Worrall Travel R's - Kicking the Bucket List

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Following our Dreams and Kicking the Bucket List.  Started on a yacht, now it's planes, trains, Trailblazer 5th wheel, camels, rickshaws.  Exploring our wonderful world.

Our Mantra:
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
~ Mark Twain

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SLIDE SHOW of Worrall Travel R's 2014 ODYSSEY

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Now showing 2014 BEST Of TURKEY 1

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ancient Ruins in Turkey, Days 110-112

September 28, 29, 30

The Mediterranean coast flanks us on the southeast as we travel east along winding roads through groves of olive trees. Along the way we stop at ancient ruin sites, some still actively being excavated to de-layer the plateau upon plateau of ancient civilizations. In Alexandria, Troy, we see evidence of the forum, waterways, cistens, pipes and trenches for plumbing, and arched frameworks for Roman baths.

We see the ruins of temples to Apollo and Athena, and ancient cities such as Assos where it is said that Aristotle visited. Assos is situated high on a cliffside overlooking the sea. The Roman road of large flat pavers stretches toward Alexandria, Troa. The Temple of Athena reigns over all. The foundation of the temple has been revealed and a few of the original columns have been reserected. Many of the early Greek columns were repurposed by the Romans to hold up cisterns, such as the one we visited in Istanbul. Much has been taken away, so that it is unlikely it can ever be reassembled with the ruins remaining. Nevertheless, the few columns stand tall and stark against sky and sea. The offshore winds whistle through the ruins and whispers of the past. The sunsets here are magnificent.

The Agora (administrative buildings), gymnasium (sports arena), private homes, theater, and road of tombs and harbor, terraced down from the temple. There are few tourists here at this time of the year, so much of the time we are alone with the ruins and our imaginations of what life had been here BC and BCE during its golden age when all of these ruins. It is grand.

We left our Doga, guesthouse, in Assos. Our rock house was white washed on the inside and detailed in periwinkle blues. Our hosts were welcoming and anxious to please, filling the breakfast table with fresh vegetables, breads, jams, eggs, crackers, and coffee. We ate one meal in the old city and another along the the side of the Roman Harbor. It is ccommon here to start with starters. vegetables such as roasted eggplant in yogurt, tomato, or olive oil. We have found that picking out 4-6 starters with bread and wine is an abundant meal without need for a main course.

Today, we are once again heading east as we make our way along the coast to Izmir, Ephesos and Rhodes. We will spending the next two nights in Bergama, where yes, we will see more ruins.

All is well with the Worrall Travel R's amongst the ancient ruins in Turkey.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Days 108-109, September 26-27, Galipoli, Canakkale, and Troy

The Real and Legendary Ruins of Troy

Friday, September 26.  Day 108 - Happy Birthday my sweet Russ!

When I woke up this morning, I killed a few mosquitoes filled with blood.  Until I looked in the mirror, I wondered who the victim was....well apparently me.  I suffered from at least 5 bites on my nose, forehead, and cheeks, and another one on my thumb.  Funny, I can see the red, little bumps, but with the exception of the one on my thumb, the bites are not itchy. 

After a quick breakfast and cleanup, we locked the door and left the key with a neighbor who was very sweet and would not let us leave with out a kiss on each cheek, and sack of beautiful home grown tomatoes and sweet green peppers.  The day is grey and overcast as we head south.  Originally, we were going to take the coastal road along the blue Marmara Sea, but as it started raining, we opted for the freeway all the way to Galipoli, near Eceabat where we would catch the ferry across the Dardanelles to Canakkale.

Gelibolu was the site of a terrible battle during World War I between the ANZAC (Australia, New Zealand Army Crop), Brits, and French against the Turks who were fighting with the Germans.  Both sides fought valiantly, but both sides suffered extreme casualties of approximately 57,000 each and eventually, the Turks won the battle when the ANZACS retreated.  The Ottomans had 107,000 injured, and the Allies had 123,500 wounded.  Eventually, the Ottoman Empire would be defeated, but not at this battle.  There is a memorial simulation museum to both sides of this conflict.  Many Kiwis, Aussies, Brits, French, and Turks come here to commemorate their dead, and honor the valor of their soldiers.  War is so sad.  As Plato said, "Only the dead have seen the end of war."  We never seem to learn.

