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|Sunday, October 20, 2013 22:31:51|
BLACK SEA, SUDANS, ETHIOPIA 2013: 2 - Istanbul to Trabzon, Turkey
Thursday, October 17, 2013
We managed to get to breakfast just before the 11 AM shut off time. It was a great meal, with a very Turkish flavour - Turkish omelet, Turkish tea and a table full of other Turkish delicacies. The hotel stored our luggage before we went walking in search of a money changer, enjoying the narrow streets and small shops. The recommended money changer was closed, as today is the beginning of several days of holiday, but what we found was our cruise ship. The hotel had been unsuccessful in contacting the ships agent to find out which cruise ship port it was in, and there it was, towering above us.
We caught a nearby tram after purchasing tokens from a machine at the tram stop, and went to the Grand Bazaar. The tram was clean, fast and quiet. The cruise terminal has a free bus to the Grand Bazaar - it takes 35-45 minutes for the trip, depending on traffic. By tram it is a bit over 10 minutes, however it too was closed for the holiday. We wandered around shops in the area where Marilynn was able to find shoes and a leather vest.
Eventually we caught the tram back to the hotel, where I had a sandwich for lunch, and we both had tea - the hotel would not allow us to pay for our lunch, saying it was their treat. We collected our luggage and dragged it on the 5 minute walk to the ship. Two charter flights from London and Manchester in England had arrived, but the passenger's bus was tied up in traffic, so there was not much of a line to clear customs and board the ship.
Our cabin is great, larger and better equipped than we expected. Once settled in we did a top to bottom exploration of the ship, stopping for a drink in each bar that was open en route. Dinner was nothing to write home about, but we had a long conversation with a British couple at our table over a bottle of wine. Booze is not cheap - about the same price as in British or Canadian bars. The crew are international, with 26 countries represented. Many of the wait staff are eastern European, a lot of them Serbian, and they have a terrible attitude - snotty, arrogant and defensive if anything is not right. After dinner we made an early night of it.
Friday, October 18, 2013
Neither of us slept much with the jet lag. I got up about 6 AM and went to the top deck for tea and fruit. The breakfast buffet was quite good in both the top deck restaurant and the main dining room, where Marilynn eventually joined me. It poured rain most of the morning, while announcements were made for various tours, almost all including the grand bazaar, which we know is closed.
When the rain cleared off a bit we left the ship, and within a very short distance found an umbrella street vendor, where we bought two for 10 lira ($US 5). We caught the tram once again, this time to the very large Sultanahmet Mosque, which was doubly crowded being holy day, and also a national holiday (The Festival of Sacrifice). The Hagia Sophia is on the same property - we didn't go in, as there was quite a line up. It was built as a Christian cathedral in 532, when Constantinople was the capital of the Byzantine Empire. It was the world's largest cathedral for more than 1,000 years, with a 31 meter (102 ft) high dome 102 meters (335 ft) in diameter. It then became a mosque. It has a church with minarets, and pictures of the Virgin Mary in the mosque. We had a good lunch at a nearby pub, then walked the narrow streets of the old city, where Marilynn got in a bit more shopping. I bought a case of 12 bottles of water for 6 lira ($3) as drinking water is not supplied on the ship and they charge 2.20 British pounds per bottle. (About $4).
Istanbul is a city I enjoy very much, with its ancient history, old buildings, religious tolerance, narrow streets, good food and generally friendly people. The population is about 13.85 million. The area was settled about 660 BC and has been ruled by Greeks, Persians, and was the capital of the Ottoman Empire from 1453 until 1918. Turkey became independent in 1923 and the capital was moved to Ankara.
The ship left at 6 PM, sailing through the Bosporus at dusk, passing under the only bridges in the world that connect continents, between Europe and Asia. We must eat in the buffet on the top deck, as jackets are required most nights in the main dining room and I can't fit one into my carry on suitcase. The food is better, and the glassed in area provides a great view, as opposed to the dining room that has only high port holes.
Saturday, October 19, 2013
At sea all day. There is a bit of a storm causing lots of white caps and big waves, but it seems most people are up and about. We used the day to read, catch up on writing, laundry, some trip research in the library and so on. An afternoon cabaret was good. Slow email on the ship runs about $20 per hour, so I'm limiting my time on it.
There was an announcement that four passengers have come down with the highly contagious Noro Virus, which is an epidemic in England and Europe. The ship has gone on full attack to prevent the spread, spraying and sanitizing all public areas. There were already hand sanitizers all over the ship, but now crew were meeting people in the passageways and squirting anti-bacterial liquid in their hands. In the buffet it is no longer possible to select food - a barrier keeps passengers back, and staff in surgical gloves put selections onto their plates.
Sunday, October 20, 2013
We arrived at Trabzon, Turkey as we were getting up, and were among the first to leave the ship. A taxi was parked near the dock, but the driver wanted $US150 for a city tour, so we kept walking up the hill into town. A fellow walking the other way asked if we were looking for a taxi, said he had one (a private car) and agreed to the city tour for 100 lira ($50). We decided to skip the Sumela Monastry, an hour's drive from the city.
Trabzon has a population of about 230,400. It is a historic trading centre at the end of the silk road in north eastern Turkey - a gateway to Iran and the Caucasus. Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent was born here. The city was founded by Greek traders in the 8th century BC, became part of the Pontus Kingdom, then was annexed by the Romans and became a crossing point for caravans from Persia and transit point for Byzantine silks. The city was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 1461, captured by the Russians in World War I and returned to Turkey by the Treaty of Lausanna in 1923.
We visited the St. Sophia Museum, originally the Haga Sophia Christian Church, build in 1238, converted to a Mosque in 1461, used for ammunition storage and hospital by the Russians and restored in the 1960s. It is now a mosque again, but the original wall and ceiling Christian paintings have been retained.
The Ataturk Pavilion is a mansion built by a wealthy Greek merchant in 1890. It was admired by Mustafa Ataturk, founder of modern Turkey, so it was given to him after the Greeks were deported in the ethnic purges following independence. He stayed in it only once, but it is now a museum with the original furniture and many historic photographs. Unfortunately we arrived here at the same time as a couple of tour buses from the ship, so it was pretty crowded!
We drove up Boztepe Hill above Trabzon, where there is a small park area with a spectacular view of the city and the coastline. There were Byzantine churches and monasteries here at one time, and the Greeks had a girl's school which is now in ruins. On the way back down we visited the small castle connected to the considerable remains of the city walls.
Unfortunately, the bazaars of the city were closed for the holidays, so we ended up back at the ship before lunch. The driver dropped us off in the beautiful central square, from where we walked back, stopping for a beer along the way. The number of places selling beer in this very Muslim city was quite surprising.