Saturday, August 15, 2009

Mykonos, the Straights of Messina, Sorrento, and Pompeii

Mykonos, Greece was lovely with the white washed buildings trimmed in bright colors--the water was the bluest blue, and it was nice to play at the beach with the kids. We relaxed, ate at a cafe along the water, ate still more gelato, and did some light shopping. The next day we spent at sea, so I lounged at the pool and napped much of the day. The children continued working on their school work--both finished reports today which were emailed back to school.

On our way to Sorrento, we passed through the Straights of Messina (that's the toe of Italy's boot) this is the legendary home of Scylla and Charybdis. I watched for them, but they let us pass peacefully. We stayed up late on the deck to watch the almost constant eruption of Stromboli, one of Sicily's Lipari islands. We saw several flares of magma against the black sky.

We awoke in Naples, and boarded our tour bus at 7: 45 am. Mt. Vesuvius loomed over us as we drove to Sorrento for a trip to a local farm to see how they grow and process olives into olive oil and lemons for lemoncello. Many of the olive trees are believed to be over 500 years old--and they still produce heavy harvests. The farm also makes salami, cheese, and wine-all of which we eagerly sampled. (hic!) We watched a cheese making demonstration and headed off to into town for some shopping, strolling, and lunch.

We spent the afternoon in Pompeii, strolling the stone streets and listening to our guide tell us about live in Roman times. Did you know they collected urine at the laundry and used it as a source of ammonia to wash clothes? Personally, I prefer soap. . . I enjoyed seeing the communal bread ovens, some looked like modern pizza ovens. We ended our day with a visit to a tourist trap cameo factory.

Next stop: Rome!

Friday, August 14, 2009

My cruise--continued

Well, as you can see I am a little behind in my blog--but I took excellent notes and now that I've had a few more adventures under my cap I'm ready to sit down and tell you all about them.

Last time I updated, we were preparing to visit Istanbul, Turkey. (That's Istanbul, not Constantinople). We started the day at with a visit to the Blue Mosque named after the lovely blue tiles decorating the interior walls. The tiles were beautifully painted with geometric and floral patterns. and I was surprised at how large it was inside. We all had to remove our shoes and ladies had to have their shoulders and knees covered, but that was no trouble for me at all. As it was between prayer times, the mosque was very crowded with tourists and visitors.

Then we went to see a carpet weaving demonstration--including how they get the silk strands for the thread by boiling the cocoons of those poor little silkworms. I admit the rugs were beautiful, but once I realized they didn't have any flying carpets, and the carpets in front of me were made by bug spit, I just quietly sipped my apple tea and enjoyed the show. Afterwards, I tagged along with Blue to shop in the Grand Bazaar--she bought so many things I think she's going to need another suitcase--but I'll let her figure that out later.

Lunch was all Turkish food and was the most wonderful meal I have ever eaten. There were dozens of dishes including little lamb ribs, pearl couscous salad, candied pumpkin, saffron chicken eggplant salad, four types of hummus, local cured meats and cheeses, nuts, dried apricots, roasted potatoes, green salads, and so on. For dessert, there were trays of bakalava of all kinds of shapes and flavors including chocolate, pistachio, and walnut. There were little honey and pistachio cakes that melted in your mouth-and if that wasn't enough there was apple crumble, chocolate brownies, custard, and raspberry and green tea mousses. I ate so much I could barely fit into my cape. I left full, and with a great appreciation for Turkish cuisine.

After waddling to the bus we drove to Topkapi palace and where Sultans once lived and ruled over the Ottoman Empire. The treasury included the Topkapi dagger with three egg sized emeralds, the Spoonseller's diamond, and a shoebox sized crystal box filled with emeralds. It must have been good to be the Sultan--but not so good to be one of his many wives or concubines. The harem seemed like it would be a difficult place to live in with so many women vying for the Sultans' attentions.

Our final stop was to the Hagia Sophia, or Divine Wisdom. It was a Christian church built by the Romans to be the both the largest building in the world, and to have the largest dome. It was destroyed and rebuilt twice before finally falling into disuse. Eventually it was converted into a Mosque, and the beautiful mosaics were plastered over in keeping with the Muslim belief of not having pictures or statues of people within a building of worship. The plasters are now being removed so the mosaics can be restored and enjoyed by visitors. The four corners of the church are held up by eight of the marble pillars from the Temple of Artemis that once stood in Ephesus and was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world

We returned to the ship for a relaxing evening. Next stop, Mykonos.