In 1995, my wife Mary and I took a Mediterranean and Black Sea cruise. This was our fifth vacation together and the third overseas. We enjoy traveling a great deal and hope to do at least some traveling every year. For the first time in my travels, I wrote an extensive log detailing our experiences, observations, likes and dislikes. The log is written in the first person but Mary contributed in great detail to the final version. Mary took all of the pictures included in this log. She helped converting it from two small, barely legible notebooks to this typed copy. Most importantly, she added a large amount of detail from her own log.
This log, and our travels, are unique in one way. Mary has a physical disability and has difficulty walking for more than an hour at a time. When we travel, she uses a wheelchair and I provide the locomotion. This affords us a unique opportunity to report on a wide variety of accessibility observations. Several times, when we were frustrated by some barrier, I had to remind her that there is no Americans with Disabilities Act in the places we visit. Each country is unique in its approach, or lack there of, to the disabled community. Accessibility is very important to us; we had to deal with it daily. At times it prevented us from doing something but on other occasions it allowed us to see the character of a city that would not be readily visible to other visitors. We hope it helps others with similar disabilities.
|Day 1||Toms River, New Jersey||September 27|
|Day 2||Frankfurt, Germany to Istanbul, Turkey||September 28|
|Day 3||Istanbul, Turkey||September 29|
|Day 4||Istanbul, Turkey||September 30|
|Day 5||At Sea||October 1|
|Day 6||Odessa, Ukraine||October 2|
|Day 7||Yalta, Ukraine||October 3|
|Day 8||At Sea||October 4|
|Day 9||Kusadasi, Turkey||October 5|
|Day 10||Rhodes, Greece||October 6|
|Day 11||At Sea||October 7|
|Day 12||Ashdod, Israel||October 8|
|Day 13||Haifa, Israel||October 9|
|Day 14||At Sea||October 10|
|Day 15||Iraklion, Greece||October 11|
|Day 16||At Sea||October 12|
|Day 17||Catania, Italy||October 13|
|Day 18||At Sea||October 14|
|Day 19||Barcelonia, Spain||October 15|
|Day 20||Barcelonia, Spain||October 16|
Wednesday September 27, 1995
Toms River, New Jersey
Our Mediterranean and Black Sea vacation has begun, as uneventfully as we could have hoped. The limousine picked us up on time and we arrived at Lufthansa airlines check-in just minutes before a large tour arrived. We're glad we did not have to wait behind them! The departure to Frankfurt is going to be 45 minutes late, but the airline ticket agent assured us we would make our connecting flight.
We had a good flight out from Newark to Frankfurt. The seats were comfortable, much more than on recent domestic flights. I actually was able to sleep for an hour, something I rarely do when I travel. Of course the screwdriver and two benedryls may have helped.
Thursday September 28, 1995
Frankfurt, Germany to Istanbul, Turkey
Upon landing in Frankfurt, we were told not to board the bus to the terminal. Mary's wheelchair was waiting for us at the bottom of the stairs. As is typical on many international flights, there was no jetway. We waited around with the head flight attendant for 20 minutes, getting a little nervous about making our connecting flight. Eventually a special bus for people using wheelchairs came, but instead of bringing us to the terminal, it dumped us in some special handicapped processing center. There we waited with a few Arab travelers while our tickets were processed.
Mary and I were both a little disappointed that we wouldn't make it to a terminal in Germany. We were hoping to buy a chachka from Germany. We learnt about this customer from Mark and Evelyn Leeper with whom we've traveled. A chachka is an item from a foreign country that you display at home. The item should be small, inexpensive and indicative of the native culture (a plate with a city name on it would not be an appropriate chachka). To date we have chachkas from Austria, Bosnia, Bulgaria, The Czech Republic, England, Hungary, Japan, Korea, Romania and Taiwan. Eventually, another bus showed up, took us to the plane, which was still being fueled, then back to the processing center for another pick up, and finally back to the plane for boarding. This flight to Istanbul was also uneventful but not as pleasant because of the many smokers.
Before going through passport control, we purchased our entry visas. We expected them to be $4 each but they were $20. At this point we feared that we were being ripped off but the visa stamp did say $20. We found out later on the cruise that one couple spent $70 each on visas, purchased ahead of time. There was no hassle at customs; we made an attempt to stop but they waved us by. We were supposed meet a Cunard representative for transfer to the hotel. I travel a lot on business and it is not unusual for my arrival to precede the limousine drivers who pick me up. I was just slightly concerned when we did not find our contact. After walking around the lobby a while, I told Mary to wait while I checked outside. There were no guides here either, only taxis, busses and a guard with a large automatic weapon who wouldn't let me back in the building! I argued for a moment but that weapon frightened me. Through the window, I motioned to Mary that I wasn't allowed back in and went looking for another entrance. Fortunately that other entrance was only 20 yards away. I'm glad it wasn't on the other side of the building.
Back at Mary's side, I did another search around the lobby and found our contact. We waited for about 1/2 hour for our car to arrive because we were early. Originally we were scheduled to take an Air France flight, but that was canceled because of a strike that started several days before our trip. So instead we were booked on the earlier Lufthansa flight. While we waited for the car I changed $50 into 2.3 million liras. I believe Turkey has the highest exchange rate of any country I have ever visited. Each time we enter a new country, I devise a simple algorithm to convert the currency into U.S. dollars. Simple means not having to multiply or divide by some inconvenient number like seven. Doubling and halving are easy. The algorithm for Turkey will take a little while to become used to: drop five zeros and double.
We checked into the hotel at 3:00 PM and took a much needed nap. Although we had been up for some 24 hours, now was not a good time for a good night sleep. We wouldn't become used to the local time change that way. When we woke up, we went to the Cunard desk in the hotel, signed up for an optional Istanbul tour on Saturday and asked for a restaurant recommendation. The woman asked us what kind of food we wanted. Silly question; we wanted Turkish food. She made reservations for us at Ziya's. I would have rather walked but she said it was too far so we hired a cab. Unfortunately I did not have any small Turkish bills and the cab driver could not break a large one (250,000 liras for a 50,000 lira fare), so he said. I gave him $2. The restaurant was more upscale than I would have preferred and the dishes didn't look very local. I asked for a Turkish menu but I don't think our waiter understood. I had sea bass and Mary had sea bream. Both fish were served whole, head, tail and everything in between. They were very good. The total bill was 2,000,000 lira ($40), lower than typical at home but much higher than we usually spend on vacation in foreign countries
After leaving the lira, we still didn't have any small bills for the taxi so we decided to try to walk back to the hotel. That wasn't easy. The sidewalks were very high with no curb cuts. Curb cuts are ramps cut into curbs that make it easier to roll a wheelchair up and down the sidewalk. Some "blocks" were just a few dozen feet long. Soon we found ourselves walking in the street because the narrow sidewalks had cars parked on them, leaving no room to navigate a wheelchair. It was time to hail a taxi. The hotel was not very far from there and the driver grudgingly accepted a U.S. dollar bill
In the room I broke out my little tool kit and removed the bicycle brakes we recently had installed on the wheelchair. Hand brakes are a very good idea for a wheelchair, but these were not installed very well. They came loose too easily, there was no place to put my feet to tip the chair back going down curbs, and the hand controls dug into my fingers as I pushed the chair. We'll try again when we get home but for now good riddance.
September 29, 1995
Pictured: Hagia Sofia
Before we left on vacation, Mary and I listed the 10 cities we were going to see in order of greatest expectation. I listed Istanbul first. It was a reasonably good day but all in all I hope it doesn't mark the highlight of the trip. Our cruise package included today's day long city tour of sites in Istanbul. After a well-stocked breakfast buffet in the hotel, we boarded the bus. Pulling Mary up the steep bus stairs was difficult, but that will get easier with practice. On the way to our first stop, our guide gave us a brief history lesson. Rush hour traffic was very heavy so he had plenty of time. According to legend, the city on which Istanbul now sits was first colonized by a Greek merchant named Byzan. Byzan colonized the European side of Istanbul. Asian people were already living on the other side. Byzantium was conquered in the 1st century A.D. by the Romans. In 364 A.D. the Roman Empire was split into East and West. Rome remained the capital of the Western Roman empire until it was sacked by barbarians in 410 A.D. Byzantium, renamed Constantinople in honor of Constantine the Great, became the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, which we know as the Byzantine Empire
Here I am reminded about a corollary in recent history. The week before last, AT&T announced plans to split its empire into three parts, the traditional phone services that will retain the AT&T name, a technology and equipment company that will retain the employment of myself, and the computer business that won't retain much at all. If history is any guide, our new company should do very well for the next 1000 years.
The Byzantine Empire retained stewardship of European civilization while Western Europe was in decline. Byzantine's own fall began in the 11th century when Turkish people immigrated from central Asia and took over most of Anatolia (modern day Turkey). Constantinople fell to the Ottomans, a Turkish tribe, in 1453 when the Ottoman Sultan, Mehmet the Second, conquered it and renamed the city Istanbul. Over the next 500 years the Ottoman Empire grew to control much of the middle east, northern Africa, and the Balkans. They almost reached Vienna. The Ottomans were ruthless warriors. Cracks in their empire began to appear in the early 19th century. In 1921 they lost World War II and all of their conquered territories.
Our first stop of the day was Hagia Sofia, a huge Eastern Orthodox basilica. It was built between 532 and 537 A.D. by the emperor Justinian. Hagia Sofia means divine wisdom of God. It was never named for a woman. For 900 years, it was the largest church in the world until it was converted to a mosque by Mehmet II. Today it is a museum.
The church is not very interesting from the outside, at least from our vantage point (not pictured above), but inside it was very impressive. We entered an anteroom, and were shown a mosaic above the door. The mosaic showed an emperor kneeling before the Virgin Mary and Christ in repentance. This humiliation was punishment for marrying again without the church's permission. Inside the main hall there was a wide open space, a high central dome and several surrounding half domes and quarter domes. The domes were supported by eight large pillars. I was surprised to see gilded portraits of Catholic figures since the building had been a mosque. I learned later from our Lonely Planet guide book (a frequent companion on our vacations) that they had been covered up and only recently revealed when the building became a museum. Unfortunately, one half of the inner dome was covered by scaffolding. These apparently had been there since 1990 as part of an extensive restoration project.
From Hagia Sofia, we walked across the street to the Blue Mosque. Here my impression was reversed from that of Hagia Sofia. It was outstanding on the outside but less so on the inside. We were rushed so we did not have time to set up a good shot; I took a "grab and go" picture. Mary and I may go back there tomorrow. Our guide said that we would not be able to bring the wheelchair into the mosque but cautioned us against leaving it at the bottom of the stairs. There appears to be high crime rate in Istanbul. Before entering any mosque, visitors must remove their shoes. Mary is not comfortable walking in stocking feet but she did fine. The Blue Mosque was built between 1609 and 1616. Inside the mosque was more grandeur than Hagia Sofia. The central dome was larger and supported by only four pillars. Our guide explained that fewer pillars means more open space which is closer to God. The center area is reserved for Moslems and infidels may not enter. Our guide did not like the new machine made carpet. He said a mosque of this importance should have hand woven carpet, a tradition in Turkey. The carpet was divided into segments one foot wide by three feet long, just enough room for a man to pray. Women have to use the balconies for prayer. Islam culture draws strong divisions between the roles of men and women.
The real name of this mosque is The Mosque of Sultan Ahmet I. Westerners gave it the name Blue Mosque because of the blue tiles inside. I have seen beautiful Turkish tiles but these were high up and difficult to resolve so they were not very impressive. Apparently the interior used to be more blue because of the light coming through the blue windows but those have since been replaced. After about 20 minutes, all visitors were asked to leave before one of the mid-day prayers began. At these times the mosque is only open to Moslems. Five or six times a day in Istanbul, we heard the muzim - the call to prayer. The announcements are made from Minarets, thin towers attached to or near the mosque. Today there are loud speakers on the minarets but traditionally men stood upon platforms on the minarets and sang the muzim out loudly. The muzim is sung but of course we did not know the words. There were men washing their feet and hands at spigots on the outer wall of the mosque. Devotes are required to wash themselves after certain activities before they enter any mosque.
As we walked along the streets there were many peddlers selling their merchandise. They approach tourists offering something, and you have to say an adamant "NO" to get them to leave you alone. Here also we did not find any curb cuts or ramps but people offered to help us much of the time.
Our next stop, across the street from Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque was the Topkapi Palace. The security at the palace was as intense as any we've seen outside an airport, and much more chaotic. A mob of people all had to dump their belongings on an X-ray conveyor belt, go through a narrow passage, then find their belongings at the end. This we did with two fanny packs, two cameras, a knapsack and a wheelchair. Fortunately the wheelchair did not have to go through X-ray, just the metal detector.
There were four courtyards at the palace, each one more important than the previous. The inner most was for the Sultan, and included the harem for his wives, concubines and favorites. There was a sign that explained a little about the Eunuchs who protected and served the harem but it did not give many details. How does one become a eunuch? Is this a career you can choose or is it something forced upon you.
Much of the palace is now a museum, with at least a few ramps. Our guide showed us the kitchens which fed 1200 people a day. During holidays it could feed up to 15,000. I would have liked to see a working kitchen but instead there were displays of pottery and silver, behind glass cases, much as we have seen in museums all over the world. The treasury building had some more interesting displays. In one, there was a large bowl of thumb sized emeralds. The spoon maker's diamond was on display here. The seventh largest diamond in the world, it was very impressive though I wonder what flaw rating it has. About three years ago I was in the market for a diamond and learned all about the four C's: carets, cut, clarity and color. How did this diamond rate against those qualities?
Lunch at the Topkapi Palace was down a long narrow staircase so I left Mary at the top and went in search of something I could take out. I chose a minced meat in pastry dish that we shared. It was a little greasy and definitely could have used more meat but made for a nice snack.
Our next stop was Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, locally called Kapali Çarsi. The bazaar has existed for 1000 years and was an important trading area when the Ottoman Empire was ruled from Istanbul. Today it is mostly for tourists. The trip to the bazaar did not start out well. Our guide was going to show us a rug factory in a department store but by the time Mary and I got off the bus, and set up, he and the rest of the group were gone. We were on our own. No tip for him today. The bus driver, in broken English, said we were supposed to be back at "Four Quarter".
In my travels I have been to many outdoor markets and usually try to get out of them quickly. They are cramped and filled with tacky souvenirs. This one fascinated me. There are over 4,400 shops, all enclosed under a Turkish style roof, complete with many archways. We entered the main street which stretched for about a tenth of a mile. Branching off this boulevard were smaller streets. In total there are 65 streets crisscrossing the bazaar, in a mostly rectangular pattern. Earlier our guide claimed it was the first indoor mall in the world. Goods from Asia were sold to merchants here who brought them to markets throughout Europe. Each section specialized in different wares. On the main street almost every store front was a jewelry store. On the side streets you could easily find Turkish rugs, plates, souvenirs, leather goods and much more. While strolling through the streets we purchased a small Turkish rug for our chachka table, two Turkish hats for our nephews and a doll for one of our nieces. At each stop I did some bargaining but was not really successful until the doll, getting the price dropped from 600,000 lira ($12) to 200,000 ($4).
After about an hour we needed some fresh air. This enclosed market was filled with cigarette smoke. We planned to walk back to the bus on the outside street when a sudden downpour forced us back inside. We had a hard time finding an entrance that we could get the wheelchair through. The only one we saw had vertical bars with spaces too narrow for the wheelchair and a few steps. As we approached, two guards were pushing each other in play. An onlooker stopped them so they wouldn't run into us. He helped Mary inside while I folded and brought in the wheelchair. At a quarter to four we decided to make a run for the bus. We were told to be back at "Four Quarter" but that could have been 3:45 PM or 4:15 PM. We decided to play it safe and leave for the earlier time. After several wrong turns in the rain, we had to squeeze between moving vehicles to reach our bus. The guide was very apologetic when he arrived a half hour later (the driver must have meant 4:15). He gave us a story about sending someone to find us but that didn't fit our experience. I felt very awkward giving the driver a good tip (he pulled the wheelchair out for us several times) and nothing for the guide. However, we will be with him again tomorrow and he will have a chance to redeem himself then.
For dinner we decided not to go out. Given that our hotel is far from the center of town and Istanbul is less than accessible, we couldn't just go out and look for a local place to eat. Fortunately, there was a Turkish restaurant in the hotel. Unfortunately they were completely booked when we called for a reservation. I was very disappointed. This will be our last chance for a local dinner until we reach Barcelona at the end of the trip. We settled on the restaurant that we had breakfast in that morning. Mary was happy to point out and I was happy to see that there was a good choice of local dishes. I ordered for both of us at Mary's suggestion. We liked to partake of local customs, and custom here means the man orders for the woman. I ordered local drinks, a mixed local appetizer, meat kabobs for myself, shrimp and grouper casserole for Mary, and yogurt drinks with dinner. This brought a broad smile to the waiter's face. We don't know if this was because it was likely to be a high bill and high tip or because we were one of the few guests to order a traditional Turkish meal at this restaurant. Most of the two meals was excellent, especially the appetizer and Mary's dinner. My dinner was O.K. but not too much out of the ordinary. Tomorrow we are looking forward to boarding our very first cruise ship. I wonder what it will be like. Will there be enough to do? How much will we be pampered?
