Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Playing Catch-up

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Peace [and Quiet] in Our Time

A much needed sea day allowed us to do as little as possible. Other than Trivia [don’t ask], we had nothing to do and nowhere to go, so we did nothing and went nowhere. MA caught up on sleep and D began writing the journal entries for our frantic four days in the desert.

Sunday, April 24, 2011
Bodrum Bargain

The four of us had another tour scheduled for this morning in Bodrum [BO-drum] and Ḉemlik [CHEM-lik], Turkey. The last e-mail from the tour operator said that someone from the agency would be outside waiting for us beginning at 8:30, so we foolishly left the ship at 8:30. Our pickup had been arranged for 9:00, but it was worth leaving early to avoid the HAL buses. We waited until 9:00 without seeing anyone with our names on a sign. By 9:15 we were getting angry and D went inside to get his cell phone and the number for the agency. Since he had not printed it with the other information, it was more expedient to turn on the 3-G on his Kindle and go through past e-mail to find it. He was able to retrieve the right message – including the 8:30 time – by the time he arrived back at the meeting point. Just as he got there, Ed spotted the sign in a man’s folder; this person was making no effort to show the sign or find us. It was 9:30.

D showed him the e-mail and a mild argument ensued during which the driver called his office and gave D the cell phone. D told his version of what had happened and was told by the boss that he knew his driver was there on time and D said the driver was lying. We finally got into the van we were going to use and D realized that he had seen this vehicle arrive well before 9:00. The driver simply hadn’t cared.

We drove to the “inner harbor” of Bodrum and picked up our guide, Mehmet, who had been waiting since 9:00. He was unhappy, too, since we were starting late. Bodrum has an ancient castle which Ed wanted to see, so he and Mehmet trooped off to the castle while Roxanne, MA and D sat at a café and nursed Turkish tea for an hour. The happy warriors returned at 11:00. We had been outside 2-1/2 hours and all we had to show for it was a glass of tea.

The castle they had visited had been made from the stones from Mausoleus’ mausoleum which we keep hearing was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Although it was huge when it was built, there is only rubble on the site now and Mehmet said it wasn’t worth stopping for. Likewise, we drove past but did not go into the Greek theater. We saw it from across the street and it looked like a Greek theater. Seen one, seen ’em all.

We did stop so the boys could get out at the ancient gate to Bodrum which used to be known as Halikarnasos. We walked around and took pictures, as always. There were several HAL buses there waiting to disgorge their passengers as we pulled out. Our last stop in Bodrum was a scenic overlook which offered views of Bodrum and its harbor as well as the abandoned bases of old windmills. More pictures, but we were hoping for more.

We drove out of town toward Ḉemlik. The road was rough and got rougher as we left the main highway and started up a pot-holed washboard hill. At some points, the road almost disappeared, especially when we drove through [yes, through] the rock quarry. Steep hills, poorly maintained roads and hairpin turns made the drive exciting.

The scenery, however, was beautiful. As we climbed, we got an occasional peek at the valley now far below. The right side of the van often overlooked a steep cliff and there were stone fences marking off fields. It was pretty and rustic.

We arrived at Ḉemlik and climbed down. Directly in front of us was a convenience store cum café where we sat while Mehmet told us about the village. He was accompanied here by a young man also named Mehmet, so it had the potential for confusion. After tea, part of the Turkish ritual, we wandered up a path and observed the variety of fruit and nut trees which grew in the town. We also ate almonds fresh from the tree, fuzzy green seed coverings and all. Mehmet the Guide told us that the almond seeds and honey would make for happy nights, but we had no honey with us.

We saw and smelled the camel barn as well as the cows, sheep and chickens. Small town life in Turkey. We were supposed to visit a tobacco farm and an olive oil facility, but these were sort of ignored by our guide who led us to THE CARPET DEMONSTRATION which was his sister-in-law working like a magician on a carpet in the backyard.

We watched her for a while as young Mehmet explained about the process of making carpets; the difference between carpets; and the carpet cooperative for the area which just happened to be right in front of us. It wouldn’t hurt, would it, to see some examples of the local women’s work? So we sat down for the show as Mehmet unfurled carpet after carpet for us to see. The selection was nothing like the store in Istanbul where both we and the Pettuses had bought carpets on earlier trips to Turkey.

There were carpets and killims in every color possible and in silk, cotton and wool. There carpets in sizes ranging from 1x1.5 feet up to 18 feet long. It was dazzling. There were new carpets and old carpets. And then it happened – a carpet caught MA’s fancy and the dance began.

