We docked at Savona and picked up most of the European cruisers. We took part in Tour of Genoa and the bus spent almost an hour getting there. We did not realize that Genoa is the largest port in Italy and has a very rich history dating way back. The house of Christopher Columbus was interesting and the San Lorenzo Church spectacular, and the Municipal building grand-looking. History could be observed everywhere among the evidence of modern industry and infrastructure. I liked the view of the sea port between the tall pine tree canopies from high up in the old city with the snowy Italian Alps in the far background. I will think of you, Genova, the next time I have a Focaccia bread.
We went with the tour Olympia & Archeological Museum. The preserved and restored artifacts in the museum were very well presented. But the real treat for us was to see and cover the original Olympics track from start to finish since my wife and I met each other in our college varsity track team. Instead of an oval circle, it is a wide straight track with judges’ seats by the side right in the middle. Now I can almost still hear the race start signal, the grunts of the athletes, and the cheers of the crowd. If the ancient Greeks could stop the warfare and conflicts before participating in the open and fair competition without cheating, let’s hope we can do the same and more after almost 2,800 years of learning from the history. Let the Olympics spirit flourish!
It was obvious that Athens is a big city looking from the top of the ship approaching the port of Piraeus early in the morning. With the Athens & Cape Sounion tour, we went to the Acropolis in the morning and Cape Sounion in the afternoon. As envisioned, the Temple of Athena and Parthenon were spectacular, the well-preserved amphitheater awe-inspiring, and the panoramic view from the top of Acropolis all-encompassing. After a bountiful lunch including the Greek salad, we drove for about an hour to Cape Sounion for a view of the Temple of Poseidon and the beautiful coastline by the Aegean Sea. I read before the cruise that this was the place where the Aegean Sea got its name in a memorable ancient saga.
For the lack of both my knowledge and Turkish tourism promotion, Izmir and Ephesus was a pleasant surprise. We took the tour that goes to Ephesus, Church of St. John, and the House of Virgin Mary. Even with only a small percentage unearthed, the ancient site of Ephesus was spectacular proving its significance as the 2nd largest city in the huge Roman Empire. The evidence of the advanced Roman civilization could be observed everywhere I walked – from the elaborate temples, libraries, monuments, amphitheater, to the public marble bathroom with running water. It is a site that we could come back for more. We had an excellent guide who offered a lucid and organized presentation with a little bit of editorial. He later confirmed my suspicion that he actually is a teacher of Turkish History. After visiting the religious sites, we stopped at the port of Kusadasi for an observation of Turkish rug knitting before going back to the ship in a late-afternoon thunderstorm. The ship promptly left the port after we got on!
After a much needed sea day to rest after 3 consecutive days of shore tours, we arrived at Ashdod and joined the tour of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Hearing some negative comments from the fellow cruisers and our English host on the ship at the start of the cruise, we almost decided not to go to Bethlehem because of the rumored delay in border crossing and lack of guide support in Palestine. Were they wrong! We were so glad that we stuck with it! The border crossing into Palestine and back took less than 10 minutes each way and our tour guide in Palestine was way better than the same in Israel. We visited Mt. Olives, the Old City, Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, and the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. We were told that the crowd was much thinner this time of the year and we could actually see and touch a lot of stuff with our own eyes without much of a line. It was a great scene to see that people of all different races and faiths live together peacefully most of the time.
We arrived at Port Said early in the morning and immediately boarded the tour bus for the 13+ hour journey of Pyramids, Saqqara, Camel & Jeep Adventure before getting back to ship in Alexandria 9:30pm. It was surreal to see the huge cargo ships looming right next to the highway in the parallel Suez Canal. After seeing the Freedom Bridge which arches over the Suez Canal, we turned to Cairo and crossed the Nile River. It took over 3 hours and we finally arrived at Giza with its towering Pyramids. After walking around and taking pictures we drove to the lower valley to see the Sphinx with Pyramids in the background. Then we went to the Saqqara Country Club where our Jeeps were waiting and took us to the top of the nearby desert where more of the Pyramids were in sight. At the end of the Jeep ride a long caravan of camels could be seen sitting in the desert. One person, one camel, and remember to lean back just before the camel stands up or sits down. The 30-minute camel ride back to the Country Club was exciting if a little shaky. With my hands tied holding to the camel during the ride, I appreciated that the Costa ship photographer took our pictures in motion. He also did a good job before at the Sphinx site. At the end of the camel ride, lunch was served at the Club before we went to Saqqara to appreciate the Step Pyramid and the amazing funerary complex of Djoser with the outstanding and vivid display of daily lives over 4,600 years ago! The artistry and the level of advanced civilization was simply unforgettable.
We knew in advance that there was some political unrest in Cairo but we never realized that it turned into a full-blown riot while we were touring the city. Apparently the curfew was imposed while we were in the area and the driver rushed us back to the ship docked at Alexandria. After turning on TV and watched the BBC program onboard did we learn that we in fact made a close escape, an exodus, out of Africa! We were wondering why there was a security guard on the front of our tour bus all the way with us who wore a suit and tie but carried an automatic weapon. Putting together, it seems to make more sense now. Within 10 minutes of us boarding the ship, Costa Pacifica quickly sailed away from the troubled water towards its home ports in Italy.