September 22, 2014

It’s a long time coming since my last blog was June 2013. I’ll start with October 2013 when I left for France with my dear friend Susan. We started with three days in New York at the Plaza where Susan took me for tea and we took our photos in front of the the Heloise portrait. Susan had rented an apartment in the Marais. A historic apartment complete with rippled floors and twelve foot casement windows, it was a showplace of art and artifacts. Too much so as we were terrified of breaking or soiling something.

We spent two weeks there with a four day trip to Arles where we rented a car to go visit friends of Susan’s in the country west of there. Susan was renting the car but she didn’t bring her driver’s license so the first half hour was spent changing all the paperwork to me. I never thought to ask about what kind of car it was. Small isn’t a problem but I didn’t know it was a stick shift until I got in. Oh my gawd. I hadn’t driven one for twenty years. But it has to be like riding a bicycle. Except this one had a sticky gear shift. With Susan navigating we lurched out of the driveway and by some miracle and her iphone map finder, we got to the hotel.

Started out to find her friends in Niemes, about an hour away, and discovered that the gps doesn’t always keep up with ones location and is not consistent with numbering exits. There we were lurching around traffic circles, counting exits, getting lost on the wrong ones, but finally arrived and hour and a half later, just before dark. “You two can’t leave tonight. There are no lights and you will get lost.” We were off a two lane highway, off a two lane road, off a gravel path.

John and Karel were perfect hosts. Their beautifully restored 300 year old stone farmhouse was delightful, filled with antiques from their former business. We each had our own ensuite bedrooms complete with toiletries. Dinner was in a nearby town at a little, typical Provençal restaurant.

Breakfast the next morning was fresh croissants with homemade jam. Back on the road by 10am. About 45 minutes later, Susan discovered she had left her wallet in their car from getting the croissants. Getting back took another hour and we waited for the hosts to return from their errands. Retrieved the wallet and they directed us to the town of Uzes. I think all towns in France must be gorgeous and this one was no exception. Found lunch at the Parenthesis restaurant. The best meal we had outside of L’Isle La Vache on Isle San Luis in Paris.

Needless to say, we never made it to Avignon, one of my bucket list destinations. But we did spend the better part of the next day at Les Baux. Susan fell in love with it. A tiny antique town perched on the edge of the chalk mountains. At the very top of the hill is the ancient Roman lookout. Underneath, the Medieval Fortress ruins. Lower down, the town, now supported by tourism. Could spend several days there just drinking in the view, enjoying the food, and the compelling nature of the area that is filled with olive orchards and vineyards.

Back to Paris and the continual delights of finding the fabric district, the flea markets, and St. Denis. Now I have seen all three of Abbot Suget’s cathedrals, the other two being Chartres and Notre Dame.

Susan left for home and I left for Marrakech to join Trici. She had a commission there. Her host was a designer from London who had a villa there. We had the use of the villa complete with cook, maid, houseboy, and driver/guide. What an experience. We went all around Marrakech, the ancient souk, up into the mountains to a waterfall, and out to the Atlantic, and twice to Jardin du Majorelle. This is the garden restored by Yves St. Laurent and his partner. A magnificent oasis, it is filled with bamboo, palms, cacti, vines, Berber blue pools with orange carp flitting through the water. Their museum of Berber costume and jewelry was a small jewell in the garden crown. All the masonry was brilliant colors of Berber blue, emerald, yellow, pale ochre gold, turquoise, and ombreed violet. One wall was ombreed from the palest taupe to pale violet around windows that were painted turquoise with ocher metal work over the windows. Narrow brick surround was a pale tone of violet in the recesses and a slightly darker tone rubbed on the revealed edge of the brick.

The only side effect was that I got a terrible case of exploding stomach. Hakim, our driver, got me three medicinals to take care of it, but I was out of commission for three days. Then, out to Essaouira, a seaside city on the Atlantic Coast that is a big fishing port. Very ancient. However, there, I picked up food poisoning and spent the next two days out of commission again. While I lay in bed being miserable, Hakim took Trici to an ancient Berber village on the edge of the Sahara Desert. Wish I could have gone. This is the only time I have been sick while traveling. The two weeks there were marvelous, despite it. What an adventure.

