"I am a woman in process. I'm just trying like everybody else. I try to take every conflict, every experience,and learn from it.
Life is never dull." ~ Oprah

Monday, January 31, 2011

TURKEY - Izmir & Istanbul


Visas are not required to enter the country.  Instead, we were given “landing cards” good for the date of arrival.  I spent three days in Turkey - I received one card each day.

At a glance, Turkey is almost the size of Texas, it’s split into seven regions and became it’s own republic in 1923, which is when they began speaking Turkish instead of Arabic.  The native lands of the Turks was in Central Asia, specifically Mongolia.  Since they were nomads they traveled around until they eventually settled in this area.  The land where Turkey resides has been considered pagan, Jewish, Christian, and Islamic.  Today’s majority is Islamic (98% Muslim), but there is no “state religion” and all are welcome/accepted. Turkey is the only Muslim country that has separation of church and state.  Other majority religions are Jewish and Christian - they all come to service and pray in the same place(s) which is called a mosque.  There are mosques scattered in everywhere; it reminds me of the Bible-belts of Texas.  I’m sure you’ll understand once you see the pictures.  April and May are said to be the best time to visit the country.

Turkey economy is made up of 60% Industry and 40% Agriculture.  Textiles and exportation are the most important industry; olives, cotton, figs, grapes, and “citrus” (pomegranate, strawberries, cherries) are the most important in agriculture.  Turkey has more olive trees than Greece, but the quality of olives isn’t as high since the trees aren’t as mature.  The tour guide claims the best time to eat olives is for breakfast that would typically be bread, olive oil, thyme, tomato, egg, and feta.

The currency in Turkey is the Turkish Lira.  1 Lira currently = 1.6 US dollars / 2 Lira = 1 Euro
Cost of living is comparable to the US, I think.  A new teacher, just out of the university, will make about $1500/month.  And rent for a small flat is about $700, but it would have no appliances here. 

There is a 72% tax on fuel because it is imported, which makes it 3,37 per liter (about $8.00/gal).  The tax on vehicle purchase is 84% (23% on cell phones).  Basic car models cost 18 to 20 thousand in US dollars, deluxe/luxury models are about 78000 Euro!

Ambulances primarily run Code-2 (lights, no sirens).  “Polis” stations are frequent and guards carry machine guns. 

Many American eating establishments can be found, Starbucks, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Little Cesar’s Pizza, and McDonald’s.  Not my taste, but they may be yours....

There are 852 universities in Turkey.  Only the top 800 students are accepted into them each year (per region or country, I am unsure).  Here in Turkey, tour guides are required to get a 4-year degree, then are certified by the Office of Tourism and Trade after passing the exam.  They all speak English and are very knowledgeable!

Izmir, Turkey - FRIDAY, January 28th, 2011 

My day began about 8am and the excursion to Pergamon and Asclepion began around 0915.  I was assigned to Bus 8 that day, which happened to be one of my least favorite groups of people....although the tour guide was my favorite.  I’ll try to capture what I learned and made notes of, and because it’s been three days since then, this is going to be more of a challenge for me  ;-)  but I enjoy it.

Izmir has a population of approximately 4 million.

Pergamon is the acropolis of Izmir and it sits about 60-90 minutes outside the port city.  I saw a shepherd with his flock and wind turbines in the countryside while on the journey.  We rode a cable car to the top.  It’s a beautiful place made up of so many layers of civilizations, like everywhere in this part of the world, and the views were most incredible!  Like other places Athena ventured, she planted an olive tree here as well. 

There was a market area at the entryway of the site where they would yell out “Cheaper than Wal-Mart, better quality than Target.”  I had to laugh!  I purchased a few items here and come to find out, I did indeed get the best deals in Turkey.  I got myself a scarf for 5 Euro because it was SOOOOOO cold; should have gotten more at this price.

I had to go back through my pictures to give myself a memory boost.  What joy and intensity I feel having the opportunity to have been in these places - it brings tears to my eyes...

