Worrall Travel R's

Worrall Travel R's
Roz and Russ

Worrall Travel R's - Kicking the Bucket List

My photo

We are the Worrall Travel R's Roz and Russ Worrall. Our goal before we "kick the bucket" is to see as much of the world as we are able, learn about world cultures, experience making friends around the world, and share goodwill and what we learn with others. WE HOPE YOU JOIN US VIA THE BLOG ON OUR TRAVELS.

We started our world travels in 1969 in VW camper van in the USA, Canada, and Europe, but didn't actively blog about our travels until 2009 aboard our sailing vessel SV Worrall Wind, a 44 ft Nauticat Ketch.  On September 5, 2009 we left San Francisco and took a left at the Golden Gate to Explore the World.

From to Sea to Land
After almost 4 years of cruising Mexico and the South Pacific, we sold our beloved boat in Australia, 2013. The Worrall Travel R's are continuing our travels around by many other means of conveyance -boats,trains, planes, sometimes camels, elephants, rickshaws, and hot air balloons.. 

Russ is a retired engineer, optometrist, professor from U.C. Berkeley. Roz is a retired computer programmer/analyst, educator, (teacher, administrator, professional developer). 

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

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

DON'T MISS THE PHOTO ALBUM OF 2014 ROMANIA.  CLICK HERE!
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

DON'T MISS THE BULGARIA PHOTO ALBUM.  CLICK HERE!

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.



Monday, September 15, 2014

Days 94-96, Croatia and Serbia






September 13,14, 15, 2014

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Today is Monday, September 15, our 94th travel day.  We slept last night with our curtains wide open.  It rained off and on last night, but the almost full moon shone through the clouds and illuminated the night.  Periodically, I woke during the night and watched the mountains of Romania slip by as we sailed east on the Danube,  Guests on the starboard side watched Serbia through their windows.  The Danube is the natural border through many of these countries.

In the grey rainy morning, we are headed out to the ancient archaeology site of Lepenski, Vir  in Serbia.  While we have never heard of this place, we are excited to see the dig and learn about this site.  One of our shipmates is an archaeologist and he is quite excited to see this dig.  Along with other sites, this one is being checked off his bucket list today.  

Fortunately, the site is completely covered with a large glass structure that protects it from wind, sun, and rain.  And today the skies open and the water came down in thunderous sheets while we were inside the dry dig.  The findings here are 8,000 years old, complete villages of people who lived here shortly after the last ice age.  It is thought that during the ice age, people lived in the surrounding caves, and made their homes near the rivers when the climate warmed.

Over the centuries, these early people built their homes, lived in their homes, died and were buried in their homes.  Then the next generation covered over the remains of the first families and built their homes on the foundational site of their ancestors.  When archaeologists discovered this site, the deeper they dug, the more layers of homes and skeletons they found layered one on top of the other for 3,000 years.

These first people were quite tall for this time period, one of the skeleton's measured 6 foot 6, but the average was closer to 5-10 to 6 feet.  The oldest skeletons belonged to 70 year olds, which was quite old considering in other places the life span of early people was only 35 years old.  And, of the 130 plus skulls that were found, all of them had their full set of teeth except for two that each had a tooth missing.  All of this leads anthropologists to think that this was a very healthy variety of humans, and there was no sign of violence such as broken skulls or bones on the remains.

It was a very interesting stop and also a little unnerving as the rain continued and by the time we left the site, the water was cascading down the cliff sides and flowing over the road beds.  Our guide today took the time on the way back to the boat to explain the Serbian perspective of the 1991-93 civil war between Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia.  It was very interesting and answered some of the questions and perhaps some of the negative feelings many of us may have been harboring about the Serbians.  After Tito died, the generations of Serbians brought up under communism were in a state of confusian.  There was no plan for a successor and the Serbians were ignorant of the world living behind the Iron Curtain.  They were easily taken over by Slobodan Milosevek, who was a tyrant and criminal and had grand designs to make sure that the former Yugoslavia republic stayed together.  While some people claim that the war was political and not religious, others will tell you it was definitely religiously and that was the reason for the ethnic cleansing.  Bosnia which was primarily Muslim were hit the hardest for that reason.  There undoubtedly people more knowledgeable than we are,  still trying to figure out how this tragedy happened.

