April 2, 2011

Teresa and I are planning a trip to Turkey -- you can't really say that it's off the beaten path --- Turkey is pretty well-traveled -- but we've never been there.  We last considered it about ten years ago, but then they had a huge earthquake so we put it off.   Speaking of earthquakes, its awful to see what happened in Japan -- and this is a country that tried to prepare for it.  It always gives me a chill when I see something awful happen in a place where we've traveled -- when you see it on the news it's not just an abstraction ! 

I've been doing a lot of reading about Turkey -- that's always my first step when I'm putting together a trip.  I've got copies of Frommer's, Fodor's and Lonely Planet's Turkey guides.  I'm thinking about 3 or 4 weeks, but it's really a huge country and there's so much must-see stuff.  Istanbul, of course, Ephesus, Cappadocia, and also a gulet cruise on the Aegean.  There so much I don't know!  I also read that Turkish Airlines just started nonstop service from LAX to Istanbul -- I'll have to look into it!   I really like to avoid connections in Chicago or New York.  It's seems like there's always weather trouble at these airports!

June 5, 2011

To put together our Turkey itinerary, Teresa and I have been working closely with the most amazing person -- she is Katie Meyer and she is the owner of the Meyer Travel Group: http://www.meyertravelgroup.com/.   Teresa met Katie through her work and was immediately impressed by her enthusiasm and vast fund of travel-related knowledge.  Katie designs tours which she personally arranges and leads utilizing her many contacts throughout Europe, Asia and elsewhere.

Although I usually plan my own travel adventures, when Katie offered to help us put together this trip, the chance to tap into her experience and know-how was irresistible.  She was able to recommend the best hotels in the most convenient locations, at extremely affordable prices.  She also urged us to take the opportunity to add time in Athens and the Greek islands, and after much consideration, we have included an additional week in Greece! 

We will be flying on Delta Airlines from San Francisco, departing July 10th, with a flight change at New York's JFK then nonstop to Istanbul.  From California, the only nonstop flight to Istanbul is on Turkish Airlines from Los Angeles.  I would have preferred this flight, but since this is the height of the travel season I found it impossible to get a reasonably priced flight, and had to settle for the single stop in New York.

We'll be in Istanbul for four nights which should give us plenty of time to see the main sights, including the Grand Bazaar, St. Sophia's cathedral, the Blue Mosque, the Topkapi Palace, the Hippodrome, and a ferry ride on the Bosphorus Strait, with extra time for just wandering and exploring the city. 

To save time we are flying to Izmir - I'm not a fan of long bus rides, and Turkey has several budget airlines, including Pegasus  http://www.flypgs.com/ and Sun Express http://www.sunexpress.com/ which offer exceptionally inexpensive flights within Turkey.

As arranged by Katie Meyer, we will tour the archaeological ruins of Ephesus with local archaeological expert Cingiz Itchen, who has been excavating there for more than 40 years. The following day we will explore the seaside resort and port at Bodrum before boarding a gulat for a four day sailing cruise on the Aegean, stopping at Çökertme, the Seven Islands and Tusla Bay:  http://www.barbarosyachting.com/cabin_charters_turkey.asp .

From Karacasögðüt we will head to Pamukkale, and the next day we will explore Pamukkale, Hierapolis, and Aphrodisias before returning to Izmir.  From Izmir we will fly to Cappadocia to view the bizarre rock formations, fairy chimneys and surreal landscapes, then visit the underground city of Kaymakli .

From Cappadocia we fly to Athens via Istanbul and spend the night at the port of Piraeus, boarding the cruise ship Louis Majesty the next morning, for a four night cruise of the Greek Islands, including Mykonos, Patmos, Rhodes, Crete and Santorini:  http://www.louiscruises.com/

Our final three days will be spent sightseeing in Athens, staying close to the Acropolis at Tony's Hotel: http://www.hoteltony.gr/.  (Yes, there really is a Tony and I spoke with him!)  TripAdvisor rates Tony's at #7 of more than 300 Athens hotels, but you have to make your reservations the old-fashioned way!

I'm hoping that the political situation in Athens settles down by the time we get there!  Suffice it to say we'll be keeping our distance from any angry mobs!! 

We fly back to the U.S. on August 2nd and should be home the next day. 

As our adventure progresses I'll post updates as often as I can , so check back here after July 10th!

July 11, 2011 : On our way... a smooth transition!

We had an amazingly smooth transition to vacation mode, arriving in Istanbul at about 10:30 AM Monday morning.  We'd had a short layover in New York, only about 90 minutes, then a ten and a half hour flight that went by quickly, what with reading, eating, watching movies and eating again.  Did I forget to mention sleep?  Well, not much of that unfortunately!  It got dark quickly flying eastbound, and by the time I thought about catching a few winks it was already light out again.  And Teresa & Katie got so absorbed in their movie, Just Go With It, they never slept at all, loudly cackling with laughter for several hours after midnight!

There was only one open passport control booth at Istanbul airport, so it took more than an hour to get through - 300 people lined up!  We got some Turkish lira from the ATM then grabbed a "taksi", getting to the hotel pretty quickly thanks to our lunatic driver who thought he was doing the Indy 500!

By 1:30 PM we were settled into our hotel so we headed out for an overview stroll of Sultanahmet, the main district in the center of the old city.  We realized that all of the must-see sites were within walking distance of our hotel, the Arcadia - what a great location! 

Later in the evening we had a light dinner, then after dark we took in the most beautiful views of the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque from our hotel terrace.  By the time we crashed for the night we were totally exhausted! 

July 12, 2011 (morning):  The Bachelorette!

We slept fairly well, having loaded up on melatonin last night to battle jet lag.  The buffet breakfast proved to be a treat, with plenty of coffee, fresh fruit, eggs, yogurt, meat and cheese.

Our first stop this morning was the Basilica Cistern, an enormous underground reservoir located just beneath the main thoroughfare in Sultanahmet.  It's marked by an obscure entrance across from the Hagia Sophia, but this belies one of the most spectacular sights I've seen in all my travels! 

Teresa recalled a scene from the Bachelorette where Ali had dinner with her date (Frank?) surrounded by an expanse of dozens of columns, illuminated by the reflection of soft light on the water of the reservoir - very beautiful.  It's amazing not only that this gigantic reservoir was built in the sixth century, but that it was then abandoned and forgotten for more than a thousand years!

We spent the next few hours touring the Hagia Sophia, a huge cathedral also built in the sixth century that was later converted into a mosque when the Ottoman Empire took over a thousand years later.  The dome is huge - impressive for its size - but what is most compelling is the damage to this cathedral when it was converted into a mosque.  Sacrilegious no doubt, by today's standards!  Fortunately, the Turkish government wisely turned it into a museum and some of the fascinating sixth century mosaics have been partially restored.

