My family and I love to travel and discover not only the beauty of our natural world but also ancient man-made buildings and structures. We love to learn about other cultures and the people who live around the world—what they eat and drink, what their day-to-day lives are like, their history, and more. Each year we turn the globe and pick a new spot to visit. This year it was a tour through Greece and Turkey.

I was excited to mix a bit of ancient cultures with beautiful surroundings and a relaxing cruise on the Mediterranean. We started our adventure in Athens, Greece for a few days, then went to Istanbul, Ephesus, Patmos, Rhodes, Crete, and Santorini, and a few places in Turkey via an unexpected bus ride. Funny thing is, that was not exactly the itinerary we signed up for.

This adventure included lots of rides on planes, buses, boats, ferries, more buses and lots of hikes up big hills. Those ancient people liked to build their societies on the top of the highest hills. As usual with my travel blog series, I’ll cover the stops in subsequent posts, but I’m going to cover the challenges we met with in this first post and get all that fun stuff out of the way.

It seems like we have this unique ability to get out of the country we are visiting just in time to avoid danger or trouble. For the past several years just after we have left a country, there have been terrorist attacks, bombings, and religious wars. While we were not seriously hurt, we weren’t as fortunate this time. Here are the highlights of the challenging moments of our trip.

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Mom gets a lift to our new, intact boat.

Breaking bones.

As we were making our way back to the hotel on day two after a long day of walking around Athens and seeing some of the main sites, my Mom, who has tendencies to fall and seriously hurt herself, did just that. She took a tumble on a step and hurt her ankle. An x-ray back home showed a fracture. We got her some crutches but she spent most of the trip relaxing on the boat or our room, as most of the excursions involved hikes on uneven pavements up high hills. We are happy to report that she’s doing better now.

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The Greeks lined up daily at ATMs to take out their 60 Euros before the machines dried up.

Going bankrupt.

We knew Greece was going to be in some sort of trouble before we left so we grabbed a bunch of cash out the ATMs in advance of the June 30 financial deadline. There were some protests here and there and during our trip we saw the Greek people lining up at ATMs trying to get their 60 Euros for the day before the machines dried up. But other than the news headlines, it didn’t seem to be an issue for us. We thought that was going to be our “thing” that happened on our trip but it was not to be.

Collision on the open seas.

We were very excited to be on this ship because when we signed up early on, we discovered as a trio we could get one of their two bow-facing suites for a very reasonable price. The Presidential Suite on this boat had a deck out front that was HUGE. I’ll talk more about the cabin and the not-so-great condition of the ship later. As we sailed on up to Turkey on our first night, I woke up around 12:30 am and went out front to check out the view as we were moving through the Dardanelle Straights. I could see land close on both sides but not much else so I went back to bed. An hour later all hell broke loose.IMG_2537

I remember waking up to a loud noise and a big impact. I saw the lamp next to my bed swinging and as I tumbled in my bed. My first thought was we ran a ground. Immediately I slid the curtains on the window open and noticed a large ship right in front of us moving across our bow. I started screaming, “Oh my God we hit another ship, oh my God.” (My dad thought there was an earthquake and later I asked him if he heard me yelling about the ship. He said, “No, I was too busy screaming.”) I then went to the door to go out on the deck but had to walk over the mini fridge that had fallen out of the cabinet and strewn its contents across the room. We were one of only a few cabins on the ship with balconies and one of two with a view of the bow. We had the ultimate up close view of a tanker moving off, listing to its port side and spilling liquid over its side. That liquid turned out to be jet fuel that was spewing all around us.

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Damage to our ship. The starboard railing was also torn off. Our cabin was just above this area and directly below the “empty” bridge.

The gas smell was nauseating and made it hard to breathe. At this point I’m thinking, holy crap we are going to have to get to the lifeboats because we hit that tanker and the boat is going to sink. So we got dressed and waited a few minutes before the announcement said the boat was structurally okay. That was a good thing because our meeting point in cases of emergencies was on the bow, right where the railing had been ripped off the ship.

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The tanker was damaged and emergency crews kept water pouring over it for many hours.

The next couple of hours were spent wondering what the heck was coming and listening to announcements such as “please don’t smoke, there is petrol surrounding us!” At around 3 a.m. they announced we would be anchoring the ship and then we listened to the anchor going up and down a few times. We didn’t sleep much and spent the entirety of the next day waiting for news. We finally were able to ferry off the ship around 8 pm. Then the fun began. Sixteen buses of people and baggage were disembarking, so we had to find our suitcases, walk a mile (with my mom on crutches) to the bus and off we went. The funny Australian couple in front of us made me laugh when making reference to all the refugees coming across the Mediterranean this last year. The husband remarked that the Turkish people in the sleepy town we were moving through were staring at us because we were now in fact, “the boat people.” I’ve never been a refugee coming off a boat into a foreign land and it seemed strange. It put things in perspective for sure—how fortunate our lives really are compared to real refugees.

But I digress. An hour or so on the bus and a ferry ride took us to the immigration center. A couple of hours in lines there getting visas and passport stamps was fun. We then were back on the bus for another ferry and trip back to Gallipoli—where we got off the ship—before spending another six or so hours driving to Istanbul where we arrived around 7 am to stand in another line to check in at the wonderful and comfortable Hilton.

I’ll talk more about accommodations and Turkey later, but two nights sans sleep and a major collision on the water was enough excitement for me. We saw photos of the ship’s wreckage on Facebook from friends who Googled it. It was bad. Later we learned more and heard radio transmissions that basically told me someone was asleep at the wheel or not there all together. It was a miracle we did not explode or that anyone was seriously hurt. Thank you God!

There were a lot of boats including this large coast guard vessel checking out the damage.

There were a lot of boats including this large coast guard vessel checking out the damage.

I have had moments of wanting to sue the cruise line. I’m not litigious by nature but this was not a normal accident—it was a serious case of negligence. Thousands of people could have died if the ships had exploded. For now, I’m waiting. The crew members were great. Those poor folks went with less sleep than we did and they handled themselves with patience and grace. The cruise line promised to refund our cruise, comped us some hotel nights and a couple excursions as well as a shortened cruise on another of their ships. They also promised to comp us a cruise next year. I’m a bit nervous about that so we’ll see.

So, we escaped once again. God definitely wants me alive for something. I’m not sure what His plan is but as I told my parents before we left, “Nothing is going to happen while we are there, it will happen after, so it’s cool.”

Well, things happen when you leave your house. You either accept it and roll with the punches or stay home and miss out on the glorious world we live in. Remember, you don’t have to go across the world to travel and discover something wonderful.

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Lots of kids hung around the tourists trying to earn money playing music. We had some great food in Greece–gyros were on today’s menu.

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Lots of dogs hung out in the tourist area. The Greeks put collars and tags on them and put water dishes out. The dogs are left to get their own food and love getting hugs from visitors.

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There were a lot of cats just hanging out on ancient ruins, and in this case on a chair in this outdoor cafe. All the cats I approached were very sweet and loved getting pet.

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The financial crisis was in all the headlines. People were hanging around the newsstands reading the latest news.

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Our deck looking off the bow.

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Our deck was huge and included a whirlpool. We didn’t get a chance to use it though.

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