Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Black Sea-Athens to Istanbul Sept./Oct. 2007



Cruise of the Black Sea-Athens to Istanbul

The time difference was 7 hours later than Boston time, 8 hours later while we were in Sochi, Russia. We had 3 days in Athens with perfectly beautiful weather. The first evening I had dinner at the hotel. The second day I completely missed breakfast and I went to Syntagma Square (Constitution Square, the main square) and I had lunch at the Grande Bretagne, a favorite, and the 3rd day I had dinner at the Grande Bretagne again. I went to the roof top dining room terrace to take a photo by daylight and another at night. The Acropolis is spectacular lit up at night.

Grande Bretagne

A very old church in Athens 

Well, Penthouse life! First of all, the butler regaled in white tie and tails(!) welcomed me. He explained all the complimentary items: bottle of champagne, a bottle of red wine, a bottle of white wine, and a 4th bottle of my choice, afternoon canapés, clothes pressing, shoe polishing, stationery with my name embossed, and I forget what else! What does one do with all that wine! Next, the stewardess appeared to ask if there was anything I needed! At least I was not paying for all this....I was upgraded to a Penthouse! I had both a separate stall shower and a Jacuzzi tub, a walk-in closet, a sitting area with couch and 2 armchairs. My dinner table was #57, which means it was in the center of the dining room, and because I chose the 1st seating it was the Vice Captain’s table rather than the Captain’s. This was my dinner table of ten: 3 couples and 3 single ladies and the Vice Captain. It was a wonderful group. We had lots of fun and good conversation. Can you recognize me?

Santorini is Santorini, a shopper's haven. The first time I visited this volcanic beauty and archaeological wonder I went up by the traditional donkey. Not this time or ever again!

Kusadasi, Turkey
Kusadasi is best known as the gateway to the archaeological site of Ephesus, one of the world's greatest archaic finds. Excavations continue in this 4,000-year-old city and it is believed that more than half of it still remains buried in the hillside. Its marble streets are lined with architectural masterpieces. In the evening I attended a concert in the ruins of the ancient Amphitheatre, considered by many to be Ephesus' most remarkable structure. The excavations are not usually open at night. It was very beautiful lit up, but eerie. The orchestra was the Ismir String Quintet from Izmir, Turkey.


Evening concert in Ephesus, Turkey, 9/27/2007


The following day was a day at sea. In the morning we transited the Dardanelles, a narrow strait between Europe and Turkey in Asia and connects the Sea of Marmara with the Aegean Sea. In the evening our passage was through the Bosporus. This is the narrow strait between Turkey in Europe and Turkey in Asia, connecting the Sea of Marmara with the Black Sea. It is just 19 miles long and at various points from 1/2 to 2  3/4 miles wide. It is so narrow that we could see Istanbul on both sides of the ship. Needless to say, the Vice Captain did not show up for dinner that night as he and the Captain were busy navigating the ship.

At sea transiting the Bosporus

Constanta (The "t" is pronounced like a "z"), Romania

I found it a dismal, depressing city. Romania certainly did not prosper under the Communist regime, and it certainly has not progressed much in the intervening years.

Odessa, Ukraine
Odessa is a very beautiful city, beautiful architecture, wide boulevards, clean, lack of noise and congestion. I loved it. It is very European, but, of course, it was the seaside resort of the rich Russian aristocracy before the Bolshevik Revolution. The Odessa Opera House is one of the best found in Europe rivaling the Vienna Opera House in its architectural beauty. We were here for 2 days and I attended performances of the Odessa Ballet and the Odessa Philharmonic Orchestra. The Philharmonic was a delightful experience. At intermission the Principal Conductor and Music Director, Hobart Earle, joined us in the beautiful lobby where they served champagne and hors d'oeuvres and gave each of us a CD of one of their recordings.