This afternoon we are going through the Iron Gates, an 84 mile long gorge along the Danube, where the river has carved a narrow passageway between the southern Carpathian Mountains and the foothills of the Balkan mountains.  We had all hoped to be on the sun deck enjoying a wide open view of the scenery, but I think most of us will be inside as it is still raining.  Too bad.  Oh well.  I am sure it will still be an experience...a wet one, as we hope to go outside for a bit anyway.

Let's back track a few days starting with Day 94, Saturday September 13.

We started Saturday with a bus trip through  Vukovar, Croatia's largest port city at the confluence  of the Danube and Vuka Rivers where we were  docked and made our way to Osijek.  There wasn't much to see in Vukovar other than some of the buildings that are still scarred by the 87 day siege of the Croatian Serbian War in 1991.

In Osijek, we visited the old town square and a monastery  and enjoyed some of the local hair-curling grog and an organ recital.  Afterwards we were hosted in small groups of 12 in local homes for lunch and chat about the Serbian War from the Croatian perspective...depressing and hard to understand.  The mother-daughter duo that we visited lost everything, their home, their furniture, clothing, etc.  Most of the people in their village  did also.  It is amazing to see how they have rebounded and made the best of a terrible situation.  Still there are many hard feelings because both Serbians and Croatians lived in this border village, and the Serbians had some pre-warning of the eminent attack and left the village leaving their Croat friends and neighbors unaware and not prepared.  So there is a deep sense of betrayal.

Hearing these stories was not pleasant, but the home visit was and the experience was certainly a highlight of our trip so far.  We enjoyed tomato soup with pasta, potatoes with spinach, meatballs, salad, and cake.  And our hosts Ava and Valerie were very hospitable and openly shared their home and experiences with us.  When the war was over, the Croatian government gave families who lost their homes 35 square meters of building materials for the head of the household and another 10 square meters for each additional family members.  Their homes are modest and many are still not finished and complete because the funding was really not adequate to complete their homes.  It may have been if they were employed, but unemployment is high, and families like Ava and Valerie, enhance their incomes with home hosting.  For some River cruiser folks, this experience was too much of an eye opener for them and they actually complained to the tour director about the depressing nature of the visit and the not so nice homes they were in.  Really?  Spoiled brats!

Sunday, September 14, 2014, Day 95 - Belgrade

Belgrade as you probably know is the Capitol of Serbia, and was the capitol city of the former Yugoslavia.  The bombing of the Serbian Army Headquarters by NATO to stop the bloodshed, stills stands in its bombed out state, a bitter reminder of the war.  Approximately 65 percent of the Serbs are in favor of joining the EU and only 12 percent are interested in becoming a part of NATO.

Much of Belgrade looks grey and tattered in post World-War II and communist state.  There seems to be little money from Serbians and their government to tackle rebuilds and updating.  Some buildings downtown look fine and quite "European" and others still look like left over communism.  Unemployment is about 23 percent and the average Serb makes about 4-500 Euros a month.  The old people under Tito remember fondly when everyone was employed and everyone was financially equal.  They have a hard time being motivated to embrace capitalism and then to self-improve their lot.  It will take time until the younger generation is native to the idea of capitalism and democracy.

We spent our afternoon at a great folklore music and dance performance of Serbia.  University students become word class folk lore performers who earn their tuition and world-wide traveling through their beautiful and energetic art of these students.  The Serbian dance looks like a combination of Turkish, Gypsy, Russian, and Israeli dancing.  It's amazing to watch the energy, fancy footwork, and gymnastics of these dancers.  Again, another highlight of the trip.