Fast forward to January 2014. I began teaching at Cal State University, Fullerton. Art and Child Development. Two classes, two days a week is perfect. Loved every minute of it. And, it afforded me the money to plan another trip.

Uncle Guy and Clay had booked a cruise of the Black Sea in July. As long as it was starting in Istanbul, it gave me the opportunity to spend time beforehand with Trici. I arrived on July 2nd and we started our adventures, exploring places I hadn’t seen on my trip in 2007. She lives on the Galata side of the Golden Horn. Everyday we either were in that section of Istanbul or across on the Sultanahmet side of the Golden Horn.

Trici’s Marrakech host, Robert Bell, took us to dinner at the Four Seasons, Bospherous. He also has an apartment in Istanbul. Our table, on the edge of the sea wall, gave us a view of both the Asian side and the skyline of the European side of Istanbul. The whole time I was there, they were celebrating Ramadan. What a sight to see love notes wafting up in the inky sky. They are miniature hot air balloons propelled with a candle. Lovers write messages that are in the little balloon and they are sent aloft to float up, up, up until the small candle burns out. So lovely.

We flew down to Selçuk for four days to stay with Trici’s friend, Frances, who is a world authority on textiles. She has a wonderful cottage that she restored from a partially ruined stone house/shop, complete with courtyard shaded by mulberry and pomegranate trees and a small grape arbor. After a delightful lunch we went down to the Aegean Sea for a cooling swim. The water is very clear, no waves, and only a 2-3 feet deep for almost a mile out.

The next day Frances took us to Tire (Tir-ee) to go through the farmers market. We went to the felt maker who does gorgeous felted silk pieces and the lady who sells Frances her oya. That is the traditional Anatolian three-dimensional crochet work that is used for edging and decorative wearables. The flowers are just exquisite, worked on needle hooks instead of the crochet hooks we know. We also visited the donkey saddle maker, and a rug maker whose workshop is a restored hammam. Most of the time, Trici was drawing an ancient han that started out as a caravansari then became a han—a space for workshops and sales. Now it is used for storage.

Frances took us to her exhibition called Fabric Mosaics that were all quilts done by local ladies. Really a wonderful display. The next day she took us to Osman Can’s carpet workshop in Camuk where we saw the whole operation from the raw wool, handspun, to the dye vats, drying yard with all the rainbow colors hanging in the sun. As the wool dries, it stains the ground. Then into the weaving room where there were ten looms set up, each with a different carpet being made. Frances said this was the finest carpet maker in Turkey because they use historic patterns using hand techniques to produce new carpets. They look old because of the variations in the dye and yarn. The company had just installed two carpets in the President’s Palace in Ankara. one was 50 square meters. We were treated to lunch in the pergola of the workshop and then viewed the display room that included a collection of antique pieces. Such warm and delightful people. They had just cut a 5×8 foot carpet off the loom. Shades of teal, rust, and aubergine. It still had to be washed and dried eight times to bond the fibers and give the carpet more of a silky hand. Back in Selçuk we went to the Can showroom where we viewed about 40 carpets. None appealed to me the way the one at the workshop had. I bought it. On our last morning we were invited to an exquisite hotel above Siringi by the owner, Mudge. She is a wonderful lady who designed the hotel to look old and is based on ideas she got in the Terrace Houses in Ephesus. We dined on terraces overlooking the whole ancient town. It was magical.

Back to Istanbul, we were a invited to dinner by a lovely friend of Sasha’s who teaches at the University of Istanbul. She is the grandmother of the Trici’s two pupils to who she gives drawing lessons and practice in English, during the school year. Such a gracious hostess. Her apartment is a very new one in the high end sections of Istanbul that stretch up the Bosphorous.

