For our last morning in Istanbul we took an excursion on the Bosphorus, between Europe and Asia. The weather was perfect, and the small boat sped across the water to the Asian side of the city, which is widely spread out and now houses 18 million people. The red-painted wooden house we visited was built around 1851 by the chief physician to the Sultan. The descendents of the original owners of this Yali mansion, mother and handsome young son, showed us the house, which they still occupy during the summer. Old wooden ceilings, huge Slovakian glass chandeliers and the original furniture gave us an idea of former lives. In glass cabinets or frames we saw decorations awarded to the doctor, delicate china and glass from the 19th century, framed inscriptions from the Sultan’s court, and even two old-style court robes made of silk. Yet there was also a lived- in feeling to certain rooms, like the kitchen. The Turkish bathing room had a unique glass skylight ceiling, and the house is one of few left in almost its original condition. After the tour, in the garden, we were served lemonade or tea with cookies and ‘Turkish delight.’ Then our boat traveled back to the port, and we resumed the tour in the mini-van. Our last stop was one of the underground cisterns, built in ancient Roman times. Below a modern store we enjoyed wine or tea served with small cakes. Surprisingly, given the heavy traffic in the city, we arrived back at the Equinox before our sailing scheduled for 2 PM. In the afternoon we travelled along the coast, headed to the Dardanelles and the Aegean Sea. -Dan
RETURN TO ISTANBUL
Sailing into Istanbul is an exciting and visually stunning experience that we have enjoyed twice now. Wednesday morning the Celebrity Equinox entered South of the city and docked. Jim took many beautiful photos of the ancient city (See pics.) We had not booked an excursion so walked through the port to look for the Istanbul Modern Museum. Jim didn’t want to enter the museum through its parking lot, so we instead hopped on a hop on-hop off bus. There are a few different tour buses in Istanbul, but the line we were on proved slow and soon the driver, taking a different bridge to the old part of the city, let the audio portion, on the earphones, unravel. But Istanbul is a grand city, one of the most interesting in the world from a historical point of view. We got off the bus near the magnificent Hagia Sophia church, the grandest Byzantine monument anywhere. Though I’ve been teaching students about this church for 40 years, I was again amazed at how large and intricate the old building is. It’s one of the great examples of a dome-bearing structure, and its dome was built in the 5th century AD. Some of the surviving mosaics are wonderful also, and we walked up to the gallery to see more. After that basilica, we had lunch nearby and then walked to the Sultan Ahmet, or Blue mosque. This 17th century mosque features the wonderful blue Iznik tiles for interior decoration. After walking through that monument, we waited on the bus for around 45 minutes before it left the square to return to the port. In the afternoon Dan visited the Istanbul Modern and Jim enjoyed the ship’s pool. The Istanbul Modern features painting and sculpture by locals from the end of the 19th century until today. –Dan
Yesterday we took a bus tour to Ephesus, Turkey. The most important Greco-Roman ruin in the country, Ephesus seemed even more magnificent than on our last visit. Our guide was very knowledgeable and led us through the ruins of temples, the Odeon, another theater, the processional way, past baths and even the public latrines. The latrines were amazing for their engineering and also lent a human side to the ancient Romans, who would spend time gossiping there, much as they did in the Baths. Most elaborate and best reconstructed of the ruins is the Library (see photo) which was the third largest collection of papyri scrolls in the ancient world. After the Ephesus tour we enjoyed a rich Turkish lunch in a huge hotel before the bus headed back to the port of Kusadasi, where our ship was docked. The Equinox sailed again in the afternoon when we trailed up the coast for Istanbul.-Dan
Our Last Day in Greece we sailed from Mykonos to Santorini overnight Sunday into Monday. The weather has continued to be hot, and the ship set anchor in the waters near the caldera, or volcanic crater. One looks up at the enormous cliff, unable to understand how humans built towns painted white at the top. Our morning excursion was a bus tour to Oia (pronounced “E-aa”) which is another picturesque town at the top of the island. While Santorini is dramatic, it could not erase our evaluation of Mykonos as the more beautiful of the two tourist destinations. Jim bought a lovely ring of opal slices set in silver in Oia, and we walked around the town. Then our bus drove to a vineyard where we sampled three local wines. When we returned to Fira, the capital, we had our last Greek lunch before we took the cable car back down to the water’s edge to board a tender back to the ship. Today we are in Ephesus, Turkey. -Dan
Mykonos is a beautiful wind-swept island that is a magical place. Our ship anchored near the main town Chora and we took small motor shuttles into town. From the town we took buses to Elia beach, one of several beautiful secluded beaches that dot the coastline. Once at the beach we rented beach chairs and headed off to lunch at the tavern right on the beach, where we knew we would have a fantastic Greek meal. We weren’t disappointed. We shared a typical dish, grilled octopus salad, followed by two entrees. Dan ordered spaghetti with prawns and Jim had a cuttlefish casserole. Both dishes were absolutely delicious but the cuttlefish in Jim’s casserole was outstanding…both tasty and tendeWe also polished off 1000 ml of authentic Greek Retsina wine with lunch. After lunch it was time for a long swim in the warm crystal clear water. The afternoon passed quickly then we returned to our ship to freshen up before heading back to Mykonos town for cocktails at the Kastro bar, our favorite located in “Little Venice,” where we could view the sunset. We met had friends Brian and Wes earlier in the day. We first met them in 2009 on another Atlantis Mediterranean cruise. We suggested meeting them for drinks at the Kastro and they were there when we arrived and had a table for us. After a lovely hour plus of chatting with these friends we photographed the sunset and headed off to dinner at Niko’s Tavern, our favorite in town restaurant. This popular eatery features fresh seafood and a large menu. Jim and Dan shared one unusual specialty that they offer: sea urchin salad. The subtle flavor defies description. Brian and Wes had tradition lamb entrees while we ordered seafood. Dan had grilled swordfish and Jim had salmon lasagna. What a great meal it was! The busy tavern was packed with people waiting for tables by the time we left to go back to our ship after a truly fun packed wonderful day on Mykonos.
