Categories
Black Sea 2014

A villa on Crete

And here we are, ensconced in a villa on the edge of the village of Panormo. We’re on the north cost of Crete, about half way between Heraklion and Rethymno. There are two villas together in a big – um – field. 
We are in the front unit, and looking past us is a big hotel complex. But behind our wall:
So nice! What’s the view like?
Yes! We have bonus goats. Or sheep. We can’t decide. They arrive every morning at about 9:00 and spend about three hours hanging out, grazing, lounging under the trees. On our first morning a pickup truck arrived with a bale of hay. While two guys dispensed the hay a third darted into the melee, grabbed a critter and put it in the truck. Someone was having goat – or lamb – for dinner. 
We’re right on the edge of things, weather wise. It is mostly very sunny and quite breezy. Okay, windy, especially by the water. Inland it seems downright hot to us. The locals are finding it chilly and it has even rained a bit. Nan and I have been making use of the pool. Getting in involves a lot of gasping and whooping, then we’re good. 
Particularly nice at night time!

Categories
Black Sea 2014

A villa on Crete

And here we are, ensconced in a villa on the edge of the village of Panormo. We’re on the north cost of Crete, about half way between Heraklion and Rethymno. There are two villas together in a big – um – field. 
We are in the front unit, and looking past us is a big hotel complex. But behind our wall:
So nice! What’s the view like?
Yes! We have bonus goats. Or sheep. We can’t decide. They arrive every morning at about 9:00 and spend about three hours hanging out, grazing, lounging under the trees. On our first morning a pickup truck arrived with a bale of hay. While two guys dispensed the hay a third darted into the melee, grabbed a critter and put it in the truck. Someone was having goat – or lamb – for dinner. 
We’re right on the edge of things, weather wise. It is mostly very sunny and quite breezy. Okay, windy, especially by the water. Inland it seems downright hot to us. The locals are finding it chilly and it has even rained a bit. Nan and I have been making use of the pool. Getting in involves a lot of gasping and whooping, then we’re good. 
Particularly nice at night time!

Categories
Black Sea 2014

Seeing the sights in Athens

Athens left me with rather a strange feeling. On the one hand, every time I looked up and saw this
I reeled back a bit.  I mean, the Parthenon! Right outside the window. Across the street, more good stuff (here’s the view looking back at the hotel)
We visited two fantastic museums. It was really something to visit the National Archeological Museum and see the mask of Agamemnon:
And these guys:
And then there was the New Acropolis Musuem. No pictures inside, unfortunately. The building is astounding in and of itself, as is the collection inside. On the top floor there is gathered the marble staturary and friezes from the Parthenon, arranged on the same footprint as the actual Parthenon. As we walked along we could look at ancient works and look out the floor to ceiling windows to see the actual monument on the hill beside us. Where there were historical drawings for reference plaster models replicated some of the missing portions. And then there were the blank spots awaiting the return of the Elgin Marbles from the British Museum (it’s time,folks). 
We also paid a visit to see the Presidential Guards at the tomb of the unknown. 
Every hour, on the hour…
So what do I mean by the strange feeling about Athens? After all, we enjoyed the museums and the monuments, rode the subway, explored interesting restaurants – we even explored the torrent of tourist crap that is La Plaka, the old city. And yet. For whatever reason it just didn’t have the feeling of so many European cities – these weren’t streets that I wanted to stroll down to while away the afternoon. I’m glad I’ve been here, but it sort of feels like it’s checked off the list and doesn’t need to be done again (unlike Berlin. Or Tokyo. Or Paris. Or London. Or Seville. Or or or…..)

Categories
Black Sea 2014

A return to Ephesus

We arrived at Kusadasi to find three other cruise ships docked – it was going to very busy in town and even busier at Ephesus. And it was – a sea of people:

Wilf and I have both been to Ephesus before, and we had a specific goal. When we were there in September of 1999 work was just beginning on the Terrace House excavation. In July of that year a very expensive roof had been installed to protect the worksite, but the public was not allowed in. Fifteen years later the site is extensively excavated and open for viewing. Worth the wait!
We could walk along on a system of elevated glass walkways, looking at the work that has been done and the buildings that have been revealed, complete with paintings and mosaics. It must be very exciting, as an archeologist, to make big discoveries. But oy, the grunt work that goes on. See the tables below?

Covered in a zillion pieces of white marble, it’s like assembling an enormous white jigsaw with no picture to follow. Yikes!
Once we had seen the Terrace Houses it was time to rejoin the fray
We had to have a picture of the most photographed cat on the site:
And then made sure we had a picture of ourselves in front of the library.

Categories
Black Sea 2014

Straight to the heart…

I’ve been so lucky to travel all over the world and see so many wonderful and iconic sites.
For some reason, though, when I look out and see this:
My heart kind of goes ‘flip’.

 

 

Categories
Black Sea 2014

Sumela monastery

When all the Crimean ports on our cruise were cancelled an additional Turkish port was added – Trabzon. I had heard of the city (aka Trabizond) as one of the great cities of the Silk Road and the centre of an empire, for a time. The guide books are fairly dismissive of the modern city, and the cruise ship warned us that there were not a lot of services. In fact our day long tour returned to the ship for lunch – I guess there was no restaurant in town that could handle that many people to the standard required. Not only were there no suitable restaurants but there was a shortage of English speaking guides so some were brought in from Istanbul. 

