“In the Footsteps of Paul”
20 - 31 May 2019

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About a year ago we learned that our friend Kenneth Mills was arranging a tour of biblical sites around the Aegean Sea to be led by Harding University Bible professor and archeologist Dr. Dale Manor. Though this would be Michael’s fifth and Jeannie’s fourth visit to Athens, we decided God was providing an educational and faith-building opportunity that was too good for us to pass up. By departure time, the group consisted of 43 Christians with similar interests. Several, if not most, were fellow Harding alumni.

Here is the list of biblical sites in the order that we visited. The verse where each place was first mentioned in the New Testament is included in parenthesis.

  • Athens (Acts 17:15)
  • Corinth (Acts 18:1)
  • Cenchrea (Acts 18:18)
  • Ephesus (Acts 18:19)
  • Patmos (Revelation 1:9)
  • Berea (Acts 17:10)
  • Thessalonica (Acts 17:1)
  • Amphipolis (Acts 17:1)
  • Neapolis (Acts 16:11)
  • Philippi (Acts 16:13)

  • 20 May 2019, Monday

    Thanks once again to our early-morning-friend, Robertta, for taking us to the Fort Smith airport on time to catch our 6:25 a.m. Delta Airlines flight to Atlanta. Changing planes, we arrived as scheduled in New York. As planned, we met a fellow traveler, Kathy from Ohio, who joined our Delta flight to Greece, departing about 5 p.m.

    Greece flag
    Arch of Hadrian 21 May 2019, Tuesday

    Our overnight flight landed about 10 a.m. in Athens, Greece. There we three met Peter and Sue from Connecticut, who arrived about 2 hours later. We enjoyed getting to know them at lunch in the airport.

    The remainder of our tour group arrived about 2 p.m. Christian Nicolaides from Aristotle Travel welcomed us to Greece. While being transported by bus to our hotel, we were given a panoramic city tour and introduction to Athens by our friend Dino Roussos, owner of Aristotle Travel.

    After settling into our hotel room, Jeannie and Michael explored the immediate area around the hotel, including the Arch of Hadrian and a few shops in the Plaka. We were asleep soon after supper, hoping to lessen the effects of jet lag.

    22 May 2019, Wednesday

    After a buffet breakfast in our hotel, we met our excellent guide, James Nikolopuolos, who had accompanied us as guide during our previous visit to Athens in 2011. We were once again impressed with his knowledge of history, Greek culture, and his remarkable ability to discuss related biblical details.

    Our bus transported us first to the 1896 Olympic stadium, where we stopped for photos and lessons about the ancient Olympic games. Afterward, we were taken to the Acropolis. When we climbed to the top, we admired the world’s most famous temple, the Parthenon, built without slave labor in 447–432 B.C. to honor Athena, patron goddess of Athens. After a short devotional on nearby Mars’ Hill (made famous by Acts 17:19-34), our group walked down the hill for lunch. We then regrouped and walked with our guide through the ancient Agora (“marketplace” in English) and its small museum.

    While Jeannie and some new friends walked back to the hotel to shop through the Plaka, the rest of the group was taken by bus back to Hotel Parthenon. After our buffet supper in the hotel, Michael and Jeannie skipped the provided dessert and ordered baklava at a nearby restaurant.

    23 May 2019, Thursday

    When we reached Corinth on Thursday morning, our chartered bus parked for us to walk across the high bridge over the canal that connects the Ionian and the Aegean Seas. By mid morning we arrived at the ruins of old Corinth, where our very qualified guide, James, accompanied us around the museum and the remains of the ancient city and discussed numerous ties to New Testament Scripture. We marveled at the stone inscribed with “Erastus,” whom Paul called “the city treasurer” in Romans 16:23.

    ancient Corinth

    Before lunch we drove by what remains of the ancient port city of Cenchrea. We ate where we watched a low bridge drop deep below the water as ships passed through the canal.

    After returning to the hotel, Michael and Jeannie visited several shops in the Plaka without finding any souvenirs we needed. After the hotel buffet supper, a few of us ate gelati in the Plaka. (During the trip we sampled gelato at several ice cream shops, but found none to be as good as what we enjoy in Italy, where it was invented.)

    24 May 2019, Friday

    windmills of Mykonos On Friday morning, our tour group left the Hotel Parthenon to board the ship, Celestyal Olympia, for a 3-day Mediterranean cruise. Our new tour guide, Karen Penney, oriented us to our new adventure. We ate lunch on board soon after departure.

