Monday, October 27, 2008

From Russia, With Love

Last night "From Russia, With Love" was aired on TV. We should have seen this movie before going to Istanbul.

Much of the movie takes place in 1964 Istanbul. You can see Aya Sofia, The Blue Mosque, The Hippodrome, The Cistern, and the Grand Bazaar. So much is the same, yet there are subtle changes. The cars were all American and HUGE, today they are Japanese and tiny. There is open space between Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque then, today there is a 6 lane roadway, jammed with traffic. Part of the storyline was a tour of Aya Sofia...we had the same tour a month ago! Fashion has changed since 1964, as most of the folks "on the street" were wearing western dress, today there are many folks wearing traditional garb.

SO, if you plan to visit Istanbul, take a look at James Bond's Instanbul in 1964 and also enjoy the movie. Movies can be time capsules. It's fun to compare past to present.

Friday, October 17, 2008


I never really know what normal is, but life is back to what we call normal at "the ol' rancho." We are more or less over jet lag and ready to think about the next adventure. Right now, the next adventure is staying HOME for a few weeks without thinking about the next port of call, the next flight or the taxi we have to catch.

On another note, I reached a personal milestone for Project Linus. I finished my 100th blanket. It's a red, white and blue "granny square" that is vibrant. It should make a little person feel happy.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Istanbul to Athens

When I saw the itinerary for this cruise on the NCL Jade, I thought it was going to be interesting. I had no idea how interesting it would be. We touched 3 continents in 12 days. What Prince Henry The Navigator of Portugal would have said if he could have sailed that far in such a short time.
Istanbul is the only city that spans 2 continents. Crossing the man-made bridge from Europe to Asia is an everyday event. What's the big deal? It's not a big deal there, but now that I'm 11 time zones and several thousands miles away, it is a huge leap. East and West meet in Instanbul. The spice bazaar has been selling goods for hundreds if not thousands of years! The stories that Bazaar could tell.

Our next stop was Izmir which reminded me of it's ancient Roman past. The Agora (or mall) is there attesting to a thriving market economy.

The Greek Islands in the Cyclades: Mykonos and Santorini, were our next 2 stops. Mykonos, which is said to be most beautiful, was bleak to us. Later we discovered that bleakness is what makes it beautiful. It's all in the eyes of the beholder. Santorini, however is beautiful. As in Mykonos, the houses are whitewashed, but it has the look of prosperity that makes it more inviting. It also has a marvelous bay, the result of a huge volcanic eruption in 1632 BC.

Africa was the third continent we touched by making landfall at Alexandria, Egypt. This was our first time to step on Africa, our seventh continent (a milestone event for me). Alexandria. another ancient city, was founded by Alexander The Great about 2000 years ago. It's old, dirty, a human anthill, with lots and lots of people, cars, donkeys, horses, and noise that makes a city a city. I would not want to get lost on the narrow streets that lead to who knows where. Watching our bus driver maneuver his way through the rabbit-warren of streets was a white knuckle experience. It seems that signals and orderly lanes of traffic are mere suggestions to follow or not, as the driver sees fit. As in Lima or Buenos Aires, the traffic flows at a great pace and we did not see any accidents. I have no idea why.

In Egypt, every tourist bus travels caravan-style, one after the another. Each bus has an armed guard too. At random points along the way, the bus is stopped and the driver talks to an "inspector" and soon the guard leaves the bus and joins the conversation; papers are signed; then the guard comes back in the bus and on we go until we arrive at our destination or we are stopped at another inspection point. Since all commerce is done is Arabic, who knows what is said. Based on what was going on outside the bus, not too many people were willing to venture out on their own.

We took a shore excursion to El Alamein, about 65 miles from Alexandria. It is the site of the pivotal battle in World War 2, where Rommel was defeated by Montgomery. The 10 day battle claimed 45,000 lives! It was horrible. It was quiet now, with 3 separate memorial parks for the British, the Germans and the the Italians. I find it hard to look at peaceful battlefield memorials without imagining the sounds and sights of war from the distant past. Looking at the graves of 22 year olds is sad business. It was interesting to look at the men and the women in our group who visited the memorials. The men were talking about the battle and the war. The women were talking about the loss of sons, husbands and brothers. I think every world leader should make a pilgrimage to several battlefield memorials and learn the lessons of the past. Is war the only way to solve our differences?