Late in the afternoon, we took the ferry over to Canakkale.  It was so miserable and wet, we never even got out of the car on 30 minute ride across the Dardanelle.  By 5:00 we had checked into our AirBnB, a modern, clean, stylish, three bedroom flat that we share with two other guests.  The owners live upstairs on the third floor.  Meris and Fatima are a lovely couple that just got married this weekend.  Upon learning that it was Russ's birthday, they invited us up to their flat for Turkish coffee, chocolate, and fruit.  We exchanged a few gifts. It was a delightful time.

Saturday, September 27, Day 109.  Trojan Horse and Troy!

Rain, rain, rain, but despite the rain, we ventured out to the ruins of Troy about 16 miles east of Canakkle.  With our audio guide, camera, umbrellas and rain gear we spent a couple of hours wandering around the ruins.  Troy over thousands of years has been built layer upon layer.  Homer's Troy and the Trojan horse are on Plateau number VI, with five or more civilizations buried underneath.  Plateau number VII is the Greeks, and VIII are the Romans.  Such a lot of history.  There undoubtedly was a Troy, and battles fought creating the rubble and foundations for the next civilization.  Homer's stories of the legendary Odysseus, Iliad, Helen of Troy and the Trojan Horse are a combination of legend and Homer's imagination.

In the evening, Meric and Fatima, invited us to an art exhibition.  The theme was basically the futility and madness of wars.  It was well done and interesting.  The rain is letting up and tomorrow looks like it will be a better day as we head to Assos.

All is well with the Worrall Travel Rs in Canakkale, Turkey.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Leaving Istanbul, Day 106-107, September 24 -25

Wednesday, September 24, Day 106

This morning arrived bright and clear.  We have finally picked this day before we pack up and leave to ascend to the highest point in Istanbul, the Sapphire building across from our hotel.  We ride up 54 floors for a fabulous 360 degree view of the city.    One cannot appreciate the building density until it is seen from this height..  

By 11:30, we are checked out of the hotel and in a taxi heading for the airport to pick up our rental car.  The city streets are incredibly jammed and the drivers are gutsy zigzzagging in and out.  We don't want to drive in the city, so we have rented our car at the airport and will ultimately drive away from Istanbul down the coast to Kilitbahir where we will ferry over to Canakkale ( near the ancient city of Troy) across the Dardanelles (the tight western strait from the Aegean to the Marmara Sea that leads to the Bosporus and the Black Sea).

Our driver drops us off at departures rather than arrivals as we had asked.  With the Syrians fleeing to Turkey, and the coalition bombing of terrorists in Syria, there is heightened security at the airport.  One cannot even enter the building without going through baggage scans and security screening.  Our fellow travelers had to leave an hour earlier than they had planned to get through this.  We thought we could avoid this by going to arrivals on the bottom level, but no.  So we go through the long lineup and screening at the door, descend down the elevator to the Avis agency.  

While Russ is taking care of the rental paperwork, I extract some Tl from the ATM, and we are on our way out to the shuttle point.  There is another family of six, Dad, Mom, and 4 children, one older son of 11 or 12, daughter 9-10, and two littler girls under three.  Mom is wearing a hajib.  Dad and kids look very western in their dress.  Turns out they are a Saudi Arabian family living in Foster City in California.   They all speak Arabic and English.  No one understands Turkish or the heavy quick speaking Turkish accents of the English speaking Avis representatives, so we work together to figure out how to get out of the Rental Car parking lot.  Finally, we figure out how to exit and wave to each other as we reach the freeway and drive off in different directions.

