Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Cruise Shore Tour in Istanbul

Inside the Blue Mosque, Istanbul
The first thing we learned on our shore tour called 'Scenic Highlights' is that Istanbul is home to 17 million people. The second thing we learned is that it has over 700 Starbucks coffee shops!
   We drove past the Dolmabahce palace on the foreshore of the Bosphorus then across the long bridge to the Asian side of the city. There was a short stop for photos in a little park near the bridge. However, the traffic was so bad & the roads so congested that it took ages to get back to the Old City for our visit to the Blue Mosque. I wondered whether the long drive was worth it just to say we'd crossed the bridge into Asia.
  At the Blue Mosque we were instructed to cover our shoulders and knees and for the women to cover their heads. The crowds of visitors were 'funnelled' through a narrow corridor where each was inspected by zealous staff who approved of how you were dressed, or not, as the case may be. Long skirts, pashminas and headscarves were provided for those who needed covering up.

Suitably dressed to enter the Blue Mosque
  Inside the Blue Mosque I was awed by the size of the building and the wealth of decoration - every surface covered in blue tiles, plain or patterned. It was spectacular.

The sheer size of the Blue Mosque
After this visit we were let loose in the Grand Bazaar! I'd been told how easy it was to get lost as there are hundreds of stalls and dozens of exits. We went in at Gate #1 which turned out to be where all the very expensive boutique-style shops selling gold jewellery and leatherwear were situated.

Inside the Grand Bazaar
Up and down the side alleys we went, always keeping a nervous eye out for the passageway that led back to Gate 1 in case we got hopelessly lost and missed our bus! The colours of all the goods for sale were vivid and interesting - it really was an Aladdin's cave, a shopping experience like no other!

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Istanbul Cruise Port of Call

View from the cruise ship dock in Istanbul
The Bosphorus, the Sea of Marmara, the Golden Horn - all magical names for the waters around the city of Istanbul. And now we were there, looking across to the Old City with its famous mosques and museums. The harbour was very busy with all sorts of craft making the short ride across to the Asian side and back to the European side of this city which straddles two continents.
   As we docked a flock of crows flew on board, parading round the handrails and sitting on the backs of the sun chairs.
  But they weren't the only ones to welcome us. A troupe of musicians gathered on the wharf and started to play traditional songs.

A musical welcome to Istanbul
It didn't take long to disembark, walk along the dock to the cruise terminal and find our coach for our shore tour. More on that next time.

Norwegian Spirit docked in Istanbul


Thursday, 15 August 2013

NCL Shore Tour to the Ephesus Area and the Basilica of St John

Statue of the Virgin Mary near Ephesus
The shore tour I went on from Izmir didn't involve so much walking so was better for me with my limited mobility. Our coach took us first past the upper gates of Ephesus to this statue of the Virgin Mary, gleaming in the sunlight. It is situated near the house where she was said to live in her old age. 
   After a photo stop there we went to the village of Selcuk where the ruins of the Basilica of St John lie on the hillside beneath the old castle fort.
   I loved exploring these ruins. The tomb of St John the Baptist is here as well as the baptismal bath, in the shape of a cross, where the devout were immersed.
Tomb of St John in the ruins of the Basilica

The baptismal font
The site has wide views down over the village and along the valley out to sea. The Basilica buildings must have been huge and well decorated with carved marble columns, plinths and statues. Poppies were growing amongst the ruins and storks had built their untidy nests on top of some of the columns. You can see one in the photo on the right. I thought that was pretty special!
   Next stop was at the lower gate of Ephesus but the trees had grown so high you couldn't see in to the site. 
  We travelled to Kusadasi then, the home town of our guide. It is built around a very pretty bay with a wide promenade and busy shopping centre. Our stop there was to visit a carpet showroom. After complimentary drinks and a snack, the salesmen told us how the carpets are made, and showed examples of the traditional designs and types from different regions of Turkey. It was interesting to learn these things but I hate the 'hard sell' techniques and had no intention of buying anything. I preferred to go outside and stroll along the promenade until it was time to board the coach for our ride back to the ship.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Shore Tour to Magnificent Ephesus, Turkey

The amphitheatre at Ephesus
Pete and I did separate tours from Izmir. His one was called 'Magnificent Ephesus' and involved quite a lot of walking over uneven terrain and cobblestones of the archaeological site. Because I don't walk so well some days, I did a shore tour that was mostly by bus called 'Gates of Ephesus and  Basilica of St John'.
   'Magnificent Ephesus' shore tour started with a bus ride from the port at Izmir to the upper gates of Ephesus. This was an interesting drive, through the countryside which was being intensively worked with plantations of fruit trees including pomegranates, oranges and dates. 
  Once at Ephesus, the guide gave all the passengers audio headsets so they could wander around the ruins and still hear his commentary.
The Library of Celsus at Ephesus
  Among the many interesting ruins were the Library, the Temple of Hadrian,  the Scholastic Baths, the agora, the amphitheatre and the terrace houses. Of particular interest to Pete were the mosaic pavements and the fragments of carved columns and slabs lying around.

Wonderful mosaics at Ephesus

Also of interest was a pageant acted by local people of life in the 3rd century AD. They were dressed in costumes of the day, some as Roman soldiers, others as upper class Ephesians, some as musicians playing trumpets and others as orators wearing togas.

A pageant depicting Ephesus in the 3rd century AD
And of course, there was the obligatory tourist shop stop that all cruise ship shore tours seem to have; this time to a carpet store.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Izmir (for Ephesus) Port of Call

The Turkish flag flying high
We were welcomed to Izmir, our first port of call in Turkey, by a group of folk dancers dressed in traditional costume. And by a flock of pelicans which landed on the water right beside Norwegian Spirit. Both seemed very exotic to me!
  It was a beautiful day in the city which stretches around a wide harbour and back into the surrounding hills. Huge Turkish flags flew from tall poles, making vibrant splashes of bright red amongst the washed out ochre and cream colours of the buildings.
  Izmir is the Smyrna of ancient times and is now Turkey's third largest city and an important port. It is the cruise port for shore tours to the ancient Roman city of Ephesus, about an hour's coach ride away.
  I'll tell you about the tours we went on in my next post.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Piraeus, Athens Cruise Port of Call

Norwegian Spirit in port at Piraeus, Greece

I was so looking forward to returning to Greece. It is a country close to my heart. I was out on deck the evening before we docked in Piraeus so I could catch my first glimpse of the land I think of as my second home.
   Once we were moored in port, most of the ship's passengers boarded coaches to go on shore tours into Athens to see the Acropolis and other wonderful sites of the ancient world.
  But we decided to stay in Piraeus and spend a leisurely day wandering round Marina Zeas, where the millionaires and billionaires keep their boats. We stopped for coffee at an outdoor harbourside cafe and watched some elderly local men pull up chairs and tables for a lively game of backgammon.
Piraeus, seen from a cruise ship
Our next stop was at a family run restaurant where we ate huge plates of calamari and sipped ouzo. That was when, speaking Greek with the owners, I felt as if I had really arrived 'home'.
  The port building at Piraeus has free wifi and several shops selling souvenirs, clothes, postcards and stamps.