We also explored two mosques, both of which are architectural wonders:  the Blue Mosque of Sultan Ahmet, and the Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent.  What is striking is the differences between the two even though they were designed by the same architect, Mimar Sinan.  I found the geometric designs fascinating - Islam prohibits the decorative depiction of individuals in mosques, so the interior décor presents a dramatic contrast to that of a church.

July 12, 2011 (afternoon):  The shoeshine brush scam!

"We keep getting called to prayer and we never show up!!" - Teresa.

When you are staying in the vicinity of several mosques, you hear a lot of calls to prayer!

Istanbul is so appealing because it is so clearly authentic!  Despite the presence of so many tourists from so many different countries, this is clearly a place where people actually live!  It is surprising to see young women clad in full body black burquas, only their make-up laden eyes exposed, walking side by side with others who are fashionably attired Western style in bright dresses!

After a late lunch we spent several hours just walking the crowded and busy streets of Sultanahmet, just taking it all in. We wandered past several other mosques, eventually finding ourselves at the Spice Market, an indoor crowded hodgepodge of stalls selling much more than just spices, then we traversed an underground walkway beneath the tramlines and made our way to the water's edge where we watched the comings and goings of all manner of boats and ships.  

We walked along the top deck of the Galata Bridge which leads into the New District from the Old Town.  While the top deck is crowded with traffic and lined with fishermen casting their lines, the bottom deck has rows of restaurants close to the water.  Halfway across the bridge we walked down a flight of stairs, stopping at the first restaurant that offered "happy hour" Efes beer for only 4 lire (about $2.50) each.

An hour and half dozen beers later, we somewhat unsteadily made our way across to the ferry boat landing at Eminonu, then hiked in the general direction  of our hotel.

Suddenly a young fellow walking a few paces in front of us dropped something!  A brush?  Katie called out to him, then suddenly remembered:  the shoeshine brush scam!  Too late!  He immediately offered to shine our shoes even though we were wearing sandals and sneakers.  "Was he going to shine our feet?" wondered Teresa out loud.

We'd been warned about this scam and had a good laugh having experienced it firsthand.  Then, not five minutes later, it happened again!  This time we studiously ignored the brush while several locals tried to draw our attention to it by pointing.

Back at the hotel, we relaxed and soothed our aching feet, checked the Internet and showered off the day's grime and sweat.  What a fascinating day!

July 13, 2011:  Expectations

Sometimes it seems that so much of what you experience when you travel has more to do with your expectations than anything else.  For example, I remember how disappointed Teresa and I were when we visited Vienna for the first time.  We had long imagined strolling along the tree-lined banks of the Danube River as it meandered through the heart of the city.  You can imagine how stunned we were to discover that the banks of the Danube River in central Vienna were lined with concrete and scrawled with a distasteful mess of graffiti!

I think our experience today was somewhat similar though perhaps not quite as extreme.  We had been so impressed yesterday with what we'd seen - the beauty of the underground cistern, the mosques and the church - that our expectations for today were simply too great.  The Topkapi Palace, supposedly the crown jewel of Istanbul, the palace of the sultans for centuries, was a major letdown.

We'd been warned about the crowds and since the palace opened to the public at 9 AM we thought that if we got a late start - arriving at about 11 AM, we could avoid this.  No such luck!  We started out by standing in the fierce sun unprotected, for at least thirty minutes, sweating profusely while waiting to buy tickets.

When we finally got to the main gate, there was a huge crowd pushing and shoving to get in through the modest entrance, and absolutely no semblance of order!  By the time we actually made it into the inner palace courtyard we were exhausted by the effort!

Even worse, there was virtually no crowd control at any of the major exhibition halls - throngs of unruly visitors repeatedly cut in line and shoved their way inside!  At one display in particular, the Hall of Holy Relics, the massive horde was so out-of-control shoving through the tiny entrance that it was amazing no one got injured!

At the Imperial Treasury, another major display of artifacts described as "spectacular" by several guidebooks, the displays could barely be seen let alone appreciated in the poorly lit and crowded rooms. 

Another highlight - the Kitchen Complex, including the Chinese Porcelain collection - was simply closed - no reason given.  Teresa had really been looking forward to seeing this - how frustrating!

Compared to palaces we have visited elsewhere, for example the finely landscaped gardens and the opulent palace at Versailles, or some of the lavishly furnished Mughal palaces in India, the Topkapi was just plain disappointing!

After two hours we'd had enough!  We chose to take a pass on the Harem, the separate part of the palace where the sultan's wives and concubines had lived.  Maybe some other time!

After a late lunch we headed to the Grand Bazaar - "the world's oldest shopping mall" - oddly, it really did have the feel of a shopping mall - perhaps just a bit too generic!  We spent about an hour just wandering, taking in the enormous selection of both low-end and high-end stuff.  But nothing caught our fancy and we eventually left without buying anything.

By the time we got back to our hotel, we were beat!

July 14, 2011:  Frankencorn!

Today was our last full day in Istanbul so we had to choose the day's activities carefully. Should we head into the New District for a walking tour?  Or go to the Archaeological Museum?  What about the Dolmabahce Palace?  Katie even mentioned the whirling dervishes which I hadn't even thought of!  So much more to see... hmm... guess we'll have to come back!

We chose the Bosphorus cruise, a ferry boat ride that starts at the Golden Horn, the inlet that separates the Asian (Old Town) from the European (New District) parts of Istanbul and ends at the Black Sea fishing town of Anadolu Kavagi.  The ride takes a little less than two hours with half a dozen stops along the route, then returns in the opposite direction after a two hour layover.

We decided to take the early ferry at 10:35 AM, although there were two others leaving at noon and 1:35 PM.  With a round-trip ticket (25 lira, about $15) you can get off at any stop and get back on the next boat, but we chose to stay on board all the way, then take a hike up to the Yoros Castle which overlooks the Bosphorus Strait as it enters the Black Sea.

We'd heard that you had to get to the dock early to get good seats on the open deck, so we hurriedly ate breakfast and headed to the boat dock at Eminonu.  At the front of the line by 9:45 AM, we boarded at 10:15, finding excellent seats on the port side of the boat before it filled up and departed at 10:35 AM with standing room only.

We followed our progress on the European side using our Rick Steves' Istanbul guidebook which described the sights along the way.  Most of the shoreline was densely built up with a mix of newer development including fancy houses and mansions as well as some older historic sites. We passed beneath two very impressive suspension bridges, the Bosphorus Bridge built in 1973, and the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, built in 1988, both towering hundreds of feet over the water.