The roads away from Istanbul are excellent and not nearly as crowded.  After a nice late lunch we arrive at our AirBnB destination.  It is a quiet coastal cottage, that the family said was their summer villa.  Guess our expectations of a villa were way too high.  Bora is a young man who greets us.  He is very nice and helpful.  The garden looks nice and the inside is tidy, but quite shabby and in disrepair.  The kitchen faucet leaks with a bowl underneath, there is no hot water, toilet paper, towels or wifi. The dishwasher, television, and washing machine are broken.  I flush the toilet and fresh water gushes out the back onto the floor.  Our bedroom is on thee second floor, with a nice sunny balcony.  We have clean sheets that cover over hard lumpy mattresses, and the pillow on my bed is as hard as a rock.  Russ thought this would be a nice little get away after so many nights and days with a tour group, and it was the only AirBnB in the area.

We had better conditions on our boat.  Neither of us were mentally prepared for the rustic and basic nature of this little adventure, but we are determined as ever to make the best of it.  Bora's parents are on some business further down the coast and will be picking him up in their car to head back to Istanbul later this evening.  They are bringing fresh fish back to grill and want to prepare dinner for us.  While the sun drops toward the horizon, Russ and I head to the the village market for some eggs, yogurt, laundry soap, and toilet paper.  Then we sit with Bora and play cards.  He teaches us a game, and we teach him how to play Oh Hell, that Angela and Otavia from Brazil taught us while sailing down the Danube.

Hosan and Mauzzez, arrive about 8:00 pm and get busy in the kitchen and in back with the grill. We are eating a wonderful meal with fresh bread, salad of tomato, cucumber, onions, and mild fresh green chili peppers, and grilled fish (tuna like) by 9:00.  We enjoy our time with this family, all trying to understand one another.  Bora is our interpreter.  We learn that Hosan is a criminal defense attorney, that the family is not happy about Turkey introducing new laws that tie religion more closely to the government, and that they also have a younger daughter who is in high school.  The family cleans up and leave Russ and I in the cottage around 10:00 p.m.

We get ready to tackle the lumpy beds for the night.  The community dogs kick up a chorus and the mosquitoes buzz around our heads.  I finally get up for ear plugs and we share some repellant and a late night swat at some of the blood suckers, before a restless night.

Thursday, September 25, Day 107

Well, we survived the night!  One more to go.  Today, we are enjoying a clear sunny day over looking the Marmara Sea and we are catching up, doing laundry boat style in buckets, downloading pictures, editing pictures, and writing blogs.  Later this afternoon we will head into the  village to check our mail and post the blogs.  In the meantime, we are enjoying the peace and quiet of the garden.

All is well with the Worrall Travel R's at 41.032264 N, 28.003713 E in Turkey.

Days 104-105, Istanbul, Turkey

Monday, September 22, Day 104

We arrived yesterday, and accomplished very little except for traveling, checking into our room,  meeting with our local guide, eating Turkish pizza in a small nearby cafe, and going to bed.

This morning, we are up early, eating early so that we can meet up with Dalim by 8:30.  In retrospect he is by far the most knowledgeable and helpful guide we have had. There have been 13 successive civilizations, spanning 10 thousand years in Turkey.  Istanbul is the only city that spans two continents and has been the capitol of two major empires one Christian and the second Muslim.  Fourteen million people officially live in Istanbul.  The city is densely packed with multiple family housing units

Turkey is a republic and the only Muslim country that has included secularism in its constitution guaranteeing freedom of worship for all,  including non-muslims.  Twelve years of education is compulsory for boys and girls.  The people here are Turks first, then Muslims by faith and degree of practice.  Seventy-five percent of the population is Muslim with varying degrees of faithfulness (some pray 5 times a day others only once per week.  some women wear head scarves, some do not).  Belief and practice are considered separately.  If one is a believer, that may be enough.  How one practices what they believe is a matter of individual choice.  Our guide, indicated to us that it is when belief and practice are melded together as a means of achieving paradise (as in some of the more fundamentalist countries, that tribalism of who is holier, better, right, and stronger, raises its ugly head.  

