Wednesday, July 28, 2010


After eleven days of cruising around the Black Sea (and being totally confused by a different currency in every country), it was time to make a graceful exit. To give some perspective, here is the Black Sea:

and here is our exit route, through the Bosphorus Strait, which bisects the city of Istanbul (the old city--where we spent all our time--is on the Europe side, and the new city is on the Asia side), through the Sea of Marmara, and out the Dardenelles into the Aegean Sea (which then leads to the Mediterranean):
After leaving Yalta in the early evening, we cruised across the Black Sea at night. They had it perfectly timed so that we hit Istanbul in the morning after breakfast around 9:00. It was a spectacular view, and everyone came out to see it:
(Perhaps you can tell by clicking on the above picture what the average passenger age was.)

Looking back at the Fatih Sultan Mehmet Bridge, one of two bridges in Istanbul which link two continents and are the 15th and 16th longest suspension bridges in the world:

A view of the old city fortress and walls:

There is never any doubt you are in Turkey. Huge flags fly everywhere.

A busy harbor for a busy city:

Lots of cruise ships:
I love these fish that decorated the top of our boat. Take a good look at their eyes; they are called nazars, and are a charm used to ward off the "evil eye." We saw the same symbol all over Greece and Turkey and other Black Sea countries. Evil eye key chains, fabrics, tablecloths, jewelry, etc. were for sale in every shop. Many of our buses and taxis had evil eye stickers on the window or charms hanging from the mirror. Even some airplanes have them on their tailfins.
I couldn't resist buying an evil eye bracelet.
Our cruise through the Bosphorus Strait highlighted Istanbul's unique blend of the ancient past and the very modern present:
We also had stunning views of the Hagia Sophia . . .

. . . and the Blue Mosque:

We even got them in the same picture:
(Click on the picture above to see how enormous the two structures are in comparison to their surroundings)

We spent much of the day with our cruising friends Mark and Pat:

Once we pulled away from Istanbul, there wasn't much to see, just green rolling hills on both sides. At about 4:00 p.m., again perfectly timed, we entered the Dardenelles.

And this is where Mel Gibson comes in. Well, not literally.

For many years Bob and I have had a heated discussion over which movie is worse: Bob's cherished Every Which Way but Loose starring Clint Eastwood and a really stupid orangutan, which I hate: ...or my favorite but tragic movie Gallipoli starring Mel Gibson, which Bob hates:
Gallipoli is the story of a battle that took place in Turkey during World War I at the southwestern end of the Dardenelles. Hoping to capture strategically-located Constantinople (now Istanbul), Britain launched an attack on the area. Over an 8-month period, 65,000 men died, and nothing was gained. However, it did result in the promotion of a little-known, low-ranking Turkish army officer who helped stage the defense. His name was Mustafa Ataturk, the man who shaped Turkey's future. The leader of the British forces and their allies was the First Lord of the Admiralty, a 46-year-old man named Winston Churchill. Thank goodness the loss did not end his career.

Our ship passed by the Gallipoli Peninsula. We saw several monuments to the battle, including this simple structure:
Now that I've been to Gallipoli, I'm going to have to watch the movie again, Mel Gibson or not. (After his recent behavior, I sure don't love him like I used to.)

I'm pretty sure that nothing is ever going to make me want to watch Every Which Way but Loose again. Sorry, Bob.

NEXT: Our last day in Turkey--Incredible Ephesus

Friday, July 23, 2010


After spending the morning at the Vorontsky Palace, we moved on to the Livadia Palace. Who knew there were so many palaces in Yalta?

Tsar Nicholas II oversaw the design and construction of the Livadia Palace in 1910-1911 after traveling to Italy with his wife Alexandra (Queen Victoria's granddaughter) and falling in love with the Renaissance palaces there. He, his wife, their four daughters, and their hemophiliac son spent much of 1911-1914 at this palace, but did not return after the outbreak of World War I and then were all assassinated in 1918. During the next 25 years, the Palace was used for various purposes, including a mental institution.

The palace has 116 rooms and Nicholas kept 25 cars in the garage. It is huge.

Half of the palace is a museum dedicated to the Romanovs. As you can see in our pictures, it was crowded the day we were there, so it was hard to hear the ghosts of the children playing inside, but I tried to imagine Alexandra walking through the halls,

eating a quiet dinner with her husband in their private suite,

and walking out on the bedroom balcony to feel the cool breeze blowing in from the Black Sea.

I loved this tapestry of Nicholas, Alexandra, and the never-to-be-Tsar, poor Alexei:

They were a handsome, regal couple:

and had a beautiful family:

Early in our marriage, I read Robert K. Massie's excellent biography Nicholas and Alexandra, and I've always found the couple and their tragic story SO ROMANTIC. *Sigh.* I can tell I'm going to have to read that book again, or perhaps get the movie on Netflix.

