Our Greece and Turkey trip continued with a final day and two ports of call—Crete and Santorini. In between we were able to enjoy the wonderful weather aboard ship and some relaxing time at the pool.IMG_3362

Crete

Our morning stop was Crete. My dad and I took an excursion to Knossos, Europe’s oldest city where we toured an ancient excavated town. At the entrance was of course a dog guarding the ticket booth. The sign above him said tour guides were available—not sure he was suitable for that.

IMG_3430This area was believed to be the center of Minoan civilization. The legend of the Minotaur and the labyrinth came from this town—as it contained the palace for the King of Minos. Later it was home to both Romans and Greeks and had been settled and abandoned for several thousands of years. Today it’s a tourist spot where you can see wonderful ancient pictorials on the walls, large carved jars that held tons of grain, wine, and such for the inhabitants, and rooms with royal thrones.

One of the interesting things we saw in the ruins were marks in some of stones—a depiction of a double bladed axe or Labrys, a symbol of the ancient Greeks. Yes, that’s a connection to the labyrinth legend.IMG_3372

There was also a large stone sculpture called the horns of consecration—basically a symbol of bull horns. Something to do with their cult religion at the time.

After touring the site and seeing the beautiful frescoes, smart drainage system, pottery, and more, we ended at what was their small theater area. From there the Royal Road, claimed to be the oldest road in Europe, leads away from the site.

Our tour ended appropriately with a look through the gift shops where we could get the obligatory Minotaur key chain. On our way back we went through a town where it seems we stumbled onto a little china town, Crete style. In a short space of about ½ a mile we saw no less than three Chinese restaurants. Noticeable in such a small town.
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Santorini

Our final stop was the famous island of Santorini. If you haven’t seen photographs of the white houses topping the cliffs of this large caldera, then you’ve been living in a cave. As we got closer to the island, we could see the entire caldera. You see, the island is actually the partial remnants of a volcano and the non-submerged parts make up a very large caldera.

The ship anchored in the middle of the caldera near the main island of Santorini (Thera). A short ferry ride brought us to a dock where busses then transported us up, around, up, around, and up some more to the top of the cliff where we began our tour. Along the way around the island we went up to the highest point to get a view of the flat lands below. It was pretty large and there were lots of farms and white buildings everywhere. We finally made it to the town Oia where we walked up and down the narrow streets and stairs to see the buildings and views.IMG_3673

A tiring day was brought to a close with a gorgeous sun setting over the other islands in the caldera just as we were descending the large cliff back to the ferry.

Final Thoughts

Our last night was spent sailing back to Lavrion and a bus trip up to Athens. My parents and I (and the tour guide who picked us up) were perplexed at the two women on our bus who somehow thought their luggage was magically going to get from the boat to their hotel in Athens, when in fact it was sitting on the dock back in Lavrion. Oh well. Back to us in the airport—with my mom not able to walk, we asked for a wheelchair both in Athens and in Philly when we arrived. With respect to my mom, what a bonus that turned out to be! We were whisked through security, customs, and immigration—not a bad way to end the adventure this vacation turned out to be.
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The Greek and Turkey people were very nice to us and even through the headaches of the crash, the trip was fun and we loved experiencing their cultures, food, and ancient history. An interesting financial custom I discovered was that many of the shop owners do not like to take credit cards (plenty did, but a few asked for cash). You see, they have to pay steep interest rates on credit card purchases. Yet another thing that probably hurts them financially. At least they treat the stray pets there with compassion. So nice to see that. And the food was very good and healthy. Overall, a very nice place to visit and I would recommend it to anyone interested in traveling.

Since we got a complimentary cruise next year, we look forward to exploring the Adriatic Sea and the cultures and history there. Until then, Τα λέμε αργότερα.

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The 2015 summer trip continues through Turkey with an early morning flight. As part of the revised itinerary after the collision (see first trip post), those of us left were shuttled to the airport and taken on a special chartered flight from Istanbul to Izmir where we boarded a bus to the seaport town of Kusadasi. After checking in to a beautiful hotel overlooking the Aegean Sea, we had a few hours to relax on the sun deck and swim in the sea before heading out on our daily excursion.

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The view of the Aegean Sea from my room.

