Saturday, August 28, 2010

Athens to Rome

Up early, I watched the water traffic accelerate as time passed ... freighters, ferrys, passenger ships. No wonder our Captain wanted to reach the dock early .... 5 a.m. Done deal!!

As we could not leave the ship without our passports, decided to collect mine and then sit down and wait. As Ed had won The Ship's Navigational Chart yesterday, the crew was congratulating him as he came into the room. Nice to know a celebrity. Then, came T.C. and Richard. Guess we're off ... literally... RATZ! Down the gangplank to our colored section, find our baggage, now to the bus. T.C., you are good at arranging things! So, this is our last ride together. Conversation was never a problem and now I feel as thought I am well acquainted with all the branches of the family. He will be pleased to note that none of that info was written down and everyone knows in my left ear and out my right ear. I know there was a sigh of relief somewhere. Here's the Athens Airport. Goodbyes were quick for them .... we had to wait an hour before being allowed to check-in. So, we sat outside and watched others arrive and depart and talked of the Olympics etc.

Finally, checked in, checked through, and checked out.... funny how easy security checks are everywhere. We make such an issue here. Did anyone consider tightening up the entry??? Whatever..... We amble toward our gate; find a USA Today and settle into the crossword. Ed wanders off to find the Starbucks we past. Gate change ... finally, boarding and then we are off ..... Rome .... Yea!!! Odd that the front seats of this plane are unoccupied [what is that about?]. T.C. informed us to have the planes crew have assistance ordered for me upon arrival. Well, I did and that was a monumental improvement. Unfortunately the baggage conveyance broke, and some 30 -40 minutes later we rolled out to a waiting car. The drive into the city was lovely straight to the St. George Hotel on Via Giulia.

Isn't it strange how something builds up in your head into something it isn't. Well, the hotel was lovely and small, but not up to expectations. Settled into our rooms, it's off to the Pantheon and then the Piazza Nevona. After several blocks, rubber band legs and a tightness in my sternum, "Ed, I don't care if it's 2 steps or 2 miles, I'm taking a taxi and you can come with me". So we did.

After a stroll around Navona be sat down for gelato in the very same Restaurant where the girls and I had lunched several years ago. Funny ... we sat, ate and watched the artists. Then Ed goes to visit the neighboring church. I am amazed at some of the garish "reproduction" stuff for sale. The last time I was here found some lovely watercolors. They are here but not many. Ed returns and we stroll up to the Pinocchio Shop. Holy Cow .... look, metal soldiers, just pick your era. [Still no hat]. I am wearing thin, so back to the St. George. How about 5:30p.m. for cocktails at the rooftop bar.

Looking across the roofs of Rome, we decided if you threw a rock in any direction you'd hit a church. But consider how old is Rome, then realize it's 2010. If walls could talk take on a whole new aspect. The sun is fading, let's try dinner here. Nothing ventured nothing gained ..... well, we've done that, once.

Thank goodness, breakfast was buffet. The American coffee drew up my tongue .... cappuccino please. It's Sunday and we are off to St.Peter's hopefully for Mass. Well, I was surviving o.k. going up the left side of the Piazza until Ed announced we have to cross over to pass through Security. That stroll previously would have been nothing more than a stroll. Today, I really have no idea as to how I managed to stay upright and get there. I was thinking heart attack on the Plaza in front of St. Peter's Basilica as the headlines of the local paper. Then, through Security and found an elevator and through the enormous doors. What is it about some placed, I am always over come with a sense of awe and disbelief I'm actually there. The Pieta and all the pieces part that make up this place cause me to marvel at the wonder. I feel .... exactly, I feel.

We are in line for Mass and it is cut off 3 people in front of us. Disappointed, Ed tell me we can go to Mass at St. John's; after all, the Pope is at Gandolpho. Fine, can we locate that shop across from the Colonnade? Slowly we made our way to seek out some treasures. Ed found an Icon and a metal; I found a Rosary.

We called for a taxi and off to San Giovanni De Lateran [ the driver didn't recognize St.John]. So across town and 12 o'clock Mass. There are not words to convey the majesty of that church. It just felt like a holy place, don't ask me to explain .... it's a feeling. Of course after the service and we have strolled all over, Ed waltzes me out the back door. Wonder if his intentions are to kill me in Rome. I did manage to reach a taxi down the street. Our driver was most informative. As we reached the Navona area, Ed inquired as to a "good, local" restaurant to the tune of rumbling stomachs. Voila! an excellent eatery. "Only a few blocks from your hotel." So, we entered to stare down the fish case with some monsters, and our waiter was Chilean. Ed's Veal with Lemon Sauce looked tremendous and my pasta was heavy. But, the place was super. Then we walked back. Lord give me strength..... just go on, I'll get there eventually. Call me and we can meet for drinks but I really don't need dinner.