Opera House

Odessa Park

  Yalta, Ukraine

In seaside Yalta we visited Livadia Palace, the summer home of the Czar Nicholas II and his family. This was the site of the Roosevelt, Churchill, Stalin Yalta Conference in 1945. I took a number of pictures of the actual room where the Yalta agreement was signed and took pictures of the pictures of the 3 powerful men at the conference, as well as photos of the photos of the Czar and his family. With its glorious scenery along the coast and a wonderfully gentle climate, it was here that the 19th-century Russian aristocracy chose to spend their summers, building magnificent mansions, rambling estates and palatial villas. The area also attracted Anton Chekhov, the Russian writer and physician, Leo Tolstoy, the great Russian novelist and philosopher, the writer Maxim Gorky, and Tchaikovsky, one of the most popular and influential Russian composers of all time.

Livadia Palace

Sochi, Russia

Well, that was an experience! Unless we had obtained an individual visa (which I had not done), we were allowed to go ashore only on a Crystal excursion. Finally, the Russians agreed that we could go by complimentary shuttle to Riviera Park to be met by students who would "escort" us about the park, but we were to stay with the students at all times. Custom officials boarded our ship; they spoke not a word to us except to demand a passport and then they stamped away with glee and a bang. It felt as though it was still the era of the Soviet Union. Sochi has a long way to go to be ready for the 2014 Winter Olympics--in attitude, culturally, facilities!


As you approach Istanbul by ship the skyline is a panorama of huge domes and minarets. It is an incredibly exciting, vibrant and mysterious city: the music, the food, the sounds, the aromas, the sights, the culture so different from Europe. I revisited the St. Sophia (Ayasofya), which was built in 537 AD, the symbol of Christianity and the Byzantium Empire. It was turned into a museum in 1935. Facing St. Sophia is the Blue Mosque, perhaps Istanbul's most famous monument, which was constructed between 1609 and 1617 by Sultan Ahmet I so that he could leave behind an imperial namesake mosque, but also to rival the Ayasofya. The Blue Mosque, or its official name Sultan Ahmet Cami, is still a functioning place of worship; therefore, silence is mandated as well as a conservative dress code, and, of course, we had to remove our shoes, but this time they provided plastic bags for our shoes. Its name comes from the magnificent interior decoration of more than 20,000 blue Iznik tiles, exquisite stained glass windows, and it is completely covered in oriental carpeting. Its most distinctive feature is its six minarets. I read somewhere that the Blue Mosque could hold over 2,000 people. One evening we had the opportunity to enjoy traditional Turkish tea and sweets and to observe the ceremony of the mystical Dervishes in Darüzziyafe, the former kitchens of the Mosque. Known to the West as Whirling Dervishes, the Mevlevi Order was founded in the 13th century. The Order, which survives today as a cultural brotherhood, wrote of tolerance, forgiveness and enlightenment. Topkaki Palace, built in 1468, occupies one of the seven hills of the city at the tip of the historic peninsula overlooking the sea. This was the residence of the sultans, administrative seat of the Ottoman Empire for almost 400 years, and the source of legend on life in a harem, and it gives a glimpse into the vast, opulent and exotic world of that period. And, of course, The Grand Bazaar is still a mandatory stop on any visit to Istanbul. It consists of a maze of some 2,600 shops, 24 hans (privately owned inns), 22 gates, 65 streets, restaurants, mosques, fountains and tea-houses.

Istanbul is unique because the city bridges two continents, Europe and Asia, where the shores of the Bosporus greet the Black Sea, the Sea of Marmara and the Golden Horn. It is where East meets West.

Blue Mosque

Whirling Dervishes

St. Sophia

Topaki Palace

Post Cruise Package at the Ritz Carlton, Istanbul

  We had beautiful weather for the entire trip, sunny, comfortable temperatures, a cool breeze.

And I flew home on Lufthansa from Istanbul to Munich to Boston in Business Class.....What a treat! I was in the section of only 12 passengers; little table cloths, cloth napkins, china, stem glasses, really good food-4 courses; I stopped counting when they came by with drinks for the 6th time; seats that reclined all the way; foot stools that came up; a massage button; lots of little extras. Again, I was happy that I was not paying for all this as it was an upgrade on frequent-flyer points. And we arrived at Logan on time! I was the 1st person off the plane; my luggage came down among the first few; I sailed through customs; and there was Ken waiting for me!

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