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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Today was the first morning that I actually felt like we were really on a cruise – waking up and looking out from our balcony, all you could see was water. Sounds silly I know, but each morning we’ve been in port or almost in port when we got up – you feel very small in a way being this little spec surrounded by nothing but ocean. We went up early to the top deck to walk. On one part of the deck the view was of the setting moon, on another was the rising sun with the Mykonos coming into view. As we waked the track around the ship we saw dolphins swimming along with the ship a bit in the distance. No jumping out the the water like flipper or anything, they were just swimming gently next to us guiding us in. Yep – a very tough way to start the day.

We tendered into Mykonos (look how I just fall into that nautical speak!). I wasnt sure if Mykonos was going to be like Santorini. In actuality, they are quite distinctive from each other. Santorini was round roofs and more affluent in feel. Mykonos is a small fishng village and definitely has that small feel. Much more compact and most of the major parts of the city are all in walking distance of one another. We walked the streets browsing the shops but what is very noticeable is that there are 365 churches here on this little island – one for each day of the year. Each one quaint, beautiful and peaceful. What caught my eye were all the balconies of the houses in various colors and the flowers in bloom everywhere. We toured through the streets and walked up to windmills that are the big architectural landmark here. The power generated from these windmills used to grind the islands grain. Next we went through a section called Little Venice, originally this was a section of town where early ship’s captains built their homes on the water with their balconies – but today its shops and clubs. This is a much simpler island, the colors and the life seems a bit quieter, but like everywhere we’ve been so far the people are really lovely, all very willing to help us figure out where we were on our map and find our way back to where we started.

Time for our last official Greek Lunch – so we opted for a little cafe looking on the water. As we sat eating our greek salads I look up and there is a huge pelican walking by – I mean huge, like the size of a small child. Just strolling down the sidewalk and stopping at a fountain to get some water and clean himself. The story goes that in the 50’s a group of migrating pelicans passed over Mykonos, leaving behind a single exhauseted bird. A fisherman, nursed it back to health, and now the locals will tel you that this is still the original Petros the Pelican – we checked and were told that there were actually more, but come on – how often do you get to hang with a pelican. He was a real crowd pleaser – too bad we didnt order fish for lunch!

A few more shops after lunch then back to the ship for some time by the pool – everyone seems to be in relax mode gearing up for Istanbul and all its wonders tomorrow. They really do plan this cruise itinerary perfectly to balance busy and quiet days. Another great dinner this evening with Paula and Arlene. Mom is off to see the show featuring Cole Porter songs and I’m doing my blogging now so I can spend time researching where to go on my great yarn hunt – oh the pressure – people are actually coming up to me and asking if I’ve found yarn yet! I did sit with one of the tour guides this morning and give him a list of stores I found – but I may be more on my own as he didnt even know the term knitting!

Its sad to think that we’re approaching our last cruise day…this week has totally flown by…but lets face it…I’m about as excited as anyone could be to say

Tomorrow ISTANBUL!!!! Look out yarn stores here I come

Friday, October 17, 2008
Istanbul – Day 1

I was so excited about arriving in Istanbul I barely slept the night before. We actually pulled into port an hour early – anticipation magick perhaps? As the ship moved down the Boshporous and Istanbul came into view once again I had to remember to close my mouth. The landscape is just massive – and a mix of very old and very new with mosques and palaces intermingling with modern buildings. Crazy as we’re on the ship you look out to one side and its Asia, the other Europe (kind of has that whole New York – New Jersey thing beat!). One of the first sounds we heard was the call to prayer – this is just overwhelmingly emotional for any religion. So beautiful and you knew that an entire city was being united in ritual, and respect for ritual by those who didnt follow the same path.

Our first order of business was to find an English speaking taxi driver. Harder than we thought, but our luck continued – we found a fantastic guide, or what we found out was a guide team. We wound through the streets of the new city in Istanbul – much more cosmopolitan than I imagined it would be. Talk about busy – there are 10 million people in Istanbul alone! I will say right from the start that the taxis here make boston drrivers look like little old ladies – they come within inches of each other and would just assume hit you if you dont get out of the way. We stopped at a local fish market – talk about fresh seafood – it was like haymarket but by the water. Some of these fish were still swimming in little tubs of water.

