Saturday, August 15, 2009

Egypt - Alexandria, Memphis, Cairo, Luxor (part 1)

Here are the trips I did in Egypt:

EGY03 CAIRO/LUXOR (On Arrival, Thursday, 30 July - 2200 Sunday, 02 August) Minimum 40/Maximum 140 Day 1: Depart from the pier by air-conditioned motorcoach for a journey through desert scenery reaching the outskirts of Africa’s largest city, the legendary Al Qahira, internationally known as the teeming metropolis of Cairo. A guide will provide the history and culture of a timeless land, on a journey lasting approximately three hours. Arriving at Cairo’s outskirts, you will proceed for lunch at a leading hotel located at the Pyramids area. After lunch continue driving southwards through verdant countryside to Egypt’s first capital, Memphis. On arrival visit the ruins of the temple of Ptah, the fallen colossal statue of King Ramses II and the Alabaster Sphinx of King Amenhopis II. Continue to the oldest, ancient cemetery of Sakkara and the world’s first monumental stone building, the Step Pyramid of King Zoser, built by the engineer Imhotep almost 5,000 ago. After visiting the complex continue to one of the mastabas (funerary chambers) built nearby, such as those of Ptah-Hotep, Mereruca, Idut or Ti, for an inside visit. A buffet lunch will be served afterwards at a hotel in Cairo followed by check-in formalities. Travel to Tahrir (Liberty) Square, where the National Archaeological Museum is situated. Here you will have the opportunity to acquaint yourself with Egypt’s ancient history spanning a period of 50 centuries. The museum houses the richest collection of Egyptian antiquities, including the magnificent Tut Ankh Amun collection. Continue to the exotic and colorful Khan El Khalili Bazaar. The bazaar offers shopping and colorful photography options. Bargaining is an art and expected when negotiating a purchase. Silver and gems, bronze and copper, exotic spices, leather goods, and fresh brewed coffee can be found at the Bazaar.  Proceed to the hotel for dinner and overnight. (L, D; Hotel in Cairo) Day 2: Early risers will be transferred to the Giza Plateau for a chance to view the Great Pyramids at sunrise while enjoying a box breakfast from the hotel. For those not participating, breakfast will be offered at the hotel. After check-out at the hotel, proceed to the Giza Plateau where the only remaining Wonder of the Ancient World is be allocated at the Pyramids to explore and enjoy the site. Continue down the valley where the guardian of this mortuary complex, the mighty Sphinx, bears witness to the passage of time and man in eons of silence. Then, to the banks of the River Nile where a cruise boat awaits to sail you on the same timeless waterway traversed by Pharaohs, Queens and Nobles thousands of years ago. Enjoy a buffet lunch in elaborate interiors as you glide past Cairo’s waterfront landmarks. A folkloric and belly dancing presentation will take place during lunch for your entertainment. Return to the hotel for a rest before heading to the Son et Lumiere at the Giza Plateau. Under a star-studded sky, the Sound-and-Light performance brings the magnificent history and achievements of the found, the ancient Egyptians to life as the illuminated Pyramids and the mysterious Sphinx dominate the surrounding darkness. Return to the hotel for dinner and overnight. (packed B,  L, D, hotel in Cairo)  Day 3: Following a very early-morning wake-up call, depart the hotel and transfer to the Cairo Airport for the flight to Luxor. Upon arrival proceed to Luxor’s West Bank, where the Valley of the Kings is situated, to visit some of the amazing Royal tombs. If time permits, visit the famous tomb of the young king Tut-Ankh-Amun (US$18.50, at your own expense, payable at entrance gate). Then proceed to the finest building in Egypt, a momentous masterpiece, the temple of the only woman Pharaoh, Queen Hatshepsut. Before crossing to the East Bank stop briefly for photographs at the famous statues of Amenophis III, also known as the Colossi of Memnon, standing exactly where they once flanked the entrance to the Temple 5,000 years ago. Proceed to the hotel for lunch and check-in. After a short rest, depart the hotel for a visit to the illuminated Luxor Temple. Built by the two Pharaohs Amenophis III and Ramses II, Luxor Temple was dedicated to Amun-Ra the god of Thebes. Return to the hotel for dinner. (Packed B, L, D; Hotel in Luxor) Day 4: Enjoy a buffet breakfast at the hotel before departing for a visit to the breathtaking Karnak Temple. Marvel in awe at the majestic Hypostyle Hall with its immense columns. Admire the avenue of the Sphinxes and reflect on its Sacred Lake. The rest of the day is at leisure. Lunch is served at the hotel before transferring to Luxor airport for the flight back to Cairo and return to the ship in Alexandria. (B, L)

EGY14 RURAL CAIRO & VISIT TO CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL (0800-1930 Monday, 03 August) Minimum 20/Maximum 45 This trip will provide insight into several aspects of Egyptian culture and lifestyle. It will include visits to a rural area near Cairo, a children's hospital, a tapestry workshop and a carpet factory. Travel to Cairo by air-conditioned motorcoaches equipped with toilet facilities. Arrive at Kerdassa, a rural area situated approximately 12 kilometers from the Pyramids of Giza. Kerdassa was once a trading post for caravans crossing the desert to and from Libya. Many of the galabiyyas, scarves, rugs and weavings sold in the bazaars and shops of Cairo are made in this village. You will have some free time to explore the village. Proceed to the Saqqara area to visit Harraniyyah, famous for the Wissa Wassef tapestry workshops, now managed by the widow of founder Ramses Wissa Wassef. The tapestries produced here have won world-wide acclaim and the school is training the second generation of weavers. The museum holds a permanent exhibition showing how the work of individual craftsmen has developed. Also visit a carpet factory to observe the process of carpet-making. Enjoy lunch in Cairo at “Le Pasha” floating restaurant followed by a visit to the children's hospital, Kasr El Aeni. After a tour of the facility, there will be an opportunity to interact with some of the young patients. Coloring books, crayons, and other materials will be provided to aid your interaction with the children. These materials will be donated to the hospital upon your departure.

Egypt was FANTASTIC.   When people on SAS talk about having an amazing time but not getting any sleep, this is the kind of experience they mean.  We woke up at 4am 2 nights in a row and then 6am the next day.  Keep in mind we didn’t eat dinner until 10pm usually.  It was so worth every second though.  It is hard to believe that I was standing in front of these huge famous places that you read about in books and see photos of. 

