Cruising the Mediterranean (cont'd)

Mykonos, Greece 

Early morning included a stop at the island of Delos, which contained ruins from an earlier civilization. It would have been an interesting stop giving us the opportunity to walk through the ancient ruins at our own schedule for a few hours, but this traveling business is not easy. Certainly, the young and inexperienced do not have the energy and wisdom that us older citizens can bring to traveling in these unique places. What I am trying to tell you is that we were just too darn tired to get off the ship, so we slept in that morning. Later, the ship docked at Mykonos a wonderful and charming resort island that has only a few hundred jewelry stores and other assorted tourist shops. It has a quaint beauty, which contradicts its commercial presence for the tourist trade. Again one wonders how all these shop keepers can attract sufficient business to stay in business, but they obviously do. I keep raising the same issue only because my simple mind has difficulty coping with the answer. But is Mykonos a place to visit? ...It is definitely worth visiting, if you love the charm and the quiet of a small village and certainly some great food.

Santorini, Greece Again

Here we are in Santorini again, because we are actually on the second leg of this cruise and it returns to this beautiful island so that the passengers that just came onboard have an opportunity to visit. Certainly my earlier comments apply, but this time the residents of the island held a parade to celebrate... no, not our visit, but Greece's defeat of the Germans and the Italians during World War  II.  After the parade it was time for lunch, in fact, it was always time for lunch. So we made our way to small restaurant on one of the small winding streets of Santorini. Had a fantastic meal and some interesting banter with the owner on the merits of Tzatziki, a Greek yogurt/cucumber food. Then back to the ship, a little exercise (it was very little, if I can remember back to that day) and then dinner and a show.

Rhodes, Greece

Today we are in Rhodes, which was an early part of the Roman Empire, then under Byzantine control until 1309, before coming under the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem. In 1522 the Turks under Suleiman I, captured the island and held it until 1912, when the Italians occupied it until it was ceded to Greece in 1947. Why do I tell you this, well because I was just reading Lila's notes and it seemed very appropriate for the moment. To make matters even more interesting, the Knights of St. John built this splendid palace/fortress, which was later restored by the Italians, when they were in control.

It is called the Palace of the Grand Master and has some very beautiful mosaic floors. We toured the palace enjoying its medieval atmosphere and then walked through old town, which had many shops for the tourist (imagine that). And then just to be different, we had cappuccino and strudel at a seaside cafe in town (where do these calories go?).

We then headed directly back to the ship, a very short distance from the palace, but one does not want to be late. Remember my earlier comments about watching one's ship sail away. To make this point ever so clearly.... Do you know the difference between being a tourist and a hitchhiker? Well come on, think about it... the answer: Two Minutes.

Kusadasi, Turkey

Today we made our first port in Turkey... Kusadasi, a tourist town on the Aegean coast in Turkey with beaches and resorts. But visiting the town was not our focus this morning as we were not interested in any jewelry or even food for that matter. We were here to learn about history, so I awoke extra early excited with our visit to Ephesus. Ephesus was one of the most prosperous Greek cities of ancient times and now one of the most magnificently restored sites of antiquity in the Mediterranean. In its golden era, the population was 300,000 and was a port city, but the city moved three times as the shoreline shifted away from the old city. Ephesus witnessed the religious conversion from paganism to Christianity.

Saint Paul came to live in this city and the Apostle John converted many from the cult of Artemis to Christianity, including the Virgin Mary. It contains some amazing ancient historical sites that are actually in excellent condition, certainly as compared to the Acropolis. It had the third largest library in the world, with books written on papyrus rolls and a world famous theatre large enough to hold 25,000 people.

 Well this was to be our last evening on the ship; we had to pack our bags and be prepared to disembark the next morning. About 10:00pm that night we passed through the Dardanelles, which is the narrow strait that led us into the Sea of Marmara and the following morning we sailed up the Bosphorus River. These bodies of water separate Europe from Asia, and for that matter the European part of Turkey from the Asian part of Turkey. About 3% of Turkey is in Europe, with the balance of Turkey in Asia, so the country is a product of cultures from both the west and the Middle East.

It was a very sad evening and I could not sleep that night, just thinking about having to give up the penthouse apartment, the great food and the fantastic nurturing extended to us by the staff of the Crown Odyssey and having now to return to reality. It was all over, difficult to accept... but that is what makes a man a man... did I cry. By the way, three people returning from a shopping experience in Kusadasi, were late boarding the ship. We were ten minutes out when the ship was advised that two of the people were now at the dock, but they wanted to wait for the third person... what idiots. So the Captain, feeling very sorry for the shoppers, brought the ship around and ordered full throttle out to sea. These three people then had to make their own way to Istanbul, stay the night at their own expense and miss the last supper. Joining us the next morning in Istanbul they came aboard in time to pack their bags and leave the ship.