We drove over the bridge to the old city – photos will barely do this justice. Our first stop was at Topkapi Palace. It’s all so beautiful, our time was limited and we really wanted to see the blue mosque so we walked the gardens on the outside which were just beautiful. Everything is just so old and on a huge scale. Back to the taxi and onward, our driver told us that it was difficult to find a place to park, so we were meeting his brother and he would give us a tour on foot (yeah right a brother – but actually the were brothers and had the family resemblance to prove it). Turns out there are 5 brothers in this family – we met 3 on our journies. As we walked to the mosque, we stopped at one of the many monuments. The mosaic work on the ceiling was amazing. Water faucets surrounded it so that people could drink – and he told us that during festivals, they’ll flavor the water with cherry juice for the children.

We made our way to the blue mosque – everyone removes their shoes outside and women cover their head and shoulders. I have never in my life seen anything like this – it was huge and the only way to describe it (and much of our travels in Istanbul) was opulent. The stained glass, the carvings, the detail work – you just didnt know where to look first. The nicest part is that its still in use. Here too, women and men pray seperately – although there was also a place for the sultans family.

Our next stop was the Sultans tombs – this was fascinating. The marker of the sultan’s grave is topped with what our guide called a “hat” like a huge white hat that marked the graves of the men. The sultan, his wives, sons, daughters, brother and even some grandchildren all laid to rest together. The respect for heritage is so inspiring here and the Turkish people are very proud to share it with you when you ask about it.

We headed back to our taxi, of course not before stopping at a “friends” shop with beautiful turkish carpets to look at – we werent shocked by this in the least. Actually the owner of the shop had created this amazing mosaic full of pottery pieces on the wall surrounding his store. I asked him about it and he told me that the pieces were collected from all the people that worked for him – and it took 5 years to gather enough for his project. It only took 1 month to complete it though. Very very cool.

Back to our taxi and brother number 1 – we headed to the Grand Bazaar for a quick peek. This place is ridiculous – shop after shop, window after window, wall to wall people, and everyone wanting you to buy something. No prices on anything – we knew it was all bartering, but who knew there was so much. We spent all of a half hour there just checking it out, with plans for our return tomorrow – then it would be serious shopping but for now, it was time for my anticipation to go into overdrive. Thanks to ravelry.com members and the Turkish knitting groups I was able to find the place many said was the best place to go for thats right….YARN. The driver dropped us on the outskirts of what we discovered to be a shopping area and told us which way to head. I had determination, and a piece of paper with the stores name on it and the street it was off of – not to mention my supportive mother. We’d walk for a bit, then I’d show my paper to someone and get pointed in the right direction. We learned that 2 lefts doesnt mean left then left – but rather your 2nd left. We also learned that we had no concept for how many meters ahead something was when they told us. I also discovered that our best chance for people who could help with a few words of English were the guys selling pretzels or chestnuts on the street. I can not begin to describe how crowded the streets are here – mom and I were holding on to each other to make sure we didnt get seperated. We knew were getting closer, more stores full of ribbons and fabrics but I think the “just a little bit further” was probably a good mile plus – but…we found it Kurkcu Han. Wandering through the courtyard and up the steps – there I saw bins of yarn in all sorts of colors and textures. Then I looked to my right and through the door and gasped…bins and shelves from floor to ceiling – I walked in and audibly gasped – there were 3 rooms like this. There was so much to see, and to touch and to take in – our knitting group term of “yarn porn” was just elevated to a whole new level. There was a lovely woman who tried to help me – she spoke no English, I couldnt even remember how to say thank you in Turkish – but we were knitters, we connected on a whole different level. We figured out cotton vs acrylic vs. bamboo etc, and we played charades for things like yardage for a scarf or hat or short sleeve vs long sleeve sweater. I wish I could remember all the different words she tried to teach me – but we both were laughing and smiling at each other and having fun. Of course Mom getting a kick out of me being totally insane with all this fiber in front of me comes in and says “I hate to tell you this but every store in this place has more yarn in it”. I about fell over – you mean there’s MORE? I brought my purchases up to the register and tried to explain to the two men at the register how excited I was – they figured out I was from the U.S. (big shock – dont think so) but my enthusiasm was amusing to them – they even through an extra skein of one of my selections in. This is the best part – I had more yarn than I could carry and the total purchase was about 47 dollars – are you kidding me?!?!?! It was better than a dream. We made our way through another 4 stores it was so hard to figure out what to buy and how much to get of each and what would it be – so I just abandoned all reasonable thought and went for it – and before I knew it I had more than we could both carry….ooops.

