Thursday, July 9, 2009 – Aegean Sea
Dinner was in the Grand Epernay Dining Room now that we had our own table for two.
Showtime: An Australian couple (Jackie and Branton) known as String Fever. They were entertaining – Jackie was on the Cello and Branton played the violin – they sang, danced, told some jokes. They reminded me of Sonny and Cher.
After the show, we watched the 60s Night Fest in the Entertainment Court - go-go dancers, guys that looked like Andy Warhol, love children, and the Beatles. The show was put on by the Solstice singers and dancers. Everyone had a good time.
Friday, July 10, 2009, Istanbul, Turkey – 87F- Partly Cloudy
9:43 AM – the Solstice is currently sailing in the Marmara Sea – the ship passed through the Dardanelles early this morning - and scheduled to dock in Istanbul at 1:00 PM. Compared to the Mediterranean, the Marmara is a little choppy but the ship is still smooth as silk.
Sea of Marmara – Turkey is on the horizon
Ian has scheduled me for my third talk - “CSI: The Future” at 11:30 AM. (opposite the special “Brunch) in the Ocean View Cafe. I am anticipating a small crowd considering that everyone is getting ready for the first of two days in Istanbul.
At 11:25 AM, I concluded that I would be giving this talk to the AV guy (he was recording it for Solstice TV) but a few people showed up (8-10) to hear the talk – it went fine and on time (just 47 minutes).
Today we are taking the “Byzantium Istanbul” excursion. The Tour started out by taking us across the Golden Horn – the inlet that separates European and Asian Istanbul (using the crowded Galata Bridge).
Istanbul (the Arabic adulteration of Constantinople) has 12 million inhabitants (there are about 1.2 commuters filling the streets with cars). It is the biggest city we have every visited (runner up: Buenos Aires).
Once in the Old City, we passed the Jewish Quarter (homes never re-occupied– according to the guide – since the owners moved to Israel). The bus also passed by the palace of Constantine the Great and the old city wall (shot through the bus window).
Palace of Constantine
Our first stop was the Church of St. Saviour in Chora (Hora). This Byzantine Church (from the 11th century) is now a museum.
The interior contains all the elements of Byzantine architecture and numerous mosaics and frescos
Dome at Church of St. Saviour
Mosaic of a Saint
Close in distance but not in time (due to the horrendous Istanbul traffic – by the way, everyone has the right of way here and traffic signals are simply wasting electricity) is the Hagia Sophia (or Aya Sofya) Museum. The structure was built as a basilica in 737 AD by the Emperor Justinian. When we were here last time, it was considered a mosque and I had to toss my shoes in a massive basket (for later retrieval) and don a blue wrap skirt to cover my shorts. Now it is a secular museum, making money, and no dress code essentially. Still a magnificent building; the dome – at 148 feet – is the fourth tallest in the world.
Hagia Sophia (from the adjacent park)
The dome is always under repair but still an awesome sight
A number of columns in the Mosque were taken from Ephesus.
The other nice thing about the Hagia Sophia is that it is cool inside and a nice break from the heat of Istanbul. This tour does not take us to the Blue Mosque (blue on the inside due to the wall tiles) but is right across the park from the Hagia Sophia
The Blue Mosque
The Blue Mosque has six minarets (unusual for a mosque and unmatched in Istanbul) and is typical Ottoman architecture.
Snailing – my own neologism - our way through the glacial traffic, we also visited the Hippodrome, an ancient racing oval (similar to the Circus Maximus). It’s a park now complete with an obelisk taken from the Temple at Karnack in Egy0t (arrived broken so only the top part of the obelisk is on display) as well as a fountain dedicated to Kaiser Wilhelm II (when Germany and the Ottoman Empire had close diplomatic relations).
The Karnack Obelisk in the Hippodrome
The Grand Bazaar (or Covered Bazaar per our guide) was our last stop. The bazaar, which dates back to the conquest of Constantinople, is situated at the end of a long pedestrian walkway filled with all kinds of upscale shopping (jewelry and leather). The bazaar itself is simply crazy with over 4,000 shops selling everything imaginable. I didn’t go in but I did get a picture of the neat entrance.