There were offers and counter-offers; complaints that the rug was already discounted compared to its price in Istanbul; that the seller could not afford to let it go for as little as we were offering. We countered that we had a budget to maintain; that we didn’t really need or want another carpet. We made a lowball bid; Mehmet countered. We held firm. They said no. D thought MA really wanted this rug, so he raised the offer a little. They came down more and he went up a little. And suddenly we owned the thing for about one-third less than the original price. A good deal? Maybe. Time will tell.

The last part of the haggling came while we ate lunch on the porch outside the showroom. Mehmet the Younger wisely brought the carpet outside so we could continue to see it. Lunch was made by Mehmet’s mother and was strictly local. It included assorted salads,stuffed grape leaves and potatoes and chicken and was not so different from what we ate in Israel and Egypt.

The deal concluded, we drove back to town by a shorter, smoother route and were back in time to lose again in Trivia.

Tomorrow – Kusadasi, Turkey

Monday, April 25, 2011

Cotton and Cookies

We moved up the Turkish coast last night, but not very far. The same buses and drivers who worked the HAL tours in Bodrum were here this morning to ferry them again. Today we are docked in Kusadasi [KOOSH-uh-DAH-shi], the gateway to more ruins.

Most first time visitors to Kusadasi travel up the road to see Ephesus, one of the most magnificent ancient towns found and at least partially restored. We were there two years ago and wanted something different this year, so we arranged to see different ruins in Priene and Miletos.

MA’s cold got the better of her and she chose to stay in bed today. D met Ed and Roxanne at the regular place and left the ship in search of the guide. We missed connections by only 15 minutes this time and we suspect she was there the whole time and that we were just looking in the wrong place. We had a 15-passenger van and lots of room, a pleasant surprise. Our guide was Begum [BEG-oom], a bright, attractive young women of 32 who spoke perfect English.

We drove to Priene [PREE-en] by way of Sὅke [SHAH-kay]. Sὅke is an agricultural area which specializes in producing cotton. The town itself is nothing to write about except that Begum says that the rich people in the area -- the cotton barons – live here. We saw no evidence of wealth in Sὅke. It was obvious that the land was rich. Centuries ago, this area was underwater because it was an inlet of the Aegean Sea. Over many years, though, the harbor became filled with silt from the Meander River, the twin of the river which silted the harbor at Ephesus. [Once a port city, Ephesus is now six miles from water.] The delta became an alluvial plain, the water level dropped, and rich arable soil was left behind. The twin Meander Rivers are still here, but work has been done to divert them so the remaining harbors stay safe.

Priene once overlooked the long-gone Aegean. Situated high on a hill, it still commands breathtaking views of the valley below; it must have been magnificent when the view included the Aegean and the trade ships which plied the area.

We drove up a steep hill, left the van and climbed more of the steep hill. The path was rocky and the footing unsure. Where there were marble steps, they were uneven and slippery. The going was rough for everyone but Begum. Priene still contains the remains of the government center including offices and a small auditorium where the town leaders made all of the important decisions. The agora, or market area, was clearly visible and was being used as a sheep path while we were there; a shepherd and his flock wandered through, bells tinkling, while Begum talked about the area.

Priene was one of the earliest cities laid out in a right-angle grid pattern. Corners were still discernible as were the terra cotta pipes used to distribute water from a spring higher on the mountain. Junctions in the water pipes were made of marble because the terra cotta could not withstand the pressure of the water hitting it. There was also a very obvious waste water system which is now opened to the sky but which was covered when the town was still active. Paved gutters ran from each house or shop to a larger gutter which ran down to hill, presumably to the Aegean.

On the far side of the town, and down the other side of the hill, was the ruin of a house where Alexander the Great spent one winter. It did not have a sign reading, “Alexander slept here.” There was a temple at the top of the hill and, of course, a Greek theater which was in pretty good condition. Like all such theaters, it was built into a natural amphitheater, had good acoustics and would have offered a stunning view of the Sea in the distance.

We had arrived at Priene early in the day and were ahead of the HAL buses. The parking lot was completely empty when we first approached Priene. By the time we left, the lot was full and the little old people were huffing and puffing their way up. Begum paid our entry fee on the way out since the ticket office had not opened when we arrived and we set sail, figuratively, for Miletos.

Miletos [MEE-li-tos] is in the middle of what was once an arm of the Aegean Sea and had been right on the water. The Meander River silted this area over, too, providing great soil but eventually marooning the port just like Ephesus. Some high spots still exist, but some of Miletos is still partially submerged. The best news was that most of it was at ground level, sort of.