We will be spending our day on the European side of the Bosphorous.  The sky is blue and the weather is absolutely perfect for outdoor sightseeing.

Our first stop was the Blue Mosque.  Big surprise, it is not blue!  Apparently, this is a tourist name.  The Turkish people know the mosque as Sultan Ahmet Mosque.  It is distinguished because it was built by the Sultan and has multiple minarets. The interior domes are beautiful, but on a relative scale of beauty, it is not nearly as beautiful and blue one we saw in Samarkand, Uzbekistan (Timor's Tomb).

Our second stop was the Palace Topkapi Sarayi.  We spent a couple of hours here roaming around the grounds and visiting the exhibitions of clothing, armor, and jewelery.   There were also some "holy relics" displayed, such as David's sword with which he killed Goliath, Muhammed's beard, Saint Peter's skull and arm in a golden case, and the staff Moses carried when he parted the Red Sea.  Later on the outside of the palace, we say a monument, under which Jesus's cross is said to be buried.  Hmmm.  Oh me of no faith.

From Topkapi Sarayi, we walked to a huge and beautiful underground cistern built by the Romans in the 4th century AD.  This cistern (one of more than 20 in the city) is supported by huge marble columns and held millions of liters of fresh water that was transported from hills 26 kilometers north of the city via an aqua duct.  The water was protected from poison and disease that could be inflicted upon the the population of civilians and soldiers during siege times.  Those Romans were so intelligent.  Their accomplishments are astounding and much credit goes to all the slaves who provided the labor and their lives working on these engineering feats.

We stop for lunch with some of our friends and to rest a bit before we carry on.  We eat in a rooftop restaurant where we eat tomato and cucumber salads, lamb, and stuffed eggplant.  The meal was excellent and refreshing.

Our last stop of the day was the Grand Bazaar.  The main section of the Bazaar is behind a walled off area.  The entire structure is covered with a roof.  Candies (Turkish Delights) with pistachios (#1 agricultural product in Turkey), jewelry (bling, bling), purses, leather jackets, rugs, musical instruments, garments, dishes, Turkish towels, cotton goods, curtains, etc., each in little shops on a Main Street on both sides run  hundreds of meters with several cross streets and parallel streets.  The Bazaar was packed with people.  SHOPPING is the primary activity of people here in Istanbul.  We were told by our guide that it is said in Istanbul, that if you cannot find something here, you cannot find it anywhere else in the world either.  I think this is more true than the staff of Moses.

Russ and I are not big into buying anything so we stroll through the streets window shopping much to the chagrin of the men sitting outside their shops on little stools beckoning us in with sayings such as "almost free today", "come in, come in, no charge to just look",  "Hello, you speak English?"  "Where are you from?"  The best come on was a very nice older man who came up to me as I walked along side of Russ with my hands held behind my back .  

"Madam," he said quietly in my ear, "Do you know what it means when a woman walks with her hands together behind her back in Turkey?"  Thinking I had breached some code of conduct, I looked at him inquisitively.  "No," I replied.  "What does it mean?"

"It means that you want to buy a carpet from me!", he smiled a toothy grin, and we both had a good laugh!  Then of course he tried to lure us into his carpet shop which we politely declined.

On our return trip to the hotel, our guide explained different tour options we could sign up for if we so wanted the following day.  He also explained to all of us how we could self organize to take subway, tram, funicular, and ferries on our own. The Hagia Sophia would be one of the places we would want to go (closed on Mondays), along with a tour of the Bosporus, and the old Spice Market.  

The group tours were far too pricey for our tastes and the Travel R's  indicated that we would go on our own.  Actually, the group tours were far too pricey for most of the other folks as well, but some of the other folks had little experience negotiating their own travel, and inquired if they could come along with us.  Ah, this was going to be a real adventure.