After stopping briefly at the town of Kanlica we were offered cups of Kanlica yogurt, a local favorite topped with powdered sugar - tart but sweet.

It was shortly after noon when we disembarked at a quaint village adjacent to a Turkish naval installation that overlooked the strait.

We passed a number of small outdoor cafes where hawkers were offering lunch specials of locally caught fish, and stopped briefly at a bakery to purchase a crusty loaf of hot bread just out of the oven.  Then we hiked up a steep winding road followed by a foot path for about 45 minutes until we finally got to the castle, a fortress dating to Roman times that afforded us (and the Romans) a birds eye view of the strait. 

The castle itself was closed to the public ostensibly due to an archeological dig, but the hike was well worth the view.  On our way down we stopped at a small restaurant built on a terrace beneath the castle and quaffed several cold brews.  Back at the village, Teresa and Katie examined some of the local wares before we boarded the ferry for the 3 PM departure

By 5 PM we were back at the ferry terminal next to the Galata Bridge.  The daytime heat was at its peak so we returned to the same café we'd found yesterday and downed another half dozen ice-cold beers! 

There was a row of fresh fish filets baking on a nearby grill and tons of locals were munching on fish sandwiches nearby, so I ordered one for each of us.  Each sandwich consisted of half a loaf of crusty bread with a filet of fish covered by lettuce, sliced carrots and tomatoes.  Mine was good but Teresa immediately spit out a mouthful of fish bones and tossed hers aside.  "Too fishy!  And bones!  Eww!"  Katie also picked out a few bones but ate most of hers.  I think whoever was doing the filleting must have had a few too many beers! 

We made our way back to the Divan Yolu and spend some time checking out the shops lining the street near our hotel.  Teresa bought a bright yellow cob of corn for one lira.  "I haven't had corn like this since I was a kid," she exclaimed. "Its so starchy and tasteless!"  "That's why we used to douse them in salt and butter," I reminded her.  "The corn back home is sweet because its Frankencorn, genetically modified!"  Ah, the wonders of modern science!

July 15, 2011:  Mustafa

Today is a travel day. Our flight to Izmir leaves at 4:40 PM.  It's the second part of our trip according to Teresa.  How many parts are there?  Well, if Ephesus is part 2, the gulat sailing cruise is part 3, Pamukkale is part 4, Cappadocia is part 5, the Greek islands are part 6 and Athens is part 7.  That's a pretty good conceptualization I think!

OK.  So we packed up our stuff after enjoying our final breakfast at the Arcadia.  Nice breakfast - coffee, orange juice, sliced meat, tomatoes, yogurt, watermelon, etc.  We left our bags at the front desk after shuffling everything around before heading back to the Grand Bazaar for some last-minute shopping.  Can you believe it? - we're flying 5 different airlines on this trip, all with different baggage allowances.  Today it's Pegasus Airlines :  three free checked bags up to 33 lbs each and 3 carry-ons up to 18 lbs each allowed.  I think we've figured out this weight thing but unfortunately we ended up scrambling all our possessions in different bags. Now I'll never be able to find anything!

We got to the airport with time to spare. We had a short argument with our taxi driver who tried to overcharge us and refused to use the meter, but eventually we negotiated a reasonable price.  (Gotta watch those taxi drivers!) 

After boarding, the flight to Izmir was less than an hour, and we were met at the gate by our driver holding a sign with our name.  We were expecting a car but instead he had a large well-appointed Mercedes minibus that seated 17!  (This would have been nice to have in Morocco!) 

We got to our hotel about a half hour later, the Akay.  Very quaint, with a small swimming pool and on the roof, a terrace restaurant. After we'd had a round of beer, I jumped into the pool to cool off.  Back on the terrace Teresa chatted up the chef, Mustafa, who showed us everything he was planning on serving, plus his well stocked wine rack. 

As we watched the sunset from the terrace we enjoyed a late dinner of mezza and a large sampler platter with items selected by Mustafa.  Delicious!

July 16, 2011:  Disco night

With the forecast calling for 100+, Cingus, our retired archeologist guide, thought we'd better get an early start, so he met us at our hotel about 8 AM.  He explained that he'd been the chief archeologist at Ephesus before retiring and had worked on excavating the ruins for nearly 40 years!  When we arrived it was apparent that everyone knew him well - another guide introduced him to his group and exclaimed that Cingus' knowledge of Ephesus was "encyclopedic"! 

He led us off the beaten track into an area closed to the public and repeatedly stooped to pick up scattered artifacts that looked to us like debris.  But when we looked closely we saw that they were actually pieces of frescos, remnants of ceramic tile, and iron nails more than 1500 years old!

He showed us where he had first excavated - the former ground level was nearly 20 feet above where we stood!  He said that Ephesus had been a city of more than 250,000 before it was eventually abandoned and gradually covered with wind-blown sand and silt over several hundred years.

Leaving the ruins we stopped at the nearby Ephesus Museum and Cingus pointed out the many artifacts that he had personally excavated.  After relaxing over tea in the museum café, we bade him farewell and set off for Bodrum with our driver.

We got to Bodrum harbor by late afternoon and were dropped off at the yachting office.  After some confusion about which boat we'd be assigned to, we were escorted to our yacht, the Troya, and shown to our cabins.  They were "cozy" (tiny) to say the least.  (You could sit on the toilet while taking a shower!) 

We headed back into the town to grab a bite to eat and to buy a few items including some beach towels and bottled water.  We strolled along the harbor front which was lined with sailing yachts, and also observed that directly across the single lane frontage road were rows of restaurants and designer stores, plus directly in front of our yacht, the Kuba Disco - hmm... not a good sign!   Clearly this port on the Aegean is a European playground - the prices are even listed in euros rather than lira!

Back on the boat, with the steady arrival of several more passengers during the evening, we were served a late dinner at a large wooden table seating twelve, under a canvas tarp to block the intense rays of the sun.  The temperature by late afternoon had indeed spiked leaving us sweltering, and the persistent hot wind provided no relief at all.

After dinner we sat out on the deck and chatted with the others and got to know a bit about them.  A father and his 16 year old daughter were from the Netherlands, one couple was from Austria, a recently married couple was from Switzerland, and a third newly engaged couple was from Izmir.  

All were quite tired from traveling and ready for a good night's sleep, however it was not to be.  The cabins below deck were like furnaces, so some found space on the upper decks to sleep.  But when the disco music started up at 10 PM and blasted until 4 AM, even sleeping above deck proved fruitless!

July 17, 2011:  The clear blue sea!

After a near sleepless night we and our fellow travelers staggered out to the rear deck to find the dining table laid out beautifully with an array of breakfast items.  Initially at least, coffee was the item du jour, but after a period of protracted silence, the caffeine kicked in and eyes began to open wider.