Istanbul, Turkey 

We may be getting off the ship, but our trip is not over... we were going inland in Turkey to Cappadocia, Nevsehir and Ankara. We would then return to Istanbul for three days. There were only twenty‑eight of us heading off into the eastern section of Turkey and we had met our guide, Nam yesterday on the trip to Ephesus. Nam is a charming, witty and knowledgeable guide who made every moment of our six day stay in Turkey an absolute success. We were to head directly to the airport for a flight to Ankara, but with some time available we stopped at the Istanbul Spice Market to taste and smell some of the splendors of the cuisine. Saffron is quite cheap there so we quickly purchased this excellent spice at great prices. Even today I am not sure that we know what to do with it, as we now have a three-lifetime supply, ...but we have it. We also tried a local candy, Turkish Delight, being handed out by proprietors who urge you into their establishment to see the many other foods and spices.

 Nevsehir, Turkey

After that respite, we headed for the airport, a flight to Ankara, where we boarded a bus for Nevsehir. This is a small town in the Cappadocia region well known for the underground villages dating from 3,000BC. We visited this village the next morning and toured through many of the rooms. They were considered temporary homes and were carved out of the earth with metal tools and in some places the rooms are eight levels deep. Later that day we visited the fairy chimneys, erect formations emanating from the earth. Formed millions of years ago from volcanic eruptions spreading ash and rock, they look like some thing else, but I cannot put my finger on it... and I'd rather not. Anyway, later that day we visited the Goreme Open Air Museum, a monastic complex of rock churches and chapels covered with frescoes of the early Christian era. These rock churches and chapels were formed from volcanic ash and water erosion.

 Sometime during this day (I cannot remember when) we stopped for an absolutely wonderful lunch featuring Turkish specialties after which we all wanted to go to sleep. But we could not, for we went to visit a private cave home, currently occupied by a man and his son. (His wife had left him some time ago I ... cannot imagine why, as the view was breathtaking) The home had dirt floors, covered by carpeting and there was a living room, a bedroom with many beds and a tiny kitchen with a Tandoori stove in the floor. Not done yet, we headed to Avanos a small town in central Turkey. The purpose here was to visit a pottery factory and outlet ... both of which were located in underground rooms with dirt floors. It was awesome, but the excitement was much too much for me, so I left the others to shop, while Gerald and I walked into town.

It looked like my neighborhood where I grew up in Brooklyn in the 1940s, almost sixty years ago. In dark little shops there were people repairing TVs, bicycles, etc. But in town, I did find a symbol of the present, an Internet cafe and checked my email. The people that I met in Turkey were as nice as I could imagine... they were friendly, warm and interested in events in the United States. On our return to the pottery factory, we passed some local police and they wanted us to taste a cake from a curbside vendor that they were eating. They could not speak English and we could not talk Turkish, but they insisted and would not allow us to pay. Simple, gracious people throughout the country made our visit very special. The cosmopolitan image portrayed by the western side of Turkey conflicts drastically with the poorly developed eastern part of the country. The differences are stark as are the conditions under which the people live.

 The next day I took the morning off and let the rest of the troupe head out to the town of Zelva, currently an open‑air museum, but which were residences until the 1950s. The group also went to visit a rug cooperative, ... I missed another shopping experience... so I could work out in the gym and relax until the group came back to meet for lunch. After that we were to head back to Ankara that evening. On the way, we stopped at a 13th century Caravanserai, which housed merchants traveling between Rome and China. This was the Silk Road and was always busy with merchants, who needed a safe place to stay for two or three nights.

Ankara, Turkey

Ankara, the capital of Turkey is a relatively new city that dates back to the 1920s. It was established in 1923 because Attaturk, who was the first modern President of Turkey, wanted a more centrally located capital. It is a quite modern city and the people extremely friendly. After dinner that evening, Gerald and I went for a walk and were a little lost (like a little pregnant) when we came across a couple walking toward us. Stopping them for directions, we started to talk with them and forty-five minutes later we exchanged email addresses with these two gynecologists and all warmly said goodbye to each other.

The next morning we had a tour of Ankara with a visit to the Anatolia Civilization Museum - excellent exhibits of man's earliest civilization dating back to 8,000 years B.C.  We then visited the mausoleum of President Attaturk, which took nine years to build and is the largest such site in the world. There were many young children visiting the site from all over Turkey and I was able to get some of the classes to pose for pictures. Again, I cannot say enough about the people and their warmth, gracious attitude and gentle ways.

 

Istanbul, Turkey

Our days in Istanbul were filled with visits to many of the significant and notable historical sites of Turkey. We stayed at the "Conrad", which translates to expensive and is part of the Hilton chain. Orient Lines as part of the cruise program placed us in this hotel. It is a beautiful hotel with many amenities, but not immediately close to any other restaurants. Accordingly, breakfast for two was about forty-three dollars. I could have walked about one-half mile to a 7Eleven for something to eat, but that just did not seem right. Now, I think forty-three dollars is a little steep for breakfast considering that I just eat juice, cereal and coffee. However, when turning down the bed they did put little white "napkins" on the floor at the bed so that my dainty little feet should not touch the carpeted floor.