Once Begum had purchased our tickets, we walked directly to the theater. We still had to walk up a slight grade to enter, but it was nothing compared to Priene. We entered the theater almost at the orchestra level at the bottom of the theater.

The Miletos theater is a Greco-Roman theater and the differences were apparent to the group especially because Begum had told us there would be a quiz. The most obvious difference was seen in the sunken orchestra. The seating area was a good 2 meters [6+ feet] higher than the floor of the theater. With the addition of temporary walls, which were not present, the arena could be used for gladiatorial competitions. The sunken floor and extra wall would prevent wild beasts and losing gladiators from escaping into the audience.

While this theater was built into a hill, it had interior corridors at the top and tunnels half-way up the seating bowl. The altar was in the middle of the orchestra instead of directly in front of the seats and there were provisions made for awnings to be erected over the front rows of seats to keep the sun or rain off of the dignitaries. The acoustics, of course, were wonderful.

We walked up to the top of the auditorium and through a tunnel to reach the back side of the hill. A short walk brought us to an overlook where we could see the remains of Miletos. This city was to first to be laid out in a grid and the streets’ edges were still visible as perfectly straight with sharp right angles at the corners. The remains of the town, however, were at the bottom of the hill in a swamp; the water level here never got low enough for it to dry completely. Begum said that during the rainy season, most of the ruins were at least partially under water. Individual buildings were still discernible and there was a drawing posted at the lookout illustrating which buildings and areas were which. Mostly, though, we listened to the frogs who now live in Miletos; their croaking rose and fell like the worshippers at the Wailing Wall.

After we had had our fill of photos and frogs, we moved to the Roman bath. It had the usual three chambers: hot water and steam in the calderium; warm water in the tepidarium; and cold water in the fridgidarium. There were changing rooms large enough to accommodate six people and a “rec plex” next door. Work up a sweat, take a schvitz. The area with the cold water featured a double arch, one atop the other, but no one knows why.

Roman baths were not just for getting clean. They were often the social, business and political center of the city. Here, men came not only to “take the waters” but also to conduct business or political affairs. Open to all citizens [hence, men], it was more like a private club in today’s world.
Our lunch, included in the cost of the tour, was at a café near Priene which was on the way back to the ship anyway. We sat outdoors next to an artificial duck pond. The ducks played and got a little frisky while we watched and there may be more ducks by this time next year.

Lunch consisted of individual green salads with cucumber, tomato, green onion and chile peppers; a communal plate of local hors d’ouevres; and a choice of fish, chicken or lamb kabob. We all chose the kabob which was unlike any we had seen. Instead of being a skewer of meat and vegetables, it was a long thin piece of processed meat like that used in a gyro. It was really spicy and Roxanne could not eat hers; Ed ate about a third of his and D ate half; Begum finished hers, of course. The salads helped fill us up and no one went hungry. Begum recommended the local drink and Ed and D agreed to try it. It was a mixture of yogurt, water and salt. Ed drank his but D found it too salty, so Begum drank both hers and his; Roxanne wisely had a Coke. There was no dessert but Begum treated us to coffee and tea before we started back to Kusadasi.

On the way, we convinced her that we needed to stop for cookies. We did not try to explain the Trivia competition or the fact that ours is the best fed team, but we did say that we wanted somegthing unique to the area. She had the driver take us to her favorite bakery where we sampled one of the local pastries. We were convinced that this was an excellent choice and purchased two kilos worth of sweets to take to Trivia. We also treated Begum to some for herself. Later, as we walked through the shopping arcade by the ship, one of the locals came running from his store to ask where we had gotten the bag we were carrying. Had we gone to that bakery? Had we walked, he asked, because it was a long way away and so on. He said it was his favorite bakery, too, and he stopped there most mornings on his motorcycle and bought breakfast. He was impressed that we had bought our cookies there. We took this as a good sign.

The pastries were truly the best part of our Trivia game today and we have plenty left for the future. Ed and Roxanne sampled the apple ones before the game and we all had some before we started to play. With another port tomorrow, we hope they are still fresh enough when we play again.

Dinner was special tonight. Our Trivia partner Sandra and her husband Alan celebrated their 54th anniversary today and hosted a small dinner party in the MDR. There were nine of us all together including their regular dinner companions, us and another man. We had a good time since the conversation rarely lagged and the people were mostly interesting. We felt honored to be included in what became our second wedding celebration in one cruise.

