Trip to Greece, Jerusalem proves life changing


We’re the three amigos — Dr Deb Blanton, Kelley Bost and Joe Bryant. We just completed a fabulous trip that was purchased at the silent auction at The Celebration of the Arts annual fund raiser put on by the First Coast Cultural Center.

Our travels first took us to Jerusalem. A challenging six-hour guided walking tour inside the walls of the “Old City of Jerusalem” brought history to life and introduced us to the delicious “street food” that is a staple.

Freshly made daily and served family style: hummus, cucumber, tomatoes, tahini, falafel, olives, Shawarma (rotisserie lamb or beef wrapped with vegetables in warm bread). Our Jewish tour guide’s depth of knowledge regarding world history, the influence of Jesus, the USA and all religions of the region was quite impressive and at 75 years old, his ability to walk for six hours up and down the uneven streets was equally impressive.

A car ride tour to the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, Magdala the JordanRiver and Nazareth took two-and-a-half hours through the desert. It was interesting to learn the “old” roads and aqueducts built by the Romans are still being used today.

Jerusalem (Old and New cities) is 49 square miles with a population of 1,140,000. The land is hilly, and everywhere you look, there are multi-story buildings, all looking alike, that house the population.

On our last evening we were in search of a nice glass of wine and made our way to the Waldorf Astoria, which was a treat. While sipping, we talked about how this trip was life changing. And the ability to travel now feels like a gift.

On to the Greek Isles, first starting in beautiful, peaceful Santorini. The Villa Lilium is at the top of the mountain overlooking the majestic views of other islands and the Aegean Sea. Life in Santorini is all about slowing down, daily consumption of fresh organic food (including eggs, orange juice, seafood, pasta, great local wine), enjoying people and reflecting on life.

We quickly adapted and allowed our new friend, Elisa, to advise us. A sunset catamaran tour and a tour of the oldest winery on the island and many hours of pool and hot tub with that view was just perfect. There is little rain in Santorini. The grape vines are small and low to the ground. The vines absorb water from the salt air. The rocky ground is volcanic soil. The wine is light, refreshing and has slight mineral undertones. Delicious!

As we traveled on, we found the friendly people, fresh food and good wine was also abundant in Mykonos, Crete and Athens. Mykonos and Santorin are similar in architecture with interesting buildings painted white with blue or gray trim. Mykonos has a vibrant night life. The locals in Mykonos and Athens had many questions about the USA and expressed their desire to visit.

In Athens, Hotel Electra has a beautiful view of the Acropolis from their world-class restaurant on the top floor. We enjoyed fresh dishes, such as squid ink pasta with octopus and beef cheeks from the local beef farm. We booked a bus/walking tour of many sites including the Acropolis, Athens National Museum, Olympic Stadium, the Athens library and two of the oldest learning institutions in Athens.

The tour guide explained that Athens, being the first known democracy in the world (introduced in 6 B.C.), was the example used by our founding fathers to create our system of democracy. Also, the disciplines of philosophy, high learning, healthy lifestyle, exploring new ideas and diplomacy were incorporated early on and are still encouraged today. Paul was able to introduce Christianity in Athens during his travels because the Athens way of life explored new ideas openly.

It was so wonderful to travel again and talk to people from all over the world. There was very little talk of politics or any subject that is divisive. Everyone was happy to be exploring the world and grateful to be past the COVID pandemic. It really felt like shutting a door behind you and walking into a happier place.