September 30, 1995
Pictured: The Blue Mosque
This morning we took a cruise up the Bosphorus aboard a small boat. Istanbul is the only city in the world that straddles two continents - Europe and Asia. The Bosphorus is the straight that runs between them. At the southern end, where Istanbul is, it lets out into the Sea of Marma. Twenty miles north, it meets with Black Sea. On our way up, we saw expensive houses and villas and listened to stories about Turkey's wealthiest and most powerful people. There were quite a few summer estates, a European fort we would see later, and several marinas. We saw many fishing boats, a few tankers and one beautiful, sleek yacht. I went on deck several times to take pictures. On one of these trips I met a man named Ralph who had been in the Navy. He explained some nautical terms and I reciprocated by telling him a little of the Cyrillic alphabet which we will see when we get to Ukraine.
We disembarked at the end of the Bosphorus to visit the Koch family museum. The Koch family is one of the two wealthiest families in Turkey and are in the world wide list of fortune 500 families. The museum is a three story house, formally a mansion, with various examples of pottery and traditional Turkish costumes. Mary went up to the second floor with the rest of the group. She found the stairs to be easy to limb. This floor had a map of Turkey, pocket watches and some antique furniture. I went alone up to the top floor where there was a set of gilded books written in Sanskrit. The letters in Sanskrit are very beautiful with wavy lines going this way and that. I wondered what was contained in these books. One was probably a Koran. Upon returning to the bottom floor, we entered a room which had a very impressive, ornate family tree hanging on the wall. Recently we purchased software to generate family trees so we were particularly interested in this display. The trunk of the tree showed each sultan, with brothers and uncles off to each side.
From the museum, we boarded a familiar tourist bus for our hotel by way of the European fort. The fort, which sits on the Bosphorus coast, was built in the 15th century. The walls of this small fort run along the water and back up to the top of the hill. There were a lot of steps up to the fort and inside so Mary decided to stay in the bus. In the 15th century when the Byzantine Empire was in decline, the Sultan of the time asked for a plot of land just outside Istanbul on the European site of the Bosphorus. The emperor said he could only afford to give enough land that could be surrounded by the hide of a cow. The Sultan, being very tricky, had a cow's skin cut into long thin strips which he used to outline the borders of the fort. In reality, if the Sultan's army hadn't been so powerful and the empire so weak, the Sultan would not have been able to get away with this. The fort was built in only four months. Once built, it could be used to stop shipping from entering Constantinople and it helped defeat the Byzantines in 1453. We had 10 minutes to explore the fort so going as quickly as I could, I climbed the highest tower for some pictures. Unfortunately I did not have my 24mm wide angle lens with me. I had left it in the bus with Mary. Still, I think I got a few good shots. Ten minutes was not enough for this little excursion and I arrived back at the bus a few minutes late, having kept everyone waiting. That is something I really don't like doing and don't do often.
We arrived back at the hotel at 12:00 noon and had two and a half hours before our transfer to the ship. After a brief rest, we decided to go back to Istanbul for some quality pictures of the Blue Mosque with its six minarets. If we had time, I also wanted to see if we could get some better shots of Hagia Sofia. Well luck played a little trick on us. We were able to get some very nice shots of Hagia Sofia but unfortunately the sun (which had finally come out) was directly above and behind the Blue Mosque. All of our pictures of it will be in silhouette. We walked around back to get a view of the mosque in better light. This was a much less traveled part of town and we did not stay too long. The two pictures of Istanbul in this log were taken during this excursion.
When we were satisfied that we had taken enough pictures, Mary and I went to the head of a taxi line and asked the driver to take us to our hotel. I pronounced the name of the hotel and he seemed to understand without my having to show him the hotel card. After a couple of minutes I saw there was no meter, but Mary pointed out that it was hidden from my view. The driver must have heard this because he said the meter did not show the last digit. The meter had not kept up with the high (70%) inflation rate. Mary complimented the driver on his English. It turned out he had lived 11 years in London. He didn't have much to say about London but we had a good long talk about Turkish politics. The driver started to explain that he was being especially hurt by the high inflation because the taxi commission, or whatever they call that organization, had not allowed the drivers to raise the meters in step with other price hikes. I figured this was a ploy to get a better tip so I changed the subject and asked him what was causing the bad economy. At first he claimed that was a job for the economist, then he blamed it on the Kurds.
The Kurds are a separate people who inhabit western Turkey, Northern Iraq and Northwest Syria. Their history goes back to the 2nd millennium B.C. They are a tribal people but they have never had their own homeland. There are rebel factions in Turkey and Iraq that are fighting for independence. In 1991, the Kurds staged an uprising right after Iraq lost the Gulf War. However, they were crushed by Iraq's still powerful army and many refugees were forced into the mountains during a harsh winter. International intervention was required to bring them home. At a time when so many ethnic groups are getting some measure of independence (Palestinians, Irish, Armenians, Crimeans, etc.) I feel for the Kurds and their desire for a homeland. This made me very curious about what a local Turkish person thought about these political issues. Our taxi driver said that the government was spending 100 million lira a month in the west (that's only $2000 so he must have been mistaken) and that was draining money that was needed elsewhere. He claimed that this did not make him prejudice against the Kurds but the word hate came out a few times. Apparently tensions in the near revolt in the West are causing friction between Turks and Kurds in Istanbul. The driver was firmly against establishing a homeland for the Kurds. He said that like the U.S., Turkey was comprised of many ethnic groups and giving autonomy to the Kurds would be like splitting the U.S. into 50 countries. In truth, Turkey is much more homogeneous than the U.S.
We arrived back at our hotel about a half hour before our scheduled transfer to the ship. We explored the hotel grounds a little and then went out to meet our bus. The first bus was filling rapidly so one of the tour guides suggested we take the second. Mary and I and one other woman were the only passengers. We felt very privileged. Would the treatment for the next two weeks aboard ship be this personalized? The bus driver had to circle the block a couple of times before he could let us out, it was a mad house both on the streets and the side walks. There were general strikes in Turkey this day because of the government's imminent collapse and that affected the ship yards. Eventually we made it through passport control and the tension level decreased markedly. We got on line at registration and were served orange juice. While waiting, we were each given two small green cards to fill out for admission to Ukraine. The green cards asked what we were bringing into the country. After handing over our tickets, passports and green cards, we went to the Royal Viking Sun. The gangway was a long flight of shallow stairs. One of the staff took the wheelchair up while I helped Mary. We're among the less wealthy aboard the ship and our cabin is "below deck", on the same level as the gangway. While people took the elevator up to their staterooms, we walked a short distance to our cabin. Despite its location, its a very nice room with a good size window and I think we'll be very comfortable here. We also met our stewardess, Ĺso.
We were late leaving the dock because of some problems, probably related to the strikes, so the departure party was canceled. While relaxing in our cabin, a shot of sunset over Istanbul came on TV from the camera at the bow. We decided to go up and see the sunset for ourselves. Up top, the sunset was blocked by buildings but we took some nice shots of the mosques in the waning light. Looking for the owner's suite, we found a hall with plaques and gifts presented to the ship from various countries and cities. At the end of the hall we found the Stellar Polaris lounge and had cocktails before dinner. This lounge may turn out to be my favorite part of the ship. It bears a striking resemblance to Ten Forward, the bar on the Starship Enterprise in "Star Trek: The Next Generation". The bar is in the back of the room, and in front is a panoramic window, sloping up and out. There is a list of cocktails on each table and Mary and I plan to try as many as we can.
At dinner we met most of our table mates with whom we will break bread and share wine for the remainder of the journey. The ship's doctor will be sitting at our table but he was not present at the first dinner. Dinner was very elegant. Now I finally understand all the talk of how much we would be fed aboard ship. We have a choice of appetizer, soup, salad, pasta, sherbet, entree and dessert. I'm going to have to do a lot of pushing to work off the calories that I'll consume at these dinners. The table setting was elegant as well. There is a fork and knife for each course. Depending on what you order, the waiter adds or removes silverware as needed. Dinner was excellent, though I will miss the local dinners I look forward to on international vacations.
Conversation at dinner was not as interesting. The main topic was reviews of previous cruises our table mates have been on and comparison of those with this. This being our first cruise, Mary and I were somewhat at a loss, so we listened politely. Our dinner partners are significantly older than we are and significantly more wealthy. While this five star treatment is a novelty for us, there were several complaints. I would call these nit picking but I guess when you're spending that much money per day, it's easy to insist on things being exactly as you want. The Royal Viking Sun and her sister ship were recently purchased by the Cunard line. There was some discussion on how this would affect the trip since Cunard does not have a good reputation for service. I think service is excellent. We have two waiters who serve just five tables so they are always in the neighborhood. This must be what it is like to have private servants. The waiters really pamper us, even placing napkins in our laps and pouring milk in our coffee. I'm not sure I'll get used to that; I prefer fending for myself.
We excused ourselves early from dinner to see the evening movie, "The Englishman who Went Up a Hill and Came Down a Mountain". There is a small theater on the ship called the Starlight Theater that can seat about 100 people. The third quarter of the movie was a little slow but overall I enjoyed it very much and would recommend it. It's a very funny little comedy. After the movie we went back to the Stella Polaris lounge for a nightcap. There was a harp player entertaining the guests. It was very relaxing. From there we went outside for a quick walk on deck and then back to our cabin.
October 1, 1995
Pictured: Royal Viking Sun
Today was a lazy day at sea. We got up relatively late and had breakfast in the dining room. At 10:00 AM we attended the required emergency evacuation orientation, wearing our life vests from the cabin. Afterward, we went to an overview talk about some of the excursions we are scheduled to take. We had already read about all the tours but we were hoping to learn a little more about how rough the terrain would be for the wheelchair. The speaker warned people with disabilities against taking two of the first four excursions that we had signed up for. We became concerned and later stopped at the excursion office for clarification. We ended up taking all of the tours we originally planed to. At 11:00 AM, Harman Kirby, a retired ambassador, gave a lecture as part of Cunard's World University program. The topic was the Yalta conference of February 1945 with Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin. The purpose of the conference was to determine how Europe would look when World War II was over. Ambassador Kirby explained that the initial reactions to the conference were very positive but within weeks observers would come to the sobering realization that none of the promises would be kept. Stalin had agreed there would be free elections in Poland but even before the war ended he established a Polish group, then working in Moscow, as the new government. Historians point to the conference as the West giving away all of Eastern Europe. Ambassador Kirby contended that with large numbers of Soviet troops in all of these countries, we did not give away anything that had not already been taken militarily. Roosevelt was mostly interested in setting up the United Nations. Stalin wanted 15 votes, one for each Soviet republic, but Roosevelt and Churchill were able to talk him down to three - Russia, Ukraine and Byelorussia. In reality, most of the power would rest with the security council. Although it was not written in the documents, all of the participants agreed that Germany would be dismembered into four parts, managed by the British, French, U.S. and Soviets. However, the first three were combined into Western Germany. The last was not joined for another 45 years. After this historical perspective I'm looking forward to visiting the actual conference site.
After the two talks we took a nap. We're not sure why we were so tired on a day we did not tour through any country. Maybe it's the gentle rocking of the ship that we have to get used to. This afternoon we also worked on our logs and then dressed for dinner. The one part of this vacation I am not looking forward to is the formal evenings like tonight. Most of the men will be wearing Tuxedos. I don't own a Tux nor was I willing to purchase one just for this trip. I'll probably feel more out of place at dinner than I did yesterday. Getting dressed, I was especially frustrated by the bow tie. Before our vacation I purchased two bow ties, one white and one black, and they came with knot instructions. The only other time I've worn a bow tie was at our wedding and that was fastened with a hook. I fiddled with this stupid piece of material for 20 minutes. I could get something that almost looked like a knot if I didn't do it while it was around my neck, but around my neck it was hopeless. Once tied, there was no way to get it over my head. Finally I tossed it the closet and put on a regular tie. We got down to dinner and almost every man was wearing a Tux. I was not comfortable despite tight shoes, tight pants and tight collar. This is a relaxing vacation? I maintain that the era of elegant dress aboard ships like this is nearing an end. In the next few years as a younger generation reaches affluence, formal wear will be optional, not mandatory.
Tonight at dinner the ship's doctor, Henning Hoëjer, joined us. The doctor is from Stockholm and seems like a nice man. His specialty is bowel surgery. The ship requires the doctor to be a surgeon in case there is the need to perform an emergency operation. He was going to be on the ship for three more weeks before going home to his practice in Stockholm.
Each night when we return to our cabin there is some reading material for us. I enjoy going through this while Mary gets ready for bed. First I read the nightly Skald, the ship's newspaper. Its about eight pages long and lists the schedule of events for the next day, the dress code, biographies of various ship personnel, miscellaneous ship board tidbits, etc. The second item is a short newspaper, also eight pages long, about the day's events around the world, concentrating on the United States and Canada. I stay away from the O. J. Simpson articles.
October 2, 1995
Pictured: Potemkin Steps
Today we visited Odessa, Ukraine. Odessa is a large city of about 1 million people that sits on the Black Sea. People have lived in this region for many centuries, however the current city is relatively new. The Turks built a fort here in 1764, then lost it to the Russians just 25 years later. In 1794, Catherine the Great renamed the town Odessa after the ancient Greek town that was thought to be in this area. That was a mistake, there never was any Odesseus here. In the Russian language, the word for border is ukraine. Hence the large area to the southwest of Russia was called "The Border" or "The Ukraine". I've commonly heard the country referred to as "The Ukraine" but here people simple say Ukraine so that is how I will call it in this log.
We were ready to disembark at the appointed time, 8:00 AM, but our ship had not yet been cleared by port control. It wasn't until 8:30 that we could get on line to leave. A Ukrainian official took our passports in exchange for a brown passport-like booklet, marked with text in the Cyrillic alphabet. Many people were a little nervous about turning over their passports. These brown booklets dated from the Soviet era. Throughout it we could make out the acronym CCCR, Russian for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
We started our tour at the top of Potemkin Steps. These 192 steps lead from sea level to the plateau on which Odessa sits. The steps were built along with the rest of the city under the auspices of Armand de Plessis, duc de Richelieu. The steps were designed so that from the bottom you can only see the vertical part of the steps and from the top you can only see the top of the stairs. Its a pretty site from either perspective. If you're a movie buff you may have seen these stairs pictured in the silent movie "Potemkin", directed by Sergey Eisenstein in 1925. I saw part of this movie some years ago and earlier this year saw a documentary on the movie when I was in London. The movie depicts the unsuccessful uprising in 1905 when workers in Odessa joined forces with the crew from the Potemkin. The crew killed the captain and most of the officers after the cook killed a crewman who complained about a slab of maggot infested meat. This is a classic example of a Soviet propaganda film. The most memorable scene shows the Czar's troops slaughtering innocent civilians on the Potemkin steps. When one young mother is killed, her baby carriage plummets to the bottom. At the top of the stairs is a statue of Armand du Plessis, duc de Richelieu. Appointed mayor of the city in 1801 by Catherine the Great, he was responsible for the city's growth. This man was related to the famous Cardinal de Richelieu of France. The statue showed him dressed in a toga.
We walked down the Primorsky boulevard and saw many old buildings and a few monuments along this "Promenade". We went into the Maritime museum, a restored building with frescoes on the ceilings and walls. Downstairs there was an art museum with some very interesting pieces. I particularly liked some of the surrealistic art. Back outside, we passed Voronstov Palace, the town hall and the Pushkin monument.
From here we visited the famous Odessa Opera House, built in the same style as the Vienna Opera House. It is a pretty building with inner columns and outer columns on the broad windows. One whole side of the opera house was undergoing renovation so I'm not sure if I got any good pictures. I would liked to have seen the inside. On the ceiling there are painted frescoes of scenes from Shakespearean plays. While gathering for our bus we were accosted by a family of Gypsies begging for money. This was something we were used to seeing when we visited Romania, where there are over two million Gypsies. It was somewhat incongruous to see a small child begging one moment, then whining to his mother a few minutes later.
After the Opera House, we boarded the bus and rode around the city. We passed various churches and a synagogue. We rode through the residential district, which was all apartments. We also rode through the industrial area. Odessa is a tired old city, with a lot of potential. Most of the buildings date from the 19th century and are in disrepair. What colors exist are dull and faded. We saw some buildings being renovated but for the most part, the city has laid fallow. The Ukrainian economy is in shambles. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukraine found itself with few natural resources outside of agriculture. Ukraine must pipe in oil from Russia. Russia has threatened to cut off oil delivery because of Ukraine's mounting $2 billion debt. Because of the shortages, hot water throughout the country is stopped from April to October. One guide said the city of Odessa was eagerly waiting for October 5 when they could take hot showers again.
At the time of our visit, the exchange rate was 184,000 coupons per dollar. That made for some interesting math during purchases. Russia and Ukraine are also in dispute over the Crimea, the peninsular that juts out into the Black Sea. The Crimea was taken from the Turks by Russia in the 18th century and today is mostly Russian with a small Ukrainian population. In 1954 Premier Khrushchev "gave" the Crimea to Ukraine to commemorate 300 years of unity. Under Soviet rule that was largely symbolic but today it has a great deal of significance. However, the peninsular only connects with Ukraine, not Russia. The Crimea is the only region in Ukraine that has gained limited autonomy. The new president of the Crimea is seeking closer ties with Russia. To thwart this, Ukraine has begun repatriating the Tartars from Uzbekistan in Central Asia. The Tartars ruled the region before the Turks. In 1944, Stalin expelled all of the Tartars from the Crimea. The other point of contention between Ukraine and Russia is the disposition of the Black Sea fleet. It looks like the republics are going to split the aging fleet.