It began to sprinkle rain as we headed down the hill and through the village to Asclepion, an ancient healing center where exclusive and wealthy patients were treated with herbal remedies, water from the springs, exercise, and opium (prescribed at the time for sleep and rest).  One might have been instructed to have a mud bath, then run seven laps around the angora (somewhat like a marketplace) then to go to the sleeping rooms for the afternoon.  Interesting place that was thriving for over 800 years (400 BC to 400 AC).  I would have enjoyed being a there when it was open.  I believe it was known as the Velvet Castle of Alexander the Great...

As we left there, the rain started really coming down and the wind whipped.  We drove down the road a few minutes, then stopped at the local carpet weavers.  There we saw women performing the art of making, received a brief explanation of the process, then had a presentation of carpets.  Here, we had Turkish tea and a snack.  There were hundreds of carpets in all sizes, material, cost and design.  They were made of wool, cotton, and silk and/or any combination of.  The men laid out many of them for us to see and feel.  It was fun to see them flip the carpets and make them fly   :)

The drive back to port was a little less comfortable and the people were grouchier than before.  When we were walking back to the ship from the terminal area, it was like a monsoon.  People’s umbrellas were turning inside out, everyone was drenched, and at one point, I think I was lifted off my feet for a moment.

After getting back on the ship, the announcement was made that our time in Egypt was being cancelled due to the danger and crisis occurring there now.  I was disappointed, but glad that the choice had been made. I headed straight for the Thermal Suite and relaxed for a good 90 minutes.  I read The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho while lying on the heated mosaic loungers, took a couple dips in the jacuzzi and let the bubbles take away any tension that I had.  Let me just say that I felt happier than anyone I saw at dinner at Alizar.  My meal was great (again) and I even tried escargot for the first time.  It was alright, surprisingly enough.  I don’t know if I would eat them again simply due to the fact that I am unaware of the ethical side of escargot, but I felt it was a good time to try something new-to-me.  I don’t eat much during the day, partly because I’m not extremely hungry, partly because I know I will eat a 4 or 5 course meal at dinner!  The appetizers have been fantastic - everything from Chilled Black Cherry Soup to Asparagus with Scallops (there is nothing vegan here, I’m lucky to get vegetarian choices that aren’t bread).  After I completed my meal, I headed to the Excursions desk to inquire.  They had everything all set up for us!  Although these things rarely happen, they were prepared and I appreciated their efforts.  I enjoyed Turkey much more than anticipated and look forward to experiencing more of it. 

Istanbul, Turkey:  Day 6 of the Cruise, January 29th.  We arrived in port at 1300 and my excursion “St. Sophia and Bosphorus cruise” began.

First, I must tell you a bit about Istanbul.  It’s 9000 years old, known as the “New York City of Turkey” and is populated by 14-15 million people making it the largest city in the country. Half of the city is in Europe, the other half is in Asia - like Lake Tahoe!  It’s only distinguished for tourists, the locals feel there is no difference and no, Asians do not occupy the Asian side.  The European side is primarily business/retail; the Asian side is mostly residential since it’s newer and 40% cheaper.  On this side of the city, it’s more green, there are more houses instead of flats (apartments), and only 5 million.  There are 3 suspension bridges that cross the Bosphorus to the other side; the lighted one was built in 1973.  Remember though, both sides make up the entire city. Istanbul is only 22 miles from the Black Sea, which is very rough and windy.  The Bosphorus is the only water passage from Russian to the Mediterranean Sea, so treaties have been in place for hundreds of years.

There are 36 political parties, 4.2 million cars and 2,800 mosques in the city - 600 of which are ancient originals that have been restored.  Plus, the Orient Express used to travel through Istanbul until 1977.

My first stop was Hagia Sophia, an "Eighth" wonder of the world.  All mosques are modeled after this one.  “Sophia” was not a person, rather it refers to Divine or Holy Wisdom. It was the first building with a central dome and was the largest enclosed building known for a period of 1,000 years.  All areas of worship faced East in ancient times, but when Christianity was fully accepted as a religion in the late 4th century AD, the churches and temples were no longer built facing East.

During the Ottoman Empire, no depiction of idols - human or animal - were allowed inside holy places.  For this reason, much of the art and decoration inside St. Sophia were covered in plaster.  Just last year, the face of one of the angels was uncovered! Also during the rule of this empire, minarets were added to mosques.  They are the towers that call people to prayer 5 times a day and can be seen for miles since they are sometimes taller than the dome of the mosque. 