So the first day we arrived in Alexandria and I left for my Cairo, Luxor trip.  We ate lunch at a pyramid-side hotel.  Then we went to Memphis and saw the ruins of the temple of Ptah and saw the statue of King Ramses II and the Alabaster Sphinx of King Amenhopis II.  Then we went to the Step Pyramid of King Zoser.  We were walking around the side and these guys were sitting under a tent.  Then one of them came over and told us to follow him.  He took us around the back past the roped off area and down some steps inside part of it.  He told us to “pay off the police guard” and kept saying “Secret, secret”.  So basically we were supposed to think that we were extra special doing something that wasn’t allowed.  But that’s how they make money because then you have to tip them at the end.  But it was worth it because we got to see more of the Step Pyramid.  We could have kept going, but we had to leave to catch the bus.  Then we went to the National Archaeological Museum and saw all these statues and jewelry and stuff.  It was really big and just filled with everything.  We went into the Tut Ankh Amun collection room and saw all the stuff you see pictures of when you learn about him.  We saw the head thing and the coffins and jewelry and stuff.  Then I paid extra and went into the mummy room.  There were a bunch of cases with mummies of the kings and people.  Some were wrapped all the way up or mostly covered, but others only had the body wrapped so the head and arms and legs were out.  They still had hair and toenails and everything.  That night we went to the Khan El Khalili Bazaar and did some shopping.  It was kind of like the bazaar in Turkey except all outside.  After that we finally got back for dinner at the hotel about 10pm. 

The next day we woke up at 4am to see the Great Pyramids at sunrise at the Giza Plateau.  We walked around and sat enjoying it for like 2 hours.  At first everyone was taking every kid of picture imaginable, because well how often are you in front of the pyramids?  People took regular smiling single pictures and group pictures.  There were jumping pictures, dance pictures, pictures pretending to hold the pyramids or squish them, and more.  Then after a while we wandered over up this sand hill (hard to walk up because you slide back down) so we could see the sun rise up.  Then we walked back, finished our boxed breakfast (so good: 2 huge grinders – cheese one and turkey one, 3 croissant/ roll combos, apples or pears, a juice box, banana, yogurt, and jelly) on this mini wall looking out at the pyramids until our camels arrived.  I rode a camel single partially to the pyramids and back for about 10ish minutes.  It was a lot of fun but it’s hard to stay on when the camel gets up and down because they have really long legs and the front ones are down when the back ones are up so you are almost horizontal.  I was a little nervous to let go at first but by the end I was taking pictures and it was fun.  After the guy walking the camel took pictures of me at the pyramid side, I told him no running back because I had seen some other people do that and I was not that comfortable yet haha.  About halfway back he pushed the camel to get it to run so I had to say no and we slowed down and walked back.  Then we took some picture with the camels before we had to get on the bus.  When we got off the bus our tour guide asked if anyone had been forced to give extra money to the camel “drivers” (she told us not to because tip was included in the cost).  Then she took everyone off the bus and yelled at the guys until she got the money back haha.  Then we went to the Pyramids of Giza (the only remaining Wonder of the Ancient World) and went inside the middle one.  It was really hot because there’s no air circulation but it was AWESOME.  You have to bend down really low to fit while you walk down and up the stairs and the ramps with the planks to help you step.  On the way down we passed Lyla (going into 2nd grade) and she was almost standing up straight, but the adults had to bend quite a lot.  In the tomb inside we got to lie down inside the hole where the coffin was.  Then we just sat there for a bit until we needed some fresh air so we climbed all the way back up.  The stairs are really narrow too so you are shoulder to shoulder with people who are going in the other direction.  It’s funny because when you get out the desert seems pretty cool in comparison.  It was amazing though.  So we took some more pictures on the outside of the pyramid (like a step up).  You can’t climb them because it’s dangerous and destructive to the pyramids.  Then we got back on the bus and went to see the Sphinx and walk through the temple.  It was really cool getting to be so close up.  I’ll admit when I pictured the pyramids and the sphinx I just pictured sand and these monuments but there are actually sand roads and other things around haha.

Ok, lunch time then class, more about Egypt later.

From the Atlantic Ocean on the way back to the USA, Sharon

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bulgaria - Varna

So these are the trips I did in Bulgaria.  They were some of the best trips on this voyage in terms of getting to know the culture and people.  The tour agency was fabulous.  At one point the lady (who went on many of the trips) said that they were so worried that they wouldn’t be able to accommodate us and we wouldn’t have a good time.  They usually don’t have such big groups, but they did an amazing job.

VAR06 WONDERS OF BULGARIA (1430-1845 Friday, 24 July) This tour provides a spectacular introduction to the wonders of nature, ancient history and culture along the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. Depart the pier and travel west of Varna to explore the interesting yet strange-looking geological formation known as the Pobitite Kamuni (Stone Forest). This natural phenomenon is situated about 18 kilometers from the city and is the only preserve of its kind in Europe. This four-square kilometer sandy area is studded with colossal limestone columns in varying forms. It is believed that these strange geological shapes formed 45-50 million years ago when the area was the bottom of a vast shallow inland sea. Geologists agree that the formations occurred naturally but cannot agree on how they were formed. This geological wonder is recognized as a Natural Site of National Significance. Enjoy a short walking tour through this quiet forest and see the bizarre forms that resemble frozen human figures, monsters, truncated cones, fountains and lions. Then continue to the Golden Sands Nature Park, another site of national protection, for a visit to the Aladja Monastery, which is now a memorial of Bulgarian cultural and Christian heritage. Located in a picturesque 14-kilometer wooded area north of Varna, these ruins are one of the few preserved and accessible rock monasteries in Bulgaria. Although Thracians lived in these caves during ancient times, the first Christian hermit settled in the area during the 6th century; these monks resided there until the 18th century. The monks' cells and a small church were hewn out of the soft white-limestone cliff providing a retreat and refuge from the outer world. The 13th–14th-century frescoes are now faded, though they must have been striking and colorful to earn the monastery its name (Aladja means “multi-colored” in Turkish). After exploring the area, continue along the picturesque Bulgarian Riviera coastline before returning to the ship.

VAR07 WELCOME RECEPTION WITH BULGARIAN STUDENTS AND PROFESSORS [FDP: LEE] (1930-2230 Friday, 24 July) This will provide an excellent opportunity to meet and interact with Bulgarian students and professors from the Medical University in Varna. Students from other nearby universities will also be invited. After brief introductions, the reception will continue with conversation and dancing. Snacks and soft drinks will be provided.