For the rest of the morning we drove or walked past other monuments, government buildings and churches. A lot of these were very tedious. We were warned the facilities in Ukraine were very poor so we were careful not to have too many liquids in the morning. Still, when you've got to go, you just got to go. Our next stop was the Odessa art museum, with rare W.C. facilities. Two rooms in total darkness. A line formed and the next person to use it held the door open slightly for those already inside. When we got to the head of the line and saw the set up inside, both Mary and I declined. I was bothered by the lack of privacy and Mary didn't like aiming for the small hole in a dirt floor in a cold dark room.
The paintings inside the museum were interesting. Most were oil paintings, but a few were watercolors. These were draped because watercolors fade in light. A few of the paintings were from the communist era showing workers revolting against the Czarist state. One showed a man tied to a tree in Siberia, because he stole something. He would be bound there until he died from the elements. Other paintings were in a more classical style, showing religious events and battles. The Upenski Cathedral (Assumption Cathedral) was also a nice stop. By our standards I would have called this a church since it was not very big. The outside was painted a pastel blue and toward the back there were five domes built in the Russian Orthodox style. Inside the church we saw a beautiful gold plated altar and painted walls and ceilings.
When the tour was done, the bus let us off back at the pier. A brief rest stop cost us only 10,000 coupons ($.05) when it should have been 40,000 ($.22). Much to Mary's chagrin, there were only Eastern style toilets here. By now it was 1:30 PM. Before our trip we had made arrangements to deliver a letter from Mary's sister's baby-sitter, Fiera, to her family in Odessa at 12:00 noon at the Potemkin Steps.. The letter contained family pictures. We were asked to carry this letter because mail from the U.S. often arrives opened because postal workers are looking for U.S. dollars. Hard currency is very much in demand because of the high inflation. We arrived at the bottom of the steps and waited around for a while, but there was no sign of any one waiting for us. Someone from the ship said there was a funicular to the top that was usually broken. Our city guide called it an escalator, and I thought she was using the wrong word (she also called some buildings in Odessa "smart" instead of "beautiful" or "pretty"). However, it turned out to be an escalator as we know it - or rather five escalators, one after another. Two women helped with the wheelchair while I helped Mary. Unfortunately, the down escalator was not working - that's going to make it difficult for us when we are ready to return to the ship. We waited at the top of the steps but again no one showed any interest in us. We had missed Fiera's family and a chance for a personalized local tour.
On our own, our first order of business was lunch. We set our direction, looking for some sights that we did not have time to fully appreciate from the bus. As we walked down one long street, we decided to try and call Fiera's family and explain why we were late. Because of the high inflation rate, coins are no longer in circulation in Ukraine so all public phones are free. That's one convenience. I did not get through on the first call but made it on the second. Unfortunately the woman on the other end spoke no English and of course I spoke no Ukrainian. I can only assume she understood enough of what I was saying not to hang up on me. We learned later she recognized Mary's name. The only words I understood were Ruski (my reply was "Nyet Ruski") and Ouy, a universal Jewish expression. Finally I said my good byes and hoped she understood that I was not hanging up on her.
It was many difficult blocks before we found a restaurant. I say difficult because there are no curb cuts in the city. In fact, many of the curbs are extraordinarily high. We passed several cellar establishments that could have been restaurants but we did not stop until we found a store front that had chairs and tables outside and even a restaurant sign. It was smoky inside, so we decided to eat outside and hoped someone would notice us. Was it custom here to just sit down and wait for service? If this was some kind of cafeteria we'd have a long wait. Finally the waitress approached us. We asked for a menu but she explained without any English that we wouldn't be able to read it because it was in Cyrillic. She couldn't have known it, but she was right. We had forgotten to bring the Lonely Planet guide book that contained a Cyrillic to Roman translation chapter. We also carried a small guide book that Cunard published for this trip. It gave examples of Ukrainian food and we asked for Bitki - meatballs on a skewer. She seemed to understand this but returned a little while later with steaks and french fries. The last thing we want in a foreign country is an American meal. The steak was fatty but tasty and we were hungry. I had a suspicion that we were given a more expensive lunch but at $3.60 each that's probably not the case. I paid in local currency, 1.3 million coupons, and left a $1 tip.
As we were leaving, a man sitting behind us offered to help us get down the one step. One step is easy for us but it was hard to explain so I let him help. With Mary down in her seat and looking the other way, the man put his hand on his heart, gave me a compassionate expression with head slightly tilted, and squeezed my wrist in support. Too bad there was no way to tell him that we get along pretty well on our own and his sympathies were not warranted.
We continued our walk towards the center of town. First we wanted to photograph an interesting looking Ukrainian Orthodox church. Our guide this morning explained that this building, like many other places of worship in the USSR, was "misused" while the Soviets were in power. This church used to be a planetarium. Our next photo op was a statue of Lenin, one of the few remaining in the world. We traveled in Eastern Europe four years ago just after the fall of communism there but by the time of our visit all of the Lenin statues had been removed. Unfortunately the light was coming from the wrong angle so the pictures will largely be in silhouette. The sun has not been our photo friend so far on this trip. Our guide said this statue was left standing because it was part of the country's' history. Many of the politicians now in office are former communists so I wonder if the real reason for the statue still standing is really a fondness for the good old days.
Taking a different route, we chose a street which appeared to be busy with activity. In a few blocks the activity disappeared and there were very few stores of interest. Mostly there were little kiosks, selling hard liquor, magazines (Playboy and Good Housekeeping), and groceries. In one part of town we passed a group of boys, one of whom was leaning on a crutch and begging for money. He looked very sad. We passed and when we turned around, we saw the boy running down the street. By now it was getting very cold. I felt OK because I was working out pushing the wheelchair but Mary was freezing. We had expected warm Mediterranean weather but the climate in the Black Sea was unusually cold for this time of year.
A few blocks further down, we passed a store that looked interesting. For the past hour we had been looking for a Ukrainian chachka. I didn't really think the store would have anything for us so I went in for a quick look, leaving Mary outside. Whenever I leave Mary alone, I back the wheelchair up against a wall so no one can get into the backpack that hangs from the back. While I was in the store, Mary had her head bent down and was reading the small Cunard guide book. She must have looked like a poor destitute woman, too downtrodden even to lift up her head. As I exited the shop, a woman carrying U.S. dollars approached Mary to offer a donation. Eventually the woman must have gotten close enough to realize that Mary was reading a book, not holding a donation cup. Another tip off might have been the $1000 worth of camera equipment (mine and hers) hanging from her neck. Now I know how we can pay for at least part of the trip.
We made it back to the Potemkin steps but the down escalator was still not working so we headed East to find another way down. Unfortunately the next intersection was 100 feet below us. The street we were on ran above it by way of a bridge. Apparently there are a lot of gullies in Odessa, and a lot of bridges cross not over water but over other streets. There is a story that one of these bridges was built because a communist party official wanted to shorten his trip to see his mother-in-law. Below the bridge was a path, half steps and half ramp, that looked like it wound down to the street below. The other option was to find the street West of the steps, probably another mile away. While we were preparing to descend, two young missionaries from the Church of Latter Day Saints offered to help carry Mary and the chair down. While they each took a side, I took the heavier back. We had a nice conversation, and were thankful they did not try to convert us. After many small series of steps, the path ended two thirds of the way down the Potemkin steps. This was not a happy sight for me. Three days later my shoulders still ached. Then again, no pain, no gain. At the bottom of the steps we offered to buy our young Samaritans soft drinks but they declined politely and left us.
There were some street vendors here and one had Russian dolls that we thought would make a nice chachka. This Russian doll, made of balsa wood, had five more dolls within it, each smaller that the last. At first she said $5, but then corrected herself and said $7. I'm sure I could have talked her down to $4 but with the economy so poor, it didn't feel right arguing about $3 that they need a lot more than we do. We also bought some postcards - 15 for $3. Here again I didn't want to haggle over a small amount of money so I gave the man what he asked for. Elsewhere we could have bought a package of 10 postcards for $1. The vendor must have been embarrassed about taking so much from us that he gave Mary a free pack of postcards. That's more than we need. We'll give some away at dinner tonight. Between the man at the restaurant, the lady outside the store, and the vendor just now, the reactions to Mary in Ukraine have been unique. We've seen other reactions, in Romania people stared at us, in Japan people often helped us up and down stairs, but here concern seems to come from the heart.
October 3, 1995
Pictured: Swallow's Nest Castle
Our second stop in Ukraine is Yalta, site of the 1945 conference that I previously described. After breakfast on the ship, we left the port area, going through passport control and once again handing over our passports. This time we did not receive anything in return. We boarded our coach and headed inland. Yalta is also run down but where as Odessa had old worn out buildings with some potential, the Yalta landscape was dotted with new worn out apartment buildings.
We continued to wind around the coast for a while until we reached Livadia Palace. The summer palace was built by the last Czar of Russia, Nicholas II, and was completed in 1911. The Czar and his family only used it for three years before World War I started. One of the reasons for building this palace was to help the Czar's son who was sickly. Yalta is in the Crimea and the whole area is known for its medicinal properties. The Russians believe that the fresh salt air is beneficial to the body. The landscape is full of sanitariums and spas. Research on the subject continues to this day.
The Czar and his family were assassinated by the Bolsheviks after the communist revolution. The communists then took over the palace for their own benefit. Towards the end of World War II there were three conferences between the big three allies. The first was held in Tehran, Iran in 1944. Stalin became ill on his way home from that conference and demanded that any future summits be held in the Soviet Union. The second conference was thus scheduled for the resort town of Yalta. Roosevelt and Churchill met on the island nation of Malta and from there were flown by military transport, above enemy waters, to Yalta. Since Roosevelt was ill at this point (he died two months later) he stayed at Livadia Palace with the American delegation. Churchill and Stalin stayed at other palaces in the area.
Livadia Palace is very beautiful from the outside; the whole building is white marble. For a palace it is not very large but should have been quite comfortable for one family and their attendants. Before entering, we all had to don shoe protectors so we would not scuff up the floors. We toured through several rooms, but for me the most moving was the room where the conference was held. At the end of a long marble room, was a small conference table with about 20 chairs surrounding it. Most chairs looked uncomfortable but three were more plush. On the wall was a picture of the conference with Churchill on one side and Stalin on the other. Roosevelt might have been in the picture but I could not discern him.
At the end of the tour we reached the gift shop and toilets. Fortunately for us, the toilets were more than just holes in the ground. The gift shops had a wide selection of Russian dolls, but we already had one. Mary bought a pair of earrings. We made it to the rendezvous point with two minutes to spare but there was no sign of our tour group. The tour guide had already led the tour back to the bus. So far, this is one of the most frustrating parts of this trip. Three times now we have found ourselves left behind when we weren't particularly late. The local tour guides do a very poor job of making sure that everyone is together. Walking back to the bus in a driving rain, I feared it would be gone and wondered how we would get back to the ship. Fortunately it was still there, waiting for us and two other couples.
On the way out to the second palace, we made a quick photo stop at the Swallows Nest Castle. This is a small castle built on top of a 100 foot cliff over the sea. It is the photographic symbol of Yalta. It looks medieval but was built in 1912 by a German business man so there is really no history attached to it.
Palace number two for today was Alupka Palace. This palace was built between 1828 and 1848 for Count Voronstov, governor of Odessa. Voronstov spent some years in England and had the palace built in the Tudor style. There were many vendors and artists along the walkway to the palace. Several musicians played for donations. One group of four were elaborately dressed in traditional, colorful costumes and were very animated. We gave them several bills. The most interesting aspect of this palace was the floors. They were in-laid wood with different patterns in each room. One pattern looked very much like an Esher drawing of three dimensional blocks, one on top of another. There was a garden room towards the back of the palace that I would have liked to see but because of the wheelchair we were asked to exit. On our walk back to the bus, we passed a young girl, colorfully dressed in Ukrainian clothes. She was playing a violin, and although she missed a few notes, we thought she had potential. We stopped for pictures and gave her a donation. Mary won third place in her company's photo contest for this picture.
When we got back into town, we decided to explore Yalta just enough to find a Ukrainian restaurant. Yalta is much smaller than Odessa so we did not expect to see too much. Unfortunately there were no restaurants along the street near the pier. The weather was uncomfortably damp and the town uninviting so we headed back to the ship. I guess I'll have to wait for the chance to eat Bitki for another day. We went back through passport control and I received a second look before the official returned the passport to me. The passport is nine years old and the resemblance is not so good anymore.
After one and a half days of pushing Mary through streets with no curb cuts, I was getting tired and sore. I was even looking forward to the day at sea. We had a good size lunch and then took our afternoon nap. Waking at 4:30 PM, we worked on our logs for a while and then went up to the observation deck for some sunset pictures of Yalta. Before dinner we had cocktails in Ten Forward (really the Stellar Polaris lounge). However it was too smoky and we did not stay long. There are many older people on this cruise ship (we're probably in the younger 5%) and many of them smoke. Although there are no smoking sections in all of the lounges, it is still difficult to find fresh air when not out on deck. In recent years, Mary and I have found that our tolerance for cigarette smoke has decreased. Someday it will be severely curtailed in public but until then we'll just have to avoid it as best we can.
During dinner the sea became choppy and I had to hold on to Mary as we left. The next day was a sailing day so we decided to partake of some of the evening activities, starting in the casino. I charged $20 to our room and we attacked the slots. Mary plays the poker slots and I go back and forth between them and the one armed bandits. I was not doing very well but Mary hit four of a kind and won $30. If we had been at it for a while we might have stopped and taken our winnings, but instead we gambled them away. We ended the night with a short stop in Ten Forward, this time we sat far into the No Smoking section.
October 4, 1995
Day at Sea
Pictured: Me in Our Cabin
Today we have a day at sea, sailing between Yalta on the Black Sea and Kusadasi on the Aegean Sea. I think we're going to make a habit of getting up late when we don't have a port to visit. We couldn't get up too late because we wanted to catch breakfast before Mary's 10:00 AM hair appointment. While Mary had her hair done, I went to the Norway lounge in the front of the ship to a talk on more of the ports we would be visiting. I took notes so I could share them with Mary later.
At 11:00 AM, Ambassador Kirby gave another lecture, this time on Atatürk, literally Father of the Turks. Born Mustafa Kemal, Atatürk came from a poor family. He enrolled in the Ottoman military academy and rose quickly though the ranks. In his 20's, he became associated with the group that called themselves the Young Turks. The Young Turks were dissatisfied with what had become of the corrupt and declining Ottoman Empire. However, he was a very stubborn man and soon alienated most of his associates. He was sent on foreign assignments in France and Bulgaria. On these assignments he gained an appreciation for Western ways and resolved to bring his country up to the levels of the West. During World War I, he commanded a division that successfully defended Gallipoli against the allies. If not for this success, Atatürk may never have gained the leadership of his country. After the Ottoman defeat, Atatürk was sent to the rural regions to put down rebellions. However, he ended up creating an army and a new capital at Ankara. The Sultan was powerless to stop him. Atatürk's army also defeated the Greeks who had aims on parts of Anatolia. For a brief time he left the Sultan as the religious leader of the country but soon abolished that position. Atatürk also introduced the Roman alphabet to Turkey. Traveling from city to city, at times he even taught it himself. He was president of modern Turkey until his death in 1938.
When Mary was done with her hair (it looked very nice) we went to the laundry room. There are four small washers and three large dryers, but two of the dryers were broken. I guess it beats doing wash in a small sink and hanging it all around the cabin to dry. Still, I hated wasting a sunny afternoon in a laundry room. There was no reason for both of us to sit around and wait so I told Mary to go back to the cabin. While I was waiting for a dryer to become available, Ambassador Kirby and his wife came in to do their wash. I told the ambassador that I had enjoyed his lectures and we struck up a conversation. It was a little awkward at first finding common ground, but then we got on the subject of Eastern Europe. I told him about our vacation there in 1991, one and a half years after the fall of communism, and just before the war in Yugoslavia. He was interested in my observations. Eventually my drying was done and I had no other reason to stay. I hope Mary and I run into them again during our trip. After laundry, we played bingo but did not win any games. Still it was relaxing.
A few more words about the ship. The Royal Viking Sun is billed as a five star plus cruise ship. In the small guide book we received, Cunard describes other ships as five star, four star, and premium, so I'm sure this is really among the top of the line. Of course that's not why we chose it. We simply liked the ports that it stopped at. One thing a little disappointing is the number of activities aboard ship. Though I never took a cruise on it, twice before I toured the Queen Mary which is permanently docked in Los Angeles. That superliner makes this ship look like a tug boat. After two days, we had pretty much explored most of this ship. It would have taken us a week on that larger vessel. Still with all of the excursions we booked, and the time I'm spending on this log, boredom has not been a problem.
At dinner tonight, one of our table mates, Harry Boris, talked about jobs he had had. From what he said, we thought he was about 80 years old. He looks to be in his early 60's and gets around very well on the excursions.
