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Athens to Istanbul, 2011

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Athens to Istanbul, 2011 - Page Text Content

S: Touring Greece and Turkey - 2011

BC: Compiled by Marge McClintock

FC: Athens to Istanbul 2011

1: Off to Athens -- and a cruise along the Greek isles to Istanbul with Mary and Jack Walker. We began with two luxurious nights at Athen's Hotel Grande Bretagne, and two hearty and heat-filled days of sightseeing. From afar, the buildings of modern Athens looked like a cache of bleached sea shells, or irregular white Legos. But the real Lego imagery appeared in visiting the ancient ruins, with their huge marble blocks. The Acropolis was first on our agenda, with its famous Parthenon from 438 BC, Evmenis' Archway, The Odeon of Herodes Atticus -- an outdoor theater seating 5000 -- and many other famous ruins.

2: A walking tour of Athens in the July heat was a challenge, but after leaving the Acropolis with its cemetery of legendary ancient civilizations now filled with lively tourists, we walked on to the old Agora, the neoclassic National Archaeological Museum, The newly renovated Benaki Museum, and the Museum of Cycladic and Ancient Greek Art. Quite an experience to be close to art created more than 5000 years ago and to see its classical evolution. | Melina Mercouri: Greek actress, Parliament member, Minitster for Culture who worked for return of Parthenon statuary. | The bronze Zeus ofArtemesion | The Parthenon is reflected in the windows of the National Archaeological Museum.

3: Avrio to Athens and Ave to the Silver Spirit, our home for the next seven days.

4: Our first stop was at Heraklion, Crete, to see the Minoan Palace of Knossos, built c1800 BC and thought to be the source of the labyrinth myth of King Minos and the Minotaur. Its columns were cypress tree trunks, inverted to prevent them from rooting. The palace was discovered in 1878. | On our second day, we docked at Rhodes, where the bronze statue The Colossus of Rhodes, one of the original seven wonders of the world, had dominated the harbor at 107' tall, but was destroyed by an earthquake. | If fortifications could speak, they would tell of seiges by the Isaurians, Suleman the Magnificent, Arabs, Knights Hospitaliers, Turks, Italians, and the Allies.

5: Each conquering people destroyed many of the existing buildings to replace them with their own, but Suleman Mosque and its minarets still stand, as does a monument to the city's Jews. We enjoyed cold drinks while sitting in the square, but didn't try the vendors' food or the ice creams.

6: The sun rose as the ship slipped into Santorini, a tourist hot spot famous for its beautiful views and vibrant night life. Santorini's perched on the edge of what remains of a huge caldera 1300 feet deep. However, we decided to enjoy the area from the ship after hearing of two hour waits for the donkey and tram rides up and down the island's cliff. We never used the ship's swimming pool or spa, either -- but our rooms, the lounges, observation deck, and restaurants were delightful.

7: Next was the Cyclades Island of Mykonos, mostly granite, where Zeus is said to have fought the Gigantes and then named the island for his grandson. | The windmills of Mykonos are the island's trademark, and are visible no matter where you go on the island. Known as the sacred island of Delos, its ruins and intense nightlife are big tourist draws. | Third milennium huts, classical ruins, The Lion Terrace, temple foundations, large floor mosaics, Greek inscriptions, headless statues, slave markets, and phalluses, oh my. . .

8: Despite the heat, the Ancient City of Ephesus was crowded with tourists. Impressive columns lined the wide Marble Road or Curetes Street, leading past Hadrian's Temple to the Celsus Library and originally lined with shops. | The two-storied Terrace Houses, also called The Houses of the Rich, were used from 100 BC to 700 AD by the Romans, who were forced to leave because of a malaria plague. The large rooms have high, vaulted ceilings and beautiful frescoes and marble surfaces which were being restored -- a real labor of love. Clay pipes carried hot and cold water, sewage, and even warm air to the spacious rooms. Excavation began in 1960. | And on to the port of Kusadasi, Turkey, with a full day's tour of Ephesus, once the trading center of the ancient world. | The Virgin Mary was said to have lived here, and many wrote prayers to her. | The Odeon was used as a meeting place for the Senate as well as for concerts.

9: The ruins of the Temple of Hadrian (left) hardly suggested at what it must have been, while the Celsus Library, its front more restored, was impressive. Built in 117 AD in honor of Gaius Julius Celsus Polemaeanus by his son, the library is graced by the statues Sophia (Wisdom), Episteme (Knowlege), Ennoia (Intelligence), and Arete (Valor) -- the virtues of Celsus. The library held more than 12,000 scrolls. Next to the library was the Gate of Mazeus and Mathridates, built by two slaves for their emperor, Augustus, who then gave them freedom.

