Saturday, July 31, 2010

Day 47: Cairo Museum & Farewell to Egypt

Our trip to the Aswan airport was once again preceded by an early morning wake-up call.  This time, EgyptAir took us to Cairo.  For the most part, the morning and flight were uneventful (probably a good thing).  Upon arrival in Cairo we went straight to Egypt's most well known museum, the National Archeological Museum.  The facility houses the majority of Egypt's famous finds, some as old as 50 centuries.  We only had a few hours so the guided portion of the tour hit the major highlight, the King Tutankhamun exhibit.  We visited the tomb in Luxor so it was cool to actually see the stuff that belonged there (yes, we paid to see a mostly empty tomb).  Tutankhamun is the only tomb discovered in recent history (1922) so it is really the only example of actual contents of a Pharaonic tomb.  The actual body was contained in a beautiful pure gold coffin surrounded by 2 others, a sarcophagus, and 4 other outer "shells" (all plated in gold).  The layers intended to protect the body along with giant statues of Tutankhamun in the actual burial room.  Also found were countless gold treasures (including mini-coffins for his organs and, yep you guessed it, a lock of his grandmother's hair), lots of food and wine, chariots, weapons, and some really beautiful and intricately decorated gold and silver thrones.  Other than the Tut exhibit, the museum has a number of sarcophaguses, examples of Ancient Egyptian art, and actual mummies. 

The visit was short but well worth it.  It's amazing how well all of this is preserved after over 3000 years.  Apparently there are even more items in the basement of the museum that have yet to be catalogued and displayed.  The museum itself isn't in the greatest condition.  Like many public facilities (although not airports for some reason), the general condition of the building is poor and, without air conditioning, I can't imagine the lack of climate and humidity control is good for the exhibits.  This is probably the reason why a lot of the other amazing Egypt finds are displayed at other museums around the world.  After departing the museum we drove over the to the Giza region to grab some lunch before the journey back to Alexandria.  The 2.5 hour bus ride was a bit tedious but necessary and upon arrival at the ship my parents had the opportunity to come onboard and see the ship in a little more detail.  I think they got a great feel for the "shipboard community" after dinner with my friends and meeting with a few of the faculty I've gotten to know well.  We had a good tour and eventually the time came to say goodbyes as we go on to continue separate adventures.

This port went incredibly fast.  We traveled at lightening speed to see Egypt and I'm happy to report it was an amazing experience.  This place has so much rich history; it's really interesting and profound to see that aspect against the backdrop of a nation with so many political and social problems.  It's very dirty and there's a lot of poverty here.  Everywhere you look there's an armed guard or member of the "Tourist Police" with a semi-automatic weapon.  The significant division in the distribution of wealth is very apparent as you drive or walk through any part of the country.  Our visit to Egypt was an incredible experience, both captivating and powerful.  I'm so glad my parents were here to enjoy it with me.  To be perfectly honest the true highlight of this port was having the opportunity to share this time with them.  As the ship departs tonight, my mom and dad will continue their adventure to the Sinai region.  I'm sure they'll have a great time and I can't wait to swap adventure stories in now less than 20 days.  That's all for now, I must bid farewell to the land of the most ancient ancient civilization.

Day 46: Abu Simbel

Another 5:00am wake-up call started off the day.  After a quick breakfast we boarded the bus for a ride over to the Aswan airport.  Our total group is about 100 people (3 buses) but due to the limits on plane tickets we had to split in half for today (an early and and a late group).  We were lucky to be in the early group as I can't imagine walking around in the afternoon heat.  The flight from Aswan to Abu Simbel was only 40 minutes and is a very routine route.  If you don't fly the only other way to get to Abu Simbel is a 4 hour bus ride through a pretty harsh desert with convoy of 30 other buses (not fun).  The flight itself offered some really interesting views of Egypt.  We were at a fairly low altitude so you could clearly see the expansive desert and enormity of Lake Nasser.  It's really quite a sight to see the hundreds of miles of miles of uninhabited desert.  The small airport in Abu Simbel is geared completely toward tourists and upon arrival we hopped on a shuttle to the actual temple.

The temples dedicated to Ramses II and his (favorite) wife Nefertari are considered to be one of the most famed sights in Egypt.  I now understand why.  The enormous exterior sculptures and intricately beautiful interior carvings are simply awesome.  The condition of everything is surprising very good.  It's a lot of fun to hear about many of the stories behind the images inside the temples from our guide and then actually see and understand them.  One of the coolest things about the tempe is its construction to allow sunlight into specific faces in back chamber only on two certain days a year.  This was determined by the ancient Egyptians through the application of astronomy to the construction.  Like the Temple of Philae yesterday, the temples at Abu Simbel were actually moved and reconstructed to avoid damage of the rising Lake Nasser.  The reconstruction was completed in only four years and you cannot tell at all (we spent a good amount of time looking for where the "blocks" meet and didn't come up with much).  We only had a couple of hours to explore the temples and enjoy the surrounding views before our return flight to Aswan.  On paper, dealing with flights and whatnot just for a short visit to a temple doesn't seem that logical, but it was absolutely worth it and probably one of my Egypt highlights.  The return flight saw a bit of turbulence and on arrival to Aswan we returned to our island hotel for lunch and a bit of afternoon rest.

In the evening we met up again for an optional excursion to spend the evening in an actual Nubian home.  We departed by motor boat from the hotel and the half hour ride was worth making the trip itself.  We passed through some really beautiful areas of the Nile and saw a good deal of local wildlife and culture.  It's so cool to glance up at a sandy mountain and see a lone camel resting near a tree.  The further we got, we saw more Nubian people and many kids paddled in their makeshift boats right up to ours.  Many Nubians will open their home to tourists during the day to make some extra money.  Although it's a bit touristy, there was still a very authentic feel to the experience.  In the words of Global Studies' Dr. Bowler, we were essentially "injected" into their culture for a bit.  We explored the very interesting house (hard to describe, you'll need to see pics), got the opportunity to hold crocodiles (my mom was all for it but my dad had a few reservations), and interact with the locals a bit (mostly avoidance from overpriced souvenirs).  Overall it was a really great experience.  After taking a boat back to the hotel we got some dinner before officially calling an end to a busy day.  This trip has just flown by; I can't believe that after our flight and visit to Cairo tomorrow I'll already have to be back on the ship.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Day 45: Aswan

We got a chance to sleep in a bit (yes, I now consider 6:15am sleeping in) before grabbing some breakfast at the hotel and embarking on our bus journey to Aswan.  Due to the rather harsh conditions of the desert, longer bus rides always go nonstop and with an empty bus following as a backup if there's any trouble.  Apparently we're traveling Egypt in style (including our personal armed guard...).  The ride from Luxor to Aswan is a straight shot South following the Nile.  It's a bit eye-opening to pass through some of the many rural farming communities that are very primitive and somewhat impoverished.  We passed many crops of sugarcane, corn, and cotton.  It was really interesting to see the contrast of semi-green farmland and desert within a few feet of each other.

Upon arrival in Aswan we visited the Temple of Philae.  The Greco-Roman temple has a lot of features that make it look very Pharaonic.  The temple does not stand in its original location; it was moved from it's original "island" to the current island of Agilika.  Since the construction of the famed Aswan High Dam, water levels in Lake Nasser rose continuously and eventually covered the majority of the temple.  To preserve the incredible shrine to the goddess Isis, it was transported and painstakingly reconstructed piece by piece over a period of ten years.  As with the temples we saw yesterday, it's breathtaking just to be around a building with such rich history and art.  The carvings (including a good deal of Greek graffiti) and hieroglyphics are well preserved and it's fascinating to hear some of the stories behind them.  After ferrying back to the mainland we drove over the small, original Aswan Dam on our way to visit the Aswan High Dam.  Since the engineering and debt producing masterpiece is a military site, you have to be careful with any dam pictures you take (you knew I'd have to fit it in somehow).  The view of the Nile was very nice and I didn't realize how expansive Lake Nasser is.  After departing we made a quick stop by the original ancient granite quarry to see the "unfinished" obelisk before arriving at the hotel to check in and get a late buffet lunch (with some awesome apple cake).

We'll be at the hotel for two days, and I'm glad because it's situated on an island in the middle of the Nile with a gorgeous 360 view.  We left the hotel in the early evening for our Nile cruise on a felucca (canvas sail boat).  The feluccas and other river transit are run by the Nubians (a displaced group of people from central Africa) and we got the chance to sail around a bit down the Nile.  With practically no wind, the ride was rather slow (backwards on a few occasions) but it was still a pretty fun experience.  We even got to clap and sing along to some Nubian songs (my inner musicologist sensed a strong African influence; pretty logical since we actually are in Africa).  Upon the conclusion of our little cruise we bussed over to a local papyrus shop.  There was a short demo on how papyrus is actually made and we got a while to browse the selection.  The prices were really good; I actually ended up with a nice 8x10 papyrus painted with ancient Egyptian musicians for about $5.  After getting back to the hotel we braved the buffet dinner again, attended a short little lecture on tomorrow's adventure to Abu Simbel, and called it a night (after catching up with the blog of course).  I'm again happy to report that any left over GI issues have subsided and we're getting good rest (i.e. everybody's in a good mood).  Tomorrow is another early start to catch our flight to Abu Simbel and see some of the most famed temples of Egypt.