But I digress.

To be honest, I didn't even know the Romanovs had anything to do with Yalta until going there, but it was a rather nice bonus. The real reason I was so interested in Yalta had to do with what was shown in the other half of the Palace, for it was here that Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt came in February 1945 (just a few weeks before my mother's hometown was leveled by the RAF and almost 18,000 people killed) to discuss the postwar reorganization of Europe. Interestingly, like me, Roosevelt and Churchill also did not know that Livadia was a Romanov palace. In fact, according to our guide, that little bit of information did not come out until after the break-up of the USSR, and the Romanov chambers were first opened to the public in 1993 as part of the museum.

Roosevelt actually stayed here during the week of the Conference with his daughter Anna (just as Churchill had his daughter with him). The rooms where Roosevelt stayed were completely redecorated in blue, his favorite color. Even the telephone was blue. The room has been redecorated again, and is now a rich red and gold:
Traces of blue remain in this gaudy chandelier.
This is a reproduction of the famous table at which the Big Three sat, with a name plate at each of their seats:
Franklin Delano Roosevelt--I like that it is not written in English.

At the door to the room are wax soldiers wearing their country's uniforms:

This meeting room was used when the larger group got together:

Check out the ceiling:
Although the conference was kept a secret, once it was over, Pravda reported on it and included the famous picture of the three stars, as well as a picture of the aforementioned round table:

Yet ANOTHER meeting table. Notice that Roosevelt got the coveted middle seat.

The famous photo:

A document signed by Churchill first, then Roosevelt, then Stalin. I don't know if this is THE agreement or not. It is written in Russian, and I haven't been able to find it online.
It was an awe-inspiring day. At this place many decisions were made that would have a great impact both on my personal life through my mother, and on the world as a whole, including that Hitler and Germany must surrender unconditionally, that Germany and Berlin would be split into four zones under Russian, British, American, and French control, and that Poland would basically be given to Russia (although Churchill strenuously objected).

We finished off the day with finesse. Our guide got a taxi for us and told the driver to take us to the Yalta Bus Station, where we were able to meet up with my nephew Rick and his charming wife Kim.They live in Kiev, where Rick runs an internet business and Kim teaches English, and they love to hike. They planned a hike in the Crimean Mountains around Yalta during the week we were there, and actually came down out of the mountains just to spend an hour and a half with us. Unfortunately, of all of our cruise days, this had to be the only one when we were required to be back on the ship by 3:30 p.m.

Rick managed to find a great restaurant for us within a short distance from the bus stop. It had outdoor seating overlooking a beautiful wooded area. The food was also very good.

Bob's salad, with salmon, tomato, dill, potato, and a spicy dressing.

Excellent borscht--the best I've ever had (not that I've had it a lot)

Pork goulash with buckwheat as a side dish

Bob's delicious roast lamb
It was kind of surreal to be sitting in a cafe in Yalta with Rick and Kim, so far away from home. Who would have ever guessed 25 years ago, when Rick was growing up in Fullerton and Bob and I were starving students, that we would come off a cruise ship and he would come off a mountain trail with his wife and we would reunite in a Ukrainian restaurant? We loved eating our lunch with Rick and Kim. They are a fun, interesting couple who are experiencing the world in a unique and fascinating way.
Much too soon, Rick (who is fluent in both Ukrainian and Russian) got a cab for us and gave directions to the driver. We made it back to our ship with only ten minutes to spare.

I was sad to leave Yalta. It is a bit off the beaten track, and chances are I won't ever get back there. However, I feel fortunate to have been there at all, my feelings at every port on this trip.

I think Bob was mostly happy to be reunited with our bed.

Full moon over the (very) Black Sea

At least twenty-five years ago I read the 1967 book Nicholas and Alexandra by the Romanov scholar Robert K. Massie, the author of the 2012 biography Catherine the Great. Massie is a great place to start if you have never read historical biography. His books are thoroughly researched and incredibly interesting. I loved this book, and have been fascinated by the Romanovs ever since reading it. Even though the book is almost fifty years old, it is still considered one of the best discussions of the life and times of the Romanovs. I hope to go back and read it again, perhaps during our next trip to Russia.

When we got home from our trip, our curiosity regarding the last tsar was piqued, so we rented the movie version of Massie's book, the 1971 film nominated for Best Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Music Original Dramatic Score, and Best Picture. It didn't win any of those awards, but it did win Best Art Decoration - Set Decoration and Best Costume Design.  Our opinion? Read the book.

Next: Leaving the Black Sea and Visiting Ephesus
And After That: Two Days in Greece (and then I'm done with our trip)