1. Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain
2. Setting Off To Cruise the Mediterranean
3. Italy: Vatican, Colliseum and Italian Wine Are Awesome, But Rome Is Really Expensive and Service Sector Seemed Surly, Inefficient
4. Thrilling Behind-the-Scenes Tour of Princess Cruise Ship
5. Cruise Ships As Sweatshops for Lower Deck Workers
6. Can America Match the Glory That Was Rome?
7. Pompeii, Italy, Buried Under Volcanic Ash for 1700 Years, Comes Alive With Tourists, and Google's Street View
8. Climbing the Acropolis in Athens, Visiting Greece, the Foundation of Western Civilization and Cradle of Democracy
9. You Can't Really Understand Modern Turkey Without Understanding Greece
10. Poignant Story of How Modern Greece and Turkey Were Formed
11. My Big Fat 'Turkish' Wedding?
12. Links Between Turks, Greeks and Americans
13. Greece: Photo Essay and History Lessons
14. Pyramids and Cairo, Egypt
15. Stroll Along Alexandria, Egypt's Waterfront, Home to the New Library, Which Is Challenging Egyptians to Think Critically
16. Whither Egypt: Delicate If Not Contradictory Position of the US
17. Walked 7 Miles Around Cannes, and Took Cold Dip in French Riviera, in December!
18. Exuberant Barcelona, Spain
19. Rock of Gibraltar: Where Europe Meets Africa. Beneath It, the Gates of Hell
20. Comparing 19th Century Cruise to 21st Century Cruise
21. Too Long on Cruise Ship & Too Much of A Good Thing?
22. Turkish North Cyprus for Christmas, Spring Break
23. Never Expect, in Winter's Depth, to Make Three European Flights in One Day
24. Venice, Italy in Literal and Metaphorical Winter. A City of Old People, Every House Like a Museum
25. Awed By the Art of Florence
1. Innocents Abroad
Watch This On Youtube.com.
The Great Pleasure Excursion of 1867 was "chatted about in newspapers everywhere in America..." Participants "were to sail away in a great steamship with flags flying and cannon pealing, and take a royal holiday beyond the broad ocean, in many a strange clime and in many a land renowned in history! They were to sail for months over the breezy Atlantic and the sunny Mediterranean; they were to scamper about the decks by day, filling the ship with shouts and laughter—or read novels and poetry in the shade of the smoke-stacks, or watch for the jelly-fish and the nautilus, over the side, and the shark, the whale, and other strange monsters of the deep; and at night they were to dance in the open air, on the upper deck, in the midst of a ball-room that stretched from horizon to horizon, and was domed by the bending heavens and lighted by no meaner lamps than the stars and the magnificent moon—dance, and promenade, and smoke, and sing, and make love, and search the skies for constellations that never associate with the “Big Dipper” they were so tired of; and they were to see the ships of twenty navies—the customs and costumes of twenty curious peoples —the great cities of half a world—they were to hob-nob with nobility and hold friendly converse with kings and princes, Grand Moguls, and the anointed lords of mighty empires!" -- Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad
2. Setting Off On 18-Day Mediterranean Cruise
Brothers aboard the Grand Princess. This ship model is made of sugar.
My two sons, Matthew, 25, Alex, 12, and I wheeled our suitcases out of our apartment complex in Kayseri, Turkey, headed for our version of Mark Twain's Innocents Abroad. In 1867, Twain crossed the Atlantic by steamer and explored Europe, Turkey and the Holy Land for six months. The cost was $1,250 per person. In today's dollars, that's something in the neighborhood of $35,000 per person. By 2009, an 18-day Mediterranean Cruise was valued at about $5,000 a person. In our case, however, it was almost free.
That's because Matthew worked as a sound engineer in the entertainment division of Princess Cruise Lines, and his family could board ship as his guests, or as stowaways (as I called us) if there was cabin space available.