We watched as the ship's mate loaded additional provisions, including most importantly a huge stack of Efes beer.  We then gathered around a large map while the captain gave us an orientation and showed us where we would be sailing for the next few days.

We set sail from Bodrum harbor and soon all the passengers had claimed space on and around the decks.  Shortly, most everyone was dozing, clearly making up for lost sleep.  There was a strong wind and the crew had unfurled the main sail so we floated along in relative silence for the next hour or so before stopping in a small cove.  Despite the strong offshore breeze, the air temperature had risen quickly.  Our shipmates changed into bathing suits and jumped overboard into the clear blue sea to cool off while the cook and mate set out a light lunch of salad, rice and sautéed green beans.

We set sail again for a small island that the captain had pointed out earlier on the map.  We dropped anchor after another hour and again, everyone plunged into the cool, clear waters, including the crew.  The mate set out an afternoon snack of tea and cookies and for the next few hours we alternated between reading, dozing and swimming.  Teresa and I sat on the forward deck chatting and drinking Efes beer with the captain, while he and the mate grilled fresh fish on an open grill. 

Around 9 PM the mate rang the dinner bell and we all sat down to an amazing spread.  I was astonished that the cook was able to prepare such great food with so few resources!

The breeze had died down and it was so hot I just couldn't imagine sleeping in our cabin.  I took my pillow up to the rear deck which had several terrycloth covered foam mats and fell asleep immediately.  Teresa joined me later but by then I was sawing logs.  She said there was no breeze in the cabin and it was like an oven!  I woke up when the sun came up at 5 AM.  It was a bit chilly so I covered myself with my towel and fell back asleep for another few hours.

July 18, 2011:  My pillow!

I awakened to the sound of splashing water - with one eye open I watched several of our shipmates jumping off the upper deck into the clear blue water of the Aegean.  I loaded up on caffeine over another great breakfast spread of cheese, sliced meat, fresh sliced tomatoes, eggs and watermelon.

After breakfast we swam again, then set sail and followed the coastline east.  We stopped in a narrow inlet along the shore for several hours for lunch and more swimming, then sailed again for another hour or so.  Suddenly there was a powerful gust of wind - I looked up to see my pillow, which I had left on the top deck after using it to sleep overnight, go flying off the back of the boat and land in the ocean, floating merrily before it gently sank beneath the waves!  Fortunately, this horrific accident did not spoil my appetite, when shortly after we were served a meal of salad, bulgur and moussaka.

Later, we entered a hidden cove which the captain told us was called English Bay because the English navy had hidden their warships there during the Second World War.  To my surprise there were at least half a dozen other boats hidden in the cove that only became visible to us as we entered and dropped anchor.

The captain asked if we'd like to take a short hike on shore to watch the sunset, so we all hopped into the small zodiac that had been tied to and trailing the ship's stern.  There was a path, then a dirt road, and we hiked uphill about a mile to an open area overlooking the bay, then watched as the sun slowly set on the horizon.  What a great photo op!

Back at the boat we had a round of cold beer, then enjoyed another fantastic dinner of kofta, salad and white rice.  The ship's mate put on a CD of Turkish music, and soon he had everyone dancing in the moonlight Turkish style until all were exhausted. 

There was a steady breeze and it seemed a bit cooler tonight than last.  I planned to sleep on the top deck under the stars and at first Teresa said she would join me, but then got anxious about falling overboard and headed to our cabin instead, a decision she said she later regretted when the breeze died down. 

I got settled on a mat just beneath the mast and wrapped myself in a light blanket expecting the breeze to become chilly.  Wait a minute!  Where was my pillow?  Darn, I'd forgotten about that - no pillow!  So I improved by rolling up my towel and then tried to get comfortable.  No problem!  After all that swimming and eating I was out cold in only a few minutes!

July 19, 2011:  Cleopatra's Beach

I think I could get used to this -- sleeping outside, that is!  I was wrapped in a blanket and didn't feel the early morning chill before the sun rose, but by 8 AM when I woke, the temperature was already warming up.  Several people were in the water even before breakfast. 

The captain informed us we'd be headed to Cleopatra Beach after breakfast -- he explained that legend had it that Cleopatra had liked this location so much that she'd had loads of sand brought here.  This caught my interest because I had noticed that none of the coves or islands we'd visited so far had any sandy beaches, just rocks, so I guess the story kind of made sense!  Anyway, the captain said it was just a story - "maybe true, maybe not"!

Several of the group took the zodiac to the beach to check it out.  Apparently there was also some sort of church to see -- sounded touristy -- we chose to stay on board and do some more swimming.  Despite donning goggles repeatedly, neither Katie nor I had spotted any significant marine life -- no fish any larger than about two inches.  I paddled back and forth scanning the ocean floor-- the water was crystal clear but there just wasn't much to see.  I spotted a very large school of tiny silvery-blue fish, perhaps an inch or so each in length, but that was it.  I finally got back on board just as the group was returning from their shore outing.

After lunch we sailed to the port of Karacasögðüt and bade farewell to Nadine and Reya, our Swiss shipmates -- we waved as they headed off in the zodiac.

We traveled a short distance to a more secluded spot not too far away and anchored for the night. The shoreline was more rocky here and the crew said there might be some larger fish nearby - in fact, the captain donned snorkeling gear and went fishing with a rather smallish, hand-held spear!  But neither he nor anyone else ever spotted anything larger than a sardine. 

After dinner we had a quiet last evening on board, just relaxing.  It stayed quite warm after the sunset so Teresa finally overcame her fear of sleeping outside and joined me on the deck for the night.  Just as she was getting settled she looked up to admire the star-filled night sky and -- plunk!  She dropped her glasses overboard!  

July 20, 2011:  Our private spa

Teresa admitted that she'd slept well on the upper deck, but had been surprised to find the cook in the galley fixing breakfast only a few feet away when she first opened her eyes!

Just as we were sitting down to breakfast, the captain appeared, dripping from an early swim, and exultantly held up Teresa's glasses for everyone to see!  Needless to say, we were astonished!

He then informed everyone that we would be returning to the village of Karacasögðüt to dock after breakfast and that the other passengers could have a walk around the village while the crew re-provisioned the boat. 

We docked, and Teresa, Katie and I said our goodbyes to everyone then quickly disembarked.  We were met by our new driver and were soon on the road again heading to the archeological site at Pamukkale.

It was just after 11:30 AM when we came around a turn in the road and spotted the enormous white terraces and thermal pools of Pamukkale, completely encompassing the hilly terrain.  Pulling into the parking lot we spotted dozens of tour buses -- but where were the tourists?

