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Day #15: Istanbul & London

On this trip, we’ve not always used time most efficiently. Most of this couldn’t be helped… distance and time zones sometimes just conspire against you. That said, I think I could have / should have done better with today. A mid-day flight (leaving Istanbul at 2pm) means that we don’t really have time this morning to do anything in Istanbul, but we also don’t get to London early enough to do anything useful either. The only advantages of this plan are that we’re not at all rushed and are well rested… having “slept in” to our usual 6:30 or so. 

Given that we were here overnight, I think I should have opted for an earlier flight, as we could have effectively left the ship at any time early today. If all went according to plan, we might have enjoyed an extra half day in London. Of course, an earlier flight would have been a lot earlier (like before 9am), which would have had its issues too. Oh well, not the end of the world… just suboptimal. 

The taxi to the airport was a bit of an adventure. I’ve found that some taxi drivers–pretty much the world over–do their best to rip off tourists. This morning we met another one in Istanbul. This guy had a pretty sophisticated scam going… he was very insistent on “using the meter,” but it didn’t seem to be set right to me. It should have been on “Tariff 1,” but it was in some other mode to really run up the price. After asking him, the driver claimed that the taxi ride would cost 150-250 Tl, which struck me as unreasonably high compared to what I paid for a private transfer and knew of taxi rates in the city. We ended up arguing with us finally leaving the taxi without paying any fare. I then picked up another taxi on the street, who charged us an appropriate metered rate that worked out to about 50 Tl. 

In the end, the whole thing was more amusing than disturbing. But, it reminds me that taxis near cruise terminals are likely to be some of the worst (like an idiot driver in Southampton who once laughably tried to convince us to drive to London rather than take a train because there wouldn’t be room on the train!). I might also note that while the dishonest taxi driver was indeed trying to charge us 3-5x the going taxi rate, the transfer with Royal Caribbean at $25 per person was a greater rip-off as that works out to nearly 300 Tl (roughly 6x a taxi). 

The flight to London was uneventful. We breezed through immigration, baggage claim, customs, and then hoped on the Gatwick Express for London Victoria. 

Then the day got interesting again. 

Long story short: I managed to leave my backpack on the Gatwick Express train and only realized it upon arriving at the Marriott. By the time I got back to the station, the train was gone again (for Brighton) and no one had found the backpack, though I have to say the staff was very sincere in their desire to help.

Stupid mistake: I was focused on getting the fam and large pieces of luggage off the train and simply forgot about my backpack in the overhead rack. 

Thankfully, there’s not anything of extreme value in the bag. It mostly had souvenirs in it (i.e., stuff for family and friends, a couple of Starbucks city mugs, and some custome jewelry made of Santorini lava), my already worthless camera (that was getting replaced anyway), a Win8 tablet I only use for travel (and as such doesn’t really have any data), and some non-critical Rx medications. 

The worst is probably losing my car keys, which will leave the biggest mark financially (thanks, Mercedes and Porsche, for $300 keys). And, I may have lost some travel photos from the last year… though I won’t know for sure until I get home. Sigh

Clearly, this is a bummer. But, in the light of a new dawn as I write this the following day, I remember: easy come, easy go. I’ll spend a few dollars and make everything right again (at least for the most part). 

Who knows? Southern Railways might even return my bag to me. I’m assured it happens all the time. I wouldn’t bet on it, but I have a certain degree of cockeyed optimism too. 

Now, off to enjoy London on a sunny, warm summer day! 

Day #14: Istanbul

We arrived back in Turkey today. However, while we’re done with the sea voyage, it wasn’t the end of the cruise. Instead, we’re overnighting in Istanbul before disembarking tomorrow.

We left the ship fairly early and walked into the old town, crossing the Golden Horn via the Gallata Bridge. From there, we ticked off the list many sights that we’d missed in our earlier visit: the Spice Market, the New Mosque (which was completed in the 1600s), the Grand Bazaar, the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum, and the Underground Cisterns.

While the Grand Bazaar and Spice Markets have a reputation for touting and hassling shoppers / browsers, we didn’t find either to be especially annoying. Indeed, by the standards of Egypt, these people are minor leaguers. Basically, if you don’t engage, they leave you alone.

The Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum is the world’s finest museum for rugs / carpets. I’ve always been smitten with Islamic art and architecture — the non-objective, geometric patterns appeal to me. I’m now fairly enamored when it comes to Turkish carpets too. Despite having zero interest previously, I’d now be very tempted to buy a carpet were it not for the facts that the rugs can be very expensive and I lack expertise in discerning  quality and value. That’s not a good combination…

  

We also enjoyed (most of) a Turkish coffee at the museum’s cafe. The sludge of grounds were a little odd. Clearly, we haven’t mastered the swirling process yet…

The Underground Cisterns are likewise pretty spectacular, despite being designed to simply hold wall. Instead, you feel more like you’re in an ancient  Basilica for the lost city of Atlantis. Like much of Istanbul, the Cisterns feel both familiar and exotic simultaneously.