My traveling companion, Kathy, arrived on the night of the 16th. We had time to pick her up, get her to her hotel in the Sultanahmet, and then to dinner. That was enough after her 13 hour flight. The next morning, we picked her up to begin her whirlwind tour of Istanbul. Hagia Sofia, the Cistern, the section of the Beukolean Palace under the carpet shop, through the Four Seasons Istanbul, the Hippodrome, and all around Sultanahmet with tea and dinner at Kybele Hotel.

In the wee small hours of the morning of the 18th, Trici woke up screaming with stomach pain and throwing up. In the morning I went to the corner pharmacy where I got stuff for food poisoning and mineral water. Got Trici ensconced then went to meet Kathy and the Uncles for breakfast at their hotel. Spent the day going to the Spice Bazaar where we went to the spice shop that is in Trici’s second book. What aromas. Mouth drooling tasting. I got Anatolian spice, Janassary spice, and Tumeric. The uncles and Kathy also splurged. Then onto the Grand Bazaar where I took them to the fabulous antique textile shop, another Turkish textiles shop that did the fabrics for The Hobbit movies, and Momo’s were we got wonderful felted pieces and earrings. I was thrilled that I was able to find the shops with the help of Trici’s maps in the maze that is the bazaar. On to Chora, one of my favorite places in Istanbul. An ancient monastery with some of the most exquisite mosaics and frescos. They were not destroyed when it was turned into a mosque, rather, they covered it all with wood paneling. The treasures underneath were not discovered until the late 1950s when it was being restored. The first photos of it showed up in art books when I was in college. Now it is a museum. We had reservations for dinner at Seven Hills restaurant on the roof overlooking the Sea of Marmara, The Bosphorus, and The Golden Horn.

When we returned to the hotel, there was a message from Trici. She had been admitted to the hospital with Pancreatitis. Got back to the apartment about 9:30pm, stripped her bed, washed her sheets, fed the cats, cleaned their litter box, emptied the trash, and packed. The next morning at 6am I remade Trici’s bed, stripped my bed and washed the sheets, fed the cats, and trundled trash, Trici’s necessities, luggage, purse and myself, down the four flights of circular marble stairs, and out the door.

Deposited the trash, hailed and taxi, and got to the hospital where I found Trici. Visited with her until the doctors and nurses arrived. Stepping out the door, the first raindrops hit. Hailed and taxi who looked at the hotel card and said he knew where it was. By the time I got in the taxi, the heavens had opened up. To the top of the hill we went, over to the downhill street. Water gushing up over the curbs, down to the water road that was a lake. The bridge was closed by an accident so back up the hill we went. I waved at Trici’s apartment and her hospital. At the top of the hill we went left instead of right to the third bridge across The Golden Horn. Traffic jammed, rain, thunder, lightening. The windshield wipers were useless, the heater didn’t work, we had to keep the windows about two inched down to keep the windows from fogging up. Thus, my right arm was dripping.

Finally onto the Sultanahmet side of the horn. Traffic wasn’t moving up the hill so the driver kept to the water road. Around the point we started up the hill into Sultanahment. All he found were one way streets, dead ends, and closed roads. Meanwhile, the rain just keeps pouring down. Back down to the water road, back past the bridge, u-turn and heading back the same route we had covered. EXCEPT now there was a lake where the trolley stop was. The fearless taxi driver drove right in and all of a sudden the water is starting to creep under the doors, the engine and coughing, the taxi driver is pounding his chest with his other hand and invoking the gods. I had visions of another drowned vehicle, when we suddenly exited the lake. Phew! Now it became apparent the driver did NOT know where he was going so he kept hailing other taxis to ask directions. After an hour and 40 minutes for a normal 15 minute trip, I finally dragged my bedraggled self into the hotel and up the stairs to the roof top breakfast room for breakfast. It stopped raining. Just had time for a quick breakfast and our shuttle was there to take us to the cruise ship. Finally, I could relax.
Trici reported that it was a storm of biblical proportions and several of her friends had been flooded out of their apartments. She spent six days in the hospital.