Yesterday we were at sea for the entire day. On cruise ships there is something to do every minute of the day. There are all sorts of activities that passengers can enjoy, everything from exercise classes to gaming in the on board casino to fine dining to just relaxing in your cabin or on deck with a good book. The weather here in the Mediterranean is sunny and hot. This ship has two large pool areas: one outside where you can bake and then cool off and the other, a covered solarium for those who prefer less exposure to the intense Mediterranean sun. Yesterday morning the ship made its way through the Straits of Messina, a relatively narrow passageway between the boot of Italy and the island of Sicily. This passage was interesting to watch. On our last Mediterranean cruise we docked in Messina. This time we passed it by en route to Mykonos, where we will dock today. One of the special on board attractions of out ship, the Celebrity Equinox, is a specially designed glass blowing studio where you can watch artisans making glassware. This is one of our favorite activities and we spent a couple of hours doing this yesterday. Gay men love to party, and yesterday afternoon there was the first “tea dance,” the “Dog Tag” party, with a military theme. We’re not much interested in late night parties, but I (Jim) do enjoy a little dancing at these afternoon events. In a few hours we’ll dock off shore in Mykonos, our favorite Greek island. We’ll take tenders into town and make our way to one of the beautiful beaches, Elia, where we’re looking forward to some fabulous Greek food for lunch an a delightful swim.
Yesterday we boarded the Celebrity Equinox, our host ship for the ten day mediterranean cruise that will take up to Mykonos, Santorini, Istanbul, Ephesus, Sicily and Malta. This morning we're passing through the straits between Sicily and the boot of Italy. The weather is great and it's fun to be onb board this beautiful vessel!
La Scaletta is a wonderful small eatery tucked away on a back street bear the Piazza Navonna. We discovered it in 2009 and we returned to it twice this week. What makes it special are the unusual dishes offered, not just the usual fare that you can find at just about any restuarant in Rome. My favorite dish is a most unusual pasta...small dough packets stuffed with pear and ricotta served in a cream sauce with a carrot puree on the side. Desserts include a limoncello cake topped with raspberry sauce and an authentic and delicious Tiramisu. The restaurant is a little gem!
The photos for today’s entry show the Piazza del Popolo, Jim at the Galleria Borghese, Jim holding up his chocolate tartufo at the restaurant Tre Scalini in the Piazza Navona, and the great church of Santa Maria del Popolo, again at the Piazza del Popolo. The later square is one of the main centers of Rome, with an Egyptian obelisk, three churches and the lavish gardens above the large urban space. The best church on the square, S. Maria del Popolo has two magnificent paintings by the founder of the Baroque style of painting, Caravaggio. His “Conversion of Saul (Paul)” and “Crucifixion of St. Peter” were ground breaking in 1601 for their bold use of light/dark and the realism of the master’s figures. We were lucky enough to see the paintings before we and the other tourists were ushered out of the church before the 10 AM mass began. We took a cab to the Borghese Gallery, where we met four companions from our Atlantis cruise: Don and John, (Americans who live in Brussels) & Jamey and Gary, who live in Austin. I gave a tour of the Borghese Gallery, whose treasures includes masterpieces by Titian, Caravaggio and Bernini. After the tour we took a cab to the Piazza Navona to have lunch at the Tre Scalini, the restaurant that invented the chocolate tartufo. Tonight we will meet different shipmates for a final meal in Rome at La Scaletta degli Artisti. Tomorrow we take a transfer bus to Civitavecchia to board the Celebrity line ship, bound first for Turkey. –Dan
Dan paid a visit to the Palazzo Barberini Wednesday afternoon. This beautiful palace has undergone extensive improvements and contains some very excellent art treasures, e.g., two paintings by the Italian master Caravaggio.