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UK Wandering & Aegean – Black Seas Cruise – Part 3

Author: Phillip F.
Date of Trip: July 2010

July 2

No driving, no navigating – just a well earned rest. We had a look around Washfield (chauffer driven by Chris and Marg). At the Washfield church we climbed the bell tower via the well worn stone spiral staircase. The hundreds of years old structure had been calling the towns folk religiously (pun intended) every Sunday for their weekly service. Being a ‘bell ringer’ Chris gave us a lesson and tutorial in the art, and to behold the 6 large brass bells cradled in their ancient timber frames was quite an experience. Even the little brown mouse we encountered was quite receptive to the explanation of their workings. Back at Badcot Cottage (the name of Chris and Marg’s home) we were introduced to the fascinating hobby that Mike (Louise’s husband) indulged in — the flying of high tech radio controlled model airplanes that had a small camera mounted on the fuselage and which relayed the vision back to a special pair of goggles which displayed the live vision on the inside lens when worn. The virtual reality of being in the cockpit of a plane is such that it is recommended that you sit when wearing the goggles, lest you lose your balance.

July 3

Back to Tiverton today, this time with Chris as guide so there was no chance of going in circles. We look at some local historical and contemporary (and meaningful to the …(Intentionally deleted) extended family) sites. Gail heads for the hairdressing salon with a fistful of pounds for a fringe trim, but in true friendly country style comes out a few minutes later with a newly shaped fringe and the same fistful of pounds she went in with. After a bit more exploring (and stopping for chats with most locals we pass) the four of us (Marg, Chris, Gail and I) head off for a little town a short distance away known as Bickleigh. After a carefree afternoon, we stop off at the local riverside pub for a brew, then head home to get ready for the evening meal. Tonight we are being taken to a favourite restaurant of our hosts which is off the ant trail in a beautiful part of Exmoor National Park, Somerset known as Tar Steps. The restaurant is flanked by the river Barle and is just at the point along the river where a prehistoric (circa 1000 BC) 55 metre clapper bridge is situated. Mike and Louise with their 2 children Harvey and Gracie join us for dinner and a most enjoyable evening is had by all.

July 4

After breakfast we each have a short jaunt on Lizzie, the larger of the 2 horses. She is a gentle mare with a friendly nature and was very accommodating to a couple of amateurs from down under. Harvey and Gracie ride Daisy, the pony, who is really more interested in eating than trotting around a paddock. Soon, it is time for us to continue our journey to London. It feels as if the last 3 days have melded into one and no sooner have we arrived, it is now time to leave. The 170 miles to London go quickly on the M roads and just over 3 hours later we are approaching Chelsea, where we will stay until our flight to Turkey on the 7th July. The car was garaged where we were staying (Phillip’s cousin Alan and his wife Heather’s home) and after dinner we walked around Chelsea for a bit of sightseeing and car watching. (sort of like Chapel Street after dark except the convertible Rollers and Bentley’s with their young dark occupants all have number plates written in Arabic!

July 5

Alan and Heather were both working today so we meet Erin, Gail’s niece, at Covent Gardens and spend most of the day exploring the sights. One side of the Thames, over the bridge at Embankment, up to the Modern Tate, over to Leadenhall. Enough walking! At Bank we catch the bus to Islington (the Monopoly one) and eventually catch the Number 19 back to Chelsea — a good way to see London sights from the upper level of a double decker. Dinner at a local Chelsea restaurant concludes the day and we retire early knowing our time in the UK is coming to its conclusion.

July 6

For our last day in London, Alan and Heather have taken the day off and we all head down to Embankment for a ferry trip to Greenwich. 30 minutes of travelling down the Thames and we arrive at our destination. The Old Royal Navy College, designed by Sir Christopher Wren, is first on the itinerary. We visit all the attractions — The painted hall, the chapel, the queen’s house. Then we look for the Cutty Sark but it is being rebuilt after being destroyed in a fire. The National Maritime Museum is reasonably interesting and before we make our way up the hill to the observatory, we stop off in Greenwich village for lunch and a visit to the ‘last shop in the world’ (being at the end of the shopping strip before the Prime Meridian. The observatory is well worth the visit after which we make our way to the Metro for a train ride back to central London. A little more shopping for Gail (“I just need these dresses for the cruise and besides, look how much I am saving at the sales!”). We say all our farewells this night as we have to rise at 4.30 am the next morning for a 7.00 am flight from Heathrow to Istanbul — the precursor for our 3 week luxury (yes, we can’t wait either!) cruise.

