I use a non-SLS toothpaste because I’m sensitive to SLS (Sodium Lauryl Sulfate). My mouth becomes sore after using SLS. SLS is a nasty chemical and tooth-wise the foaming is wholly unnecessary. I’ve heard from a number of dental assistants that it’s a marketing gimmick. I currently use Natean Sensitive –
I did used to use Sensodyne when I wasn’t aware of the SLS issues. Pre-2015 or so, Sensodyne used strontium acetate. They now use potassium nitrate as their desensitizing agent which some studies say is more effective. Sensodyne did a huge marketing push when they changed, to try to draw in buyers. Arm & Hammer Sensitive uses potassium nitrate. Colgate Sensitive uses potassium nitrate too. I know some people who switched from Sensodyne when Sensodyne changed their formulation. I’m not sure what one would gain leaving Sensodyne for Colgate Sensitive …?
Many studies find that all this sensitivity toothpaste is a marketing trick and it’s mostly a placebo effect. They say it’s far more important to NOT brush right after eating, because that often causes issues. “ “The reason for that is that when acids are in the mouth, they weaken the enamel of the tooth, which is the outer layer of the tooth,” Rolle says. Brushing immediately after consuming something acidic can damage the enamel layer of the tooth. Waiting about 30 minutes before brushing allows tooth enamel to remineralize and build itself back up.”
I of course happily still use a toothpaste that says “sensitive” on it because I fall for placebos. Heck, I have a butterfly-shaped ring on my desk to remind me to focus on my thyroid. So I’m all for using placebos to guide heathy behavior. The “Sensitive” reminds me to brush for 2 minutes with a soft brush and to wait the half hour before doing so.
It is amazing how quickly a trip can seem to go by. One moment you’re eagerly planning the trip’s details, and the next moment you’re packing up to fly home. It’s a reminder to treasure every moment and go appreciate what one has.
We knew this travel day was going to be rough. Yesterday, Monday, we had been on an extremely long tour of Istanbul with a fairly high step count. Then I ran a teen writing class from midnight to 3am. Neither of us got much sleep at all. And then here it was, 3:45am, and it was time to finish packing and get off the ship. Our meeting time at the bus was 4:30am.
Last night before dinner I’d tried to check in online. My flight had three legs – the first on Turkish Airlines and the other two on Air Canada. I wasn’t able to check in on any of them. I emailed my travel agent with the details of the errors. My travel agent responded with the confirmation code, but it still didn’t work. Her response was “If it won’t let you, I think you’ll just need to check in when you get to the airport tomorrow.” At the time I was mostly hoping to make sure Mom and I had adjoining seats on Turkish Airlines since the flight would be our last section of time together. I do always like to be checked in ahead of time.
So here we were. An early morning departure.
Mom and I finished packing. We triple-checked every drawer and corner of the cabin. We tried to make sure we didn’t forget anything. And then we rolled out of our cabin for the last time.
The hallways were pretty deserted. We went to the elevator, down to the disembarkation deck, and then swiped our cards out for the very last time. It was a bit anticlimactic after so many days here. Then we carefully rolled our large luggage down the long gangplank and were on land.
I’d mentioned before that the Turkish port terminal is like an underground fortress. We rolled our luggage down the ramp to enter it. We went down a wide, long hallway and this time turned left at the passport processing area. There was practically nobody there. We went through the passport check fairly easily. Then we had to go through the infamous card-swipe turnstiles. This time my card went through flawlessly. I’m very glad I had them cut a new card for me. We went past a big luggage area where everybody who had the ship ‘transport’ their luggage would pick up their bags. We already had our bags with us so we were set. And now we got to the bus.
It was a full-sized bus. There were maybe 12 people or so on it. Everyone was very sleepy. We waited a little while to make sure everyone was on board and then we set off.
The ride to the airport was about an hour. The landscapes were sometimes city and then rolling dark hills. I admit I was too sleepy to really pay attention. Finally we approached the airport. It was ENORMOUS. The bus pulled up to a specific entrance. The driver and someone else had us all stay together. They put all our luggage on carriers. They escorted us as a group to a specific security line. There are security lines at the entrance to the airport – nobody can get INTO the airport without going through security. Istanbul airports have had bombs go off a number of times. They take security seriously.
We all were processed for the entry-area security. Then on the other side we all regrouped together.
The Istanbul airport is vast and open like a warehouse. Past that doorway-area security, the check-in area is a series of vertically-oriented alleys, each with check-in counters on the left and right of their alley. So where we were, by the door areas, we could see the “mouths” to all of those alleys before us.
The centermost alley was sort of ‘shielded’ with plants and a person at a podium. You couldn’t see into it. This was the business class Turkish Air area.
We were brought up to the podium area and then welcomed through. This alley had high walls so it was sort of like its own enclosed area, with plush seats and relative quiet. It felt sort of like an oasis from the rest of the massive airport. There were only counters along the left. The right side had comfy chairs and tables.
The two ‘handlers’ now tried to tell each group where to go, but it was extremely disjointed. They sort of pointed but then changed their minds and pointed elsewhere. Six of us decided we were supposed to go to the counter spot at the far end of the counter and headed there. A couple went to the agent first and showed their tickets.
The passengers were brusquely told by the agent that their tickets were invalid.
Concerned, Mom and I showed our tickets. Then a gay couple with our group showed their tickets. Nope, we were told the tickets were all invalid. Too bad, see you later.
5:47am I emailed our travel agent, saying, “There are six of us trying to get to Paris and Turkish Airlines has no record of any of us.” No response.
The first couple went elsewhere and we didn’t see them again. I’m not sure what happened to them.
The gay couple and my mom tried to reason with Turkish Airlines, but the staff was wholly uncommunicative. They said there was nothing they could do – the tickets were not valid. They said we would have to talk to Air Canada about it, but Air Canada was not at the airport. Air Canada had stopped landing in this airport as far back as 2016 due to a number of bombings and bomb threats. So there was nobody in the airport we could talk to.
Mom and the men asked Turkish Airlines to please call Air Canada, since this was going to be a technical matter for the two airlines to figure out. Turkish Airlines coldly refused to call them. They told us to go ahead and call them ourselves.
We asked to talk with supervisors. We moved up and down the counter talking to different staff members. Nobody wanted to talk to us, and nobody wanted to help us. The all told us in essence to get lost.
We we completely stuck in an Istanbul airport with actively hostile staff staring at us. We had literally nowhere to go. Our ‘handlers’ had long since gone.
Now, fortunately, out of us four, I was the only one with a functional phone. I always have a phone with me anywhere I travel, for emergencies, even if it’s going to be outrageously expensive. I do that just for this very reason. Also, fortunately, my boyfriend did all the research before I left home. I had unlimited text and unlimited data. Calls were 25 cents a minute. I would gladly pay 25 cents a minute to figure this out.
I first called my travel agent at 5:54am. No answer – I left a message.
I next called Regent (the cruise line), 5:56am, as our travel was booked through Regent. I got an automated system which said their staff was all busy. If I left a message they would get back to me quickly. I left an urgent message. Nobody from Regent EVER called me back. EVER.
6:06am Next I called AirCanada directly. I navigated their phone system and got to their after-hours support staff. It was 6:06am Istanbul time. We were beyond exhausted.
SOMEONE ANSWERED!!! His name was Ashir. He was a voice of calm and support in a sea of despair.
Ashir was sure this was a minor technical issue that could be worked out with Turkish Airlines’ help. (Hah). I gave my phone to the Turkish Airline person but the agent pretty much refused to talk to Ashir. They told Ashir that everything was his fault and that he had to fix it. Ashir explained that everything looked absolutely perfect on his end. He tried resetting some things, but Turkish Airlines refused to even refresh their screen to see if it helped. Ashir tried recreating the tickets. Turkish Airlines didn’t even want to check the new tickets, but then claimed they were still not working.
This went on for a full hour, while us four passengers were enormously stressed. We could be abandoned here in Istanbul with nobody willing to even help us. We took turns “manning the phone” and trying to work on the issue. When one of us was exhausted another one of us stepped up to try to make progress. It was a true team effort.
Finally Ashir, despite his infinite patience, began to get a feeling that Turkish Airlines was not going to do their part. He talked with me and agreed he should just get me OUT OF ISTANBUL however possible. He found me a two-leg flight on Air France. Air France only had ONE flight out of this airport every day so either I got on that flight or I was screwed. I was willing to take the risk. So he started to set up that Air France flight for me, first leg to Paris, second leg to Boston. He then asked if I got the email confirmation. I attempted to check my email on the phone.
THE CALL DISCONNECTED.
I stared at my phone in absolute shock, barely able to breathe.
The phone rang.
ASHIR HAD CALLED ME BACK. I was so incredibly grateful. We had just been on the phone a full 71 minutes. I couldn’t even imagine starting that entire process again from the beginning.
Ashir finished with my Air France tickets. This would involve me going over to a special ticketing area, since as mentioned Air France only had one flight a day and therefore sort of ‘borrowed’ a counter to use for that one flight. I didn’t care. I just wanted to get me and Mom out of Istanbul.
I gave the phone to my mom next. She was trickier. She needed to get to Tampa, Florida. Ashir tried his best, but the flights involved 3 or 4 legs with 8 hour layovers. We were already exhausted. I was in tears of thinking of my mom, who had health issues, navigating four legs of flights with 8 hour layovers in various airports around the world, all alone.
