October 16, 2009

Life's A Trip!

Today we are sailing in the Mediterranean headed towards Alexandria, Egypt onboard NCL Jade. We are escorting a group of nearly 200 people that we met on Friday at the airport in Istanbul,Turkey-(Constantinople). Starting in Istanbul-- WOW, what an amazing city. Depending on whom you talk to, there are somewhere between 14 to 17 million people living within this sprawling city. There are thousands of mosques! The most famous mosque is the Blue Mosque – Sultanahmet mosque. The majority of our group took the time to visit this mosque that was built between 1609-1616. We also visited Topkapi Palace built in the 1400’s. And then there is Hagia Sophia: the most renowned Byzantine cathedral and the best–known Christian church in Istanbul. The first church of the Hagia Sophia was built between 325-361 AD and the church that stands in its place today was declared a national monument in 1934. We also visited the covered bazaar built originally in 1461 and rebuilt to its present plan of 65 streets within the market in1701. Carpets, dishes, clothing, jewelry, knick-knacks, small restaurants – it is all in there! Speaking of carpets – there are stores everywhere as this is where the carpets we still use today originated from. Istanbul’s second covered market is the Spice Market - originally built in 1660 and restored to its present structure in 1943 – the smell of the spices is delicious. However, there are more souvenir shops than spice shops located here. Still, we managed to buy a number of spices and look forward to some scrumptious meals when we get back home!

Then it was on to Izmir, Turkey. Izmir is most famous for the ruins of Ephesus. When the buses first pulled up, most wondered what was so special about these ruins. There were some pillars and large stones but nothing unusual. Our guide continued on for about 5 minutes down a dirt and stone path and then –VOILA! – there in front of us was a city! Mosaics painstakenly restored; the stone bathrooms, a library, houses, streets. All in all, amazing! There is also a 24,000 seat coliseum type stadium that both Madonna and Elton John have performed in! Back to carpets – we were taken to a school/factory where they make the famous Persian/Turkish carpets. First you are taken into a small room and then you are offered apple tea. Offering tea or something to drink is considered to be a sign of friendship. You return the sign of friendship with your Visa card…

We then sailed for Mykonos, Greece. Everyone loved the winding streets and friendly atmosphere. Some even rented motor scooters and scooted around the island to the beautiful beaches on the other side from where we docked. Most had time to walk and eat and drink and shop! And then it was on to Santorini. Oh yes, there were those that took life and limb in hand and rode the donkeys up the 400 plus stairs to Fira, the capitol of Santorini. The views from Fira and Oia are world-famous – the white washed houses against the dazzling blue of the Mediterranean. We then sailed to Iraklion, Crete. It is the largest city in Crete and 4th largest city in Greece. This is no quaint Greek city – Iraklion is a big, busy city. There is one of the most interesting archeological museums of the world located here. And did I mention ---- Starbucks! Oh yes, in Istanbul and Iraklion you can find the ever-expanding coffee company.

Now we are having a day at sea –whew! – and everyone onboard is looking forward to the next port of Alexandria, Egypt. Many passengers will be taking shore excursions to Cairo to visit the Pyramids of Giza and the Cairo Museum that houses thousands of artifacts not the least being all of the artifacts from the tomb of King Tut.

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