Ellen and I finally found each other and I really felt like checking out the Starbuck’s so we headed to the pedestrian mall and I ordered a Vente Ice Mocha Decaf ($4.00) and we did some people watching.
Just like being at home
The one mile ride back to the ship took more than an hour arriving at about 8:00 PM. The traffic is simply beyond description (even with constant ferries, street cars, and some elevated trains). What makes it even more unbelievable is that while the average Turk makes about $6,000 a year, gas costs about $12.00 a gallon.
We missed our scheduled seating time, so dinner was in the buffet. I can never get tired of their pasta bar – fresh and good.
No show tonight but there was a deck party – “Flava”- starring all the performers on the ship. It was nice on deck and the performers were very good. The highlight: A Greek dance by the senior officers (all Greeks) led by the Captain himself.
Stars of Solstice at Flava Night
Captain Demetrios leading the Senior Officers in a Greek Dance
Saturday, July 11, 2009, Istanbul, Turkey – 87F- Partly Cloudy
We are staying on the ship today – it looks like it is difficult to get to any OK part of the city from the pier. A good day to check out areas of the ship (since we have been on tour almost all the time). In addition, there are many Istanbul sights visible from the Ship:
The Galata Tower (build in 1348 to protect the city) is 220 feet tall and easy to spot
The three top attractions in the area: Topkapi Palace (constructed after the conquest of Constantinople) was the home of the Ottoman Sultans. The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia are also visible on the same stretch of Old City
L-R: Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque
From the bow of the ship, one has a great view of the two sides of Istanbul (European and Asian) connected by the Ataturk Bridge. The Asian side seemed to be more residential (not as interesting) and a sea of red tile roofs.
Europe, Ataturk Bridge, Asia
Asian Istanbul in the background
Most of the day was spent on Deck 15 – The Lawn Club. This deck has an actual lawn with an actual gardener (probably the only one in the cruise ship industry).
This ship also has a Corning Glass Museum Facility, which demonstrates glass blowing several times during the cruise. We watched the show this afternoon and the all girl staff did a nice job of fabricating all kinds of neat glass objects (good thing the ship is calm). What makes this whole thing interesting is that this was Celebrity’s idea – also because of the prohibition against fire on a ship, the ovens are electric but still able to generate 1000 degrees F.
Although we had our assigned table, we asked the Assistant M’D if we could have a table by the window. We got our window and the view of the Sea of Marmara (“Marble”) was great.
Showtime: Tonight’s second production show is “Pulse”, a collage of songs and dances from different musical genres with some nice graphics in the background. The highlight of the show was a “mime” comic who tried, mostly in vain, to get different parts of the audience to clap in sequence. It doesn’t sound funny but it was. The Stars of Solstice were great in this energetic production.
Sunday, July 12, 2009, Kusadasi, Turkey – 87F- Partly Cloudy
The Solstice is the only cruise ship docked at Kusadasi. The city is a fancy resort town on the Aegean – the name of the city means “Bird Island” (named for the tiny island just off the harbor known for its pigeons).
Today, we are taking the “Highlights of Ephesus and Lunch” tour scheduled to depart at 10:30 AM. My tour guide, Tan, is a PhD Art Historian filling in for the regular guide (new baby born today). We have seen the sights on the itinerary years ago but am curious about how they have changed. First stop is Mary’s House, where the Virgin Mary went to live (and died) following the death of Jesus. It is located in the mountains overlooking Kusadasi and is a very popular tourist location. The house itself is very small
and it only takes a minute to get through the house – if you want, you can light a candle and spend more time inside but most everyone just files through. (Note: The last time we were here – 12 years ago – there was a tree with wads of chewing gum stuck to it – a kind of ritual for visitors. No one mentioned the tree this time around.)
About 10 minutes from Mary’s House in the valley below is the ancient Roman town of Ephesus. Ephesus, colonized in the 10th century BC, used to be a harbor but earthquakes, erosion, and other natural phenomena put a lot of real estate between Ephesus and the harbor at Kusadasi. In addition, the erosion due to rain turned the area into a marshland complete with mosquitoes and malaria. That spelled the end of Ephesus.