We returned to our hotel after a full day and now had to do a little recon work of our own to make sure that tomorrow's expedition would work smoothly for a group.  Our guide had told us about getting a city card for the subway system.  You had to buy the card at a kiosk and charge it up with local currency.  One card could be used for multiple passengers, but we wanted everyone to have their own card in case some decided to leave early, late, or separated from the group.  

The kiosk was closed although we had been told it would be open.  We ducked into a nearby convenience type store to see if we could buy a card.   They spoke no English and I thought the counter guy looked a little shady, but he produced a card, and told us it would cost 10 Tl (Turkish Lira). Russ gave him a 50 Tl expecting change.  The counter man put the 50 in his cash drawer while his friend took the card and ran down into the subway to presumably charge it up. In a few minutes he came back with the card.  We tried to inquire how much he had put on the card so that we could figure out the change we would get, as the counter man did not seem inclined to give us any money back at all, and now the two men seem to speak and understand even less English.

Fortunately, there was a nice looking young man customer who stepped up and asked in English if he could help us.  We learned later, he was a Palestinian from the West Bank, married to a Turkish woman, and had done his graduate work in America.  He eventually extracted information from the counter man, that the card cost 8, not 10 Tl, and 17 additional Tl had been charged to the card for our use, for a total of 25.  He reluctantly gave us 25 Tl change.  Our new friend who was also questioning the honesty of the counterman, suggested that when we left, we go into the subway and check the balance on the card.  We should have 17 Tl on it.  We did what he suggested and discovered it only had 12.50 on it.  So we got cheated by 50%.  One Tl is about $.44 cents, so financially it wasn't a big deal, but annoying.  We decided to just chalk off the experience rather than go back to the store and put up a fuss.

This experience was useful in that we decided, that our traveling group would just buy tokens from the machine and skip the card experience.  Our recon mission took more time than we anticipated, and we had just enough time to get back to the hotel to meet up with friends for another great dinner out.

Tuesday, September 23, Day 105 - Group adventure

By 9:15 our group of 7 intrepid adventurers, plus ourselves - 9 total), prepared for our trip.  Some members of our group are resting today and others are going off on their own to the hop-on-hop-off bus or cooking classes they have arranged.    It had rained all night and the clouds were still thinning with 60% chance of showers during the day.  

We explained to our little group that it would be easier if everyone bought tokens, and explained the importance of each carrying their own tokens and own money (for taxi if necessary), and paying attention to number of stops on subway before getting off.  If they realized they missed the stop, they should get off and come back.  We would wait.  Everyone was instructed to spread out and not all try to get in at the same door if the train was crowded.  I told them of my "left at the station" experience in Moscow.  

Armed with tokens, money, and subway smarts, the group successfully, made our way to the transfer station, made our transfer to the underground funicular which took us from the top of the mountain to the bottom tram station. From there we walked a hundred meters to the city ferry line, where we purchased tickets for a 1hr and 15 minute tour of the Bosporus.  The Bosporus is a narrow strait on the East end of the Marmara Sea  which connects to the Black Sea. ( In the West the Dardenelles Strait connects to the Agean Sea)  By now the sun was out and the humidity was rising, but we were on an open air, shade covered ferry.  We made one quick stop a couple of miles north of our start to pick up some additional passengers, and then were on our way up the coast line towards the Black Sea and then across the Bosporus to the Asian side and south again to the ferry terminal.   The scenery along both sides with forts, palaces, and millionaire homes was lovely in the morning light.  Again we made one short stop before returning to our destination.   When we got  off the ferry, we did a head count.  Oh no.  We were missing one person, Pam.

Pam's husband, Shelly, got back on the boat to look for her thinking she may have gone into the restroom and had not yet come out.  Nope that wasn't the case. By this time Shelly was thinking worse case scenarios of falling overboard or abduction.  Russ and I were  convinced that Pam had probably gotten off with some of the other passengers at the short stop just before arriving at the terminal.  Shelly wasn't sure that Pam had enough money for a taxi if this was the case, so he and Russ decided to walk the mile or so north to see if Pam would be walking south towards the terminal.  The rest of us would hangout at the terminal until everyone was rejoined.

