture out to explore the area – hopefully to find a place to eat later on.  Everything is closed but some restaurants will open again at 7:00 PM.  Food from the ship will serve as lunch.  We did walk to the beach, where the waves were crashing.

E at Fiumicino Beach 1 (Small)

Surfs up at Fiumicino Beach

While using the computer in the Hotel Lobby to print our boarding passes, we met a couple that was on the Equinox with us.  They were surprised to see me there (they had attended the lectures).

During our walk earlier, we had checked out the menu at Il Delfino’s Restaurant (just down the street from the hotel) and found the place to be expensive with no pizza.  The couple from the ship told us that the restaurant does serve pizza for dinner.  That would be our dinner destination.  We got there a little after they opened at 7:00 PM.  We ordered a Marguerita and Eggplant Pizza (7.50 Euros) and a regular (no diet available) Coke (2.00 Euros).  The Pizza was enormous and delicious – finished the whole thing.  When the bill came, there was a 5 Euro service charge – we encountered these service charges the last time we were in Rome but had forgotten (some restaurants in Rome attract diners by waiving the service charges).  That’s a generous tip!

Eating at Il Delfinos (Small) Coke at Il Delfinos (Small)

Enjoying our Coke

Great pizza at Il Delfinos

Our lovely and delicious pizza

Back to the hotel after dinner – thought about walking but it was cold and windy and a bit dark.  There were also a lot of dogs in the area.  The Hotel room sounded like our best best.

We had prepaid our bill and set up our shuttle for the Airport for 9:30 AM.

Even though the hotel is pretty full, it is pretty quiet.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Friday - Saturday, October 29 -30, 2010 – At Sea – Mediterranean Sea – 50s – Cloudy – Windy - Clear

October 29, 2010

On our way back to Civitavecchia, Italy.  The ship is hugging the coastline to smooth out the ride.

At Sea 10-29 Chop (Small)

At Sea 10-29 (Small)

My talk today - “DNA Testing:  Solving History’s Mysteries”- is at 11:15AM in Equinox Theater.  The turnout is very good with over 270 attendees.  There are usually a few folks for whom this is their first presentation.

After the talk, it is R and R up in the Sky Lounge, which is our new quiet location.  The outside decks are not a possibility due to the windy conditions.  You can feel the chop up on Deck 14 but it is still better than the winds.

E in Sky Lounge (Small)

Ellen comfy in the Sky Lounge

Crete in the distance (Small)

The Island of Crete in the Distance

Tonight’s show is “Remix”.  We left a little early and caught some of the music around the ship – Peganini and the Callia String Quartet.

October 30, 2010

Warmer today.  The decks are less windy.

At Sea 10-30 (Small) E at Sea 10-30 (Small)

Ellen and the Coast of Italy

Coast of Italy (Small) Coast of Italy Village (Small)

Top:  Coast of Italy; Bottom: Village on the Coast

My talk today - “Cold Cases Solved” is at 3:00 PM in Celebrity Central.  I get there a bit early at 2:20 PM and about five minutes later about 20 people show up.  They say they want to make sure they get good seats.  At about 2:45 PM, the place is packed and at 3:00 PM, the place is overflowing and people are sitting on the ground.  I start the talk and, as more people continue to pour in, we are told that  we are moving to the Theater.

I quickly grab my computer and power cord and follow the crowd into the Theater.  I get set up quickly; the technical people in the theater tell me that I will need to be done by 4:00 PM so the dancers can complete their rehearsals.  I said that I lost time transferring to the theater but they reiterate the need to finish and I understand.  I get to it and the talk is completed right on time (actually two minutes to spare).  A great round of applause and a few people stand to show their appreciation.  I get everyone with questions to follow me outside so the rehearsals can begin.

Final Lecture (Small)

The final presentation of the Cruise

While I am in my presentation, Ellen takes a great shot of the Volcanic Island of Stromboli.

Stromboli Volcano (Small)

Stromboli Volcano

Ellen does her usual great job of packing.  We catch the Farewell show.  Suitcases in the hall by 11:00 PM.

We have late disembarkation (9:45 PM).

A good night sleep would be good.