We noticed the day was ending and really wanted to get back to the ship before it got dark so drunk with yarn overload euphoria, we headed back out to the street. Then we realized that not only did we NOT know the word for where our ship was docked, finding people who spoke English was extremely rare in this part of Istanbul. I think we were both a bit uneasy – but there was no way I wasnt getting back to really go through all this yarn, so we knew we’d figure it out. We kept saying “Taxi” and people would point us in the right direction. Smiles really are quite universal – either that or they were laughing at the stupid lost tourists! A mile or so later we found our way to what must have been the transit center and a line of taxis. The answer to “Do you speak English” was always a shake of the head “no” so I pulled out my map of Istanbul that I had from the ship where luckily the local tour person on board had circled where we would be docked – and just pointed. We watched although it probably would have been less frightening if we didnt, as the driver manuvered through Istanbul rush hour – but we started to recognize places we passed earlier in day. He finally did stop to ask a policeman and we got back to the ship – that driver got the biggest tip ever!

Exhusted I piled my treasures onto the table in our room and just laughed…then off to dinner – everywhere we went people wanted to know if I had found my yarn – ok its official – I have an addiction and am very public about it!

We took in a bit of the last show of the cruise – beatles night which was great….but knew it was time to take on the challenge of packing up everything and getting all our suitcases outside our cabin before 11. – I looked at my table of yarn and realized there would be no way to get it all in my suitcase. I’m happy to say mothers always know best – no matter how old we get. My mother in her infinite wisdom and knowledge of my obsession with yarn had packed a canvas tote / suitcase just for this purpose. Yay mom!

We just couldnt believe that our cruise was at an end in the morning.

Sunday, October 18, 2008
Istanbul – Day 2

Our cruise at an end we gathered in one of the main areas of the ship waiting for our group to be called to disembark. Everyone was grouped according to their plans – if they were taking a day trip, going to a hotel, were with a group or on their own etc. Imagine the torture – we were LAST. Seriously people we had an entire Grand Bazaar to take on and it was already open – c’mon let us off this ship already! We said our thank yous and goodbyes to the crew we had met and took our bus to the hotel to drop off our bags. Sounds pretentious I know – we were staying at the Ritz – but that was far from the expensive options for after cruise packages! Once again the word opulent doesnt really begin to describe this hotel. Sprawling marble floors, beautiful views, just sheer luxury – kind of cool, although my goal was get checked in and get back to the Bazaar which is exactly what we did.

There are blocks upon blocks of stores in this place. Rows and collections of anything you could imagine. Sterling silver jewlery and accessories, ceramic works of art, belly dance costumes, pillows, pashminas of all types, camel bone boxes, intricate gold and gem jewelry, and some of the most amazing leather pocketbooks (including designer copies that rival the originals). Not to mention turkish carpets. It’s just dizzying! After a bit, you cant figure out where you are going or where you’ve been. Armed with my calculator and my allocated bazaar spending money we were off! You don’t know what to buy first – you start looking one place and something out of the corner of your eye catches your attention. The bargaining is fun – they give you a price, you shake your head and act horrified, they ask you what you want to spend, you tell them and they look instulted – so you start to walk away and then it begins until you find a fair middle ground. All the same time trying to convert turkish lira into dollars to figure out what you’re really spending. We tried to be mindful of what we were getting – especially after trying to pick up our suitcases leaving the ship – but you get so swept up in the whole process – truly its a blast.

We joked about trading Mom for something really good, but I quickly noticed she was able to get much better bargains than me – be it more respect for elders -or that she’s just way better at the whole bargaining thing than me or more likely that we were just having so much fun together there was no way she was going anywhere! We took a break and sat at one of the little food courts in the marketplace and had a bite to eat – the people watching is amazing too.

