"" Writer's Wanderings: October 2012

Monday, October 29, 2012

Port of Call - Sinop, Turkey

This was the second of the two ship's excursions we booked on our Black Sea cruise. It was not as expensive as many of the others and it got us out into the countryside. We're not big-city type folks and enjoy getting away from port cities when we can. This excursion featured a trip to a fjord but first we had to visit two museums. Not high on my list of things to do but we were stuck. Again, I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed them.

The first museum was the Archaeological Museum. It was in a relatively small building in the middle of town but was extremely well organized and interesting. Outside there were lots of columns and pieces parts from excavations in the area. Inside were examples of statues or parts of them from various periods of time, a large coin collection, household items, etc.

I found the large kiln display interesting. In order to preserve the heat, they buried the kiln partially in the ground. A sign, in English, explained how they stoked the fires and the chambered elements of the kiln.

According to another sign, again in English, the battle of Sinop in 1853 was where the Crimean war began. It spoke of the Russian fleet attacking the city and how many Ottomans died fighting to defend it. The last line impacted me: "After this battle, which caused hate in the world, Britain and France became allies and entered into war on the Ottoman side." Things never change do they? Battles today still cause "hate in the world."

Outside in the courtyard, local folks had prepared a banquet of tasty foods for us to try. I had a little chicken soup that had wonderful soft dumplings in it and tried a fresh fig. While everyone enjoyed an early morning snack, we wandered a bit more and discovered a mosaic from the 4th century that had apparently graced the floor of someone's home then. There was also an archway carved of marble with a translated sign that read, "The Good Fortune. To the Highest God, Aelius Threption Pontianus and Severus Macer, brothers, (dedicated this), having made a vow." It was from the 1st or 2nd century A.D.

Our next museum, The Ethnography Museum, was very interesting as it was an old house that displayed in the rooms the way it would have looked and functioned in the 18th century. Our guide told us that it would have been a wealthy family who lived there--a large wealthy family as there would have been several generations as well. The second floor living area was designed around a central foyer area where there was a large container that looked like copper and was said to be used to heat food and water for tea. Several rooms surrounded the foyer and some were open directly to it. A couple had doors for some privacy.

The knives and swords were again fascinating as they had that distinctive curve to them. The round object that almost resembles a large hat was used as a shield.

Finally we were off on a short drive to the fjord. We enjoyed the countryside a bit and, while it wasn't a Norwegian fjord, it did have its charm and was a beautiful spot to stand and take in the sea, the greenery, and the wandering blue waters.

Tired from all the ports of call already, on the way back to the ship I was trying to remember what day it was and where we would be the next day. I relaxed as I remembered the daily news would be on our bed in the evening and tell us where we were going and what we were doing. I love cruising.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Books For The Road - Two from Francine Rivers

There is no doubt that Francine Rivers can turn out a good book or two. On our recent trip I hurriedly downloaded Her Mother's Hope not realizing that it was a part one of a two-part saga. Once I had read the first I needed to read the second, Her Daughter's Dream. Both books are titled with "Marta's Legacy" in parenthesis with very good reason. Marta is the catalyst for this family story.

It begins near the turn of the 20th century with Marta Schneider striking out on her own, partly in rebellion of her father's harsh ways but mostly to fulfill her mother's hope for a better future for her daughter. Thus begins a lineage of relationships between mothers and daughters that ultimately ends in the 21st. century in the second book. Mothers and daughters often have a difficult relationship but this story tells of how those strained relationships can be passed down through generations. I kept thinking of the verse that says the sins of the fathers will be passed down to generations. Only in this case it is the sins of the mothers in how they raised their daughters and how they competed for their attention.

The dynamic as you trace through the legacy is amazing and is based, as Rivers tells the reader in the afterword, on a similar story in her own heritage. I liked the second book better than the first but even though Rivers sums up at the end of the second book in a way that tells you the history included in the first book, you truly need to read them both to enjoy the full spectrum of this engaging and touching story.

Good books for the road--just be sure to tuck a tissue in your pocket if you're a weeper. You may need it in a few spots.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Port of Call - Trabzon, Turkey

This twelve day Black Sea cruise was port-intensive. Out of the twelve days there were eight ports and two days of cruising through scenic historic areas (the Dardanelles and Bosporus) where we were out on deck to hear the commentary. That left only two days at sea where we really could completely relax. Knowing that, we had chosen which ports we wanted to be sure and tour and/or get an excursion. Trabzon's main attraction for an excursion was to the Sumela Monastery up in the hills outside the city. When we researched it, we found that there was a lot of walking and climbing and not always on good ground. There were also reports that you may or may not get all the way to the old frescoes. Add to that the high cost of the ship's excursion and we opted to explore the city instead.