All is Well with the Worrall Travel R's Cruising on the Danube between Serbia and Romania




Friday, September 12, 2014

Days 91-93, Cruising the Danube in the Rain


Hungarian Paprika

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HUNGARY, Click HERE

September 10, Day 91 - Bratislava, Slovakia
We arrived in Bratislava about 3:30 by bus and immediately continued on with a city bus and walking tour exploring the old castle area high on the hill above the Danube, and the city square and streets on the flat areas by the river.   Our tour guide was knowledgeable, but seemed a bit too rigid about the time schedule we were on.  I guess she had to be to make sure we got embarked on the boat by 5:30.  We felt tethered.  This is the reason we don't care for organized tours.

There are some famous sculptures in several cities that we have enjoyed seeing, and there was one in Bratislava we were anxious to see.  Fortunately, this was on the route of our walking tour and once we found this out we relaxed a bit knowing we wouldn't miss it while tethered to the tour.  There was also a geocache in the same vicinity that we were able to find as well.  The statue is the Man Working.

We checked on the boat and reached our room and gleefully rejoined our luggage.  We are rarely parted...haha.  Our room is on the top deck with one wall being all glass looking out over the river.  Our bed faces the window.  If we wanted we could sit in our bed, look out the window, and it is like an HD big screen movie going by.  We are also the last room in the aft part of the ship right next to the lounge and sundeck where cappuccino and fresh cookies are available 24/7.  Heaven...oink.

After our safety drill and champaign reception, a four course meal awaited us. We've already met several nice couples.  Most of the cruisers are from the US and Canada.  Then it was time for bed on an extremely, comfortable memory foam mattress.  Heaven....Zzzzz.

Day 92, September 11 - Budapest, Hungary
As we were eating breakfast, the buildings of Budapest started coming into view.  Buda side of the river is the hilly side.  Pest is the opposite side of the river that is flat.  The rain was poring as we arrived.  With rain gear and umbrellas we set out to see the city, visit the palace on the Buda hill.  Once again while we had some free time on the mountain top, we were able to find a geocache.  Unfortunately, I was unable to take many pictures because of the rain.

We returned to the ship for lunch.  There were three/four optional tours after lunch, but we decided to opt out and stay in Budapest on our own.  The rain was lessening, and an afternoon walk-about looked promising.  Another couple from the USA, Maggie and Bob from Georgia, Appalachian Mountaiins joined us as we walked a couple of kilometers along the Danube to another famous sculpture, called Shoes along the Danube.  The rainy grey day lent an even more depressive air over the memorial of people killed in a militia action n 1945.  The empty, worn, torn shoes along the banks of the river, looked as if people had just stepped out of them and disappeared into the Danube.  There were flowers and candles in and by many of the shoes.

Our walk back to the boat was through the pedestrian shopping street, where vendors were finally setting up their stalls as the rain had stopped.  A Hungarian music band was playing, wurst and purple kraut were being cooked, and tourists were looking at the wares and local souveniers.  Of course, we had to buy some things for our grandaughter (s), and hope by next summer the girls can have a photo in matching little Hungarian dresses.  When we reached the big market building we also bought some Hungarian paprika to make gulash soup.

After walking several miles, we felt we had walked off enough of the calories from previous meals to enjoy a couple glasses of wine with dinner.  We sat with our friends Maggie and Bob, and expanded our circle with two couples from Canada, Daryl and Renata, and Vickie and Rick.
Before we retired, we walked along the sundeck of the ship and enjoyed the lights of Budapest.

Day 93 - Mohacs, Pec, and wine tasting in Hungary.

The Avalon Illumination left the dock after midnight while most of us were sleeping.  At least we were.  We slept in until 8:30...or I should say I did.  By the time I woke up, Russ was just returning from the fitness center.  We ate a late breakfast and docked in Mohacs at 10:00.  There isn't much going on in this sleepy little town, but it is a good place for the ship to stop to clear customs before we move into Croatian waters.  When we arrived in Croatia via plane and again by car, we didn't have to fill out any paperwork.  But apparently, by boat we do.

