Oh my, oh my, oh my!! I have just had the best trip of my life! It was AMAZING!!:)!! I have enjoyed seeing exotic places, eating spectacular food, and falling in love with my fabulous husband once again.
There is so much to talk about that I will divide it into two posts. Since we traveled without large organized tours and big buses, I will be sharing the things that were a success, and also those things that I wish I would have known about the countries and islands that we visited. I hope that this will help any of you who are free spirit travelers and may want take a trip to Israel or Greece one day. (If anything, it will help me to remember, lol!)
The second will be about the Oceania Riviera ship itself. I know That I was so excited and wanted to know more about the ship, so I will try to give a quick review and overview to help get others excited about their cruise:)
So…. If you are still interested, here we go:)!
The airport is on the other side of Athens about 1 hour away from the port.
- DO NOT rent a car or try to use the bus system. Traffic is CRAZY!!!!
- Oceania does not offer a free shuttle. It is 89EU each way per person. Others on our flight took the shuttle and had to wait five hours at the terminal without ever seeing the Parthenon!
- Have a ride planned and waiting for you at the airport or terminal– We used Diamant Minibus–. Viscilli, our driver, was waiting for us with a sign as we exited the airport. He gave us a FANTASTIC 4 hour private tour of the city. We saw the Parthenon, The original Olympic Stadium, views of the city and more. He even bought us an authentic Athens lunch! All for 200US total. What a deal!!:). I wish our friends would have come and then we could have split the cost:)
The Island of Patmos-–
This is the island where John the Revelator was banished and where he wrote the Book of Revelations.
- There isn’t a whole lot to do here. There were taxis available to take us to the two sites. We made some fun friends on the tender ferry who shared the taxi fare making it 20EU. Others on the tender walked, but it was a steep 2 hour hike. It can be done, but I was glad we hired the taxi.
- St. John’s cave was interesting, short, and free. It is the must see attraction on the island.
- The other attraction is the monastery at the top of the hill. It is also free and has lots of great views.
- There is not a lot of shopping or dining here. Save your money and buy your souvenirs later.
Israel-(this is my longest section)
Oh, I learned a lot here! We docked in Haifa for two days.
- Plan and prepare a taxi and tour guide BEFORE you arrive! I recommend Nidal from Palestine. Here is his Facebook page. You can contact him and he will help you line everything up. He speaks perfect English. — We did not have a tour guide or taxi prepared ahead of time. When we got off the ship, we expected to see taxis and shops waiting for our business. This is what we saw:Nothing! We were sick!!! Really, EVERYONE on the boat had taken a tour on a big bus and we were left alone to find a way to get to Jerusalem two hours away! We asked around and found our way to the taxi station. Luckily, they had a wonderful, friendly, Arab driver that hardly spoke any English. He really was kind and sweet though. But, not cheap. They held the upper hand for sure. –We hired him for two days for about 800EU. That was about what everyone else paid for their very crowded bus tours. Ours was still a bargain if you consider we had a private tour that didn’t spend a lot of time stopping for bathroom breaks. He drove us to Nidel in Bethlehem who stayed with us the rest of the day. So– to make this long story short, arrange for your taxi and tour guide BEFORE you get to Israel!
- Wear long pants, a modest shirt, and bring a hat for shade and reverence at Jewish places of worship.
We went to Bethlehem, The Mt of Olives, Via Dolorosa, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Wailing Wall, The View of the City, the Garden Tomb, and The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints Jerusalem Center. All of these sites are fairly close together, besides Bethlehem.
- Bethlehem is in Palestine. Who knew? You have to have a special guide or taxi driver to drive into the country.
- The Mt of Olives has 3000 year old trees and overlooks the city.
- DO NOT MISS Via Dolorosa!!! It was a surprise to me. It is the street they say that Jesus carried the cross to Calvary. They say Caiaphus’ Palace was here as well. It felt the most authentic to how I imagined it might have been. I was glad I was with my taxi driver and tour guide. I think I would have been intimidated by all of the Arabs and commotion.