We decided that it was time to explore the spice market – can you imagine, there was more than one of these places?! Of course we were back to “just 10 minutes” if you walk – which was more like 20, but once again the mass of people in the streets and all the sites along the way made it all part of the adventure (ok we didnt really want to be in those crazy taxis too much either). If you cook, or even if you dont, the spice market it just unreal. You’re just surrounded by exotic sights and scents – not to mention like 5 different kinds of saffron for the choosing! Spices, grinders, teas, turkish coffee, candies, nuts. You select your spice, they measure out the amount and vacuum seal it right there for you. We finally ran out of steam, and strength to carry anything more and headed back to the hotel – we had been at it for like 6 hours!

We had a quick snack in the hotel – what a view – you overlook the Bosphorous and all the shipping traffic on it, while eating typical turkish dishes – just another savor the moment experiences.

Our shopping adventures finished, we opted for a bit more of a cultural experience….a real Turkish bath. Everyone will tell you its amazing and wonderful, but they kind of skim over the details so you don’t really know what to expect. Talk about your true mother and daughter bonding experience…You start out by taking a steam bath – yikes it is HOT in those things – hotter than the ones at home I’m quite sure. Then you go into the haman – it’s all marble. There’s a marble platform type thing in the middle where you lie down. All of a sudden you are douced with hot water – the attendant just starts soaking you up and down with bowl and bowl of water. Then…the scrubbing begins – not gentle – really hard exfoliating scrubbing – turkish loofah perhaps? Who knows! They scrub every inch of your body – I’m talking every inch! You flip over and the whole thing starts again as you are scrubbed head to toe. I’m thinking this is a good way to wash off the marketplace for starters. Mind you, your eyes are closed – between trying to relax and not get water in your eyes, so what you feel next is just silky and smooth getting rubbed into your body. At one point I opened an eye and saw what it was – bubbles – like 3 feet high of bubbles. Mom opened her eyes at about the same point and be became damn near hysterical with laughter – all you could see was a bubble mound but you knew there was a body under it! Rinse the bubbles and flip back over to do the other side. Next you sit up and they pour water over your head – and do your face and your hair. Then you stand up and they rinse you again. I’m telling you they dont really miss anywhere. In spite of the modesty issues this is a pretty amazing experience. It’s a very old ritual and you are cleansed on the most literal of levels. All I can tell you is that not only were we really refreshed – our skin was really soft too (well what did you expect after the top layer was removed!). You go back out into the waiting area and relax and dry off until you’re ready to leave.

We were at this point too tired to even think about going anywhere else for the day…and the anticipation of getting back home started to stir….our trip was really coming to an end….

Sunday, October 19, 2008
Homeward Bound

Up early, we managed to stuff our suitcases full of our purchases and get ready to go. We had an hour before our transportation to the airport, so we took a walk from the hotel to Taksim square. Being Sunday morning – everything was closed, the traffic was at a minimum and there werent even a lot of people on the streets – what an amazing contrast of the days before!

As we drove to the airport it struck me that we were still in Istanbul proper and had been driving for like a half hour – its totally huge. When they tell you that you need 2 hours at the airport they arent kidding! It took us that long to get through all the security. First you clear security to get into the airport – then through passport control again – then to get to the gate area and then once again at each gate. Mind you we didnt have to take our shoes off once!

We got through our two flights home and arrived with totally confused body clocks – exhilirated and exhausted all at the same time.

I’ve made lots of observations on the past week or so. Most of the quirky just like me! For example, there is a huge difference in what Americans and Europeans consider proper personal space – we’re used to much more room between people. Also, I noticed that many American travellers have this sense of entitelment going – kind of strange – like its ok to be demanding or not respectful because they werent from there – really really sad, and a bit embarrassing. The people in Greece and Turkey could not have been kinder or more pleased to share their cities with tourists. It really got to me how young our country is, and as rich as our history here is, there is a whole world to be seen that brings time into different perspective. Of course one Geek observation: the internet is much faster in the US! Many more ridiculous things that I’m sure will come out in conversation as I start to process all our adventures.

Most important observation – what fun my mother is to travel with. She can make conversation with absolutely anyone and they all find her charming and loveable like I do. We laughed a lot, we shared stories about ourselves that the other didnt know. We embraced our differences and used them to our advantage. Adam – my nephew asked me via webchat the first day on our trip if Grandma and I were still getting along – well Adam, the answer then and now is we got along great! This was a week of memories that I will cherish forever.

It was a blast on every level but at this point I’m happy to be home!

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