Wednesday, July 1, 2009


MESSINA SICILY – 3 May 2009 Sicily, of course, is the football being kicked by the “boot” of Italy on a map of Europe. Messina is the part of Sicily closest to the toe of the boot and is separated from Calabria by the Straits of Messina which are only about 5 miles wide. The area is know for high winds and strong currents. Here is Clyde looking across. We had a brief tour in the morning that took us into some nearby suburbs and ended in the main square by the cathedral. We stopped along the way for a granita for me (a kind of lemon slushie) and a cappuchino for Mary. Messina has had a long string of invaders and conquerors – Greeks, French, Arabs, etc. The main cathedral dates back to the Normans and was mostly reconstructed after an earthquake around 1900 destroyed Messina. The clock tower was a present from the French people after the quake and is the worlds largest mechanical clock they say. See pics below. We included a couple video clip too – A short one showing the inside of the cathedral. I didn't narrate it since a Sunday service was underway in the front of the church. I wanted to show a clip showing the clock striking noon – a lion roars, a rooster crows, Jesus rises from the dead, there is a parade of angels and saints; the cycle of life is illustrated – all part of the clock – and everything moves verrrrry slowly. But the video was too long --- 11 minutes. A crowd of several hundred people had assembled in the piazza to view it.
This fountain was also in the square and was carved by Michelangelos top assistant. This is Messina’s original church and you can see how far below street level it is – the rubble from the earthquake and WWII bombardments raised the overall street level. We had a lunch of Sicilian pizza (not much open on Sunday but there was wine of course) and later stopped for some gelato. Clyde likes espresso flavor. A major claim to fame for Messina is a visit by St Paul in which he brought a letter to the people of Messina from the Virgin Mary. Our Lady of the Letter is honored by a large gilded bronze statue at the entrance to Messina’s harbor.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


1 MAY 2009 – VENICE AND MURANO – Mary was on a mission to purchase a Venetian chandelier for our dining room so that was how we spent the day. Clyde enjoyed the Vaporetto ride out there and the island itself is very picturesque.

We had intended to return to one of the glass stores that we visited last time and where Mary spotted the chandelier that had stuck in her memories all this time. As it turns out there are 3 Vaporetto stops on Murano and we got off on the wrong one. No problem though – there is no shortage of great glass shops there.
We went through 4 of them an looked at hundreds of chandeliers until we were starting to get confused about which ones we had liked at which shop and decided that we had seen enough. We settled on a style we liked in the last shop we visited – happily it was also among the least expensive. They did not have exactly what we wanted in stock so they made it and shipped it to us. Since I am writing this after the fact the chandelier has been delivered and hung in our dining room. Assembly effort was significant – it had to be wired and there were about 40 odd pieces to be assembled. The colors and style is very similar to the candelabra below. Here is also a pic of Clyde checking out the furnace in the back of the shop where it was made.

Clyde, of course, continued in his role of good will ambassador to small children. It was interesting to note the trend toward pretty young mothers accompanying these children – hmmmm.

Thursday, May 21, 2009


ATHENS 28 APRIL 2009 --- We took a bus into town with our friend Delores and went out on our own. We did not have an ambitious agenda: Walk to the Parthenon; have a nice lunch; go back to the ship. Well, as it turned out, the walk to the Parthenon was more ambitious than we thought. The Acropolis is a pretty big hill as you can see below. Clyde was the only one not breathing hard when we got to the top. Did I mention that the sun was beating down on us?

But it was worth it. The view from up there was great.

The Parthenon (Temple of Athena), of course, is only one of the structures up there but it is the biggest. It and two other structures are undergoing extensive renovation and you can see where the new marble (white) contrasts with the old (tannish). It was impressive but after seeing what the Egyptians had done thousands of years earlier…… Clyde was philosophical about it though. He said that the ancient Greeks and Romans contributed a lot more to our civilization than those Egyptians in the long run.

It was a bit crowded with school kids. They take them there prior to when the real crush of the tourist season sets later.

There were a lot of miscellaneous pieces of marble lying about. (See Pics)

We walked down a different way and passed the ruins of the old Agora (marketplace) where a lot of wild poppies were blooming. See the mosaic tile floor that was along the path.

We ended up in an area of cafes where the “hipsters” hang out according to our guidebook. Clyde said that sounded right for him. The food was so-so, but the wine was pretty good. Oh and Clyde thought the waitress was very cute.

We walked back to catch the bus through an area of flea markets and shops of all kinds. Mercifully we did not buy anything of significance.

Saturday, May 2, 2009


ISTANBUL – 26 APR 2009 – I don’t know where we got our ideas about Istanbul. We expected hot, dirty, and loaded with beggars. Were we ever wrong! This is a beautiful city on the same parallel as New York City. The temp was in the 60s and there were tulips in bloom all over the place. It looks quite prosperous (no beggars) and there was very little litter.