    The first island stop on our Aegean cruise was Mykonos. We were on the island between 7 and 9:30 p.m. Being along the shipping route from Egypt, windmills here were used in ancient times to grind wheat into flour before transporting on to Rome. Our guide led us through the very narrow and crowded streets to see several windmills. She let us find our own way back to the bus stop for return to the ship. Rather than having a late supper on the ship, the two of us stopped along the way for a good meal at an Italian restaurant.

    turkey flag
    25 May 2019, Saturday

    On Saturday morning we were up by 5 a.m. Our cruise ship docked at Kusadasi, Turkey, about 6:30 a.m. By 8:30 we were inside the archaeological ruins of ancient Ephesus. This Greco-Roman city was home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Nothing identifiable remains of that temple, but there were plenty of other structures to see. We saw the amphitheater mentioned in Acts 19:29. Regrettably, the amphitheater was not open to visitors while we were there.

    tour group at ancient library in Ephesus

    Jeannie matches gelato Before returning to the port, our bus stopped at a Turkish rug shop. We enjoyed the demonstration about the production of silk. The silkworm cocoons are much bigger than we realized. After watching how the rugs are handmade, we sat for a lengthy sales pitch that included a well planned presentation of numerous rugs that were several thousand dollars to purchase. (We didn’t buy one.) In a nearby shop, Jeannie found a beautiful Turkish leather and silk, reversible jacket that we decided to bring home for her.

    We had lunch on the ship about 12:30. At 2 p.m. many of us were on deck to watch our ship pass through the Mycale Strait, between Turkey and the Greek island of Samos. Europe was on the right and Asia was on our left, just 1 mile wide at its narrowest point. Jeannie then enjoyed a manicure while Michael took a brief nap. The group met with Karen, our tour captain, at 4 p.m. for instructions about our next port of call.

    Greece flag
    Patmos We boarded a tender about 5:30 p.m. for the 6-minute boat ride to the island of Patmos. There we were bused to the “Monastery of St. John the Theologian.” Then we visited the “Cave of the Apocalypse,” the traditional site where the exiled Apostle John wrote “Revelation.”

    26 May 2019, Sunday

    palace of Knossos We went to breakfast at 6 a.m. on Sunday. The ship docked at Heraklion, Crete. The morning was a bit chilly. Our bus made a short stop in the city, where, among other things, we briefly visited the Cathedral of Agios Titos, a Greek Orthodox Church, where we saw what they claim is the skull of Titus, after whom a New Testament book is named. We sat in a nearby square with several of our travel companions and enjoyed some tea and pastries.

    Our bus took us to the archaeological ruins of the palace of Knossos, from where King Minos ruled. It was also the legendary site of the Minotaur and the Labyrinth built by Daedalus. Knossos was the center of the ancient Minoan civilization, which was apparently devastated by the massive volcanic activity about 1450 B.C. at Santorini, 77 miles away.

    We were back onboard the ship for lunch. Our group met for a short Sunday worship service at 1:30.

    Santorini When we reached Santorini island, we rode in a tender boat to Athinios Port where we boarded a bus for the half-hour ride to Oia. The town was unbelievably crowded with tourists when we arrived at 6:00. The traditional bright white buildings and brilliant blue domes that people identify with Santorini were the result of World War II. After the Nazis gained control, flying the national flag was no longer permitted. In defiance, the locals painted their houses and churches the colors of the Greek flag. We were back on our cruise ship at 9:00 for supper.

    27 May 2019, Monday

    Treasury of Athens amphitheater and Apollo temple Our cruise ended about 8:15 a.m. when we boarded the chartered bus to take us from Athens to Delphi with our new guide, Sophia Papaspyrou, an expert archaeologist and museologist. After lunch near modern Delphi, we were transported to the archaeological site. There our excellent guide and tour captain discussed the Pythia, a girl or woman chosen to serve as high priestess of Apollo and the oracle in ancient Delphi. Leaders in many kingdoms over many centuries would often delay major decisions till they had the oracle’s advice. Typically, the Pythia’s response was nonsensical and the priest would have to interpret. Our guide pointed out the Athenian Treasury, the Temple of Apollo, and the earth’s “navel.” Michael and only two others in our group walked to the ancient stadium at the site’s high point.

    As our group walked through the Delphi museum, our guide pointed out the significance of the more important artifacts. We saw the inscriptions that were found a little over a century ago in Delphi, providing the year for “When Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, ...” as Luke wrote in Acts 18:12. After that discovery, the events in the New Testament book of “Acts of the Apostles” could be accurately dated.

    We left Delphi at 5 o’clock and arrived at Hotel Meteora in Kalambaka, Greece, four hours later. Our evening meal concluded about 10:30.

    a Meteora monastery 28 May 2019, Tuesday

    Leaving our hotel at 8:30, we were driven to the top of the nearby mountains where we visited two of the famous Meteora monasteries of the Byzantine period. After we descended the mountains, we watched a live demonstration of how Greek Orthodox icons are made. We stopped for lunch before leaving the area about 2:00.

    Mount Olympus About half way to our next destination, we had a distant view of snow-topped Mount Olympus, legendary home of the ancient Greek gods and goddesses.