VAR15 KARIN DOM HOME FOR DISABLED CHILDREN (1230-1630 Saturday, 25 July) Minimum 30/Maximum 100 Visit Karin Dom, a day home for disabled children. Situated in an old 19th-century house at the far end of Varna’s Sea Gardens, Karin Dom hosts many children with health and mental problems. British and French teachers work with the children; a lot of young Bulgarian and English students intern there and assist these special-needs children. Upon arrival, enjoy a performance from the Karin Dom children in the home’s garden. Afterwards, have an opportunity to meet and interact with the children. The end of July is the start of the summer holiday for the children but they have made special provisions for the Semester at Sea visit. At the end of our visit, speak with teachers and leaders of the community about the problems and future perspectives of Karin Dom and similar institutions in Bulgaria.

Karin Dom was founded by Bulgarian-American Johny Stancioff, whose grandparents were close to the royal family; his grandfather and father were Bulgarian diplomats. After the fall of the Communist Regime, his family immigrated to the United States; the family diplomats became gardeners producing vegetables for the Washington markets. Johny Stancioff was the first democratic Ambassador of Bulgaria to Great Britain in 1990 and some years later, he was the Bulgarian Foreign Minister. In July 2009, Mr. Stancioff will be celebrating his 80th birthday. He donated his grandparents’ house to the needs of disabled children in Varna and established a foundation to support the work. The Stancioff house is next to Karin Dom. During the Communist Era, the military unit took over the houses, and built bunkers between the houses which are still there today.

VAR18 VISIT TO BULGARIAN VILLAGE (0900-1700 Sunday 26 July) Approximately one hour from Varna is the heart of the Doubroudzha Plain, often called the bread basket of Bulgaria because of the many grain varieties produced in the region. On this trip, witnesses the rural life of Bulgaria. Visit the mayor’s office and get acquainted with main issues of present day village life. Another key spot in the Bulgarian village is the kindergarten, which is becoming a rare site in the small towns and villages due to migration of young families to the bigger cities. The locals will show their everyday life, full of struggle to survive. We will not miss the local cultural institution, called chitalishte – this is probably the most important place in the village. People gather there to read books and papers, to sing and dance traditional folklore, even to celebrate joyful events from their life. The local people will share their food with us, prepared in their own kitchens. Meanwhile we will have the opportunity to listen to some of the most charming voices of the small local choir.

VAR23 BULGARIAN CUISINE: MASTER COOKING CLASS (1200-1800 Monday, 27 July) Minimum 30/Maximum 70 Learn how to prepare and make some traditional Bulgarian meals such as tarator (a chilled yogurt-and-cucumber soup), a variety of stuffed peppers and banitsas (traditional pastry) under the guidance of a master chef. After the completion of the course, enjoy what you have prepared. Travel to one of the big restaurants in Varna (Golden Sands or similar) for this master cooking class.

So the first day I had my wonders of Bulgaria trip.  First we went to the Stone (Petrified) Forest made of limestone forms.  It was really cool to walk through this area that was just sand and these stone shapes.  I was glad I was wearing sneakers because the sand got in everyone’s shoes, but with sneakers it wasn’t too bad.  Next we went to the Aladja Monastery which is a rock Monastery.  This means it the walkways and everything are carved out of the white – limestone mountain.  There were caves and paths and places to sit.  It was so pretty and the limestone dust was so soft.  Then we went to the Golden Sands beach and walked around and by the shops for about half an hour.  Then we went back to the ship.  I had about 30 minutes before my next trip, but we couldn’t get on the ship because we had been tendering earlier (when we are not docked at the port and are farther out in the ocean so we have to take a lifeboat for about 20-30 minutes to get from the ship to the pier and back) and was moving to the pier.  So we sat there while probably over 100 people crowded in the port building to try to get back on the ship when it arrived.  Then we went to the Welcome Reception at the Medical University in Varna.  They were so nice and made it feel like a big deal that we were there.  There were decorations, a band, snacks and drinks (soda, water, wine).  We took a tour of the college and then went outside and talked with the students.  They don’t have an undergraduate program there.  Instead they go from high school to this college to study medicine.  We did some Bulgarian dancing (I did that same dance a bunch of other times on the other trips, too) and met some students.  We met one guy and his cousin and her boyfriend who met up with Nhesthy the next morning and met up will a few of us the next night.  Then we took the bus back to the ship.  The carpets on these buses weren’t always held down so when I was walking down the steps the carpet slipped out and I fell down the steps haha.  At least there were only a few.  I got a nice scrape on my elbow and hurt my finger though but I thought it was kind of funny. 

The next day I went to Karin Dom, the home for children with disabilities.  It was amazing.  There are kids there with both mental and physical disabilities.  When we got there the children sang some songs for us (one about fingers and one about a clock).  Then there were some other kids coming to play some instruments but they were late so a bunch of us sang some songs to the kids.  We sang twinkle little stars, and itsy bitsy spider.  Then the other children came and played bagpipes and these flute things and then we had snacks, talked with the staff, and played with the kids who were really sweet.  They come here between the ages of newborns to 14-15 years old, but it is an early intervention program so they tend to be younger.  They were really hospitable here too.  Aubrey just wanted pizza, but one lady took her plate and put more stuff on it for her.  Then we took a tour of the facilities.  It is a great place.  I loved it there and would recommend it to anyone.  The facility is beautiful and they have so much equipment available for the children.  There are chairs for children with physical disabilities, a ton school supplies, 2 great sensory rooms, and a really nice outdoor area with a play set, pony, fountains, gardens, swings, small stadium, and more.  Then they told us about how they work with the kids and I was really impressed.  They use Montessori teaching (I thought that was fabulous!), and they have all of these systems to help the children communicate and be independent.  They have charts and schedules and pictures all over and everything is bright and cheerful.  I was really impressed.  That night we went out with 3 of the Bulgarian students we met at the Welcome Reception.  They took us to this club that we never would have thought to go to on our own (most of SAS went to the Golden Sands) but it was really cool.  There was no roof so it was outside and there was this runway kind of thing in the middle.  I liked that it was mostly Bulgarian music with just a few American songs.  We had heard so much American music everywhere it was nice to listen to their music.  Everyone would be singing and dancing and after a while we would be able to pick up the chorus of a song and sing along even if we didn’t know what we were saying haha.