  

Tomorrow, we’re up early to fly to London for the last (brief) leg of our trip.

Day #13: At Sea

While we’re not generally a fan of days at sea — having been there, done that many times… and feeling a bit like we’re wasting precious vacation days on relaxation and leisure :-) — today was surprisingly enjoyable. Even I managed to stay busy from breakfast through dinner.

In the morning, we went to a very nice breakfast for “top tier” cruisers with Royal Caribbean. After this, Emerson and I attended a hands-on, make-it-to-eat-it sushi class at Izumi, which might have been the best–most entertaining and educational–onboard activity that I’ve ever participated in on a cruise ship. We each made a crispy shrimp roll, a spicy tuna roll, a California hand roll, and shrimp sushi nigiri. Most importantly, we had a blast doing it! 

  
After lunch (mmm, sushi…), I went to a well-attended Q&A session with Captain Rob, the Master of Rhapsody and a rare American captain within the RCI fleet. He seems pretty relaxed and has a self-deprecating, slightly quirky sort of humor. I also get the sense that he’s far more contemplative than he seems at first and derives his easy manner from really knowing his business. He seems very popular with both the passengers and the crew. As a result, Rhapsody appears to be a very well run and happy ship. While it’s certainly not the newest or nicest ship we’ve been on, it’s one of the best we’ve experienced in terms of service quality and operational efficiency. 

Dinner was at Giovanni’s Table, which always provides a good Italian meal on RCI’s ships. Interestingly, while eating our meal, I spotted a small cruise ship that looked familiar at anchor somewhere around Gallipoli (I think). Turns out that it was the former NCL Leeward (now Celestyal Crystal), which Libby and I honeymooned on almost 18 years ago! 

Day #12: Chania, Crete

Libby and I vividly recall sitting in the Prague airport a little over a decade ago waiting to board a flight to Paris. At a nearby gate was another Czech Air flight that was destined for Chania, which neither of us had ever heard of nor frankly had any idea where it might be on a map. Of course, these were still the days when our choice of visiting Prague seemed “exotic” — “wow, we’re going behind the old iron curtain!” 

While we loved travel, we hadn’t yet expanded our vision of what would be possible, let alone desirable. The world hadn’t opened up to us. Or, perhaps more accurately, we hadn’t opened ourselves to the world. 

It thus seems fitting that we’ve hit country #100 (per the Traveler’s Century Club list) today in Chania on the island of Crete, where it plays the role of Crete’s “Second City” to Heraklion. And, it’s not like Crete generally (worthy though it may be) is at the top on anyone’s bucket list. 

Yet, here we are–in country #100–discovering again what we’ve learned in the first 99: that every place we’ve been has something to offer, makes us feel more connected to the world, and can being us joy if we’re open enough to receive it. 

Rhapsody actually docked in Souda, which is the port serving Chania. I’d guess that it’s about 5 miles to the old town across the narrow neck of the Akrotiri Penninsula. All of this is on the western end of Crete, which makes its some distance (a solid couple of hours one way) to many of Crete’s most famous sites. Given that, checking out Chania seemed like the most prudent decision. We did this by taking a shuttle bus provided by the city (3 euro roundtrip per person) into the town. 

Much of Chinia is relatively modern and not much more attractive than Athens. But, the area immediately surrounding its sheltered harbour is very atmospheric with many Venetian and a few Ottoman buildings, as well as fortifications and an attractive lighthouse. 

I tried uploading a couple of photos, but they failed repeatedly wasting megabytes for nothing. So, that’ll have to wait until later — maybe London on Friday.   

Like Venice, the old town appears to be in a state of elegant decay. It also doesn’t feel like the Greek islands in the Cyclades, such as Santorini or Mykonos. Indeed, of the places we’ve been, Chania feels more like Sicily or Sardinia. 

Tomorrow is a sea day… so don’t expect any updates until we’re back in Istanbul on Thursday.

Today’s box score: +1 “country” (Greece, Crete)

 

Day #11: Mykonos, Greece

We tendered ashore fairly early and spent all morning exploring the charming, seaside town. 

There aren’t really any major sights on Mykonos (though Delos, a short boat ride away, is a major archaeological site… if you want to tour more remnants of antiquity. Read: we did not today). No, Mykonos is more atmospheric. It’s made for photographers and flaneurs. 

See what I mean…

The famous windmills on Mykonos:

 
 

The area known as “Little Venice” (I’m posting these pictures from the aptly–for this cruise–named Rhapsody cafe, where we enjoyed espressos, free WiFi, and a great view):

  

This church, which is made up of four original, smaller chapels joined under a fifth dome:

 

But, mostly the town of Mykonos is filled with charming streets to wander, soak up, and get lost in:

  

That’s precisely how we spent our day. 

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