Monday and breakfast. followed by a taxi to the Spanish steps. Shopping ... found a glove store, then a tea room [it had been in the same spot for ever .... seriously, for ever]. I think the gentleman at the cash register was an original employee.... my cup of tea was a perfect restorative. Back to the business of shopping and that place with the great ties in the window. Eventually, we are done. Taxi!! Now to deal with the Vat, you know, the refundable tax and back to the Pantheon. We strolled up the street to the Piazza Minerva. Finally, Ed goes off to find the Vat and I wander off window shopping and purchased a deck of cards.

Meeting up again, we enter The Grand Minerva Hotel. Very impressive and ended up having a hardy late lunch. This is where we should have been, maybe, huh?! Riding back to our hotel, Ed voiced his previous intention to return to restaurant of yesterday.... not now. Back at the hotel, I'm going to rest, call me later.

Ahhh, a game of gin and drinks and a few nibbles in the garden. A lovely end to a good day. Tomorrow morning we are off and it will all be over..... but, oh, the memories. A mere thank you doesn't cover this experience. It was fun. I've been spoiled.

Kusadasi & Ephesus, Turkey

Still at sea, the Captain announced there was an increased threat of terrorist action and violence in Turkey against U.S. citizens. We need to be alert and mindful of our safety and surroundings. Well, why not.

With the noon arrival, our group had a 2 p.m. tour. We opted to wander the waterfront shops. As we left the ship, there were bicycle propelled carts. Don't walk when you can ride has become my mantra. First argument of the day was over the 1 dollar trip. Well, of course "he" wanted more ... nope. Ed can really dig n his heels. Wow!

Thru the customs house and funneled into the shopping district. Our first encounter was a jewelry store with a very pushy young woman and a man standing in the middle of the sidewalk. She was a shark. Well, I like to ask question about items and she took that as a signal "player/buyer". Granted they had some lovely things BUT #1) is it real, #2) my mind is screaming "inflated" prices, #3) you must think I'm an idiot. Goodgrief, she really needed a reality check. AND, out the door we go closely followed. I really hate that. It was fun checking out pretty things, no matter how proud they were of their merchandise and Ed tells me I don't know how to shop. He must have thought I was serious. hahahahaha ..... so did they. I wasn't born yesterday. When the ships arrive, the prices change to the premium level.

Carpets, jewelry, Birkenstocks, La Costa, Persian looking frames, boxes, chess sets ........ and then there was STARBUCKS; yes,yes, please a Mocha Frappaccino, PLEASE. As Ed enjoyed his hot cappuccino and I took a swim in mine, we plotted our attack. LaCosta for his male relatives and that scarf shop for the girls. Listen, the scarf shop was .... let's see .... it was extraordinary to say the least. WOW! And I went in looking for something silk for Shannon. All I can say...... I'm thinking .... well, I'm trying to find the right words .... still thinking ..... it was an experience and Ed had fun .... maybe that's the correct word ..... actually, trying to write this is difficult. He collected some very lovely things for the girls. Spent time in other shops but nothing else. Now we must run the gauntlet past that female HUSTLER and her friend. No plan in mind, I just kept moving and Ed kept saying "I'll be back". Isn't that what Arnold S. said in The Terminator? We made it to customs house and the duty free shops. One last look for the metal soldiers and Kiev Skya Rus [honey vodka] - NOPE, again. Outside, I caught the little peddle cart. Ed needed a little smoking time. As we moved off to the ramp, I realized he was still carrying his purchases. I should have brought them with me - UNCONSCIOUS!!!

The Chef's Outdoor Buffet on the pool deck with Turkish dancers was our plan rather than the off ship dinner and dancers. It required a walk and neither Ed nor I were interested in more walking today. So we ate, had Martinis and watched the dancers for a spell then moved down the deck so Ed could smoke and we talked til late. Good night!