10: The ever-present feral cats were extremely friendly, while the feral dogs were just, well, dog tired from the heat. | Built in the 3rd century BC, the Great Theater (above) held 25,000 and faced a 3 story stage. Nike, the goddess of Victory, (right) was often seen, as was Artemis, the goddess of abundance (below left), whose temple in Ephesus was one of the seven wonders of the world. A beautiful bust of Marcus Aurelis was on display, as were the remnants of the Pollio Fountain, the Temple of Hercules (both below right), and and an emporer's disjointed head and hand bracketing Keith (who knows joint replacements first hand).

11: Off the beaten path to discover an ancient sundial; stork and magpie sightings; exhibitions of harvesting silk and of handmade Turkish rugs -- with a taste of the powerful Riki liqueur; a wonderful lunch in Sirince overlooking the countryside, with the call to prayer in the background -- what a day. | Sirince -- which once meant ugly, but now stands for pretty -- is famous for its many types of fruit and (and even vegetable) wines.

12: On the morning of 7-30-2011 we entered Istanbul, a city of 15,000,000, which straddles Europe and Asia. | Our last full day aboard The Silver Spirit was spent at sea traveling 335 nautical miles -- reading, attending a lecture on Istanbul, and enjoying each other's company for cocktails and fine dining. At the end of our voyage, the ship will have traveled 992 nautical miles and taken us to two continents. | After leaving the Mediterranean Sea and then the Aegean Sea, we entered the Dardanelles strait, the site of the 1915 Battle of Gallipoli, with 392,338 casualties. Tonight our ship will enter the Sea of Marmara.

13: We checked into our hotel and began a day-long walking tour of Istanbul. More colorful & cosmopolitan than Athens, Istanbul was nonetheless a Muslim city, with its many minarets, calls to prayer, and covered women.

14: A blending of Byzantine and Islamic architecture built in 1616 on the site of palace of the Byzantine emperors, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque is considered to be the last great mosque of the classical Ottoman period. Popularly called The Blue Mosque because of its beautiful blue interior tiles, it also boasts more than 20,000 handmade tiles, 200 stained glass windows, and six minarets. The Blue Mosque faces the Hagia Sophia and what used to be the Hippodrome of Constantinople, now Sultan Ahmed Square. The muezzin, or prayer-caller, has been replaced by loudspeakers, but still is primary, its call echoed throughout the city by all other mosques. The floor was covered by carpets, since it is used for daily prayers, and we were requested to remove our shoes to enter. | To demonstrate his importance before his subjects, the sultan entered the mosque on horseback, but to show his humility before Allah, a large chain hung over the doorway causing him to bow his head. Caliphs and quotes from the Koran are inscribed on the wall tablets. When criticised for erecting six minarets, the same number as in the mosque in Mecca, the sultan ordered a seventh minaret to be built at the Mecca mosque.

15: Although Istanbul is famous for its delicious street foods, we didn't buy any meats or candies. However, our guide insisted that we try simit, a bagel shaped bread covered with sesame seeds. | Luckily for us, our guide was able to whisk us past long lines waiting to get into The Basilica Cistern, an underground reservoir supported by a forest of 336 Corinthian columns, all stolen from other ancient locations. Built in 532 AD by Justinian, the cistern is 460 ' by 230' and holds surprises such as two enormous severed heads of Minerva (safely held in place by tons of marble), and a school of strange fish living in the dark waters. Even more surprising, it was forgotten until 1545, until city well water was traced to its source, then restored and opened to visitors in 1987. | Created to record the 479 BC Greek victory over the Persians, the Column of Porphyrogenitus was brought from Delphi by Constantine the Great.

16: The Aya Sophia, or Hagia Sophia, means The Church of Holy Wisdom in English. Built in 537 AD, for almost 1000 years it reigned as the greatest Christian church in the world. The inovative construction of its massive dome is said to have revolutionalized architecture. In 1453 Constantinople was conquered by the Turks; the cathedral became a mosque, and the mosiacs were covered with plaster, in keeping with the Islamic belief that no human images should be shown in a place of worship. Other Islamic features, such as minarets, were added. The principal mosque in the city for 500 years, it served as the model for The Blue Mosque and many others. | Hagia Sophia is famous for its forty windows, said to provide a mystical quality of light that reflects everywhere in the interior of the nave. Chandeliers have been hung from the dome, suspended like luminous jelly fish above the marble floor. The largest columns are granite, over 65 feet high and weighing over 70 tons each, while the dome itself is over 185 feet in height. Upon its completion, Justinian proclaimed: "Solomon, I have outdone thee.

17: After Hagia Sophia became a museum in 1935, restoration began on the original Christian basilica mosaics. Nonetheless, it has been on the World Monument Watch.