23 minutes in, while my mom was sorting this out, the phonecall disconnected again.
Ashir called right back.
Now we were on a mission. We just needed to get OUT of Istanbul. The two men, who were also in southern Florida, asked Ashir what the closest to home they could possibly get was. Ashir looked and found a direct flight to Miami. The gay couple said WE WILL TAKE IT. They would then take a multi-hour Uber to get from Miami to home. They didn’t care. They just wanted OUT OF ISTANBUL.
Mom, to my great joy, decided she would join them.
I was literally in tears now, in relief. I really did sob as I hugged the two men in thanks. My mom would have a direct flight. The two men would be with her. It would be a direct flight. We would get OUT OF ISTANBUL. And yes there was a long Uber ride at the other end, but hopefully they could sleep on that ride.
The last phone call with Ashir was 47 minutes, to get all those details settled. We thanked him many times. I did later send letters in his praise to various Air Canada people and post thanks to him on my blog as well. Ashir deserves every accolade one can give.
8:26am – we hung up with Ashir.
My Air France counter did not open until noon. It was not even an “official counter” right now for them. So I told Mom and the two men to go ahead through the main security and find their lounge. They could get some food, get a nap, and rest. Their flight out was at 2pm. Mine was at 3pm. My counter wouldn’t even open until around noon.
The ‘check-in counter alley’ with my Air France counter was a few to the right from this plush Turkish Airlines alley. My mom walked over with me to my alley, but of course there wasn’t even any indication that Air France would arrive here at noon. It just had other airlines doing their stuff. I assured her I would be fine. I’d find a bench to sit on and would just wait. She and her two friends should go through the inner layer of security, get in to the lounge, and relax.
After some more assurances, she went off to go with them. She doesn’t have any data / text plan on her phone, so she would be completely incommunicado until she figured out WiFi.
I was completely exhausted. I found a bench to sit on and made sure to keep my eyes open. Every once in a while I went to check the departure boards to make sure her flight and my flight was still on track. At 9:37 I emailed our travel agent just to let her know the status, that we were now all booked on flights, but that Mom had to take an Uber 4 hours home at the end. I finally heard back from her at 10am saying to keep receipts so those could be sent to Regent, and that “I will go to Regent to see if we can get reimbursement.” IF???
At 10am I finally got a message from Mom that she had figured out WiFi. She and the men were safely nestled into a lounge. She was eating coffee and scrambled eggs. So that helped me relax, knowing that she was all set.
I tried to set up an AirFrance account to pre-check-in, but their app kept hanging. My boyfriend Bob tried to do it from home, but even the web version kept hanging.
Finally it grew close to noon. An Air France sign was put up at one of the counters. I stood nearby. Someone else got into line, which was my signal that this might be the right place and I got in line behind them. I turns out they weren’t in the right line, so now I was in the front of my line.
A few more crew showed up and talked amongst themselves. At 12 noon on the dot they waved me over.
I was exhausted and concerned. While Mom and the men were safely checked in, it was no guarantee that my own ticket was OK. I am a die-hard paper person and was nervous about my information solely being on my phone. I handed over my passport and phone with the ticket information.
Hurrah!!! The Air France person didn’t blink an eye. Everything was wholly set. She printed out my paper boarding passes (PAPER!!! YES!!!!). She pointed me at the business class security line. She also wrote on my pass that I had access to the Sky Lounge which was different from where Mom was.
I was so exhausted that I walked away from the counter without my laptop bag. They had to call after me to come back and get it. I apologized profusely. The counter clerk asked in concern if I wanted to check it, but I said no. I want to keep it with me. I resolved to do better about keeping it with me :).
I headed off toward security.
The security area in this airport is MASSIVE – and keep in mind this is a SECOND tier of security after the first one which you go through just to get in the doors. Istanbul, after all, has been subject of bombings. For me in business class, though, I went to the side of the massive, long security area. There was a man standing guard at a podium next to a velvet rope. Several people in front of me tried to wheedle their way past him. He turned them away. I came up and showed my ticket. He smiled at me and let me through. The security line was very short. Then I was in the actual huge gate area, full of restaurants, shops, and benches.
Mom’s lounge was to the far right. Mine was to the far left. I was very tired and headed left, following the signs and going up an escalator. The lounge entrance was nondescript. The woman there stared at my ticket as if they’d never heard of Air France and even took a photo of it. Then she let me through.
12:40pm The lounge was lovely and nearly empty. I wearily plunked myself down onto a sofa with a clear view of the departures board. I went to the buffet area and got some things to snack on. There were several glass-fronted refrigerators with sodas and drinks and such. I had two diet cokes to keep me awake until the flight boarded.
For a while I sat quietly. Then a woman came in with two young kids and – despite the entire lounge being practically empty – decided she had to sit RIGHT NEXT TO ME. And then ever time she got up the kids started screaming MOM MOM MOM MOM MOMMEEEEEEE!!! with a super-high whine. It was beyond belief.
1:40pm Mom’s flight now said to ‘go to gate’. I messaged her to let her know. She replied that she saw that it was delayed 50 minutes. Then she saw that it said go to gate. So I grabbed my bag and went down to the escalator which led to her gate area. I met up with her there. We walked together to her gate, and I saw her off. The two men were a bit behind and would catch up soon. I was very relieved to know she was now at her gate and would soon get on a non-stop flight.
I then walked over to my own gate. I got there at 2:07pm. I waited there until boarding began. At 2:38pm I was on the flight. This was a ‘normal’ seat in a row of 3. I was in the very first row, and the only person in my left-hand group of three. There were people in the right-hand group. I couldn’t really sleep on this flight, but at least nobody behind me was sticking their bare toes on my armrests and poking at me.
6:24pm We were landing in Paris. After the chaos of the flight in, I was a bit nervous about how long it would take to get from my landing gate to the departure gate and what might be in between. Bob tried to send me gate maps but they were hard to read on my phone. The plane app had no information on airport layouts, which I found odd. So I was all ready, the second the plane door opened, to head out at a fast walk.
Once again, you would think airports would be much better with signage and directions. I headed down hallways just hoping I was going in the right direction. Since I was at the very front of the line, I had nobody to “follow”. At one point there was one pathway leading to passports and another pathway leading to the right which seemed barely used. This made me nervous, but I had done passport control when getting off the boat in Turkey – hopefully I didn’t need to do it again? So I went right, the whole time thinking maybe this was just a pathway for workers to use.
The pathway squiggled left through a featureless hallway, then right, then came up to an escalator. Right as I got there, the escalator stopped.
I panicked. Maybe I was in the wrong place. Maybe this path was for workers to use.
A man came up behind me. I pointed and said, “The escalator stopped!!”
He calmly said, “It’ll start up again.”
I said, “I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to go through passport control!!”
He asked, “Are you just connecting through to another flight?”
He said, “Then you’re fine to go right to your gate.”
And just like that, the escalator started up again. And everything was fine. I really appreciate those small moments of kindness when a stranger lets you know everything is going to be all right.
I went up the escalator and the gate was not too far ahead. The gate area was ‘messy’ with random piles of people and random lines. But eventually they started calling for the business class. I went up to scan my ticket.
The scanning system showed an error message.
You know, I actually didn’t even care at this point. At least I was in Paris. I had faith that people in Paris would treat me well and get me home eventually. If I had to stay in a hotel overnight in Paris I would handle it.
The agent sent me over to the main desk and the agent there checked some things out. Then they let me through. I got onto the plane.
I had a pod :).
I was exhausted. I was so happy to see the pod. I settled into it. You would think I would sleep. But I think my body was so full of adrenaline that it was sure mountain lions and sabre tooth tigers were about to gnaw me open. So I stayed awake and they fed us a lovely dinner. This time all the menu options were actually available.
I chose braised beef cheek.
Then did I sleep? No, I watched the Streisand version of A Star Is Born. And then there was a breakfast-style meal.
And then I finally was settled enough that I slept for a few hours.
We landed early, so our gate wasn’t ready for us. Our plane sat on the tarmac for over a half hour. At this point I was ‘home’ so I didn’t care. I did feel sorry for anybody who had connecting flights.
Eventually they let us get to the gate. Entry processing was quick and easy. My bag was pretty much the first one on the carousel!! Woo hoo!! And then I walked out and Bob was right there waiting for me. So so happy. He drove me home, and I climbed right into bed.
I’m writing this two weeks after I got home. There’s been time to process all the anxiety of the flight home and to think more coherently about the trip as a whole.
I really enjoyed the time in Santorini and Mykonos. Not because of the unexciting ouzo tasting or wine tasting or shopping plazas, but because of how stunning the locations looked. They were gorgeous. I would love to go back there to spend a week and just relax and paint. I’d love to seek out lovely locations and photograph / paint them. I’d be content soaking in the serenity.
The Greece stops of Crete and Rhodes? Maybe interesting to stop in once, but not somewhere I crave returning to. Not with as much as our world offers to us.
In Istanbul, it was nice seeing the mosques, but the huge crowds made the experiences unruly. I actually liked better the small, quiet mosque we went to near the Grand Bazaar. I imagine that location gives much more of an authentic mosque experience. A mosque experience probably doesn’t involve hordes of selfie-taking crowds jostling each other. It hopefully involves quiet contemplation.