- The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is at the end of the Via Dolorosa. Many Catholic faiths believe Jesus was buried here. It was interesting to see so many Christian sects share the same building.
- The City Gate and Wailing Wall is a must see. You are divided to enter. Men in one line, women in another. I thought the wall, which is the actual remains of Solomon’s Temple, was only for men, but it is also divided men on the left, women on the right. You need your hat here.
I am a member of The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints or “Mormon”. I was most excited to see the Garden Tomb and the Jerusalem Center.
- If you are LDS, here is what you must know: the Jerusalem Center is CLOSED on Sunday and Monday! And the Garden Tomb is CLOSED on Sunday!!! Our ship was only there on Sunday and Monday. We knew the Center would be closed, but we were bummed when we found out the Garden Tomb was closed. We could only look over the fence. Bummer! So if you can, plan your trip Tuesday-Friday. Friday would be best. Everyone says the preparations for Jewish Sabbath are something to be seen.
In the Northern part of Israel is where Galilee is. I would liken Galilee and Judea to counties in the United States, Nazareth and Jerusalem to cities within the counties.
It was fun to see the biblical cities of Nazareth, Cana, Tiberius, Magdala, and Capernaum. Crazy! Here are the things I learned:
- The Sea of Galilee is a lake, and not a very big one. You can see from side to side and end to end very easily. It is fresh water. I didn’t know! I guess I always pictured a huge lake or ocean edge.
- Capernaum is destroyed. There are ruins of an ancient synagogue and the Capernaum homes that date back to Jesus’ time. They are right on the edge of the lake or Sea of Galilee. Why have I never heard of this before?! I bet Jesus was in this very church!
- The Mt of Beatitudes is just as I pictured it. It is very quiet and right up the hill from Capernaum.
- The River Jordan isn’t very wide and it kind of glows like the water at Havasu in the Grand Canyon.
- Many people bought baptismal clothes and were getting re-baptized.
- There are also small fish in the water that nibble your feet!
And really, I can’t leave a place without trying the local food. Our driver was so excited about falafel and kanafa.
- Falafel is a chick pea ball that they put in a pita with some fries and sauce. Yum!
- The kanafa is a sweet cheese that didn’t look appetizing, but was very good:). It is a mozzarella type cheese covered with shredded philo dough, drizzled with sweet syrup, and sprinkled with nuts. Our driver took us to two shops for this. He said that this is the big deal treat in the country!
We had a great time in Israel. I felt very safe and was happy that I was not on a big tour bus. We could wander and do whatever we wanted to do. In fact the driver stopped and let us take a small walk in the hills on the way to the Sea of Galilee. He even helped me find a yarn store so I could buy some Israeli wool:) I’m not crazy about the quality of yarn, but hey, it is my Israel souvenir.
Now, back to the Greek Islands–
If you are a “foodie” like us, this is the stop. The taxi was cheap. Our driver was confused that we didn’t want to do the normal touristy stuff. But I think we made a believer of him by the end of the day:)
- Go to the Carob factory. It is nestled in the most beautiful little village with colorful boganvilla hanging over the walls. Carob is a pod that grows on a Carob tree that makes a syrup similar to chocolate.
- We went to the Oleastro Olive Park. It is a little “cheesy”. You can buy olive oil there. But don’t buy too much . I found fancier oil cheaper on Santorini.
- On the way we saw an old monastery and had the driver stop. We walked around and took pictures. The driver said he was going to recommend this as an optional tour for others who want to see the real Greek lifestyle in Cypress
- By far the best local dining experience was here in Cypress. Our driver took us to a local restaurant, ordered what seemed to be everything on the menu and filled our table with the most delicious Greek food:). All three of us ate with plenty of left overs for only 20EU! The cook kept coming out with another plate and asking us how we liked it. We LOVED it!!