Also inside St. Sophia there is a section for Muslims to pray to Mecca (now in Saudi Arabia), two large marble jars called Mermer Kups would store water for washing prior to prayer, and a section on the floor made of marble circles where the coronation of Roman Emperors would take place - they called it the “Center of the World.”  The red marble pillars we made of imported marble from Egypt.  Upon exiting, two wooden doors covered in bronze can be seen.  They were brought here from the birthplace of the Christian, St. Paul.

Next up!  The Grand Bazar.  This place has approximately 4-6 thousand shops and we’re told that if you stopped at each one for only two minutes, it would take you 15 days to make it thorough the entire place.  Also, if you’ve seen the first 20 - you’ve seen everything because it’s all the same stuff.  Now, you never want to go “inside” a shop or ask for a lower price (haggle, etc) unless you intend to buy!  For one, you’ll get caught in there for no less than 30 minutes and secondly, it’s impolite.  Now - I’m not one who enjoys haggling because I know how it feels to be asked to lower my price.  But here, it’s part of the purchasing process.  Still, I didn’t do much of it and actually, the shop owner ended up offering me a lower price on a cashmere stole/wrap I was admiring.  He dropped 30 Lira off the price and I took it.  I can buy something nice for myself - right?

Our tour then took off to meet take the Bosophorus cruise on the ferry boat - *Barbara, if you are reading this, I dedicated this ride for you & Brittany in lieu of the camel ride to the pyramids I missed.*

Love to Brittany!
We started in the area of water called the Golden Horn, named for it’s shape, which separates the old city from the rest.  So there are actually 3 parts of the city and it’s quite confusing for a new comer attempting to get oriented!  Anyway, it takes the old ferries 25 minutes to cross to the Asian side and only 8 minutes for the newest ones to cross.  The ferry we rode on was for passengers, not vehicles, and had tables, benches,  bathrooms, and a cafe.  Since I hadn’t tried the Apple Tea yet, a Canadian couple I’d been chatting with bought me one.  It was warm and sweet  =)  The boat ride took about an hour since we returned to where we got on.  The sun set and we were able to enjoy the light show on the main suspension bridge.  A private company created it for the city a few years ago and the lights are solar powered. 

The final stop on this tour was to a local jewelry store for a brief presentation and snacks; they love to try to sell expensive items to tourists!  The building was originally a ladies prison, the first and oldest one in the world.

Okay...back to the port terminal to catch my next excursion, “Turkish Night,” where I experienced traditional Turkish food and entertainment.  I had a chance to see four different belly dancers and other folk dance groups from the different regions. Since I had the best seat in the house, I was pulled up on stage twice as part of their audience participation.  I had an absolutely wonderful time!!!
Watch videos of the dancers in my YouTube gallery

The restaurant was on the European side, in the non-Muslim section.  This area was the  original location for embassies when Istanbul was the capital prior to 1923.  The capital is now located in Ankara.  The non-Muslim section has most of the pubs (since Muslims don’t drink alcohol), less strict rules, and contains a larger cross-section of cultures.  In all of Istanbul, homelessness is almost obsolete.  Apparently, it’s extremely rare to see a street person and it was estimated that there are probably only about 1,000 of them.  It’s said that Turkish people take care of their own.

Back in my cabin at midnight Saturday...up at 0730 on Sunday.  Not a great night for rest  :(  I was a little too exhausted to sleep well.

Istanbul, Turkey - DAY 7, January 30th, 2011
.  My excursion began at 0815 for 10 hours, the “Best of Istanbul.”

Blue Mosque - a gorgeous place of worship, known for the blue and green tiles that decorate the inside.  To honor ritual, one must take off shoes before entering and ladies should cover their heads with scarf/headdress, while men should wear long pants.  I would have liked to have experienced a time of prayer, but it still gave me chills and filled me with a sense of awe. The Blue Mosque is the only on with six minarets, the others have up to four.