The next day I went on the trip to the Bulgarian Village in rural Bulgaria.  It was definitely one of my favorite trips.  We got such a good feel of the culture and everyone was so nice and hospitable.  When you think about going on this voyage and interacting with locals and such this is exactly what that was.  It was way cool.  We met up with the Mayor (a woman) and went to her office and learned about the village.  We also visited the church there and lit some candles.  We also went to the library area and saw the books.  Then we went to the Mayor’s house and ate at these tables outside on this patio kind of thing.  There were originally supposed to be more people there, but there was a funeral that day so about 6 woman stayed to host us.  When we walked in we took a piece of bread and dipped it in some seasoning (same as when we walked in the University), then we got a drink of something, and then they put a popcorn string headpiece on us.  They had so much food prepared for us and it was all delicious.  There was soup and bread and chicken and eggplant and more.  They also gave us cherry juice, wine, and brandy.  This stuff was all handmade from their garden.  They gave us a tour of the place and they have a stone oven they cook everything in and a huge garden.  They just walked through and picked stuff up to give to us like apples, carrots, peppers, wine grapes, cucumbers, watermelon, etc.  They sang and showed us how to make wool and fabrics and stuff.  Then we all danced together and they dressed up a guy and a girl in classic wedding outfits and we danced some more.  We were all pretty sad to leave.  They danced with us all the way out to the bus. 

That night we went to Captain Cook’s restaurant for dinner.  It is this seafood place above the passenger terminal next to the boat (really like you get off the ship and walk 10 steps and through this building.  The top of the building is this restaurant.  I know that sounds kind of sketchy which is what I originally thought.  But we went up there for free internet the night before (and got some fresh squeezed orange juice so we weren't just using their wifi) and they said we had to sit at the bar because all the tables were reserved.  That was fine at the time because we weren't getting food anyways.  So we see people come in really dressed up fancy and ordering yummy looking food.  So we made 9pm reservations for the next night.  We sat outside so it looked right into the ship.  Like this guy in his room was waving at us.  I got a coconut shrimp salad (it said shrimp on lettuce so I thought it was going to be more shrimp less salad but it ended up being the other way around) and shrimp and vegetable tempura.  They were both really really good.  Then I we got cheesecake because we heard it was delicious and it was.  It was such a good dinner and we had a lot of fun.

The next day I had the Bulgarian Cuisine Master Cooking Class trip.  It was really cool.  We went to this restaurant my Golden Sands beach and there were 4 tables with chiefs and assistants (2 buses worth of SASers).  Originally we were in groups and were going to rotate but it ended up being a free for all.  So we wandered around between these tables and helped to make the food.  We made a yogurt cucumber soup and cucumber tomato salad, peppers stuffed with this meat stuff and roasted peppers stuffed with this cheese stuff and coated and fried, both meat and vegetarian musaka, and bread and an apple pastry dessert.  Then we got to sit down and eat.  The food was so good.  The stuffed fried peppers were my favorite but it was all delicious.  And we got a lot of fresh Bulgarian cheese (kind of like feta) to eat.  They also gave all of us free spices, aprons, and hats. We also got the recipes for all the foods we made.  I also got a Bulgarian cookbook.

So all in all Bulgaria was amazing.  I think these were some of the best planned trips this summer.  The tour agency was so nice.  There was one lady who was in charge and she went on a lot of the trips.  She said they were so nervous they wouldn’t be able to accommodate us (they usually have much much smaller groups and this isn’t even her full time job – it’s just an extra thing she does), but they did an amazing job.  She was sad and waved as she got on the bus to drive away after the last trip came back. 

We just left Morocco and are on our way home to the USA.  I am looking forward to coming home, but honestly I’m not really ready for this to be over.  It’s weird to think we just boarded the MV Explorer for the last time on the summer of 2009 voyage.  Anyways, I’m going to dinner and will update more later.  I know I need to catch up haha – next post is about Egypt.

From the Atlantic Ocean after Morocco heading back to Norfolk, Virginia, USA, Sharon

Friday, August 7, 2009

Turkey - Istanbul, Gallipoli, Canakkale, Troy, Buyukada (part 3)

The next day I left for my Troy trip.  They split us into 3 groups alphabetically so Lauryn wasn’t in our group but I went with V.  We went to the Troy and saw the ruins of the 9 cities.  We also saw the replica of the Trojan Horse.  It was definitely a replica because it had windows so you could go in and take a picture.  Then we went to the Archaeological Museum and saw the WWI memorial stuff.  There were letters and bullets and clothes and more.  Then we went to Eceaabat and Canakkale by ferry and spent the night there.  This actually took us to the Asian side of Turkey so I have officially been to Europe and Asia (and later Africa).  The hotel was interesting.  There were 3 and they weren’t very equal.  Our rooms were tiny – just the 2 small beds, a night stand, cabinet, and desk.  We didn’t even have good blankets – just these things that were the same material as the towels in the bathroom.  But it was a place to stay and it was just one night so it was alright.  Also, it was really hot in the rooms because you have to put your key in this slot in order to turn on the electricity.  So that means the air conditioning isn’t on unless the key is in the room.  So we turned the AC on all the way to 18 degrees Celsius.  Apparently that’s really really cold because we woke up the next morning and needed to turn on the heat.  Anyways, that night we just walked around and went out on this platform that goes out in the water and sat for a while.  We also saw the actual Trojan Horse that was used in the movie Troy.  The next day we took a bus and ferry to Gallipoli.  We went to Gelibolu town and 1915 World War I Gallipoli battlefields and memorials.  Then we went to a beach at the Aegean Sea.  We went in the water for a while but it was so cold.  I figured we would warm up after a while once we got used to the water, but when we finally got out to get some lunch we were still covered in goose bumps.  Our tour guide said that it is almost always windy there.  He said that there are only a few days each year when it is not windy.  Our itinerary got changed so we reversed the order of our trip and switched our plans for day one and day two.  This means that when we were walking around outside at Troy is was really hot and not too windy, but then when we were at the beach it was really windy.  Oh well.  We ate lunch (we couldn’t read the menu so we just got what the other people got – it was a grinder with sausage stuff inside – pretty good) and then got on the bus to head back to the ship.

The next day I went back to the Grand and Spice Bazaars with Alexander and Tim.  We did a little more shopping and went back to the ship.  There was some time before on-ship time so I went to get some of the baklava that the shop across from the ship is famous for (apparently it has the best baklava).  There weren’t any seats in there so I went to the place next to it and sat with Janelle to read my book (later got some pistachio baklava from the other place and ate it before I got back on the ship – it was delicious).  There was a girl behind the counter and a guy who was our waiter and they were so nice.  The girl didn’t speak very much English (she did know how to say “Enjoy your meal.” and was very proud to say it).  I felt bad not speaking their language while she was making such an effort.  Instead of asking the guy to translate for her, she would ask him how to say something in English and then come over to our table and say the sentence.  She said we were sweet and that I had a pretty face (the guy later came over and said “you do have a pretty face – I see it now” haha.  I didn’t know what to make of that).  Anyways, they wrote down their emails for us and made Janelle friend them because she had her facebook open.  We are now facebook friends too haha.  So then I got on the ship and said goodbye to Turkey.