It turns out that our Trabzon excursion was a highlight of the trip. Trabzon may not be considered very interesting, but at 500,000 it is a big place. We drove out from the city, heading for the mountains. This is the road to Iran, and it winds through a mountain valley, lined with hazelnut orchards and other agricultural pursuits. These are rough and rugged mountains. Once upon a time a group of Greek monks settled in a cave in these mountains, which eventually became a monastery, and that is what we came to see. 
We rode in our coach for about an hour, entering a national park. Eventually the road became too narrow and we switched to little mini vans. I tried not to think about it too much as we careened up a narrow road, swinging around the hairpin turns as we worked our way up the switchbacks. Then – a photostop. This is where we were going:
Once we got to the end of the road it was time to start climbing (did I mention that it started to rain?)
First a cave, then more permanent constructions then a full fledged monestary complex, which was inhabited until 1924. It fell into disuse and ruin, but concentrated work has restored the paths, buildings and infrastructure. In the very oldest part of the complex are frescoes painted onto the rock. They have been damaged over the centuries, but they still have the power to impress. 
And we met up with this guy again….
And after all that climbing up and down – Turkish tea and a potato on a stick!
It did stop raining and the sun came out. Up there in the cloud forest, where it rains 250 days of the year (or more) we were lucky. 

Categories
Black Sea 2014

Postcard from Sochi

We figured we’d go to Russia, fine. But we wouldn’t spend any money, take that Mr. Putin. Well, he gets the last laugh. We did a short tour of the city, but our movements were so tightly controlled that there wasn’t even a opportunity to buy a bottle of water, let alone shop! And there we as a lot of pent up shopping demand on that cruise ship. 

So, a couple of guys hanging out at the summer place:
Once a man who struck fear in the hearts of millions, now a prop for tourist photos. 

Categories
Black Sea 2014

A bit of Romania

We had two days in the Romanian port city of Constanta, which meant that we had time for a day trip to Bucharest. Romania is another country that was a bit shadowy during the Soviet years – there were their fabulous gymnasts, but mostly they seemed to be a country that really suffered during those long years. We were curious to see what the past 25 years and membership in the EU brought them. 
The day trip to Bucharest was a long one – just over three hours on the bus to get to the city. The highway was new and in perfect condition. We drove across an immense plain, every part of which was under cultivation. It was a combination of the latest high tech farm equipment along with fields being worked with horse and cart. 
As we entered Bucharest we passed great swathes of Soviet era apartment blocks, some in pretty good repair, some not so much. The old part of the city is very beautiful. There was a lot of money in the city from the mid-nineteenth century up until WWI. There are many gorgeous buildings, which have survived til now and have been cleaned and restored. And then, of course, there is the palace of parliament:
After the Pentagon this is the largest administrative building in the world (there are many stories below ground, too). Former dictator Ceaucescu wanted an impressive building, which it is. Karma being what it is – the big building got built, but he did not live to see it finished. 
Most of the churches we have seen on this trip have been historical, some are restored, some not. In Bucharest we visited the church of the patriarch, which was built at the end of the 19th century Be still, my magpie heart:
Glittering screens of gold. Decoration in Art Nouveau style. So beautiful. 
Our second day was a bit of a look at the way things were. From Constanta we headed for the ancient citadel of Histria. Again across vast agricultural plains. This time we were on back roads that had not been upgraded, or were being worked on right now. Small villages frozen in time. We passed an enormous oil refinery (which our guide referred to as the biggest distillery in Europe, which caused a bit of confusion until we got distillery vs refinery sorted). 
The citadel at Histria was a Greek settlement that passed into history, then became part of the Roman Empire. Bad geological luck meant that the port was eventually cut off from the sea and it passed again into history. Now it is just ruins, some of which have been partially excavated, revealing the odd treasure. 

Categories
Black Sea 2014

Bulgaria

I must admit that when it comes to Bulgaria – well, that’s all kind of a grey area. Wrestlers, right? Or maybe weight lifters? I don’t know much about the country, so when we were scheduled to put into port at Nessebur I didn’t really have any expectations. And a half a day visit isn’t enough to learn about an entire country. Considering the hardships of the Soviet years it seems like the country is trying hard to make their way.

This trip has also been an opportunity to learn about orthodox Christianity – different styles, new to us saints, different practices.
For instance, this fellow:
A thousand years ago his picture was painted on the wall of a tiny church in Bulgaria and he’s been dealing with those lions ever since.
Most of the churches in Nessebur are ruins, but work is being done to preserve what’s left to showcase the distinctive local style:
Part two of our tour was a wine tasting, which was entertaining. After it was all over we decided that the wine was competent, but not special. All French varietals, and really wouldn’t you rather drink a good version? Then again, at €6 per bottle….

 

Our guide’s enthusiasm for the wines she was sharing with us was worth the price of admission, though!

 

 

 

Categories
Black Sea 2014

By the Bosphorus

Every so often we see a magazine called ‘Cornucopia’, which is all about Istanbul. A recent issue had a long article about a new naval museum that holds a collection of the barges of the sultans.  The pictures were spectacular and we decided to go there. 
Barge – that doesn’t sound very interesting, I know. The word used in the museum was ‘caique’. They are an open, rowed boat used to move the sultan, members of the imperial household and high ranking officials through the waters around Istanbul. The collection now resides in a purpose built museum which is lovely in and of itself.
Extensive restoration (and pounds of gold leaf) have returned the boats to their former glory.
In addition to the boat collection there was a special exhibit of works from the naval woodcarving shops, which displayed name plates and other decorative pieces from both sail and steam military vessels. No mistaking who you were dealing with when you saw these guys coming…..
It was a lovely museum, all signage in English – very interesting. Once we left the museum the next item of business was lunch. We waded into the streets of the neighbourhood. Since we were right on the Bosporus fish was the thing. Again, we were out of the tourist area and we could look about without being half dragged into restaurants by over enthusiastic waiters.
September is hamsi season – that’s anchovies to you and me.
From this guy to the place next store:
Anchovies and beer!