Ephesus

I was very excited to see this ancient town. It was a crossroads in the ancient world where up to 56,000 people lived during the Roman period. The book of Ephesians, a letter the apostle Paul wrote to the people living in Ephesus, is filled with wisdom including the scripture that inspired my family’s charity, the Masterpiece Fund. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s masterpiece, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” The church in Ephesus is one of the seven churches mentioned in Revelations. The apostle John took Jesus’ mother Mary to live here as well. Only ruins lie there today but they are vast and only partially uncovered.

Original Christian carvings in the marble ruins.

Original Christian carvings in the marble ruins.

We could see the massive stadium from the road that was inland from the sea. We were told that in ancient times the fields here were most likely under water and that the city was actually closer to the port. There have been people living there for many millennia and the modern town of Selçuk nearby will no doubt leave its history behind for future generations to study.

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The ancient theater at Ephesus.

My dad and I went on an excursion and toured the ruins. We started at the top of the hill between two large slopes where there were ancient baths and open areas filled with rubble. We spotted ancient markings in the marble where Christians would leave “notes” for others and to avoid persecution. We were led through pillars that created a sort of entryway to a wide and smooth marble road that led down the hill. We had to be very careful not to slide on the stones that had been worn so smooth by millions of visitors. This was the point where the chariots could go no further into the town.

As we walked along the road hearing about the various monuments to the ancient gods, I spotted little kitties (yes more cats and each one was sweeter than the last). Along the outside of the main pathway there were extensive and gorgeous mosaics covering the ground.

Down at the bottom of the hill was a stunning remnant of the Library of Celsus, with towering columns adorned with beautiful carvings. Continuing on, we walked through arches that opened up into a large public area with walkways lined with columns. Farther along we finally came to the theater we saw from the road. It was quite large and held up to 25,000 spectators—for plays as well as gladiatorial events.

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The Library of Celsus

We came out of Ephesus into the tourist area where one entrepreneur was selling fake genuine watches. I bought some Turkish Delights to take home to my colleagues while Dad made a friend with a cute retriever who made a bee line to him—instinctively knowing he would be cuddled and possibly fed.

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On our way back to the hotel we stopped at the Turkmen carpet store and got a mini tour and demonstration on how the beautiful carpets are made. We saw how the silk gets pulled out and and how the women made the double knots that make these carpets so strong.

After the demonstrations, we were led into a room and given wine while the guys rolled carpet after carpet on the floor. It was fun to watch and many of them were quite stunning. The intricate patterns and wonderful colors made it hard to choose. I would have loved to take home a big one but the price tag was like buying a small car, so I went with a smaller one with deep red colors. With my dad as my wing man we got him down to about half price and I decided since I was getting a refund on the cruise, I could spend some of it on a very unique and locally made product that I will enjoy for as long as my cats allow.

IMG_1395I did in fact ask the salesman how it would stand up to cats. He replied nonchalantly, “Everyone has cats. If they pull on it, the knots will get tighter.” I laughed but agreed that the piece was a work of art and decided to hang it up just in case. Now five weeks later, when I was expecting the carpet to be shipped, two guys from Turkey called and told me they were in town and could deliver it in person. They of course tried to sell me more. I declined but appreciate their work ethic.

Back at the luxurious hotel we had a wonderful meal and a great night sleep before heading over to the port at Kusadasi and our new ship, the Odyssey.

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The display of carpets at Turkmens.

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The theater can be seen from the road leaning up against the hill.

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Stones were carved with depictions of gods and other symbols.

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The great stones of the town and ruins of various public buildings.

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The road was very smooth and slippery–a bit steeper than the picture makes it out to be.

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The two pillars marking the end of the main road up.

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So many cute kittens hung out on the ruins loving any attention they received.

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Gorgeous mosaics dotted the pathway.

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A view up the hill.

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The patterns on the ruins of the Library of Celsus.

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Ancient text on the walls of the ruins.

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The crowds and tours at Ephesus.

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A carving by Christians–possibly telling other Christians where to meet?

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Genuine fake watches and other tourist stuff.

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Dad finds a canine friend on our way out of Ephesus.

Our adventure in Greece and Turkey continues aboard the Celestyal Crystal, a cruise ship with 800 plus passengers and several hundred crew. As we got on board, while waiting for our room to be cleaned, we had some beverages on the pool deck. I had to stay there for a while because the crew messed up our drink packages and cards. After finally getting them to fix it, I got in to the elevator to go to my cabin. The second indication this ship was not quite up to snuff was when I had to ask a crew member to help me because the elevator wasn’t moving. He got in and physically shut the doors.