From the ocean between Egypt and Morocco before the Straight of Gibralter, Sharon

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Turkey - Istanbul, Gallipoli, Canakkale, Troy, Buyukada (part 2)

So we got some stuff from the Bazaar.  The first place we went to was this bag store, but we didn’t want to get stuff from the first place without looking around first.  But later we decided that place had the best stuff and the guy was nice and not creepy so we went back and I got 2 bags.  Later we went to the Spice Bazaar before going back to the ship.  We took the train thing (which was much better than on the way down.  Before it was really packed and you were way squished in with everyone.  The Spice Bazaar smelled so good.  There were just mounds of different spices on all of these tables inside and outside of the shops (keep in mind there are no doors – it’s just little room things (stress the little).  We got pasted just a shop or 2 and Lauryn took a picture of the spices.  One of the guys who worked there ran over next to the piles and said “I’m ready now”.  He motioned for me to come over with him for Lauryn to take a picture (I think she put it on facebook already) which he told me to label as my Turkish boyfriend haha.  Anyways, he gave us some Turkish Delights (Turkish candy – some kind of honey, gummy mixture with nuts covered in sugar).  Then he said to come in (if we have money).  He then proceeded to give us a ton of samples.  We got apple tea which they serve in these little glasses on a little dish which makes it hard to hold because the glass gets very hot.  By the way, I am now in love with apple tea.  It is like a mixture between tea and apple cider – so good.  There were all kinds of crazy tea flavors – apple, kiwi, mango, pomegranate, lemon, orange, etc.  I had picked the apple to buy at the Grand Bazaar because it was the most common, but once I tasted how good it is, I bought a bunch more.  So we got samples of the honey and nut Turkish delights, dried fruit pineapple (fresh and so good), pistachio baklava, and more.  It was funny because he was taking such good care of us.  Probably because we were buying a lot of the good stuff he gave us to try, but I think also because there were just 2 of us.  This other group of about 4 SAS girls came in after us and we got treated way better.  They would buy something and he would take out an extra one to give us as a sample.  They also got a combo bag of these dried fruits stuffed with nuts and these honey, fig, chocolate mixture covered in nuts.  Lauryn and I decided they looked good so we got some, too.  They got one of everything so we asked how much for that, and he gave us the price so we said we wanted it also.  He said “For you, I give you 2 of everything.”  He even threw in some dried kiwi for me because I wanted to taste that.  We also got fresh apple tea and the honey nut Turkish delights.  He vacuum sealed everything so it should last until we get home.  So then we went back to the ship because we had to get ready for the Sufi Dervish ceremony.

That night was the Sufi Dervish Ceremony.  It was really cool.  There were these guys playing instruments and singing and then the Whirling Dervishes came out and did this ceremony thing.  Then they started spinning.  They just spun around and around for such a long time (like an hour).  I have video and pictures.  Apparently they learn how to do this by putting a pin or needle in the ground and putting it between their toes so that they have to spin in the same place and don’t travel – ouch.  It was really cool because if you don’t look at their feet, it looks like they are just on a revolving ground because they don’t move at all except their feet (they wear these dress things that go out when they spin).  Their feet are really rhythmic too because one just turns and the other pushes around in a circle.  Apparently someone already posted a video on youtube.

From the MV Explorer on the ocean somewhere between Egypt and Morocco, Sharon

Turkey - Istanbul, Gallipoli, Canakkale, Troy, Buyukada (part 1)

So here are the trips I went on in Turkey:

IST06 SUFI DERVISH CEREMONY [FDP: FERRELL] (1845-2130 Saturday, 18 July)  In contrast to the main body of Islamic belief, dervish groups extol the virtues of music and dance, including a whirling ceremony which represents a union with God. The music is vital to this tradition and serves as a vehicle of enlightenment and revelation. The ceremony’s pesrev and saz semai compositions and the instrumental ensemble of ney, tambur, kanun, küdüm, and rebab formed the foundation of the glorious Ottoman classical music that, like the Sema, was suppressed in the early years of the republic. In these Sema ceremonies, the so-called “Whirling Dervishes” use their mystical music and dance to reflect the transcendent value of the heart’s purity, the image of the perfect being, and the belief that the Sema is one way of reaching total peace with oneself and with the universe at large. These ceremonies are not mere “performances” but spiritual rituals dating back to the 13th century. Participants should be respectful of this ritual and should dress conservatively. In keeping with tradition, men and women may be asked to observe the ceremony in separate groups.  We will use this practicum to explore how spirituality, ritual, movement, music and, in particular, mystical experience relate to stress and its management, as well as to deepen our understanding of mindfulness and its varied expressions from a cross-cultural perspective. In addition, this practicum will enable participants to gain insight into a significant aspect of Turkish culture and to witness the way music and dance have been used historically to attain spiritual fulfillment.

IST10 GALLIPOLI/CANAKKALE/TROY (0830 Sunday, 19 July – 1800 Monday, 20 July) The slender Gelibolu (Gallipoli) Peninsula is endowed with fine scenery and beaches but burdened with a grim military history. The World War I battlefields and Allied cemeteries scattered along the peninsula are both moving and numbing with the sheer number of graves, memorials and obelisks. The Gallipoli campaign lasted for nine months in 1915-1916 and resulted in huge numbers of casualties on both the Turkish and Allied sides. Thanks to Homer, Troy is probably the most celebrated archaeological site in Turkey. However, it is not the most spectacular. Until the late 1800s, it was generally thought that Troy (Truva) existed in legend only. In 1886, an amateur archaeologist and German businessman, Heinrich Schliemann, obtained permission from the Ottoman government to start digging on a hill where earlier excavators had already found the remains of a classical temple. Schliemann's work actually caused a certain amount of damage to the site, but the excavations did uncover nine layers of remains, representing distinct and consecutive city developments spanning four millennia. The oldest, Troy I, dates back to about 3600 BCE. (Please note: Be sure to bring your swimsuit and a beach towel.)