Within 5 minutes of Russ and Shelly leaving on their stroll north, Pam appeared having taken a taxi to the terminal.  She had indeed exited with a group of tourists at the last station, and realizing immediately her mistake, was too late to get back on the ferry as it sailed off.  She was a good Girl Scout and was prepared with map, digital photo of funicular stop, and money.  The rest of us enjoyed the morning on park benches at the terminal, chatting, and just watching people.  A few of us went to the little outside cafe for water and Turkish tea.  Within an hour, Russ and Shelly returned and we were all reunited.  Yeah!  Onward!

By this time we were all hungry, as it was now close to 1:00 pm. We found a little restaurant near the Spice Market and Pam treated us all to lunch.  Thank you Pam, not only for lunch, but for a little adventure that will always be a highlight of our trip!  We agreed to a meet-up time and place after some shopping in the Spice Market.  Like the Bazaar their were tons of little shops with all kinds of goods, but most of the shops were food oriented with dried fruits, nuts, spices, and candies.  Outside of the Bazaar building,  fish and produce were sold.  Those who were in the nearby mosque for noon day prayers filled the bazaar.  It was shop, shop, shop.

We eat a lot of nuts and dried fruits, but as picturesque as the open market is, we don't want to buy our food there, especially when you see people picking through the nuts and trail mixes taking samples in their fingers to eat.  After we all returned to our meeting place, those of who can, cram onto the crowded tram, 3 of our group are left behind, but they know we will wait for them at the appropriate exit at the Sophia Hagia.  

The Sophia Hagia was built in the 4th century as a Roman Catholic Church before the Orothodox split in the 1100s.  During the Ottoman reign, the church became a mosque with minorets.  The Sophia Hagia is now a museum for all to see.  Currently, it is being refurbished.  When converted to a mosque, all of the mosaics depicting people were covered over with plaster as this is not considered appropriate for Muslims who believe that human and animal forms should not be depicted.  Islamic design is geometrical..  Mosaics are being uncovered, paint is peeling and being chipped off.  Marble slabs and tiles still retain their color and brillance, as do many of the uncovered mosaics. Much of the paint is fading and falling off.  Tall scaffolding reaches to the domes and work is underway.  It is estimated, that the work will not be completed for at least 10 years.  It is a magnificent building with marble ramps leading up to the balconies.

By the time we successfully complete our self-guided touring, and return to the hotel via tram, funicular and subway, everyone has had a fine day and few lasting adventurous memories.  We rest for a few hours before a small group of us gather again for a guided dinner and cultural show where we once again enjoy a nice meal, folk dancing, and belly dancing.  What fun!

Tonight is the last night for those of us on the Avalon tour to Istanbul.  Tomorrow everyone will be heading off in different directions.  It's been fun meeting people and making new friends.  Thanks everyone for contributing to such a grand time!

All is Welll with the Worrall Travel R's in Istanbul.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Days 101-103 Romania to Turkey

Abandoned Casino Building on the Black Sea

Sunday, September 21,  Day 103, In Turkey Now!

It has been a long day.  Up at 5:45, Breakfast 6:45, Depart for Airport 7:30, Fly to Istanbul and arrive at 10:55, wait in hotel lobby until 3:00, crash in room for a couple of hours before meeting our guide for tomorrow, then off to eat Turkish pizza, and now back, finishing the blog and getting ready for a long walking tour of old Istanbul tomorrow.

So let's go back to day 101 for a recap.

Friday, September 19, Day 101, Constanta

Tonight will be our last night on the Illumination.  Our cruise is coming to an end, but before this can happen, we of course need to see the Black Sea, and dip in our toes if we choose.  The day is sunny and pleasant, but the water is cooling with the beginning of fall.