Day 44: Luxor

Although there was a rough start in the morning, it ended up being an amazing day.  I previously mentioned our absurdly early morning so let me be more specific: a 3:15am wake-up call.  My internal clock is pretty screwed up from the past 40 days of time weirdness but 3 hours of sleep is always kinda tough.  I was a lucky one; my parents unfortunately got no sleep.  In India it's known as Montezuma's Revenge and in Egypt as the "mummy's tummy."  As careful as they both were, my mom and dad had a bout with extreme nausea and some GI issues all night and into the morning (they weren't alone; a few other parents had a similar problem).  I felt horrible for them; it's not only hard to see loved ones not feeling well but trying to encourage them to keep moving for our 6:00am flight was difficult.  We immediately started the Bismuth (Peto-Bismul, a miracle preventative/treatment drug for SASers) and luckily one of the staff nurses was also on our trip.  She happened to have a med kit on her and was graciously able to spare some Zofran and offer advice.  Both were miserable though the flight (probably a lot due to anxiety and lack of sleep also) but by the time we landed and got moving there was much improvement.  They got through most the day progressively feeling better but neither felt 100%.  I'm very happy to report here on the morning of day 3 that after a good night's rest, plenty of Bismuth and lots of hydration, both are feeling great and ready to conquer the rest of the trip.  

Following an uneventful flight on EgyptAir and arrival at the Luxor Airport we made our way to the famed Valley of the Kings.  This desert valley contains over 60 amazing tombs from the Pharaonic period.  We visited four: Tutankhamun, Ramses I, Ramses III, and Ramses IX.  Tutankhamun's tomb was small but cool because of the famous story of Howard Carter's discovery and it still contains the actual mummy.  The other three tombs had a great deal of original hieroglyphics, carvings and paintings on the walls (it's worth repeating: 3000 years old!).  The colors are clear but faded and you can easily image how vibrant and amazing the tombs were originally.  It's also quite interesting to follow the common themes (images) present in all the tombs.  The hot and stuffy treks under the valley floor were well worth it.  We then traveled a short distance to the temple of Queen Hatshepsut (hat-cheap-suit, or "chicken soup" as our guide claims the locals say), Ancient Egypt's only female pharaoh.  There are a number of cool paintings on the inner temple walls.  The top level some interesting statues of "her."  It kind of seemed a little counterproductive to represent her as male, but whatever works.  From the top there was a great view of the West Bank.  After a quick stop to see the Colossi of Memnon (two giant "singing statues") built during Alexander's occupation, we made our way to the hotel for lunch and much needed rest.

After a nice afternoon nap at the hotel we set out again for the Temples.  The Karnak Temple is simply breathtaking and worth the flight to Luxor itself.  The largest temple in the world, it was built over a period of 1600 years.  Obviously the building process was under the direction of hundreds of kings and therefore you can see an electric mix of statues all dedicated to the god of Thebes, Amun-Ra.  The majority are from Ramses Ii who plastered his name over most of the temple.  Two of the more famous obelisks are found inside and the Hypostyle Hall contains a bunch of enormous columns that once supported an immense roof.  The entire place was colored at one time (there is still faded color present on some areas) and would have been a magnificent sight in it's day.  The Karnak was actually connected to our next stop, the Luxor Temple, by a sting of over 1000 small Sphinx statues in ancient times.  The Luxor Temple was also an amazing place to walk around.  After moving past the exterior obelisk we saw some of the really intense and beautiful statues in the temple.  Many are damaged from years of being built on top of and it's an interesting site to still find a mosque layered on top of a portion of the temple.  After seeing some of the vivid carvings inside we bussed back to the hotel for dinner.

Everybody retired early in the evening for much needed rest.  I attempted to start showing some pictures of the early part of the voyage to my parents but all of us were too tired to get very far.  We got a great night's sleep for the next day's journey to Aswan.

Day 43: Cairo

Egypt!  We pulled into our first North African port early in the morning.  There was a buzz of anticipation throughout the ship as this was probably the port people were most looking forward to.  Usually overnight trips do not depart until the morning of the second day at port but this wasn't the case in Egypt.  This fact in conjunction with the large number of people on some trips (up to 300 in one overnight) led to quite a bit of chaos on the ship.  The parents arrived in the midst of all this and I met my parents in the Union before our trip's departure.  It was really great getting to see them, I was so excited it was tough getting decent sleep the night before.  It's so hard to catch up effectively because there's so much to share on both sides but we're doing pretty well.

After the ship was cleared we departed by bus for a quick drive around Alexandria then through the Sahara Desert to Cairo.  We have a really good guide that will be with us through the whole Egypt trip.  As promised the traffic situation in Egypt is absolutely insane.  There are no rules.  Although I've had a lot of crazy traffic expose in previous ports, it's only been two days here as I write (on a bus in the middle of the Sahara again, this time from Luxor to Aswan) and nobody even flinches anymore as we pass on a two lane road with opposing traffic head on a few hundred feet away with no hint of breaking.  The desert drive was very interesting.  The most obvious feature is all the unfinished buildings.  Practically everything is "under constriction" because as long as the building is unfinished there's no property tax.  For this reason, most people live in apartments that have unpainted exteriors or half completed top floors with rebar still poking out.  It's also cool to note all the unique "pidgin" houses on the side of the desert roads.  A commodity here, pidgins are eaten by a lot of men as a demo of superiority.

On arrival in Cairo we had a buffet lunch at the Meridien Pyramids hotel.  Offering typical Egyptian food, there was a lot of meat and bread.  Outside the hotel there was a beautiful view of the Giza Pyramids, our next stop.  Upon arrival we got a little of the basic history and info on how to avoid the hounding locals trying to sell things.  The souvenir sales people here are notoriously some of the worst in the world, it's legitimately very difficult to walk by without being ambushed (we're getting good with "no" and "go away" in Arabic).  The pyramids were stunning.  After the initial shock at such magnificent structures (3000 years old!) it's a little anticlimactic because there's really not much to do except walk around in the 100 degree heat and take pictures.  I'm told you can always bribe the guards and try climbing them but we saved that for another day.  The mighty Sphinx was also incredible to see (albeit a bit smaller than imagined).  You see images of the Great Pyramids of Giza so often it's weird and awesome to actually be there.  We then drove to a spot with a nice panoramic view of the pyramids and did the obligatory camel ride.  It's a bit wild trying to hang on as they stand and knell at the beginning and end but once you "feel the motion of the camel" the ride itself wasn't too rough.  My parents and I each had our own camel and the three were tethered together.  Don't worry, we have plenty of pictures.

Following the camel adventure we checked in at the hotel and had an hour or so to rest up.  In the evening we attended an interesting little Son et Lumiere (sound and light) show at the pyramids.  As one member of our group observed, its kind of like Disney meets Egypt.  They basically go through a historical narrative while shining different lights and lasers on the pyramids.  It was a little corny but also kind of cool.  I felt kind of bad for my mom and dad because they were still adjusting to the time changes and slept through most of the show.  After arriving back at the hotel we grabbed some dinner and hit the sack for an absurdly early start the next day.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Day 42: Egypt Pre-Port

The wonderful cycle of two class days followed by a port continues.  Overall today was a pretty typical pre-port day.  We had a great lecture in Global Studies about the current state of economic and political affairs in Egypt.  I know that probably sounds incredibly exciting but it really is interesting when presented from the perspective of "you're actually gonna be there tomorrow!"  My test in Abnormal Psych went well.  I don't want to get too confident but I feel like studying for psychology isn't that bad compared to the mass amounts of memorization required for something like biology that I'm used to.

This is pretty random but I forgot to include it the other day and it's definitely blog worthy.  I mentioned a few posts ago about how our Turkish Air flight from Izmir to Istanbul had one of the rougher/just plain disturbingly scary landings I've been through.  Talking with my Infectious Disease professor the other day I leaned that we actually blew a tire upon landing.  That would probably explain the strange skid and swerve thing.  Overall only one tire in a group of four isn't that big of a deal but it was exciting nonetheless.