There were some fairly aggressive street vendors but they were fairly easy to ignore with our experience with the really tough ones in India and Saigon. As we were bussing into the city we noticed lots of people fishing into the Golden Horn River from the bridge we were crossing and elsewhere. The guide said they were probably fishing for smelt this time of year.

Our tour started with the famous Blue Mosque. The sultan who built it wanted the biggest, most beautiful mosque in the world. While every mosque has at least one minaret, this one has six. The sultan told the architect that he wanted a golden minaret. Since the Arabic word for gold is similar to the one for 6 there was a bit of a mistake. The sultan ended up liking the result. However since 6 minarets was more than the holiest mosque in Mecca there were riots among the people and the sultan paid for the construction of additional minarets in Mecca where there are now 7. It is still an active mosque and very beautiful on the inside.

The faithful wash their faces, hands and feet at these outdoor fawcets before entering for prayers.

The floor of an active mosque is covered in carpeting – here a huge and beautiful one.

Topkapi Palace is also famous as the palace of the sultans of Constantinople for many years – and their large harem (1000 women or so). It turns out that harem is the Turkish word for private and the harem here was the private family quarters.

The women’s quarters was tended to by black eunuchs and white eunuchs served in many other capacities in the palace, some eventually rising to high office. We got a lot of grisly detail about how eunuchs are created (there are several methods varying in severity and effectiveness you will be happy to know). Pashas were the highest officials such as generals. The sultan’s mother had a powerful role in their society – she oversaw a lot of the palace activity and selected candidates for wives with an eye toward assuring lots of princes to be candidates to succeed the sultan (since many kids died early then). Here is a picture of her private courtyard.

There was a system of selecting highly intelligent girls who would be educated by various tutors and then would be brought to the palace as candidates for becoming a wife of the sultan.
The palace is huge and the grounds cover acres. The decoration is elaborate and some is quite beautiful. Here are of few of the ceramic tiles than seem to be everywhere in all kinds of designs.

Clyde especially enjoyed the sultan’s bath room. He imagined himself being bathed by some of the women of the harem.

Here is the Sultan’s private family room where he met with only the closest members of his family.

Here is where the sultan’s heir apparent lived in splendid isolation to protect him from palace intrigues. Many lower ranking wives conspired to eliminate the oldest son so their own son might someday become sultan and they, of course become the sultan’s mother.

We enjoyed visiting the treasury where the crown jewels are on display. . . emeralds as big as eggs and a diamond twice as large as the Hope diamond. Many fancifully decorated crowns, swords, medals, etc. No cameras allowed however. They also had a display of sultan’s garments from the 15 and 1600s which were in remarkably good shape.

We had lunch in a restaurant on the palace grounds overlooking the Bosporus. A selection of Turkish appetizers with an entrĂ©e called Sultan’s Delight – veal cubes in a spicy sauce served over pureed roasted eggplant. They had dishes of additional spices to add - mint, crushed red pepper, paprika, and oregano. It was delicious. They also served a drink they called sherbet – pomegranate juice with rosewater – great stuff. Clyde enjoyed the strong Turkish coffee but did not drink the sludge in the bottom of the cup.

Here is the view across the Bosporus to Asia. Istanbul is 60% on the European Continent and 40% on the Asian Continent.

We went to the Saint Sophia mosque. This was built in about 330 BC by the Roman Emperor Constantine as the first legal Catholic church in the Roman Empire. It had the largest unsupported dome in the world for 1000 years until St Peter’s was constructed in Rome. They kept it from collapsing by wrapping chains around the base of the dome – something new then, but still used today. It is now operated as a museum. Clyde inspected some of the Roman ruins outside before we went in.

It was converted to a mosque later after Turkey was converted to Islam. No images (humans, angels, etc) are allowed in mosques and you can see where angels were painted out into abstract forms on the ceiling. The light fixture shown below is an original oil lamp that has been electrified. As is often the case in ancient buildings some of the pieces get recycled from other buildings. The column shown is one of four massive green marble columns that were originally in one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world -- The Greek Temple of Artemis at Epheses. The altar in a mosque must face Mecca. The altar in St Sophia faced Jerusalem so you see it was shifted off center to satisfy the needs of Islam.

This cat is inside St Sophia. It befriended Obama during his visit and is now called “Obama” of course.

We ended the tour with some shopping and a rug-making demonstration in, of course, a rug sales room. Mary said prior to entering “I definitely don’t want a rug”. To show the power of Turkish rug salesmanship, this later changed to “We need that rug for our bedroom in Savannah”. We now have some additional baggage to tote.

But Instanbul is now on our go to again list.