On a mid-November evening, Lucia and a small committee of Turks and Americans waved us off. I worried that it wasn't exactly the best time to go, since our house in North Carolina still wasn't rented because of the economic collapse in the states. But how could I say no to a 'free' cruise? My excuse was "what an education this will be for Alex." And as Twain wrote:
"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
3. Italy: Vatican, Colliseum and Italian Wine Are Awesome, But Rome Is Really Expensive and Service Sector Seemed Surly, Inefficient
I tweet: Rome wasn't built in a day, but I have only 24 hours to see it.
I have read that there is sadness in the heart of every Italian because he knows that whatever he and his countrymen do, they will never accomplish as much as their ancestors accomplished in the Roman Empire.
By some measures, Rome's future is behind it. The government is corrupt, there's widespread indifference about that, and even a scofflaw mentality among the people, and some economic sectors seem hopelessly disorganized.
By other measures, Italian food, wine, art, history, and automobiles are still among the most magnificent in the world.
On the plane to Rome, the swarthy Italian in front of me stood to fetch his laptop from the compartment above, carelessly dropped his suitcase on my head while I was eating, and -- get this -- not a word of apology!
Rome airport was poorly marked and difficult to find our way. At baggage claim, while we waited forever for our bags, this creepy-looking guy sat down too close to me on a bench while I was trying to access Internet to make a Skype call. I thought he might be trying to pilfer my credit card. I purchased Internet use for 3 Euro; ($5), but it didn't work. My jacket dropped from atop my suitcase to the floor to a mud puddle inside the terminal. The vagrant sitting next to me let out a big fart.
I glared at him.
When Matthew sought to purchase tickets for the express train from Fiumicino airport to Rome's Termini station, which is known as the Leonardo Express, he had to cool his heels for 10 minutes while the man selling tickets talked on a mobile to his girl friend, and while he argued with a fellow ahead of us in the line who complained loudly that the attendant should hurry the f**k up. The attendant defiantly puttered around his booth while the line grew longer. Therefore we missed the express train into town, and had to wait an extra 30 minutes for the next one.
Cost from Rome airport to downtown for the three of us on the train was something like $50. Cost from Rome (Termina station) to Civitavecchia (where the Grand Princess was docked) was twice as far and approximately half the cost. Go figure.
The walk from the train station to our hotel in Rome was a bit creepy, down dark streets. There was graffiti all over the walls, suggesting the presence of gangs.I was tired and in a bad mood. I thought, "The Italians need to bring back Mussolini....At least he made the trains run on time. I can see that all the smart Italians immigrated to America."
But then we arrived safely to our hotel, which was clean and comfortable, and only about $60 for the three of us. It was centrally located for easy exploring of Rome on Tuesday, so I began to think more charitably toward the Italians.
We slept soundly, grabbed coffee and rolls at a shop nearby, and had a wonderful four hours or so at the Vatican. Then we strolled around Rome in the afternoon.
See our photo essays on
- St. Peter's Square,
- St. Peter's Basilica,
- the Vatican Museums, and
- strolling around Rome, including wine as cheap as bottled water and a tour of the famed ruins of the Colliseum.
Prices for food, computer equipment, even postcards seemed about double what they are in America and Turkey.
Getting around Rome wasn't easy. There were inexplicable delays of one hour or more on the trains to and from the port of Civitavecchia, where the Grand Princess was docked.
Places that see masses of tourists, like the Colliseum in Rome, don't take credit cards, only cash, so we had to search around for nearly an hour to find an ATM machine that worked (two of them were out of money at lunch time), and when we walked into a bank and waited in line, they told us we could only get cash from the machines. Money changers charge an arm and a leg.
In short, I did not come away with positive impressions of the service sector in Rome. If the trains and the financial sector worked more efficiently, we would have been able to see more in our limited time.
Even so, one cannot deny the magnificence of the Rome that once was, and the remnants that still exist, even if the Rome of today is well past its prime. And maybe I am just an arrogant American, seeing decline and decadence in Rome when my own country will be hard pressed to make nearly the long-term contribution to Western if not world civilization -- to art, architecture, religion, government, and cuisine -- that Rome has done over the centuries.