July 7

After a couple of hits on the snooze button, it really was time to get up and get going. We furtively make our way out of the Chelsea apartment and into the car for the last time in search of the A4/M4. “Terminal 5” announces the sign as we exit the motorway in time well ahead of schedule. ‘Not a worry and how easy was that’ I thought as I pull up at the Alamo drop off point. We enter their office to return the keys and for the sake of clarity I mention that the full tank of fuel I have pre-purchased has already been debited to my account and, despite the fact that I had changed vehicles in Bath where the attendant had told us not to worry about the 1/4 tank we had used on the changed vehicle, I would expect that the charge already made was the final one and that I would not be charged again. I then asked for the final account showing a zero balance! Well I guess it was obvious what would follow. It was 3/4 of an hour before we finally got out of there and our time schedule was becoming much tighter, but after being in business for 35 years I was sure I still had the skills, and we departed with that crucial document. As an aside — the tank had less than 1 litre left and I made sure the prepaid tank was skewed in our favour. The British Airways flight lands at Ataturk Airport right on time and we make our way to the immigration area. The line-up is horrendous and we join the queue for a long wait. Suddenly, an official looking lady with red puffy cheeks waddles over and in broken English and other words we cannot understand says “follow me, follow me, this way, this way” and beckons those of us on the end of the queue to follow her to the ‘Turkish Citizens’ queue, which is so much shorter. We are feeling quite relieved that the wait has just been shortened considerably when another official looking person — this time a young lad with a bad case of acne, opens a rope in the queue we are standing and also beckons in the same manner to another immigration aisle which has just opened. Now we are about 10 in row. Things are looking rosy. We are now 5 in row when the first of the group that had been moved along reaches the immigration official. Hands begin waving, voices are raised and an elderly Englishman is arguing he was told to come to this line, whilst the Turkish official is pointing to the sign ‘Turkish Citizens only’. Our hearts sink and we look back at the ‘foreigners line’ which by now is disappearing back towards the airline gates. A chorus of grumblings is becoming a crescendo and the immigration official looks at the line in front of him. In unison, we all wave our passports — red ones, green ones, blue ones. In a panic, he leaves his post and after a couple of minutes of head shaking and arm waving with a more senior looking official (stripes on his shirt), he returns to stamp the Englishman’s passport and waves forward the next person in line. Whew!!. Customs is a breeze. Everyone just heads for the green line and you pass a couple of uniformed men that appear to be more interested in the young ladies that preceded us than the contents of our luggage. Into the arrival hall (mosh pit) we go, and the clamour is deafening. “Taxi, Taxi” “Sir, Sir” “Excuse me” “Excuze Moi” — we run the gauntlet and there beyond the baying of hounds, shining like a beacon, is the object of my search. In bold red letters a sign bearing the name MR PHILLIP …(Intentionally deleted). I smile as I approach and with a nod and a wink we are whisked away from the turmoil of the crowd. We settle back to enjoy the ride to our accommodation for the next 3 days — The White House Hotel in Sultanamet, Istanbul. We are soon to learn that the experience at the airport is just a pre-cursor to what is to come. This bustling city of 18+ million people is organised chaos but with the deftness of a couple of chameleon we soon adapt to our environment. The White House Hotel is a small boutique hotel strategically centred in the old city between the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia and the Grand Bazaar. We are received at the Hotel with the same graciousness and friendliness as their driver. Before I can announce ourselves at the reception the trio standing in the vicinity all smile in unison in our direction, whilst the receptionist welcomes us by name, and offers us a welcoming drink which appears on cue by a waiter who comes around the corner with a tray bearing 2 fruit punches and a plate of Turkish delight. After she had succeeded in explaining all the attractions on a map and the directions to go there she bid us a good stay and we set off for our room to organise the rest of the day. Despite the detailed instructions given us by Elif, the receptionist, we soon forgot them as we walked the cobblestone lanes and alleys. It mattered not, however, as being in the centre of most of the major attractions we could not but help stumble across them by default. As we wander and enjoy, our journey of discovery is constantly interceded by a barrage of touting from every merchant we pass. The shopkeeper stands outside his shop to greet you, the restaurateur invites you to eat, the street stall seller stands by his wares as you pass beckoning you to ‘please look’. The Watch man, Bag man, Scarf man, Yo Yo man etc etc all appear from nowhere to sell you their wares and then, after your rejection, disappear just as quickly. Eventually we reached the Grand Bazaar but it is getting late and it is closing so we call it a day for sightseeing and head back to the hotel (in a circular manner) to rest our weary bodies. Apart from being tired we elect not to go out for dinner, rather just pig out on all the Turkish delight and baklava varieties we have collected on the way back (chocolate baklava was best).