October 5, 1995
Pictured: Library of Celsus, Ephesus
We had a half day tour of Ephesus today and then planned to stroll around Kusadasi on our own in the afternoon. From the ship we boarded our coach and headed North with the Aegean Sea to our left. The Aegean is a beautiful crystal blue, reminiscent of the Adriatic Sea as seen from Dubrovnik, Croatia. Soon we began to head in land. Ephesus has been populated since the 10th century B.C. Ionian Greeks were the first to establish a city here, followed by the Lydians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Goths and Turks. Five cities named Ephesus have been built in the area. They were abandoned and rebuilt for different reasons: war, movement of the sea, and plague. Until the modern city, Ephesus has always been on the sea. We'll be seeing the third Ephesus, built during the Roman era. The fifth is a modern city. St. Paul preached in Ephesus (his letters to the Ephesians are in the New Testament) and the Virgin Mary lived the last years of her life here, 2000 years ago. Ephesus was a port city, but over the next 30 centuries, silt carried by the Cayster river filled up the harbor. The old site is now 10 miles from the sea.
Before coming to Ephesus, we made a brief stop at the Archeological Museum of Ephesus. Here we saw parts of pillars, statues and crypts. One statue was supposed to have been a first century replica of a pillar that supported the Temple of Artemus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Some of the statues had crosses cut into their foreheads by later Christians. Unfortunately, there were few explanations near the statues. We did see some explanations toward the back of the museum that explained daily life but by this time we had to get back to the bus. We only had 25 minutes at the museum, but we could have used an hour and a half.
Soon after the museum we passed the Cave of the Seven Sleepers. Legend has it that seven young Christians fled here from religious persecution in the 3rd century. They fell asleep in the cave and their Roman pursuers walled them in. When they awoke, one of the young men was sent to the market to buy food, but his money was no good; it was 200 years old. The seven young men had slept until Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire. The young man returned to his brethren and they went to sleep again. Supposedly, they are still sleeping somewhere in those mountains.
We got to Ephesus but by the time Mary and I got off the bus (we always get off last), and Mary used the W.C., the tour had left us. By now I was really pissed at how often we had been left behind. Fortunately a staff member from the cruise ship accompanies each tour, and she came back to find us. She stayed with us for the remainder of the morning and was a big help getting the wheelchair over the rough and uneven stones. We found out later that her name was Becky and she is a dancer in one of the shows. It seems that many of the ship's staff have multiple jobs. We've seen our wine steward passing out snacks, and our waiter serving drinks in one of the lounges.
First we walked down a small boulevard called the Arcadian way, with pillars on either side. This road was once covered with a wooden roof. Next to the ancient road was a stadium that could seat 1400 people. It was an impressive structure, but nothing compared to what we would see later in the tour. Current thinking is this was an assembly hall where representatives from all over the area came to debate. We passed by the town hall and ancient water fountain fed by a stream coming down the mountain. The fountain had a hole in the bottom that was usually covered. On warm days, the cover was removed, and cool water was allowed to flow down the street. Running over marble, this provided an early form of air conditioning. The remains of some homes were five stories tall. As in some towns today, there were shops on the ground floor with owner's apartments above. Slaves were quartered on the third floor where they could be locked up. The fourth and fifth floors were used as warehouses. As we headed down the walkway, I was more and more awestruck. The buildings were incredible but it was also very crowded.
We passed the remnants of the Temple of Hadrian. Up one small side street were the mens' public toilets. About 20 could be seated at one time. There was a fountain built in front of the seats to relax those who were using the facilities. Men came here each morning to get the news. The news was handwritten on paper and was passed around to all who sat there. The seats were built about 10 feet above a ditch through which water ran. This kept the city citizens away from any diseases that could gather there.
At the end of the street was the fabulous Library of Celsus. Today all that remains is the facade, but its magnificence attests to what the rest of the structure must have looked like. The library had four stories. Air channels ran behind the scrolls to provide humidity control. According to legend, the library could be used by men without enough money to visit the brothel across the street.
Towards the end of our walk we saw the most incredible archeological sight yet. The Ephesian theater could seat 24,000 people, comparable to stadiums today. It is called a Greco-Roman theater because it was built in a semicircle. An amphitheater is a full circle. I walked up a small ramp and entered the theater at a middle level. It stretched for hundreds of feet in all directions. I knew this picture had to be memorable and I wouldn't have much time before the tour started again. I ran up to the top most step, before a chain linked fence, and took a panoramic shot with my wide angle lens. Though tiny from this height, I could clearly see the stage below. The acoustics were supposed to be very good here. Until recently concerts were held at the theater. However, scientists feared that the vibration from the loud speakers could bring the structure down, so concerts were halted. The library was built facing East to catch the morning light, a good time to study. The theater was built facing West to catch the setting sun, presumably for late afternoon performances. Walking away from the theater, Mary and I got an excellent shot from a different angle. The market just before the exit was a great expanse of stone pillars.
For all that we saw, incredibly only 30% of Ephesus has been excavated. The other 70% is waiting patiently under the hills surrounding the Arcadian Way. In addition to the theater, there is supposed to be a stadium buried here that could hold another 24,000 people.
Estimates are that at its height, 250,000 people lived in this city. The city's inhabitants were all but wiped out by malaria and a new smaller city was built at another location. We only spent about two hours here but could have easily spent a day exploring all of the buildings and side streets. Ephesus number three is a wonderful archeological site, comparable to Rome and the coliseum. Each site was better than the previous one. Before our trip, we evaluated all of the excursions for difficulty level with the wheelchair. We were warned that Ephesus would be extremely difficult and it was. The walkways were built of large stones that were not evenly placed. Stones next to one another were half a foot higher or lower. However, Mary and I are very glad we made the effort. It was worth the hard work and although we had a couple of near falls, we got through unharmed.
Despite his rushing us through this entire stop, our guide was good and had an interesting way of talking that I found humorous. Without fail, he started each sentence with the compressed words "Lageesigelemen".
We spent the afternoon on our own in Kusadasi. I don't know if its because its a newer town or because it caters to tourists, but we found Kusadasi to be much easier to get around than Istanbul. At 12:30 PM, neither of us were hungry yet, so we took a leisurely stroll along the coast. The Aegean was still a beautiful deep blue. On our way back we passed a series of small beaches, some with topless female bathers. It was a little awkward walking with my wife while stealing glances.
Back at the pier, we found the tourist information office and obtained a map of the town. Neither Lonely Planet nor the material we received from the Royal Viking contained one. Mary bought earrings, one of her favorite pastimes in any new town. Much of the town behind the harbor is closed to cars, making a nice pedestrian walkway. The shopkeepers are not as annoying as in Istanbul but they still try to catch your attention. By now we were getting hungry so we sought out one of the quieter side street restaurants we had seen earlier in the afternoon. We bypassed any that looked too touristy or too American and found a quaint little Turkish restaurant named Pasa. It was a lovely find, exactly what we were looking for. We ate in an open courtyard in the back, surrounded by Turkish rugs on the walls and Turkish music in the air. I had a fried meatball dish and Mary had fish. Both meals were very good, and of course not very rushed. We spent quite a awhile in the nice little restaurant and left a large enough tip so that the waiter was falling all over himself to help us and our wheelchair back out to the street. It was getting late and we had had a long day so after a little window shopping we headed back to the ship for napping and dinner.
After dinner we had a little surplus energy and had yet to see a show. It was a good night to get away from the dinner table early. Usually our dinner conversations have been pleasant. I already mentioned the doctor. We also sit with a couple from Texas and two women in their late seventies. Tonight's dinner conversation was about some of the problems plaguing the United States. It became quite racist, making us very uncomfortable and eager to get away.
The show started with a brief dance number, a tribute to Will Rogers, costarring Becky, our new friend from this morning. Then two comedians did slapstick comedy reminiscent of vaudeville. They were OK but certainly not the funniest we've seen. We were supposed to meet Becky after the show in the Midnight Lounge to treat her to a drink as thanks for all her help earlier today. We stayed for about 10 minutes but when she did not arrive, we went back to the cabin. We were both exhausted from the days activities and we had a moderately early day tomorrow in Rhodes.
October 6, 1995
Pictured: Knights Quarter
For today's activities in Rhodes, Mary and I had previously decided to forgo an arranged tour and see it on our own. The old city of Rhodes is not much more than a square mile so we should be fine on our own. One of our guide books claimed that Rhodes is one of the best examples in the world of a walled city. The wall goes completely around the old city and in some places is 40 feet thick. Located in the center of many great civilizations, Rhodes has been conquered and reconquered many times. The present old city dates back to the Knights of St. John, crusaders who fled here from the holy land in 1309. They stayed for 200 years before being pushed out by the Great Ottoman leader Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. Although under Ottoman rule for 400 years, the inhabitants remained faithful to their Greek heritage and formally became a part of Greece in 1947.
The Skald said that the old town was a mile away from the pier and we could take a cab for about 500 drachma ($2.22). However, we could easily see the main gate from the ship so we walked there on our own. Getting to the old city was easy, but finding our first point of interest, the Archeological Museum, was more difficult. Our map was detailed enough but only listed the names of the major streets. We walked up one road and ended up walking right out another gate. The old town was smaller than I realized so when we tried to find a third gate, we became totally lost. We ended up walking through an unpaved parking lot to a gate that did not exist. By now I was very frustrated and the clock was ticking. Since we were on our own, we had gotten up late. With all of the time wasted getting lost, it wouldn't be too long before 1:00 PM when everything except the souvenir shops would close. We headed back to the first gate and found the road the museum was on, Ippotón, but made a left when we should have made a right. Streets and buildings are not well marked. Ippotón led up a long steep incline. It was probably the most difficult street yet. The sidewalks were narrow and often blocked so we walked in the street, which was laid out with two inch oval rocks, sharp ends pointing up. It was slow going, pushing the wheelchair over these. And of course there were no curb cuts. By the time we reached the end of the street I was physically exhausted.
One of the points of interest we had wanted to see was here, the Knights Quarters, also called the Palace of Grand Masters. It housed the Knights of St. John when they ruled here. The original structure was destroyed in 1856 when an old forgotten storehouse of gunpowder exploded. The current structure was rebuilt in 1939 as a summer palace for Mussolini after the Italian Fascists took over the Island. Admission was 1,500 drachmas ($6.66) each and the tour started with a long staircase so we decided to skip the palace.
We still wanted to see the museum but we took a smoother street down. Now the roads were mostly slate. We passed the worn out Mosque of Suleiman. The red paint was faded and there was ugly construction near it so we decided not too take any pictures. After the grand mosques in Turkey, this one would never make the photographic cut. The buildings were old and the atmosphere was charming, although the main roads were crowded with tourists. We found the museum past a multitude of souvenir shops. It was not very well marked and I had to walk around the block until we were sure that it was the right building. We entered but the museum attendant and his friend explained that there were stairs inside so we were only asked to pay for one ticket. Originally the museum was the Knights hospital. It is very large even by today's standards and must have been huge and magnificent back then. Did they really have that many sick or wounded Knights or did each Knight need a great deal of personal space?
The first floor of the museum contained crypts and other large pieces of stonework. Most interesting were the pyramid piles of stone canon balls in each corner of the inner courtyard. The piles were about the same height but were made up of different sized canon balls. Later I picked up one small ball - I think it weighed about 40 pounds. Mary decided not to go upstairs and remained below to work on her log. As with our last trip, she'll be caught up when I'm four days behind. The center of the second story was an open atrium surrounded by small rooms. Each room had glass displays, mostly of Greek pottery. The most interesting pottery displayed myths and views of ancient life. There were many war scenes. In general, men were painted in black and women in white. Males were often nude and females portrayed next to a Satyr, an evil looking male creature with a horses' tail. Almost all pictures were in profile, except for one horse that was painted from the front. A two inch figurine looked just like today's concept of the devil, complete with narrow face, pointed beard and short horns. Halfway around the atrium, I entered a long room that looked like a dining hall in medieval castles. Smaller rooms and courtyards off this hall contained statues of human figures. Many were damaged in some way. By far the most beautiful was a two foot high statue of the goddess Aphrodite of Rhodes. She was kneeling and drying her hair after emerging from the sea. It was found in 1929, when it washed ashore tangled in a fishing net. Though carved in marble, the expression on this marine Venus was very real, not stoic as most Greek statues are. If there is any statue a man could fall in love with, it would be this one.
For the next hour or so, we strolled down streets and narrow alleys in the old city. The larger streets were packed with souvenir shops. Mary was doing OK but I was way behind on souvenirs for my family. We walked the length of the main shopping street, Sokrátous. At first we were considering a fancy knife/letter opener for my brother Peter but finally settled on a backgammon game, with a Greek mosaic on the cover. Backgammon is very popular in this part of the world so this souvenir is indicative of the area and practical - practical that is if Peter knows how to play or is interested in learning. Anyway, it should be better than the stupid mask we bought him in Korea two years ago. The set was listed at 3500 drachma ($15.55), the proprietor said it was 500 off and I bargained it down to 2700 drachma ($12). This being a new country, we also had to get a chachka. Most of the stores were strictly for tourists but one had a greater variety items. We settled on a small mortar and pestle for 800 drachmas ($3.55). The woman absolutely would not bargain. It will make a nice addition to our chachka table.
In our travels through Rhodes, we walked through the Jewish quarter. A small unmarked road listed on the map, was really more like an alley. These alleys are untrafficked except for a few local children and the occasional moped. It is a pleasant change from the bustle of the main tourist street. We didn't see any sign of Judaism here, but it was fun walking through really local streets. Every once in a while, we could peek through an open doorway to the home or courtyard beyond, but no one invited us in. We followed one of these alleys to the East end of town and the Episcopal Palace. Little more than the shell remains but with its arched windows opening to the sea, it should make for an interesting picture.
There were a lot of restaurants in the old town. Typically they had seats outside, underneath an awning. We chose one that didn't look too touristy. I had souvlákia and Mary had a local pasta dish. The Greek restaurateurs were very helpful with Mary's wheelchair. Following lunch and a few more walks around the block, we went back to the ship by way of the East gate. After a nap, we went up to the top deck and photographed the harbor as the ship was pulling away from the dock. When it got too windy, we went to cocktail hour in Ten Forward.
Today is my 38th birthday so at dinner we planned to buy a bottle of wine. Its tradition aboard the ship, or at least at our table, for the wine to be shared with our dinner partners. However when Amy and Florence learned it was my birthday, they refused to let us buy but insisted we choose the wine. We chose a California Cabernet Sauvignon. A week ago, our first dinner aboard ship was interrupted by the sound of horns and the singing of "Happy Birthday". At that time I turned to Mary and warned her "Don't you dare". She said she hadn't planned to but later admitted that the travel agent had asked for our birthdays, so the ships crew, or their computers, already knew. All through dinner nothing seemed to be happening, although a few times I caught a glimpse of Amy and Florence talking agitatedly with the waiters. Dinner came with a desert that night, but there were also crepes on the menu (one of my favorite foods) so I ended up having two deserts. Then came the horns, songs, and a chocolate mousse birthday cake. Three deserts is ostentatious and every one else at the table was also full so I asked the waiter to hold the cake until tomorrow.
I usually call my mother on my birthday. Because of the time difference, we decided to stay up late and watch a movie in our cabin, until just before midnight or 5:00 PM EDT. Each cabin has a VCR player and there is a video library on Deck 8. We checked out "Dave", a comedy about a man who is called on to impersonate the president. I enjoyed it though not as much as the movie the first night. Just before midnight we called the radio room and had a satellite call established. However no one was home yet and we did not leave a message on the answering machine. At $13 per minute it wasn't worth it to leave a message.
October 7, 1995
Pictured: Stella Polaris Lounge (AKA Ten Forward)
Today was a relaxing day at sea, sailing between Rhodes and Ashdod Israel. In the morning we got caught up on our logs and at 11:00 AM we saw a presentation on Jordan hosted by Gunther Les. Mr. Les has hosted "Journey to Adventure" for 39 years. It is the second longest running show after "Meet the Press". The show is no longer broadcast where we live but I clearly remember watching it with my grandparents when I was a child. Unfortunately Mr. Les did little more than introduce a show he had produced in 1984. He talked a little about traveling through Jordan during the Gulf War but I would have liked to hear a more inside story about how he produced the Jordan piece.
The rest of the day repeated the pattern of an earlier sea day. We did laundry, played Bingo at 4:00 PM, then got dressed for dinner. Tonight is a formal night and I'll wear a business suit and a clip on bow tie that Mary bought me the other day from the ship's store.
October 8, 1995
Pictured: Wailing Wall, Jerusalem
Today was a disappointing day. For me it started early this morning when I couldn't fall asleep. I tossed and turned for hours. Finally at 3:00 AM I did some exercises, 60 sit-ups, and that knocked me out enough. Mary also had trouble sleeping. We think our decaf coffees were spiked with caffeine. So this morning I got up with only 3 1/2 hours sleep and a day long tour ahead of us.
Elsewhere in this log, I've reviewed the history of the places we visited. I won't try to do that here. The land of Israel has a long and varied history and I could not begin to do it justice here while I struggle to keep this log up to date.
The ship docked in Ashdod but there really is not much to see here. We were required to go through passport inspection in Ashdod. This was well organized and we got through in minutes. We stood in line to board Becky's coach but were redirected to another. This coach had two male escorts, so we thought they would be able to help us if needed. Our guide seems to know a lot about Christianity. Although he is obviously Jewish, the focus today seems to be on Holy Christian sites. I'm not sure if that is his preference, there are simply more Christians on these kind of tours, or if there are more Christian sites in and around Jerusalem. Mary is Catholic and I am Jewish. I hope there will be plenty for both of us to see these next two days. During the hour long ride we saw many apartment buildings under construction. In a land of four million people, half a million Jews have immigrated to Israel in the past few years. Most have come from Russia and Eastern Europe. We saw buildings going up all over the country, including the West Bank, to absorb the additional population.