Blue Mosque
St. Sophia (again for me) - I enjoyed it all a second time and learned new things from today’s tour guide.  One of those facts was that Friday noon prayer is the most important one of the week, much like the Christian Sunday mornings, they last about 45 minutes because a reading takes place.  The calls to prayer that occur five times a day from the minarets change since the go with the position of the sun, so when they say “noon” it simply means the 2nd or 3rd prayer of the day (I can’t remember which one).  Many people do not go to the mosque for prayer because it’s not required, prayer can be done anywhere!

Topkapi Palace - OH!  The artifacts were astounding and massive.  No pictures or recording devices are allowed in the Palace and guards are everywhere.  Rightly so, as there are objects of incalculable value everywhere.  Numerous precious stones...emeralds, diamonds, and pearls so large they would take up the entire palm of my hand.  The rubies were also countless, although they were all of small proportion.  There was a gold cradle decorated with emeralds and pink tourmaline.  There were swords and military adornment and thrones and serving ware.  So many amazing things to see, I almost purchased a book so I could capture some of the essence of the Treasury section.  WoW!

This particular area is known as The Hippodrome.  It contains all of these fabulous places!  For lunch, we went to one of the streets that’s just off the square between the Blue Mosque and St. Sophia.  Just as we stopped walking to organize ourselves, I turned about and before me was the Pudding Shop. I really never dreamed I would find it!  And since it was serendipity, that is exactly where I ate a fantastic meal and had my first taste of Turkish coffee.  And of course I had to try the famous pudding!  I chose vanilla and found it to be very tasty.  It was a different consistency than I’ve known, but I liked it.  =)

Now that our bellies were full, we went to walk it all off at The Archeology Museum.  Another place you wouldn’t want to miss!  And we even were able to see some Egyptian artifacts, which I commented on to a ship mate.  A man standing nearby said, “Oh, you must be from the cruise ship that had to divert...?”  Weird, I thought to myself, how in the world did he know that from what I said.  Later that night, I read my e-mail from the prior day where my friend Kim had informed me that our ship had been in the News.  Funny how things happen.

The Spice Market was last on our daily agenda and was a great place.  I enjoyed it more than the Grand Bazar because it wasn’t so overwhelming and the shop keepers weren’t nearly as intruding or aggressive as I strolled by.  It’s also on a much smaller scale, so only about 100 shops, I think.  The sample of Turkish Delight I had was truly delightful!  After taking a few quick peeks around and a small purchase, I headed to our meeting place to rest my legs and people-watch on the square outside.

The language here is difficult, so the excursions made it much easier to enjoy the city.  Few people from the Cruise took part in the tours and/or explored Istanbul, which I thought sad.  The majority stayed on the ship for two days, or may have gone out once for a few hours.  I’m so glad I had the experiences I did - I loved Turkey!

TODAY: DAY 8 at Sea - January 31st, 2011
I’ve enjoyed relaxing today!  This morning there was no yoga scheduled since we would have been in Egypt, so I stayed in be a bit longer and had a late-for-me breakfast about 0830.  I wrote this entry from the Atrium, while it was still quite this morning, and at different times of the day from the Thermal Suite or my stateroom.  I had a Spa appointment at Noon for a pedicure that was heaven, especially after four long days of walking around exploring the local areas. About 1530, we began traveling through the Dardanelles, a strait which runs between Europe and Turkey, and passed Gallipoli about 1545. Approximately 1730, the ship passed where the ancient city of Troy is known to have been, but I missed seeing it since I was meeting with my “friends.” Dinner was much better than last night and the atmosphere in the Alizar is so pleasant, I don’t really want to go anywhere else.  I also saw tonight’s Spotlight Show called “Duo Platchkov.”  The couple once performed in the famed Great Moscow State Circus.  Their acts included juggling, acrobatics, and balancing (on a moving ship).  It was a packed house, much laughing, and fun for everyone  =)

Right now, it’s 2141 and the ship is located at 38 57.71 N / 25 11.64 E with a Heading of 201.1 - the temperature is 45 degrees Fahrenheit with 62% humidity; it’s getting warmer!
Tonight we change our clocks back by one hour.  Tomorrow is another day at sea because there are another 601.7 nautical miles to go before the next port.  We are set to arrive in Valletta, Malta at 0900, Wednesday, February 2nd.

See ya later, gator!  LOVE YOU!
(pictures eventually)

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