We've been a little spoiled the last few weeks in the Mediterranean with really calm seas but the wind and swells picked up today and we started rocking a bit more.  It's always fun to be taking a test (on a meal tray, mind you; we don't have desks) with the scantron or test form sliding sliding away every few questions.  I went to the seminar by our inter-port Egypt lecturers this evening followed by the logistical pre-port session.  Egypt, along with Morocco, will be one of the shadier ports so there's a lot to think about (and I'm glad I'm on an organized SAS trip) but I'm still really looking forward it.  My parents should be in Cairo for the evening tonight and will arrive on board the ship tomorrow morning.  Tomorrow at this time we should be together in Cairo.  That's all for now, I have to figure out how to pack five days worth of stuff in my backpack.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Day 41: Back Through the Dardanelles

I think I say this every time we return to classes after a stretch at port, but it's such a weird sensation to go from galavanting around Istanbul one day to sitting in Global Studies the next.  I was talking with a few people last night and we came the conclusion that the ship has definitely taken on a "home" sort of feel.  We're all getting used to the food, accommodations, and people around.  I don't know whether that's good or bad.

Classes today went well.  Everybody (both profs and students) are pretty scattered but that's to be expected.  We spent 45 minutes talking about vomit in Infections Disease.  I think it's part of his master plan to keep us eating appropriately in Egypt.  Global Studies today started with an interesting pirate impression and I don't know if I've ever attended a lecture titled "Knights and Pirates" (complete with acting) before.  We have a test in Abnormal Psych tomorrow so I've been devoting a bit of study time there.  I also have three pretty big papers due right before Morocco so I began some brainstorming there as well.  After hitting the gym this afternoon I went to a session on travel photography by our staff photographer which was actually really interesting.  Apparently I need to work on keeping better cohesion among the photos I take.

Other than classes and significant anticipation for arrival in Egypt, today was fairly unexciting.  My parents should be arriving in Cairo tomorrow (or today/tonight however it works with the time changes) and I can't wait to see them the day after tomorrow.  I've probably read over the Egypt itinerary 4 or 5 times now; it's going to be an awesome trip.  That's all for now, I have some Somatoform disorders to memorize.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Day 40: Mosquing, Walking, and Climbing

I followed up last night's Sufi experience today with a trip focusing on Islamic art and practices in Turkey.  The trip left mid-morning and after a drive around the Golden Horn we stopped at the Eyup Mosque and Cemetery located in the northern area of the city.  The first thing that makes this mosque unique is the attached cemetery.  According to our guide, conservative Muslims don't burry their dead in an elaborate fashion with a tombstone and whatnot but "Turks are different."  The mosque itself was fairly small but had some really interesting and elaborate tile work that, in my humble opinion, rivals that of the Blue Mosque because you can actually get up close and see it inside the Eyup.  There was also a nicely decorated attached tomb.  I think the highlight of the day was the "scene" our guide created in the mosque.  He told the girls that hair coverage was optional so a few didn't use a scarf.  A security guard quickly approached him and a rather heated exchange (in Turkish) ensued.  The next 10 minutes were spent listening to our guide rant about how the Quran says nothing about women covering their hair and how all religious rituals should "be up to the individual."  It made things a bit awkward but was interesting to see perspectives and watch it play out.

Following our excitement at the Eyup Mosque we drive back down the old city and got a more thorough tour of the Blue Mosque.  It was a little less busy today than when I was there on Wednesday so that was nice.  We then made our way to the Ibrahim Pasha Palace, which now hoses the Turkish Islamic Arts Museum.  There wasn't tons of time to look around but we did see some cool gold pieces, ceramics and an absurd amount of rugs from the sixteenth and seventeenth century (a few of which were rather enormous).  The tour was scheduled to return to the ship early afternoon but I signed out with a few others to do lunch at a place close by.  I needed one more decent Turkish meal and got a good one of meatballs and spices with an interesting couscous/rice side.  We walked around some shops a little more before embarking on an epic journey to climb the Galata Tower.  The tower was on the other side of the Golden Horn so the walk was rather intense (why take public transit when you walk?).  It took a couple hours moving at a brisk pace but we meandered through the large public park and some other new sites on the way.  I think the climb to the base of the tower was more intense than the actual tower climb itself but once at the observation deck it was well worth it.  Istanbul is a beautiful city and the panorama from the top was a great experience.  After making the journey back the the ship my time in Istanbul was officially complete (for the time being...).

Istanbul is definitely the most unique port we've visited so far.  I really enjoyed the time here but it's amazing how fast it flies by.  We pulled out of port a few hours ago and are on our way to Egypt.  As I type my parents are in New York awaiting their flight to Cairo tonight/tomorrow (gotta love time changes).  We have a longer and really neat trip planned for Egypt so I'm looking forward to seeing them and starting that journey.  On the ship we have two days of classes before arriving so it's time to get back into study mode.  That's all for now, I should probably attempt to start that whole homework thing.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Day 39: The Bazaars & Sufi Dervish

Today was a dedicated Bazaar day.  The first order of business was getting to the Grand Bazaar.  I walked with Daniel and a few others to the Metro station close by and we took the tram to the entrance of the world's largest covered shopping center.  I don't like to brag but we're getting pretty good at figuring out these large foreign city metro systems.  After arrival Daniel and I split off from the others since we have similar shopping interests (or lack of is probably a better way to put it) and we walked around for a while.  The place is exactly as described: enormous and overwhelming.  Most of what I've heard always stresses the variety of over 4000 different shops.  After walking around for a few hours and picking up a couple things for people I've come to the conclusion that there are really only four types of shops: leather, rugs, jewelry, and trinkets.  It was a must to see but I don't know how people could spend days there (even though many did...and spent quite a bit in the process).

After the Grand Bazaar we grabbed a quick lunch at a place close by.  I got a beef "doner" which is apparently a pretty typical (and cheap) lunch option.  I also finally got a cup of real Turkish Coffee (you'd be amazed how difficult it was to find) and definitely approve.  Following lunch we re-entered the Bazaar for the sake of walking directly through it since walking around the outside would take us way out of the way.  The next hour or so was spent roaming around the streets of the old city in the general direction of the Spice Bazaar.  We eventually reached the Spice Bazaar and browsed for a little while.  I wanted to pick up some tea but was a little disappointed that it was all labeled in only English (surely not for the tourists...).  I eventually got some Turkish Apple Tea that looked a little more legit at a market close by.  Somehow we later found ourselves walking through the lesser known Livestock Bazaar and I have to admit I'm a little disappointed I couldn't bring a goat back to the ship.  We walked around for a few more hours seeing quite a bit of Istanbul and eventually got back to the ship.

Back at the ship I hit the gym and grabbed a quick dinner.  This evening I was signed up to attend a Sufi Dervish Ceremony.  The music is played on typical Ottoman instruments including the flute-like "ney" and is a great example of non-western ritualistic music.  The Dervish dancers went through a ritualistic routine of whirling as a representation of a union with God.  The ceremony is still preformed in a religious setting in some parts of central Turkey but what we saw was a (hopefully) authentic performance.  It was a really interesting and quite an "entrancing" local cultural experience, I'm glad I got the chance to go.  Tomorrow I have a short trip focusing on Islamic practices in Turkey that visits a few more mosques and palaces.  That's all for now, I need to work out tomorrow's schedule so I can fit in a climb of the Galata Tower before we depart for Egypt.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Day 38: Ephesus

The original trip itinerary described most of the day as an opportunity to "discover Ephesus."  I didn't really understand how this could take all day until we arrived at the ancient city in the morning.  The city in its entirety is very large and in 95 degree heat can be a rather challenging area to tour and explore.  We walked through the Agora and town hall before seeing the ancient Roman baths (hmm, seems like I've seen something like that before...).  There were also some interesting fountains and a huge restored portion of the Celcus Library.  We saw the Grand Theatre and Gymnasium before eventually making it all the say to the Stadium (still in use for concerts today) at the end of the city.

It probably sounds like just another ancient archeological site but understanding some of the related history is what made the experience a real highlight.  If the book of "Ephesians" sounds familiar it was because St. Paul was a visitor to the town and synagogue/church.  St. John also spent a significant portion of his life around Ephesus.  He did quite a bit of preaching and likely composed his Gospel  in the area.  One of the cooler things to physically see was the actual hospital ruins where St. Luke, also an Ephesus resident for a short time, treated patients.  There was a lot of staff on this trip (including one of the nurses, the psychologist, and a psychiatrist) so I was in line right behind them for the geeky photo-op at Luke's clinic.  The roads we walked on around Ephesus are original; it's pretty awesome to think that I've possibly walked on the same routes as some of the more influential names in history.

After spending quite a bit of time around Ephesus we made the drive up into the mountains (beautiful scenery once again) to visit the officially recognized House of the Virgin Mary.  There are quite a few alleged Mary residences around but this is only recognized by the Catholic Church.  It was a pretty big tourist area and a small little house (mostly reconstructed) with a nice little chapel nearby.  When finished here we traveled to the Basilica of St. John.  John spent the majority of his later years (before the exile) in and around the region.  The remains of the really large
church we visited also contain John's original tomb (no remains anymore).  There were some more awesome views around the area which included a few stork sightings.