Tomorrow – Athens, Greece

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Ruins, Ruins and More Ruins

Neither MA nor Ed made it off the ship today. MA’s cold has not abated and now Ed seems to have it; there is nothing worse than a man who thinks he’s sick. Roxanne and D persevered without them and left the ship at 7:30 in search of our driver and a new adventure.

Nick is a taxi driver, but a classy one. His father’s firm is called Athens Taxi and consists of the father and his two sons. We first used them two years ago and were able to have the same son, Nick, as our driver today. Like Fabrizio, Nick is not a licensed guide, but he knows enough to make up for it. On the way to the various sites, he was able to give us more than enough background for us to have at least some idea of what we were seeing; this was even more important last time because we were seeing the classic Greek monuments. Today, we were taking the road less traveled by going to Corinth, Mycenae, Naflion [or Naphthlion] and Epidaurus. Since this a drive, not a tour, we are on our own, economically, for lunch.

We had heard just yesterday that one of the things we had to see in Corinth was the Canal. We thought that the canal would be more marble in the ruins of Corinth, but it is an ancient working canal which happens to be in modern Corinth. Begun centuries ago, the canal was a V-shaped slash going straight through a narrow strip of the Peloponnesian peninsula. The 7 km canal saves ships hours of sailing time since they no longer have to circumnavigate the entire region.

We were told by Nick that there were 6000 workers needed to make the original canal. It has only a 12-foot clearance below water level and is a mere 35 feet wide, so only small ships can traverse it. We were lucky enough to see a small cruise vessel making its way through the 80-foot high walls. It was so close to the sides that we were reminded of a river boat going through a lock.

The ruins of Corinth were better preserved than those in many other towns. Some of the columns of the Temple of Apollo are still standing at the high point of ancient Corinth. We could easily identify the shops, the agora, odeon and amphitheater once we saw the schematic drawing of the town. In the center of the agora stood a surprise – there was a bima. In synagogues, the bima is the pulpit where the rabbi conducts services and preaches. In Corinth, the bema [their spelling] was the altar on which Paul of Tarsus [later, St. Paul] preached. He is also known for writing letters to the Corinthians. Busy, busy, busy.

Outside the city walls were the odeon and theater. Roxanne and D saw these before buying their tickets. The amphitheater was pretty much destroyed by an earthquake and was just a pile of rubble, but the odeon was still recognizable for what it was, a small amphitheater which was used for musical presentations.

Above the town, on the ridge of the mountains, was a Byzantine fortress. It was stark against the sky but we did not take the time to drive up. Nick did not encourage a visit. Since Nick was driving, we went where he went. Mycenae was another ancient Greek town set on top of a hill. We understood the defensive reason that the towns were built on mountain tops, but that understanding did not make the climb any easier.

Mycenae [my-SEE-nuh] was a different kettle of fish. We drove partway up the hill to the parking lot and ticket booth. The climb did not look bad as it zigged and zagged to the top. There were lots of people already climbing up, so Roxanne and D thought the ascent would be a piece of baklava. Not. After one course in each direction, Roxanne planted herself on a wall and D continued to climb to the top. There were several rest stops on the way, but he finally huffed to the summit only to discover that there wasn’t much left of the town. The view of the valley below was nice but not really worth a potential coronary. He took pictures to prove he had made it and then retreated to the bottom of the hill, collecting Roxanne on the way.

A very short drive brought us to the Treasury of Atreus [A-tree-us]. A very long open-roofed antechamber brought us to a tremendous pseudo-pyramid carved into the hillside. From inside, it looked like the interior of a tepee with walls that rose smoothly at an angle to come together directly over the center; Roxanne compared it to the Pantheon in Rome without the open oculus. There was a completely dark room attached to it which we could see only briefly as people took flash photographs. The treasury was supposed to be Atreus’ tomb, but like the Greek treasury, it was empty.

Nick took us to Naflion, a quaint little village. There was another Byzantine fortress on top the mountain here, too, but we chose not to climb the 990 steps up the cliff [and over a bridge] to reach it. There had been a second fort on another, lower peak next to it, but this hill had literally dropped straight to the sea during an earthquake. The fortress is still intact and now sits in the harbor like a small island. Like a junior version of Robben Island in Capetown, Nick said that is sometimes used as a prison. Nick climbed out on a cliff to take a picture of it since he didn’t trust us to do it safely.