July 8

After breakfast we head back to the Grand Bazaar. This is an attraction like no other. Apart from being a magnificent building, it houses over 4000 market stalls selling all manner of products for the tourist trade — Turkish carpets (double twist as compared to the inferior single twist Persian), jewellery (yes it is silver — it has the 925 stamp!), handmade crockery (probably all out of the same factory but prices vary by more than 100%), leather ware (had blinkers on and ear plugs in passing this section) , clothing (all fake or counterfeit from the original factory), scarves (millions of them), handbags and shoes (same as the clothing), watches (Blvgari ‘his and her’ matching sets for €55 but if you bargain hard enough you can get it for TL 18 which is about €9), hand woven silk cushion covers (these weren’t bad), and the list goes on. Of course with so many merchants in such a concentration and with only narrow paths between them, one stood no chance of getting out empty handed. Actually, the architecture is only an excuse to go there and if not it soon becomes the thing of least interest. It literally took one hour to get past the first 5 stalls. Five hours later we hadn’t progressed much further and decided that if we didn’t get out of there we would miss our cruise in 2 days time. The walk back to the hotel was far less circular by now, and after dropping off our booty, we headed for The Fishhouse restaurant — number 7 of 900 odd recommendations from Trip Advisor. Whilst the food was quite edible we were sure we spotted the owner on his computer praising his establishment on Trip Advisor in order to give himself a top rating.