We saw all the main highlights of the city including the Odeum (small theater)
The Fountain of Trajan: You can see Trajan’s foot - or what’s left of it - appearing to step on a sphere; this is supposed to represent the world – how did he know it was round - indicating that he was the boss of the world
Fountain of Trajan
The Temple of Hadrian (probably not a real temple since it is located in the main street between jewelry shops) contains a relief of the Goddess Medusa (the snake haired lady of turning you to stone fame).
Oh, by the way: Medusa is on the corporate logo of Starbuck’s Coffee (coffee so strong it will turn you to stone).
The Celsus Library at Ephesus is a truly spectacular structure. Only two of the three stories of the library have been reconstructed with the third in progress
Celsus Library at Ephesus
One of the statues on the first level was particularly interesting since I could read her first name – Sophia
The final structure on our tour was the Grand Amphitheater
The amphitheater can hold 24,000 people but is currently under repair from damage caused by a recent Sting concert (vibrations caused structural damage). According to our guide, Sting donated $200,000 from the concert but the damage will cost $2 Million to repair.
Finally, a Roman show featuring an emperor, queen, slaves, soldiers, and dancing girls completed our tour of Ephesus
The procession – see the Queen (the one with attitude)
Ancient Roman Dancing Girls
Lunch was at the five start Pine Bay Resort – good salad buffet (containing a lot of yoghurt as an ingredient) with some veggie main dishes (spaghetti with Marinara Sauce). Ellen and I made contact and had some lunch time together. Great desserts – super baklava. If you are interested, staying at the hotel will set you back a whopping $120 per night.
Our last stop was a jewelry store where the passengers had some wine and other drinks before being given a chance to shop. I didn’t stay because Ellen and I had decided to meet where the busses left off passengers. Problem was the busses left their folks off at all sorts of different stores. After about a half hour of aimless searching, I headed back to the ship. Turns out, Ellen was right behind me.
After a little rest, we headed back out to Kusadasi to try to find a place that offered an authentic Turkish Bath. On the recommendation of my tour guide, we went to the four star hotel on the main street. We both did the Turkish Bath (scrub, soap, lots of hot and cold water – all on a marble slab – followed by a peeling facial and a nice massage). So relaxing – a great experience. Total cost for both of us (90 minutes or so): $130. I’m going to look for another one (may not be as authentic) before our cruise is over. We did a little more exploring of Kusadasi before heading back to the ship.
It was late and we missed our Dinner time so we did the buffet again (hello, pasta lady).
Showtime: Tonight, we were entertained by Livewire, a Celtic duo from Ireland. Michael and Clare (married) did some standard Celtic songs, some country songs, and some standard material. They were great musicians (guitar and violin) and had terrific energy (especially the woman on violin, who hopped and danced all over the stage). A great show.
Monday, July 13, 2009, Aegean Sea – 80s – Sunny
Beautiful day at sea – lots of Greek Islands, blue waters, calm seas, and small local cruise ships.
I had to spend a good of the morning tuning up my talk - “Cold Cases Solved” – to fit into the time allotted. We decided to try the Dining Room for lunch today – a good call (I had a veggie burger). It was nice and quiet with a great view. A nice calm lunch.
The talk at 1:30 PM was well attended – over 50 people – and went well. Considering the competition – the Captain’s Club Party – I was happy with the turnout. The group was interactive and interested in the topic. Some very good questions at the end. Again, as always, the talk was recorded. Celebrity Central is an excellent speaking venue.
Dinner tonight was in the Grand Epernay Dining Room. We asked for a got a great window table for two – great view of the some of the 1300 islands that make up the Greek chain. Dinner was terrific (the veggie kabobs and salmon were very good).
There are two shows tonight. The first involves the selection of the three finalists in the Solstice Talent Show. All the singers were good but the three finalists all had vocal training and were uniformly terrific especially a young girl singing a Kelly Clarkson song – I think she did it better than Kelly.
The second show was the headliner of the evening: Canadian Vocal Impersonator, Karen Grainger. She was fabulous from beginning to end – doing a dead on Celine Dion as well as both parts of “The Prayer” with Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli. It was simply amazing. She’s coming back to do the farewell show. She has one of the best voices ever.