Romania seems to be investing in its infrastructure with nuclear plants, wind farms, and in Constanta which has the potential for high level of tourism, limestone pavers and underground utilities are being installed, and buildings are slowly being rennovated.  The town is on the Danube canal and the Black Sea.  Both the Greeks and Romans recognized the potential importance of this port city.  Artifacts in the very impressive museum date back to 3-4,000 BC with pottery containers.  Later artifacts 1-4 centuries AD, found in tombs, are exquisite examples of glass vases, gold jewelry, buttons, sculptures from the Romans.

We visited the Roman ruins of a large transit building for shipped goods.  The mosaic floor of this building is now preserved under cover.  It is very impressive.  Romania has gone through many regimes as have many of the Eastern European countries we have been in.  Grand buildings built before communism are going to ruin.  Confiscated from private owners by the communist state, they now lay vacant.  Some are being claimed, others perhaps never will be, but investors are hesitant lest they invest in remodeling and updating to later have original owners make a claim to them.  Apparently in Romania, the vacant buildings are not subject to property tax.  If they were taxed and reached a certain unpaid cap, the country could reclaim them and legitimately sell them off if the owners would not or could not pay the tax.  But this is not happening, so reconstruction and refurbishing is an entangled and slow process.

One of the buildings under entanglement now is the beautiful pre-communist Casino building right on the shore of the Black Sea.  From the seashore, we travel inland to Romania's largest winery and vineyard, Murfatlar, 3,000 square hectacres, appx. 8,000 acres.  We tasted wine, had a fine lunch, and were treated to music and Romanian folk dancing.

We spent our last evening on board swapping email addresses and making a few more memories with great people and a wonderful crew.

Saturday, September 20, Day 102 - On to Bucharest

It is depressing to pack our bags and set them outside our door by 7:30 a.m. Everyone is a bit subdued this morning as we take our leave.  We will all meet up this evening at the hotel in Bucharest, but some have chosen to take the full-day tour which includes the Parliament, Palace of the People, while others have opted only for the Bucharest City Tour.  Tomorrow, about 20 of us will continue on to Istanbul, and the rest will be heading to their homes or other laces first before heading home.

We were in the group that chose the full day tour.  The most notable stop was the the Parliament or the People's Palace.  Wow!   This is the second largest building on the planet; the Pentagon being first, and certainly the most controversial for the people of Romania.  Started by Communist Leader Ceausescu in 1983-1989, this huge and ostentatious building drained the economy and the people to feed this egotistical dream. See more at http://www.local-life.com/bucharest/articles/palace-of-parliament 

The building is so large and the economy is still recovering, that maintenance is poor.  It is a beautiful structure, but a bit of a white elephant until the Romanians move forward a few generations and appreciate the building as a building not as a symbol of the horrible  repression it stands for.  So in the meantime, little time, effort, or care is put into the completion of some of the details, like the roof and furnishings.  The interior is vast and quite beautiful.  The chandeliers are magnificent.

Several us enjoyed a leisurely dinner in an outdoor cafe saying goodbyes to those who would not be accompanying us to Turkey.

All is well with the Worrall Travel R's now in Istanbul, Turkey

Friday, September 19, 2014

Days 97-100, Bulgaria and Romania

Sunrise on the Danube.  Fisherman going to work in St. Gheroghe, Romania

Thursday, September 18, Day 100, Zero Km Day

Today is either our 99th day or our 100th day depending on how I count it.  If I count from the day we left Colfax and spent the first night in San Francisco before departing for China,  it is our 100th day of travel.  If I count from the day we flew out of California to China, it is our 99th day of travel, Since today, September 18 is a milestone or kilometer stone day (so to speak), I think I will count it as day 100.  SO on DAY 100, we reached the ZERO KM of the Danube River where the river meets the Black Sea.  Fortunately, the Zero day is simply a glass of champaign, and not zero clothing.  HaHa!  When we reached the Black Sea, we looked beyond the mouth of the river to where large breakers were crashing against the sand bar, and were glad not to be in a boat that had to buck our way out of the river into the sea....definitely worth a glass of champaign.