We made a late lunch stop at a restaurant near the previous night's hotel.  The lamb kabobs and rice were a pretty good first actual Turkish meal.  After lunch we visited the Ephesus Museum that houses a lot of the original sculptures from the ancient town.  Once again I have to thank HumTut and this darn liberal arts education for the ability to recognize a lot of the names and faces.  In the museum I had fun talking with some other folks who appeared to be American and learned that they were also on a study abroad program based in Athens where they visit a lot of early religious sites.   After the museum we stopped by the famed Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  The only thing part of the enormous and elaborate temple left is a single pillar.  It was kind of anti-climatic but still interesting and good to see.  After a stupid tourist visit to a leather fashion show and store (funny how our guide just "coincidentally" led us so we'd be close by "if" there was extra time) we made the way to the airport for our flight back to Istanbul.  After arriving on the ship I joined most of the other members of the tour by running upstairs to grab a much needed salad and fruit smoothie.

Overall the trip was really great.  The only other student I knew well was Lacey and it is always good meeting others on these sort of things.  Besides the food issues (and Lacey leaving her cell phone at the hotel...) there were no real kinks, all moved very efficiently.   There was a decent group of students but also a lot of faculty and staff.  It turned out that my Abnormal Psych teacher was the trip leader and my Infectious Disease prof was also tagging along.  It was fun getting to know them a bit better and talk with some of the others.  We had a good time and I can't wait to explore some more of Turkey.  That's all for now, we're off the the Grand Bazaar tomorrow (any souvenir requests email soon!).

Day 37: Izmir (Symrna)

Just as I was just starting to settle into this whole idea of "European" Turkey I had to jump on a plane over to the "Asian" side.  We had an early start from the ship to make our one hour flight to Izmir.  Turkish Airlines isn't all that bad.  It was a bit of a rough ride but we actually got a meal (since food offerings are far more important than passenger safety).  It figures that the only place they still serve meals on all the flights is a place where you can't actually eat everything without the risk of getting sick. 

Upon arrival we met our bus and guide before taking a short drive thorough modern Izmir, the third largest city in Turkey.  Back in the day Izmir was known as "Symrna" so for the sake of our ruin exploring this was a much more practical label.  We started off by visiting the Agora of ancient Symrna.  It was a pretty typical archeological site and neat to see some of the regional adaptations like using lead to connect blocks for earthquake preparedness, the use of original piping, and built-in "air conditioning" via water ducts.  After this mini trek we went to the Izmir Archeology Museum where a lot of local ceramics and statues from the late Hellenistic and early Roman periods are displayed.  I was pleased with our guide and his style.  He was definitely an interesting local fellow but presented a lot of info in a concise yet intriguing way.  Sometimes museum tours can be overwhelmingly too detailed but he did a nice job.

My only real complaint about the trip was the food (or lack thereof).  We were supposed to have a boxed lunch included but for some reason that fell through.  We ended up being responsible for our own lunch and stopped at some strange roadside grill thing that was more grease than anything.  This and the whole water avoidance thing has led to a diet of carbs the last few days.  Yay for multi-vitamin tabs.  After "lunch" we continued the drive to Sardis.  The first stop was the Artemis Temple (not to be confused with the Temple of Artemis) which was set in a really beautiful little valley area.  The enormous stone pillars seemed small compared to the surrounding mountains and were used to support one of the largest temples that ever existed.  A short drive later we found ourselves in the old Synagogue of Sardis.  We walked over some very pretty and intricate original mosaic floors to reach a huge restored building.  Apparently Saint Paul visited and preached at the synagogue numerous times.  Also nearby the synagogue is the famed Royal Persian Road that still exists in original form.  It is only partially excavated but stretches from Sardis all the way to Sousa, Persia. 

The synagogue visit was followed by a rather lengthy drive to the town of Selcuk (outside of Ephesus) and our hotel.  The accommodations were actually pretty nice for being in a rather remote part of Turkey.  Our tap water was brown and the buffet dinner rather gross but no complaints otherwise.  There wasn't much to do in the evening so it consisted of a few card games, reading, and some much needed rest in preparation for the next day's journey to Ephesus.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Day 36: Istanbul

Istanbul is everything I expected and so much more.  I got up early to watch us come in across the Marmara Sea and start up the Bosphorus to our port right next to the center of the city.  It was well worth it; the view was incredible.  We could see the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, thousands of buildings, and hundreds of minerets off in the distance.  It was really a great start to the day.  After breakfast and a mediocre diplomatic briefing we had to wait some time for the ship to be cleared.  Since I had to get a special visa for traveling outside Istanbul it took a little longer that normal but the staff was able to negotiate our release if we had scheduled trip like I did.  This meant I was able to get off the ship without my passport (normally a necessity in Istanbul) to meet my city orientation.

The orientation was very thorough and a lot of fun.  We had a really good bus and the group dynamics worked out well (these are usually hit or miss).  We started off with a drive around the major areas of the city including Taksim Square and the newer city followed by a drive around the "Golden Horn."  We crossed this stretch of water to the "old city" region and saw remains of the 20 mile long city walls.  Istanbul has over 2000 mosques so there was ample opportunity for "mosquing" today.  We first stopped by the Sehzade Mosque.  It is beautiful and fairly well known but not as touristy as some of the larger ones.  Following this we had lunch and it started to pour rain (which, according to our guide, "never happens in the Summer...").  That made for an interesting walking tour around the old city.  We walked to the Blue Mosque which was absolutely spectacular.  The six towering minerets are a great site and the intricate blue tile interior is everything it's made out to be.  It was very crowded but also had many active worshipers visiting so it was interesting to watch their actions.  After spending some time admiring the world's most famous mosque we walked to the Hippodrome to see stolen Greek "Serpent Column" (a popular topic in Global Studies).  We then walked over to the Haiga Sophia which is a Byzantine church converted to a mosque that is now a museum.  It is the world's fourth largest place of worship and another amazing site.  Seeing aspects of both Greek Orthodox and Islamic tradition in one place was fascinating.  We spent quite a bit of time here before concluding the tour with the Byzantine Cistern, an interesting underground cave used for water storage that contains some interesting sculptures. 

We later returned to the ship for dinner before a group of us set out again for the city.  On a recommendation we decided to walk to Taksim Square.  Seeing this square and mile long street in the evening was quite an intense site.  I like to describe it as Barcelona's La Rambla on steroids.  There were easily thousands of people (locals, tourists, conservative Muslims, etc) and many great cafes and shops.  We walked around for a while before stopping for the necessary Turkish Delight and making the trek back to the ship.

I can now see why Istanbul is considered one of the "cultural capitols" of the world.  It's so interesting to be around such diverse religious aspects (including the five calls to prayer over loud speakers every day) while being in a modern city setting.  A common theme of Turkey is how it is where "East meets West."  Today we stayed on the 3% of the nation that is officially on the European continent and I'm looking forward to discovering some of the 97% found on Asia tomorrow.  I wish I had time to describe more but I'm exhausted and we have a very early start to Izmir.  I'm really looking forward to the trip but will probably not get a chance to update for a few days.  That's all for now, I have an overnight bag to pack.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Day 35: Turkey Day

Today was devoted to preparation for our arrival in Istanbul tomorrow morning.  Sessions didn't start until late morning to give people a chance to sleep in and recover from Greece.  I have trouble sleeping past sunrise here so instead decided to hit the gym early.  Our first session was the only mandatory one and it was by our inter-port lecturer, an American diplomat currently assigned to Turkey.  She had a lot of great info and suggestions.  I later went to hear the inter-port student's presentation which had also had some useable info.  Later in the afternoon I attended a talk about the current state of political and economic affairs in Turkey.  It's interesting to look into some of the debate about why Turkey's EU admission has been continually delayed (likely because it's 98% Muslim).  Other than these sessions it was a pretty relaxed day.

I scheduled a much needed haircut for the afternoon.  I have to admit, it was a little weird for me because I haven't been anywhere besides a barber shop for the past 14 years or so.  They did a decent job and it was really thorough (I'm not used to the whole shampoo and head massage thing).  The timing worked out perfectly because as soon as I was done we got word that we were passing by Gallipoli into the Dardanelles.  Gallipoli is a city and site from a famous battle in WWI where the Turks defeated the Allies.  There's a pretty intense monument on the hill that was clearly visible as we sailed by.  The Dardanelles is the strait that begins the connection of the Mediterranean to the Black Sea.  In other words, it's the strip of water that separates Europe from Asia and we were able to clearly see both continents today.  That little entrance was definitely the highlight of the day at sea.  Not many people came out to see us enter the strait due to the extremely intense wind.  Coming from a guy who grew up in the Antelope Valley, today offered the most extreme wind experience I've ever had.  It was difficult to stand up and somewhat entertaining as people and objects flew by (there was more than one incident of glasses blowing off faces and shoes off feet) but it offered some good photo ops.