The gorgeous ship, Riviera, departed at 5pm which gave us time for a leisurely lunch and unpacking. Up the Bosphorous with a cloud puffed blue sky, lovely scenery, clear water, and a slight breeze. Dinner the first night was in the Asian restaurant, Ginger. I was too pooped to do much else but go back to our cabin, get into my jammies, and sit on our terrace balcony watching the stars and twinkling lights along the shore. I don’t remember falling asleep.

The first morning, we were docked in Nessebar, Bulgaria. We explored the ancient part of the town, a world heritage site about two blocks wide and four blocks long, on an isthmus. In this small area are 12 ancient churches dating back to the first century and up to the 16th century. The streets are cobbled, Second floors hang over the streets. Delightful shops. Lots of tourist enticements, and flowers everywhere. That night we dined in the grill restaurant, another winner. Then we went to the musical stage show.

Second morning we were in Constanta, Romania. Not much to write home about. It certainly looked like a leftover Iron Curtain country. Dirty concrete block buildings. Graffiti everywhere. Weeds rather than landscaping. Boarded up, falling down, historic buildings. We returned to the ship. It was more enticing. The next day we were still there so Kathy and I explored the small old city at the entrance to the harbor. Again, old buildings. The museum was worth a go through. The mosaic museum, was a falling down glass structure with a metal roof. The historic casino was boarded up. However, they are working on the roads, and on a seaside promenade. It is our conjecture that they put us in this port for two days because Ukraine and Sochi, Russia had to be eliminated from the itinerary. This was definitely NOT a tourist city. It is the largest port on the Black Sea and is supposed to be the second largest in Europe in a few years. They are going to have to do a lot if they want it to be a tourist destination.

Third day was at sea as we crossed from the western side of the Black Sea to the eastern side. A day to relax, eat, swim, relax, eat, walk, get massages, drink, relax. Dinner was in the grand dining room and it was grand, looking out at the sea.

Fourth morning we were in Batumi, Georgia. What a contrast to the previous city. FABULOUS. They were also part of the Communist Bloc countries but they didn’t let it hinder them. We took the cable car to the top of the tallest mountain, right up from sea level. Historic buildings are beautiful and beautifully maintained. New architecture is very avant garde. Strolled along the landscaped promenade, investigated side streets, old churches, and gorgeous historic looking new town centers that had magnificent tile work. People were friendly. City was clean. Many people spoke English, and everyone was helpful and friendly. Back on board, we dined in the Italian restaurant.

Fifth morning we were in Trabzon, Turkey. Met a delightful British couple with whom we shared a cab to go to the Monastery up in the Pontic mountains about an hour an a half out of the city. Lush greenery, granite outcroppings, tumbling waterfalls, gushing rivers, hairpin turns, clouds tumbling over the the mountain peaks. And there it was. Hanging on the vertical edges of the granite cliffs. It was started in the 1st century and finished in the 14th century. A library, priests rooms, chapel, sacred water spring, kitchen, bakery, and tunnels all over. The road ended. Our wonderful driver who spoke beautiful English waited for us there. Then we began the climb to the monastery. We climbed down through twisted tree roots, some paved parts, up, down, up, down. Suddenly a loooooong flight of stairs appeared. Up we went again. Another landing. Up, up, up again. Makes one wonder how the monks found the site in the first place. And then to haul all the building materials up there. Could only be donkeys so far and then human backs. They started with a natural cave that became the church with the addition of a front wall and alter area. Beautifully preserved frescos on all surfaces. Well worth the trip. The driver dropped us off in town and we began the walk back to the ship. Getting terribly lost, we were saved by a gallant young man, a high school senior who had just returned from a summer session in England where he will go to college. He walked us all the way back to the ship. There we met up with Rob and Mary, our monastery companions, for tea time. And such a tea time. Chamber quartet, champagne, sherry, and a munificence of goodies. Dinner, again, in the grand dining room then on to the stage production.

Sixth morning found us in Sinop, Turkey. Another beautiful city. Lovely streets, a charming arcade filled with artisans of all kinds. Did a lot of walking. People were friendly even if they didn’t speak any English. Another short day in town and then back to the ship to relax, have tea, enjoying people, good food, and high spirits. Must mention that it was unbelievably hot and humid with all the water around us.