As Friday unfolded, I met everyone for breakfast in Windows. Due to the amount of walking that was required. I begged off. After their departure, I caught a taxi into town and away from the dockside shops. No matter where I looked no soldiers and no hat; so, back to the ship and my last ride in the little cart.

Ed called to say they were back, With 104 degrees and extremely uneven walking, I was grateful for having attempted Ephesus.

Dinner at 8 in Discovery. Shoot, this was the last evening with T.C. and Richard. I'm going to miss them. Tomorrow will find us in Piraeus/Athens, Greece. I've liked my stateroom and the ship's world. Over too soon..... but , we still have Rome.

I'm sad .... Later ........

Cruising South to Volos

I must have really been tired; slept til 8 missing the mouth of the Bosporus [Istanbul Strait] and we are nearing Istanbul. Grabbed the camera and dashed to the balcony. Wish I had my trusty old Nikon 2020; heaven knows, I can't afford the new digital. These little "toss aways" don't weigh as much. Moving right along .... and so is Turkey. Here we are slipping out of the Bosporus into the Sea of Marmara. We should reach The Dardanelles [Hellespont] about 3:30 p.m.

I chose not to worship the "sun god" and met T.C. for Trivial Pursuit and Name that Tune. What fun! Did fair with trivia but naming tunes were a snap until one {The Shining}. I immediately recognized and could not find the name in my mental cobwebs until the very last second, blurting it out with a squeal. We won a book mark. Having expended all our energy, time for lunch.

Windows and their excellent Fish and Chips. As we sat chatting, Captain Karlsson [Leif] asked to join us. What an unexpected and educational pleasure. Seems he has dual citizenship: Swedish by marriage and Aaland by birth. Right, I didn't know of this spot on the planet either. An island surrounded by thousands of smaller island with a population of 28,000 [I think that's correct] off the coast of Finland. Following WWII, Russia was thinking "great naval base"; Finland and/or Sweden were thinking more taxes. Before anyone knew, 6 officials from Aaland secretly went to the League of Nations and petitioned for their independence; AND, it was granted. Surprise! surprise! to Russia, Sweden and Finland. Unfortunately, Finlanders are still upset and angry about this development. Get over it, comes to mind. This wouldn't happen one those huge ships. This is lovely; nice family.

Ed is off to read his book on Luce. T.C and Richard wander off and I headed to the computer center. Wish I could remember all that Greek /Roman Mythology I took as a crip [ha ha] elective that summer at the University. Point being, here we are Jason and the Argonauts, the sirens, the Golden Fleece, Helen, the Trojan Horse. Thrace is dead ahead.

Good to his word, the Captain has us entering the Dardanelles at 3:30 p.m. Squalls have caused me to settle in the Looking Glass for a forward view of the area. These straits are some 30 miles long. As the rain moves away, I return to the walking deck encountering Richard, then spied Ed. We moved from one side to the other to catch one site then another. Supposedly when the movie company completed filming HELEN OF TROY, they left their wooden horse to the city of Troy.

Nearing the Gallipoli peninsula, our narrator gives a point by point description of the devastation to British, French, Australian, New Zealanders and Indian troops attempting to gain control from the Turks. Mr. Churchill's intent was miserably crushed. The monuments are standing there as proof. It's a sadly expensive little point of land. I am often amazed how often we repeat the past. What a waste. Drama everywhere. Squalls moving in again ... ooow, ooow ... there goes a Turkish Submarine! Humm, we are moving into the Aegean Sea. Well, o.k.....

Dinner at 7, Aqualina to celebrate Richard's 80th birthday ..... good conversation, excellent food and the wine Ed had purchased in Yalta. Mercy, that was sweet wine. My filet was perfect and we lingered long after in order to savor the Grand Marnier Souffle ..... yummmm!! Roll me down the passageway, there'll be no dancing tonight.

Tomorrow brings us to Volos. You know, from the very beginning I wondered what was special about Volos, Greece. Ed and Richard set off on their individual search, returning with similar stories: about 12 unimpressive square blocks.

T.C. and I have a grand time chatting in the Mosaic lounge with some Trivial Pursuit, etc over an iced cappuccino and a hot cappuccino. Then, dealt with Ed's swollen feet. An easy relaxing day and no stress to meet any schedule. Tomorrow will be Kusadasi, Turkey and our last 2 days. I've been having such a marvelous time, it was a shock of reality. RATZ!

Ah, my tea is cold again ..... want a fresh cup for you too? Later...........

