With thanks to Irv Cantor, AACI member, volunteer and traveler, who wrote this guest post.
There is something about the power and elegance of a ship when you stand by its side at port.
The Golden Iris seemed to rest in pride and confidence, asking us to come on board, hinting at the wonders it would show us. The sun was brilliant, the sky an uninterrupted blue, as we humbly scurried around taking care of luggage and check in.
There is something about leaving the port, watching the thick ropes gathered, and hearing the ship announce its departure. The land recedes, as if we are not the ones moving. Buildings and buses shrink and the blue water surrounds us.
Our first day was spent at sea, and it gave us time to become familiar with the general schedule and the ship’s decks and layout. The staff were wonderfully friendly and obliging. The minyanim gave structure to the day. And the meals were our first opportunity to meet the other travelers in our group and to get to know them. The kosher food was generous and delicious.
We wore AACI name tags around our necks. At first it seemed a little strange, but it soon became obvious that being an AACI member was a passport to special treatment. Requests were filled more quickly, with greater concern and attention. There was a specially scheduled stage show for our entertainment. The Captain’s dinner focused on the unique relationship with AACI over many years. Every evening we anticipated the printed AACI schedule for the next day – what unique activities and opportunities would be available to us, and only us.
Our visit to Chania, in Crete, showed us the beauty and history of this town. At the Etz Hayyim synagogue, a centuries-old house of worship, we listened to a young man describe the remarkable dedication and devotion of the small group that maintains the shul’s legacy.
The next day we toured Kefalonia, an island of Greece that shows evidence of settlements going back thousands of years. The peaceful grounds of the Gerasimos Monastery, with its beautiful flowers, gave time for slow walks and contemplation. We went to the town of Melisani and paddled through Blue Cavern, so impressed by the sunlight’s ability to pierce through the stone and make the waters glow.
After a day at sea, we came to Sardinia. and seemed to enter another world as we drove along Costa Smeralda. The changing hues of the ocean and the stunning villas seemed endless. The walk through Porto Cervo highlighted homes of the famous and powerful. We came back down to earth, but not too far, as we shopped in a maze of exclusive shops from the world’s most well- known designers.
We returned to the ship with plenty of time to prepare for Shabbat. With the help of Rabbi Karzen, we enjoyed inspirational prayer services, words of Torah, and energetic Shabbat songs at our meals.
We arrived at Barcelona on Saturday night, and took a short but special tour of the city. It was the perfect preparation for the full Sunday tour. On Sunday, we began with a trip through the new part of the city, seeing its modern structures. The sparkling cleanliness of the streets and design of public squares was unforgettable. The remainder of the day was dedicated to the historic sections of Barcelona.
The contrast of the modern open areas with the almost claustrophobic synagogue in Barcelona will forever remain in our minds. Like a small hidden treasure, the synagogue was lost for almost half a millennium and then rediscovered and refurbished. We then moved on to the world of Gaudi, marveling at his Battlo House, then to the incredibly complicated and overwhelming Sagrada Familia church, and finally the Park Guell with its long ceramic bench and magnificent panorama of the city.
The next day we arrived at Palma De Majorca. Alleyway-type streets seemed to take us back in time. We visited the Beliver Castle, a unique, circular gothic structure. That was followed by an interesting museum about pearls, with the opportunity to purchase a variety of pearl jewelry.
We ended with a visit to La Seu, the gothic-style cathedral.
After a day at sea, we arrived at Malta, driving through Valetta, it’s capital city, and reaching a remarkable high point with a panoramic view of the harbor. From there we walked through the streets of the city passing by palaces built by countries of origin for the knights who protected the island. We ended the walking tour with the Grand Master’s Palace, with its impressive collection of countless old weapons and armor. We moved on to the Valetta Glass Factory, where we had the opportunity to buy one-of-kind glass creations. Finally, we visited Mdina Old City, perched on a plateau, a perfect example of an ancient walled city. The sound of our echoing footsteps still remains with us, as do the views down winding pathways and impressive views from the bastions.
Our last stop was highly anticipated – the island of Santorini. Our bus climbed a narrow road to the top of a mountain for an astounding perspective of the island and the beautiful ocean around it.
We visited the village of Pyrgos and then the city of Fira. Our reluctant goodbye was done by cable car, descending the mountain to the port, for our return to the ship.
One more day at sea and we returned to Israel with newly found friends, hundreds of digital images, and memories that had changed and enriched us. Our resident historian, Gabriella, brought the past alive with on-ship lectures, and made each tour more meaningful. Buildings had spoken to us without words. Panoramic views had served as snapshots in a story stretching from long ago to the current day. The shopping allowed us to acquire things we could take home — to pick up, touch and feel when memories would not be not enough.
Between ports, the sky and water touched at the horizon. We lay on deck lounge chairs, absorbing the sun’s warmth, and forgetting we were anywhere in particular. It was easy to fall into a nap, with mixed dreams of home and the places we had been.
Future AACI Kosher and Friendly tours include Russia in July, 4 Night Cruise in August, Italy in September, China in October and Southern Spain in November.