And then there was Epidaurus [EH-pi-DAR-us]. The classic Greek theater is embodied in Epidaurus. Pictures of the theater have filled textbooks and postcards for decades. It is almost perfectly preserved despite earthquake activity over the millennia and is an engineering marvel.

That the Greeks could build these theaters into hillsides would have been amazing [Dayenu]; that the acoustics were better than any modern theater would have been amazing enough [Dayenu]; but to find the human-comfort level we saw was unbelieveable.

Granted, the seats at Miletos had lion’s feet on the legs of the benches and even had the seats projecting in front of the base so theater-goers could move their feet back a little. At Epidaurus, there were no lion’s feet but there was space behind the bench seat to put one’s legs and the floor had been lowered in front of the seats to allow more vertical leg room. Lowering the foot area in front of the seats, rather than just making them higher, meant that more rows of seats could be built in the same space without sacrificing comfort.

Of course, the front rows near the orchestra had backs to the seats because the dignitaries sat there. However, the last row of the orchestra and the first row of the mezzanine, separated by a walkway, also had backs suggesting a second or even third layer in the social structure. These upper seats actually offered a better perspective on the plays and on the countryside [or sea] beyond. Of the 10,000 seats in the auditorium, none was bad.

Those who sat in the upper reaches of the theater at Epidaurus had no fear of missing any of the dialogue because the acoustics were spectacular. While Roxanne and D were there, a tour guide stood in the center of the orchestra by what we assumed had been the altar and crinkled a 5 euro note. Not surprisingly, Roxanne could hear it in the front row, but D could hear it distinctly at the top of the seating bowl. When someone else dropped a few coins, it was clear as a bell, and when some man started reading Antigone in German, it was almost too loud. Of course that may have been his fault, not the theater’s.

Nick was under the impression we just wanted a snack on the way back to the ship, rather than a real lunch, but he was mistaken. We wanted what we considered Greek food. As it turns out, Greek food is now waffles with ice cream, cheeseburgers and club sandwiches. He stopped at a place which sold “snacks” like these, much to our disappointment, so we settled for bruschetta which were more like pizzas on good bread. Roxanne had a Pepsi and D had a Frediccino which was more chocolate milkshake than coffee drink. Still, it was quite satisfying. As the only non-Greek customers in a restaurant where even the help spoke no English, we had to assume that this is now Greek food because it is what the Greeks were eating. It was disheartening.

When we were ready to leave, we waited for someone to bring a bill. David finally tracked down the waiter and made the universal sign for the check only to have the waiter walk to the table and show us where it had been all the time. When he brought the plates of food, he had also brought what looked like a large thimble. Curled around the inner curve was a cash register slip with the bill. Roxanne then remembered that that was the system but it was too late to save us from a little embarrassment.

We practically flew back to the port of Piraeus [puh-RAY-us] with Nick continuing to drive like a demon; there were times today when he topped 150 kph [90 mph] while negotiating the twisting hills outside Athens. Like the drivers in Egypt, he often made his own lane. The roads were good and the Mercedes steady, so we were only nervous when he answered his cell phone, a too-frequent occurrence.

We arrived home around 3:45, much too late for Trivia. Independently, we found both Ed and MA in bed “resting.” D took off his shoes and luxuriated in stretching out after a long day of mountain climbing. Ed didn’t make it dinner, but MA did. After dinner we checked the mail and Facebook and then read. MA went to sleep while D played catch-up with the journal.

Tomorrow – Monemvasia, Greece

Wednesday, April27, 2011

Monemvasia, Maybe

Nick told us yesterday that there wasn’t much to Monemvasia [MO-nem-VAY-zhuh] except some nice cafes by the water. There is also an old castle on a hill overlooking the harbor but he said it wasn’t worth the climb, so we were hoping to tender to town and get lunch. At last we could sleep in.

The captain had other ideas and at 8:00 or so blasted us out of bed with the announcement that we would bypass this tiny port because there was no safe way to anchor the ship or provide tender service; the winds were simply too strong and he refused to endanger the passengers or the ship. Welcome to Split redux.

Our shore day had become a sea day! Hurrah! We played at Trivia where we have gone from bridesmaids to flower girl [although we did better today]. We tend to stick around after the game and chat, so, once the group had dispersed, we went to the MDR for lunch. After eating with some total strangers who swore they got on in Ft. Lauderdale, we returned to the room where MA read and rested while D finished the journal. We will go to hear Arthur Starr give a presentation this afternoon and rest again before dinner. And now we are up-to-date.

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