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Varna, Bulgaria

10 a.m., we negotiated the maneuvers to the dock as pilot boats drift nearby. Nice job, again. The group is touring today with a new guide named Kossy [a lady]. Passing shaded streets and avenues lined with apartment buildings, you begin to notice the design is sever/utilitarian. First stop, the Cathedral of the Assumption is a very austere design. Actually, it was built with the stones that had been the wall around the city. Even that profound reverence I always feel walking into a church, wasn't there. Odd... Icons everywhere. After our instructional speaker, everyone flocked to the gift shop to peruse the Icons for purchase. Later, outside vendors were selling trinkets and I found a carved wooden fan for a belated birthday gift for T.C. Back on the bus.

As we rolled through the streets, Kossy pointed out all the buildings the Queen had built before communism. Unfortunately, repairing didn't seem high on anyone's priority list. All the same, we were informed as to the wealth of the country. She was quick to point out that their major export was PECTIN. Wow, pectin, that is used to make jelly. Must ship a mountain of the stuff for it to be your primary export. I have checked and she could have mentioned grain and wine. Shame the revenue wasn't used on the infrastructure: water drainage, building repair, stuff. When pressed on these points, she told us antidotes.

1) Coca-Cola was able to make a deal with the regime. No one is certain what "they" thought the REAL THING meant, but apparently there was the anticipation of "a kick". However, after much perplexing consumption, it was finally mixed with a fortified wine. Voila! "the kick" they had been expecting was achieved. True story!!

2) Sometime in the early 1910's, Henry Ford made a contract with the Bulgarians to create a factory and build cars. They did until The Party took over; factory closed. They, then, made Soviet cars [Muskovas] that were rather like personal tanks. It was explained that once they were rolling, they were very slow to stop.

3) THE train line to the capital [Sophia] was built by the British following WWII. The trip is 7 hours AND it is the only rail system. She concluded this with "There are improvements but it will take 50 years". No matter what personal politics we have, we [USA] are so fortunate!!

Ah, Kossy pointed toward an unattractive group of high rise boxes. "These are the ugly CRACKER BOX apartment buildings we were given." Some are built so that a conversation on the first floor is heard on the top floor. Each family has 1 to 3 bedrooms, sitting room, tiny kitchen, dining room and bath; plus one acre of land outside of town for your SUMMER HOUSE. The individuality seemed to exert itself in the garden designs. As we passed these fenced plots, some were very organized tall arbored vineyards with tables and chairs beneath for shade. For the most part there were sprinklings of vegetable gardens. Everyone had fig bushes and some fruit trees. It is so sad when creativity is squelched.

Our next stop was designed to provide us with "good" toilet facilities. Lo and behold a pottery studio. We can spend money. Wonder if there was a "kickback". Unusual glazing technique but the pieces looked poured not thrown. Wish I could get back with a teapot without it ending up in pieces. Better not. While standing at the bus door, I got the duality of where we were. A donkey pulling a cart and 2 occupants was on the opposite side of the road.

We left the paved street onto a rutted dirt road. It was strange to see a sign APARTMENTS for SALE and then the concrete skeletons of future buildings. Oh, you know, the floors and pilings were poured and the reinforcing rods were visibly ravaged by vines and time. Great views of the Black Sea, just no walls, windows etc. Told Ed he could get a real deal but he scoffed at the idea. Spoil sport.

My word, I'm in trouble, looks to be a very long walk along the beach where bathers soak in the mineral waters. Onward to the entrance to the Queens Botanical Gardens. After multiple rest stops, there ahead is an arbor lushly festooned with Virginia Creeper over a rill of water continued from a huge water wheel. Oh, yes, IT IS HOT!! and quite a climb. So, T.C. and I find a shaded table and order cooling icy drinks from the little cafe and a chat. Not much time passed before many members of our group were returning. Even Ed, and eventually Richard joined us. That's telling.

Shortly, we were called to lunch and serenaded with an accordionist. The stone building's interior felt Bavarian to me; heavy dark beams and mantles against thick white plaster walls with deeply recessed windows. Lunch began with good black bread and a huge salad of tomatoes and cucumbers, followed by Roasted Guinna Hen with Imperial Rice and Roasted Root Vegetables [no one could figure what they were], and concluded with Yogurt with Honey and Walnuts, all served with the House Wine ... red or white. Then the rain came with avengence during the wine tasting. Ahhh, it's stopped and back to the bus just in time for the next deluge. Slipping into a nap during our return, I awoke to torrents of water running down driveways into the street creating a river. A shame there's no drainage system. We pass a large lovely park as we head straight for the boat, sorry, ship.