The shuttle bus dropped us off near the center of town and we walked to the square where we found an information booth and a gentleman who spoke excellent English. He gave us a map and pointed out where we were and suggested we take a walk to see the old city walls. We started off and immediately noticed a McDonald's on the corner. We filed that information away for later as we wanted to find some free WiFi.

The town became a little more run down the further we walked and we wondered if it was a good idea to continue on. Any time we feel uncomfortable, we turn back. Just about that time we met up with several others from the ship who were out walking as well including one lady who was alone. Brave soul. She asked if she could walk with us and we set out in the direction our shipmates said they knew the wall was and assured us it was okay to continue.

We passed by a store selling olives. I have never seen so many olives in one place before. I had to take a picture. The proprietor just smiled at me. It probably wasn't the first time his olives were photographed.

A little further on, a man sitting outside his shop smiled at us and asked, "Deutscher?" I remembered I was wearing a t-shirt with matryoska dolls on it. Bob smiled and said, "No. Speak English?" The man shook his head and Bob extended his hand for a handshake. That got a big smile and a nod from him and we walked on. Hopefully we were making inroads with international relationships.

Next was a bakery that featured baklava. Bob felt he'd missed something in Istanbul by not getting it so he went in and managed to get the baker to understand that he only wanted two pieces. He ended up with three since they sell it by the kilogram. He looked triumphant when he came out of the store with his package of Turkish baklava.

We eventually came up a hill and discovered an arched opening in what appeared to be the old city wall. Sure enough when we passed through, we saw more of it that didn't have apartment dwellings built right against it. As this point our brave lady said she was going to walk back since we wanted to head for the market area. I'm sure she made it back okay. There was no one left behind that afternoon.

In researching for this post, I found it difficult to date the walls. The only reference is that they were rebuilt in the Byzantine era which would have preceded 1453 when the Ottomans took over. I'm guessing the walls were pretty old.

Following the wall toward the port area, we saw the huge market across the street and noticed more shops and vendors down the alleyways we passed. There were obviously a lot of fish vendors because the smell of fish hung heavy in the air. The fish booths we saw mostly had the same fish. All were displayed in an unusual way--with the bright red gills pulled out. If anyone knows what kind of fish they are, please leave a comment. I've looked all over and can't find a way to identify them. Anchovy is a popular fish but these are too big for that.

McDonald's was a disappointment. Bob couldn't get on the internet there but right next to the restaurant was a money exchange where he managed to unload his Russian rubles for Turkish lira. I guess he's become an international money changer too.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sochi, Russia - Stalin's Dacha

The word dacha means summer home and is pronounced with a soft ch sound. This summer home near Sochi is only one of many that Stalin had. It was built in 1937 and surrounded with imported California pines to disguise the location from prying eyes or offshore artillery. And yes, the whole thing was painted in the green you see in the picture. Almost perfect camouflage.

The buildings are set around a central courtyard with semi-tropical plants. A good part of the complex is now a hotel.

We exited the bus and walked up a slight grade through the gates and into the house that was his. We entered his office/movie theater and sure enough, there he was at his desk! In wax of course. In front of him were some documents purported to be in his own hand and a tea set said to be from Mao Zedong. Next to his desk was his bed and against the wall under a row of windows through which movies were projected was a couch stuffed with horsehair that he believed made it bullet proof. The sides and back were high so that no one could get a clear shot of his head when he was seated on it to watch the movies he loved.

In the next room was a huge pool table that practically filled the room. You wondered how they could keep the pool cue from hitting the wall when making a shot. Notice the lovely green color was continued inside.

Many of the rooms had balconies, a place for the smokers no less. In the second building we entered, there was an oval pool that had to be about 10 feet deep. There was barely space to walk around it but I'm guessing it wasn't the kind of place for sitting around the pool and sipping pina coladas. There were some beautiful mosaics on the walls.

Red carpeting flowed down the steps as we made our way to the second floor where we were ushered into the banquet hall. A wooden faced fireplace was along one wall with a portrait over it I assumed was Mr. Stalin. There were three tables set up with drinks and snacks including some caviar. I wondered how much caviar was eaten in that room in the old days?