Thursday, October 28, 2010 – Haifa – 84F - Clear

Another beautiful day in Haifa.  More souvenir hunting today and a search for an Internet Store.  This time we head left off the pier and walk down the main street.  On our walk, we come across an interesting structure called the “Big Mosque”.  Doesn’t look that big but there must be something about it that gave rise to that designation.

 Haifa the Big Mosque (Small)

The Big Mosque

We also get a close up look at the unique building we have been looking at from the ship – the Yehav Bank Building (there is a building just like this one in Montevideo, Uruguay and a much larger version in Dubai).

Haifa Bank Yehav Building (Small)

Yehav Bank Building

A few more blocks and we find some souvenir stores and a Judaica Store.  Several passengers are in the store.  The owners speak very little English so Ellen’s Hebrew pays off.

We also ask around for Wi-Fi and one store we walk into to inquire says that have free Wi-Fi.  They do (even though it isn’t theirs but belongs to someone named Fadi) so we catch up on our communications.  Thanks, Fadi.  The owners of the place are very friendly and don’t bother us at all.  Nice folks.

Only a half day in Haifa so we are able to catch a terrific sail away complete with Israeli submarine.  You don’t see that every day.

 Haifa Sailway 1 (Small)

Haifa Sailaway 2 (Small)

Haifa Sail Away

Haifa Israeli Sub (Small) 

Israeli Submarine on Maneuvers

I have a talk today after the departure - “Secrets of the Royal Families” at 3:15 PM in Celebrity Central.  I have a great turnout – maybe 250 plus attendees and my Tutankhamen slides come off OK.  Even better, I get finished on time.

After dinner, we take in the “Dancing with the Stars”- Equinox Style show in the Foyer.  The event is hosted by Esperanza.  The dancers were all trying real hard but the women dancing the Salsa was clearly a semi-pro.

 Esperanza and Dance Contest (Small)

Dancing with the Stars and Esperanza

Greg Scott is the Headliner tonight and, except for some technical difficulties with his microphone, he puts on another great show.  The shot below shows him accompanied by the Equinox Dancers.

Greg Scott and Dancers (Small)

Greg Scott and Dancers

We are at sea for the next two days – time to relax.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010 – Haifa, Israel – 82F - Sunny

Distance Traveled from Ashdod: 79 Nautical Miles

No tours today – it is a beautiful day in Haifa.

 Haifa in the morning (Small) 

Haifa and Mt Carmel from the Equinox

We are going to walk around the port area and try to get close to the Baha’i Temple Grounds.  The Baha’i Hanging Gardens and Temple are the “Eight Wonder of the World” and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Haifa Unusual Building (Small)

We are going to walk to David Ben-Gurion St, the street that leads up to the Baha’i Temple and Gardens.  This are is known as the German Colony but is now pretty much an Arab neighborhood.  This makes our goal of finding a kosher hamburger or hot dog place daunting – and ultimately unsuccessful.  Along the way, I noticed some funny holes in the wall of one of the older buildings.  You don’t need to be a CSI to know that these are bullet holes (Haifa was the scene of some nasty fighting in 1948).

Haifa Bullet Holes in House on B Gurion St (Small)

Bullet Holes in an old building

There is a concert scheduled tonight at the base of the hill and some of the equipment being used to set up is spewing smoke making my picture of the Gardens look foggy.  In the second picture, we got into the gardens (the gates are guarded) and I was able to get a really shot of Ellen and the Gardens.

Haifa Baha'i Temple 1 (Small) E at Baha'i Temple (Small)

Top:  Baha’i Gardens and Temple plus smoke; Bottom:  Ellen in the Garden

We walked to another neighborhood past the pier entrance to look for souvenirs but did not see any.  The neighborhoods were interesting with Hebrew and Arabic spoken.

H and Haifa Street (Small)

Me and a major street parallel to the pier

From there we went back to the ship.  Tonight, we are back in the Dining Room for a relaxing dinner.

After dinner, we got really good seats for the live Belly Dancer Show in the Grand Foyer.  However, all the other passengers stood in front of us so the viewing was difficult (and the photo taking impossible).  She was a good dancer.

Showtime tonight featured Jamie Allan “Maverick Magician”.  He specializes in card tricks (some very good ones) but the audience is cool to his humor. 

