What a difference 80 degrees make. When we got married, we wanted to go somewhere far for our honeymoon, and we’d narrowed down our choices to New Zealand and Turkey. The deciding factor was the ticket prices – flying down under was over $2000 per ticket, but flying to Turkey was about $600 apiece. It was a no-brainer for us, so we packed our bags and were off to Istanbul.
On all the high praise we heard from our friends who had been to Turkey, and also the usual guidebooks, few had mentioned how cold it can get there… certainly a lot colder than San Francisco. It was sleeting cold, and as little as 6 degrees F. in Cappadoccia. Add the fact that Monika was five months pregnant at that time, it made for a delightful but certainly trying time—enough to get a great feel for the area, but leaving us longing to revisit when there were leaves on the trees on a warm day.
I’m not sure our return could have been much better. After really intense heat in Greece, we hit a couple rainy days in Istanbul, which was a relief. We even took the kids to the park in the warm rain, somewhere in the mid-80s. And since we’d had a pretty hectic time in Greece with the travel back and forth to Santorini, we wanted to take it as easy as on Elise as we possibly could, especially knowing that Egypt was about to be the toughest port on her.
Unlike last time, we also had the advantage of having lectures on the history and politics of Turkey that we didn’t get the first time around. Istanbul is as much in the crossroads of different cultures as anywhere in the world, having been ruled by the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Ottomans, and now the Post-Ataturk government of secular rule, and that history seeps out in everywhere, one layer built on top of the other.
What a lovely time it was. I looked at the pictures of our honeymoon, just to refresh our memory of what the place looks like all dark and grey. And everything was so vibrant and full of life. We stepped off the ship, right next to the Istanbul Modern past the Galata bridge that we were already familiar with, and made our way to the Spice Market, off to a lunch at some hole-in-the wall place with tasty meats, and in hiding from the sudden rain, discovered the Basilica Cistern that somehow we missed the first time around… a heeby-jeeby underground structure where the city used to store all the water that came from the mountains.
By the time we walked back on the ship on the first day, we had revisited much of the steps of our honeymoon, culminating on what may turn out to be my favorite playground (for Elise) of the trip, right in the middle of the Gulhane Park next to the Topkapi Castle.
That night was also one of my favorite of the voyage, where most of the staff walked from the ship to a restaurant up in the Taksim district. Somehow we managed to seat 45+ people, eat a ton of delicious food, while everyone, including the kiddos, had a fantastic time. I think when I look back at this voyage, I’ll see that meal as the moment that the trip turn from fun to comfortable; when the ship became home. Those who have sailed on Semester at Sea before know of that moment, and it’s always a nice feeling when you get there.
We stayed in Istanbul the entire time, and despite having planned on making it to the Asian side of the city at some point, the closest we got to the other side was about 20ft of the continent on a impromptu Bosphorous cruise that we jumped on at some point. Monika and I have been there before, but if Elise doesn’t go back to Asia before she’s 18, I can imagine this scenario with her as a teenager where she will hold a grudge against us for having taken her 8000 miles never to step on the promised land. (Elise, if you’re reading this, please understand that it’s not that big a deal, I promise I’ll take you back someday.)
One thing we noticed: more than any other country, Turkey had an inordinate number of men and children come up and grabbed Elise, always touching her, and often picking her up and throwing her up in the air. It was pretty uncomfortable at first, but slowly it became clear that it was never malicious, that there seemed to be a expectation that you are supposed to come over and complement any child. They really value children (could it be that it was because Elise was a girl?) in a different way there, and we’re really happy that Elise was mostly ok with it.
(The relationship with children has a slightly different twist in Egypt – I’ll save that story for the Egypt blog).
When we left Croatia, Monika and I looked at each other and said it would be hard for any of the upcoming ports to beat it, and we thought we had our sure favorite. Three ports later, I’m not so sure. I personally felt like we completed what we missed in our first visit to Turkey – things I couldn’t possibly have predicted – and enjoyed way beyond the level of simply going to the tourist sites (Monika even went to a Turkish cooking class for a day). I left Istanbul the first time around loving it, but now it is also in my “list of favorite cities in the world”, which it hadn’t cracked the first time around. We had rested from Greece, and ready for the craziness that was about to come up in Egypt.
We’re leaving Egypt right now, another wonderful port, and easily the craziest place I have been since India, and we’re about to be at sea for 6 days before going to our last port in Casablanca. Sea Olympics are tomorrow, and this will be the first port we actually have a couple days at sea to reflect on what we’ve seen. And this was a good port for a little reflection time.
Good times for all. Pictures are up at http://picasaweb.google.com/randrade .