    In Berea we stopped at 6 o’clock for half an hour at the impressive monument to the Apostle Paul. There are no tourist-worthy archaeological digs to see.

    We arrived around 7:30 p.m. at the Grand Hotel Palace in Thessalonica (called “Thessaloniki” and “Salonica” by modern Greeks).

    29 May 2019, Wednesday

    Amphipolis lion Our first stop on Wednesday was 8:30-9:00 at the ancient forum in Thessalonica. At 10:30 we stopped briefly near the Strymon River to take photos of the imposing stone lion monument. It would have been 350 years old when the Apostle Paul saw it beside the ancient Roman road, the Via Egnatia, as he passed through Amphipolis on his way to Thessalonica. (See Acts 17:1.)

    We stopped by the bay for lunch in Kavala (“cavallo” means “horse” in Italian and may or may not be the source of its name). During the Middle Ages, the town was called Christoupolis (“city of Christ”). In Paul’s day, it was called Neapolis (“new city”). Built to serve as the seaport for Philippi, it was here in Macedonia on his second missionary journey that Paul first set foot in Europe. (See Acts 16:11.) We ate lunch beside the bay in Kavala.

    As we were entering the ruins of ancient Philippi at 2 o’clock, our group serendipitously and excitedly met a group of Harding University students coming out. Philippi was named by Philip II of Macedon in 356 B.C. Though we were all hot and sweaty rather quickly, we found the archaeological site quite fascinating. We saw the remains of the oldest Christian church building yet discovered in Europe. An inscription in the mosaic floor of this octagonal building made it possible to accurately date the structure to 343 A.D. This unique early design had the Christians facing one another as they worshiped.

    Philippi amphitheater
    amphitheater in ancient Philippi

    Before leaving the area we stopped at the traditionally identified site of the baptism of Lydia, mentioned in Acts 16:13-15.

    30 May 2019, Thursday

    King Philip II coffin Our final day of touring began when we left the hotel about 8 o’clock. We visited the tomb of Macedonian King Philip the 2nd, who ruled from 359 to 336 B.C. The discovery in 1977 of his undisturbed burial site in Aigai, near modern Vergina, Greece, was the second greatest archaeological find of the 20th century. (Only King Tut’s tomb uncovered in 1922 in Egypt was greater.) Philip II was the father of Alexander the Great. Two centuries before Alexander the Great was born, the prophesy in Daniel 8:5 refers to him as a goat. We now know that he came from Aigai, which meant “goats” in ancient Greek.

    After a long bus ride, we returned about 8 p.m. to Hotel Parthenon in Athens. Rather than wait till 9 p.m. for the pre-paid buffet meal in the hotel, the two of us walked to a nearby restaurant for Greek salad, gyro, and baklava. We packed our bags and were in bed early, dreading the very early wake-up for departure.

    31 May 2019, Friday

    Most of the team met in the hotel lobby before 3:15 a.m. to travel together to the airport. We were served breakfast on the 3-hour KLM flight to Amsterdam that departed Athens at 6 o’clock. In Holland we changed to Delta Airlines for the 9-hour flight to Atlanta. We had a very long layover in Atlanta, then arrived home in Fort Smith at 11:30 p.m.

    It is not possible to share all we would like about the things we saw, heard, and learned; and, regrettably, we have failed to give enough attention to the many new friendships we made. This travel adventure was not a typical vacation. We correctly anticipated this trip would be almost as intense as a college course (without studying for tests, fortunately). We returned home with the good feeling of “class dismissed,” but are convinced that we will forever have a deeper understanding of the challenges the Apostle Paul (and other early Christians) experienced while spreading the Good News that the one Creator God demonstrated His love for all people when Jesus Christ was crucified and raised from the dead.

    To prepare for this educational experience, we read three books that we think were helpful.
      1. A Guide to Biblical Sites in Greece and Turkey, by Clyde E. Fant and Mitchell G. Reddish
      2. “Acts of the Apostles” in the New Testament
      3. The Apostle — A Life of Paul, by John Pollock

    Those who shared with us this awesome experience: Fannie Amy, David & Pam Bangs, Sherrill & Suzanne Bennett, Tip & Robin Burch, Michael & Jeannie Cole, Paul & Sandy Dolle, Susan (Cannon) Edmonds, Fred Faulkner, Kathy Florence (“K.Flo”), Ron & Susan Foshee, Mark & Niki Frost, Charles & Lisa Harrison, Ray & Linda Holman, Glenda Horton, Billy & Cathy (Lott) McLain, Dale & Sharon Manor, Zelda McMurtry, Chris Ann McMurtry, Kenneth & Kay Mills, David & Alice O’Neil, Peter & Sue Scanlon, James & Janie Slack, Ray Walker, Connie Walton, Patty Wilson, Clarence Wolfe, Bill & Barb Wood

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