Russ and I took a two hour walk through the little city and residential areas before returning to the boat for lunch and then to board busses that would take us to Pec, the eastern most city of the old Roman Empire.  The sun popped its head out while we were in Pec which is a mixture of Turkish, Roman and 18-19th century architecture.  This is a university town and the town square with schools, city hall, churches and commercial establishments were very picturesque. The oldest mosque in Europe is now a Catholic Church.  Our guide said Pec was also an example of the uglier side of capitalism and made sure to point out the McDonalds on the bottom floor of the picturesque city hall.

After our walking tour we headed out to the vineyards, a valley with heated mediterranean climate captured in a valley by a rock mountain.  We spent the afternoon tasting wines and eating olive oil saturated cheeses.  We are now heading back to the boat at 5;35 pm, seats are reclined, and it's time for a little pre-dinner nap.

All is  well with the Worrall Travel R's in Hungary.






Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Vienna, Austria (Days 86-91)




We have been having a wonderful time in Vienna.  Who could not?  There is much to see and do.  
Here is a quick recap of our time here.

Friday, September 5, Day 86 - Our first night - Wiener Schnitzel 

We arrive by train around 3:30, walk a few blocks towing our luggage to our Airbnb lodgings.

Unlocking the Door to our Flat in Vienna
The owner of the flat has been delayed in Japan, but we have a key to a lovely two bedroom flat within a few blocks of the city center that we will now have all to ourselves for $55.00 a night.  We just need to make up the bed ourselves. Fresh linens for the fluffy pillows, feather beds, and soft mattress are ready for us.  Just down the street is the Gasthaus Seidel where we enjoy a great veal schnitzel with lemon and mixed salad.

Saturday, September 6, Day 87 -  Music in the Cellar

Russ and I take the tram to the city center and spend the day walking back to our digs through the center of Vienna.  Austria Lions is having a big Lions Day in front of the Rathaus (city/state hall).


 Of course we must check it out, and in so doing meet the student exchange coordinator who has actually visited his exchange student from Auburn, California.  Small world, big Lions family.  

It is a Saturday morning, and shops are open until noon.  In one of the large squares in front of the Imperial Palace, Oktoberfest is beginning.


Beer flows, brats are grilled,  and music fill the beer tent.  While we listen to the band, we indulge on what we thought was a pretzel.  Turns out it is like a big donut twisted like a pretzel with rock sugar (resembling rock salt) sprinkled on the outside. It is still a bit early for us to have beer, but it doesn't stop the other hundreds of people.  The band members all have steins by their feet, and between each piece they take a few swigs.  The music becomes louder and more boisterous.

Outside the harvest parade has concluded, and float participants are selling off the abundance of flora, fruits, vegetables, and grains that were used to decorate their floats.

After seeing the Museum of Armor,


Music,


and Ephesos collection


and National Library,




Reading in a Great Environment

we return to our flat for a rest, and return later in the evening to the Rathaus Cellar for a dinner and musical performance of Strauss, and scenes from Austrian operas.





The audience sings Edelweiss together and strands of the Blue Danube play through our heads as we walk home taking in the nightscape of Vienna.

Sunday,  September 7, Day 88 - Airs Above the Ground

I have waited 40 years to see the Lippizaner Stallions perform the airs above the ground at the beautiful arena of the Spanish Riding School in Palace grounds.  We booked a couple of months in advance to sit in end seats under the Emperors box and paid quite a sum to do so.  

Disappointment number 1:  No photos allowed during the show even without flash, but I did get a shot before the show.

Good News:  The arena, and the choreographed dance of the stallions was beautiful and I would like to have shared a bit of it with you, but sorry....no can do.  I can certainly understand why though as it takes tremendous concentration of horse and rider to precision- prance each step to the beat of a viennese music.