There is a sameness to the buildings in Jerusalem. A local ordinance mandates that all structures be built from the local bricks which are white or white yellow stone. Although we only heard of the ordinance in Jerusalem, the building material seemed the same all over the country. Mary and I soon found this bland and redundant. We missed the bright colors we've seen elsewhere in our travels. There is a narrow band of arable land along the Israeli coast and Jordan river. Everywhere else is desert or near desert. From the bus we could see the new construction encroaching on the desert. It would be interesting to go back in a few years time to some of the places we photographed to see how far the Israelis had progressed.
Our biggest disappointment came before our first stop. Our guide told us that we would not be able to do the Jerusalem tour. He said that there were too many steps and narrow alley ways and it would be very difficult with the wheelchair unless we had a lot of help. One woman offered but the two pretty boys, as Mary called them, remained silent. At another time we might have taken the risk, but this vacation has been plagued with local tour guides not always willing to wait for the entire tour group. Had we been left in Jerusalem, a taxi back to Ashdod would have been very expensive. Jerusalem is one of the more important sites on this vacation and to be told we were going to miss it was a shocking blow. Mary and I were very upset.
We stopped at Mount Scopus for a view of Jerusalem. Looking south, the new part of Jerusalem looked like many of the other places we saw on our drive East, white and off white buildings. To the East lay the old city, surrounded by a wall built in the 16th century by the Ottoman leader Suleiman the Magnificent. From the distance, the most recognizable structure was the fabulous gold painted Dome of the Rock Mosque. The mosque was built in 688 as the western most mosque mentioned in the Koran. It is built on the stone that legend says Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac. According to the Old Testament, Abraham's son Isaac begat Jacob who was the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. The Islam holy book, the Koran, maintains that it was Abraham's second son, Ishmael, who was almost sacrificed. Ishmael is presumed to be the father of the Arab people. I might have enjoyed this view more but I was still upset about not being able to see Jerusalem.
Our second stop was the Church of All Nations, also called the Basilica of Agony. Next to the church was the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus was supposed to have prayed before being captured by the Romans. For the remainder of this day and the next, we will visit many churches built over sites that Jesus made significant during his life and death.
The walking tour that we would not join began at the Dung gate, south of the old town. It was called that because garbage was tossed outside the city walls here. We prepared to wait on the bus but our guide said that we would be able to enter here and see the Western Wall before returning to the bus. Also called the Wailing Wall, it is the most holy of Jewish places. We felt better that we would be able to see that. The Wailing Wall is named this because Jews have come here for two millennium to mourn the loss of the Second Temple at the hands of the Romans in 70 A.D. Through out the second Diaspora, it is the one place that Jews could look to and hope for a return to the homeland. The wall was not really part of the temple but part of a wall that once supported the temple mount. It only became generally accessible after 1967 when Israel captured East Jerusalem. For many centuries the wall was hidden behind shops and apartments. They were removed and a plaza was built to celebrate the wall. The left part of the wall is roped off and only men appropriately dressed and wearing head coverings may enter. To the right is a smaller section where women can pray. This division is reminiscent of the division in synagogues. To embrace the moment more fully, I donned a paper yarmulke, passed through the gate, and touched the Western Wall. In every nook and cranny were squeezed small pieces of paper with prayers written on them. I could just make out a few Hebrew letters on one of these pieces of paper.
We headed back to the bus foregoing the Dome of the Rock Mosque, the Via Dolorosa containing the 14 stations that Jesus walked passed towards his crucifixion, and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where he was crucified. Some day we will come back and see these. The bus driver drove us and one elderly woman to the Jaffa gate where the tour was going to end. We had an hour free here so we entered the Jaffa gate, passing King David's tower built 2600 years after his death. We tried to make our own way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher but took a wrong turn and ended up in the Armenian quarter, which I also had wanted to see. The Armenian quarter is a walled section, within the walled city. Compared to the crowds in the other parts of the city, it was very quiet here with just a few passerby's. It reminded me of the Jewish Quarter in Rhodes. Coming back to the gate we found the road that led to the church but it was very narrow, crowded and had many stairs. Down was no problem, but up would have been difficult, especially if the tour passed us. I locked Mary in and went down myself looking for a souvenir or chachka. I was especially looking for a nine candle minora for my father but did not find one here. What I did find were some very obnoxious vendors, trying to get tourists to come into their stores. It was worse than Istanbul and I was soon glad to be out of there. Mary and I walked around a little more and headed back to the bus, arriving just a few minutes before the group.
Lunch was at a Holiday Inn in Jerusalem. It was awful. We were herded into a large room and served an American meal of fatty meat, carrots and potatoes. After the morning we had had, this couldn't have come at a worse time. Towards the end of the meal Mary was sniffling. As we got up to go she broke into tears. She was very upset about the morning, especially an insensitive crack the guide made when the tour boarded the bus: "I'm so glad you all made it, if you hadn't done that you might as well have stayed home".
Fortunately the afternoon went a little better. The bus headed South for the seven mile drive to Bethlehem. The birth place of Jesus happens to be located in the occupied West Bank. We passed through a kind of border control that the guide called the Peace Border. That is euphemism. Our guide was pushing the fact that peace was coming to the region. While Israel has negotiated peace with Egypt and Jordan, the peace process with the PLO is only just starting. Negotiations between Israel and Syria are at a stand still over the Golan Heights and there is no sign of peace with the more fundamental Islam nations like Iraq and Iran. We passed through the border and entered a different world. This area was more run down than where we had been previously. There was also some new construction going on here but most of what we saw looked poor and dirty. The PLO flag, until recently banned by the Israeli government, flew over one building near the border. Our main purpose for visiting Bethlehem was to see the Church of the Nativity where Jesus was supposed to have been born. The church is one of the oldest in the world and the oldest in the holy lands. The original church was built during the rein of Constantine in 325 A.D.
We were hurried through the courtyard and entered the church. The entrance to the church was so small that only one person could squeeze through at a time, and even Mary and I had to duck down, while stepping over a six inch step. Apparently the Crusaders bricked over the original entrance to prevent soldiers on horseback from storming the church. I helped Mary through and ducked through myself. The church was longer than wide with a very ornate altar up front. Because of its significance, the church is maintained by three different branches of Christians: Greek orthodox, Armenian and Franciscan. Each sect has an area that it maintains, while the altar is shared by all denominations. Down a narrow staircase, are the site of the manger where Jesus was born and across from that the stable. The manger was in a small grotto and is marked by a 14-point star on the ground. The guide book said it was a steep climb down from the church floor to the grotto below but our guide said we could do it. After the incident this morning, I wasn't going to let Mary miss it. It really wasn't that difficult. However, it was very crowded and other tours were pushy. Mary was glad she made the climb. We waited around for a while trying to get a clear shot of the birthplace, but eventually had to leave to let in more tourists. Back up the other side, we also saw a 1st century mosaic. A section of the church floor was removed to expose the floor of the earlier structure.
As we were walking out of the church, one postcard vendor approached me with an interesting ploy. He handed me a package of postcards and said "free, free'. I didn't want them but he insisted so I took them. Then he said "one dollar" and refused to take the cards back. I kept shoving them in his hand while I continued to walk with the crowd, and he finally accepted them back. Ten postcards for a dollar is a good buy, but we prefer to be more selective.
We visited another church after this one but neither Mary nor I could remember very much of it a few days later. From there we rode to an overlook and saw the "Field of the Shepherds" where the angels appeared to the shepherds to announce Jesus' birth. Our guide showed us one field, but the Israel guide book we had said there are at least two. Roman Catholics believe its one of the areas, but the Greek Orthodox hold the other one holy. Our last stop of the day was a tourist souvenir shop. For the first time today, the guide said we could spend all the time we wanted here. All along he had been telling us not to bring money either because we didn't have time to spend it or it was too dangerous to carry money due to pickpockets. I didn't really think that the danger of pickpockets in Jerusalem was that bad but we learned later that one of the persons on the tour had their wallet stolen. The guide must be getting a very nice kickback from this establishment. However, one of the gentleman hosts herded us out after 20 minutes. He explained that if they didn't do that, the local guides would gladly forego any historical sites and just take us to shop after shop. I have no problem trying to discourage that kind of behavior. We did buy two minoras here, one for my father and a smaller one for a chachka. On the ride back to the ship the guide sold books for $10 each and VCR tapes for $30 each; the latter a particularly bad rip off.
When we arrived back at the ship, an Israeli officer came on the bus and several questions. One was: "Did any one give you something to take back to the ship". Similar questions are asked these days at U.S. airports.
It's customary to tip the driver and tour guide. I've been giving about $1 per person per half day to the tour guide and half that to the driver. Sometimes we pay in local currency when we have it left over and other times in dollars when we don't. Neither the guide nor the driver got anything tonight. When we got back to the cabin, Mary wrote a scathing letter of complaint about the treatment we received from the guide and the lack of help offered by the pretty boys. We are asking for half our money back from this excursion. That night at dinner we told about our day. Everyone was sympathetic, although the doctor was less so. Either he agreed Jerusalem would have been difficult or he was stating the company line. We went to bed after dinner and had a much needed good night sleep.
October 9, 1995
Pictured: Sermon on the Mount Church
After a very short sea journey last night, we docked at Haifa at 8:00 AM. While Ashdod is just a small port, Haifa is Israel's third largest city after Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. However, we didn't see very much of it. We only passed through on our way to Nazareth. Our guide this morning, Bennie, seems a lot better than the one yesterday, although we have one of the same gentleman hosts. Bennie looks like a displaced hippie.
Today's tour is definitely more Christian than Jewish. We knew that when we signed up for it and read the description. Stop number one in Nazareth was the Basilica of the Annunciation. This is where Mary was told by the angel Gabriel that she would give birth to the son of God. The bus stopped in traffic to let us off while car horns blared at us. There was a lot of traffic and no parking so the bus had to go around the block, or the town, until we were done. We walked up a steep narrow street, and the church was on our right side. Entering the gates, the guide showed us sculptures embedded in the doors of the church. A door on the left showed scenes from the old testament and the one on the right showed scenes from the new. The church was pretty but as I write this log five days later I find that most of the churches we visited in Israel are blending together. This church was built in 1966 over the remains of earlier churches. Inside the church was larger than others we had seen in Israel. Toward the front was a pit where a choir was singing. The pit is supposed to be the actual place of Annunciation. Through a hole in the second story we could see up to the ceiling. The tour went up a spiral staircase to the second floor but Mary opted to stay below. I put her up against the wall and joined the tour. The second floor was as large as the first and there was a whole other church here, complete with pews and altar. Along the walls were beautiful mosaics, donated by other countries.
From here an exit led to a second church, so I told the guide I would go back downstairs, get Mary and meet them at the exit. Twice the guide wouldn't let me go, there were other things he wanted me to see first including a chapel with a sculpture inside. This was very refreshing after yesterday. Finally our tour exited for the second church. By this time I up was up to here with churches so I didn't mind missing one more. I walked back down the stair case against traffic. Everyone was supposed to exit from the second floor. While I was gone, many groups of people passed Mary. She said their reactions ranged from smiles, to curious stares, to nasty expressions. She supposed the latter was because people thought she was a beggar.
Mary and I had a little trouble getting out of the church. The gate we had entered was locked, waiting for the next tour group. Before they arrived, we sneaked out and waited for our own tour group to come around the corner. As we've seen previously, there were hawkers around the church. One elderly Arab man was selling wooden manger sets. The tour arrived a few minutes later but the bus was no where to be seen. Traffic was impossible and the guide went in search of the bus while we stopped in a nearby souvenir shop and used the facilities. The rest rooms were up one flight of stairs but the steps weren't bad. Besides some postcards, there wasn't very much of interest for us. The bus finally arrived 45 minutes after we left the church. This delay actually turned out to be a small blessing. Because we were now running late, Bennie changed the schedule and took us to lunch next. For the remainder of the day, we missed the other busses from the ship and had each site almost to ourselves.
On the way to our lunch stop we went around the Sea of Galilee, the largest source of fresh water in Israel. The Sea of Galilee supplies 65% of the water used in the country. It is more heavily guarded than army installations, and more important. A sabotage of this resource, either chemical, biological or mechanical, would have dire consequences for Israel. Three of the largest pumps in the world, send water to two dozen reservoirs which are then distributed to communities all over the country. On the other side of the Sea of Galilee we saw part of the Golan Heights, the territory in dispute between Israel and Syria.
Lunch was at a kibbutz. Before entering for lunch, the bus toured around the kibbutz while the guide explained kibbutz life. A kibbutz is a commune. Any income from the members of the kibbutz is shared by everyone. Early kibbutzim were based on agriculture and helped form the basis of the Israeli state out of the rocks and sands of the desert. Today kibbutzim are more high tech; they produce electronics and offer hotel services. The kibbutz we visited had its own school up to eighth grade. Everyone works. There are shops for the elderly to produce arts and crafts when they can no longer work at more labor intensive activities. Some past Israeli leaders were members of kibbutzim even while they served in public office. Unfortunately I did not get a chance to ask some of the questions about kibbutz life that occurred to me later. I wonder what happens when someone wants to leave a kibbutz? Do they leave with empty pockets or can they share in some of the profits? How do people buy personal items for themselves, if all the money is in a community pot? Does everyone get an allowance? Do the leaders of the kibbutz get a larger allowance? What happens to those people who just can't produce enough? I'll have to look up these questions on my return.
We entered the kibbutz which was more like a modern hotel. The tour went up one flight of stairs while we sought out an elevator. The elevator here is different from any I have ever used and pretty stupid if you ask me. Normally when you come to an elevator the doors are closed. You press a button and one arrives to take you to your destination. Here one elevator had its doors open and light off - a sure sign of a broken elevator. I pressed the button hopping the other one would come but it didn't. Both must be out of order. We were half way up the stairs when we were told the elevators were really working. When you walk into an open elevator here, a sensor turns on the light and you're ready to go.
Compared to lunch yesterday, this was a feast. It was an excellent buffet lunch by any standards. There was a wide variety of hot and cold dishes including some local items. The hummus, made from mashed peas, was particularly good. I went up for thirds. Unfortunately the staff was not very friendly. All of the seats at occupied tables seemed to be taken so we started a new table. I don't know why the host had such a problem with this, especially since another bus group soon arrived and joined us. We ate lunch overlooking a beach on the Sea of Galilee. The kibbutz is probably the most barrier free place we've been all trip. Mary was overjoyed that she found an accessible rest room.
We left the kibbutz as other tour busses arrived. The ride through country side was very picturesque. And of course we visited a number of important churches. These along with those we saw yesterday all had a similar history. In the 1st century, Jesus did something at these sites that is recorded in the new testament. In the 4th century, St. Helen, the mother of Constantine the Great (he converted the Roman empire to Catholicism), visited the holy land and "found" all of the sites Jesus visited. She had small churches built on top of each. In the 7th century, the Selluk Arabs conquered the holy land and converted all of the churches to mosques. Had this not also been a holy land for the Arabs, the religious sites might have been destroyed or used for other purposes. In the 11th and 12th centuries, the Crusaders from Europe conquered the holy land turned the mosques back into churches. 200 years later the Christians were pushed out by the Ottoman Turks and the churches became mosques again. No building lasted 1700 years. The structures were at various times destroyed and new, larger ones were built over the old ones.
The first church we stopped at after lunch was called the "Church of the First Feeding of the Multitudes at Tabgha". It was here that Jesus performed one of his miracles, feeding the group of 5000 followers that gathered to see him and his disciples. This church was built in 1982 over a previous church. There was a rock below the altar. This is supposed to be the rock upon which Jesus put the five loaves of bread and two fish that fed the multitudes.
Next we visited the ancient village of Capernaum, home town of St. Peter. Jesus also came here and predicted the town would be destroyed, never to be populated again. That happened 800 years later. Given all of the towns that have been destroyed in all of the millennia, it was a good bet. It was here that I saw my first synagogue of the trip. It was about time. It is odd that I've now visited the only state established for the Jewish people and have seen just one site containing a synagogue.
Outside the main structure was the remains of a 1st century synagogue. On the pillars were symbols of minoras, proving that this was once a Jewish place. The 4th century synagogue was a large building constructed of marble. The marble would have had to been brought from a distant place, suggesting that the people here were either very wealthy or so religious that most of their wealth went into the construction of the synagogue. Entering through the front of the structure, we saw a double row of pillars leading to the back where the Torah would have been kept. There was no roof, but an opening high up showed where the entrance to the second floor was. The second floor was used by women. A courtyard next to the synagogue was where men could gather to socialize and play games. Our guide argued that this was how the rabbis of the time got people to come to pray. Mary pointed out that this conflicts with the theory that they were a very religious people.
There was also the ruins of an ancient church here. What I found particularly interesting was that a new church was built over the old one, but raised up a few feet on wide pillars so visitors could see the ruins below. For me this was a good example of how technology has changed over the centuries from small churches to churches built over earlier ruins, not on top of them. I can just imagine what may come during the next few centuries. Perhaps churches will be built that will levitate over important sites, and can be moved out of the way on significant occasions. I wish I was going to be around to witness it.