The entrance gate and nearby gift shop were virtually empty!  We walked through the main gate and ambled in the general direction of the terraces, about a half mile.  Suddenly we found ourselves right in front of the massive thermal pools, no more than twelve inches deep, packed with throngs of tourists. 

Even with so many people, the sight was spectacular!  Water was flowing down from one terrace to the next, filling each one with warm, muddy-looking water.  The entire hillside was terraced all the way to the base several hundred feet below.  We'd read in our tour book that the natural beauty of these formations had been badly damaged by commercial exploitation, and until it had been declared a World Heritage site, dozens of nearby hotels had diverted the water flow to create their own private thermal pools, and indeed there was a large commercial swimming complex at the base of the formations. 

Beyond the terraces, facing the opposite direction, were the ruins of the ancient city of Hierapolis spread across several miles of flat terrain.  They didn't appear very well preserved, and there was lots of scattered rubble and weeds.  We surveyed the area from a distance then followed the main street which was constructed of huge stone blocks with evidence of an underground drainage system.  In the meantime, it had become spectacularly hot -- no breeze, at least 100 plus degrees!  We hadn't brought any food and only a few small bottles of water, and we wore out quickly.

We got checked into our hotel, the Pam Thermal.  We were shocked to find that it had its own private, terraced thermal pool filled with muddy water, and even more surprising, a separate thermal water tap right in our own room!  You could actually fill the tub and have a thermal spring bath in your room! 

After spending some time cooling off by the pool (while Katie had her feet nibbled by fish in the spa) we headed off to a buffet dinner -- lots of food choices - many different salads, sliced meats, moussaka, mashed potatoes - nice, but definitely an institutional spread compared to what we'd gotten used to on the gulat.  And the dining hall was filled with hundreds of tourists with most of the tables labeled for specific tour groups.  When asked, I quickly said we were with the Meyer Travel Group!  "Ah yes, of course!" -- and we were quickly directed to our own private table!

July 21, 2011:  Goddess of fertility

We were back on the road again by 10 AM heading for Aphrodisias. We'd made a brief stop in the village by our hotel and picked up some water and snacks to take with.  The road to Aphrodisias was off the beaten track and parts were gravel, so I assumed this was a deterrent to the large tour groups we'd encountered yesterday.

Aphrodisias proved to be fascinating -- more compact and much better preserved than Hierapolis.  We read about the history of the site, primarily excavated beginning in 1961 under the guidance of Kenan Erim, a professor at New York University which continues to fund the dig to this day.  I think we were most impressed to see the huge well-preserved stadium, seating 30,000 -- built nearly 2000 years ago and only abandoned after a massive earthquake in the seventh century.  (And they think Arco Arena is old after only 25 years!)  The baths were also impressive, complete with hot and cold running water and heated by an elaborate underground system.

We arrived back at Izmir around 5:30 PM and after getting checked in to our hotel we strolled to the nearby oceanfront promenade.   We found a table at an outdoor café by the water's edge where we enjoyed a round of cold beer, followed by a light dinner.  While I had a stir fry of diced chicken and mushrooms in a spicy tomato sauce, Katie ordered a plate of penne pasta in cream sauce with vegetables, and Teresa had a vegetable omelet with a green salad and French fries.

Back at the hotel we repacked our bags in preparation for our early morning flight on Sun Express to Kayseri in Cappadocia.  I weighed our bags after double-checking the luggage limit.  For a 7:15 flight I figured we'd need to catch a taxi for the airport by 5:30 AM just to be on the safe side.

July 22, 2011:  Man down!

5 AM came too quickly but by 5:30 we were on our way to the airport.  No time to check out the breakfast buffet as it didn't start until 6!  With no traffic the ride only took twenty minutes.  Our bags were weighed together -- 44.6 kilograms -- 0.4 kg to spare!

Our flight departed on time and we hit the ground in Kayseri, Cappadocia a little more than an hour later.  We were greeted by our guide, Sezin, a young woman, thirtyish, wearing jeans and a t-shirt.  She laid out an ambitious sightseeing plan for the day and we were off! 

My first impression of Kayseri was that the smog easily rivaled that of Los Angeles -- a thick brown overcast haze.

Since we hadn't yet had breakfast, we stopped briefly to pick up a few items including a two foot long crusty loaf of bread that was still steaming when you tore off a piece!

We stopped at two sites to view the peculiar rock formations they call "fairy chimneys" -- Sezin explained that these strange looking outcroppings were formed by erosion over thousands of years.  It's kind of hard to describe them -- "phallic" comes to mind!  (I'll post photos later -- you can use your imagination for now!)

Teresa mentioned that she was feeling lightheaded, so she sat down and drank some water.  After returning to the car she said she also felt faint and I noticed that she was looking pale.

Our next stop was the Goreme Open Air Museum -- the "museum" really was outdoors!  Again, difficult to describe, but essentially it consisted of many odd rock formations within which elaborate cave-like homes had been carved from the stone.  Several of these caves had been chiseled into elaborate underground cathedral-like churches, complete with columns, arches, a nave and an altar, then decorated with frescos of Christ, the Apostles and the Virgin Mary.

It was just after 1 PM and Teresa was clearly not well.  She'd had to stop and sit down several times during the museum tour and was finally unable to continue.  After Sezin agreed to continue with our itinerary tomorrow we headed to our hotel in Nevsehir.

As soon as we got to our room Teresa flopped down on the bed, looking exceptionally pale.  She lay there for a long time, white as a sheet, and I placed a damp cloth on her forehead to cool her off.  Suddenly she sprang up and vomited violently!  Then, when she laid down again she began to have chills.

Uh-oh... this definitely looked like food poisoning!  What could it have been?  Katie and I felt fine.  When we gave it more thought, it became clear that the only thing she'd eaten that we hadn't was the omelet she'd had for dinner last night.  Not that it mattered now!

She spent the rest of the afternoon in bed, sitting up occasionally only to retch.  This finally passed and by evening she was dozing lightly, so Katie and I walked to a nearby supermarket and got a bottle of Sprite for her as well as some more bottled water.

Katie and I ate dinner at the hotel buffet - nice but nothing special.  When we returned to the room Teresa's eyes popped open and she demanded to know what we'd eaten.  (Some things never change!)

After we assured her she hadn't missed much, her eyes dropped shut again!

I could only hope that she'd be feeling better by the morning.

July 23, 2011:  A quick recovery!

I awakened to find Teresa sitting up in bed perusing her Facebook page - my hopes quickly rose that she was all better!  She said she'd slept most of the night but admitted to still feeling really weak.  She agreed to join Katie and I for breakfast, but no sooner had we sat down in the dining room than she became pale and told us she felt faint. So Katie commandeered the hotel's sole elevator to get her quickly back to the room!

