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We depart on an overnight flight to Thessaloniki, Greece. Dinner and breakfast will be served on board the flight.
Upon landing at Thessaloniki Airport, we make our way to the baggage claim area and collect our luggage. Proceed to the arrivals hall, where we will be greeted by our English-speaking tour guide and assisted to the motorcoach. Thessaloniki, the second-largest city in Greece, is named in honor of a half-sister of Alexander. The city, part of Macedonian Greece, is also known as Salonika. Paul’s first epistle to the Thessalonians, written in the middle of the first century, is his first known letter. His two letters urged the Thessalonian Christians to “live blamelessly” and to refrain from living idly while they wait for the second coming of Christ. Settle into our comfortable hotel for a good night’s rest. Overnight in Thessaloniki.
(Dinner at the hotel * Depending on time of arrival)
We visit Thessaloniki in-depth, its Byzantine tradition expressed in architecture, churches, and monasteries. We explore the Church of St. Sophia with its eighth-century mosaics; the Church of St. Demetrius, patron saint of the city; the fifth-century Rotunda to view its well-preserved mosaics; and the Arch of Galerius. Following lunch, we depart for Vergina, the first capital of Macedonia. This is where Phillip II was assassinated in 336 B.C. We visit the remarkable underground museum with its four tombs containing the tomb of Alexander the Great’s family. We travel to Veria, a charming town with a Byzantine and Jewish presence, to visit small Byzantine churches and the Bema of St. Paul.
Overnight in Thessaloniki. (B, D)
Our first stop of the day is in Philippi, where Saint Paul established the first church in Europe. “And from there (He went) to Philippi, which is the leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman Colony. We remained in this city some days…” (Acts 16:12-18). Also, it is the site where Saint Paul baptized a woman named Lydia, the first convert to Christianity in Europe. We visit the Roman Forum where Saint Paul cast a spirit out of a fortune-telling woman. While here, we will have the opportunity to view the prison (now in ruins) where Paul and Silas were jailed by the owners of the fortune-tellers. We continue to the modern port city of Kavala, which was once the ancient Neapolis. Paul, Silas, Luke, and Timothy landed in this port when they sailed into Europe. After enjoying this city by the sea, we return to Thessaloniki for a delicious meal and restful overnight. (B. D)
This morning we travel to Meteora, which we reach by early lunchtime. After lunch, we visit the Meteora Monasteries. In the eleventh century, monks settled within the caves. As the Ottoman occupation increased, the monks were forced to move their settlements higher upon the rocks until they were unreachable by any opposing enemy. Using ropes and ladders, the monks brought baskets of building materials and living supplies, transforming these settlements into monasteries. The Meteora Monasteries are known for preserving not only Greek Christianity but also Hellenic academics and arts. During our visit, we will be able to view stunning Byzantine art, as well as the breathtaking scenery that surrounds the monastery. We also visit an icon workshop in the area, where we get a chance to see how icons are made.
Dinner and overnight in Kalambaka. (B. D)
Following hotel check out, we drive to Delphi, the center of the ancient world and “navel” of the earth, whose prestige extended far beyond the boundaries of the Hellenic world. On the slopes of Mount Parnassus, in a landscape of unparalleled beauty and majesty, lie the ruins of the pagan Sanctuary of Apollo Pythios. Visit the site before continuing to Athens. “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription ‘to an unknown God.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you…” Athens is one of the most glorious cities in the world and the cradle of western civilization as we know it today. View the ancient Agora, the former public center of Athenian life. It held the focus of a political, commercial, social, religious, and cultural center. We proceed with a drive through the city to view the House of Parliament on Syntagma Square. Then, visit Panathenaic Stadium, the beautifully marbled multi-purpose stadium, home to the Olympian Zeus and site of the first modern-era Olympics (1896). Dinner is at leisure tonight and an opportunity to taste Greek food in one of the many local restaurants near our hotel.