A church at another location we visited was built over the spot where Jesus delivered his famous sermon on the mount. Even the multitudes at the sea were supposed to have been able to hear him, though that would have been quite a distance away. This also was a recent church built this century. Having seen so many others, Mary I decided to go behind it and get some pictures of the Sea of Galilee and the Golan Heights. It was very pretty behind here and I would have liked to have more time but now we were on a tight schedule.
On our way out of the region we passed through the town of Tiberius. Bennie said that it was a great beach area, and pointed out the ruins of a great wall that ran through the modern town. The last stop of the day was at the Jordan River and the obligatory souvenir shop. The souvenir shops were constructed at the South end of the Sea of Galilee so that people could dip their feet in the River Jordan where Jesus was baptized. The souvenirs here were pretty tacky, including a water bottle in the shape of Jesus that you could fill with water from the Jordan River. This site was very crowded. We walked to the overlook at the river and saw people wading in below. It looked like most rivers with a lot of vegetation on the banks.
I enjoyed the day but Mary got a lot more out of it than I did and was very happy that we had scheduled this excursion. She had gotten a chance to visit the sites of many of the stories she had heard in church gospels over the years. She had a glow about her as we boarded the bus and headed back. I'm glad for her that we did this. Mary and I agreed that if Bennie had been our guide yesterday, we would have seen all of Jerusalem.
For me, Israel what not what I expected it to be. I expected to be exposed to more of my Jewish heritage but there was very little of that. I also expected a more cultured place like the United States or Western Europe. The hawkers on the street, the trashy souvenirs, and the unfriendliness, was more reminiscent of some of the third world countries that I've visited. I should point out that we were in Israel during the Jewish holiday of Succoth so the population we interacted with may not have been typical of the whole. Mary and I agreed we want to come back some day and give it another chance.
Mary and I both slept on the bus on the way back to the ship. We were cleared through security and rushed back on to the ship. Israel requires all passengers to be on board an hour before departure and we were already 20 minutes late. Back on the ship we had dinner and went dancing in the Norway lounge. They played our song - "Lara's Theme" from "Dr. Zhivago". We just had to dance to that, even though between the two of us we have four left feet.
When we weren't dancing, we watched the gentlemen hosts I've mentioned before. These four men, who all seemed to be in their sixties, are here to dance with the single women. There are quite a few widowed women on this cruise, two of whom are at our dinner table. Amy and Florence love to dance, so they typically leave dinner about 20 minutes before the show begins. They sit in the front row of the lounge and in no time at all, a gentlemen host asks them to dance. Some of the gentlemen hosts are very flamboyant, others are low key, but they all seem to be excellent dancers. Amy and Florence sometimes go dancing before dinner. Once, two gentlemen hosts escorted them to the dinner table. I wonder what kind of rules there are about what the gentlemen hosts can and can not do. It has got to be one of the best retirement jobs around - cruise for months at a time, dance in the evening, help with bingo, go on shore excursions, and be generally helpful. After I complete my dance lessons, where do I go to sign up?
The comedy show was excellent tonight. The comedian was Mike Nuen. He was much more understated and humorous that the previous comedy duo. Mike played guitar and sang ballads that almost had me rolling on the floor. We saw him two other nights on the cruise and enjoyed his routines immensely. For me the funniest stories were about shipboard life. In one he talked about an economy cruise.
After dinner we browsed through the photograph shop. About every third day a photographer takes pictures of passengers in different venues, boarding the ship, entering dinner in formal wear, meeting the Captain, etc. We then have the option of buying a print for $6 to $12 depending on size. Mary and I like to find ourselves in the scores of pictures but have yet to find a photo we wanted. While we were here we met our friend Becky from the Ephesus tour. We invited her for a drink in the Midnight lounge in the rear of the ship. We talked mostly about how she had become a dancer. Becky is from Manchester, England. She was waiting for the results of a few auditions in London when she read of an audition for a dance troupe for Cunard. Becky interviewed and two weeks later received a call saying she was hired and would sail in two days. That was two and a half years ago. She's only been home once in that time but is going back this Christmas. Becky didn't stay long because she was the scorekeeper for tonight's trivia game. Mary and I played on a team with two women who joined us. We did not do very well, scoring 6 out of 12. As if we hadn't done enough today, Mary wanted to go to the midnight buffet. We stopped in the cabin so she could take some insulin, but by the time we got there the selection was not great. I was still full from dinner, not to mention the drinks at the show and trivia game. We ate a little and slept very well that evening.
October 10, 1995
At Sea, Norwegian Day
Pictured: Royal Viking Sun Casino
Today we had a much needed rest day at sea. This was a special day for the Norwegian owned ship. We got up late, had breakfast and then went to a Champaign party in the Norwegian lounge in honor of new Royal Viking Sun guests. We were supposed to get a gift for our first 10 days at sea but never did. Ah well - it probably would have been a leather key chain. We found out later at dinner that there were other parties for people who had sailed more days and they sounded more plush. Amy came away with a pendant shaped like an anchor with three diamond chips in it. She has sailed over 500 days and was mentioned in tonight's issue of Skald.
Lunch was one of the main events of the day. We got on the end of a long line and waited for our turn at the buffet table. Nearing the buffet entrance, a ship's staff member was pouring aquavit for the passengers on line. Aquavit is a Norwegian hard liquor, which is put into casks for aging aboard a ship. The quality of aquavit is supposed to improve the longer it is on board, due to the rocking of the ship. The best aquavit has crossed the equator one or more times. We thought it was free and decided to share a shot, however I had to sign for it ($3!). It was very strong, but tasted good. Mary giggled through lunch. Finally we reached the buffet. The food presentation was fabulous. There were so many choices it was hard to limit ourselves and still fit everything on one plate. And then there was desert - Mary and I shared a variety of sweets and cheeses. At the end of the line, waiters took our plates and brought them to our tables in the dinning room one flight down. Somehow, they knew where we were sitting without asking. According to the Skald, the kitchen staff had worked three days to prepare this feast.
After the lunch buffet, Mary and I played shuffleboard. To even out the odds, I gave her an advantage. I played from the back line and she played from the line just before the target. The scoreboard went to 75 and we agreed that would be the game. I was winning for most of the game but she made a strong showing at the end. The final score was tied at 82 each. This being a sea day, we did some wash and rushed to afternoon tea for the quiz results.
On the morning of sea days, the cruise director distributes quizzes throughout the ship. Answers are given out at 4:10 PM just before Bingo. We played four times and won once - for guessing the names of birds from the clues. Some of these we knew right off and others took some more thought. For the hardest clues, we went to the ship's library and looked up birds in the encyclopedia. Someone claimed we were cheating but I think we were being resourceful. We won with about a dozen other people. The prize is always the same - a leather key chain. We lost at Bingo again.
Dinner was very good. Each table had a bottle of aquavit and the wine steward poured a beer chaser for each of us. The tradition on the Royal Viking Sun is to have the crew officer lead the table in singing the "Skald", starting low and then building up in volume to a loud shout. In Norwegian, Skald mean skull. After the raiding parties, the Vikings drank their liquor out of the skulls of their victims. The tradition is much more peaceful today. After the toast, you are supposed to down the aquavit in a single shot, followed by the beer chaser. The Captain's table was loudest in our part of the dining room. The doctor was not really into it and our table was not at all boisterous. Amy was late for dinner (she was dancing with her gentlemen hosts) so she missed the Skald toast. When she arrived we had to repeat it. She criticized us for being soft but when she joined in, she was just mouthing the words saying that she could not sing. We went to bed early this night because we were tired from all the drinking of the day.
October 11, 1995
Pictured: Venetian Fort and Marina
Before our vacation, when we were deciding on excursion packages, Mary and I decided that Knossos would be too difficult to do with the wheelchair. Mary accompanied me to breakfast, then I boarded the bus for the short three mile drive from Iráklion to Knossos. On our way to the site, the guide explained a little about life on Crete. There are 165 miles of sandy beaches and 300 sunny days a year. It has become a very popular tourist spot, especially for Europeans.
The island of Crete is equidistant between Europe, Asia Minor and Africa. Like Rhodes and Israel, its location has made it susceptible to many invasions. A contemporary of ancient Egypt, the Minoans created the first European civilization. Migrating from Asia Minor, the Minoans flourished from 2800 B.C. to 1450 B.C. In many ways their civilization was unique to this planet. They defended themselves but were not aggressive warriors. The Minoans sought trade with their neighbors, not conquest. That trade made them wealthy and gave them the ability to create great structures 2000 years before the Roman empire. Woman played an important role in their society. Frescoes from various archeological sites show that women participated in many activities including some very dangerous sports. One fresco showed a man somersaulting over a bull while two women held it. Whereas ancient Greek and Roman art show men at war and women seduced by evil, the Minoan art shows people at play, dancing and worshipping. There is no clear evidence explaining why the Minoan civilization ended abruptly in about 1450 B.C. Current thinking is that ash and tidal waves from a volcanic eruption on the nearby island of Therce caused widespread destruction. Our guide said the surviving Minoans became cave dwellers. After the Minoans, a succession of people inhabited the island. We have met many of these civilizations in previous museums and archeological sites.
Knossos was the site of a huge palace built in 1700 B.C. on the site of a previous palace destroyed in an earthquake. It was discovered in 1900 by Sir Arthur Evans who spent the remainder of his life and money excavating the site. Three other Minoan sites have been found on Crete but Knossos is the largest. Unlike all other sites we've seen, Sir Evans also reconstructed some of the buildings where there was enough foundation to do so. Yellow concrete replaced the wood in the original structures. Many people have criticized him for not leaving the site as it was, but for a lay person like myself, the completed buildings gave me a better idea of daily life than a foundation of stones.
The palace had 1400 rooms with passageways and staircases between them. The religious symbol of the Minoans was the two headed ax, called a labyrinth in Greek. Descendants of the Minoans looked upon the ruins of the palace at Knossos and created the legend of the Minotaur of the labyrinth.
King Minos of Knossos was given a bull to sacrifice to the god Poseidon, but he took such a liking to the bull that he decided to keep it. This enraged Poseidon, who punished the king by causing his wife Pasiphae to fall in love with the animal. The result of this bizarre union was the Minotaur - half man and half bull - which lived in a labyrinth beneath the king's palace. Taken as tribute from Athens, young men and women were sent into the labyrinth to be eaten by the Minotaur.
Theseus, a prince of Athens, anxious to put an end to this tribute, posed as a sacrificial youth and planned to kill the monster. He fell in love with Ariadne, the king's daughter, who gave him a ball of wool to play out, so that he could find his way from the labyrinth. Theseus killed the monster and fled with Ariadne. Angered because labyrinth was not escape proof, King Minos had its architect, Daedalus, and his son Icarus imprisoned in the labyrinth. Daedalus fashioned wings of feathers and wax for him and his son to fly to Italy. He warned Icarus not to fly too high but flight was too tempting. Icarus flew too near the sun which melted the wax and he fell into the sea. The island that his body washed up on is called Icaria.
The legend of Atlantis that fell into the ocean may also refer to Crete and the Minoan civilization.
Knossos was an interesting site but not as inspiring as Ephesus. We walked down sharp inclines and steep staircases that would have been very difficult with the wheelchair. We passed the throne room, the queen's quarters and the servants quarters. The first two were rather large but could not be entered because of previous vandalism. A model of the throne was outside the throne room. It was small but the guide claimed it was comfortable. There were frescoes in both of the larger rooms. The most impressive was of two dolphins, swimming together in a Ying and Yang kind of formation. As in Greek paintings, men are colored (here in red) and woman are painted white. There was another fresco of an eight sided shield. Homer described the eight sided shield in the Iliac when he described the Minoan civilization that had come down to him in legends. This find was the first historical evidence that the site Sir Arthur Evans escavated was really Knossos.
The servant's quarters were much smaller, a bed could hardly fit in one. Several tourists likened them to ships cabins. Though the servants had few amenities, they did have a place to worship and a bathtub. I was disappointed that the private flush toilet, the first ever recorded, was not open to the public. It would have made a good corollary to the toilets at Ephesus. Some parts of the palace were five stories high. There was a large courtyard in the center of the palace for parades and official ceremonies.
Our guide became very emotional when he talked about the Crete people. In Greek, the same word for stranger, Xeno, means guests. Besides the tourists, Crete has not seen a great influx of other peoples. The people here are Cretin, and have been for hundred of generations. On our way out we passed the theater. Since Knossos was a palace and not a city, the theater was very small with seating for only about two hundred. It had a raised platform for the king and his family. A road from the theater led to another palace. This is presumably the oldest road in Europe.
By the time we got back to the bus there was a crowd of busses in the small parking lot. I thought it was going to be a long while before we got out but the bus in front of us let us through. We got to the archeological museum and I prepared to take my leave of the tour group and get Mary. Although we only paid for one excursion, Edward, assistant guide for this tour, arranged for me to get two tickets to the museum which was included in the tour. He seems like a very nice man but we only had a few opportunities to talk to him on the ship.
During the drive to and from Knossos, I studied the map in the small guide book so I would be able to find my way back to the ship. However, around the corner of the museum, I could see the Royal Viking Sun docked in port about a mile distant. It was an easy walk back down to the pier but we'll hire a taxi to come back. An easy walk down is a difficult walk pushing up.
I picked up Mary and we left the ship. There was a line of taxis just past the gangway and we got in the first one. The Skald said a cab ride to the center of town should cost 500 drachma ($2.22). We weren't even going that far so it should be less. When I got in the taxi I saw there was a meter so I didn't worry about negotiating a price. Unfortunately the meter wasn't turned on. For half the five minute trip the driver tried to convince us to let him take us to Knossos. We kept saying no, I had already been there. He didn't seem to understand but finally he stopped trying to sell us a trip we didn't want. When we arrived at the museum, the driver got the chair out of the trunk and asked for 1000 drachma. We were being cheated. It was a small amount of money, we've donated more and gambled much more on this trip. But I hate to be taken, no matter what the amount. I gave him the 1000 and told him he had cheated us. I don't know if he spoke any English, he didn't admit to, but he knew we were upset. While he got back in his car, I walked in front of it and pointed to the license plate while reading out loud the numbers to Mary. I wouldn't have done anything with these numbers but that got him riled. He angrily approached us and gave us back the money. Suddenly his English improved. I don't remember all that he said, except for the word "nothing". Being somewhat of an idealist, I wasn't going to let him get away without any payment. By the time I reached him, he was already sitting in his cab with the window open a crack. I stuffed a 500 drachma bill through the slot and said "fair, fair'. Now, I think we understood each other.
The museum was immense. Most of the artifacts recovered from the four Minoan sites on Crete were on the first of two floors. Of course we saw our share of pottery, mostly jugs and containers. This didn't interest me as much as some of the other exhibits. However, the difference in pottery tells a lot about a civilization. Two of the most famous works, which we've seen on postcards all over the city, were detailed figurines of female goddesses. Each had some association with snakes. Both woman wore long flowing dresses and were bare breasted. This apparently was the common dress for the royal and wealthy Minoan people. There were many glass cases of seals, each about a half inch wide. The details on some were exquisite. There were several examples of double edged axes. We also saw brass ingots, one foot wide by two feet long. The sign beside them said they were used for currency. I'd hate to have to carry them in my pocket. We've already heard that the bull was very important to the Minoans. This was evidenced by the many statues of bulls. The most detailed also doubled as a wine decanter. Other figurines showed people at play, dancing or worshipping. As I mentioned, this seems to have been an easy going civilization. Other sculptures not commonly found elsewhere during this period included Minoan buildings.
The second floor contained most of the mosaics. Typically only small pieces were uncovered and a contemporary artist used his or her imagination to complete the details. I'm not sure recreating an entire picture from one thigh fragment has much merit. The most well preserved fresco was called "The Priestess" and was of a regal woman with large eyes, painted lips and a stylish blue dress. The piece is somewhat famous, I'm sure I've seen it before. "The Priestess", like many other female portraits, is smiling slightly. Take a look at any artwork older than 400 years and you won't see that kind of expression. The second floor also contained a model of what the palace of Knossos might have looked like before it was destroyed. I tried but it was difficult relating this model to the ruins I had seen earlier that morning. We came down another set of stairs that led to a room of statues found on Crete from the Greek and Roman periods. These looked much like many others we've seen. A few were in good condition but many were partially destroyed. I was impressed with the Crete Archeological museum and bought a book about it on the way out. Perhaps we should have had the book during our visit but we might still be there today.
For the next hour we just roamed around Iráklion. We had a crude map but it was good enough for us to find some of the other sites. We took photos of the Morosini Fountain, built in 1628 by the Venetians when they ruled Crete. We also visited the "El Greco" park. This famous painter was born on Crete. By now we had seen a lot of churches and really weren't looking to see any more. However, we stopped to take pictures when we passed St. Marks basilica.
It was now 3:00 PM and past time for lunch. Near the Morosini Fountain we stopped at an outdoor cafe that seemed to have a good selection of Greek food. It was an entertaining respite. I has moussaká and a banana juice drink and Mary had a Greek salad and Greek coffee. While we ate, we watched an employee of this establishment entice passerbys to enter. Like the hawkers in Turkey, these men would approach passing tourists (they seem to stay clear of locals) and invite them to sit. Ours would go up to a couple or foursome and say "Please" while pointing with open arms to an empty table. As soon as the patrons chose a table, he was back in the street cajoling other prospective customers. He was not a waiter, his job seemed to be exclusively to get people to sit down. It was all a lot of fun to watch.
