Rome to Istanbul – Day 9-10 (Istanbul)

Fifteen million inhabitants is a lot of people. We were told that the density here is second only to Shanghai. I don’t doubt that for a minute (but wikipedia differs). We arrrived early Saturday morning and left for the airport Sunday early (2:45 AM). I never saw a road that wasn’t clogged.

We sailed up the Bosphorous and docked on the European side. It is the only capital city spanning two continents (in this case Europe and Asia).

These shots are of Hagia Sophia and the Topakapi Palace at dawn.

Our excursion this morning was a sail up the Bosphorus to a Yali house. Yali houses are waterfront mansions lining the Bosphorus (mainly on the Asian side). They are traditionally built from wood, and were popular during the reign of the Ottoman Empire when rich owners used them as a second home. This one was purchased by Salih Efendi (chief surgeon/doctor to the Sultan) in the 1840s. It started as three rooms but was expanded over the years. What remains today is one third of the compound. His three daughters inherited it and two of the three sold off their portions. A fourth generation of Efendi live there today.

Not far away was Rumeli Fortress built by Mehmet the Conqueror in preparation for the attack on Constantinople (Istanbul today).

Finally after dinner we went for an evening tour of the city. It was certainly all lit up.

As you can see the Bosphorus was still abuzz with activity.

Rome to Istanbul – Day 8 (Ephesus)

We left Izmir early for our trip to Ephesus. It is an amazingly preserved piece of history. There are active excavations happening every day as they learn more about this ancient city. I’ll post a link to more images later since there is so much happening there.

This first image below is the main shopping street of Ephesus. The street is solid marble. They are still actively unearthing the shops that lined the streets (we saw some at work while we were there). At the end of the street you can see the library of Celsius.

Today only the facade of the Library exists and it was painstakingly reconstructed. Through the gate on the right one enters the main agora or square.

This is where most of the commerce of the city took place. Unfortunately much of this commerce was the selling of idols and icons, especially of Artemis the godess of fertility whose temple was nearby. It is likely that it was this marketplace where the Apostle Paul spoke against such practices and idol worship (Acts 19:26).

Some think that Paul may have spoken to the people of Ephesus in this main theater but it is more likely that this is where Demetrius (a smith who sold silver icons of Artemis) caused a near riot against Paul by rallying his fellow craftsmen in the theater (Acts 19:28-31).

It was very cool to be able to walk where some of the early history of the church was being made.

Rome to Istanbul – Day 7 (Santorini)

Today we visited the incredibly overcrowded but beautiful Santorini.

Shipboard connectivity is strained today. I’ll redo this post (and images) later.

Here is my favorite.

P.S. Tomorrow we get to visit Ephesus. I am totally psyched!!

UPDATES:

After leaving hte parking lot and entering the main square, this is the first thing that grabs yoiur attention (understandably!)

I think that this church is one of the most iconic images from Santorini. It even looks good from multiple vantage points.

All in all, even though blue and white are every where, it is still striking.

Rome to Istanbul – Day 6 (Sparta and Mystras)

Today we visited Gythion the major port city on the Peloponnese peninsula of the Greek mainland. It is home to about ~12,000 people but still strategically important. It was the major port of the region in Roman times and the port for the key city of Sparta.

While there is a lot of tourism and fishing, the region is primarily agriculture. The largest crop being olives with substantial additional presence of citrus and wine. This shot of olive groves is but a tiny snapshot of the breadth of the olive business.

We ventured beyond Gythion through the modern city of Sparta (built mainly on the ruins of ancient Sparta) and finally to the medieval town of Mystras which overlooked ancient Sparta. The Monastery, the castle, churches and grounds are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Rome to Istanbul – Day 5 (Argostoli)

Argostoli (Αργοστόλι) was our port of call today. We decided to do a self guided walk of town rather than a scheduled tour. It is a rather plain port, nothing too exciting. It is the main port for the island so while there is a fair amount of tourism, there is more commerce than anything.

During our walk along downtown, we noticed a lot of locals out dining for a mid-day Monday. We certainly didn’t sense any feeling of impending doom due to the debt crisis (then again I am not sure what that would look like here). The center of activity was a four of five block long stretch that was pedestrian only shopping.

I think that the highlight of our excursion were the massive loggerhead turtles that hang around the harbor either feeding for themselves or taking handouts as the local fisherman clean their catches.

Rome to Istanbul – Day 4 (Taormina)

Taormina Sicily – I was here for work (a NATO ASI project through 3M) 32 years ago. I was anxious to return to see what time had done to a wonderful little village.

For me there are three things in (and or near) Taormina that I remember and that I wanted to see.

Mt. Etna, the ancient Greek theatre and the romantic village itself with shops, restaurants and an authentic feel.