6 p.m. and we are off and heading south. Call me for dinner, I need to write before I forget. O.K.? What a way to begin a week.

Remembering is work even with notes. I need a fresh cup of tea; join me?

Weekend in Odessa

Whatever the origin, I have intestinal distress, and I've lost my sense of humor as a direct result. Thank goodness breakfast tea arrives; so, it must be 7:30 a..m. With no intention of leaving my stateroom anytime soon, Ed, T.C. and Richard are off to sample Odessa. At the end of the wharf await the "stairway" into the town. 193 wide inviting steps ..... wow, I had no idea.

While "they" were enjoying the local sights and smells, finally, I showered, dressed and tentatively made my way out into the ship. Eventually decided to lunch at Windows with my good book. It was me, Nelson DeMille and Black Current ice cream. O.K., I can deal with just about anything as long as the Black Current ice cream doesn't run out. Right you are, it isn't what you put on a distressed stomach; nonetheless, one must have some joy no matter how short lived.

Imagine my surprise when our group began returning for lunch. Ah, there is a very special 7 course dinner planned for us in a local restaurant. Well, there will be one less for that event. At present, the rolling and pitching has nothing to do with waves on the high seas. Thank goodness our televisions provide a couple of movie channels cause I'm headed back to my small world after a fitful night.

The Chef's Outdoor Grill and Buffet with Ukrainian Folkloric Dancers for entertainment would be in the pool/open deck area. My arrival was well after the buffet had started and just in time for the dancers. Out of nowhere appeared T.C. and Richard; seemed Ed was changing. The restaurant wasn't air conditioned and the food was o.k. ..... our buffet was excellent: Beef Tenderloin, Grilled Chicken, Grilled Whole Fish .... not to mention everything else. We had a lovely evening by the pool with the colorful and artful dancers.

As the day broke on Sunday, Ed, T.C. and Richard found a church. Actually there is a charming church on our dock. I found that a bit odd but what do I know. For the afternoon, Ed and I try to find metal soldiers or that infernal hat. There was nothing.

4 p.m. invited Ed over to watch our departure. Raphael [Butler] really out did himself with an extra tray of "bites": Tenderloin, Chicken and Shrimp [all grilled] and Empanadas. Forget dinner!!! As Odessa slipped from view, we'll start our week in Varna, Bulgaria.

By the way, don't believe I mentioned it was HOT; I mean, really HOT .... in the 100 degree range. I mention this only because it was supposed to be 89. The stomach thing is better, so tomorrow back in stride. I'm a little dry; how about that cup of tea?? Later.......

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Sevastopol, Ukraine

Grabbing my robe, I stepped out onto the balcony. At 6 a.m., we have slipped from the Black Sea into the river Churuk Sou. This has been a strategic naval location since the 1700's when Russia chose it for their Black Sea Fleet. Sorta odd, the Russian Fleet is on one side of the river and the Ukrainian Fleet on the other.

Four pilots waited as we slid past many, many memorials and statues on the cliffed banks to the area struggles .... successful and tragic. With delicate hand, we are birthed among war and hospital ships. Holy cow!!! I'm taking shots of the RUSSIAN FLEET ......

No delivered breakfast today; meeting Ed at Discoveries. The group is off for a full day of ruins and Tartar food. We opted not to participate.

A 5 minute walk to Central Park. Ahh, a bank and an ATM. Funny how you can guess your way through the withdrawal process until it comes to the amount. Currencies are like Monopoly money .... it makes very little sense. We have either 50 cents or 50 dollars???!!! The exchange rate was 7.90 to a dollar; well, it sounded really good. Right?

For morning hours, the heat is rising. Thank goodness Central Park is tree covered and strewn with benches. Labored breathing, rubber band legs and I settle on a quiet bench sending Ed off to browse and wander. It was a perfect time to make phone calls with my new global phone. Honest to goodness, there is a busy signal for the voice messages ....RATZ .... "the number you have dialed is unreachable". I give up!