After lunch we strolled around a little more. Iráklion is a pretty city with several pedestrian walkways. However, it is one of the most inaccessible cities we've visited so far. The curbs were a foot high and very difficult to navigate. We only found one intersection with curb cuts, near the market. We walked through the market, as we often do during city trips. Most of the shops contained vegetable and fruit displays outside. The produce was colorful and looked fresh. There were a few meat shops, with the meat hung outside without refrigeration. One displayed a skinned rabbit. We did not see any flies hovering around the raw meat. The fish section in the market had a very strong smell. The fish may not have been as fresh.
It was not difficult to find our way back to the ship. Iráklion is very hilly and from many streets you can see the Mediterranean Sea. We headed back down a street we hadn't passed before. It was very steep and not populated. It must have veered away from the pier because by the time we got to the water we were a good distance from the ship. As we neared the ship we came to a Venetian castle with gold colored walls that was built between 1523 and 1549. Fishing boats were docked in a line towards it. This could make for an excellent picture. Mary and I took many.
Back on the ship we napped and had drinks in the Stellar Polaris lounge (Ten Forward) before dinner. I requested the harpist play "Lara's Theme", our song. It sounded beautiful played on the harp. Mary wore her sneakers tonight because we expected the sea to be rough. She was a little worried, since this violates the dress code, but no one said anything. The movie tonight was "Die Hard with a Vengeance" which we thought would be good to see on a large screen, well at least larger than the TV set in our cabin. During the end of dinner and the beginning of the movie, the ship began to rock. It was interesting when the ship rocked in sync with the action of the movie. As expected the action was good but the plot had so many holes in it that we both laughed when the director hadn't intended it.
October 12, 1995
Pictured: Royal Viking Sun Pool and Hot Tub
We got up late and for a change went to the breakfast buffet. It should not have come as a surprise, but the staff insisted on carrying our plates and coffees to our table. We made a game out of it. The goal was for me to get something and bring it to the table myself. I decided to go for silverware. I almost made it but by the time I arrived at the table, a waiter was handing Mary a set of silverware.
This day's main activity while sailing between Crete and Sicily was photographing the ship. In the morning we went all around looking for good shots of our favorite places. In our slide show I think I'll intersperse these pictures, perhaps as place holders for the days at sea. And of course we relaxed and worked on our logs. Previously we had written in the stern where it's quieter but today I wanted to try out the pool and Mary wanted to try out the hot tub. After writing for a while and enjoying the sun and warmth, we went in the hot tub. I liked it with my feet in the water but it was too hot when I was completely submerged. There were unmarked temperature controls but we didn't want to take the chance of making the water even hotter. After a little while, I helped Mary out and I tried the pool. I was surprised to find that it was a saltwater pool. It was a more perfect temperature but I could hear the log calling for me. Mary and I are spending about the same time writing but I think I'm putting down more details because I keep lagging. She's nearly caught up and I'm five days behind. I'm resisting the urge to hit her every time she tells me how much she's gotten done.
When we got back to the room, a cabin steward delivered an empty box. We used it to send home weight we did not want to carry at the end of the trip. We packed up all of the books we weren't going to read (we really overdid it packing these for the trip), souvenirs, all our chachkas and enough clothing to pad it all. We stayed up for Mike Nuen's comedy show after dinner. He was very good tonight. Afterwards we walked out on deck. It was a beautiful night.
October 13, 1995
Pictured: Taormina Theater
Today was Friday the 13th but it turned out to be a very pleasant day. The Sicilian port of Catania is on the East coast. We were originally booked for an excursion to the ancient Greek site of Syracuse, but changed a few days ago to a half day tour of Taormina. We had heard a lot of positive recommendations about this quaint little town. Also, we were getting about as tired of ancient ruins as we were of churches.
From what we saw of Catania on the way out it seemed like a dull gray city. Rush hour traffic was abysmal. As I remember from the last time I visited Italy, the drivers here are reckless. We saw one small white fiat cut in front of our bus like we were standing still. Catania was built on the slopes of Mt. Etna by the Greeks. It has been destroyed many times by Mt. Etna, the largest and most active volcano in Europe. Mt. Etna is 3000 meters high. During the last eruption in 1983, the lava flow was successfully diverted away from the city. Etna means mountain in some ancient language so this might really be called Mt. Mountain. There was another mountain range that we passed, that had two names meaning mountain in two languages. There seems to be a lack of literary imagination in the area. Unfortunately the day was very hazy, to and from Taormina, so we never got a good view of Mt. Etna.
As we drove from Catania to Messina, we saw many communities build on the slopes of mountains. Soon we neared Taormina and could see the little town perched on top of the mountain. We took pictures from the bus but it would have been better if we had pulled over. The ride up to Taormina was unique. I've been on many switch back roads before, most notably up and over the fjords of Norway, but here the climb was so steep that the curve of the switch back looped right off the mountain and back on again. The streets in Taormina are too narrow for the big coach we were on and our guide explained that before we reached the town we would transfer to a "tiny yellow bus". She must have repeated this phrase 30 times. After hammering it into our brains, Mary noted with surprise that the "tiny yellow bus" was really orange. As usual we got off last and by the time we got to our "tiny yellow bus" it was packed. We were looking for a way to squeeze ourselves, the wheelchair and the knapsack on when our guide pointed to another "tiny yellow bus" for people using wheelchairs. Now that is what it mean to be accessible! Edward, our assistant guide for this excursion, joined us and was very helpful. This might either be due to his pleasant disposition, or a warning he might have received after our Jerusalem ordeal.
We rejoined the group and proceeded to the town square. It was very pretty. The only site at Taormina that our guide was available to give a lecture on was the Greek theater. We hadn't intended to see any more ruins. However, we're glad we went as it was very well preserved and the explanation very interesting. The theater was built by the ancient Greeks in the 3rd century B.C. It could seat 7,000, small compared to Ephesus but still impressive. The site is actually called an orchestra. In Greek, orchestra means a place from where sound comes. Tragedies and comedies were performed here, accompanied by a chorus to explain to the audience what was going on. The only real difference between Greek comedy and tragedy is the former has a happy ending. Comedy was a later invention. Tragedies had sad endings that remind them of their past. There were only a few actors in each performance that played all characters. They used masks and changed them when they changed roles. There were no actresses, female roles were played by men. Greeks wanted their theater to be close to nature - it was open and used natural air currents to carry the sound to the audience. One of the reasons this site is so well preserved is because the steps are cut directly into the mountain. In other theaters, where separate stones were laid, they were reused for buildings by later civilizations. Our guide claimed there were no private seats here as there were in Knossos. Rank did not have its privileges.
When the Romans conquered Sicily, they made changes to the theater for their own tastes. While Greek theater was meant to teach, Roman theater was meant to entertain. Circuses with animals were popular. The Romans removed the lower rows of seats and built a wall to protect the audience from the animals. In later centuries, Christians were fed to the lions here. There was a deep pit in the middle of the stage which was presumably filled with water for some shows. The front of the theater was open in Greek times, so the audience could look out at the town and the Mediterranean below. The Romans built a wall up front with a facade on both sides.
After the talk, I climbed to the top to get some pictures of the theater like I had done in Ephesus. Those shots were nice but more impressive was the view of Taormina with the mountains and fortress in the background and the sea below.
With 45 minutes until we were due back at the "tiny yellow bus", it was time to get to work. All of the shops were going to close between 1:00 PM and 4:00 PM and our ship was going to sail soon after that. So we had to get all our purchases done quickly. I had already decided I wanted to get something for my mother from Sicily since that is where her father's family was from. I still hadn't gotten anything yet for my sister. Also we had a chachka to purchase (I hadn't yet learned about chachkas the last time I was in Italy) and postcards to catch up on. Normally we (really I) labor over purchasing decisions but here we grabbed souvenirs with little deliberation. However, we ended up doing pretty well. We got a small embroidered table cloth for my mother, a figurine/toy for my sister/niece, a puppet for Mary's nieces, a ceramic cup for ourselves, and several postcards.
We arrived at the "tiny yellow bus" stop in plenty of time and were disappointed when an inconsiderate couple from the ship elbowed their way in front of us on to the bus specially equipped for people with disabilities. They didn't belong there and should have at least waited until those that needed the bus had a chance to board. We're finding a wide variation in how considerate people are to us and the wheelchair. A few are very helpful, assisting us over curbs and steps. On one excursion, an older man took it upon himself to store and retrieve the wheelchair from the bus as every stop. Unfortunately, the majority of people, especially from the ship, are not at all considerate. They often walk right in front of the wheelchair, causing me to stop suddenly to avoid hitting them in the shin. Sometimes I am tempted not to stop.
The drive back to Catania was eventful. The bus pulled over to the shoulder twice so our guide could get out and vomit. The bus driver was very good to her, holding her head while she leaned over a guardrail. She explained that she was pregnant, to which she received a round of applause. We also passed two accidents, in one a small bus was burnt to the core. Along the side of the road were several stone farmhouses, partially destroyed. These reminded me of World War II movies I've seen. In these movies, usually the Germans were holed up in a half destroyed farmhouse with the allies on the outside trying to capture it.
At 1:00 PM, as the bus passed through Catania, we saw all the shops closing up. One by one the proprietors would exit their shops and pull down the storefront gate. The streets were busy at this time as people made their way home for siesta but I imagined it would be very quiet in half an hour. We saw interesting driving habits. We were headed south on a two way street. When stopped at a traffic light, ahead of us beyond the light were a line of cars to the left and a line of motor bikes to the right. We couldn't go anywhere after the light changed until the motor bikes found their way into their proper lane. The bus took a quick tour around Catania before leaving us off at the ship. We saw one very ornate large church. What we did not see were any open restaurants, so we decided to board the ship to unload our many souvenirs and eat a quick lunch before going back to Catania. We arrived back at 1:30 PM and the next shuttle bus to Catania was going out at 2:00 PM. This only gave us a half hour to eat and we would have had only an hour in Catania before the last shuttle bus returned to the ship. We decided to forego a return and ate a leisurely lunch at pool side. We did get some nice sunset shots of Catania just before the ship left the dock.
Since we pack up tomorrow, tonight is the last formal night of the trip. At 7:00 PM we went to the Captain's farewell party. There was a wedding like receiving line as the Captain and Rebecca, the social director, greeted passengers. At the party we both had two glasses of champagne plus a little more wine at dinner. After the entree, the lights were turned down and the shades lowered. A procession of waiters carried in the desert - Baked Alaska with a flaming pot on each tray. It was quite a sight with flash bulbs popping all over the room.
Tonight's show was a dance tribute to masks and costumes, called "Masquerade". Entertainment after the show in the midnight lounge was called the Liars Club. This was another group contest. A moderator presents a word most people have never heard and four panelists present wild definitions, one of which is correct. While Mary used the ladies room, I found a seat in the back; the seats up front having already been taken. Harry and Dorothy Boris from our dinner table were about to join me when the Doctor invited them to his table up front. I wasn't sure if the invitation included me and I had to wait for Mary anyway so I stayed. Soon Edward and his significant other joined my budding team. Mary came back and so did the Doctor, so we excused ourselves and went up front. I felt bad about leaving Edward and his friend, but for the last formal night we should spend it with the people with whom we've been eating for the last two weeks. Florence and Amy were already there as were another couple. Our first instruction was to choose a team leader that would help the team come to a consensus. I nominated the Doctor, but everyone else voted for me and I stepped up to the role.
It was a distinguished panel: Social Director Rebecca Carlson, Comedian Mike Nuen, Skald Editor Lynda Ragsdale and Captain Ola Horshiem. Apparently on most cruise ships, the captain is rather stodgy, but our captain is a partying dude. I used majority vote to call out our answers, even when they differed from my own guess. We got two out of four, respectable but not enough to win each of us a leather key chain.
October 14, 1995
Final Day At Sea
Pictured: Sunset from Royal Viking Sun deck
Sadly, we made our preparations to leave the Royal Viking Sun today. As I reflected on the last two weeks, I came to realize that I enjoyed the cruise portion of the vacation much more than I thought I would. Mary had long wanted to take a cruise, but I didn't have much interest. I likened it to my last vacation in the Catskills with my family. There the focus was on sports and eating bland food and for the most part I was bored. I prefer a vacation that would let us see different places in the world, interact with a variety of cultures, and see history. The cruise gave us that opportunity while providing relaxing days that didn't force us to remain in bus seats holding our bladders. Partly because of the time spent working on our logs, we were never bored. Rather, there was plenty to do to interest us every third day. I may not want to admit it but I liked being pampered. The dinners were wonderful, shows entertaining, and trivia quizzes and Bingo lots of fun. We especially liked not having to live out of suitcases and pack up every other day. When we boarded the ship, we unpacked and remained unpacked until today.
After a quick breakfast (crepes again - they are delicious and I have had them most mornings), we went to the Norway lounge for a disembarkation lecture. We already knew that we were going to be in group six, those staying on in Barcelona for two days. We didn't learn much new other than that, but we picked up our purple tags so our luggage would know where to go. Before getting down to the business of packing, we went to the final University lecture series program. Gunther Les ran an edition of a "Journey to Adventure" episode about the former Yugoslavia which was filmed in 1983. He spoke a little on how he found Yugoslavian people very friendly, prices inexpensive, and how people from Sarajevo thought that they would always get along. The film showed a beautiful, peaceful country, with plenty of interesting spots for tourists. Four years ago we visited three of these locations, including Mostar. Tours came to Mostar to see the limestone bridge built by the Turks in the 16th century. Two years ago it was bombed and fell into the river below. We tried to talk to Mr. Les after the film but he didn't seem interested in hearing our accounts of the area just before the war.
Then we did laundry and packed. Packing took longer than expected because we had spread out so much over the past two weeks. We had our belonging crammed into every draw, cabinet, nook and cranny in that cabin.
Of course we stopped at 4:00 PM for afternoon tea and snacks, quiz answers and Bingo. The snacks were better and more plentiful than usual but we didn't get many of the riddles. This was our fourth day at Bingo - the first and second day we played three cards, the third we played four when we thought we had a ship credit windfall, and today we went back to three. That totaled $67. That's a lot of money for two people who are not known for their winning streaks. But it was fun. Each day, there were a total of five games. When we played three cards, we traded off, me playing two and Mary one, then vice versa. There are a variety of games, traditional Bingo, X, sandwich, T, inside box, etc. The last game is always a full card. I didn't start getting excited until I had only three spaces left. The caller called the third, a few numbers later the second, and soon the last. I yelled out Bingo and waited for the other calls from the people who would share the pot with me. There were none. My heart raced when they called the numbers to check the card. Could I have accidentally marked a number? Would I be embarrassed for not being able to count? Well the card checked out and I won the grand prize of the cruise, $179. It felt very good when one of the gentlemen hosts placed the wad of money in my hand. People congratulated us on the way out and for the next two days. When they announced we were from New Jersey, a woman approached us and asked where we lived in New Jersey. It turned out she's a real estate agent in Toms River, our home town! She told us that our house was in the Rivercrest development - something we did not know. We went up on deck for sunset pictures. Later we went to Ten Forward for drinks before dinner. This being the last day, it was very crowded so it wasn't as relaxing as before.
I was still in such a good mood from my Bingo winnings that I didn't mind finishing the packing. We put our luggage out before dinner. All luggage except overnight bags had to be picked up tonight. Dinner is casual tonight since most of the formal wear is packed and waiting in the hallways. No jacket, no tie required. Its a nice change. After dinner, we had some time before the show began so we played the slots one more time. $10 went very quickly. If our gambling luck has changed it is subtle. The show tonight was a singing duet and Comedian Mike. He was good but not as funny as previous nights.
October 15, 1995
Pictured: Cathedral and Holy Family Church
We got up a little early today to give us a margin of safety. Group six is not scheduled to disembark until 9:20 AM but we want to be ready when we are called. We also got our tips ready. Gratuity is included in the fare, but we wanted to give a little extra to some of the staff who were especially good to us; our stewardess Ĺso, and our waiters Francisco and Emanual. We also gave an envelope to the gangway officer to split among the gangway staff. They carried the wheelchair up and down, before and after each excursion, while I helped Mary. After breakfast we vacated our room so the crew could prepare for the next group of passengers. We waited for our group number to be called in the stern where it was less crowded. Things must have been going smoothly because we disembarked 20 minutes early.
Customs was not exactly what we expected. Our luggage was supposed to be destined for our hotel but we were told to identify it so we could go through customs with it. Once through customs, the luggage went to the hotel while we went on a half day city tour. Our hotel rooms wouldn't be ready until the afternoon.
Our guide was nice but he spoke softly, not a good trait for a tour guide. You may remember that the 1992 Olympic games were held in Barcelona. One advantage of the games is they provide the hosting city money to rebuild entire portions of itself. We saw some of this. Our first stop was high on a hill above the city. Barcelona is Spain's second largest city with a population of over one million. It is very large and densely packed. We could see that from our position as we looked out on a city that spread to the horizon. In some sections, there are 33,000 residents per square kilometer. Off in the distance we could see a church with eight spires. It dwarfed the buildings around it. This is the famous Holy Family Church which we visited later in the day and the next day. I'll say much more about it in tomorrow's entry.