We catch some of the music around the ship. We are docked here overnight so a good night’s sleep is a possibility.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010 – Ashdod, Israel – 82F - Sunny

Distance Traveled from Alexandria: 260 Nautical Miles

A beautiful day in Israel.  Early wake up call gets us going for today’s tour:  “Glorious Jerusalem”.  This tour is billed as one that will visit as many sites in Jerusalem as possible.

Our guide, Hughey, is 0rthodox, bearded, wears a kipah, and comes originally from Brooklyn – he has been in Israel for 40 years.  He is very academic and speaks very well.  He does not talk so much about Israel’s Wars but concentrates on Israel’s goals and aspirations.  He does get into politics at times and, as we shall see later, walks way too fast for a guide.

Again, the bus ride is about 90 minutes. No rest stop today but Hughey hands out packs containing snacks and water.

1948 War Memorial Jerusalem Hwy (Small)

Road to Jerusalem – War Memorial (1948 War)

As the bus makes its way to Mt Zion near the Old City, a number of buildings and landmarks in the new city are pointed out by the guide.  One is the Jerusalem Harp Bridge (so named because David played the harp – I thought it looked like a harp).  The architect of this structure is Santiago Calatrava, who also designed the defunct Chicago Spire and the Opera House in Tenerife.

Jerusalem Harp Bridge - Same architect as spire (Small)

Jerusalem Harp Bridge

Our first stop was at historic Mt. Zion, the traditional location of King David’s Tomb and the Room of the Last Supper.  Just before we arrived, Hughey pointed out the location of King David’s original city of Jerusalem.  It is a neighborhood now and there is some archeological work being done but it is not reflective of its past glory.

Orignal City of David - foreground (Small)

Original Site of David’s Jerusalem

According to tradition, David’s Tomb and the Last Supper are in the same building now a Byzantine Church.  The Tomb is on the ground floor and the Last Supper took place on the upper floor (Cenacle  [Dinner] of Jesus).

Building of Last Supper (Small)

Byzantine Church housing two biblical locations

King David's Tomb Mt Zion (Small)

King David's Tomb Mt Zion 1 (Small)

King David's Tomb (Small)

Tomb of King David of Israel

King David's Tomb Mezzuzah (Small)

Mezuzah on door of King David’s Tomb

The Room of the Last Supper is now a mosque, containing Arabic writings and an ornate mihrab (an alcove indicating the direction of Mecca)

Room of Last Supper (Small)

Last Supper Points to Mecca (Small)

Mihrab in the Room of the Last Supper

Statue of King David 2 (Small)

Statue of King David in courtyard

Masonic Lodge on Mt Zion (Small)

Masonic Lodge on Mt Zion

Our next stop – all walking – is the Zion Gate, which will take us into the Armenian and Jewish Quarters of the Old City.

XXX Gate (Small)

Zion Gate

The Zion Gate allows automobile traffic so it affords a unique opportunity to get run over in the Old City.  Immediately beyond the gate is the Armenian Quarter – many souvenir shops and coffee shops.

Armenian Quarter (Small) 

The Cardo, remains of the old Roman Street,  connects the Zion Gate with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We will be visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulchre after lunch.  Our destination now is the Western Wall.

Mosaic Map Jewish Quarter (Small)

Mosaic Map of the Old City

Columns near Jewish Quarter (Small)

Cardo Jewish Q (Small) 

The Cardo in the Old City

Next stop was at King Hezekiah’s Wall.  The king had a dispute with the Prophet Isaiah over the building of a wall that would destroy some homes in Jerusalem.

Hezekiah's Wall (arg with Isaiah) 1 (Small)

Homes near Hezekiah's Wall (Small)

  Flagstone pointing location of Heze wall (Small)  

Top:  Location of Hezekiah’s Wall: Middle: Archeological Remains of homes near the wall; Bottom:  Flagstones mark the location of the wall

Near the Western Wall, there is a large menorah. From our vantage point near the menorah, we are able to see the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.  The Wall is also visible.

Menorah near Kotel (Small)

Al Aqsa Mosque (Small)

Al Aqsa Mosque

Dome of the Rock 2 (Small) 

The Western Wall and Dome of the Rock

We only had 10 minutes at the wall but I was able to find a spot next to the wall.