Feeling better, believe I'll browse through the shops. Wandering along, here is a young man with a white and a blue Peacock [I thought they were stuffed until they moved]. For a price, passersby could have their picture taken. The vendors held nothing I would have. So, back to the bench. Watched the birds being posed and the man strolling the monkey on a leash. With Ed's return, he had found nothing of interest. Ambling back toward the ship, we happened upon vendors with stacked dolls and intricately painted boxes. I love neat finds. Ed finally admits his ankles are swollen and hurt. As I become easily winded, we head back to the ship for the remainder of the afternoon. At least I wasn't the last person on board.

6 p.m. and we are off. Again, we sit chatting on my balcony with "bites and libation" watching the pilot boats guide us out of the harbor. The history here seems to have been one of destruction, rebuild, destruction, rebuild. This city destroyed itself and sank their fleet to keep it out of the enemies hands {Crimean War]. Then the Germans bombed them during WWII. Reconstruction was completed in the 1950's. Persistence to exist is powerful. Back into the sea and the weekend in Odessa.

That's enough for today. Just received some fine tea, join me for a cup?

Sunday, August 22, 2010


Before joining the tour, I am concerned as to my inability to walk any distance without serious respiratory stress. On our previous outing, breathing became painful. Kinda scary ..... but I'm here and I don't want to miss anything. Buck up, it's time to find the bus.

Right off the bat, we are informed that "we'll walk to the church". I'm already lagging behind and the last I heard "oh, it's only a little ways". [ Foreign language speak .... a long walk, which is a reoccurring theme]. Find a cab and drive through town on the way to Alexander Nevsky Cathedral [Russian Orthodox]. Arriving before the walkers, watched the local women enter for morning Mass. A quaint structure adorned with a mosaic of Nevsky on an outside wall. Inside the icons against the dark wood of the altar and beams. This place makes one feel small with a need for reverence. So with head bowed, the thought,"God, if you are listening, your healing hand would be appreciated"; if that is too Presbyterian," forgive me my transgressions" and it's only Thursday.

To the bus .... and what a bus.... WOW, it is gargantuan, and comfy. AND we're off.... no, not the wizard but the Summer Palace of Nicholas II [the last tsar of Russia] called Livadia. This amazing white structure was built in 1911. After the murders of the Royal family, it fell into disrepair until Churchill requested it's use in 1945 [following WWII] to be the site for the gathering of Roosevelt, Stalin and himself to divide up the post war European world : The Crimean Conference. It is a magnificent example of Italian Renaissance. Actually I opted to stay on the bus with T.C. due to the "little bit of a walk"[45 minutes]. Funny thing was due to the heat and the "length" of the hike, we were joined at/in the bus by half the contingent unwilling to traverse the "mileage". So, a good time was had by all.

The hardy return with glowing reports; I got on the Internet later. There was a winery stop and Ed found several that he purchased.

Our driver was adept at twisty curvy roads with our unwieldy vehicle. We lumbered through lanes and past markers. One pointed toward the house Stalin resided during that Conference. As luncheon was nearing, we were taken to The Swallows Nest Castle.It is considered the symbol of Yalta. It looked like a cross between a German Fortress and Disney's Fantasy Castle only small and perched on a precipice. I'm not sure what lunch was besides mixed greens salad, uncertain meat entree and fruit compote .... good bread. Then time for some shopping from local vendors while waiting for our van transport to the bus. The drive toward Yalta took us up and near St. Peter's Peak, 3,000'. There were alot of metamorphic caps, outcrops and dykes. Must look this up at home.

Drove by farmer's markets, through neighborhood streets and finally to our dock. "Strolling" through the Customs House found a Duty Free Area. the "Eggs", metal soldiers and the hat. It looked Russian Army with metals, perfect for Ian [son]. Why didn't I just get it ... WHY! I never saw it again ... dumb! AND Ed didn't purchase the metal soldiers. O.K., let's go .... would you believe I was the last person on the ship ... no, joke. Security even call my Butler to inform him I was aboard. Well, needless to say, he really was standing with my door open and a drink in his hand. As I collapsed into the chair I was grateful, yet again, for Raphael.

15 minutes later we were leaving. Called Ed to come over and watch our departure. Raphael arrived with 2 trays of "bites", extra ice and more tonic. So, we sat on the balcony and watched the pilot boats guide us out of that tiny harbor. By the way, the reason for the jetty .... the Royal family was caught in bad weather and the storm kept them at sea unable to land until the next day. Apparently that was one time too many. The jetty was created .