For the other Turkey stops? Bodrum? Antalya? Ephesus? I did really enjoy the castle at Bodrum, so I’m glad I could see that. I don’t have a need to go see it again, though.
Overall, I have LESS than zero interest in going to Turkey again. There are currently 195 countries in the world. I’ve only been to maybe 16 of them?? There are so, so many other fascinating places to visit. I would pay extra money to go somewhere else rather than go to Turkey again. There are plenty of historic locations to see in other countries.
I am wholly grateful I had a functional phone with me, that I could text Bob and Jenn for help, and that AirCanada lent a hand. Regent Air and my travel agent weren’t any help. At least by being able to text Bob and Jenn I could have other eyeballs helping out. It’s worth noting that even two weeks later I have STILL not heard a word from Regent. I am planning on sending them my T-Mobile bill for the phone calls to Air Canada to get that reimbursed. It was only $36.75 but it’s the principle of it. Regent caused me ENORMOUS stress with their invalid tickets and lack of support. They haven’t reimbursed my Mom the Uber money, either.
As for the Seven Seas Explorer cruise, the cabins were lovely. The food, while sometimes having a few issues, was generally delicious. The ship was smallish compared with others but had ample lounge / dining options. I really missed the beautiful artwork and the included art classes of the Oceania Riviera. I also missed the daily string quartet. On the Riviera, many people actually LISTENED to the music, instead of talking over it here. So while on the Riviera it felt like I always had things I really wanted to do, on the Explorer it was more like the lounge was a way to kill time before dinner.
The whole ‘taking our passports away’ issue seemed a bit strange – I wish they’d explained that better. I’m curious why they xeroxed my Turkish e-visa one day and then claimed the next day that they didn’t have my information. And how could they run out of Champagne one of the nights, but still have it available for a Champagne-and-Caviar event the next morning? But those were just minor hiccups.
Overall, if I had to choose, I think I might choose the Oceania Riviera next time, instead of the Seven Seas Explorer. Let’s assume both went to somewhere exciting and new that I wanted to see. I’d prefer to be on the Riviera to see the ports. The cabins aren’t meaningfully different. The Explorer food is better – especially the presentation! – but the Riviera food is quite fine. And the music selections and art classes mean I’d have other fun things to do while on board. I could live with boring-looking food that was reasonably tasty in exchange for the string quartet every day, the fun art classes every day, and the beautiful artwork to enjoy. Those are just my personal preferences.
I’ll note that I took TONS of photos and videos on this trip. I’ll work on uploading slideshows and the videos in the coming days, now that I have gotten all of the writing effort complete.
Ask with any questions, and thank you for reading along!
We had arrived! Istanbul was a key reason we went on this trip. My mom had seen Greece before, but she always wanted to see Istanbul. Istanbul is a central location in Ukraine’s history – in the development of its language and religion. Istanbul has two famous religious buildings – the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Dome.
We had booked a VERY LONG tour to see as much as humanly possible around Istanbul during the day. Tomorrow morning at 4:30am we would be heading to the airport. This was our one chance to experience the city.
Istanbul as a port is different from every other port we previously visited. The ship was right up against a dock – but this was not a dock mobbed with stores, nor was it a quiet dock with a longish walk to any public areas. Instead, this was a high security dock. The moment you got off the ship you went right down a ramp into a large industrial building complex. Everything you did here was underground in that fortress of a building. There was a long walk down pristine large hallways, with areas to the side for passport processing and so on. At one point we reached automated turnstiles. Every person had to wave their ship key card over a turnstile to be let through. There were helpers on hand to show you how it worked. My key card took a few tries, but then it let me through.
Once through the turnstiles, we reached an underground bus area. All the busses were lined up. We found our bus at the end. It was a full sized bus. Once everyone was on board, we set out. Even driving out of the building, it showed that this structure was fairly substantial.
We drove for about a half hour through the streets of downtown Istanbul. The tour guide told us some of the history of the city. He told us traffic can get really rough in the city sometimes. He asked us to stay close to him when we were off the bus, so we wouldn’t get lost. He joked that last year he lost someone and this year he came across their bones. He also told us how each of his three wives was a completely different religion – his current one was a Russian catholic. I joked with Jenn via text that, with me wearing my Ukrainian hair band and him having a Russian wife, maybe I would somehow be the one who was ‘lost’ on this tour.
He gave every one of us a fabric bag. This would be used, in mosques, to carry our shoes with us. That way our shoes would not get stolen while we went inside in stocking feet.
At last the bus pulled up at a corner and we all piled off.
We had a short walk to get to the Sultanahmet Square / Hippodrome of Constantinople. This was once a horse / chariot racing arena. Now it was a plaza with tall monuments and obelisks. For example the Obelisk of Thutmose III dates from 1490BC and was brought from Luxor, Egypt to this location in 390AD.
Fortunately for lovers of history, the Blue Mosque is immediately against this park. The Hagia Sofia is only about two blocks away. So it’s, walking wise, quite doable to get to these locations. The challenges involve long lines.
Our tour guide had clearly done this many times before. He knew what timing would work well for managing the crowds and so on. So he moved us fairly quickly to the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii) to get us in line there. We joined this line at 10:23am. This mosque required long pants and, for women, a head covering. I always wear long pants and bring a shawl with me for this very reason. Tourists without these things could borrow, for free, long pieces of fabric to wear as a long skirt and/or to cover their head. It was about twenty minutes in line as we went past the fabric station and then up to the ‘shoe area’.
There were no benches here. It was just a ledge in the hallway which had signs that here you had to take off your shoes. You balanced, while standing, and slipped off your shoes. We had our shoe bags so we put our shoes into our bags and carried them. For people without bag, they either carried their shoes in hand or put them into a long cubby rack once we got further in to the mosque. I definitely recommend wearing socks. I wouldn’t want to be barefoot on a carpet that millions of other tourists are walking barefoot on. I wore my rainbow socks.
The Blue Mosque is of course quite lovely and well deserving of its tourist status. It was built in the 1600s as a mosque. There was still some scaffolding up from their renovations, but the tour guide told us we were lucky to be able to see as much as we were. Up until now there was far more work being done.
Once we were done here, we had a long line out. Again there was simply a line in the hallway where people stopped to put on their shoes. No benches. Some people sat on the floor to do it.
At last we were out. We left and walked down long stone walkways amongst grassy lawns. We were going to the Hagia Sofia. He tried to keep the pace reasonable but quick. The reason was this. The Hagia Sofia was going to open soon. There was already a long line at its gates. When it opened, it would let the line in until its capacity was reached. At that point, the line would stop, and people would be stuck in line until other people inside decided to leave.
It was a delicate balancing act. If you got in line very early, you could be standing in line for an hour or more waiting for the gates to open. If you got in line too late, there would be a “capacity crowd” ahead of you in line so you would not get in during that first allotment. So the ideal timing would be to have you join the line just near the end of the ‘initial capacity crowd’ group. That way you waited in line as little as possible but also got into the building with that first group.
We joined the line about 11:06am. It seemed enormously long at the time, snaking around a huge hot plaza. It wasn’t moving for about twenty minutes. Then all of a sudden, when the gates opened, the entire line surged forward. Our tour guide kept encouraging us to stay together and to keep moving. Sure enough, as we approached the gates, warnings were given that the building was near capacity and the gates would close shortly. We got in perfectly and all of us made it in before the gates closed behind us. So that was just about perfect timing.
This building also required head scarves but did not offer free ones. You had to buy one.
In this building there was a larger entry hall where people removed their shoes. There were some benches. We all put our shoes into our bags. The mosque, again, was stunningly large and beautiful. This is a far more ancient building. It was built around 530AD by the Romans as a Christian Cathedral. Then in the 1400s it was turned into a mosque, and all the “Christian” elements were removed or covered up. In the 1930s when Turkey was less religious it became a museum, open to all. In 2020, as Turkey became more religious, it was designated a mosque again, meaning once again the “Christian” historical elements were shielded.
At last we finished looking at the mosque, at noon. We then walked about fifteen minutes to Topkapi Palace. This used to be an actual palace, starting in the late 1400s, but is now a large museum. There are various rooms set up with mannequins to show what the library looked like, what the treasury looked like, and so on.
There were rifle-armed soldiers standing guard at the entry security gates. My mom prodded me to go over to them and recite my pro-Ukrainian mantras in Turkish. She seemed a little too eager, in my mind, for me to get locked up in a Turkish prison. The guards didn’t seem to be the joking kind.
Once we got into the courtyard, our guide gave us a half hour to explore before meeting up again. Mom and I went right to the bathrooms. The men’s side had no line at all. The women’s side had a long line going down stairs. The actual tiny bathroom area only had 3 stalls and no paper at all. The toilet seats were fairly icky. So I recommend finding somewhere else to go.
The palace rooms were lovely, especially the library with its scrolls. We were tired and hungry, though. We’d been on the go non-stop for many hours now. So we went back to the meet-up point and found a bench. We just waited for everyone.
Traffic apparently had really intensified. We had to walk a fairly long way to get to a place where the bus could pick us up. It was 1:30 before we got onto the bus. Then the bus had quite a drive to get to the hotel where we would be having lunch. We didn’t get there until just about 2pm.
