Saturday, 22 October 2011


Istanbul --  “To the city”

“These are historic waters we are sailing through,” said Greg as he gazed from the balcony, onto the Aegean Sea.  He was waiting for Wyona to get her shoes on so that they could go to their dancing lessons – today is the rumba.  Wyona had bubble bathed all morning. “Whenever am I going to have a bubble bath in a balcony suite on a boat, again,” she said to us as Greg and I hurried off to the destination lecture entitled Istanbul, not Constantinople.  I met the lecturer while standing in the specialty omelette line-up for breakfast.  “I enjoyed your lecture two days ago.  My brother-in-law and I were saying how we had wished your lecture had been longer when you talked about Corfu.” 

“It is difficult”, he said, “since I am only allowed 35 minutes of presentation time.  I submitted two lectures and the people on board choose the second one, so I have plenty of material.  But the problem on board is just that there are not enough rooms to run all of the programs people want.” 

The people who gathered around the lecturer post-presentation had questions to ask and answers to share.  Most agreed that the best source of information for a traveller is Rick Steven’s Guide to Istanbul, one man there having read 100 pages of it in another Rick Stevens book.  Greg and he went on to chat about good books to read about the history of the Golden Horn.  The lecture had covered the etymology of the name Istanbul, the best reading on it being that in Turkish it sounds a bit like “to the big city”, which would make sense given the rural roots of the people who  finally ended up living in the city.

That was the historic destination lecture.  Later in the morning and better attended was the shopping lecture, highlighting the way to purchase Turkish leather coats (lightweight for their cold winters of 70 degrees Fahrenheit), rugs, coffee (better at waking people up than Red Bull), apple tea, Turkish delight candy (created for a Sultan with a sweet tooth but no way to eat hard candy) and tourist paraphernalia, all decorated with the sign of the evil eye.  I am going to a market with 4009 shops and 16 entrances and exits, hoping I can buy at least one pashmina, a wool scarf that is so fine it will pass through the circle of a wedding ring.

I took my early morning walk.  The sun rose from behind the distant horizon and lifted its face over the right over the water in the time it took me to only walk one length of the boat. I will be that sun rose in less than to minutes.

We had been promised a stormy sea with high winds today.  I wanted to beat the turbulence and the water on the deck by getting up early.  The wind had already beat me to the deck. I had to lean forward to stand upright.  A few chairs slipped across the deck in front of me.  Some of the backs on the deck chairs banged forward. I casually wondered if I shouldn’t have brought a whistle with me, in case I was blown overboard.  Soon I was thinking of wearing a life jacket in case no one noticed I was gone for a few days. 

Wyona and I came back from the Turkish Grand Market without buying anything ... a sad comment on the shopping energy Wyona and I had. Oh, that is not to say that we didn’t find a beautiful red silk scarf, wider than the usual scarves, but when we went back to get it, we couldn’t find that shop again.  That is what is wrong with shopping in a place where there are 4009 shops.  Not that there are that many kinds of shops – there was leather (coats, purses, shoes), gold, diamonds, silver, ceramics and the usual tourist paraphernalia (the evil eye on key chains, ash trays).

We sat down to eat.  What are the chances that someone you had eaten breakfast with would be at the table with  you – but there they were, Frank and Joan on the side of me, and on the side of Greg, a couple that he calls his chicks.  They were fabulous – older women on their first crew and full of lots of interesting chatter. The dinner companions are always interesting because they have had as many adventures in the market as we have had.


Corfu, Greece

We walked through the square, through the local church, stopped to take pictures at a typical square surrounded by dining establishments, and then we walked through the streets of markets, looking at the precious gems, the gold, the shawls, the wooden salad tongs and the toys. I tried on a one-armed black shawl, well worth the price of 40 euros and though, “If I only wear this to the Ward Christmas Party, it will be well worth the price.” When I walked away and left it in the shop, Wyona asked, “What happened there.”

“The handsome Greek clerk insisted on helping me with shawl. I knew I could do it alone, but he was insistent, I slipped the sleeve on and then went to wrap the rest of the shawl wrapped around me. But he stood a little too close to me. And when I had the sleeve on, he took his hand and smoothed out the rest of the material on the left side of my body and around my hip, giving me a massage along the way that was just a tidge too familiar. Am I imagining this, I thought. But no, he wrapped the other side of the scarf through my midriff and over my shoulder the same way. All that went through my mind was – I am used to getting a massage like this for free. It is not going to help him sell me this scarf this way, even though I really want it I am going to leave it here.” So I scarified and and went away empty handed. “You should have told him, You would have bought it, without the familiarity.” ” said Wyona when I told her. “I know. I know. But I am not quick enough and besides, I am on holidays and so I will find that scarf somewhere else on this trip.

At a Venetian Well

“Go that way, if you want to see a real local sight,” a local said to me as I was waiting outside of a grocery store for Greg and Wyona who needed some cool refreshment. The Donair Shop had offered her a coke for 2 ½ Euros. Too expensive. In the grocery store it was only one euro. So with a Fanta Orange her hand, we climbed some stairs to an empty courtyard where the well was a two step platform of white marble and inscribed 1693. I wondered how many families had drawn their water there.