Seventh day was at sea. We reentered the Bosphorous in the late afternoon and into the Sea of Marmara. No stop in Istanbul. From the Sea of Marmara, we entered the Dardanelles. passing the monument and cemeteries from the Gallipoli battle. So moving. Atiturk erected the monument to all the soldiers who died there, mostly from England and Australia because he said because they died there so bravely, they were now Turkey’s sons. Very emotional. Dinner in the French restaurant.
The food is divine—in all the restaurants.

Eighth morning we were in Kusadasi, Turkey on the Aegean, outside of Ephesus. Frances had been going to take us on the tour but it was the first day of Bayrum—a very high holiday rather like our Christmas—and she had family obligations that morning. She arranged a car,driver, and guide for us. Another wonderful guide who studied tourism in England and was very knowledgeable. Took us to Ephesus and we managed to avoid the greatest tourist crushes but not the 112° temperatures with no shade except in the Terrace Houses that gave us some respite. So much more has been done since I was there in 2007. Our guide kept giving us bottles of water and making us sit down. Kathy loving every bit of it. Then up the mountain to Marymania, One of the sites where Mary was supposed to be buried. We lit our candles and wrote our prayers for the prayer wall. Then we went into Selçuk for a lovely lunch while we waited for Frances to join us. Osman Can (the c is pronounce j at the beginning of words) the rug maker joined us and we went to his shop where he displayed his carpets for Kathy and we drank teal and chatted. She bought two carpets. Because hers were finished, she will get them the first week we are home. Mine will take longer because of the washing. When that major decision was complete, there was just time for Frances to get us to the ship. Tea time first, then change for dinner and drinks in the lounge and dinner in the grand dining room and the final floor show. Packed up for departure the next morning.

Ninth morning, we were in Athens. We made our goodbys to the uncles who were going directly to the airport. We found a taxi and he just happened to speak very good English. He got us to the hotel and waited an hour for us to bet situated. Off on a whirlwind tour of Athens. We saw the statium, the tallest mountain in Athens with a monastery on top, and the temple to Zeus. All the while he is pointing out different sites, ending with a tourist store that had some authentic pieces. Back to the hotel. We walked to Syntagma Square, investigating a lovely old church. Then another taxi to the Plaka where we found a wonderful restaurant and ate in the garden. I had forgotten about Moussaka but it was worth remembering after this meal. Again, hot, hot, hot.

Tenth day, our taxi driver picked us up at 8:30am and we were at the Acropolis when it opened. Another blistering day and even though it was crowed, it was not at bad as if we had gone later. They a doing a lot of restoration work. Everything had scaffolding, ladders, workmen, three large cranes loomed over all. From there we went to the New Acropolis Museum at the base of the hill. What a magnificent museum. It is build in the same footprint as the Acropolis with the top floor in the same footprint as the Parthenon. The most amazing part is that they discovered ruins of ancient Athens when they began excavating so now the museum floats above the ruins that you can see through the glass flooring. Eventually you will also be able to walk through the ruins. Even then, it was the Plaka, the marketplace. From there we went to Corinth, strolled through the heat and the ruins. The museum is small and approachable. Late lunch at a little seaside restaurant in a fishing village, off the beaten path, that the taxi driver takes his family too. Picnic tables, fresh fish that we picked out first, nothing fancy, but oh, so good. Back to the hotel for a quick nap then back to the Plaka for dinner at the same restaurant. Packed and ready for the airport in the morning.

Home again. Home again. School started again at the end of August. Same two classes. Same two days a week. The only hard part is that one is at 9 in the morning. The other is at 7 at night. In between, I organize, read, and audit a French class just so I can learn to speak it correctly. That way I can use a translation program on my iphone and not speak it too badly. My carpet arrived at the end of August. It looks exactly the way I imagined it would and every time I walk across it, I get a thrill and remember this glorious trip.


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