Izmir and Constantinople
Fantastic harbour, boats skimming past, skyline pricked by minarets and radio masts, so exciting.... the dark skies, cold wind and pouring rain are less inviting. Still we are venturing out in a moment and will have a look at what we can, and I think resolve to come back and see it all another time.
Yesterday we were in Izmir, a place proudly proclaimed as Turkish, but it wasn't so long ago that I read the novel 'Jericho' which starts with the massacre of the Greeks in Smyrna as it then was, and so I find I do not share the sort of touristy-ecstasy about the new democratic republic. though I am glad the people have reclaimed their homeland. And what a story this chunk of the world can tell, from Hittites to Moses, Alexander, St John, Romans, saints, castles, churches, mosques, etc etc. This is a rather rapid and garbled paragraph, sorry – I am really tired!
We opted for a bus excursion to see the house where the Virgin Mary died (in the care of St John), and Ephesus. It turns out the authenticity of the House rests on the vision of a German nun in the 18th century, who had a dream..... surprisingly her description was found to be vry accurate and so bishops and historians and popes etc all said it must be true. The original House had been destroyed by earthquakes and has been rebuilt, in the rather surprising shape of a church. No photography allowed, no speaking, just a non-stop reverent line of pilgrims filing through. Oh well. The source provides delicious water just down the path, a wall holds thousands – millions – of prayers written on paper, the coffee shop does a brisk trade, the loos (our first experience of a real Turkish lav) were disappoingly european in style and not the croucher type, and the whole place is guarded by policemen with automatic machine guns, nice at a holy place, but probably sensible.
Then back into the bus and to the huge site of Ephesus. This is a disappointing place because of the crowds, and the very broken (white marble) pavements which force you to watch your footing all the time and so it is hard to look at the astonishing rubbly remains of this vast Roman city. To my mind Epidavros near Corinth offers a far more peaceful and imaginative account of how things were... archeaologists and historians will hiss at me, but, there it is. Our guide was a nice man, a gentle Muslim evangelist, who gave us an interesting document showing how Jesus and Mary are recorded in the Holy Koran, but his English was execrable and he darted off into the crowds almost as soon as we got into the site, and so we made our own way down. At the end we bought a freshly-pressed pomegranite juice, and some delicious fresh figs, and chicken doner wrap for our lunch, and admired a dark woolly Bactrian camel, and waited for all the rest of the group to join us. The imprecations from the tat vendors are forceful, but my goodness they work hard for their living.
Anyway, overnight we sailed through up the Aegean and through the Dardanelles into the Sea of Marmara and thus into Istanbul..... we tried to see the land on either side as we came through the straits, but it was too dark. And today, in the pouring, drenching, road-flooding rain we set off to explore the city.... amazing place. We needed a ten lira note to buy our tram tickets, but only had a twenty, so I braved torrents of water and deep puddles to get into a bank. The elegant assistant looked at the 20lira note as if it was completely counterfeit... she checked it though a machine a few times, held it up to see through it, looked at me as if I was a leper, took it away to consult her colleagues. They stood and discussed it for about three minutes – it seemed longer – and long enough for such a simple transaction. Eventually and with great pain, apparently, she changed my note for two tens. We got our tram jetons, hopped onto a crowded no 38, and trundled into the city. Mentioning the crowds – although we saw mostly men all day, I must say I never felt anything but very safe, even in the bazaar later on.
First we went to the Basilica Cistern – with all those reused columns and the huge cathedral space created to hold the city's water supply – marvellous, even the solemn fish swimming round in the dark. Medusa's head, seen once upside down and once just as a prop to a column, is a salutary reminder of how a culture can be discarded... the workmen who heaved her into place could not have worried that they might be turned to stone just by looking at her.
Then into the Hagia Sophia – queueing first for what seemed like hours in the rain to get to the ladies' loo first... the disable loo was firmly locked, by the way. Why are public loos built with so few booths for ladies? And why do ladies take so much, so much longer than men....? Well, I know why, but I have yet to meet a female who doesn't loathe queueing to pee. Loathe!
The Hagia Sophia has the advantage (for the time-strapped tourisit) of being both a very ancient church, and a mosque, and a public space. If the cathedral builders of Europe had seen this, in say 1200, or 1300, they'd have fallen down and cried. The height, the width, the holy acoustic, the marvel of it. We wandered around, feeling blessed to be there.
Then we headed for lunch, were tempted into a corner cafe by the sight of two women in traditional dress sittting on the floor in a window cooking pancake things on a curved griddle.... We had delicious food there, a mixed Ordervre (sp!), pancakes filled with spinach or potatoes, and yogurt drink, and tiny delicate honey cakes for a pudding. Yum.
Then we went to the bazaar, crowded, filled with bling and handbags and ceramics and garden lamps and shoes and silk and jeans and crowds and musical instruments and coffee and shawls and towels and napkins and nougat and turkish delight and more of all of it, retail, wholesale, trolley loads of it coming through, and everyone working very hard, and having a great time. Our friends bought their Christmas presents, I bought two pairs of baggy pants and we got a special selection of Turkish Delight vacuum packed to bring home. Tram back, plod through more puddles and rain, fail to get a seat at the internet cafe because all the Indian and Brazlian crew members from our vast ship were queueing up to contact home too.... and here we are now, back in our cabin, filling in time before our wretchedly late supper sitting (8.45pm sit down, eat about 9.45).
We went up on deck to watch our departure from the quay... the light was fading fast and it's quite murky outside, and damp. Coming back inside the ship where it's dry and light, well that is nice but the air is all dry and artificial.... we can hear the engine throbbing somewhere deep below us. The cabin 'TV' has only the ghastly BBC World News, which is still mostly showing only endless loops of happy Chilean miners and their President. We know from our tiny taste of Turkey today how many real things are happening in the world, however small, however insignificant.... and it makes this thumping poverty-stricken endlessly repetitive capitalist blurb which gets pumped out round the globe under the once-hallowed name of the BBC all the more shameful.
Tonight and all tomorrow the ship is heading back to the Adriatic. We get to Dubrovnik for a short stay on Saturday... when I hope to put this offering up onto the blog.
OK - here we are in Dubrovnik, rain held off most of the afternoon, we had a brilliant sunny day on deck yesterday, and a wonderful lunch in the old town just now. >Prety tired, very happy, almost too much to take in now. I found two new custoemrs during this trip - both thrilled to find Juice Plus which they realise will help them with their various problems. I also found new ideas about how to take my business forward, very helpful.
Andrew was v pleased to go up the cable car here, we could see for miles along the coast, fantastic views. Have to get back to the ship pretty soon now, pack and put the cases outside the cabin ready for disembarkation in the morning back in Venice. My God, it has gone so fast. Not sure this blog had as many laughs as I like to put in, but it is a record at any rate. I notice too that my creative juices have flowed every time we came ashore and dried up completely on the ship which is all plastic and bling. The cities we visited are so poignant, working hard to attract tourists, polite about how rude tourists can be, rich with their own history. Strange to think we will be back home tomorrow night.