After the guards and the inspection stations of Egypt, we sailed back into Greece where we visited Crete and Corfu before touching the European mainland. We were no longer in an arid sandy place as overnight, we sailed into greener lands. Unlike the Cyclades, the Ionian islands are verdant. The hillsides are covered with olive trees and grape vines. In Crete we visited the Palace of Knossos and learned about the Labyrinth and the Minotaur and the Minoan culture.

I fell in love with the beautiful island of Corfu! I could spend a couple of weeks exploring Corfu without blinking an eye. Shear beauty. Need I say more.

The trip was winding down. The port before Athens was Katakalon, a tiny place known because it's where the ancient Olympic Games were played. We visited the first Olympic Stadium. We saw where modern Olympic torches are lit and how they are lit by the sun's rays. We saw the remains of the Temple of Zeus, another wonder of the ancient world. Alas, the famous, gold and ivory statue of Zeus, reported to be 13 meters tall, no longer exists, but we did see a re-creation of it. Seeing the birthplace of the Olympics and seeing how the Olympics have evolved, I could not help but wonder what happened? The purpose of the games have changed over the millenia. Whether for good or bad, I cannot tell, but they have changed.

The last stop was Athens. I truly don't know what I expected to see in Athens, but what I did see and experience was awesome. My first glimpse of the Acropolis took my breath away. (The Parthenon is located in the Acropolis, and Acropolis means edge of town as it's a mountain on the edge of town.)As we walked up the marble steps to the Parthenon, I could not help but think of how many Athenians, made the same journey. Then to see the Parthenon...WOW. When I looked to my left I saw the Caryatids! I had seen them in the British Museum, but here they were, right in front of me! (BTW, the Caryatids in Athens are re-creations based on the originals in the British Museum. The Parthenon was bombed in the 1600s by the Venetians, destroying the temple. When Lord Elgin came to Greece as the British Ambassador in 1800, he thought he would scoop up the marble friezes in the Parthenon and place them on his estate back in England. He "claims" he bought them from the Turks who were ruling Greece at the time. Nowadays there is controversy about the "Elgin Marbles" -- should they stay in England where they have been protected by the British Museum for 200 years; or should they be returned to their country.) No matter, it was wonderful to see these magnificent structures.

Like all adventures, they have to come to an end. After 2 days in Athens, we boarded a plane for the forever-flight home. It was only 17 hours long, but that seems like an eternity when you are sitting in a little seat 34,000 feet above Earth. Setting foot in San Francisco was good! Getting the taxi to our hotel was better. Driving home the next day was the best! It's good to be home.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Back in the USA

We're back. It was a great trip, but it's always nice to be home in the United States. We might scoff at our politics or our economy, but let me tell you...we have a GREAT COUNTRY! We have freedom and that's special. In Turkey, a woman has to make a choice between wearing western clothes and wearing Islamic garb. The times in Turkey are changing, and while they practice "secular Islam" more and more women are faced with the choice of no choice...wear Islamic garb or be excluded from society. However, when a woman makes the choice to wear Islamic garb, she also makes the choice to give up her voice! She also gives up her chance of a higher education! That's a horrible choice to make. Oftentimes, the choice is not made by the woman but by her husband, brother or son. That's not a choice, that's bondage, in my humble opinion.

This family, browsing in the bazaar in Istanbul show the dichotomy of east and west; women and men. Men can wear western garb, but not wives and mothers. Look carefully at her gown and notice that it is a pair of long pantaloons. Every part of her is covered! I'm glad I do not live here.

This picture was taken in Alexandria, Egypt where you also see a mix of garb. Some people choose to wear western dress; but as in Turkey, there's a move toward traditional dress. And with that move, comes a move away from choice and freedom.
Dress is just the outward look at a culture; it might tell the viewer what is important. I must wonder what visitors to our country think of young men in hoodlum looking baggy pants or young girls in their junior "floozy" looks. While I don't like those looks I do admire a place where we have the choice to wear what we want to wear. Yes, it's good to be back in the United States of America!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

in Athens

We are now in Athens. We'll be here til Friday, then back to our part of the world. The cruise was great. My favorite spot was Corfu. I could spend a couple of weeks there. Another highlight was Santorini, another Greek Island.

Today we toured the Acropolis. We tread on marble steps that were trod by ancient Athenians. It was awesome. The Parthenon is amazing, but the Caryatids took my breath away.

We are becoming very familiar with Greek history. We know the difference between Ionic and Doric columns; we know the exact shape of a Corinthian column; and we can tell the difference between a Greek column and a Roman column. We'll be in Rome in a couple of months and we'll get steeped in Roman history.

When we get home, I'll post a more detailed account of the trip. In the meantime, I'll end with this picture of a bell tower in Santorini.