Dinner at 8:00 ..... Discovery .... bet there will be a really good bottle of wine. So, Yalta, next Sevastopol tomorrow. I'm pooped, later........

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Cruising to the Crimea

Calm seas and blue skies gave way to a very lazy day. Pampering with manicure and pedicure followed time in the computer center regaling my adventures to friends. Must not miss Tea at 3:30 in the Looking Glass with it's panoramic view. Our harpist is consummate. She looks to be 12 years old; but of course, that would be absurd. All the same, the more I age, the younger everyone else appears.

Ed chose a lecture on the Crimea for the afternoon. Having had such a harried day, I returned to my stateroom to recuperate until dinner at eight. As Wednesday turned into Thursday, the Azamara Quest slipped toward the Ukrainian coast. On my balcony,having caught up with sleep, the Crimean Peninsula loomed up in the early grayness as dawn began to break. The crimson poked and pushed it's way through a cloud bank until the radiating shafts seemed to be stretching towards me. Then I realized the dark shadowy things scattered about on the surface were wooden rowboats of fishermen. A single person per boat, and they had rowed, at least a half mile or more, out to fish with a rod and reel. I am enchanted!

Some hour later, we arrive at a jetty. So how does one park this ship? Well, it was something to behold. I am in awe! Two pilot boats were waiting. It was rather like parallel parking. As our Captain swung the stern inward, I actually doubted if we would squeeze past the jetty. THEN, he backed us inside ..... how lovely was that!! The pilot boats sat and watched our artful Captain. BRAVO!! It was as easy as backing a VW Beetle into an extra large parking spot..... but what do I know.

Right on time, Raphael [Butler] arrives with breakfast and welcome to Yalta. Must hurry to meet our group. We are touring today. Catch you later.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Istanbul ... Day 2

Early morning boats running every which way. Fishermen with nets line up their crafts. All this just over the rail of my balcony as I pour that first cup of tea. Over my shoulder in the main channel, five Naval Ships course north east towards the Black Sea ... could be Russian. Yes sir, I'm really here; holy cow!!

First on the agenda is The Palace: beautiful gardens, the stony guard on his pedestal, shoe covers and then the steps and stairways and crystal [Waterford and Polish]. Even the balustrades; such opulence, no wonder there was a revolt. After all the walking in circles, the boat ride up and around the Bosporus gave way to many naps. Lunch! Now off to the Bazaar; however, Ed, Richard [Ed's uncle] and I elected to get off the tour bus at the Blue Mosque. We're on our own now! If you look moderately confused, "guides" flock to you. After some negotiating, we were led inside [the walls are blue mosaic tile] and given the whole story. Oh, you know, this was a true mosque to replace the use of Haige Sophia which is a basilica and doesn't face east exactly. As we walked out, our guide had insisted we visit his carpet show room. There is something about NO and NO THANK YOU that fuels a sellers fire.

Cotton on cotton, silk on cotton, silk on silk, they were all there in their rich colors.... Prayer rugs up to 12'x10'.... every shade, every design. For a moment I was fearful they had hooked Ed; but we escaped to run headlong into a jewelry shop of the most exquisite items. The masses of small unpolished rubies on multiple long strands of liquid gold .... ummmmmm .... pure elegance. Shake it off, dig in, must get back up that hill and over to see Sophia.

Haige Sophia, a basilica built for Christian worship until the Muslims arrived. They turned it into a mosque until The Blue Mosque was built. For me, it still held that ambiance that is so quieting. The craftsmanship and artistry is amazing considering it was built in the 3rd or 4th century. Our art hasn't come all that far when one really considers everything. Wonder what the walls would tell. Time to head for the ship ... TAXI!

Richard and I piled into the back seat. Ed, being over 6' was left to fold himself into the front. The first indication of creativity, the idiot crossed over behind the electric trolley and we proceeded to have the wildest ride without touching the horn. We maneuvered through centimeters width of air space at breakneck speeds then slam on the brakes. We nearly had an old man and his wooden push cart laden with tea and pastries as a hood ornament. I must note that when faced with terror/fear I either scream or laugh.By this time, I was laughing hysterically with Richard. Think Ed was numb. Next we careened down what appeared to be an alleyway that was actually a street lined with parked cars. Suddenly we stop in the lane of traffic, "we are here, ship around corner just 200 meters". A half a mile later, if I had encountered the "idiot", believe I would have had the strength to strangle. As I finally dragged myself through ship security, my Butler was called to confirm I was the last passenger to return. What a distinction. Oh, yes, I have a Butler who was waiting smilingly with my door open as my rubber band legs made it down the hallway .... a scotch would be nice, thank you.

