A very short night and the knock on the door signified arrival of breakfast at 5:30am but we had set the alarm for 5:45am. Unfortunately, sleeping in one’s birthday suit and trying to answer the door to sign for breakfast whilst half asleep was not the best start for the day! “Yes, we have no bananas – again...” so it was rather tasteless melon as a substitute to accompany the yoghurt and rather delicious Danish pastries. We trundled off down to Magnum’s bar as required at 6:15am just as the ship was entering the port of Ashdod in Israel. I think there must have been some confusion as to the immigration process which had to be a face to face interview – and that couldn’t happen until we had docked and the officials were on board. Sue’s group had swollen to about 30 but we had to wait until the official Princess tours had been processed before we were called, so no queue jumping this time. So we patiently waited until about 7:30 before we were called. The process was fast and friendly, though they did give Arnold a grilling as they had never heard of his birthplace in Holland! Personally, l just think he was chatting up the official to add to his harem.
The Trip to Jerusalem – no, not the Nottingham pub, reputed to be the oldest in England...
Our tour guide Michal was a bubbly character speaking very good English and a good sense of humour. She has been a tour guide for 21 years and is passionate about her country and her religion.
We headed straight for Jerusalem but the traffic was heavy so after a slow crawl up the dual carriageway, David the driver opted to dive off and take a faster route into the city. We had a brief photo and comfort stop with a panoramic view of the city. Michal pointed out many landmarks before we heading to the walled, oil city.
With a strict instruction to keep together, she led us through the maze of streets in the old town, which appeared to be a combination of an Israeli version of St Ives in Cornwall, with narrow streets where cars probably should have been banned, to a covered market. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately) this was a 100% “no shopping” tour. A real shame as a stop for ten or 15 minutes to actually look into the shops would have been appreciated even by non-shoppers such as myself. However, knowing that many shoppers lose all track of time and tend to wander off and get lost, this may not have been a bad policy. Most of us by now had rumbling stomachs and were desperate for a coffee or snack stop, but it didn’t happen.
For the religious, Jerusalem is something of a pilgrimage and walking on stone paths and entering some of these holy buildings where Jesus Christ had been, especially in the Holy Sepulchre, was a deeply moving experience and unusually, photographs were allowed.
We headed down hill to the wailing wall, the left side reserved for males and the smaller right side reserved for females. Apart from an altercation with an extremely aggressive driver and passenger in a battered two door, who was travelling way too quickly down such narrow crowded streets, the other memory is of the different religious quarters and the different atmosphere in each. When we emerged from the old city, the coach was fortunately not too far away and we piled in and headed for the Dead Sea.
So it was that lunch was at a self-service cafeteria and shop just two minutes from the Dead Sea – at 1:30pm. Now I am not too sure about you, but going 8 hours without food or coffee after a skinny snack at breakfast means that almost any food is acceptable. Sorry, but this was the low spot of the day. For those who think the lowest of the low was a British Motorway Service area of ten years ago, think again. We queued up to find that the options were ‘main meal’ or a salad – without meats... My main meal consisted of a spoonful of almost plain rice, two smallish potatoes and a spoonful of a tortellini concoction. Whatever else that was on offer - mixed peas and carrots, something wrapped in a vine leaf and a falafel didn’t really excite my taste-buds. The cost of that plus a very poor salad for Paula and a bottle of grapefruit squash was $32.50US.
No sandwiches, no local breads such as the possibly unhygienic date filled bread that looked so good in the old town, just the mains and salads or a pita bread stuffed with either a chicken escalope or a cooked chicken mix – but that was in a different queue that wasn’t obvious from the entrance. Not impressed and I think our guide could have done a better job here.
We were due back on the coach at 2:30 – and all except two were... Typical I suppose. A stop with just one option to eat shop and people still can’t get back on time., so it is perhaps as well we didn’t stop in the old town.
The Dead Sea
Now I don’t need to tell you is that the Dead Sea is several metres below normal sea level and has a concentration of salt, 10 times normal sea water. What I do need to tell you is that there was charge for the place we were taken to which worked out to be about $11US – but at least that was included in the tour. We arrived at 3pm and had an hour to change, get down to the beach, have a swim and get back to the coach. I opted out for two reasons. It was steaming hot and I didn’t really fancy the exposure and secondly, the very high concentration of salt can be a problem. I stayed up top and kept an eye on Paula’s bag but she was one of the first back, so after she had changed, we had a Magnum ice cream each – at $5US a pop!
Poor Dennis with his dodgy leg had a lift down in a golf buggy but nearly came a cropper in the water as the ground is less than supportive even for those with two good legs. We were also worried about his return as he had made a start on his own, but there was a big cheer when he finally arrived just after 4pm – in the golf cart again.
The driver made a stop by popular request at a small supermarket so that those needing to top up their wine stocks could do so. We were back at the ship around the same time as many other coaches at around 6:20pm.
Our own BBQ!
After a shower it was back up onto deck 14 in front of the grill bar that closes at 6pm – so no chips! However, we raided the buffet and brought several communal plates of nibbles out to the deck, dragged three tables together and had out own BBQ. The buffet manager, Gabriel, passed by and asked if everything was OK. Of course it was, but cheekily, either Ros or Joanne said that what would make it perfect, would be a plate of hot chips! “I’ll see what I can do” said Gabriel and sure enough, about ten minutes later, two platters of hot chips arrived! Don’t you just love the staff on this ship? Nothing appears to be too much trouble for them and it is easy to see why the Dawn Princess always rates so highly for the friendliness of its staff.
Given the choice of a snooty or poncy 5 or 7 star cruise, with starchy staff and the friendly Dawn Princess, even without trying the 5 star, I know which we would prefer.
A tiring day and an interesting day but again, possibly a case of ‘been there, done that’. Israel still has a lot of problems and from Michal’s comments, it wasn’t difficult to read between the lines. The average Jewish family produces 3.1 children, the average Muslim family, 8.