June 27, 2013
Wesley Richard, scribe
Perhaps the Ocean View Café on Deck 14 was busy this morning at 6:30 because we gained an hour during the night, or, more likely, because we were all anticipating the final step on our Mediterranean Tour. At any rate, as we watched the Celebrity back slowly into its place at the Naples pier, the first question we heard Lores Hochstetler ask was, “Have you started to pack yet?” Today was a day of last things.
As Randy Longenecker opined, our half-day tour of the Pompeii ruins provided a fitting closure to our AMBS tour. By now we knew what to expect when we disembarked—a skilled bus driver and a knowledgeable tour guide. We were not disappointed. Nadia began to describe the landscape as soon as we started motoring through the main square of Naples, and with good humor and occasional wise cracks provided cultural and historical insights the entire time.
We learned that Naples had been bombed in World War 2, but that it was really a new town because Pompeii used to be on the sea coast until Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. Since then it has often erupted at 50-year intervals. Its next eruption is now overdue! But not to worry: there is always an earthquake first!
Mount Vesuvius used to be 9,000 feet high, but it lost two-thirds of its height when it exploded, spewing ash and fire and covering some areas with up to 96 feet of lava. Many people died at the beach because the water cut off their way of escape.
As we walked the mile-long Main Street of old Pompeii, lined with its shops, marble columns, and tiled floors, we exclaimed at the amenities the Romans had supplied over two millennia ago: sewage system, central heating in the spas, and running water, albeit through lead pipes, which probably contributed to the deterioration of the mental health of its aristocracy. We were so impressed with the acoustics of the reconstructed theater that our voices erupted in singing the Mennonite version of the Doxology (#606) to the amazement of other tour groups standing nearby.
But we stood speechless as we scrutinized the plaster bodies of volcano victims in glass displays. (The ash had hardened around the bodies and the flesh had decayed inside, leaving only the skeleton. The space was then injected with plaster to fill the cavity, and when the hardened ash was peeled away, only the shape of the body remained.)
We did not have time to get to the Catholic Church, but when the bus engine suddenly died at an intersection and refused to start, Nadia reminded us that we should have taken the time to stop and pray to the Virgin Mary. “This is a place of miracles,” she told us. Fortunately, the driver was able to apply his charm and the bus started again, much to everyone’s relief, especially the honking drivers behind us.
Last things continued to unfold the remainder of the day. At lunch, Ricky Schrag decided to visit the dessert bar one more time because, “This is the last day,” she said.
Sue and I decided to make our way to the hot tub for one last soak, where we met our new friend from Chicago one more time, an Iraqi who came to the U.S. with his parents in 1976 after Saddam Hussein became president, . . . because “he would not be good for the country.” Our friend is now in pharmacology with 70 employees under him, working on what he is sure will become “personalized drugs” for cancer and other diseases, drugs that will target specific genes. He said we will not likely see it in this generation, but our descendants certainly will.
Later, we went to the Café to say goodbye to our friend Mildred from the Dominican Republic, a devout Christian who appreciated Sue’s daily words of encouragement. The group gathered around our designated tables on the third floor for our last supper of a rich assortment of foods from the printed menu. We were able to help celebrate Earl and Margaret Sutter’s 60th wedding anniversary by singing as a waiter placed a cake with a candle in front of them.
We then moved to the pool deck on top for a final photo and a couple of wonderful choral numbers, including “The Lord Bless You and Keep You.”
On our way up, Galen Miller told me, “When I got on this ship, I thought it would last forever, and here it is, the last night!”
I guess it is true that all good things must come to an end.
June 26, 2013
1. The AMBS cruisetour group poses in front of the Library of Celsus in ancient Ephesus.
2. The cruisetour ship, Celebrity Reflection.
3. Local artisan Ayşe demonstrates to the group how she weaves Turkish rugs.
4. Deborah-Ruth Ferber sits at the tomb of the Apostle John in St. John’s Basilica in Ephesus.
June 25, 2013
The ruins of Pompeii in the foreground, with Mount Vesuvius in the background. Mount Vesuvius was more than twice as high before it exploded, leaving a larger crater between the two peaks visible today. The eruption in 79 AD buried Pompeii in more than 20 feet of ash and killed an estimated 16,000 people in the area.
Debbie Baergen, scribe
The morning sun shone bright in the cloudless blue Grecian sky as 38 members of our group boarded a bus for our day in Athens. Unfortunately three of our group were unable to join us.
We left the busy port of Piraeus and headed into the sprawling metropolis of Athens. We passed recognizable buildings from the 2004 Olympics. According to our guide, many of the Olympic venues have been abandoned—somewhat ironic in a city that holds some of the most ancient buildings known. We headed into the “old city” with its narrow streets packed on either side with apartment buildings—maximum 7-8 stories tall—built and maintained in a neoclassical style. Laws prevent the changing of the exterior of these buildings. We also saw the new metro and places where excavations for its construction had unearthed further ancient ruins—a common occurrence in this city and one most North American city planners do not even consider.