Disappointment number 2:    The airs above the ground,  ummmm, not so much.  The lead horse that performed directly in front of us wasn't in the mood apparently to perform, and while we saw a few smaller airs from some of the other horses, the big leaper was quite reluctant to fly.  I did take a photo though from the poster of what he was supposed to do and has done in the past.  Maybe, I'll see this on PBS sometime, but not today.

After the show, we visited the Imperial treasury collection which was very impressive.


This opal is the size of a large pear


Since it is Sunday, and all the stores and many restaurants are closed, we are happy that we still have some cup-of-soups left in our luggage, so we head back to the flat for an early night.

Monday, September 8, Day 89 - Sissi Museum and Imperial Apartments.

On this day, the two of us decide to get haircuts. We find a place close by the flat, and get ourselves ship-shape for the cruise.  After checking out of our flat, we transfer our bags and selves to the Intercontinental hotel which are  now a part of our cruise down the Danube to the Black Sea accommodations.  The rooms here run about $250 a night.  The inside of the hotel is quite nice, but architecturally it has to be one of the least attractive buildings in all of Vienna.  This hotel is scheduled to be torn down and rebuilt.  We  take a look at the poster rendition of the new building, and in our opinion, it still will be one of the uglier buildings in Vienna.  I know it must be difficult to compete with the beautiful and elaborate 18-19th century style, but really....does it have to look so plain, grey, and unattractive?  

We also do a little shopping for a few things we think we will need as fall is in the air, and some warmer, dressier clothes might be appropriate for our next leg of the trip.  In the afternoon, we join the 2:00 English Speaking tour of the Imperial apartments, the Sisi museum (history of Empress Elisabeth) http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empress_Elisabeth_of_Austria , and the silver and tableware collection.  Stunningly beautiful and extravagant.






At 6:00 pm we meet up with our Avalon tour group for a champagne reception and presentation. Most of the participants are from North America, USA with the most, followed by Canadians, then UK, Australia, New Zealand, with a few from Singapore, and Brazil. The group is scheduled tomorrow to take a morning city tour, and an optional tour to Shonbrunn Palace.

Tuesday, September 9, Day 90 - City Tour, Shonbrunn Palace, and Mamma Mia!

We wanted to see the Schonbrunn Palace, but decided to do it on our own rather than with the tour group.  I think we are becoming increasingly anti-tour group.  Not only would this tour cost us about 90 Euros, it just isn't appealing to be scheduled and herded around. Mid-way through our city tour



Parliament

Rathaus



with the group we saw some newly discovered Roman ruins in front of the National Library building,




 bugged out, saw St. Stephen's cathedral on our own
Looking Back as We Walk Away from the Palace




and headed out to the Palace on our own nearly two hours before the group was scheduled to even leave the hotel.

Schonbrunn Palace...Summer Cottage of Habsburg Dynasty




So for our round trip tram tickets of 2.50 E and 14.00 E for the Grand Tour, we enjoyed an unfettered walk through the Palace on our own with an audio guide and were leaving the Palace about the same time our tour group would be arriving.

We spent our afternoon relaxing, catching up, and then instead of a group concert tour, we got on the tram again to see a live performance of Mamma Mia in German.  We had reserved tickets, had a great Italian meal beforehand, and thoroughly enjoyed the musical.  By the end o the evening, everyone in the audience was singing, swaying, an clapping their hands.  I thought I would have enough ABBA in Sweden, but I guess I can never get enough ABBA.  The music and energy was ausgezeichnet!   

Wednesday, September 10, Day 91 - Leaving Vienna for Bratislava, Slovakia

This morning, once again, we bowed out of a tour to a monastery and wine tasting, and have opted for some quiet time in our room and later  a bicycle ride through the Stadtpark to the Danube and back.  We leave for Bratislava and ship boarding at 2:00 pm this afternoon.  Not sure how strong the WIFI will be on the boat, so this may be the last photo-laden blog for awhile.  Cheers!

All is Well with the Worrall Travel R's in Vienna, Austria