A bougainvillaea tree was splayed against one of the apartment walls. A grape vine rose two stories and then branched its vines out over the windows. A woman sat on a balcony hanging her laundry out over the street. School boys came running by, empty handed, hiding in the niches of the wells so they could scare the girls whom they knew would be coming after them. The girls walked by, shrugging their shoulders with disdain at the silliness of the boys who were trying to attract their attention. Their mothers all followed behind them in a few minutes, backpacks over their shoulders. “Did you notice,” said Wyona, “things are the same all over the world. The girls all carried their own back packs and the mothers were carrying the backpacks of the boys, one of them having 3 sets of shoulder straps slung over her shoulder.”

So nice to see down so many streets in Corfu.


The Disgruntled Table Mates

Pre-planning works when there are three people and eight suitcases to move out of the hotel, down La Rambla and onto the Blue Tourist Bus. That was about the last thing we planned as we went to bed last night. Greg noted that our walk turned many heads – we hope other tourists who were wondering how they were going to make the same trip. And in fact, one couple stopped our progress for no reason other than to ask, “Are you going cruising?” and “Why are you getting to the ship so early. You know you can’t board until 2 pm.” But we had this special knowledge: table changes are done first thing at 11:30 a.m. So our journey to the boat was easy and we were left with only one last item to plan. Wyona has wanted a window seat for the dining room experience and the only way was to get to the Dining Room right at 11:30 am and ask for that change to be made. The waiter led us to our middle table which gave us a great view of the staircase, in the middle of which sits a Grand piano and a small stage for dinner performances. Still the desire for a window view prevailed, since sitting for a formal dinner with a window view and at the same time having the ship leaves ports seemed like an attainable dream. Wyona and Greg made the desired switch ... while I watched the luggage and had lunch. 

“Are you the three Canadians we were told would be at this table,” the first people we sat with asked. “Yes, “ said Wyona, we asked for a table change. “So did we,” said Marilyn and Ron. We are here with our relatives, and the four of us don’t want to talk to each other over every meal. Fine. The next couple who sat down said, “Are you the Canadians we were told would be at this table.” 

“Whoops,”said Wyona. “Did you ask for a table seating change?” “Yes,” said Barbara. “What is this,” asked Wyona. “Is everyone at this table disgruntled? Is that what they do? Put all of the complainers at the same table?”

And so the evening of conversation began – all of us ready to discover who our dinner companions would be – Barbara and Sam from Maryland (where apparently the 600,000 who live in that State have no right to vote for their president). Politics is usually a topic we leave for the last day of the tour, but at the disgruntled patrons table, anything can happen.


Sunday, 9 October 2011

Barcelona, Spain

Greg and I flew through Frankfurt and landed in Barcelona.

Wyona is the one with travel status, which lets her take everyone (that is the two of us) travelling on the same ticket with her, into the elite lounges.

People sit on leather chairs and do their email, snacking their way through healthy vegetables and finishing off with cookies.

I tried to use the airport email to lure Rebecca onto the trip with us.  I was unsuccessful.

I have asked three other people ahead of her to accompany us in the fourth spot.  I was unsuccesful in each attempt.

Small wooden tables for patrons
"Nice to travel with Greg, eh," said Wyona. "He brings all of the right equipment." 

She is right. He carries the bags, has brought the electronic adaptors, brings the travel maps, and is sucessful in intervening when Wyona's luggage falls off of her trolley as she is driving it done the moving elscalator

Greg and I left Wyona sleeping in Quatre Naciones and we went out to discover Barcelona on our own, walking down to the pier, on the tree-lined boulevard of La Rambla.

We peered in small restaurants, waiting for their 9 pm customers. 

Greg studied the knives in a speciality shop.  We walked down the flea market at the harbour's edge.

Greg was looking for old lanterns that he loves.
Clams waiting to be cooked

He has an eye for architectural detail.  He would point out small alleys where there were 30 foot walkways, or where you could see the spire of an old church.

I am the one who has a passion for the beauty of the claims in this restaurant window.

Greg was drawn to the pastry windows -- and we both agreed, if Wyona had been with us, she would have purchased at least 2 of every kind.

"When I look in these windows, I am reminded again, of why MacDonalds doesn't cut it for me at home." 

Pastries we didn't buy
Greg has always loved churches.

On our walk we stopped first at a small church, and then at the big cathedral, where a service was going on.

As well, on the way home, we stopped at another church,in this one the lesson was led by different people and a guitar was initiating a musical call and response from the congregation.

If I am walking with Greg and there is a any sign of a church, he says, "Let's go in and take a peek."

If there is music going on that makes it even better for me.
... a stained glass window, high in a dark church corner ...

We saw gothic arches, Roman spires and steeples being refurbished.

We walked through the courtyard of the church that houses geese in one of its 

When Wyona is tired, Greg goes out to explore cities on his own.

The top of a celebratory wagon
Since Greg is a history buff, he can come up with the answers to my questions: 
  • who was Garibaldi? (a politician who united one part of Europe)
  • what is the difference between a ship and a boat? (a ship has at least 3 masts)
  • what is the modern day word for gypsies? (Roma is what the Canadian government calls them Roma)
I am already having fun.

I do have some residual guilt about taking this indepth tour of the Mediterranean. Wyona tells me we are only doing it once which does not make me feel better.  It is 9 pm at night, 26 above, the streets are alive with excitement -- and this is my last time here?  Wahh! to that.