July 9

The Bazaar was great for local arts and craft, but we are about to embark on a 3 week summer cruise in some of the hottest places in Europe and despite having luggage which is bursting at the seams, there just doesn’t appear to be enough ‘light and flowing dresses’ packed. Where else would one go but to the Turkish equivalent of Chadstone Shopping Centre, however the Turkish variety is just a tad larger (catering for 18+ million people) and far less competitive (not many malls here as far as I could see). Every conceivable brand store was represented here and if you had thought you had done it all, when you left the main building there were huge designer superstores which ringed the outside. The instructions to go to this centre were clear: take the tram (4 carriages long — like a snake) to the last stop; then the funicular up the hill; then the Metro train to 4. Leven station; then find the blue mini bus and get out at Istyne Park – the shopping centre. Easy! The weather today is a bit drizzly, but feeling guilty about shopping so much, a walk along the tram route wouldn’t hurt us — we get to see more sights along the way, we can take great photos from the bridge that crosses the water (Golden Horn) to Karakoy and then we can continue by tram to the terminus. We donned our Kathmandu raincoats and headed off toward the bridge, artfully dodging the touting merchants (Ozzie — we love you. How do they know?). The bridge is in sight and the heavens open. How do you catch these trams? Where do you buy a ticket? OK! I’ve got this figured — you buy a token (TL 1.50 flat rate for 1 stop or 20 stops) from the token shop across the road, then enter from the turnstiles in the middle of the road, then get on the next tram going in the right direction. At the terminus we look for the funicular. I can see the hill but no funicular. It must be in the direction that those people are walking so we exit the tramway and follow the crowd. The crowd seems to be thinning. Most are heading toward that mosque. OK, let’s walk up the hill — it must be in that direction. If it wasn’t raining we would be enjoying this walk. How do we cross this highway? Look, there are steps down under the road. It must lead to the funicular, but there are still no cables anywhere. It must be underground. These steps lead to an underpass with nowhere to go. It looks to be an escape from the underpass. I’ll ask these workmen over here. They don’t speak English! I’ll speak slowly. F.U.N.I.C.U.L.A.R. to T.A K.S.I.M. He is pointing up the hill. We make a dash across the highway and continue our upward walk. We walk up and up and up. I’m sure this is right but let’s ask in this chemist shop anyhow. Only 200 more metres. OK, we made it. There is the Metro entrance. Lucky we had these raincoats! Why am I wet inside? Why is my breathing laboured? Look! There is a token machine. It is TL 1.50 flat rate. How easy! Here we are at 4. Leven. This looks like a blue mini bus. It has a hand written sign on cardboard (under the printed sign) on the side window ‘Istyne Park’. Let’s do it! We point to the sign, hold up 2 fingers and give the driver TL 3.0 and surprisingly he nods, takes the money and gives back some change. We rattle along the highway, darting in and out of the universally disregarded lanes and eventually we hear the driver sing out “Istyne Park”. On cue, we alight thanking him, and make a dash across the road at the pedestrian crossing which it appears is only visible to pedestrians. We enter the great monolith and emerge some 6 hours later for our journey home. The taxis look inviting, but we can do it! We observe various buses and mini buses driving past and tooting their horns at a certain point in the road. They appear to stop when a pedestrian at around that same spot waves their arms. We stand in that spot, and when a blue mini bus appears we wave our hands and it stops. We catch the train back to Taksim (easy), follow the signs to Funicular which is connected underground to the Metro (easy) and then follow the signs to Tramway via a stairwell which brings us out at the tram terminus (easy). Wherever did we go wrong?? We sit and wait for the next tram to come for our direction of travel, but they all seem to be coming from that direction and not going towards it. The penny drops! We are at the terminus and they can only come from where we want to go, and they can also only go to where we want to go! Lucky it has stopped raining. We get back just in time to attend the 7.30 pm performance of Sufi Music Concert & Whirling Dervishes Ceremony being held within walking distance of our Hotel at the Press Museum. We stroll home after the show and settle comfortably back into our hotel sanctuary. Tomorrow is the start of our cruise!

July 10

(Until Boarding Seabourn Odyssey) We have a late checkout today so there is just enough time to quickly return to the Bazaar for a couple more bargains. No more time wasting touters. We are on a mission and we return in good time to pack up and bid our most gracious hosts farewell. We receive a small gesture of appreciation of our patronage which is a box of assorted Turkish delight. Yum The taxi ride to the docks took all of 10 minutes, but I realised the error of my ways when I pointed to the Seabourn (as opposed to the Princess) bag drop point. Of course he knows the difference of class of the 2 ships and I had failed to get a quote before leaving the hotel. It was a Yellow cab but there was no meter (or he had hidden it) so when he asked for 30 Euro I corrected him by saying 30 Lira (1/2 the amount). It was the best I could come up with on short notice without engaging in a full scale brawl in front of fellow (well to do) travellers. Having no Lira I paid him with a €20 note and asked for change. He begrudgingly handed over a TL 5 note (hoping I couldn’t tell the difference between euro and lira) but I stated the obvious and his reply was that he only had coin left. With my hand out he finally obliged, as I told him he was lucky because it was still way over the odds and I did not want to make a scene. Whether he understood or not was irrelevant. It was only justification to myself. The bag drop handlers were asking us for labelled swing tags to be put on the luggage. As we had left Melbourne before the ticket & travel pack arrived we had printed e-tickets for boarding, but we did not have the labelled luggage tags. Normally this is not a problem, but we were in Istanbul, there were no Seabourn representatives within sight and the baggage handlers must have thought I had ‘mug’ written across my forehead. After the episode with the cab driver I was in no mood for their parochial bulls..t! I raised my voice with ire and started to head toward the terminal. All of a sudden, the little man with the scruffy beard that was demanding ‘tag labelling money’ disappeared and a more genial baggage handler with a smile on his face appeared with a fistful of labels whilst uttering “no problem, no problem”. We were nearly there. Just a welcoming drink, customs, ship check in and we had made it. It should be all smooth sailing from here.

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