We had our logistical pre-port meeting tonight and I can't wait for arrival tomorrow.  Some of the cultural considerations are going to make it very different from anywhere I've previously been but I'm looking forward to the challenge.  After our diplomatic briefing and issuing of visas tomorrow I have a city orientation that hits most of the major mosques and other sites.  If we can work it out I'd love to do a night cruise up the Bosphorus.  Wednesday I depart early for a two day trip down to Izmir and Ephesus which should be really cool.  On Friday I'm planning on making my way to the Grand Bazaar and some other Istanbul exploration.  I have a session on Islamic art on Saturday followed by some open time to hopefully fit in whatever else needs to be seen. That's all for now, I up early tomorrow to watch us come in; I hear Turkey from afar is a beautiful sight.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Day 34: Athens & Piraeus

I didn't have any official plans for the day so after breakfast Daniel, Lacey, Heather and I decided to go out to explore Athens a little more.  The original goal was to take the metro all the way from the port to the northern district of Kifissia.  It is supposedly an "elite" district that is fun to walk around.  The metro was taking quite a long time (it's an older line) so we abandoned the original plan and got off sooner at Monastiraki.  We walked around the Psiri region a bit seeing the Ancient Agora, Hadrian's Arch, Avissinias Square, the Thesseion, and stopping in a few side shops.  After we got our fix of one of the more sketchier regions of Athens we took the metro back to Pireaus and walked to a restaurant that some other SASers had recommended.  The food was very good; I got a dish with lamb wrapped in pita and also tried a bit of ouzo (I'm a sucker for anything black licorice).  After lunch we walked to a recommended pastry shop and loaded up on some baklava before returning to the ship.

Today wasn't the most exciting day but it was a good end to our stay in Greece.  From all the people I've talked to recently, the reactions to Greece are very similar.  I'm not necessarily disappointed but this port was definitely not what I expected.  When you think of Greece, you often imagine a very pristine and beautiful setting.  Hollywood is probably to blame.  Athens is a pretty rough city; I probably wouldn't use "pristine" or "beautiful" to describe it.  After you've seen the Acropolis and a few other sites, there's not much to do.  The islands are very pretty but there's really not much to do there either (this could just be my dislike of beaches and shopping or our limited time at the islands...many people really enjoyed themselves).  Delphi was a definite highlight.  If (when) I come again I think I'd try to get out of the city a bit more to check out Corinth and Olympia.  Overall, we had an amazing time but it was just a little different than I had imagined.

With the conclusion of Day 33 yesterday we are officially halfway done with the voyage.  I remember sitting around a meal the night before Barcelona talking about how after our first day at port time would just fly by.  It has.  I can't believe it's already been a month; it's so fast paced here it's hard to keep up.   There are no classes tomorrow as is "Turkey day" where we have a bunch of little seminars and activities offering info about Turkey.  I think Istanbul was one of my most anticipated ports; I can't wait to go check it out a bit.  That's all for now, I have a batch of 450 Greek pictures to edit and organize.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Day 33: Delphi and Dora Stratou

The day started early with a 3 hour bus ride to Delphi.  Delphi is the home of Apollo, the Delphic Oracle and the Pythian Games.  As we got closer, the drive up to the actual site was really beautiful.  The roads we had to take were on the edge of huge mountains and some of the views were pretty awesome.  En route, we passed through a neat little ski town.  I didn't get a chance to write down the name but it was one of those quaint little mountain towns that would be really fun to visit.  Modern science has shown that there is quite a bit of geologic activity around the Temple of Apollo where the Greek oracles used to prophesy.  There is a good deal of evidence showing the release of methane, ethylene, and other wonderful gasses from ground during ancient times.  An interesting side effect of some of these gasses would be a hallucinogenic effect providing some very interesting and entertaining insight how some of the oracles functioned.

In it's time, Delphi was known as the "navel" of the world.  After arriving in the umbilicus we had a short guided tour through the archaeological site.  There are some good ruins and reconstructions but it was really neat to see a lot of the original inscriptions on stone that were used as a means of communication.  After visiting the Temple we had free time to explore a little more.  There is a fairly intense hike further up the mountain where you can see an older theatre and eventually the stadium used for the Pythian Games (similar to the Olympic Games).  True to my nature as a Crane, I of course made this journey and it was well worth it.   The tour reconvened later for a short tour of the Delphi Museum.  As far as museums go, it was a good one.  There were lots of original sculptures from the site including the first classical bronze statue ever discovered.  After finish up with the museum we hit lunch at a restaurant overlooking one of the mountains.

I've gotten a fair amount of comments about my rather detailed food descriptions but this truly deserves some words as it was probably the best meal I've had on this voyage so far.  It was fun knowing what some of the food was after yesterday's little cooking adventure.  We started off with an awesome array of tapas including a spinach pie, fried zucchini ball, fried cheese stick, veal in a cabbage wrap, and  some great Tzatziki with bread.  I could have made a meal out of just those.  The later portion included a greek salad, a really good meat dish, rice, and potatoes.  The highlight: amazing baclava for dessert.  I don't think I've eaten that much food in a long time (if ever).  After lunch we stopped by the Hosios Loukas monastery.  There are some elaborate Byzantine mosaics in the church which is nestled on a beautifully picturesque mountainside.  If I ever decide to be a Greek Orthodox monk, this is where it would be.  Overall we had a really great trip.  In a recent email my dad mentioned how the description sounded like it would make the entire time in Greece worthwhile by itself.  Having now actually done the trip, I must agree.

I didn't really have anything to do this evening so I decided to see if there was any possibility for me to tag along with the World Music class FDP (faculty directed practicum) to the Dora Stratou Dance and Music Theatre.  It's designed as a unique and super authentic show to demonstrate traditional rural Greek music and dance.  I was able to get on and the show was really incredible.  The venue is an outdoor theater nestled next to the Acropolis.  It was a performance showcasing over two hours of music and dance.  FDPs like this are what makes Semester at Sea unique.  It's so cool to be on a first name basis with a published ethnomusicologist and music professor and, following a great lecture, casually have a conversation about some of the history and technicalities of the performance.  I enjoyed the music quite a bit; it was fun to try and pick out some of the modes (musical jargon) and compare the very loose Alberti clarinet playing to what we typically consider western style.  Those attending were invited to go out to a Tavern with the professor after the show and, while I would liked to have gone, I was so exhausted from the long day at Delphi I figured it would be a good idea to head back for the ship and call it an night.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Day 32: Greek Cooking

This is usually the part where I talk about getting an "early start" for the day but our meeting time for the cooking class wasn't until late morning.  It was nice to get a little more rest than usual.  After eventually meeting, the bus ride into Athens that was supposed to take 15 minutes ended up being over an hour due to traffic.  Luckily the place we were going to was understanding and still gave us the full time we paid for.

The cooking lesson itself was a little different than I expected.  We were spit into groups of 5 or 6, designated a leader, and were given a list of dishes and ingrediets.  It was setup as a competition between groups and each of the 6 dishes we had to make had to be done within a time limit.  There wasn't a great deal of instruction but there were people roaming around offering answers to questions.  We were shown an example of the dish and people from each group rotated making them.  It was fast paced but fun.  We made Dakos, a traditional Greek Salad (I'm a master at cutting tomatoes now), Tzatziki, Taramosalata, Fakes, and Prassaia Salad.  I have recipes so I'll make you all some good Greek food one of these days.  After the official "class" we got some free time to hang out and eat our wonderful creations (some turned out better than others...).  To answer the question I've already gotten multiple times: No, I was not the only male on the trip.  I think there was enough of us for one in each group (hence my tomato slicing specialty).

Since we were right in the heart of Athens, a lot of people signed out of the transportation back to the ship.  On the recommendation of the ship's massage therapist (who was also present at the cooking class) I went with my friend Mindy to check out the Athens Central Market.  I was in need of another USB drive for some photo backup and picked one up for a good price (and yes, it actually works).  If you ever need shoes, this is the place to come.  It seemed like every other store was a shoestore.  It was fun walking around and seeing more of Athens, it really is quite a large city.  Since we were out of the major tourist areas it was neat to see a lot more locals and observe some of that interaction.  We stopped for a quick bite where I got a good Monastiraki Salad and later explored the city center some more.  Despite our best efforts and an extended search we weren't able to find any ice cream.  It looks as if the days of gelato and ice cream might be nearing their end.  I did finally get some Greek olive oil before we took the Metro back to Piraeus.

This evening has been pretty uneventful.  Daniel and Lacey returned from an overnight trip to Delphi so after a quick dinner I made a visit to the gym and find myself composing yet another blog.  Delphi tomorrow, I've heard good things.  That's all for now, I have to figure out what is appropriate as a sacrifice to Apollo.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Day 31: Saronic Islands

I'm currently sitting in a port terminal in Piraeus surrounded by about a hundred other American college students spread out among chairs and the floor in search of   one of the most desired objects of the 21st Century: free wifi internet.  The quest has been a success and Piraeus is the only port that offers free wifi at the actual port terminal.  I bet they're starting to regret that now.