ITINERARY: Day 1: Depart Istanbul in the morning and drive along Marmara Sea coast over Tekirdag and Kesan to Gallipoli. In the afternoon visit Gelibolu town and 1915 World War I Gallipoli battlefields and memorials. Later enjoy swimming in the Aegean Sea. Continue to Eceaabat by ferry to Asia. Dinner and overnight in Canakkale. (Driving time today is about five hours.) (Box L, D; area hotel) Day 2: After breakfast visit the Archaeological Museum and view relics that were discovered during excavations. Continue to Troy where excavations have revealed nine ancient cities. View the remains and other ruins from the various periods as well as a huge replica of the wooden Trojan horse. Return to Canakkale and board a ferry to continue the journey back to Istanbul.

IST21 PRINCE’S ISLES (0830-1330 Tuesday, 21 July) Walk to the Kabatas Pier for a ferry ride to Buyukada, the largest and the most famous among five other Prince's Islands. En route, view the scenery of the Asian side and the islands at Marmara Sea. Upon arrival at Buyukada take a faiton (horse-driven coach) ride around the island, view the elaborately-decorated wooden houses and villas. Enjoy a short break for tea before continuing your ride along the water and back to the pier. Walk through the downtown area and enjoy some free time before taking the ferry back to Istanbul.

I didn’t go on this trip, but I did go to the Grand Bazaar 2 days so here is the description:

KAPALI CARSI The Kapali Carsi, or “Covered Bazaar,” is one of the most remarkable and picturesque markets in the world. It is a small city in itself, containing some 4,000 shops and ateliers selling everything from oriental rugs to costume jewelry. In addition to shops, the several kilometers of streets are lined with mosques, banks, police stations, restaurants and workshops.

So the first day in Turkey, I went to the Grand Bazaar with Lauryn, Mel, Alexis, Molly, and Deborah.  When we got there and walked in we realized that we would not be able to walk around with that many people.  So Lauryn and I walked around together because we both had to get back for the Sufi Dervish ceremony later that night.  This place is crazy.  They just stand outside their shops and yell crazy things at you to get you to buy stuff.  I don’t remember everything we heard (there was so much) but here are a few common quotes. “I can help you spend your money.”  “Are you from America?  All American girls are so pretty like you.”  When Lauryn said she was from South Africa – “I sold (someone important there – I forget) 3 fur coats!”  “Miss you dropped something.  (When I looked down)  My heart!”  There were so many crazy comments like that, I wish I could remember them all, but the most common was “You’re from America? OBAMA!!!!!”  This president has done wonders for our international relations.  The people everywhere love him.  I have gotten this soo many times in all the countries it is ridiculous.  They ask where I am from.  I say America.  They say Obama!  This is a very typical conversation.  It was kind of overwhelming.  There were so many isles and shops and you had no idea where you were.  When I think about it, I picture this huge place and us just walking in circles in this tiny little corner.  We went back on the last day, and I saw places I hadn’t seen before, and I know I still missed a bunch more.  It took a while to get used to haggling.  Honestly, I would much rather just know the price of something and have that be that, but it doesn’t work that way here.  I kind of got used to it by the end, but I would still have to work to remember not to take out my money and give them the original price.  We were walking past this group of SASers and went into a store they were in.  One girl said to the guy that she wasn’t going to buy something she had asked him about and he got so mad he kicked us all out of the shop even though we weren’t with them.  He had some nice stuff too, but so did all the other places so it was ok.  We stopped a little later and got some kabobs (spelling?) which are these pita things with thin sliced meat inside that they carve off of this huge chunk on a spear thing. 

Ok, lunch time.  More about Turkey, then Bulgaria, then Egypt later.

From the MV Explorer on the ocean between Egypt and Morocco, Sharon


Greece - Piraeus, Athens, Delphi, Poros, Aegina (Part 2)

So the next day I went to the island of Poros with Mel and Alexis.  As I said, we woke up really early.  We left at 7am so we could take the 8am ferry.  We took a cab to the ticket station, got our roundtrip tickets, some breakfast (because we got off the ship before breakfast was open), and headed over to the ferry.  There are two ferries you can take here.  One is cheaper but slower, and the other is more expensive but faster.  We only have limited time here so we took the fast one, the hydrofoil.  Our first ferry was the flying dolphin.  Then we took the flying cat back and the next day 2 other flying dolphins (there’s a bunch of them).  Poros is beautiful.  We walked around and got some free internet because it was still early.  However, it was like 2am home so not very many people were on facebook.  We wanted to take this little happy train around the island but we didn’t know when it started or if you had to call (directions in Greek) and the people we asked didn’t know so we just walked around on our own.  We found a beach and went swimming.  The water was beautiful.  The sand was really soft and it very gradually got deeper so you didn’t really notice it.  So we hung out in the water and lying out on the sand, and went for some lunch.  We got really good omelets and fruit.  They don’t fold them in half here though.  They just mix all the stuff in and it ends up a circle like the pan.  That means there is more crispy part so it was really good.  So anyways, we just walked around and did some shopping until the ferry ride home.  We tried to change our ferry to the 8pm one instead of the 1pm one, but apparently it has to be changed at least an hour before the ferry so we missed it by like 10-15 min.  It worked out well because there wasn’t that much else to do besides more shopping, beach, and food. 

The next day I went to the island of Aegina with Mel, Alexis, and Alexander.  We took the 8am ferry again (still no ship breakfast), but didn’t have time to stop before, so we got breakfast when we got to the island.  More omelets that were still just as good.  But it was a plain omelet with cheese and tomatoes put on top.  We got around the island really quickly and found a beach somewhere farther out so it was emptier and went swimming.  There were a ton of black sea urchins everywhere.  The beach we found only had a few where there we rocks.  We found a little place that only involved stepping on a few pebbles to get to the water and then there was sand.  You walked past the sand, swam over rocks, and there was more sand deeper.  We went back to where the ferries were after seeing most of the island, had a quick snack, and took the ferry home. 

Greece was beautiful, especially the islands.  It was a lot of fun and once you got to the islands, it looked more like in the movies (ex. Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants or Mamma Mia).  We actually just left Egypt so I’m going to move on to the next few countries.

From the ship in the ocean between Egypt and Morocco, Sharon

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Greece - Piraeus, Athens, Delphi, Poros, Aegina (Part 1)

Wow, life on Semester at Sea is busy busy busy busy.  I get 5 hours of sleep some nights and still wake up regretting that I missed something.  But you can’t do everything in this limited amount of time, so I just try my best.  However, that leaves little time for blogging but I do need this for my class so I’m going to try to catch up.

Here are the trip descriptions for Greece.