- Snorkeling at this rocky get away was nice, but they did not have snorkels to rent. Our driver took us to a shop to buy some. I don’t remember the name of the cove. It was nice though. I liked being on the rocks
- So, if you plan on snorkeling on your visit to the isles, I recommend bringing your snorkel and mask in your suit case.
This is a very modern city with a very modern shopping district close to the ports.
- Do not hire a taxi here. It is a very easy, and pretty walk to the shopping district. There is a map along the road that shows you where to go.
- Here is the place to buy yarn. (You knew I would get to this, right? Lol!). I reasearched for hours online before I left and had the hardest time getting a good idea of shops for natural yarns. We were walking the outdoor shopping mall, and there it was…pure yarn heaven! I bought 5 skeins of Kangaroo brand wool for 3EU a piece. What?!! I wish I had A bigger suitcase:)!!!
Oh Santorini, I love you!! This was my favorite island. It was so beautiful and had so much to do. Really, I could point my camera anywhere and have a postcard worthy picture.There is so much to do here, and everything is fun, beautiful, and reasonably priced. You can’t go wrong. Here is what we did:
- Ride a donkey up the mountain and walk back down. It was only 5EU and the donkey or better said, mule, took me up the 750 stairs to the city. He only tried to ride me into the wall twice. Lol!
- Wear good walking shoes.
- This is the island to rent 4 wheelers. It was cheaper to rent a 4 wheeler than hire a taxi to get to the town of Oia on the other side of the island, and really- if you can choose between the two, 4wheeler every time!There were lots of little side roads to go exploring on. It was so much fun!
- The views in Oia were amazing. It was way worth the drive. But the dining there was very very expensive. Skip it if you can.
- There was a dive shop here. We wish we would have known, or at least brought our snorkeling stuff. The water was so clear, we just wanted to jump in!
- Santorini is a great place to shop for souvenirs. There is a wide selection of shops with very good prices. I loved the oil and vinegar shop at the old part of the islandYou just can’t go wrong in Santorini. It is wonderful!
This was our final stop. We went with our new found friends to Paradise beach. For a day of snorkeling and relaxation. This is what I did!-yea!
- The Tropicana resort had a shuttle service near the port, but you have to ask around to find it.
- The snorkeling here was the best. The ocean floor is cracked and there are lots of colorful little fish and crab to look at. You can also dive here.
- Back in town, have fun exploring the quaint streets and shops. I especially liked the bakery we discovered in the basement of a building. We bought fresh cookies and baklava. Yum!
This was an absolutely wonderful cruise. The places were phenomenal, but being with my super wonderful husband and our new found friends made it the SWEETEST of trips:)
Thank you for stopping by. I hope I have given you a little taste of the Mediterranean.
7 thoughts on “Cruising to Greece and Israel Freestyle! — Without An Organized Tour”
Awesome tour! I have been to Greece, but it sure made me want to go back, and even maybe to Israel. You are an amazing couple.
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Thank you Dawn!! We should have all gone together:)!
I knew I had missed this post! So cool to hear about your experience, we just went to Greece as well on our honey moon in July and we loved it! I really want to go to Israel now as well, it looks so beautiful
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Congratulations on your wedding! I’m so glad you came by:). Isn’t Greece beautiful? All of the crystal clear blue water and cloud like white houses…ahh the memory:). I hope you get to go to Israel. It is wonderful:)
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Thanks 🙂 it was really good and it was my husband’s second time only in Europe (he is from Australia) so it was good to be able to visit Greece together 🙂 truly a magical place
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What the lovely pictures! I love Greece ( that’s why I live here!) and there are so many other beautiful places you should see in this country! Your photos from Israel are awesome too, I visited there 3 years ago and your photos reminded me about this country. Have a nice day! Anneli
Thank you Anneli! You certainly do live in a beautiful place that is filled with so much history! I loved loved loved my visit there and hope to return again someday:)
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