The Wall 3 (Small)

The Wall 1 (Small)

As we leave the wall and the Old City and wait for our bus to pick us up, we are told that the ruins near the street are from the First Temple Period.  This is documented by pictures taken by one of my passengers.

\ H and homes from 1st Temple Period (Small) H and Homes 1st Temple (Small) 

I am standing in an area dating from the First Temple

On our way to lunch we pass the Catholic Cemetery where Oskar Schindler is buried.

Mt. Zion Oskar Schindler Grave (Small)

Cemetery containing the grave of Oskar Schindler

Lunch today is one hotel away from where we ate last cruise.  This time we are the Leonardo Hotel, another fancy hotel near the Old City.  I am told that all of the food is kosher and I am hungry.

Leonardo Hotel for Lunch (Small)

Leonardo Hotel – Lunch Time

Lunch was buffet style and contained some good items – horseradish containing hamburgers (really good), Asian Chicken (also good); a host of middle eastern stuff (humus, etc including some green stuff too hot for humans to consume); potatoes, wine, coffee, and deserts.  I thought it was a fine meal but then again I really like hamburgers.  There was plenty of time to eat and although several busses had arrived, the lines moved quickly.  The wine was so good that our table finished out bottle and grabbed another bottle from a nearby table.  I ate a lot (kosher after all) but there was also a lot of walking and stair climbing on this tour and calorie burning.

By the way, we had lost two passengers earlier (they mistakenly went with another group). They rejoined us at lunch – the two tour guides had communicated via cell phone to work this out.

Our final stop of the day would be the Christian Quarter and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  There would also be stops at the Stages of the Cross but I was too busy rounding up passengers to see much of the detail along the way.

Nearing the Jaffa Gate, we got a great view of the Citadel of David.

Citadel (tower of David) (Small)

King David’s Citadel and Tower

Jaffa Gate (Small)

Jaffa Gate

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is thought to be the site of Golgotha (Hill of Calvary), the spot where Jesus was crucified as well the location of burial and resurrection.  It is a major pilgrimage site for Christians.

Church of Holy Sepulchre (Small)  

Exterior Church of HP 1 (Small)

Exterior Church of HP (Small)

Exterior of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The church was literally inundated with visitors (worse than the Cairo Museum) inside and outside.  We did make our way into the building.

We were able to get close to the Stone of the Unction, the stone upon which Christians believe Jesus was prepared for burial.

Stone of the Unction (Small)

Stone of Unction

Many of the passengers were physically unable to climb the stairs (five people across with no railings) to the site of Golgotha so I stayed with them until the rest of our group came down.  Other passengers were simply unhappy over the crowding – expected, I would think. I waited with my flock at the down staircase for the rest of the group but they did not show (later found out that they went up the down stairs).

After some anxiety, I was able to find Hughey and the rest of our people- they had made their way into the courtyard.  Soon, we were all on our way through the narrow passages of the Christian Quarter (and it was getting dark).

Market Place (Small)

Market Place 2 (Small)

Marketplaces along our route

Church of Birthplace of Virgin Mary (Small)

Church of the Birthplace of the Virgin Mary

Dark alley in Christian Quarter (Small)

Deserted Alley in the Christian Quarter (after dark)

Eventually, we exited the Christian Quarter via the Lion’s Gate and boarded our bus back to Ashdod.  A count of the passengers indicated that everyone was on board.  Considering the confusion at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the wanderings of some of the passengers, this was another Jerusalem miracle.

Lion Gate - Exit from Christian Quarter (Small)

Lion’s Gate – Exit from the Christian Quarter

The bus stopped briefly so we could take a picture of the Temple Mount and the Old City at night.

Temple Mount at Night (Small)

The ride back to Ashdod was pleasant – Hughey spoke a bit about his own background and history as well as how the State of Israel is dealing with its geopolitical issues.  I found the whole discussion very interesting. 

Soon we were back at the Port, where I ran into Esperanza and we chatted about the tour and the goings on this evening.

No show tonight but Motown Mania is in the Grand Foyer.

We passed on the show and grabbed something to eat in the Buffet.

A very physically difficult day but an enlightening one as well.