PIR02 SIGHTS OF ATHENS & ACROPOLIS [FDP: ROGERS] (1300-1700 Monday, 13 July) Visits to the Acropolis and ancient Athens provide a superb opportunity to see the archaeological evidence for one of the world’s earliest complex civilizations and to reflect on its “collapse.” It also offers the opportunity to put ancient Athens in perspective with what was going on at the same time in the rest of the world. For example, Rome was also quite advanced and the Maya area saw the start of great urban centres with monumental architecture, but most of North America was occupied by small bands of hunter-gatherers. Athens is the capital and largest city in Greece and lies six miles from the port of Piraeus. It is one of the world’s oldest cities; its recorded history spans at least 3,000 years. Head towards the foot of the Acropolis and pass the remains of the Temple of Olympian Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch, the Roman archway built by Emperor Hadrian in 131-32 CE. The Acropolis, or “High City,” is a true testament to the Golden Age of Greece, that magical period at the height of Pericles’ influence (461- 429 BCE) when the intellectual and artistic life of Athens flowered. Seeing the ruins of the Parthenon, one of the archetypal images of western culture, is a revelation yet utterly familiar. Today, as throughout history, the Acropolis offers one entrance – from a terrace above the Agora. The modern path makes a zigzagging ascent through the Beule Gate to legendary attractions such as the Propylaia, Temple of Athena Nike, the Erechtheion and the Parthenon. Take 90 minutes to explore this legendary site. Travel to the heart of Athens to Syntagma (Constitution) Square. At the top of the Square stands the Parliament Building, formerly the royal palace, where guards in their traditional costumes keep watch over the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Next, pass the Panathenaic Stadium and the National Gardens. Travel along University Street with its Neoclassical buildings before heading back to the ship. Please note: This tour requires walking on uneven terrain; sturdy walking shoes are recommended. Due to the popularity of the sites visited, the order of sites may be reversed to avoid congestion. Please be aware that traffic jams occur frequently and may cause delays.

PIR06 DELPHI – GROUP B [FDP: BREWER & FERRELL] (0745-1830 Tuesday, 14 July) Delphi, the sacred site of the oracle of Apollo, remains one of the most beautiful settings and fully-preserved sanctuaries of ancient Greece. Its building remains and sculptural treasures provide a vivid testimony of Greek culture at its apogee. Delphi is located approximately 120 miles northwest of Athens. Located on a high mountain terrace and dwarfed to either side by Mt. Parnassos, it's easy to see why the ancients believed Delphi to be the center of the earth. Home to Apollo, Delphi is one of the most enchanting sites in Greece. Overhanging the gorge of the Pleistos, the modern village of Delphi is traversed by a single main street brimming with brightly-colored souvenirs and local crafts. According to Plutarch, who was a priest of Apollo at Delphi, the oracle was discovered by chance when a shepherd noticed that his flock went into a frenzy when it approached a certain chasm in the rock. The chasm exuded strange vapors, and the shepherd also came under its spell and began to utter prophecies when he drew near. Fellow villagers also experienced this strange phenomenon and chose a woman to sit over the chasm on a three-footed stool and to prophesy. Originally, a priestess was chosen from among the local virgins, but it was later determined that she had to be a woman over 50 whose life was beyond reproach. On oracle day, the seventh of the month, the Pythia (priestess) would receive pilgrims who sought divine guidance in matters of war, worship, love or business. For over a thousand years, a steady stream of pilgrims made their way up the dangerous mountain paths to the oracle. The line of questioners often formed days in advance and, after an animal sacrifice, each was presented to the Pythia. Her strange, garbled answers were then translated into verse by the priests. We will use this practicum to explore the nature and formation of beliefs from a historical as well as cross-cultural perspective, to explore how an individual’s beliefs shape their choices and behaviors in the world, and to explore the concept of internal versus external locus of control.

The Delphi Museum contains a rare and exquisite collection of art and architectural sculpture principally from the Sanctuaries of Apollo and Athena Pronoia. The most famous exhibit is the Charioteer, a delicate bronze work created in about 470 BCE to commemorate the victory of a Syracusan prince in the chariot races. Another masterpiece is the pair of Kouroi (archaic male figures) representing Cleobis and Biton, twins who died of exhaustion after pulling their mother's chariot for 45 stadia (just under five miles). Other prized pieces are fragments of a silver bull from the 6th century BCE, large chunks of the beautiful and meticulously-carved Syphnian frieze, and a magnificent group of three dancing women, carved from Pentellic marble around an acanthus column. This practicum will also include a stop at Hosios Loukas, a historic walled monastery and one of the most important monuments of Middle Byzantine architecture and art, and has been listed on UNESCO's World Heritage Sites. Please note: Flat rubber-soled shoes are recommended as the visit to Delphi includes climbing uneven pathways and steps. Lunch at a local restaurant is included.

PIR14 SARONIC ISLANDS (0745-1800 Wednesday, 15 July) On this full-day excursion, travel by ship and visit the beautiful islands of Poros, Hydra and Aegina. The journey to the first island, Poros, takes about two hours. During this time, learn more about the vessel and the area in which you are traveling while enjoying the beautiful scenery. Poros is in fact two islands separated from each other by a shallow engineered canal. Views of the harbor and the town from the ship are picturesque. The waterfront area, filled with many cafés, is quite animated.

Upon arrival, explore Poros at leisure for approximately 50 minutes. At the center of this small island, note the Sanctuary of Poseidon where the Athenian orator and politician Demosthenes committed suicide in 323 BCE. After exploring Poros, reboard the vessel. After a leisurely 75-minute cruise, arrive at Hydra. Hydra is different from the other Saronic Islands with its white, red and pink houses built in tiers. Substantial stone mansions and white, tiled houses climbing up from a perfect horseshoe harbor create a beautiful spectacle; this harbor also once served as a safe haven for Saronic pirates. Once a fashionable artists’ colony, it has metamorphosed into one of the more popular (and expensive) resorts in Greece. The small, narrow stone-paved streets can be explored on foot or by the island’s traditional “vehicle” – the saddled donkey. Hydra is also reputedly hallowed by no less than 365 churches. After exploring Hydra (for approximately 90 minutes), travel to Aegina. Well-positioned on the trade routes, Aegina was once a prosperous maritime center and a rival to Athens. The Aeginetans were first among the people of Greece to mint their own coins, and they also created a standardized system of weights and measures. Today, Aegina has become an inexpensive resort for Athenians. A primary attraction for visitors is the beautiful Temple of Aphaia, one of the most complete and visually complex ancient buildings in Greece. Situated on a promontory, the temple also offers superb views of Athens and Piraeus across the water. Once back onboard, enjoy the “Traditional Greek Folk Show” en route to Piraeus. (Lunch is included in the price of this practicum. Also, please note that the order of the ports can be changed.)