When we crossed the equator and 000.00.000 latitude, we drank champaign and were supposed to dance on the deck with zero clothing.  But since we knew this tradition might be a little embarrassing for our son who was crewing with us, we refrained from celebrating this part of the ritual, but we did share our champaign with the sea god Neptune.

We started our 100/0 day, with a two hour exploration of the Danube Delta, enjoying the waterways cut through the reeds.  White swans, blue heron, pelicans, plovers, gulls, and ducks swam placidly, or flapped their wings overhead.    

Each little fishing boat held eight passengers as we zipped down the main waterway, to a smaller waterway, then another yet smaller water way where the reeds were smacking us in the face as we plowed our way through to a large expanse of a fresh water lake.  As the Danube has pushed its way in to the Black Sea, over thousands of years, sand bars and silt have built up creating land and a sand sea barrier reef between fresh water and sea water.  This delta is second largest in Europe and is a rich habitat for migratory birds, many of which have already flown south.  

Later in the day we walked through the sleepy, terribly depressed fishing village of St. Gheorghe.  Horse carts and fishing boats are still the primary means of transportation here, and old ladies drag their wheeled shopping carts from the market home through the sandy streets.  There are many lovely gardens that women take pride in while the men are fishing.  There are no souvenir shops here, and all of the shops including the post office, museum, church, etc. are open only by phone call, as there are only 800 residents and they juggle many different chores.

Best of all the sun was shining today, as we have had many rainy days on the Danube.  It's been a great day.  We only have two more nights aboard the Illumination, before we disembark for Bucharest, and then fly to Istanbul.

Days 97-99, we sailed through the countries of Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Romania.  Yes, there was a stretch of the Ukraine through which the Danube flows, so I guess we can now claim a visit to the Ukraine as well.  While in Bulgaria we were docked in the city of Rousse, and traveled inland by bus to Veliko Tarnovo and Arbanassi both nice little towns.  Veliko Tărnovo is larger and in the valley by the river. and the Arbanassi is built on the hill where a very interesting Church of the Nativity is.  The church looks like a barn on the outside, but has incredibly beautiful frescos on the inside.  Unfortunately, there are no photos allowed inside.  We also visited a 400 year old home, that gave us an idea how the Bulgarians lived with heavy Turkish influence.  After our lunch in Veliko Tărnovo, Russ took a hike to some ruins and church on a hill, and I walked through arts and craft street of the town.

Bulgaria is picturesque in many ways with its cobbled streets and tiled roofed homes,  but a bit drab.  Unlike some of the other countries that are sprucing up their homes with colors of paint, Bulgaria chooses to remain a bit more earthy.  The average salary is about 500-600 USD per month and has about 11% unemployment.  People here seem warm and kind.

As we sailed through Bulgaria towards Romania, we entered an area called the Iron Gates.  This is a stretch of the Danube that narrows down through rocky gorges.  Prior to the 1970's and the dam and locks that control the water and facilitate boat passage, the river was too unpredictable and dangerous.  The high rock walls and river provided a formidable barrier to people wanting to cross from one side to the other.  For us, it was an interesting and picturesque experience going through the gorge and sinking downward into large locks as we descended over 100 feet to a lower level of the river.

Yesterday, day 99, we visited the city of Tulcea in Romania. We had a bit of a problem porting here There really wasn't much here in this city except for a Delta Museum that introduced us to what we might expect to see in the Danube Delta.  We were also able to exchange some of our dollars or Euros for local currency.  We got a kick out of the Bank of Transylvania (no Count Dracula), and the Roma Gypsy mom and her kids who were pawing us for cash.

Back to Day 100.  As the day winds down, we are in the lounge with Danube widely hugging us as we make our way back up river to a port up river of Tulcea.  From here tomorrow, we will bus to Costanta where we will actually be on the Black Sea.  So we are looking forward as always to tomorrow.

All is Well with the Worrall Travel Rs in Romania.