When we arrived at the bottom of the acropolis, we got off the bus full of anticipation for seeing the ruins. At the same time, however, we also felt some trepidation, since our goal stood nearly 500 feet (150 meters) above us. We started up the pathway, stopping to hear the legend of the Areopagus, or Mars Hill. While the story of the Amazons’ revenge was interesting, we resonated more with the realization that it was here that Paul came to debate the Athenians and teach them about Jesus Christ and Christianity. As we climbed the uneven, slippery marble steps, we knew we were walking where Paul had actually walked. The top of the hill was a rough, uneven, natural rock but the view was amazing! It is difficult to understand how animated debates could have taken place there. But this is where Paul started the Athenian church—and now roughly 95% of Greece is Eastern Orthodox, with another small percentage being Roman Catholic or Protestant. We proceeded up the hill toward the Acropolis, stopping at one point to look down and see the Dionysus and Odeon Theatres and the temples of Zeus and Hephaistos (or Hephaestus).
We marveled at the size, beauty, and preservation of these ancient sites. Our guide, Daphne, informed us that the theaters were still used for festivals and that the temple of Hephaistos had been used as a church for many years, which assisted its remaining so complete. We continued to trudge up the steep slope, finally reaching the Propylaea. We climbed the marble steps and went through the arch and found a breathtaking view of the Parthenon and the Erechtheion, with Athens far below. It was amazing. These buildings had been built around 2,500 years ago (447 to 432 BC). They were there when Paul came to Athens. They had withstood earthquakes, fire, and even a major bombardment. Yet they were still impressive in size and craftsmanship. How fragile and insignificant one feels in the presence of this long-lasting beauty!
The later trip to the new archaeological museum gave us a glimpse of what it may have been like for ancient Athenians approaching the Parthenon. On the top floor the museum had created its own Parthenon—a space of the same dimensions oriented parallel to the original, which we could see through the wall of windows. This space had 46 metal pillars placed the same distance apart as the carved ones of the Parthenon—17 on each side and 8 on each end. It also had the recovered pieces of the carvings from the temple as well as casts of the missing metopes and portions of the frieze of the cella, with missing pieces reconstruct¬ed. The museum also had a model of the incredibly detailed sculptures from the east and west pediments so we could better imagine the look of the temple before it fell to ruins. Walking in this space and seeing all the artwork brought down to eye level helped us to experience once again a sense of awe for the sheer size of the building and incredible craftsmanship involved in its creation.
On our return to the ship a number of us took advantage of the opportunity to tour the ship’s galley. After spending a day exploring the ancient, it was quite the contrast to hear about how the galleys were run on the newest cruise ship in the ocean. From the complications of creating multi-course dinners for 3,200 guests and over 1,000 staff to serving the food efficiently and at the right temperatures, it was an interesting tour. Food for people with special dietary needs is prepared in a separate section in order to avoid cross-contamination. Meats and vegetables are stored in separate storage places. Different foods need different temperatures for optimal freshness and taste. Food left on plates is not thrown away. Instead, it is pulverized, then turned into fuel for the ship. The staff must follow rigid health and safety policies. Although they work long hours, they seem to enjoy being here. People from around the world apply to work on this ship—yet only a few get chosen as there is a stringent application process and little turnover in staff. What amazing technology and management!
It was quite a day, full of contrasts and juxtapositions as we saw the new being built on the old and the ancient preserved high above the modern city, but then we returned to the model of modern efficiency that has been our home for this cruise.
June 24, 2013
Bruce Baergen, chair of the AMBS board, and his wife, Debbie, pause for a rest in the “Little Venice” part of Mykonos, with windmills in the background.
Sue Richard, scribe
Today is the tenth day of our excursion with four more days to enjoy the beauty of the Mediterranean Sea on the ship as well as search out the historic ancient sites on land. Breakfast at the Oceanview Café this morning was our first opportunity of the day to exercise choices—which ethnic breakfast foods would we indulge in. So far I have not had a craving for pickled herring with coffee, but sautéed eggplant in olive oil along with my regular serving of stewed Mediterranean figs was indeed satisfying! I have observed that the American breakfast bar does not include Texas toast or large Danishes, long johns, or Dunkin’ Donuts. The more petite pastries encourage nibbling on a variety of pastry delicacies.
I am grateful we have the time each morning to carry out our normal after-breakfast schedule of shared devotions. Our Scripture this morning was from Luke’s travel blog (i.e., Acts), when Paul left for Macedonia, where he gave the believers much encouragement. Then he went on to Greece, where he stayed for three months. Tomorrow our ship docks at Athens, where we will spend only one day visiting the ancient sites, some of which are referred to in Acts.
My interest in Macedonia was piqued when at dinner the very first night our waiter introduced himself as Alexander from Macedonia! And now this afternoon while recording my thoughts of the morning’s events in a quiet place on the 14th deck, Alexander spotted me and came to my table to say hello. Unfortunately he did not have time for conversation. How I would like to ask him if he comes from the seaport city of Thessalonica or from the interior, and whether he knows how important his province of Macedonia is in the biblical story.