PIR15 VISIT TO SOS CHILDREN’S VILLAGE – GROUP B (0800-1300 Thursday, 16 July) Children's Villages are in more than 106 countries and are home to about 50,000 needy children. The Greek SOS Children’s Villages Association was founded in 1975 thanks to Claudia Catzaras. She had first learned about the program’s concept while in France and, after meeting Hermann Gmeiner, decided to replicate this in her home country. Construction of the first SOS Children’s Village in Vari, south of Athens, started in January 1979. The first children were able to move into the homes in August 1982.  In the early 1990s, the number of youths in the SOS Children’s Village increased and an SOS Youth Facility was opened near the first site. Later, the program expanded and another SOS Children’s Village was built near Thessalonica. In one of the most densely populated districts of Athens, they also opened a SOS Social Centre which addresses children, youths and family problems. The facility provides educational psychotherapy for the children and support in all areas of life for the adults. Due to prevailing need in the northeastern region of Greece, the organization is currently preparing the ground for establishing a third SOS Children’s Village including a daycare facility and a counseling center in the Thrace area, not far from the Turkish border. At present there are two SOS Children’s Villages in Greece, two SOS Youth Facilities and one SOS Social Centre. During this day visit, learn about the village organization and management and have time to meet and interact with the children.

Unfortunately the last 2 got cancelled (the Saronic Islands because the transportation was closed and the Orphanage because there was no one to escort us around the facility) but I left in the descriptions because I went to some of the islands anyways and just like to read about the orphanages.

So on the first day in Greece I went to Athens and to the Acropolis.  The steps and ground are made of almost all marble which makes it very very slippery.  We were saying that it would be so dangerous if it was raining because we were having enough trouble as it is in the sun with sneakers on.  We went up and saw the Parthenon.  The tour guide was saying how the bottom kind of bows up in the middle so the columns were built to not symmetrically so that it evened out the look.  Therefore it looks perfectly straight and even.  If the columns were equal and straight than it would have looked uneven.  So we walked along there and you could look out and see this giant rock formation that people (who looked really tiny) were standing on so we went down and climbed up the rocks (and I didn’t even fall – yay me).  I like how Tim asked – do we want to take the safe stairs or the fun stairs? (i.e. the man made steps or the rock ones).  So we climbed up the rock and took the steps down.  It was a really pretty view.  You could see all of Athens and the buildings had these twinkly lights.  We don’t know what they were for (they were on the islands too) but they looked nice from up there.  Then we got some yummy strawberry icy drinks.  I thought it was delicious but Alexis thought it was too sugary so she couldn’t finish it and gave it to Tim who also couldn’t finish it so I had the rest of theirs.  It was cold and it was like 100 degrees outside so I thought it was good.  We have a nice picture of Mel and I with our very red tongues on the bus.  Then we went in front of the Parliament Building and got our pictures taken with one of the guards.  They are like the ones in England and they can’t move or smile or anything.  One guy started banging his rifle to call over the security when one woman went up (we don’t know why) but the security guy came over and fixed the guards rifle.  When we were leaving they were switching spots.  It wasn’t the changing of the guards because it was the same 2 guys but they did some slow exaggerated walking thing and went to the other side.  Also there were a TON of pigeons everywhere there.  Not like normal, actually a lot.  This guy was shaking food on people’s heads so they pigeons would all fly towards them.  He would put some in your hand too.  It was crazy.  So then we went to the Olympic stadium that was used in 1896.  So then we went back to the ship and then went out to Piraeus to get some dinner.  I got a really good Greek Salad with pita and some oriental burger pita thing.  Then we walked around.  Apparently the stores close early on Mon and Wed so we couldn’t do much shopping (I think Tim was grateful for that) so we just walked around a lot.  We got to this not so good neighborhood so we turned around, got some Greek pastries (not as good as they looked, but not bad) and eventually went back to the ship.

            The next day I went to Delphi for my FDP.  It was really cool to see, but not much to talk about.  There were lots of old temples and rocks and such.  Then V and I and some other people left the group.  We would walk like 2 steps and then stand for 5 min listening to the tour guide in the sun.  Then walk 2 more steps and stop again.  It was really hot and despite how much we tried, we honestly weren’t remembering that much of what was being said so walked up to the top (lots of stairs) to the stadium which was pretty cool.  But it was really hot and there was little shade besides at the top so we went all the way back down and got some yummy strawberry icy things like I had the day before.  Then we went into the Delphi Museum where the tour guide told us about almost every single thing there.  Which was her job, and she did it very well.  But if you know me, museums aren’t high on my list of things I enjoy because I’m not a huge history person so Kaitlyn (her name has a complicated story so I don’t know how it’s spelled) and I looked around quickly and then got bored in each room.  When we walked out there was a ramp or stairs and I thought it looked more fun to walk down the ramp even though it was kind of the slippery material.  See where this is going?  Yeah I fell in front of all the SAS people gathered at the bottom waiting to get on the bus.  I now (still even though I’m actually in Bulgaria at the moment) have a huge very dark bruise.  Oh well.  So then we ate lunch in this restaurant – the food was really good.  When we were almost done eating they said that there was some question about whether or not we were going to the monastery, but we were even though we would be back like 2 hours late.  Some people didn’t want to go so they split up the buses and one went back to the ship.  I figured that I might as well take a look so we went on the bus that would be back late.  It was really nice, but my contacts were annoying me by this part because I kept sleeping on the bus (we did a lot of driving – like 3 hours increments).  They had the same chairs as in the Cathedrals in Spain or Italy where the seat folds up and there is this little ledge.  That way you can kind of sit but it looks like you are standing up.  The floors had really pretty marble designs.  I also had my first Turkish Delight there (little did I know I would be having many more of these later on).  It was like a jelly candy covered in white sugar.  So that night we went to this karaoke bar right by the ship.  Mel and I didn’t sing, but we found out Nhesthy was a good singer.  It was nice because there were only a few other people there.  So we would sing and they would clap and they would sing and we would cheer.  It was fun, but Mel found out she didn’t like Greek coffee.  So eventually we went to bed because we were getting up really early in the morning to go to a Greek Island (like before breakfast on the ship is served early).  However, it is now dinner time so that story will be for another day.

From Varna, Bulgaria, Sharon