Today's island hoping adventure had an early start.  I knew couple others that were on the trip (Heather and Mindy) so we hung around together most of the day.  There was a quick bus ride across Piraeus to the ferry port where we boarded our ship for the day.  The whole ferry thing was a little different than I was expecting.  It was essentially a "day cruise" that provided entertainment and a meal as we sailed to three of the Saronic Islands (in the region closer to the mainland).  The first part of the cruise was a 3 hour ride to Hydra.  Thankfully MCAT study cards, an iPod and a deck of playing cards made the ride bearable.  We were only on Hydra for about an hour and a half.  It's really pretty and fun to walk around but there's not much to do.  I'm not really a shopper and didn't feel the need to take a donkey ride so I guess that rather limited time on the island was probably a good thing.  After re-boarding the ship we were served a lunch of ground beef, zucchini, and feta.  The food wasn't the greatest (made in mass on a cheap day cruise) but did the job.  The lemon cake dessert made up for any shortcomings.

We next arrived in Poros and had a little under an hour to look around.  It's the smallest of the three islands and was again mostly tourism and shopping.  There was about an hour ride to Aegina where we had about two hours.  Aegina was a little more exciting to walk around and there was a more to do.  It's supposedly famous for pistachios.  I'm not a huge pistachio fan but was told they were unique in a good way.  After a little hike around town we made an ice cream run and went back the ship.  During the hour-long trip back to Piraeus we had a "traditional Greek dancing show."  It was a little cheesy but the music was enjoyable.  We eventually got back to the ship about two hours later than originally expected and I now find myself among my peers scrounging for free internet.

I don't want to be negative but I was not overly impressed by the whole island experience.  The limited time was a bit frustrating.  I know there are things to do and see on the islands (I would have loved some good hikes) but the only practical thing to do with our timeframe was walk around the tourist infested port area.  Don't get me wrong; I had a good time today and the scenery is absolutely beautiful (little white houses and all).  I guess the "relaxed" feel didn't really fit into my style as a "do everything humanly possible" traveler.  I can now check Greek Island hopping off my list.  A lot of people are going out to Mykonos and Santorini but I think I'll stick around the mainland for the next few days.  Tomorrow I'm sighed up to take a cooking class (should be a new and interesting experience...) and will probably head back out to Athens afterward.  That's all for now, it's time for a bit of rest.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Day 30: Athens and the Acropolis

We arrived in Greece early this morning and immigration was on board by 0630.  Greece will be the first county (besides Canada) where we actually get get a passport stamp.  This was a highlight for many people but also meant it took customs longer than usual to clear the ship.  We had the usual diplomatic briefing which repeated a lot of the economic and political issues that were discussed in the pre-port.  After we cleared I went with a few people to walk around Piraeus a little bit.  Besides obviously being a port city, Piraeus is a district of Athens.  As we discovered, there's really not much to do or see in Piraeus.  It is somewhat interesting to walk around but is one of those port areas that might not be a good idea to hang around in after dark.  Supposedly the iced coffee here is really good (among other foods) so I got some when we ran across a coffee house in Piraeus.  The guy didn't speak English very well so I have no idea whether I ended up with what I intended to get but it was pretty good nonetheless.  Eventually we made the way back to the ship to meet the tour going to the Acropolis.

The tour hit some major Athens sites before dropping us off near the Acropolis.  We saw the Panathinaikon Stadium which was used for the 1887 and 2004 Olympics.  There are quite a few newer sports complexes and renovated buildings left over from Athens 2004.  We saw many of the smaller stadiums but didn't get a chance to see the main one.  That'll hopefully be another day.  We stopped by the Greek Parliament building across from the National Garden which is near the city center and also saw an interesting Tomb for the Unknown Solider.  Close by is the University of Athens which has a lot of neat neoclassicist buildings from the mid 1800s.  The parts we saw were really beautiful, it would be fun to walk around a bit if classes were in session.  We later walked by Hadrian's Arch which leads to the Temple of Olympian Zeus.

The latter half of the afternoon was spent walking around the Acropolis region.  It's quite a hike (especially in 100+ temps) which made me glad I'm used to dryer heat from growing up in the desert.  We had a guided tour up to the actual Acropolis including the Parthenon, Temple of Athena Nike, Erectheion, and Propylea.  Much of the Acropolis has been (or is in the process of being) reconstructed but it's still very interesting to see a lot of the original Greek work.  A small group of us "signed out" of the tour when it was done and decided to do a little more on our own.  We hiked down the hill an alternate way that went through the Theatre of Dionysus.  The theatre is where original premieres of Greek classics by Euripides, Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Aristophanes actually took place.  As much as I hate to admit it, HumTut sure helped "culture" me a bit so it was really neat to understand a lot of the history.  We made our way to the new (only open a year) Acropolis Museum which houses most of the original sculptures and works found on the Acropolis.  There's actually a larger political reason for the new museum that has to do with getting some stuff back from Britain, but we won't go into that now.  After spending a few hours and grabbing a quick bite in the museum (great little casserole thing with spinach, feta, and herbs) we ventured out into the Plaka region of Athens to walk around a bit.  We eventually made it to the Metro station and back to Piraeus for the trek to the ship.

After a bit of rest I went out with Daniel to walk around Piraeus again and find some dinner.  We found a place and I had a bake thing with zucchini and feta.  Good and an interesting texture.  That's all for now, off the the Saronic Islands tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Day 29: It's all Greek to Me

Despite the heavy workload, I like the idea of two class days followed by 14 days off.  We arrive in Greece tomorrow and will be there for 5 days.  The day after departure will be "Turkey Day" followed by our stint in Turkey.  Classes and whatnot all went well today, nothing new and exciting to report.  In Infectious Disease we had to make sure and start with Cholera before arriving in Turkey, should be fun.  I think I'll load up on more Bismuth at port in Greece.  We had a "family dinner" tonight and it was good to catch up.  It's nice to hear from faculty and staff that students aren't the only ones lacking sleep and a bit overwhelmed in the whirlwind of classes and wacky schedules.

We're scheduled to port in Piraeus early tomorrow morning and will go through the normal rituals of a diplomatic briefing and customs.  I went to the inter-port student presentation tonight and got some good tips.  The logistical pre-port was mostly focused on some of the rather shaky issues in Greece due to the economy.  There's a chance we might have to deal with strikes, there was a major one last Thursday.  We'll see what happens.  Around mid-morning today we had a military drone do a sweep right down to the ship and circle a few times.  The guess is that it was an Israeli drone looking for a ship that departed Greece a few days ago (you probably have more updates as far as world news goes than I do at this point). That could probably be considered the excitement for the day.

Tomorrow I'm scheduled for a tour of Athens and the Acropolis that departs in the afternoon.  Assuming there's not a ferry strike, I have a full day trip to three of the Saronic Islands (Hydra, Aegina, and Poros) on day two.  Some Greek cooking lessons will take up a chunk of day four followed by some time independently exploring Athens.  I'm on a day trip to Delphi the fourth day.  No plans yet for day five but it will probably be spent around Athens.  Greece is shaping up to be a fun time.  That's all for now, I'm going to go attempt to crash an ice cream social.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Day 28: Laundry Day

I know it doesn't sound like an occasion worthy of making a blog title but when laundry day rolls around to your floor, it's a rather joyous occasion.  Only one side of each floor can be done per day at sea.  Factoring in the days we're at port into this rotation, it comes out to about once every twenty days or so.  We got the schedule at the beginning of the voyage so I was able to sit down and do the math to make sure I had just enough to get through and luckily everything worked out (I'm on my last pair of clothes...hopefully the laundry fairies didn't lose my bag and it will appear outside the door tomorrow).

Other than the excitement of getting clean clothes, today was pretty uneventful.  It was a normal day of classes.  Since we just finished the first round of exams there's nothing too stressful going on.  In the middle of Abnormal Psych today the ship started listing starboard (to the right for my non-nautically inclined friends...they grind the lingo into your head here, it's actually kind of fun to use) and eventually got to the point where people, chairs and anything else unsecured started sliding.  We got an announcement a few seconds later that there was a man overboard "for exercise purposes only."  While difficult to stand, it was pretty cool to watch the ship to a donut and see the little rescue boat lowered to the water, sail around for a bit, and be hoisted back up.

I occasionally run into my extended family "parents" so it's fun to keep up with them and exchange stories.  I sat down with Leslie today and she did a quick interview about our Bosnia experience for the official voyage blog.  There's a chance a picture might make it also, so be sure to keep an eye on the blog (  Tomorrow we have classes again before going through the normal ritual of logistical pre-port and prepare for arrival in Greece.  That's all for now, I need to fold some laundry.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Day 27: Farewell Croatia

After three really busy days in Croatia we decided to take it a little easier today.  Most people slept in and I was able to get a little more sleep that normal but used most of the morning to catch up with some reading and papers for classes.  We have class tomorrow and the next day before arriving in Greece.  In the afternoon a  I walked with a few people across Dubrovnik to the Old Town.  We split up and some went shopping while others went to the War Photos Museum (any guesses which group I was in?).  The museum is pretty well known and has hundreds of photos from various wars in recent history.  The large prints were really artistic and it was another one of those powerful experiences that was also a bit of a downer.  After the museum we went on a journey to find some legitimate Croatian ties and did find a few but, as much as I love you Po, the equivalent of $300 for a tie is a little steep.