Today’s off-ship destination was the island of Mykonos, a place not mentioned in Paul’s journeys. It sits on the same southern edge of the Aegean Sea as Samos, Kos, and Santorini, and is not all that far from Patmos. I wish we could have stopped at Patmos instead, where John received his revelation.
Mykonos claims to be “extremely popular with tourists, . . . retaining a Cycladic charm with its white-washed houses, hilltop windmills, shops, cafes, and tavernas [small restaurants].” Al¬though the island consists of only 35 square miles, it has more than 400 churches!
Today’s excursion required being tendered from the ship to the island by ferry. With map in Hand, Wesley and I set out to view the most impressive Byzantine jewel on the island, The Panagia Paraportiani Church, actually a complex of five different churches or chapels, one of which is open to the public. Our search for the jewel of the island yielded more than one spiritual jewel along the way. Walking along the seafront illuminated the glory of God’s creation right before our eyes—crystal clear water flowing over beautiful rock formations with the mountains creating an idyllic scene in the background.
Reading a map proved to be misleading, just as asking for directions does not always send you in the right direction! After going in the wrong direction a good distance around the island, we realized our search was leading to a dead end and that we needed to turn around and head in another direction to find the House of the Lord for which we were looking. Thankfully, we ended up at the right destination.
Our day on the island ended early, allowing us to luxuriate in the hot tub on board before having dinner with our fellow AMBS travelers. What a blessing to share food and conversation together!
June 23, 2013
Shirley Miller, scribe
We began our time together with worship at 9:00 a.m. and from Ephesians were challenged to “sing and give thanks,” and so we sang, “If you believe and I believe,” “Lord Jesus Christ, be present now,” “Longing for light,” and “God of the Bible.”
Personal verses from Ephesians and sharing came from Lola Gingerich, Abe Buhler, and Mary Schiedel. Loren shared an introduction to Ephesus. We learned that Paul lived in Ephesus about three years—longer than anywhere else on his journeys. The apostle John and John the elder also lived there. Paul had an emotional meeting with the elders of Ephesus on his last missionary journey. He knew that imprisonment and persecution were surely awaiting him. He instructed them to be alert and watchful, recounting the example he had set, commending them to God.
Ancient Ephesus had about 250,000 inhabitants and served as the capital of the Roman province of Asia. In those days the “ocean” was much closer and could easily be seen from the great theater.
En route we learned that the area is rich in agriculture, industry, and tourism. There are many olive trees that provide olives, olive oil, and olive wood products. The healthy hazel nut oil is coming into vogue. We saw peach and tangerine trees. The fig tree produces the most expensive elite fruit. In industry they manufacture base garments on which top-tier designer companies around the world put their brand names!
Turkish carpets and the art of weaving are dying out, but not without an organized governmental effort/program to keep it alive. Our group was treated to a visit to such a program, where we saw the process from silkworm production to final carpets. We were also treated to a fashion show where models modeled many colors and styles of leather coats made of lambskin. Our own Loren Johns and Marla Longenecker were pulled from the audience to serve as models.
Also interesting were the large stork nests atop columns and street lights as these large birds often took to flight.
Our walk through the ruins of Ephesus followed the marble road known as Curetes Street. All the monumental buildings had their front sides opened to this street. Houses, shops, and statues also lined Curetes. Loren shared that it seems a certainty that Paul and John would have walked along this road. Among the highlights of ruins that we saw along this path were:
Our guide also pointed out the Roman baths, the symbol carved into the road that represented the superimposed letters--the first letters of the Greek words, Jesus, Christ, Son of God, Savior. Together these letters spell the word ichthys, or fish, the stock market, or “bull” market, and where the “eternal flame” was and how it was used.
We left this area by the Arcadian Way, where there was a reenactment of a gladiator fight and the Olympic theme song was played.
We again boarded the tour bus and drove up a treacherous and narrow mountain road to a small cottage that “is said” to be the last home of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The house was built in 1951. Reportedly John brought her here and cared for her for the last 11 years of her life.
We also stopped at St. John’s Basilica, which contains the grave of St. John.
From this high point we could look down on the one remaining column from the 127 at the Temple of Artemis, which was four times the size of the Parthenon and one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
We ended our day of touring with a carpet demonstration and a snack lunch, which was served just a tad late for some Turks at 5:00 p.m.! For some of us, it had been a long time since breakfast! Then we returned to our ship.
Welcome to this window on the 2013 Mediterranean Cruisetour. As Sara Wenger Shenk, AMBS president, and Loren Johns, AMBS professor of New Testament, and 43 other travelers explore the places where the Apostle Paul traveled, they will share photos and reports here. Come back to this space for what we hope will be daily snapshots in words and photos of what the group is experiencing.
Visit Menno Travel to learn more about the Cruisetour.