The dacha was certainly not the opulence of the palaces of the czars but it wasn't a shack in the woods either. All in all a very interesting piece of history.

When we returned to the port we hesitated a moment wondering if we'd get in trouble if we wandered a bit and took a look at some of the nearby stores since we didn't have visas. Not feeling like we wanted to chance bucking the system, we went ahead and boarded our tender for the trip back to the ship. Maybe someday Russia will loosen up and allow cruise visitors a little more freedom and opportunity to spend some time and a little money.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Port of Call - Sochi, Russia

If you look at a map of Russia, you will notice a tear-drop shaped area in the southwest that falls between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. Sochi sits on the coast of the Black Sea on the very southwestern part of that teardrop. Because of its location, it has always been a sought after holiday destination. The area became a part of Russia in 1829 when it was ceded to them in the Russo-Turkish War. Sochi was established in 1838 as the "Alexandria settlement" but was renamed Sochi in 1896.

When Czar Nicholas II built a dacha (summer house) in neighboring Dagomys just north of Sochi, the Russian elite discovered the resort and followed his lead. The area continued to be popular among the Soviet leaders including Joseph Stalin who also built a dacha there.

When our private tour that we had contracted online was canceled, our only choice to see anything of Sochi was to book an excursion with the ship. In Russia, unless you are with a licensed tour guide or on a ship's excursion you cannot wander around on your own without a visa. We had no time or inclination to get a visa and so we chose one of the "less expensive excursions" that would get us out and about--Stalin's Summer Home.

Our tour began with an excruciatingly slow drive through town. Istanbul's traffic was nothing compared to this. And Sochi will burst at the seams with Olympic traffic in February os 2014 for the Winter Games. We all wondered what they will do to alleviate the bottlenecks.

First on our list of sights as the description read in the excursion brochure was to take a seaside stroll. Our bus let us off at some gardens that surrounded a bright yellow pillared structure that we figured to be a theater. It appeared to be under renovation. The gardens were colorful and well-kept. Busts of several Russian composers circled the building.

Our "seaside walk" consisted of walking down a sidewalk to the top of a small rise that dropped off to the Black Sea. We could look down on a handful of swimmers and sun bathers laying on a pebbled beach. No sand. We walked about 100 feet and then circled back to the bus so we could be on our way to the lookout tower on nearby Akhun Mountain.

The drive up the mountain was thrilling as is it is anywhere you drive to a lookout and have hairpin turns. The view promised to be good as we got higher. Once we arrived, we walked a short distance to the base of the tower passing by the vendors just beginning to set up shop. There were 222 steps to the top but a couple of places to stop along the way. One had a huge display of stuffed animals indigenous to the area.

Once at the top, the views were spectacular. You could see the city of Sochi and the mountains in the distance where, once snow covered, they will provide a great venue for the Olympics.

We didn't linger long on top. There must have been a nest of bees nearby and they weren't real happy with all of the visitors. Once I had some pictures, Bob and I walked down an perused the souvenir stands. As we waited for the others in our group, we were fascinated by two horses who were waiting for riders. Apparently you could rent the horses and ride the trails through the woods around the tower. The horses stood perfectly still in one place--untethered. Once in a while they would shift their weight slightly but if they began to drift a bit, the young woman who owned them would spout something sharply in Russian and they would regroup where they were supposed to stand. It was amazing. I wondered how well she would do training kids?

On the bus again, we wound our way down the mountain to the entrance of a road leading up slightly to the Stalin dacha. Finally. This was what I had truly wanted to see on this excursion.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Books For The Road - A Plain Death

Amanda Flower, an Agatha-nominated mystery author, started her writing career in elementary school when she read a story she wrote to her sixth grade class and had the class in stitches with her description of being stuck on the top of a Ferris wheel. She knew at that moment she’d found her calling of making people laugh with her words. Amanda is an academic librarian for a small college near Cleveland. She also writes mysteries as Isabella Alan.

Amanda is a member of our Ohio chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers and since she lives so close to me, we had lunch together one day. I thoroughly enjoyed talking with her and reading her first book Maid For Murder, which was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. While it's good, I truly enjoyed her newest one better. A Plain Death is first of all a mystery novel. While I know some would want to toss it in with all the other Amish literature, it is a mystery that happens to take place in Central Oho where there is a large population of Amish. 