The hotel was the Pera Palace Hotel, built in 1892. Agatha Christie stayed here to write – it’s where she set the beginning to Murder on the Orient Express! In that story, the train leaves from Istanbul. Our guide pointed out to us the train station which was featured in the novel.
There was a Middle-Eastern-themed buffet offered which was quite tasty. We were the first group to arrive, so we were able to have a quiet, peaceful lunch. The next group was only just arriving as we were getting ready to leave.
The tour description had said we would next go to a Spice Bazaar, but instead we were taken to the Grand Bazaar which apparently is much larger. We disembarked and walked a short distance to a shopping area. First we were guided into a specific shop where a merchant pushed hard for us to buy his desserts, his pastries, his spices, etc. Then we were set loose for a half hour. The Grand Bazaar was just down the street. It was a mostly-inside densely-packed network of shops. Mom and I went only a short distance into the shops before we decided we just had no interest in shopping any more. Nobody was wearing masks and people were all right up against each other. We came back out.
There was a mosque nearby. There was a person outside who said it was all right for us to go in. We took off our shoes and went in. It was a simple white design and quite lovely. There were a few people in there praying.
It doesn’t sound like there was a lot of walking for today, but because the day was SO long, and there were barely any break times, it actually did add up. I think today was the most walking we did on the entire trip, at nearly 13,000 steps.
Finally about 4pm we were back on the bus and stuck in traffic. We went past the Istanbul Governor’s building, where the governor of the Province of Istanbul works. There were armed soldiers in front of this building, as well as birdhouses on the stone pillars.
It was 5:40pm before the bus was pulling back into the high-security underground complex of the terminal. They had a drug-sniffing dog come over and examine the lower luggage areas of the bus before we were brought to the drop-off area. Then there was a short hallway network before we got to the card-swipe turnstile area.
My card would not swipe.
These cards are plastic with barcodes just printed on them. I have a special pouch in my purse that it sits in, so my card never rubs against anything else. However, in the cabin, the card has to be put into a metal slot in order to turn on the lights and electricity. Apparently over the length of the cruise my card had worn down enough, going in and out of that slot, that the barcode could no longer be read.
I told Mom to go ahead, but of course she wanted to stay with me. The guards examined my card and saw the problem. They then had to call the ship to verify I was allowed to get on board. At least I did have my passport in hand at this point. I wasn’t too worried. Eventually the guards got the all-clear and they allowed me to bypass the turnstiles.
When I got on board I immediately had the front desk cut me a brand new card. I was only on board for one more day, but I didn’t want any issues at all when I tried to depart the ship at 4:30am.
Our dinner tonight, even though it was the last night when most people are packing and dressing casual, was at Prime 7 – the steakhouse. We decided to just keep all our bags with us and hand-drag them down at 4:30am. So we dressed up for Prime 7. The dinner was lovely.
Mom went back to the room to pack. I went around to every public space and took a short video of each one. The sky was dark now and the skyline of Istanbul was quite pretty.
Finally it was midnight. I went to the computer room with my laptop. I ran my midnight to 3am teen writing workshop, which is always immensely fun for me. I am so inspired by my teens. And then I got back to the room. Mom and I tried to nap from 3am to 3:45am, which of course didn’t work very well.
Because now would begin our full day of international travel, attempted on zero sleep :).
Dikili, Turkey is another Turkish resort town for Russians. It is also a tender location, meaning to get on shore one has to go down to the bowels of the ship and wait in line to get onto a small transport boat. There weren’t any locations on shore which I felt a pressing need to see. So Mom and I decided to stay on board and have a day of rest. The next two days involved Monday / very long tour of Istanbul and Tuesday / very long day of travel starting at 4:30am. So we wanted to gather our strength to prepare for that.
Looking out of our balcony, it seemed as if there was a really cool ‘Stonehenge’ kind of structure on the mountain ridge of shore. But zooming in more, it turns out it was just a series of brown apartment buildings. So that is all I really saw of Dikili.
The lunch menu was a delightful buffet of Middle Eastern food, so we enjoyed that on the back patio. Then Mom rested while I wrote my ship-based novella. By the end of the afternoon I’d fully finished novella #1 at 16,000 words and was part-way through novella #2. I like to work on the novellas while actually on the cruise so I remember all the little details and can double-check descriptions of locations.
Every day on the ship they have trivia contests and Mensa quizzes. One of today’s entries on the Mensa quiz baffled us. It read:
5. If the cube root of 8 is 2, cross out all the Q’s and U’s if not, cross out the R. If Queen Elizabeth II could have met President Wilson, cross out the “I”; if not, cross out the Y’s. If the Bahamas are south of North Carolina, cross out the M’s; if not, cross out the T. What do you have?
Now, I was troubled enough by the question using apostrophes for plurals, when they don’t belong there. But the entire question seemed to imply you started with a word or phrase. There was no word or phrase anywhere on the page that matched the letters indicated here. So that was bizarre.
Finally it was time to get dressed. We went down to a lounge to listen to some music. Then, as we passed through the main lobby, we realized it was the big celebration of Regent’s 30th anniversary! They had ice sculptures, Champagne, music, and it was all in a “thirties” theme. They played “Puttin’ On The Ritz” and all we could think of was Young Frankenstein :).
The celebration then moved into the theater where various ship-board people put on a talent show. It was interesting to watch. Some of the workers clearly did have some talent.
A table with a big box of passports was put out in the main lobby, with staff there. I went up to the table with my mom and gave our suite number to pick up ours. The staff woman opened a passport up and said, “Here you go, Ann Waller. You grew your hair out!” I said, “No, my mom is Ann. I’m Elizabeth.” She looked between us in confusion as if I’d gotten my name wrong. She then said, “You look so alike!”
It was now time for our dinner at Pacific Rim, the Asian restaurant. There was a big cylinder of prayer wheels at the entrance which I thought was quite pretty.
They had a nice range of menu options there, from Chinese to Japanese to Thai and more. I admit we were a bit spoiled on Oceania where they had a beautiful selection of chopsticks you could choose from, and a fantastic set of teas were presented at the beginning as well. On the Oceania these were tiny details which elevated the experience. Here you just got what you got. There were other little issues, too, like serving edamame in shells but not giving you any small bowl or plate to put those shells into.
I texted Jenn my sis a photo of the circle-square dessert, teasing, “They don’t even line them up”. Her response: “Artistically off-track to remind you of the chaotic nature of the universe.”
So Mom challenged Jenn to describe the next dessert.
Jenn said: “Wow. The arch of Heaven. The firmament of Earth and Plants and a worm. And the Earth. The raisin things are … elephants?” To which Mom replied, “Yes … more effort exerted in presentation rather than taste. The arch of heaven was too crunchy and collapsed immediately.” Jenn replied, “Sounds like reality.”
:). We have fun with these things.
At last dinner was over. Mom and I went right to bed – tomorrow in Istanbul was going to be a LONG long day.
My mother and I were now in the ‘home stretch’ of our Greece-Turkey cruise. We were wholly finished with Greece. All three remaining stops were in Turkey.
As mentioned yesterday, my feelings about Turkey had become complicated. Turkey was actively threatening Greece and Ukraine. They were supporting Russia who at this moment was shelling a nuclear power plant, which was losing power. That nuclear power plant, if it failed, could easily kill and harm thousands upon thousands of innocent people all across the region. It was becoming harder for me to just focus on Turkey’s historic castles.
I’d changed my phone lock screen to display a pro-Ukraine message. I was wearing my Ukrainian hair band, earrings, and bracelet. I sent a message to my sis Jenn to make sure she knew we were getting off the ship in Ephesus. Mom and I had NO PASSPORTS because the ship had taken them. We did not have an excursion planned in Ephesus. We would just explore locally on foot.
I didn’t wear a Ukraine-flag-based tshirt :). I wore a tshirt promoting a book written by one of my teenage writers.
Ephesus was the third location which “used to have a really cool landmark but it was demolished 2,000 years ago” :). In this case it was the Temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders. Back in those ancient days it had been flooded, restored, burned, collapsed, and gone by 270AD.
Once again Mom brought me delicious fruit after she had a full breakfast for herself. We rested some more. We had a nice light lunch, then took some photos of Ephesus from the upper decks. Then we were ready to go. We were docked immediately by the city. I took photos of all the emergency contact information, and we got off the ship.
In the other city-based ports so far, getting off the ship was ‘calm’. You walked down the dock, there were streets in front of you, and you walked along until you got to a plaza area or some shops or so on. Here, this port was absolutely set up to grab a hold of tourists and never let them go.
You were funneled, right off the ship, into an industrial modern maze of tourist shops. Shop vendors were VERY aggressive about standing in your way as you walked, telling you you had to go into their shop. “I’ve been waiting for you.” “You need a leather jacket.”
My nephew and his fiance love tea, as do I, so I stopped into a tea shop to get some pomegranate tea for me and them.
The shop areas were grungy alleys with shops on either side, lined with men in their twenties or thirties sitting on chairs or standing. As you passed, the men would aggressively move in your path to try to get you into their shop. I did not enjoy the experience at all.