We were fortunate to be able to experience all three. As we cruised in at dawn, one of the first things you notice is the majestic Etna in the distance. It is still active and seems to remind everyone of its presence every 10 years or so. More on that later.

In order to get to the theater you really have to wander down the main street of the ancient town. A single lane road that seems to have its hands full just with pedestrians, but every so so a delivery truck a scooter or a passenger car weaves its way through town.

At the end of the road one arrives at the Greek theater. It has undergone a number of evolutions through the years, including a retro fit by the romans in the third or fourth century.

It still holds live concerts. I still remember attending one in ’83. Quite an inspiring place and the views are amazing.

Finally we went on to Mt. Etna. When I was last here there had been an eruption in the late spring. I was here only a couple of months afterwards. We visited where lava had flowed across the road in a couple of places and it was still warm to the touch.

The effects of time, wind, rain and lichens have started to transform the landscape. You can still see some of the calderae (collapsed domes) and the plant life that is starting to return. A bit eerie and beautiful at the same time.

Rome to Istanbul – Day 3 (Amalfi)

We woke up this morning as we pulled into Amalfi. It is a very charming town. While we enjoyed the Isle of Capri, I dont think we’d return (too many tourists. :-)). Amalfi on the other hand is great. Beautiful beach, lovely town square, amazing emerald grotto.

I have taken quite a few shots and a few that I really enjoy. However operator error and a memory card mismatch will prevent me from displaying them until I return. I did take this one after I discovered my error. It is a shot of the town from our ship. I think it gives you an idea of the effort that these folks must have put into carving out a life here in the middle ages.

As with all images, you should be able to get a larger preview by clicking on the image.

UPDATES (including grammar fixes above):

Here are some additional images from this quaint town.

If you have a balcony, you have to use it.

Very photogenic church. Just after I snapped this, the wedding party arrived. Time to go elsewhere.

Like many of these coastal towns, the view from the sea is usually best.

Rome to Istanbul – Day 2 (Sorrento and Capri)

On our second day we anchored just off Sorrento which is about an hour south of Naples by car. In this shot you can see Vesuvius in the background.

We came ashore via tender into the main harbor. Quite quaint. Not sure how they built these (especially years ago).

From there we took a ferry to the Island of Capri. From what we heard between 20,000 and 50,000 people a day visit the Island. It was crazy crowded. We decided to get up and away from it all. The have a nice chair ride to the top (minus most of the US belt and suspender safety tools.)

When we reached the top it was spectacular. This is of the back of the Island (near Picollo Marina).

Even the ride down the chair was beautiful. The buildings are certainly packed in tightly.

Rome to Istanbul – Day 1 (Rome)

We had an uneventful flight to Rome (the best kind). We caught 90 minutes of shuteye and then had a nice afternoon walking the city. We were pretty wiped after the flight so we didn’t travel far. We saw the Spanish Steps (construction) and then Trevi Fountain (major construction!) and decided that was enough. Rome has enough to offer that we’ll have to come back. We stopped for dinner at a little no name restaurant on the way back to the hotel that had great food.

Our night in Rome was at the Excelsior. It is a Westin property located on the Via Veneto (good location by the way) that in its heyday I am sure was wonderful. It would use a little TLC but was just fine after a long flight.

Today took a bus ride to Civitavecchia boarded our ship, the SS Markiner, and checked out our room. We are now getting ready for our safety drill and then dinner. And then the trip begins…

Budapest – Day 11

This morning we disembarked the Viking Legend after a nice breakfast and goodbyes with new friends (actually some of the goodbyes were at dinner last night due to early morning flights).

All in all we really liked Viking. We had a couple of nits but they do a good job. The only issue going forward is finding an itinerary that speaks to us. It is worth noting that in major ports, the river boats can be stacked up like cord wood.

We left our port of call near the Chain Bridge and checked into the Palazzo Zichy in the palace quarter. What a nice find. A great mix of old and new. I would stay here again.

We left at about 11 since we had a 1:00PM tour at the Hungarian Parliament building. It is immense. This view only lets you see a fraction. It was modeled after Westminster in London. From what we were told it is about 80% of the size. The parliment in Hungary was originally bicameral but is now unicameral. This allowed us to visit the hall that is now unoccupied. 

They also have lots of statues of their national heroes throughout. Compared to commerative statues, etc. in the US, all of these heroes look quite swarthy and medieval. Hmm maybe that is because …

These pictures are color balanced – the ceilings in this shot are actually this gold. 

After leaving the Parliament we walked to the Szent István-Bazilika (St. Stephen’s Basilica). It was on the way back and since we walked over 60 miles during this trip it seemed old hat.
Not surprisingly it had a large courtyard but the interior, while very nice, was smaller than I expected.

We also happened on a fair on Vaci Street. It was filled with street vendors, a wonderful place to stop for a beer and light fare. We also saw these examples of local cuisine.

Tomorrow we start our journey home. It was a great trip.