Overnight in Athens. (B)
We visit ancient Corinth. Under the shadow of the towering Acropolis, Saint Paul lived in Corinth for two years. While here, Saint Paul felt great grief over the way that the Gentile Church in Corinth had become. As a result, he was prompted to write four letters, all with the overarching theme of love. In Corinth, we will have the opportunity to view the remains of the first century shops, the site of Saint Paul’s trial by Gallio, the Fountain of Peirene, and the Temple of Apollo. Following our visit to Corinth, we return to Athens to visit the rock that has dominated the panorama of Athens for twenty-five centuries, the Acropolis. At the Acropolis, we will see the ruins of the Parthenon, Erechtheum, and Propylaea. Ascend Mars Hill, where Saint Paul spoke to the Athenians about the one and only God (Acts 17:22). See the ancient Agora, the former public center of Athenian life. (B, D)
MYKONOS: After hotel check-out, we head to the port to board our 4-day cruise aboard the Celestyal Olympia. Our first stop will be the Island of Mykonos, the most cosmopolitan of the Greek islands that attract visitors from all over the world. After docking, we transfer to Hora, the island’s capital, where we have time at leisure to explore the narrow, cobbled streets of the city. Pass by chic boutiques, elegant nightclubs, and white-washed houses to arrive in Alefkandra. This section of Mykonos is known as the “Venice of Mykonos” as the homes with wooden balconies are built on the sea. Historically, these homes were owned by wealthy merchants and captains. Return to the cruise ship for dinner and overnight. (B. L. D)
After breakfast on board, we arrive at the lively Turkish port of Kusadasi. Transfer to the small village of Mt. Koressos where we visit the small stone chapel on the site where the Virgin Mary spent her last days following Christ’s crucifixion. We continue to ancient Ephesus and begin our walking tour, which takes us through the most magnificent excavations in the world. The last stop on the walking tour is the Great Theater, with a capacity of 25,000 people, where Saint Paul preached. On the return of our walking tour, follow the exact route that Mark Anthony and Cleopatra once rode in procession via the Arcadian Way. This main street runs from the Great Theatre to the main city’s harbor.Upon arrival back in Kusadasi, enjoy free time to explore on our own before returning to the ship. The next stop is Patmos, where we visit the monastery of Saint John the Theologian. This marvelous structure was built nine hundred years ago and continues to be supported by the walls of a strong fortification. In addition to the stunning main church that contains outstanding frescoes, we view the beautiful courtyard, dining room, and bakery. Our tour continues to the small museum, where we view priceless ecclesiastical treasures such as books, manuscripts, mosaics, icons, textiles, vestments, and jewelry. Board the bus, which will take us to the Monastery and Grotto of the Apocalypse. In this grotto, experience a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to view the site of where the Book of Revelation was written. Return to the ship for dinner and overnight. (B. L. D)
The Island of Rhodes is a mix of Roman and Byzantine architectural styles. Rhodes was one of the most important seafaring and trading centers in the Eastern Mediterranean, during ancient times. Conquered in 1309 by the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem, it is now under the protection of UNESCO. A tour of Rhodes is included in the morning along with time at leisure to explore on our own. We can return to the ship for our included lunch or enjoy lunch on our own in town. Return to the ship for dinner and overnight. (B. L. D)
This morning we transfer to the largest city on the island of Crete, Heraklion, where we see the ancient ruins of the Palace of Knossos. These ruins were discovered in 1899, and the palace is currently partially reconstructed. This ancient palace is believed to have been the mythical Labyrinth of King Minos and the seat of ancient Minoan culture. Additionally, it is the site where Saint Paul met the owner and captain of the ship who warned him of continuing his journey to spread Christianity in Rome. Return to the ship to sail to the idyllic island of Santorini, definitively the most breathtaking island of all the Greek Islands. We disembark via tender upon arrival in Santorini. We take the cable car to visit Thira with its iconic white-washed houses, narrow streets, open-air cafes, and glittering boutiques that cling to steep cliffs. Returning to the ship for our last dinner and overnight on our cruise. (B. L. D)
After breakfast we disembark and are transferred to the airport for our flight to Istanbul. Welcome to Istanbul, formerly known as Constantinople! Upon arrival, we are welcomed by our representative. After visa formalities, we head to our hotel for a welcome reception. Overnight: Istanbul (D)
This morning we head to the Sultanahmet district. This World Heritage-listed district is crammed with historic buildings and atmosphere to keep you enthralled for days. Full day visits to the Topkapi Palace; overlooking the Sea of Marmara; the Sultan Ahmed (Blue) Mosque, with its six minarets and thousands of blue tiles; and the historic Hagia Sophia, now a museum, converted to a mosque from a Christian Basilica after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Next, we see the Hippodrome and the Obelisk brought from Egypt. Free time at the Grand Bazaars for shopping!
Overnight: Istanbul (B, D)
Today marks the end of your pilgrimage. Prepare for your departure to the airport and your flights home!
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