In one alley there was graffiti. My mom pointed at it and tried to get me to write my pro-Ukrainian phrase, in Turkish, on the wall. I kept walking :). Then she said I should write the phrase “Right under the president’s picture”. I think she and my sister were a bit TOO gleeful about the idea of me languishing in a Turkish prison …
We found a mosque but there was nobody outside to talk to, about going in. We peeked in a little bit to see what it was like. It had lovely designs on its inner dome. At another larger mosque there were several big signs warning women that they had their own smaller door in the back. We didn’t go into that one.
We finally decided it was time to get back on the ship. We had to navigate, again, the network of shopping stalls which was the only way onto the ship. Fortunately we didn’t need our passport during this day. We were happy to be back on board.
We wandered around the ship a bit, checking out the tea area to see if they had different teas there. Nope just the same chamomile and mint for herbal options. I’m pretty sure this period was where we went to the elevator and encountered a woman who had barely made it on board before the ship pulled up its gangplank. She said a rug salesman kept pressuring her to buy this and buy that and the other thing, and she pleaded with him that she had to go or she’d miss the boat.
I showered, we dressed, and we headed to the lounge for the guitarist. My mom had to convince me to stop clapping for him. It felt very unnatural to me. We just listened to him play, let him end in silence, and then he went on to another song. After his show, we talked with him a bit about ship members being in quarantine.
Time for dinner. We went to the Compass Rose. Mom was part of a dessert class and technically she should have been having dinner with them, but she said she’d rather eat with me and then just join them for making desserts together. Dinner was lovely. For dessert I had a volcano cake. I sent Jenn a picture, then a text: “My volcano cake. I complained there were no screaming people running away. Mom said they are represented by the crackers. I told Mom these are the kinds of conversations you and I have. See I miss you here.” 🙂
Mom went to her dessert class and I explored the ship a bit before going back to my room. I began working on my romantic suspense novella based on this cruise. I like to write books based on the cruises I take. Usually the cruise novels involve a heroine who is going on the cruise who encounters a man who is an undercover cop / CIA agent / etc. who is working on taking down a smuggling operation or so on.
Mom got back from her class and absolutely loved it. It was on making crepes, which she enjoys doing. The cooking stations were quite well set up.
Tomorrow, Sunday, is Dikili Turkey which is going to be a tender-port. We discussed just staying on the boat so I could write and she could rest. Our subsequent day at Istanbul is going to be VERY long and involve a lot of walking. That Sunday evening after the Istanbul tour is my teen writing class from midnight to 3am. Then we have to be off the ship at 4:30am Monday morning to head to the airport for a very long travel day. It seems wise to get as much rest as possible tomorrow to prepare for all of that.
This was our final day in Greece. Then we would have three ports in Turkey and fly home from Istanbul, Turkey. It seemed like the cruise had barely begun and here we were on the final countdown of days. Also, right at this juncture, the ship crew all stopped wearing masks. It was a corporate decision, apparently. The crew was very happy about this, but now the ship was even less COVID-safe than before. There were definitely both passengers and crew members being quarantined, but nothing was ever said publicly about it.
I will note that up until now I was writing travelogue notes each evening in our cabin. After the ’emotional shift’ in Antalya Turkey, I stopped writing contemporaneous notes. So I am now working from memory and from my photo / text records, exactly two weeks later. So hopefully I remember most of what happened. It’s a good memory test for me.
Because the ship took our passports last night, we had no passports in hand. We had no excursion planned for Rhodes. I really wanted to explore the port because this was now our final Greece port, before we were only in Turkey. I wanted to buy a few gifts for people and another shawl for myself. I also wanted to eat some Greek food. Normally we want to get back onto the ship before eating, since the ship food is free, but I wanted to have actual Greek food in a Greek location.
Once again I slept in, and Mom went down to bring me fresh fruit and have a leisurely breakfast herself. She went off the ship to scout around a bit. Then she came up for me. I tossed on some clothes and was ready to go. We were without a passport. I was extra attentive to take photos of the ship’s dailies – “Passages” – which has all the shipboard contact information in case of trouble. I made sure my phone was fully charged. I had a driver’s license on me as a photo ID, but that lack of a passport was tangible to me.
My boyfriend Bob, my sister Jenn, and I have our phones set up to see a Google Maps ‘dot’ where the other is located. I asked both of them to watch my dot for the day. For some reason, Bob couldn’t see my dot on this trip and still couldn’t see it this morning. When I told Bob that Jenn could see my dot, he said, “I guess she’ll keep track of you if you’re kidnapped then.” I asked Jenn to please watch our dot for the day to make sure we got back on the ship. I told her that Bob for some reason could not see my dot. Her immediate response: “Communist nations captured you!” See, that is where our minds go :). But fortunately Jenn could see my exact dot of where we were.
I told her, regarding our plans for the next few days, “I was happy to go ashore in Rhodes in full Ukrainian gear. I’m less keen about going on land on Turkey with no passport … or supporting them [Turkey] …” to which she replied: “Not all Turkeyians agree with their government. … so, wear Ukie stuff and pride stuff and give a Thumb’s Up (if it’s not offensive in their culture??) to anyone sporting the same.” To which I replied: “And then you will see my dot hauled off to jail :).”
Jenn then sent me: “Save this to your phone and show it to people:” – and she sent me a JPG. The left half said “Thank you for supporting Ukraine”. The right half said: “Ukrayna’yi desteklediginiz icin tesekkur ederiz.” (i.e. the same thing in Turkish). And then there’s a Ukrainian flag. And she follows up with: ” … in jail.”
So I then made my phone lock screen have that JPG image with the Turkish pro-Ukrainian saying and the Ukrainian flag. My lock screen also now had “Call Bob if found” with his phone number complete with the US country code. I told Jenn: “It is all your fault if I end up in a Turkish prison!” She replied, “At least you’ll have comfy Turkish towels.”
Off we went.
This is an easy walk-off port. You just walk down the dock and a nice ‘old town’ is right there. There were many historic stone buildings and plazas, quite lovely, with labels and signs to explain what they were about. Compared with Mykonos and Santorini, which were bright white-blue and fresh feeling, this was far more ancient feeling in worn-down brown stone. And yes there were happy cared-for cats lounging around.
There is NO “Colossus at Rhodes”. That statue, which stood near the port, was legendarily about 100 feet tall of a sun god. The statue collapsed during an earthquake back in 226BC. Every once in a while people talk about rebuilding it, but they never have.
We went to the local plaza which had shops but didn’t feel “aggressively touristy” like some other ports. There were all sorts of lovely olive oil bowls and scarves and other items. We found a nice plaza-side cafe in the shade and had seats right along the path so we could people-watch. I had stuffed grape leaves, bread, and dip. It was really tasty. The man opposite us in the plaza was at a table trying to sell vegetable peelers. He had a massive mound of shredded cabbage in front of him. I thought a peeler was an odd thing to try to sell in a tourist location.
After we ate, we walked quite a bit through the town area, seeing a nice mix of beautiful locally-crafted wares and historic buildings. There’s a fairly steep walk up to a hilltop tower. I texted my friend live with shawl options and she chose one she liked. It was fun to let her see the options thousands of miles away and be able to select something live.
Eventually it was time to return to the ship.
I showered, we dressed, and we went down to the lounge to listen to the guitar playing. He played the same set in the same order as last time. I really enjoy guitar playing, but it would be nice if it mixed up a bit. We talked with him after. He explained that he used to travel with a full-sized nice guitar but it was destroyed by an airline. Now he just brings his travel guitar. He was a bit unhappy because the ‘duo’ was now in quarantine and he had to cover their performances.
We had dinner with eight of mom’s cruise group at Chartreuse. I adore Chartreuse, so I was happy about that. A downside though is that a group tends to want to order ‘a bottle of wine’ and while it might be a nice one, it could easily be one that doesn’t go well with your dish. So then you’re in a position of declining the nicer bottle in order to get a wine that goes great with your food. Or you order food that wasn’t your top pick. Still, it was nice hearing the other peoples’ stories.
There was a bit of half-joking banter about the Turkey ports and about behaving as perfectly as possible while one was in Turkey. Several of the group members are fans of CBD oil and talked about not bringing ANYTHING at all even remotely CBD based with them, as they didn’t want to end up like Brittney Griner. [Brittney Griner is a US basketball player who was caught in Russia airport security with under a gram of cannabis oil in her luggage. She was sentenced to 9 years in a Russian prison.]
When I got back to the room, I texted Jenn about the dinner and said, “If I am thrown in a Turkish prison publicize my dot to the newspapers …” She said: “I will! And say ‘Certainly she did NOT have any CBD Oil of <1oz on her!'” I replied, “We were just talking about it at dinner and how the people with pot cards did not take ANY with them, afraid of Turkey. They did not want to become the next Russia situation.” Jenn said, “Agreed. The world is cruel and unjust.”
I then said: “Every time I look at my lock screen I am filled with both joy and terror.” Jenn happily said: “Just think, whoever pickpockets it will be filled with admiration for you.”
I let Bob know: “Jenn is trying to get me to be thrown in a Turkish prison. I have changed my lock screen to this which is a pro-Ukrainian message in Turkish. So if you get a phone call …”
I really did get a jolt of adrenaline every time I saw that message on my lock screen. But I was committed to continuing to promote a peace-for-Ukraine message, as I had done throughout the previous and current Mediterranean cruises. I shouldn’t just promote peace when it’s ‘easy’, safely in the US. I should do it wherever I could. Others were risking far more.