As arranged, Sezin and our driver picked us up at 10 AM for a hike through the Bagli Dere, also known as the White Valley, to see the bizarre rock formations up close.  We hiked for nearly two hours -- it wasn't too hot but the trail was steep and somewhat treacherous at times.  There's no way Teresa would have been able to handle it.  Very unfortunate.  But we took lots of pictures to show her later.

Afterward we came back to the hotel to see how she was doing.  Much to our surprise she was fully dressed and waiting for us, having decided that she felt well enough to go out and could ill-afford to miss anything else.

Fortunately our next stop was the underground city of Kaymakli which had  first been excavated nearly 3000 years ago.  It had areas for cooking, eating, living and food storage, and the passages connecting the levels, at least the four we traversed, were no more than 4 to 5 feet high.  We stooped as we crept through them.  Wearing my baseball cap for protection proved to be a good idea when I whacked my head on the rocky ceiling but didn't get hurt.

Fortunately it was also cool underground which kept Teresa from getting too worn out. 

We stopped in the town of Avanos and toured a pottery manufacturing operation that was completed enclosed within several underground caves.  It was explained to us that the cool cave temperature allowed the pottery to dry more slowly and thoroughly. I was especially intrigued by a wine flask that had a large hole in the center to tuck it under your arm as you poured.  Unfortunately the one that caught my eye was 1750 lira -- even with the discount offered I was still looking at around $1200!

Teresa, after an intense back and forth negotiation, purchased a set of twelve hand- painted glazed dinner plates.  We were told to expect to them in about 2-3 months, the time it would take to make them.  We took pictures so we wouldn't forget what we'd bought.

By late afternoon Teresa's color had returned and she felt well enough to join us for dinner, although she didn't eat much.  But of course she wandered through the buffet and fully evaluated the offerings!

July 24, 2011:  It's Greek to me!

Not much to write about today. 

We left for the airport around 11:30 AM and spent the better part of the day en route to Athens via Istanbul.  It all went very smoothly and we got into Athens about 6:30 PM.  We hopped on the Metro at Athens airport and after nearly an hour we emerged at the port in Piraeus.

We struggled to read the street signs which were mostly in Greek.  Katie: its Greek to me! But we did eventually find our way to our hotel! 

Boarding for our mini-cruise to the Greek Islands starts at 9 AM tomorrow -- I'm glad its only a 5 to 10 minute walk to the port. 

I expect our Internet access will be limited after we board, so this may be the last post for a few days!

July 25, 2011:  The woman in white

We were up early and quickly made our way to the port.  It was indeed only a 10 minute walk - the only problem was that we couldn't figure out where to find our ship!  Ports can be pretty rough places and this one was no different -- not really pedestrian-friendly and no obvious directions.  I could see a large cruise ship off in the distance so we headed in that general direction -- it wasn't ours but we spotted several large groups of people so we figured we must be on the right track!

I saw a stack of luggage off to the side with Louis tags on them, and as I pondered the significance of this finding, a young woman dressed in white approached us and asked if we were on the Louis Majesty cruise.  When we said yes, she pulled out a clipboard, found our names, then put labels on our bags and directed us to a boarding line nearby.  Jubilation!  We'd found it!

Although it was only 10 AM, we found our cabin ready.  Not having had breakfast, we were hungry, so we scoped out the dining room and buffet areas.  Nothing!  We headed to the pool deck and plunked ourselves down to wait.  

About the time the ship sailed, the lunch buffet opened.  We ate a lot -- you'd think we'd never eaten before! 

Later the afternoon we docked at Mykonos and walked about 3 km into the quaint town nearby.  Clearly this place was accustomed to tourists, with rows of whitewashed shops lining the narrow cobblestone streets.  We checked out Little Venice and the windmills, although we couldn't quite figure out the significance of the latter.

Back on the ship we had a late dinner in the dining room and were joined by a pleasant young couple from Oklahoma.

July 26, 2011:  Is your name Teresa?

The boat arrived in Kusadasi, Turkey, just down the road from Ephesus.  We discussed not even getting off since we'd just been here, but after a quiet breakfast we walked into the town to stroll through the bazaar.

Later in the afternoon we anchored off the island of Patmos.  As we were boarding the tender, a woman approached Teresa and asked "Is your name Teresa?"  Busted!  In Greece of all places!  Her WW fans are everywhere!

Again, there was very quaint town with a small beach along the waterfront.  We decided to take a pass on St. John's monastery (the prime tourist attraction) -- it didn't seem too interesting plus they wanted 30 Euro for the taxi ride (more than $42) for the two mile trip.

Instead we sat at a café on the beach and had some cold beers, then strolled through the town looking in on the many shops.

The evening dinners on board have been a highlight of this part of our trip.  Despite all of the different languages, the maitre d' has tried to place diners with others who speak their language.  Tonight we were seated with a couple from Toronto who told us they had just spent a week at a villa in Italy with their family.

I have to remind myself that, as Teresa puts it, this cruise is just a "sampler" of the Greek islands.  The stops at each island are really too brief to get a good feel for each place, and if we find something that truly appeals to us we'll have to plan on returning and staying longer.

July 27, 2011:  The synagogue

We have the whole day on the island of Rhodes - this is good because I have been finding myself feeling pressured by the time constraints imposed by so many port stops.  It's starting to feel like one of those rapid-fire tours where if its Monday we must be in (---)!  Not my preferred mode of travel.

Despite clearly being tourist-oriented, Rhodes, at least the enclosed walled city, proved to be compact and easily navigated, with most historical sites close by. 

Katie Meyer had urged us to visit the Kahal Shalom synagogue (and its museum) which was built in 1577 and is now essentially a memorial to the town's approximately 1700 Jews who were decimated by the Nazis after living peacefully here for more than 500 years.  It's unbelievable how far Hitler's reach had extended by 1944!

In addition we visited the Suleiman mosque -- its interesting how every mosque we've seen so far has been so different from all the others-- this one was not as elaborate as those we saw in Istanbul, but it was impressive nonetheless.  We also stopped to see the Grand Masters Palace -- an imposing edifice used most recently as a vacation home for Mussolini.  The interior was rather drab however, with little in the way of preserved furnishings.  (Considering that the synagogue museum was free, sometimes you just can't know in advance if something is going to be worth the price of admission!)

We walked through the moat surround the city wall.  (Yes, it's dry!)  These towns had such elaborate defenses, yet they repeatedly got conquered, destroyed and rebuilt!

After a light lunch of moussaka - not so light! according to Teresa, we trekked to a nearby beach to cool off before heading back to the ship.  We had a pleasant dinner seated with an Australian couple from Darwin and a single woman from Naples, Florida - interesting dinner companions.