18: Located on the first of Istanbul's Seven Hills, The Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul is now a 5 star hotel, However, it was originally completed in 1919 to be the Sultanahmet prison. Designed in the First National Architectural Style, a combination of Ottoman and Western influences, the building's beautifully landscaped courtyard was once the prison exercise yard, Metal window grates are the originals. | Our room looked out upon the Haghia Sophia, The Blue Mosque, remnants of an ancient palace wall, and reconstruction. The call to prayer was very loud, even at 4:30 AM with the windows closed & the air conditioning on. But it was a part of the city that made it unique to us. | The complimentary breakfast buffet was picture perfect -- and delicious. | Fresh flowers, fresh fruit, beautiful tiles and mosiacs made this quite a paradise -- hard to believe it once was a prison. Cocktails and dinner there could send you to debtors' jail, though, we found.

19: The labyrintine Grand Bazaar was originally built by Mehmet the Conqueror, It was jammed with tourists, merchandise, shoppers, andworkers who cajoled those passing by. They called out: I give you a bargain, I have beautiful things for you -- or some other enticing phrase they had learned in English. | A rug owner tried to stop me with: What United States are you from? But my favorite was a young man who called out: Lady -- may I please rip you off? Our guide was astounded that we didn't buy anything, since she said most tourists spend hours and hours there, shopping for jewelry, leather goods, and souvenirs.

20: The Topkapi Palace held the private secrets of the Ottoman rulers for almost 400 years. | The sultans had a panoramic view of the Golden Horn. | This was true crown molding.

21: The Imperial Treasury held treasures such as the 18th century emerald-studded Topkpi Dagger and the 84-carat Spoonmaker's Diamond. Although the Pavilion of the Holy Mantle contained holy relics, I was thankful the Circumcision Room didn't have any. | The sultans' clothing was heavily padded and super-sized to create the illusion of larger-than-life. | Begun in 1462, the palace grounds held over 4000 people to serve the royal family. White eunuchs, boys captured from enemy lands and castrated before puberty, guarded the Harem -- but the only men other than the sultan allowed to enter the Harem were the black eunuchs, who governed the other royal servants.

22: All of Istanbul can be seen from the Divan Tower -- also called the Tower of Justice -- which dominates a gold-leafed building. | We had cold drinks at a table under old shade trees, watching the other tourists flow by. Then we joined them, walking through the last one of the palace's impressive gates, by the armed guards, and on to our next adventure.

23: The Yeni Mosque square was busy, but the adjacent Spice Bazaar was unaccountably locked, On a nearby street, we bought kasarh and sucuklu pide (left), not the doner (above).

24: A private boat trip along the Bosporus Strait toward the Black Sea was the essence of Istanbul -- modern & ancient, East & West, secular & religious -- side by side, such as the ornate Ortakoy Mosque at the foot of the minimalistic Bosphorus Bridge.

25: Public areas were crowded with men and boys fishing with long metal poles, and despite the very choppy water, there were many jumping off the sea walls, with no easy way to get back. A few even swam out to our boat to try to splash us. But none were women or girls, who stayed on shore covered from head to toe. Located at the narrowest part of the Bosporus, the Rumeli Castle was built in 1452 by Sultan Mehmet II, who is said to have carried some of the bricks himself. Together with an older fortress guarding the opposite Asian shore, the sultans had control of the strait. The Second Bosphorus Bridge, named the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge after the Ottoman conqueror, is the 15th largest suspension bridge in the world at 4952 feet long. We passed the Four Seasons Bosphorus and The Ciragan Palace Kempinski, built on Byzantine ruins, as well as more modern homes, while enjoying our Turkish chai tea and pida.

26: Sights from our car: families enjoying the parks, the ancient walls of Constantinople, the Fortress of Yedikule, the Roman Aquaduct, modern city life,

27: We didn't stop to see the Whirling Dirvish, but observed that some were enjoying the hookah more than the show. After dinner, our waiter showed us recently excavated tunnels beneath the restaurant. | Ramadan, with its month of daily fasting, was to begin in a day, so the mosques were alight with welcome messages. it was a beautiful way to end our trip.

28: On Monday, 8-1-2011, we said goodbye to the minarets and other sights of Istanbul. Others, however, were just arriving to celebrate Ramadan. Our view from the air gave Jack his last look at the Golden Horn and a glimpse of the Black Sea, as well as the Frankfort am Main river in Frankfort as we changed planes. | On the plane, we read and recalled a wonderful trip with exotic foods, sights, and sounds. | We thought of all the ways we had traveled -- by foot, plane, boat, ship, van, and limo -- back into Greece's ancient history as well as today's Istanbul. | Frankfort am Main | And then we thought how good it was to see Lake Michigan and to be home again. . .

29: Until our next trip beckons, that is!

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