And with that, I headed to sleep, knowing that three days of Turkey laid ahead of us.
I didn’t sleep well last night, waking fairly often. I was finally awake about 10:30am. Mom had gone to have breakfast and brought me back a fruit plate. She is so delightfully wonderful :). Then, as I continued to wake up, she went to have some espresso at the coffee bar and get us a map of the city. We were at our second stop in Turkey – the city of Antalya. We did not have an excursion planned here.
It turns out the shuttle situation here in Antalya is even ‘worse’ than at Bodrum. There is a shuttle every half hour, and once again the shuttles stop running between 12:30 and 2pm. The challenge is that the shuttle ride is much longer – about forty-five minutes in one direction. So that means the taxi option would be more expensive, if we needed to find alternative travel for some reason.
We decided to have lunch at the speciality restaurant Chartreuse at noon, and then take the 2pm shuttle into Antalya. That way we aren’t “trapped” in the city over the long lunch break. We’d have plenty of time to explore the city a bit before taking a shuttle back to the boat again.
Lunch at Chartreuse was delicious and beautiful. This restaurant is well worth going to. I didn’t have any Chartreuse this time :). I have to say I absolutely adore the plateware here. The design of ‘raindrop edges’ is just so pretty to me. Then we headed back to the room to prepare for our afternoon in Antalya.
At the appointed time we walked down onto the dock. We got onto the bus. This was a full-sized bus rather than a small minivan. A sign let you know you could buy water, soda, and beer for various prices. Note there isn’t a bathroom on this. Off we went. Some of the trip was gentle green mountains, but then most was city. There were ‘city-typical’ skyscrapers and apartment buildings. One interesting thing is that most of the apartment buildings had on-their-side barrels on top of them. I researched what they were for. It turns out the buildings pump water up into those barrels so they heat with the sun. That becomes their hot water. If you live in the apartment building, your hot water usage depends on how hot the sun is that day and how many other people showered before you did.
We got into the city proper and the bus pulled up on the side of a busy road. This was our spot. It wasn’t an easy-to-find plaza like in Bodrum. It really did feel like just the side of the road. I took lots of photos to document where we were. Then I “placed a dot” in Google Maps to make sure we could find our way back here.
We began to explore.
There was an empty plaza nearby, and then a statue – the “Monument of National Rise” which featured a horse alongside a clothed man and a bare-breasted woman. It represented the liberation of Turkey in 1919. There was a bush with a few tiny kittens beneath it, curled up. In the Greece locations there were cats in quiet pathways which all seemed beloved and cared for. Here, I was worried about the little kittens alongside a busy road.
Then we reached what was for me sort of a “turning point” on the trip.
I’ve mentioned how on the previous Mediterranean cruise a few months ago, and on this one, I’ve joyfully worn my Ukrainian angel earrings, Ukrainian hair band, Ukrainian bracelet, and so on. I have tried to be an advocate for peace. As we planned this trip to Turkey, I put aside Turkey’s current political stances and focused on the beautiful historic locations like the castle dating back centuries. Our visit in Bodrum was focused on the castle.
At this current Turkish port, Antalya is a Russian resort city. We saw billboards in the Russian language encouraging Russian tourists to have bank accounts and protect their wealth and so on. It was ‘in my face’ that Turkey was supporting wealthy Russians in their attack on Ukraine. It was ‘in my face’ that Turkey was threatening to attack Greece. Even on the ship, passengers would half-joke, half-warn about not upsetting Turkish police, about behaving well, and how dangerous the Turkey laws are. Many comments were made about not getting anywhere near “Turkish Prisons”. And here I was looking at billboards praising the Russian wealthy and wanting to encourage them. There were banners everywhere praising Erdogan, in a cult of personality.
It upset me a lot. I now just wanted to get back on the ship. I didn’t want to support the Turkish government in any way.
Still, Turkey has an amazing historical legacy. We had just travelled 45 minutes to get here. We should at least see something of the culture.
We walked through the city streets to a local mosque. We asked permission to go inside, and removed our shoes. I draped my shawl over my head. It was a small mosque, but quite lovely. I did not take any photos here. I offered silent prayers for peace. An area outside the mosque provided seats to wash feet and legs.
Then we found our way back to the bus meeting point. We got on, and 45 minutes later we were back at the ship.
We decided to go to the Observation Lounge – the main one with the bank of windows – to listen to some music. There were not many people there, but we had some cocktails and nuts.
Then – incredibly strangely – an announcement came on the speakers that all non-European passport holders (which was nearly everyone on the ship) had to turn in their passports to the reception desk TONIGHT by 8pm. They were giving us maybe 2 hours notice. We went back to our room and only just now were the staff putting letters into everyone’s room with this requirement. It was very very strange. They would only give us our passports back in a few days. That meant at the next stops we would not have our passports.
I know that we could get on and off the ship with our key cards but I always carry my passport as an emergency safety net. This situation stressed me out a lot. It wasn’t exactly clear if the Greek or the Turkey government wanted our passports. I was feeling very uncomfortable about Turkey right now.
We dropped off our passports. I carry many copies in person and on my phone, but even so I felt unhappy about not having my passport in my control at this point.
We went to the Compass Rose for dinner. We talked with the sommelier how it is frustrating that they can’t just give us a wine list of included wines – or even a tablet of the current roster – meaning we have to play guessing games about what wines are available tonight to go with the various appetizers and main courses we want. We both have our own preferences and would rather choose for ourselves rather than having them guess what we might like. In any case we figured out a nice Chateauneuf du Pape for my main course.
The meal was lovely.
We headed to bed. Tomorrow we were back in Greece, in the city of Rhodes. It was our final Greece stop. I decided I would have a meal on the island of Rhodes, since it was our last time in Greece. We had no excursions planned. I adore Greek food :). I also wanted to do my final purchases there. I didn’t want to buy anything in our subsequent Turkey stops.
Rhodes is famous for the ‘Colossus of Rhodes’ as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World – but of course that statue no longer exists. When we were in Bodrum Turkey at the castle, the castle had been built using stones of the collapsed Mausoleum at Halicarnassus – another one of the wonders which was destroyed. And the day after tomorrow when we visited Ephesus, Turkey, this was the location of the once-amazing Temple of Artemis, which was also long-since destroyed. So we were visiting the locations of three of the Seven Wonders and in each case that wonder was long, long gone. Should they make replicas so we could see what they looked like? With so many amazing existing locations in the world, is it strange to go where “long ago there once was a statue here”? Lots of questions went through our minds.
But mostly right now I was feeling upset about Turkey. The historical beauty of ancient castles was crashing in my mind with the current geopolitical issues of Turkey actively endorsing attacking Ukraine and Greece. My mind was having trouble sorting those things out.
We were now at our first stop in Turkey! The view from the window was sort of a mix of Mykonos and Crete. That is, the buildings were all white against a greenish background, going up hillsides, and in that sense it did look ‘picturesque’. On the other hand, the buildings here were all fairly modern looking – squares with rows of windows. So it had a much more modern feel to it.
We had no official excursion planned for today. I slept in, having woken up bunches of time through the night. Mom sweetly brought fruit to the room for me again. Once I was done with that, I tossed on clothes.
The shuttles to town are on an EXTREMELY odd schedule. They only leave every half hour – and they have a long lunch break between 12:30 and 2pm. But this doesn’t mean they actually leave from the town at 2pm. It means at 2pm they leave the ship and get into town at 2:30pm to pick up people waiting there. And you have to be back on board by 4:30pm.
We were able to catch the 11am shuttle. It’s a minivan with maybe 10 seats total. It took about 15 minutes to drive around the bay to the main plaza of Bodrum. That plaza is immediately aside a minaret, which makes it fairly easy to find from around town. You just look for that minaret tower. The plaza is also right against the water.
From the plaza it was a short maybe 10-minute walk along the water to the historic castle. There was a longish line which didn’t move ‘steadily’ – it seemed as if they were waiting for enough people to come out to then accommodate a tour group going in. It moved in fits and starts. At last we got to the front, paid our dues, and went through security to get in. We saw a man go through security who had a bottle of alcohol removed from his bag. The bottle was held at the security gate for when he was done.
I adore castles. I write many books involving castles. This castle was one of the highlights of my trip. It is quite large and has all sorts of history associated with it. So for me the castle was quite interesting. I want to warn that the castle had a LOT of high-step stairs made from worn rough stone. There weren’t always handrails. I had to help my mom up and down a number of them. The stone was very uneven and bumpy. It’s good to wear sturdy shoes for visiting the castle.
The views of the town and water from the castle were quite pretty. There were many embedded stone coats of arms in the castle walls, representing various important people who had ruled over the castle. There were displays of ancient mosaics, gravestones, and other items around the grounds. Some of the tower rooms were used as museum display rooms, holding beautiful pottery, vases, jewelry, weaponry, and more. A variety of styles were represented. There were peacocks and cats roaming the grounds.
I really enjoyed this visit immensely. I liked being able to take our own time as we went through it. Many of the rooms were smallish so I appreciated being on our own and being able to linger. It was hot, but some of the rooms with artifacts were air conditioned, so there were ways to cool off.