July 28, 2011:  Spectacular Santorini!

We docked at the city of Heraklion on the island of Crete at 7 AM, but with only four hours to check it out I didn't expect to see much.  I'd spent about 10 days on Crete in 1978 living out of my VW bus, first by the caves at Matala, then on the beach at Vai.  I sure would have liked a few days to have a look around if only for old times' sake.  I wondered what had changed and what (if anything) had not. 

About three miles from the city is the Minoan Palace of Knosos, an archeological site that dates back to at least 2000 B.C.  I had thought we might take a taxi there to have a look, but there were no taxis anywhere to be found.  When we had been in Athens I had heard rumors of a taxi strike and it appeared that this was the case here as well. 

I was feeling frustrated because I didn't know what to do and there really wasn't much time to improvise.  I didn't know if there were any buses or other alternatives - there had been a shore excursion offered on the ship but I hadn't bothered to pursue it - I usually like to figure things out on my own!  I did notice what appeared to be a taxi stand by the dock and there was a sign that read Heraklion to Knosos, 70 Euro round-trip - that's nearly $100 U.S.!  Even if there had been a taxi, would I have been willing to pay that much to go to a site only three miles away? 

Regardless, seeing Knosos wasn't going to happen today - and I was feeling stressed!  Just how important was this site?  Was I going to miss seeing something truly magnificent?  Would I forever regret not having seen it?  Would I ever have another chance to see it?

As we wandered along the main tourist drag it became clear that this city was unimpressive - actually dingy is a more descriptive word.  Then Teresa mentioned that she felt disappointed not to have seen some of the locations on Crete I'd talked about in the past - I assured her that this would have been impossible in such a short time.  But it was evident she'd had some expectations based on my frequent and vivid descriptions of my previous experiences here.

We returned to the ship and I was left with an unsettled feeling - I couldn't quite put my finger on it -- I suspect it had to do with unfinished business.  I do know from my past experience that there is much more to see on Crete, especially some beautiful beaches!

I really need to give this some more thought...

As the ship was approaching Santorini, Katie, Teresa and I headed to the top deck to watch as the island appeared in the distance then gradually grew larger.

I could see steep cliffs dropping from a plateau several hundred feet above the water straight down to the water's edge, with a striking cluster of buildings flowing geometrically along the top, like white frosting on a large cake.  Quite spectacular!

We tendered in to the small harbor at the base of the cliffs.  There was a narrow cobblestone path lined with waiting mules for hire that zigzagged to the top, as well as a nearby cable car lift.

The mid-day heat was stifling and the stench of mule dung was overpowering so we made a quick decision to take the cable car rather than ride up on the mules.

Exiting the lift there was a cluster of shops and restaurants which we bypassed, instead following a narrow walkway surrounded by whitewashed plaster walls that slowly wound its way uphill alongside many small luxury hotels and cafes that looked out from their perches over the glistening water.

Along the way we stopped to look in on several small shops filled with art work by local artists and also gawked at the luxury apartments lining the cliffs, some with their own private swimming pools.

The view was truly stunning.  We were mesmerized by the beauty of it all.  I had no doubt that Santorini was the most beautiful of the Greek islands we had visited on this "sampler" cruise and wished we could stay here longer.

Heading back, we stopped at a small café to rest and have a drink then started down the path to the harbor.  There was a huge lineup for the cable car, and I figured how hard could it be to walk down?  (Insert comment here, Teresa!)  I hadn't anticipated how slippery the trail would be from all the mule droppings!

Back at the ship we cleaned up then enjoyed our last meal in the dining room with an English-speaking couple from Brazil.  Afterward, we packed up our stuff and placed it outside our room in preparation for an early disembarkation tomorrow morning.

July 29, 2011:  Tony's

We were off the ship by 8 AM and walked about 30 minutes until we got to the metro station.  By 9:30 AM we had made our way to Tony's Hotel -- lo and behold -- Tony was behind the desk and welcomed us to Athens!  He was both pleasant and chatty, and yes, he assured us, he had wi-fi!  After he showed us to our room, we relaxed and caught up with our email and Facebook

The hotel was located in a neighborhood about a half-mile from the entrance to the Acropolis.  Seeing the Acropolis up close was truly awe-inspiring!

We decided to start our Athens exploration by taking Rick Steves' Athens city walk to get an overview of the old city.  For about three hours we followed the route he described, passing through Syntagma Square, the site of recent demonstrations, down Ermou Street, a pedestrian mall lined with high-end shops, through old town Athens including the twisting lanes of the Plaka and Anafiotika districts, past the Roman Forum and ending up at the narrow shop-lined Pandrossa Street.

By 4 PM, with the sun beating down on us, we were hot and achy and slowly made our way back to the hotel.  But the city walk had definitely oriented us, giving us a better sense of where we were and what we wanted to see.

We cooled off in our hotel room - thank goodness for the air conditioning!  Teresa talked with Tony again and he suggested several places for dinner.  There was a restaurant nearby he urged us to try - even making a reservation for us for tomorrow.  ( "Nothing available tonight!")  There was also a small café nearby ("Good food, not expensive!"), so we headed there and shared a large Greek salad with huge slices of feta cheese then slices of a stuffed eggplant dish.

July 30, 2011:  A golden glow

With the forecast calling for the mid-90's, we were on our way to the Acropolis by 10 AM hoping to beat the heat.  Tony's hotel was only a 15 minute walk to the base of the Acropolis, but it was another 15 minute uphill walk from there.

We entered the Acropolis through the enormous Propylea gate and were immediately confronted by the massive columns of the temple of the Parthenon, built 2500 years ago and still an astonishing sight!

Nearly as impressive was the adjacent Temple of Erechtheion with its huge Porch of the Caryatids, six stone maidens holding up the roof.  (Apparently these are reproductions -- the originals are in the nearby Acropolis museum, except for one that is in the British Museum.)

From the Acropolis, the magnificent view of the surrounding city was nearly 360° -- we used our Rick Steves' Athens guide to identify many of the prominent landmarks.

By the time we returned to the base of the Acropolis we were hot and hungry, so we stopped for a quick bite, then headed into the Acropolis Museum, a new structure completed only 2 or 3 years ago.  What was unusual about this museum is that it is built on top of the ruins of ancient Athens, but its floor is Plexiglas and you can literally walk over and look into the excavations.  The museum itself is spacious and well-laid out so that you can follow the exhibits chronologically. 

Before returning to the hotel, we also made a brief stop to view the Theater of Dionysus directly across from the museum.