 There are 65 million people in Turkey, most of which are Moslem. Istanbul has a population of about 15 million and about 2,500 mosques. There are 28,000 Jews in Turkey, most all of which reside in Istanbul, which has fourteen synagogues. All religious buildings are the responsibility of the state and they build, maintain and financially support their operation. Seventy percent of marriages are arranged even today and the divorce rate is only 1.3%.

On the morning of our first day we visited the Chora Church and Museum, which has an outstanding collection of Byzantine mosaics and frescoes...it is truly one of the jewels of Istanbul. It dates back to the 11th century and had been converted from a Christian church to a Mosque in 1500 and then later back to a church and museum. We then went to the Blue Mosque or the Mosque of Sultan Ahmet I, built between 1609 and 1619... it is an imposing structure, as it can hold over 4,000 people. Its painted dome, 130 feet high, creates a luminous overall impression of blue and the mosque has six minarets (all mosques have minarets, but this one has six minarets which serve as the source of the chants that call people to prayer five times each day).

 That afternoon we went to the Grand Bazaar...my favorite, because it gave me another opportunity to shop, especially in the many jewelry stores. There are only in excess of 4,500 shops in the bazaar so it is very easy to find a place to spend money. Proprietors are standing at the door of each shop beckoning you in as they engage you in conversation. Say one word or nod and you are hooked... they will follow you home. Everyone speaks English here and the price of most everything is in dollars. It is almost required, not just expected that you bargain the price of anything you want (not food) and that could take some time to close on a price. They know what price they want and an uninformed buyer will get "chewed" up in a hurry.

 Just outside the bazaar was a "Rolex" dealer... a small shop, just a little stand... and, after studying his array of watches, I selected the one I wanted and the bargaining began. He asks $31 .... I offer ten, he comes back with $21. 1 start to walk away.... he comes after me ... gives me a price of $15, his rock bottom. I counter with $11 and tell him that is all I have. He says $13, 1 respond with “too high” and I leave. He calls me back and says OK.  So for $11.00, I now have a "Rolex"... big spender. I immediately check to see if the watch is actually working and if the date just goes up to 31 days (some go to 32 or 33 days). I feel great until somebody else tells me they bought a "ROLEX" watch for ten dollars... not that I overpaid, I just do not like ... well you know, it is the bargaining that counts.

That evening we strolled down to the river and had dinner in a Turkish restaurant... great service and wonderful food. The next day was going to be quite full with more visits to the old town so we headed back to the hotel. In the morning we visited the Suleymaniye Mosque, famous for its acoustics. It has four minarets (if you are counting) and can accommodate 6,000 people. Simpler than the Blue Mosque, it was built in 1557 on orders of Suleyman the Magnificient ... now that is the way to be remembered.

 Later we went to St Sophia built in 537 under Emperor Justinian to be the grandest church in the world. Later converted to a mosque and then Attaturk, converted it back to a church and museum. It is known for its stunning mosaics that were covered up during its phase as a mosque, but then uncovered when it became a museum. The imposing dome is 168 feet high and 98 feet wide.

In the afternoon we went to Topkapi Palace, the scene of the famous dagger that was the subject of the movie by the same name starring Peter Ustinov. Topkapi was the home of the Sultans from 1462 up to the 19th century and is a collection of gardens, houses, libraries and a 400-room harem (here is where I spent most of my time and just dreamed). On the way back to the hotel we made a stop at the Yerebatan Cistern, the largest of more than sixty constructed in Istanbul during the Byzantine period. An amazing engineering site considering the time it was constructed, it had remained in use through the 16th century.

Heading Home

Well, are you tired yet... we sure were and, as we were to leave Istanbul to return home the next morning it was time to go back to the hotel to rest and pack. I went to the gym to exercise and that evening, made plans to have dinner at a most beautiful restaurant in a magnificent building on the Bosphorus River. Dinner was in an elegantly decorated room with each person at the table having their own waiter. We had superb Turkish cuisine with our friends, Elaine and Gerald as well as with two sisters, Mickey and Rad who were both on our trip. The meal cost just about fifty million Turkish Lira, a mere pittance for the very wealthy... or about $75 for us.

I was ready to head on home, but dreaded the long commute... bus to the airport, then wait for the flight to Paris, and then wait for the flight to Washington, DC, and then the limo ride to home after picking up our bags and going through customs. Well, it was not such a bad trip as we had great seats and actually the food on Air France was not too bad. Unfortunately, upon arriving home I learned of Fred's death, the gentleman that I had been caring for over the last four months... it was quite startling and very unexpected. For the next week to ten days I was involved in arranging his funeral and the myriad of other affairs that needed to be settled.

Thank you all for hanging in with me to the bitter end and sharing this trip with Lila and me.