Finally we were tired, starving, and done. We walked back to the town in a light rain. It was only 1:30 by this point so we checked in with the Regent people hanging out by the shuttle pickup location. We were a bit worried about this shuttle filling up, and we let them know would be ready for the 2pm shuttle. We held up 2 fingers. They said sure, you are all set.
Since we had a half hour to wait, we went off in the little alleys to do some shopping. I got a few items – two shawls, one with the blue eyes, the other with a lavender design. Cloth triangles were draped across the overhead areas of streets to act as a rain and sun shield. It was lovely.
About 1:45 we got back to the plaza and hung out in the shuttle area. We figured there might be a swarm of people when the shuttles started up again, and we wanted to get on the first one as we were very hungry, thirsty, and tired. We checked in with the Regent people again.
2pm came. 2pm went. At 2:10 I went over to check in with them. They said, oh, it doesn’t get HERE until 2:30. The shuttle was over at the ship at 2. We said, but we already asked you before to make sure we had the time right. We would have gone right back to the ship on a taxi if we knew it would be this long until we got water and food.
They pointed us to the taxi stand.
We got a taxi and it was only 5 euros to get back to the ship. Clearly we should have done this back at 1:30. The taxi happily took euros even though the currency here is Turkish lira.
At the terminal, it was a quick zip through a security station, just showing our room key and nothing else. And then a quick walk down the dock where we were across from another cruise ship. And up the gangplank.
I’ll note that nobody in Bodrum commented on my Ukrainian gear, either positively or negatively. It was a neutral issue. I was also wearing rainbow pride socks, but those are less visible with my long pants.
We went right to floor 11, but of course the main restaurants were all closed now. At least the pool grill was open still. I had my usual salad and Mom had a panini. I was very thirsty but it took them a while to come over to even check on our drinks, so at least I had the lettuce which is watery to eat. I should have brought a shoulder-holster for the water bottle so I could more easily carry it with me. It’s just a pain to hand-carry the big metal bottles the ship provides. I didn’t want to bring a waist pack big enough to carry these massive bottles.
Now, back to the room. I packed up all my laundry, added in some of Mom’s, and went over to the laundry room. It’s all free to do and they have detergent there. I started it up. There was nobody else using the machines (two washers, two dryers) and no sign instructing people to stay with their laundry. So I set my phone timer and came back to the room to relax a bit.
Near the end of the laundry timer, we got a call that somehow the front desk didn’t have my Turkish Visa, even though I had brought it to them and they’d copied it. So I took it again to reception. This time they didn’t copy it – they just wrote down some numbers from it. This made me a bit nervous about my visa situation, but I hoped for the best.
On the way to the room I swapped my laundry into the dryer – I was again the only unit in use – and set my phone timer again.
When my timer went off I went back to the laundry room. There were two women standing right in front of the units, talking. All four units were now going. They talked for about five minutes which was confusing to me because my unit should have stopped. Then one woman turned to me. I said my laundry should have been dry by now. She explained she’d taken out my laundry and left a few things in to finish drying. I let her know I’d just take those damp things and hang them, and did so. It felt a bit odd that she’d handled all my underwear and bras, and unless my timer had been off, the dryer shouldn’t have been finished yet. So it felt very strange. Still, a minor inconvenience, and now my laundry was all set again.
We dressed for dinner and went down to the lounge first to hear the musical duo. It was a keyboardist and a singer. The lounge was very dark. Again, small casual snacks like pigs-in-a-blanket and chips were offered. The musicians were technically good, but to me very mechanical sounding. We would rather have had a string quartet option. I will note that my boyfriend plays in a classic rock band, so I might be a bit more picky about music than most people would. I go to a lot of gigs. And, again, people were talking loudly and not even listening anyway.
Finally it was time for dinner at Chartreuse, one of the specialty restaurants. I happen to adore yellow Chartreuse, so I was really looking forward to this. In the front area, there was a couple animatedly talking by the maître d’ podium and he gently tried several times to interject to ask if they were ready for dinner. Finally they said they were joining another party and moved on. The next person in line was waiting for someone, and realized he probably shouldn’t have been in line if he wasn’t ready. Then the maître d’ got to us to seat us. It was just an odd feeling in terms of starting an evening at their high-end dining restaurant.
We were brought Champagne to start, then bread, then the meal began. It was quite lovely. The flavors and plating were quite nice.
At the end I asked if they had Chartreuse and if so which kind. They had the green kind which Bob and I always joke is ’not ripe yet’ as it is the tarter-tasting one. So they went off to check, and yes indeed they had some yellow, which was delicious. I’d been looking forward to it all evening, and it was nice that they did have it.
We were now at the island of Crete. We had been scheduled for a long 5-hour tour today which came with a ‘lots of walking’ warning. Because the last two days had been so tiring, on tours with NO walking warning at all, we decided to cancel our tickets for today’s tour. That meant I could sleep in! Hurrah!
My wonderful mom brought me some fruit back from the buffet, which was lovely. I tried to sleep some more, but the ship’s crew was doing ship alarm testing so there were blaring alarms going off all the time. Not conducive to sleep.
For lunch, Prime 7, one of the specialty restaurants, was open. No reservations needed. It was lovely. I had seared tuna.
Then we gathered our things to go explore the town on foot. I wore my usual Ukrainian-angel earrings, Ukrainian-colored hairband, and Ukrainian-colored bracelet.
You would think for a touristy town like this that their dock area would have easy access to the city center. But the walk is along busy streets with no benches, no shade, and fairly narrow walking areas. There are steep stairs. There’s a “yellow line” on the ground to follow, but it’s not always clear which way to follow it.
By the time we got up to the center of the city, Mom was exhausted. We sat on a bench. After a while of people-watching she was ready to go back.
I’ll note the first two Greek islands were ‘beautiful’ – white buildings, blue domes, and the like. Picturesque. This stop, at least where we walked to, was just ‘industrial’. Square brown buildings, car-filled streets, and so on. It felt like ‘any other city’.
I was looking for a shawl for a friend, so we stopped into a few stores. I found a lovely ‘protective eye’ shawl at one shop. While we were chatting with the store clerk, she asked us where we were from. My mom said the US. The store clerk said, in essence, “No, where are you REALLY from” indicating my earrings. Yes, the store clerk was Ukrainian, too, and we had a good conversation.
The walk back to the ship was just as hot, humid, and arduous. I was drenched in sweat. We at last got to the ship terminal and went through security. We only needed our ship cards, no other paperwork. Then a short walk to the ship itself and up the gangplank. We checked in with our cards and didn’t have to go through security a second time.
Up to the room! Right into the shower!
We relaxed in the room until about 6pm, when we decided to go down and hear the guitarist. We really hadn’t done any ship “musical activities” until now and thought it time to give them a try.
The lounge area was quite nice, with a small stage. The guitarist had a tiny travel guitar and played from iPad-style tablet notes. Unfortunately, most of the people around us were babbling at quite high volumes so it was hard to hear him, even in the ‘second row’ of tables. He did play some older classics like from the Beatles and Eric Clapton, but he also (amusingly to me) played some fairly recent hard-rock kinds of songs, and songs like ‘Nothing Else Matters’. So there was a mix.
Nearly all of the cocktails on the menu featured fruits. I had a lychee martini. The wait-staff brought around little snacks like a roll of salmon with cream cheese and a little container of olives.
After an hour set the musician was done. We went to the Compass Rose for dinner. We were seated in another area, perhaps because all the window tables were taken. The food had lovely presentation and was delicious.
I will note something odd about wine here. Passengers get base-level wines for free, unlimited, and then you can pay to get more expensive options. On a given evening’s menu they show you ONE white and ONE red for the free options. That’s it. If you ask for a wine list, they only show you the for-pay wines. There is no way to know what all your free white and red options are. It might easily be that the free white on tonight’s menu is a very acidic sharp one which just doesn’t go with your chosen main dish. You’d rather have a buttery chardonnay. But now you’re stuck in a guessing game asking them what other free whites they have, and having them try to describe those options to you. It makes no sense at all. It took a few days into the cruise before we started to have a sense of what our options REALLY were, to know what we could order with different dishes.
I thought about doing laundry after dinner. However, I realized that it was too late, as the laundry room closed at 10pm. So I put off laundry until tomorrow.
It was time to sleep!
We didn’t end up seeing much of Crete, but I am very glad we did not completely burn ourselves out on a long-distance walking tour. We still had many cruise days remaining that we wanted to enjoy. As it turns out, even just walking on our own into town we walked nearly the same step count as we did yesterday.
It was now our second full day of our Regent Seven Seas Explorer cruise! Today, we were going to explore the island of Santorini, Greece. I always think of “Santorini” by Yanni when I think of this island, and in fact I’m listening to the song again as I write this :).
The Santorini tour was an early morning one at 8:20am. Santorini is a tender port. This means you can’t just walk off the ship. You have to take a small boat from the cruise ship to shore.
Thank goodness we actually got SOME sleep last night so we could be ready. We had a quick meal (fruit pieces for me) and then went down to the two-level theater to muster. The theater was STUFFED overfull with people. This was the one and only time that it actually felt like the ship had people on it. To be fair, though, people only sat in the ‘edge seats’ of rows. The inner seats were all empty. Also, for some bizarre reason, there was practically NO room for people to get past people on a row. The rows were enormously tight front-to-back. So, really, if someone was in an edge seat, there was no way to wriggle past them to get to an inner seat. I know ships want to keep space tight, but the theater row spacing was fairly extreme. Especially when you take into account mobility issues many of the elderly passengers had.