After we had rested and cooled off for a few hours, we walked up the street ten minutes for our reservation at the Strofi Restaurant (http://www.strofi.gr/).  We were seated on the restaurant terrace with a line of sight view of the Acropolis, and were served chilled wine and beer, followed by a variety of Greek appetizers, then our main course of two dishes (one lamb and one veal), together with a Greek salad, and finally, a delicious dessert including baklava and walnut cake soaked in honey and ice cream

The sun went down as were finishing our meal, and the Acropolis became illuminated, giving off a golden glow in the evening dusk!

July 31, 2011:  Ambrosia

On our last full day before starting our long journey home, I drew up a short list of places left for us to see in Athens -- the Ancient Agoura, the Roman Forum, the Arch of Hadrian and the Temple of Olympic Zeus.  We'd already done the city walk which had given us a pretty good feel for the Plaka district, full of shops, cafés and a lot of tourists, as well as the Anafiotika, the old residential neighborhood at the base of the Acropolis.  We decided we really weren't interested in the National Archeological Museum -- museum overload I think!

We'd determined that we'd been staying in the Makrigianni neighborhood (where Tony's Hotel is located) on the opposite side of the Acropolis from the Plaka.  Although it gave us convenient access to the Acropolis, this area was drab, even dingy, with a lot of lackluster apartment buildings, cracked sidewalks and streets in disrepair, and lots of graffiti -- not very appealing.  But with all the walking we'd done the past few days, we got the impression that this is probably characteristic of much of Athens beyond the well-trafficked touristy areas.  I really just can't imagine that you would want loiter here for long!

We spent our first couple of hours at the Agoura -- basically this was the marketplace for ancient Athens around several hundred years B.C.  I found it easy to imagine what it must have looked like back then, with rows of small shops and stalls selling everything necessary to get by -- fish, meat, produce, spices, clothing, etc.-- probably similar to the crowded markets we'd seen most recently in Morocco.  Even in ruins it's inspiring because of its elaborate detail, especially considering that it was part of a thriving community more than two millennia ago.

Exiting the Agoura we trampled past several blocks of packed outdoor cafés until we stumbled upon the Roman Forum, also a marketplace (similar  to the Agoura) but prominent later on when Athens was dominated by the Roman Empire.

Our final stop was the Arch of Hadrian which faces one of the city's main traffic arteries, behind which is the Olympian Temple of Zeus with its rows of towering columns -  it's so striking to see these magnificent ruins right in the heart of the city, with cars and buses whizzing by and locals going about their daily business -- all within a stone's throw of the national parliament building and Syntagma Square!

In the evening, after recuperating from the heat of the day, we had another excellent meal at a taverna near our hotel (also recommended by Tony) by the name of Ambrosia.  It was a popular eatery as evidenced by its busy take-out business.  After a round of drinks we shared a Greek salad (large enough for all three of us), then Katie and I enjoyed slices of pastitsio with a side dish of saganaki (fried cheese), while Teresa had a plate of large beans in a tomato-like sauce.

August 1, 2011:  WOW!

It was one of those travel days where you really don't do much other than wait around a lot --  the challenge for the day was simply the logistics of getting from here to there!

Since our flight from Istanbul to New York leaves tomorrow at 12:15 PM and I didn't think we'd have Internet access tonight, we waited at Tony's until I could get us checked in online (24 hours in advance).  Despite our flight to Istanbul not leaving until this evening, there just wasn't much else we wanted to do.  With the oppressive heat and dirty air, a stroll through the local neighborhood didn't have much appeal.

It actually took us nearly two hours to get to the airport via the metro.  The first train we boarded stopped about five stations from the airport and a robotic female voice announced "end of the line" so we ended up waiting another thirty minutes for another train to get us the rest of the way. 

As we were nearing the airport, a scrolling marquee started flashing overhead warning us that a special ticket was required to get to the airport.  I realized too late that I had bought the wrong ticket -- I had paid only €1.40 rather than the €8.00 required.  So for the last ten minutes of our journey I fretted that someone would stop us and want to see our tickets.  Scofflaw!!

But my fears were unfounded -- no one checked and I got away "scot-free"!  (Insert groan here.)

We made it without any problem to the WOW Airport Hotel in Istanbul via the hotel shuttle bus.  The room was certainly nice enough, but when I went to get a cold beer from the minibar my eyes just about popped out of my head at the price -- nine bucks!!  I guess that's what they mean by WOW! 

So I settled for a water at the bargain price of only three bucks.

August 3: We're home!

It was a long, long, long trip from Istanbul to California! 

The first leg, from Istanbul to New York, went smoothly -- just a lot of sitting and waiting.  Those video screens they put on the back of airplane seats are a great way to kill the time on long flights -- you just watch one movie after another!  Only problem is you forget to sleep and when you arrive you are totally bleary-eyed!

The second leg didn't go so well.

We pushed away from the gate as scheduled.  Then just as we were about to take off, the captain announced there was a problem with some gadget outside the plane that wouldn't close, so we turned around and went back to the gate.  Half an hour later we pushed away again.  The captain announced that the maintenance crew had "closed" the gadget.  (I never quite figured out what it was or what it did, other than it was supposed to close before you could take off.)

Just as we were about to take off the second time, the captain announced that the gadget was open again, and wouldn't close again!

(Insert dramatic eye roll here.) 

So he turned the plane around and we went back to the gate again.  This time we waited an hour before he finally came on and said they couldn't fix the problem so we were going to fly to LA with the gadget open the whole way, which would cause more drag and require more fuel -- perfectly safe, he assured us!  So we waited another half hour while they added fuel.

By the time we were airborne we were three hours late.  Hmm... with a ninety minute connection in LA, the implication was clear. 

I managed to put this unfortunate calculation out of my mind for the next few hours, but during the last hour or so it began to gnaw at me.   I began to fret -- what options would we have for getting home?  Of course, being sleep-deprived after crossing ten time zones wasn't helping my problem-solving skills!

We landed in Los Angeles, and as we exited we were directed to the Delta gate agent nearby.  I quickly did some checking and found that there was a United flight leaving in only 50 minutes that would get us home, but after standing in an unmoving line for fifteen minutes, it became apparent this wasn't going to happen.  Why hadn't they already rebooked us?  There were only about a dozen of us!

Suddenly, the gate agent looked up, raised her voice, and in an extremely hostile tone said "WHY ARE YOU ALL WAITING HERE?  You can use the phone over there to call in and get rebooked!"

After a moment of shocked silence, at least half a dozen stunned and incredulous Delta customers responded angrily, THIS IS WHERE WE WERE TOLD TO GO!!

A lot of harsh words and arguing ensued at this point, some of which cannot be repeated here.  Suffice it to say that this scenario was probably one of most poorly handled I have ever encountered in my travels!

We were completely exhausted when we landed in Sacramento five hours later than scheduled...