Dinner, in Discoveries, was late but delicious, especially the Oysters Appetizer, and a nice Cabernet with TC [Ed's aunt] and Richard. We departed for Yalta at 10:00p.m. Following dinner we went up to the top deck and watched the lights pass and recede into the darkness of the Bosporus. We are on our way.

That is quite enough for now; join me for a cup of restorative tea and consider a whole day at sea and Yalta??? Later....

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Istanbul, of course Turkey

Atlanta's Hartsfield runway, Delta flight #36 and the wheels finally leave the ground. We are really on our way almost a year later than originally planned. The "we" happen to have been friends for over 30 years and thought we might travel well together ... and we did. Now, one other piece of history - You see I fell and broke my patella 6 days before we were to leave for Italy, France and England. A very grim day to say the least. Ah, well, this time we are off to Istanbul and a Black Sea cruise. Just the confusion of their airport, trying to find our bus to the ship gave an inkling to those "funny wrinkles" in our personalities.

The ride was along the waterfront with visions to the right of rusting ship hulls laying at anchor. To the left, beige horizontal buildings were stacked and stacked. Minarets pierced through the mass everywhere [later to learn, there were 3,000 mosque]. This is probably a good point to mention the local driving habits. There isn't enough time for road rage as every driver is intent on "squeezing" into invisible spaces between the not so invisible vehicles of every size. Centimeters seem an appropriate measure to occupy unflustered. It was the best show I've ever seen of pure intestinal fortitude. Eventually we arrived at Customs house and the Azamara Quest, our home for the next 12 days.... well, maybe. Our next hurdle, we were not on the manifest according to a very official young woman with more authority than English at which point Ed had endured more than he could tolerate, so off to have a smoke, in other words fix it. So, this young policeman and I patiently scanned the sheets until it was discovered we had been "upgraded". Once more through a security check and passports returned, up the ramp and aboard. Holy cow!! air conditioning ... yes .... now to find our staterooms [8039 and 8036], the last discovery. Heaven help us, taaa daaa, Ed's on the port [left] side and across our connecting hallway I'm on the starboard [right] side with balconies [yea!!!!]. Oh, I know it's those little pleasures that thrill the soul..... I need a drink and it's only the middle of the morning. Breath, don't forget to breath ..... lets go find lunch.

Now, Windows had a panorama view and the buffet wasn't shabby either. It would take a few days to figure out hot/cold, a little or a lot, Black Currant Sorbet ... ummmmmm, yummmmm!! decisions, decisions. As our heads began to droop closer toward our plates, naps seemed perfect,"call me when you wake", great. I have no memory of falling across the bed, only of the phone ringing and answering to Ed's voice far away. You know, we had a comfortable flight in Business Class, for what ever reason I just can't seem to sleep for more than a couple of hours. Anyway, it's time to canvas the ship and get our bearings while we wait for our luggage.

Dinner was complimentary in the Aqualina Restaurant. Well, if there was a course we weren't going to skip it; however, when you must order dessert first I've learned it could be the best part of the meal ... it was Grand Mariner Souffle.
There were no morsels left of Scollop's, Crab Salad, Lobster Bisque, Chilean Sea Bass, Lobster Thermador/Pot Pie AND a bottle of a really lovely Shiraz. Obviously, we are still savoring the memory of all those flavors. but the Souffle was a work of art on the tongue. It amazes me what can happen with some eggs, sugar and flavoring. Mercy me!!!! That old song comes to mind "heaven, I'm in heaven and my heart beats so that I can hardly speak" ..... you get the idea. Please don't make me move; could "they" just roll our chairs to where ever we're suppose to be next, PLEASE.

Next for me, I feel as though I've hit the day 1 wall. Begging off from further collective activity seems appropriate. Stumbling into my stateroom, grab a scotch, linger in a hot shower and, at last, quiet time on the balcony watching the water taxis and boats of all descriptions frantically churning to and fro. A second slower scotch, the whole area is lite up like in a holiday fashion: the Blue Mosque and Haige Sophia are directly across the inlet up on the hill. It is a strange and amazing place and the air is full of spice. Tomorrow will be a full day.

Well, seems a good place to stop and find a cup of tea .... join me?? Later...