There were no good places to take panoramic landscape shots. Bushes grew behind the fence making difficult to see through for short people like us. Poking through the cracks would have been a good job for my 100mm - 300mm telephoto lens - which I had left on the bus. We stopped at the Olympic stadium but I did not get off the bus. One modern stadium is much like the rest. A stadium already existed here but for the Olympics it was dug out to increase its capacity. The stones removed are being used to construct the church.
We came back down the hill, rounded a tall monument with a statue of Columbus on top, and headed up Las Ramblas. This is the main pedestrian walkway, with automotive traffic on either side. The guide pointed out several buildings designed by Gaudi, Barcelona's most famous and prolific architect. They were very impressive compared to the drab apartments sitting next to them. One was a tribute to St. George and the dragon he slew. St. George is one of the patron saints of the city. The roof had green scales like the dragon.
The border between the old city and the newer city built last century was obvious even without the wall that once stood here. It was obvious in the streets and even more so on the map we carried. The old city streets are narrow and randomly aligned. New city blocks are perfect squares with corners cut out so trolley cars could more easily negotiate the turns. Today cars park on the cut outs. Our next stop was the church we had seen from the hill. It was even more fantastic up close. So much so, that Mary came back here the next day, even though we had thought we had seen enough of churches.
We also went to Barcelona's cathedral. This being Sunday, mass was being held so it was very crowded. Mary opted to remain downstairs. Inside the cathedral was much like other medieval cathedrals I've seen in Western Europe, but not quite as large. There was a structure in the middle that made it difficult to get a sense of its over all size. Along the walls were niches with gold plated structures within. It was all very ornate but a little dirty. We walked around the area surrounding the Cathedral. Most of the structures were churches or courtyards dedicated to a religious figure. Our guide said it was a special weekend. People from Mexico were visiting for a celebration of St. Teresa's day. Next we passed what Mary thought was a white statue of St. Teresa. There was a donation bucket at her feet. It took a moment before I realized that she was a real person, wearing white make up. We snapped a few shots and donated several coins. She then moved slightly and acknowledged the gift. Ralph, a friend we met earlier, was also impressed but had no coins so asked to borrow some from us.
We went into a courtyard, which may have been for St. Joseph. The infamous Spanish Inquisitions were held in a building around the corner, now a museum. Back outside the cathedral after mass, a band in tuxedos began playing a traditional Catalan dance, called the Sardana. People form large and small circles and dance complicated steps while circling to the right, then back to the left. They pile their belongings in the middle of the circle. Barcelona is in the Catalonia region of Spain. The Catalan people have been ridiculed by other Spaniards for being cheap and somber. Even when they dance, they scowl. Our guide explained that the dancers were counting the steps and concentrating very hard.
Despite popular opinion, I found the Catalan people to be very upbeat, with an energy not yet seen this trip. Instead of vendors hassling the tourists, these people are living their own lives and letting tourists watch. The streets are filled with people walking, browsing, and now even dancing. Though part of Spain, the Catalan's have their own culture and their own language. However, they don't appear to be as independent minded as the Basques in the Northwest. The standard of living in Catalan is higher than the European average and much higher than the rest of Spain. They are prosperous and proud. I guess this is what I expected Israel to be like.
The Catalans suffered much this century. They supported Franco's enemies and when he came to power after the Spanish Civil War, he tried to strip them of their culture. Their dance and language were prohibited. Older people do not speak Catalan. However they have obviously bounced back. Franco died 20 years ago. Soon after his death a quiet revolution took place. Encouraged by the monarchy, democracy and a market economy flourished, more so in Barcelona than anywhere else in Spain. Catalan is once again taught in schools and there is a Catalan TV station.
Besides its people, the other attractions of Barcelona are its buildings. Spain was not involved in either World War I or II. While the Spanish civil war was bloody, most of Barcelona was spared destruction. As a result, there is a marvelous mixture of architectural styles. Even now, builders attempt to mimic the styles of neighboring buildings, but without the bland sameness that marked Israel. Our guide pointed out one exceptionally ugly modern building in the center of the old town built during the Franco dictatorship. Ironically, this is the headquarters of the department of architecture. In all, Barcelona reminds us of Prague, which we both loved.
We boarded the bus and headed for the hotel, first driving through the Olympic village. We saw where the European teams resided and where the U.S. teams stayed. The bus dropped us off at the Hotel Arts Barcelona, just before 1:00 PM. We are staying in a marvelous five star hotel. It appears that the building is surrounded by scaffolding but it was really an architectural feature. It isn't needed. The room is very nice. Through double doors, the bathroom has two sinks, just enough for Mary to spread out on There are separate subrooms for toilet and shower. A built-in panel by the bed controls lights, radio and an electronic window screen. My favorite item was a radio/CD combo. The door opened automatically when you went near it. I found I had to pass by it often. The sleeping area is about 1 1/2 times the size of our bedroom with a large adjacent sitting area. We both agreed this was the nicest room we've ever stayed in.
Though we hadn't done much walking, both of us were tired. We laid down on the bed to wait for our luggage to arrive and slept for almost two hours. After unpacking a little, we decided to stroll along the harbor next to the hotel. Five years ago this was the industrial part of the city with factories and smoke stacks. For the Olympics, the factories were moved outside the city and the whole area renovated. The Olympic resort village was built along with a broad walkway, shops and restaurants. There were crowds everywhere, and it seemed happy and upbeat. We felt good strolling by the stalls and checking out the restaurants. We still had some more shopping to do, Spanish chachka, candy for our work groups back home, earrings for Mary, and maybe even something nice for us. However nothing suited our fancy so we sought out dinner. There were restaurants on two levels along the outdoor walkway, but more seemed to be downstairs. We couldn't find an accessible way down, which is a surprise for a new area, so I walked Mary down a flight of stairs. We had two recommendations from the Cunard representative at the hotel. After much menu gazing we chose one of these, Conjergi Loco. I was in the mood for tapas, a Spanish style of eating where you order several small dishes instead of one large entree. In some ways it is similar to Chinese Dim Sum.
We struggled over the menu when the waiter said "Ingles?" and brought us a menu with a British flag on it. This was the same menu we previously had but with subtitles, so we knew it would be authentic. We ordered sea croquettes, asparagus, salmon omelet and a bottle of white wine. The sea croquettes were out of this world, the best I've ever had. The asparagus was good but I did not care for the salmon. At the end we were still a little hungry and needed something to eat with the rest of our wine. They were out of chicken croquettes so we ordered snails. I guess we expected something like the escargot we were severed aboard ship but instead we got small snails still in their shells, served on ice. I'm sure most American tourists would have turned up their noses at these but we had already eaten them for Dim Sum and knew we liked them. They were not as good as the warm ones with oyster sauce that we were used to but we enjoyed them. It was a good slow consumption. Without previous experience, we might not have gotten very far but we knew how to use the metal toothpicks to scoop out the meat. It was tricky getting a whole piece out without breaking it - I managed that twice.
Mary decided to use the lady's room before we left. To her delight there was a wonderfully equipped W.C. for handicapped people inside the restaurant. The only thing a little unusual was that the grab bars folded up.
After dinner we stopped in a crepe place we that we had previously passed. Mary had Gran Marnier crepes and cappuccino. I had chocolate crepes and espresso. Everything was delicious. From here we found the ramp back to the upper level and had an easy walk back to the hotel. Back in our room, we took some night shots of the harbor that will close out our slide show (a tradition) and turned in.
October 16, 1995
Pictured: Spires of Holy Family Church
Mary and I had the whole day to ourselves for exploration - a welcome change from the tight schedules of the past two and a half weeks. We got up not too early and had breakfast in the hotel. The buffet breakfast was included in the post cruise package we purchased. Breakfast was excellent. There was a good selection but best of all was a dish someone described as a Spanish doughnut. It was a small pastry, covered in powdered sugar that you dipped into a small cup of thick chocolate. Good thing I don't have to start my diet until we get home.
Leaving the hotel, we retraced in part where we had been yesterday on the bus. Our first stop was the "Monument a Colom", or Columbus Monument. It's very high and somewhat difficult to see the details of the figure on top. If I got my compass setting right, the statue is pointing to the New World.
We learned yesterday that there was a small elevator that ran to the top. We both wanted to go up but didn't know how difficult it would be. I left Mary in the shade and went to scope it out. I think the attendant tried to short change me. I had given him a 2000 paseta bill ($16.66) for a 225 fare ($1.88) because I wanted some change handy in case we wanted to take a taxi. He gave me change all right but not very much. I turned back to the counter and he said "un momento" and gave me the rest. That is the second time during this trip that this has happened. You have to be very careful. There were several stairs down and up to the elevator and the walkway on top was very narrow. Two thin people could barely get by each other. It was not a great view. The decorations on the statue block much of the windows. You could see through the decorations but like yesterday it was impossible to get a good panoramic view. This time however I had my 100 - 300 lens. I got down on my knees and pointed my camera through a small open window and took a shot of the Cathedral with the "Holy Family Church" behind it. I was carrying both mine and Mary's camera so I must have looked rather odd, down on the floor, to the few other people up there. On the way down, the elevator operator commented on the two cameras but I don't know what he said. I gave Mary a run down of the monument's accessibility and she decided to pass.
"Monument a Colom" is also the beginning of Las Ramblas so we headed up there. We were partly looking for souvenirs and partly people watching. We bought an obligatory postcard and a pair of castanets as a chachka. I had seen some yesterday with pictures on them but these looked much more authentic. Towards the end of the cruise, we began to think of ourselves as the darlings of the ship. People would come up to us and begin conversations as if we had been friends for years. As one of the youngest passengers, we stood out from the crowd. This was even more true walking the streets of Barcelona. It seemed that every time we saw an elderly couple, paler that the natives, they would say "hello" and ask how we enjoyed the cruise.
The middle of Las Ramblas is a promenade with a few postcard stands, artists selling their paintings and drawing caricatures. On both sides of the street there are souvenir and other shops. We ducked through some yellow police tape and found ourselves on a movie set. A lot of people were waiting around for the action to start but we pressed on. The market is on Las Ramblas and we strolled around there for a while looking at the candies, meats and vegetables. About half way up we turned right and went back to the Cathedral. Mary didn't have a chance to go inside yesterday so we took this opportunity. There were no bands playing today but a musician playing a flute was here again. He was very good and backed up his flute with orchestral sounds from tape. I went closer to donate some money and saw that an assistant was selling his tapes for 1000 pasetas ($8.33). I didn't want to spend that much so I just dropped a 100 pasetas coin and went on.
By this time Mary needed to find a W.C. We looked around but it was nearing 1:00 PM (siesta time) and a lot of shops were closing. Fortunately we found a department store and its rest rooms. However, when we saw a man and a woman come out of the same room, we weren't sure what was going on. Inside there was a common sink area, but different small rooms for men and women. Back on Las Ramblas, we continued North until it ended at a small park where the wall once stood. We rested for a while, I needing it more than Mary. I was tired but not as much as I might have been. We're finding Barcelona to be a very accessible city, a pleasant surprise after the other places we've been. There are curb cuts at almost every intersection and ramps when we need them. The sidewalks are level and wide so I am even able to walk by Mary's side occasionally, pulling the wheelchair with one hand. Also, the people here are very aware of our needs. They are making a real effort to step out of the way when we need to pass. People are careful not walk in front of us. The Paraolympics were held in Barcelona a few years ago. This may be why were having a relatively easy time getting around.
After resting, we took a cab to the "Holy Family Church", in Spanish "Sagrada Familia". The "Holy Family Church" is the epitome of a long term project. There is no rush to complete it. It is being built to help people pay penance for their sins by donating moneys to its construction. The church began construction in 1882 and its current estimated completion date is 2050. It is a church now but will become a cathedral when it is finished. Some people believe it should never be completed. Eight spires are now done, each over 100 meters high. The older four spires are on the east side and the newer four face the west. When it is finished, the church will have eighteen spires, 12 for the apostles, 4 for the gospel authors, one for the Virgin Mary, and the tallest for Jesus. This tallest tower will be 170 meters high. A beacon from the cross on top of it will light up the night sky. This church is one of the most impressive sights I've seen this whole trip. It is a true monument to humanities' efforts to reach out to its creator. From the hilltop yesterday and the Colom Monument today it is the most distinguished structure in the Barcelona skyline. Its best to view the church from a block away to get a sense of the whole thing. Up close it's almost too large to comprehend. There are detailed statues on each facade that tell the story of Christ. The older east side shows stories related to the birth of Christ. When the church is finished, this side will be painted in bright pastel colors to express the joy of the coming of the Lord. The newer west side tells the story of the crucifixion and death. It will be painted in dark colors to express the agony. The statues on the old side are life like and realistic - typical religious statues constructed in the last 2000 years. The statues on the west side are more interpretive. They are an angular, modern art version of the human form. There is controversy here. Some believe that the church should be constructed just as Gaudi intended it to be. On the other hand, the artist who is designing the west side is well known and respected in his own rights. I support the latter opinion but for a different reason. Having different parts of the church built in different styles will emphasize over the centuries the massive effort and time that it took to complete.
Before going into to the church, we walked around it to get pictures. The day before we could only get pictures from the fence and that is just too close to get it all in. From about a block away we could fit all eight spires in the picture. It was difficult not getting a lot of trees, cars and busses in the picture too. The entrance fee for the church is 750 pasetas each ($6.25). That is one source of income used to help with its construction. Another is wills. People often leave their life savings to the church, including any homes they own. The homes are sold to boost the coiffeurs. The inside is open to the sky as the church is still being built. Here you can see the parts that are complete next to those that are being built. There was a great cacophony of noises and construction material was piled all around. We saw a lot of people working on the North side, though there was no indication of any new spires. Mary's picture of the spires from within the church won first prize in her company's photo contest.
At the bottom of the North East spire there was a small entrance that led up to some balconies. I locked Mary's wheelchair in the shade and headed up. The spiral staircase was exceedingly narrow. I and another lady waited for some people to come down and then she motioned me ahead. I think she wanted to make sure it was safe. There was a passage way every couple of turns and I stepped into a few of them to wave to Mary below. About a third of the way up, past the last balcony, the stairs made an S turn and became much wider. Again, every few turns there was a passageway to the next spire. Every tenth stair was numbered so I knew exactly how far I was going. Each step was about 12 inches high. As I climbed higher, the spirals became narrower, following the contour of the spire. Eventually a gate stopped my progress at step number 372. This was about four fifths the way to the top. I was winded but felt good that I was able to get this far. Of course, along the way I had taken many pictures of both the West spires and the Barcelona cityscape. Heading down was easier but scary. Some passages were very dark - I hadn't noticed that on the way up. When I stopped to look out a window then turned back for the climb down, I had to wait for my eyes to adjust again; otherwise I could not resolve the separate steps. I was glad when I got back down to ground level. I needed time again to rest.
Now it was Mary's chance for a good view. The South West tower in the new section had an elevator which cost 200 pasetas ($1.66). When he saw the wheelchair, the elevator operator seemed skeptical and said something that seemed to be warning us away. I helped Mary out of the chair and he waved us on. At the top we could see it was much too narrow for a wheelchair. This must have been what the operator was trying to tell us. I'm glad Mary got to see this view after missing the "Monument a Colom". I assured her this was much better. Earlier at the old tower I took a picture of the shadows of the old spires on the ground. While we were here, we got to see the shadows of the four new spires perfectly aligned on top of the old spires. It only lasted a few minutes but it was incredible to watch. You could almost see them moving. Our timing was just right. When we got back down, we visited a small museum underneath the church. It had models and pictures of the Church's construction during the past 113 years.
The church is on the same street as our hotel, a little over two kilometers away so we walked back. Along the way we passed a bullfight ring but there wasn't much else to see. There were curb cuts at almost every corner. At one corner, a car had stopped and was blocking the curb cut. When he saw us coming, the driver backed up so we could use it. We have to get up early tomorrow for our flight home so we did not take our usual nap. Instead, we went right out to dinner along the walkway. Compared to yesterday, which was Sunday, this area was really dead. Most of the restaurants were closed and those that were opened were only serving a few customers. We tried a different restaurant but instead of tapas, we each ordered a meal. Mary's grilled squid was excellent but my conch soup with peas and potatoes was rather bland. Again we stopped for crepes and used up the rest of our pasetas.
On our way back to the hotel, I realized our vacation was really over. We still had to get home of course, but dinner and desert was the last tourist thing we would do. In looking back, now and in the weeks ahead as I put the finishing touches on this document, I am glad we chose this vacation. As all vacations, it had highs and lows and of course the highs were more frequent. Before we left, Mary and I listed the ten stops we would make in order of highest expectations. We left the slips of paper at home and tried not to think of them anymore, letting the experiences wash over us. On the plane ride home, we did a similar exercise, based on how well we liked each stop. Here are our lists:
|Rank||Steve's Expectations||Steve's Experiences||Mary's Expectations||Mary's Experiences|
The biggest surprise here for me was Barcelona. I was not looking forward to this big city. Having traveled though Europe, I didn't expect it to be anywhere near as exotic or quaint as some of the places we were going. Instead there was a great deal of interesting things to see, experience and eat. The other surprise of course was Jerusalem, largely because of the tour guide. And of course the third surprise was the cruise itself. I'll gladly go on another one - someday. Thank you Mary for talking me into this and for sharing the experience.