The way theater tour processing works, you are given a ticket in your cabin. You then go to the theater with it. You would bring your ticket down to the front area of the theater to trade that ticket in for a specific bus number. A single tour (like ours to Santorini) might have so many people that multiple busses made up the group. It’s important, if you’re in a group, to get your bus tickets together. Otherwise you could end up on separate busses.
Once the appointed time comes around (or often, quite a while past the appointed time) the crew members call groups by number, in order. Eventually they got to our group 15.
We went down the stairs to level 3 which is where the tenders were gathering up people. Tenders are small boats that transport you from the cruise ship to the dock, in situations where the ship can’t make it up close itself. Crew members help you onto the tender. It can be relatively dicey depending on the weather, crossing from the “hole” in the side of the cruise ship over to the deck of the small rocking transport boat.
Then it’s a short 5-minute ride or so to land.
We all got onto the tender boat. The crew members who help you across the gap are generally burly and well used to doing this.
Once we landed, we got onto the indicated bus. This landing area was a narrow land strip with just a few little shops and cafes. We were at the bottom of a VERY steep mountain with back-and-forth roads that the bus had to navigate to get up. It was very challenging for the bus to make the turns, but of course it managed it. Often the bus had to wait at a turn for other cars to wriggle in between, to leave space for us.
Soon we were up to the top of the cliff. Where our time on Mykonos was mostly down at sea level, our time on Santorini was mostly up in cliff-edge towns.
We drove through fairly quiet rocky landscapes. Along the way our guide strongly warned us that we were going to a tourist market town. There were going to be pickpockets. He warned us quite strenuously to not wear wallets in back pockets. We had to keep them in zippered purses. The purses had to be kept in front of us. The guide was born in Santorini and felt strongly about keeping us safe during our trip.
We reached the market town. The bus parked in a lower parking lot. It was a long steep walk to get up to a plaza area. We were brought to a ‘corn stand’ in a plaza. We were told to take photos of this area and to meet up in an hour in this same spot. Then he walked us a short distance further up the hill to show us the beautiful ocean overlook. Again, he told us to meet in the lower plaza area once we were done shopping.
From this upper area, there were two main paths – left and right along the overlook – to look at shops and items. That was really all this was – a shopping area with little shops along the cliff top. It was extremely hot and humid.
Mom and I walked around a bit, took some photos, and we stopped at a pharmacy to get something for Mom. Back near the meeting spot, I finally found some cats and owls to buy. It turned out the shop owner used to be a ship captain and had been to Boston many times. He said the people on Cape Cod were not very friendly :).
Then Mom and I returned to the meeting place. We found a bench to sit on.
Nearly everyone gathered fairly quickly after we got there. However, there was a woman missing and nobody knew where she was, even her husband. The tour guide was worried. The husband provided the phone number, but she wasn’t answering her phone. I said to Mom that everyone should have given the tour guide their phone number ahead of time and he could just ‘watch our dots’ in case someone got lost.
Finally we found that this missing woman was back at the bus. So we could move on.
On we went to a winery for tasting. It is a cooperative winery that allows all the Santorini grape growers to work together. Like on our previous Canary Islands cruise, the wine vines here are short bushes, kept short to avoid the strong winds. They manage the volcanic rocky soil. This was not a ‘formal wine tasting’ situation. We all sat at random small tables along the cliff. For us to eat, there was a tiny buffet just with cheese, tomatoes, and little pistachio rolls which were soon all gone. We could go up to get, one at a time, three glasses of wine. There was no ‘information’ provided about the wine.
There were restrooms. And then it was time to move on.
However, at the bus, a couple said that they realized that they’d lost their wallet. I thought at the time they meant someone at the winery had taken it, which was strange, because it was a fairly open space with a relaxed atmosphere at the winery. It was definitely not a ‘pickpocket’ kind of environment. Nobody got anywhere near anyone else in the patio area.
It turns out the wallet had actually gone missing back in the dense-packed shopping alleys of the town, which makes much more sense. The woman first thought she just left it at the pharmacy. But with the tour guide’s help she called the pharmacy and they didn’t have it there. It became more clear that it was actually stolen after her pharmacy visit.
The tour guide was very upset by this. He’s a local and has done tours for ten years. He had never had anything stolen from one of his people. He had done everything he could to make it VERY clear to us to watch our wallets. He made grumpy comments about Albanians and such coming to his island and causing trouble. I thought that a little iffy – what if someone in our group was Albanian? He could hardly know the thief was an Albanian. But he clearly blamed the ‘invasive Albanians’.
We went on with our tour. The woman would have to report the theft at a police station at our next stop.
The third stop was – yup – another shopping town to explore. The bus again stopped in a fairly distant parking area and we all had to get out. We walked up a long steep road to get to a plaza area. We were told we could explore town as long as we wanted. When we were done we’d have to take a cable car down as the easiest route. The other two options were a donkey ride or walking steep stairs. I.e. there was no direct way back to the ship. We were on a cliff top. To get to the ship you had to get to the cliff bottom, and the bus was NOT an option.
I’d heard MANY horror stories about the donkeys scraping your leg hard against the cliff as it went down. The donkeys were NOT an option for me.
Mom wanted to get right for the cable car, as did pretty much everyone else. We did poke into a church for a minute before heading over to the cable car line. It was a ten minute walk through dense crowds to get to the cable car line. This was a VERY long line that snaked through the streets. We got into line at 1:42 and were at the cable car embarkation area at 2:08. So 24 minutes in the hot sun. This was the only option other than walking down.
The actual area where you get onto the cable car is a bit risky. It is a steep set of stairs, where the cable cars come in. I.e. the cable cars are on a “sloped line” when they come to rest. So you have to stand on steep stairs waiting for the cable cars to come to a stop to climb in. It could be very easy to trip and fall on those stairs. I wish there was another option for people to get back to the ship, other than these cable cars. Certainly I would not recommend the donkeys or walking for elderly people.
I helped Mom into the cable car. It holds about 5-6 people each on two opposing metal benches.
On the cable car ride, we could see the donkeys. The people with us in our cable car with us told us they’d personally heard horror stories about the donkeys scraping peoples’ legs against the cliff. I tell you, avoid the donkeys.
We disembarked at the bottom.
Once we got out of the cable car facility, the Regent dock was right there and a tender was waiting. We climbed onto the tender and very quickly we were heading back to the ship. We were helped on board and were set!
Mom went to listen to a lecture, so I went over toward the gym to experience the 6pm guided meditation. I love yoga and meditation and was thrilled our schedule let me give this a try.
The gym is at the back of the ship next to a bunch of cabins. It turns out all the cabins on both left and right were blocked off, marked quarantine. Hmmm.
I had to go down to the spa entrance on the floor below, and then go up through internal stairs to get to the gym. It turns out I was the only one there for the meditation. When I went up, a pair of very bulky men was using the meditation room for weight lifting. My meditation man came up and scolded the weight lifters (crew members, I think) in Greek (I think) for being there. They said something unhappy in return and he snapped something probably meaning “she is a guest, get lost.”
The two men wiped up most of their sweat and left.
The meditation man put a yoga mat for me right next to the remaining sweat pools :). As directed, I laid down on the mat.
He put on typical meditation-type music. He told me to breathe in deeply, then out a few short breaths. Then he said nothing. I kept breathing. I could hear lots of strong grunting from the weight-lifters in the next room.
About five minutes later he said something about breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth. Then nothing.
A while later, he had me sit up and breathe-hold-release. Then nothing. Then he had me stand and make ten arm circles. We were done, after a half hour.
I wouldn’t quite call that a guided meditation. I won’t be going back for that :).
My mom thought there was Chinese food tonight on the Veranda, but no, it was Italian again. So we went over to the main dining room. They put us into the exact same seat at the first time, which is sort of a shame. One would sort of like to see different things. Mom really wanted to see the sunset, but the sun set ‘over a mountain’ on a nearby island and she was sad that it didn’t set on the water itself. I showed her a map that we are inside a volcano caldera and the sun can’t set on the water in here.
I had seared tuna over veggies and then filet mignon. Chocolate mousse for dessert. It was all nice, although the meat is tougher than I’d expect. Also, these first few nights, they only gave us butter knives. Very strange. They gave us actual meat knives later in the trip.
Instructions had been broadcast to the rooms to please bring copies of your Turkish visas to the reception desk sometime today. So, after dinner, I stopped by the reception desk to drop off my Turkish visa. They made a xerox copy of it. While there, I heard that at least two different people had had their wallets stolen in Santorini. So it is a place to be cautious.
Tonight was my teen writing group I run online. I went to the computer area and fortunately they have US plugs so I didn’t have to deal with my converter. I did a test zoom with my boyfriend Bob. Near the end I had (ahem) gastric distress. I wonder if it was the tuna that did it. It was the only time during my trip I felt unwell (thank goodness).
After my Bob-Zoom session, I went back to the room and took a nap. Then I returned and ran the class from 12 midnight to 3am. The connection hiccupped a few times due to the satellite signal, as we were sailing between Santorini and Crete at the time, but it always came back, thankfully.