The story centers around a young woman, Chloe Humphrey, who relocates to a small town called Appleseed Creek to become the director of a small college's computer department. Chloe immediately gets thrown into an escalating situation between the Amish living there and the "Englischers" when she sees a young Amish woman being harassed by two unsavory characters. She rescues Becky and finds herself becoming friends with Becky who has ventured out on a Rumspringa trying to decide between the Amish ways and finding her own path in life. 

The tension builds when Becky borrows Chloe's car and is involved in an accident that kills the beloved local Bishop of the Amish District. But was it truly an accident? Is there more behind the whole incident? And why do these two roughnecks keep harassing her and Becky? 

Flower gives you a glimpse into some of the Amish culture and tradition as she unravels the mystery. She's done her homework by interviewing others who have been involved in the Amish culture. 

Bottom line is--it's a great story! A terrific Book For The Road.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Istanbul - The Blue Mosque

Before I tell you about the Blue Mosque, I need to reminisce about our wonderful lunch that day. After exploring the Topkapi Palace and the Hagai Sophia, we were famished. Our guide, Aykut, asked us what we would like. Yes there was McDonald's, KFC, and Burger King but we wanted something representative of the country we were in. He took us to a kebab place called, SIYA.

We sat at a table near the open kitchen and could see our meal being prepared. It began with an unusual salad mostly of tomatoes (sweet) and cucumbers but it was mixed with lots of chopped walnuts and had a vinaigrette dressing that was heavy on the vinegar. With all of the tomatoes and their sweetness though, it was a great blend.

Next came our mixed grill plate. Again colorfully presented with a little salad on the plate. There was a variety of lamb, beef, and chicken. The kebabs were like a meatball mix wrapped around a stick and then grilled. My mouth waters every time I think of that lunch. The spices were delicately balanced in the meats and the aroma mixed with the taste--well the memory just makes me drool.

A short distance away was the Blue Mosque our next stop to explore. It was here that we were so glad to have a small group and a private guide. With the promise that we could get our shoes off quickly and into a plastic bag, Aykut was able to get us in a side door that didn't have a big line of tourists. The Blue Mosque was probably a little more impressive in its day before the blue tiles faded. It still has has a bluish cast inside but I can imagine it was quite amazing when newer.

For those who have never been in a mosque before, it would have been an even more unique experience as the tourists were separated from the area where worshipers prayed. I was grateful for our visit to the Jumeirah Mosque in Dubai where we were able to learn more about the Muslim religion. As Aykut had told us earlier in the day, the Turks are more liberal with their religion. He said there were many mosques but none were ever full. That could be said about a lot of churches as well.

The Blue Mosque was built by a young nineteen year old sultan named Ahmet I. He had it constructed next to the Hagia Sophia on the site of the ancient Hippodrome. Work was begun in 1609 and completed seven years later. Unfortunately the sultan died shortly after its completion.

Six minarets make the Blue Mosque unique. Normally there are no more than four. Several times throughout the day you could hear, amplified through the minarets here and anywhere else there was a mosque, the chanted call to prayer.

Our last stop of the day was something I had not researched at all and wondered all the way to the entrance just what exactly we were going to see in a cistern. I was amazed. The cistern is one of many built beneath the city during Byzantine times. The one we were in, the Basilica Cistern, sits beneath the Stoa Basilica. It covers a 2.4 acre area and has 336 marble columns and dates back to Emperor Justinian in the sixth century. There is a decorative amount of water in it now, nicely lit with accent lighting to give it an eerie feeling. James Bond rowed a boat through there in the movie, From Russia With Love.

One of the points of interest were two columns that were supported by large marble heads of Medusa. Our guide indicated that they needed the extra support and had taken them from somewhere else and just to be sure that her power to turn men into stone was negated, they put her upside down. Of course that was all said with a smile and wide eyes that made his very dark brown eyes look a bit wild in the depths of the cistern.

The day's tour ended with a quick walk through the Grand Bazaar which seems to stretch on forever. Amid lots of invitations to step inside the shops, we nodded and politely smiled, walked on a bit and then circled back to our meeting point. Maybe another day on another trip when we have more time.

Aykut left us with his capable driver. He had a date and needed to get something for her. Amid some teasing and advice about his date, we waved good-bye to a wonderful guide. At the port entrance we saw the place Aykut recommended for great baklava but the line was out the door and we were tired. We headed for the ship.

  That evening we didn't sail until eleven. We tried to stay awake for the sail-away and the trip under the lighted bridge that led to the Bosporus but we couldn't. The orange glow of the sunset backlit the city skyline making Istanbul look even more mysterious. What a great place for storytelling ideas.

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