We slowly made our way back to the ship but first stopped at a local market in an attempt to get snacks and finish off the Croatian currency.  Back on the ship, we had a beautiful departure.  We sailed away slowly as the sun set over the amazing scenery.  I think I've mentioned it in every Croatian post but this place is so gorgeous, you have to visit.  Our ship horn sounded as we pulled away and a few seconds later the cruise ship we were passing answered in an equally loud tone.  Within a few minutes, every boat in the harbor was sounding off, it was really funny to see/hear.  After sailing off I hit the gym and now find myself watching the World Cup Finals.  I probably won't be able to post this tonight because the entire ship's bandwidth is dedicated to getting us the the game.  It's still 0-0, we'll see what happens.  That's all for now, this looks like it's going to be a pretty long game.

Day 26: Bosnia

After deciding on a whim to go to Bosnia, a small group of us walked over to bus station next to the port and purchased the tickets after the day on Korcula.  The purchasing process wasn't as bad as I thought it would be; the prices were good and despite the name on my ticket being "Calrck" all turned out well.  We arrived in the morning to a very crowded bus.  Croatians obviously don't care what seat it says on your ticket.  The three hour ride wasn't too bad.  There were three border crossings since you have to drive through the Bosnian coastline region to get to inland Croatia so you can pass into inland Bosnia.  I know it's confusing, check out a map.

We had a bit of a rough start on arrival to Mostar.  This was probably due to the lack of information since the only info I got was googled in the five minutes prior to meeting that morning.  After finding a helpful hotel we got a city map and were in much better shape.  The different feel of the city/country was very obvious from the time stepping of the bus.  As soon as we got off three or four people people came up aggressively begging for money.  With map in hand we walked over to the "old town" and (in)famous "old bridge."  The bridge isn't that old since it was destroyed in the war 15 years ago but was rebuilt and is still interesting.  The views are really neat and many local members of the "Mostar Diving Club" will dive off for a tip.  Around the bridge, there were a lot of people in a small space with tons of little shops.  Yes, I had to buy the pen made from AK47 shells.  There's such a mix of culture that the currently gets really confusing.  At one point I payed for something in euros and ended up getting change in Croatian Kuna and the local Bosnian Markas.  It was probably funny to see us stand there after each purchase and try to do mental math hoping the change was correct.  After eating an awesome lunch of "Cevapcici" (essentially Bosnian/Turkish meatballs) at a place nearby we decided to go "mosquing." 

"Mosquing" is a new activity we invented where you visit as many mosques as possible in a given time.  They could be found everywhere but we only actually went into two.  I've never been in a mosque before and it was really quite a neat experience.  Daniel, a religion and psych major, offered some good insight to a lot of the different places inside the mosques.  In one of the we paid to climb the minaret and it was worth it.  It was probably the most narrow and dangerous staircase I've ever climbed but the view from the top was awesome.  After we tired of mosquing, a few of us headed out of the old town to look at some other parts of Mostar.  We passed along the Bulevar Revolucjie which was the former front line dividing the Croats and Muslims.  Practically all of the buildings are bombed out, heavily damaged, or barely standing.  It was quite a powerful and sobering experience.  Throughout Mostar (and much of this entire region) there is a lot of war damage.  It's not uncommon to see bullet/missile damage in functional buildings and kind of surreal to see a brand new building standing next to a destroyed one.  Walking around we also passed many cemeteries and a number of memorials from the war.

After a quick snack we made our way back to the bus terminal.  The ride back felt a tad longer but we eventually made it back to Dubrovnik and the ship.  This is a really big weekend (a large festival and some political meetings) for Dubrovnik so we battled the crowds last night and saw a few fireworks before calling it a night.  Overall it was a really interesting and fun day.  I'm glad we decided to venture out and give Bosnia a try.  One last day in Croatia; I have a feeling it's going to be a little slower paced than the previous three.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Day 25: Island of Korcula

I was originally signed up for a trip to the Island of Korcula on our last day in Croatia.  After looking at the details of the tips and talking with a few people I decided to try and trade the trip I had with a similar (a few differences) one that occurred today.  I was able to find somebody to swap and I think it was probably worth it.  We had a very early start and drove about an hour to the town of Trsteno.  It's a smaller Croatian village on the coast and home to some botanical gardens.  We toured the gardens which were filled with all kinds of different plants and citrus fruits, some more common than others.  After leaving Trsteno we stopped in the small (essentially deserted) town of Ston.  Ston was home to some lucrative salt mines back in the day.  We saw a few puddles where you get salt and had the opportunity to buy a 30kn ($6) bag of salt before walking around the town consisting of a restaurant, market, and post office.  We eventually left and arrived at Orebic.

Orebic has a small port that is primarily used for ferries to and from Korcula.  We ferried over to Korcula and had a short walking tour of the island.  We went thorough a few museums of stolen Venetian "icons" (they are past rivals) and a cool little cathedral.  After stopping by the house that Marco Polo was allegedly born in we had lunch at the Hotel Korcula.  The entire meal was comprised of seafood and it was really good.  I mentioned it in Spain also but I find myself venturing further into eating some of these sea critters I really haven't seen much in the past (no problems yet...).  After lunch we had some free time to roam Korcula and some of the shops.  I've come across a few really clever Croatian pens but am still trying to find some of the famous Croatian ties.  We ferried back to Orebic and boarded the bus for the return trip.  There was a stop on the way back to Dubrovnik at a small harbor town with some old defensive walls and a little chapel on top of a hill.  I climbed the hill and got some more great pics of Croatian coastline and countryside.  It was a long ride back the ship and most of us were pretty tired.

It's interesting to hear the stories of many of the small towns on the ocean because there is so much conflict about the lack of coastline for Bosnia and Montenegro.  There is a continuing debate that has the potential to flare in the near future.  I forgot to mention it in yesterday's post but it's also interesting walking around Dubrovnik and see so much obvious damage and restoration from the war in the early 90's.  Tomorrow a few of us have a small day-trip planned to Mostar, Bosnia.   Even though it's only a few hours away it's supposed to be a completely different feel, I'll let you know.  That's all for now, I need to get some rest for yet another early start tomorrow.

Day 24: Dubrovnik

Since we had actually ported the previous evening, we had a pretty early start with the Diplomatic Briefing.  As usual, the consulate went over some political issues and took questions.  Working as a diplomat would be a very interesting job.  During the presentation, he got three or four calls, all ignored, from the Croatian Ministry of Justice and brushed them off because it was probably "just some American getting arrested again."

After the ship was cleared I went out with a couple of others to walk around Old Town Dubrovnik for a little while.  As far as things to do here, it's all pretty much centered in that area which is good few miles from our port.  Thankfully the bus system is really easy and pretty cheap.  We walked around for a bit and got a quick lunch of Croatian pizza.  It's supposed to be pretty good and was since there's a lot of Italian influence here.  I then made the trek back to the ship to meet for my city orientation that was scheduled in the afternoon.

The orientation started off by bus up to a really neat spot with a panoramic view of Dubrovnik.  The entire area is extremely picturesque and beautiful.  The hills are green and spotted with white houses all with red roofs.  The islands and deep blue shades of the ocean are really incredible, I can't wait to share some pics.  The tour continued on foot down in the old town.  We hit a number of small museums and five of the 37 churches within the famous city walls.  There's really nothing spectacular about the museums and churches we visited but they were all pretty quaint and and a unique touch to them.  My tour ended with some free time so I met with Daniel, Kyle and Danielle to walk the city walls.  The city walls surround the old town and were used as a defensive barrier back in the 17th Century.  I had to keep true to my duties as a Crane and made the climb to the tallest point (dragging the others along with me).  It was definitely worth it; the views were absolutely spectacular.  It was a pretty intense walk but a lot of fun.

After the City Walls we went for dinner at a place recommended by the inter-port student.  Croatia is known for seafood and meat so I decided for the latter.  I figured there was enough Hungarian influence around to merit getting the beef goulash.  It was quite good.  We walked around the city a bit more before making the journey back to the ship.

So far, I've found Croatia to be a really tourist-friendly country.  It probably helps that tourism is really the only industry in Dubrovnik so everybody speaks English and is helpful.  It's a very "clean" atmosphere compared to some of the areas in Spain or Italy.  I'm looking forward to seeing more, stay tuned.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Day 23: Croatia Pre-Port

Today was the second day of class in a two day "week."  I had an Infectious Disease test today and it went went well as I expected.  I was pretty pleased with the results of my Abnormal exam we took before Spain that was handed back today and we got word that the Global Studies midterm was "reviewed by a student-faculty advisory group" and it was decided that the grades will be significantly curved up.  Good news.