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The bridge that crosses the Bosporus and links the European and Asian parts of the city.

Later that night it became apparent this cruise was doomed. I explained the collision in the first post of this trip series so I won’t go into it again. Instead we’ll skip to day six and our day in Istanbul.

On our drive in to this European/Asian city, I was impressed by the size of it. The city is home to more than 14 million people and is one of the largest cities in the world. For thousands of years it has played a major role in human history. Once called Constantinople, it was a center for Christianity before Muslims took over and Islam became the main religion. After a few hours of sleep at the Hilton, we were back on the bus and on our way to explore two very famous religious sites, a palace, and a spice market. Getting there involved crossing the Bosporus Strait as Istanbul straddles Europe and Asia on both sides of the straight between the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea.

The Topkapi Palace

Some actors in the courtyard of the Palace.

Some actors in the courtyard of the Palace.

Our first stop was the beautiful Topkapi Palace, a major residency of the Ottoman sultans for almost 400 years of their 624-year reign (1465–1856). The Palace was a city within a city and access to the inner courtyards was limited. It served as the residency as well as hosting government meetings and functions. We walked around the various buildings that held beautiful ancient artifacts including some very cool sabers, armory, shields, and more. We didn’t have time to see all the buildings and artifacts but I did view a room with paintings of the sultans going back hundreds of years. It was interesting to see how the fashions changed through the years.

IMG_2608The Blue Mosque

The famous mosque in Istanbul sits just across a garden from the Haggia Sophia and around the corner from the Topkapi Palace. Its real name is the Sultan Ahmed Mosque but is commonly referred to as the Blue Mosque because of the rich blue tiles that adorn the walls and ceilings. This Islamic religious structure is not only vast—reaching nearly 80 feet to the dome (inside)—but also beautifully decorated with ceramic tiles, stain glass windows, chandeliers, and carpets with lovely designs. It’s too much to describe here in this brief story, but photos show how the designers and builders put their hearts and talent into this active place of worship for many Muslims. The men were seen sitting in the main part of the mosque as they prayed and listened to an Imam reading some text. The women had to stay on the outskirts. They explain that is has to do with the way they bend and kneel to pray and how having women in front of the men would be “distracting.”

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Upon leaving the Blue Mosque, we turned in our scarves and put our shoes back on and then traversed the streets and gardens to make our way over to the very famous and ancient Haggia Sophia.

This marvelous and historical structure was built in the 6th century. For a millennia it functioned as one of the largest Christian cathedrals in the world. When the Muslims took over the city in the 15th century it was converted to a mosque and the minarets were added. In 1935 it was turned into a museum.

IMG_2781I found it to be not only beautiful but also interesting in that both Christian and Islamic elements were seen throughout the building. Gorgeous paintings on the ceilings of angels, large chandeliers, marble designs and so on caught our eye. It is an epic example of Byzantine architecture and is decorated throughout with mosaics and marble pillars. It’s hard to describe the feeling of being in this ancient church but the photos capture some of its glory. There was scaffolding covering parts of the building as its restoration is a continuous process.

Unfortunately we were limited on time and had to move on to the last stop, which would have been the grand bazaar, but alas, it was Sunday and it was closed so we spent a few minutes in the spice market.

The Spice Market

We had a few minutes to walk the street paths of the spice market before it closed. I just loved the colors and smells of the packed stalls. The shopkeepers attempted to entice us to come see their wares—there were many stalls with tourist items other than spices. DSCF3144I found a few presents to bring back home (confession—I fibbed when I told the custom official “no” when asked if I had any spices). At closing time we made our way back to the wonderful hotel and our big comfortable beds and an actual night of sleep.

After a glorious night of sleep we enjoyed the tastes of a wonderful buffet breakfast (which I shared with a cute kitty on the outside porch) and then on to the airport for an early ride to our next stop—and my next blog post.

Enjoy the photos and a video of an old fun song “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)”

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The Galata Tower in Istanbul

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The spice market

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The back side of the blue mosque.

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Two guards on duty at the Topkapi Palace.

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Blue Mosque

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Blue Mosque

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Blue Mosque

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Blue Mosque

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The door to the entrance of Haggia Sophia originally had a cross. It was changed to an arrow when it became a mosque,

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Kitties everywhere, including this one outside Haggia Sophia.

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Haggia Sophia

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Haggia Sophia

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Haggia Sophia

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Haggia Sophia

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Haggia Sophia