Other than that today was pretty relaxed.  At the beginning of the voyage it was recommended that everybody try to fit in a nap every afternoon at sea to better adjust to some of the strange schedules and weird time issues that are typically dealt with on a voyage like this.  I'm not complaining too much; it's nice to have an hour or so set every afternoon for nap-time.  I've been pretty successful at accomplishing this so far.

We're set to arrive in Croatia a bit early.  We should actually be porting within a few hours (by midnight this time).  I went to a talk by our Croatian inter-port student this evening which was really helpful.  We had our usual logistical pre-port as well.  Despite the occasional land mine leftover from the 90's (a pretty rough time for this part of the world) Dubrovnik looks to be a pretty safe and neat city.  We have a diplomatic briefing from the US Embassy in Zagreb tomorrow morning and after the ship clears I'll probably head off to check out the town for a few hours.  In the afternoon I'm signed up for a city orientation including a bunch of churches and museums.  In the evening I'll hopefully meet up with a few people to do the walk around the famous city walls.  On Friday the plan is to check out some of the local islands and explore the old harbor district of  Dubrovnik a little more.  On Saturday we're going to try to do a little day trip to Mostar, the capitol of Bosnia, to check that out.  Under normal circumstances we're not allowed to leave the country we're currently ported in.  Croatia is the one exception where we can travel to Bosnia and Montenegro so it makes sense to take advantage of that.  Saturday I'm signed up for an all day excursion to the Island of Korcula before departing in the evening.

Global Studies this morning focused on recent Croatian history which is a really interesting topic.  I think I say the same thing for every port but I'm really looking forward to our next few days here.  That's all for now, I'm off to watch us come into port.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Day 22: Global Studies Midterm

It's tough going back for two days of class after 13 days of travel but I guess that's how Semester at Sea works.  For the most part I really am enjoying the classes.  I've mentioned it before but it's such a unique setting here with a "floating university."  I like the professor for Infectious Diseases a lot but the class isn't quite what I thought it would be.  There's some really interesting info but it is a lower division so it's presented at a fairly basic level and wasn't really designed for bio majors (even though I'm not alone).  On the other hand it's nice to have a pretty stress-free class.  The class I'm probably enjoying the most so far is Abnormal Psych.  She moves really fast but presents some interesting ideas about global mental health that augment the curriculum in the text.  There's a lot of opportunity to explore some different topics in papers and much of what we're going over is really interesting to apply to many of the experiences I've had over the past few years in the hospital working around psych patents in the ER.

Global studies is going well, the professor has a great sense of humor.  Since the class is designed around the voyage it's very eclectic and hard to find concrete study material.  We had our first midterm this evening and it was a little more difficult than everybody was expecting.  Since there are 750 students in the class it's all multiple choice and very detail oriented.  With the exception of a few questions that were pretty far out I think I did well.

During the Global Studies class time this morning we had Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez (a Democrat from CA) speak as an inter-port lecturer.  I have a lot of respect for her position but was not at all impressed by the topic and delivery of her talk today.  I don't have time to go into detail but Americans are often seen abroad as being arrogant, self-centered, etc and it doesn't help when our nation's leadership presents themselves and our policy in this manner.  It was interesting to hear her perspectives I can't help being a little disappointed.

It's exciting and weird to already have to think about Croatia.  I think this might be the first country to put me a little further out of the comfort zone as far as language, previous travel, currency, etc goes.  I've heard it's beautiful and am really excited for arrival the day after tomorrow.  I have a few things planned but will save those for tomorrow's post.  That's all for now, it's about time for the ever necessary late-night snack.

Day 21: EasyJet and Neapolitan Pizza

We departed Venice early to catch our flight back to Naples.  I was a little concerned because our airline was "EasyJet," a European budget airline that doesn't have the greatest track record for customer service.  I heard a few horror stories from SASers about delays and cancellations and at the airport there was a large group of people with giant signs proclaiming "never fly easyJet!"  Our flight was only delayed an hour and we landed safely so I guess that's what really matters.  It's open seating and three of us were able to fight our way into the exit row with some nice leg room.  Daniel got crammed next to a screaming baby but he's a good sport.  After eventually decoding the Naples bus system we got back to the ship around noon.

As a final farewell to Naples, a few of us headed out to get a final Italian pizza and gelato.  The famous "pizza margarita" was actually invented in Naples and I wanted to try to get to the place it was first served but it was a little too far of a walk.  We stumbled upon a local place filled with Italians where nobody spoke English so it was probably a good non-tourist representation of food.  I'll miss the Italian pizza and gelato but I'm sure there's much more adventurous food on the way.

We arrived back to the ship before the required "on ship" time (always a good thing) and spent the rest of the day recovering from the previous long days of travel.  There was an all ship BBQ for the 4th of July and Canada Day (apparently it's July 1st, you get the celebrate that when your Global Studies professor is from Winnipeg).  The food was really good and probably an incentive to get everybody out on deck for a picture.  The evening was spent bidding farewell to Italy and studying for a Global Studies midterm.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Day 20: Venice

The goal was to do Venice for under $200.  This was accomplished and it catalyzed a lot of great stories along the way.  The most practical transit from Naples to Venice was an overnight train.  Upon embarking the train we made the discovery that the air conditioning wasn't working/didn't exist.  It was very hot and very humid.  Luckily this improved a bit with an open window when the train was moving.  The four seats I previously booked were in a compartment of six.  We were kind of hoping that the other two wouldn't be occupied and for the first few hours this was the case.  I took as many Benadryl as was probably safe and settled in for the ride.  Despite the four of us essentially sleeping on top of each other, it wasn't that horrible.  I was able to get an hour or so at a time but people coming in and out between random stops for the two remaining seats got a little unpleasant.  We tried to have at least one us awake at all times for security issues but our fellow riders weren't as sketchy as I expected and most were pretty friendly.  We eventually arrived about 5:30am and took a bus into town.  This whole overnight train deal was one of those experiences I'm definitely glad I did (it's pretty funny looking back, I would love to get a picture of us sprawled out among each other and the disgusting train compartment) but will probably try to avoid in the future.


Venice is such a unique city, I glad I got a chance to see it again.  We arrived in town about 6:00am and it was essentially dead.  All my previous images of Venice have been filled with people and activity so it was a little weird walking around the empty corridors and seeing only a handful of boats out.  We dropped off our bags at hotel (another stellar deal) walked to St. Mark's Square and the surrounding area while it was still early.  We stopped in a neat little cafe to get a breakfast of croissants and coffee before finding gondolier willing to take four cheap college kids.  We talked down the price a bit and did the necessary ride throughout the Grand Canal and some smaller back canals.  After this we walked around the Rialto Bridge and the girls did some shopping in the nearby shops while Daniel and I took pictures of other strange looking tourists.  After lunch we did the inside of St. Marks (love the gold mosaics) and took another good long walk.


We then checked into the hotel for a much needed nap before heading out to dinner.  After dinner a pretty strong thunderstorm hit which forced us to stay close to hotel.  We did, however, brave the rain for some gelato before turning in.  We got a pretty amazing deal with the hotel.  I don't know how it happened but it was right in town (next to St. Mark's) and we actually had four separate beds in a relatively decent sized room for under $100.  Now the beds weren't the most comfortable but they beat the train seats.  We turned in a bit early because the next morning required a 4:30am start to catch our plane.  That's all for now, I have a midterm tomorrow and should probably study a bit.

Day 19: Naples

We were given a quote from a mysterious German author that sums up the time in Naples: "Naples is paradise, Neapolitans are devils."  Naples is an interesting city.  It's not the cleanest nor the safest but has some interesting sites.  I spent most of the day on a full length city orientation that included a tour of the famous Teatro San Carlo as part of an FDP for the musical theatre class (I'm not in the class but tagged along).  We started off with a walking tour of the "downtown" region of Naples including a large public square built by Napoleon that is bordered by the Royal Palace.  There are a bunch of neat little cafes around and we got a chance to stop in for some good Neapolitan coffee/espresso/cappuccino/whatever they call it.


After this we had our tour the the opera house.  The Teatro San Carlo is absolutely magnificent.  It is the largest and oldest opera house in Europe and seats over 2000 people in the unique "horseshoe" style auditorium.  The theatre was recently renovated and was really neat to be around a place where so much musical history has been made. 


Following the San Carlo we boarded a bus for the "panoramic" portion of the orientation.  There were some great views of the semicircular Bay of Naples and on the way down we made a gelato stop near the beach.  After returning to the center of town we continued the walking tour by visiting a few of the better known churches, the gothic Cathedral of Santa Chiara and renaissance Gesu Nuovo Church.  After this we made our way back to the ship.


I had a few minutes to shower and recover before grabbing a quick dinner.  After rounding up Daniel, Lacey, and Heather we made the sketchy walk to the Naples train station and embarked on our 9.5 hour overnight train adventure.  I have to run for now but there's much more to come...