The Roman Empire lasted 500 years in Western Europe, and a thousand years in Eastern Europe and Asia Minor. America has been influential on the world stage less than 250 years. Is there any chance that we will match the glory of Rome?
I tweet: In Rome. Faces on street, in metro look familiar. Italians look a lot more like "Americans" than do the Turks....
Yes, as an American, I felt a definite, intuitive kinship with the Romans.
In Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain offered something of a mocking portrait of the Old World, especially Rome and the Vatican. "It makes me dizzy, to think of the Vatican--of its wilderness of statues, paintings, and curiosities of every description and every age. The 'old masters' (especially in sculpture) fairly swarm, there," he wrote. "I can not write about the Vatican. I think I shall never remember any thing I saw there distinctly but the mummies, and the Transfiguration, by Raphael, and some other things it is not necessary to mention now." He referred to sculptures by Mr. Michael Angelo, and paintings by so many Old Masters that it was overwhelming and he wished that some of them "had died a little younger." Twain and his compatriots also liked to ask impertinent questions of the tour guides. When shown a tomb, a statue or a mummy, they'd ask, "Is he dead?" The guide would look incredulous. "Of course he's dead. He died 10 centuries ago." This became a running gag.
I'm sure my son Alex could relate.
4. Thrilling Behind the Scenes Tour of Princess Ship
Up around 7:00 am the next morning for our 18-day cruise. Matthew left our hotel room in Chevekechia, Italy, a charming port outside Rome, to take the crew bus to the Grand Princess and begin his next eight-month contract. Alex and I walked around Chevekechia for a couple of hours, then entered the harbor area, filled out a bunch of paperwork, and were allowed to board the Princess about 11 am.
Matthew gave us a tour of the 3000-passenger ship, once the world’s largest, and together we ate a huge buffet lunch.
Watching Matthew give wide-eyed Alex a VIP-behind-the-scenes tour of the cruise ship, I thought about a scene from Edward Kennedy's autobiography, "True Compass," which I had recently read. This is like watching the 30-year-old JFK in 1946, recently elected to Congress, giving his 12-year-old brother Ted a VIP, behind the scenes tour of Congress, I thought. Older brother passes on his passion to younger brother. Alex was awestruck. Since he has been reading about Greek and Roman gods, he placed his brother in the pantheon of gods. At lunch, he declared:
"If you can get me a $5,000 cruise for free, you are a god.
“If you work on a cruise ship, you are a god.
“My brother Matthew is a god.
“I feel like I've died and gone to heaven.
“This cruise ship is awesome. Everything about it is awesome."
Looking back years later, I wondered if it was this moment that sparked Alex's interest in becoming an engineer "like Matthew."
As for me, on the day I boarded the ship, I felt like I was related to a very privileged person. My son on that day seemed like a master of the universe. Matthew led Alex, in Twain's words, "scampering about the decks by day, filling the ship with shouts and laughter." He had watched "for the jelly-fish and the nautilus, over the side, and the shark, the whale, and other strange monsters of the deep."
Just as in Twain's time, the ballroom of the ship "stretched from horizon to horizon, and was domed by the bending heavens and lighted by no meaner lamps than the stars and the magnificent moon..."
I could understand how for some passengers, the destination of the cruise ship didn't matter. The cruiseship itself is the destination. You have the sense of being taken care of, living in the lap of luxury. On sea days, you are entertained with lectures, movies, concerts and shows from morning to evenings. You can utilize one of several expansive workout rooms, run track, play basketball, volleyball or shuffleboard, swim in one of two pools, sip champagne in the hot tub, or gamble at the casino.
Cruise ships allow you to visit the port cities of Europe far more efficiently, conveniently and economically than you could by land. You get a sampling of each country, and an overview of the region, and can decide where to come back to, on land, to explore those places that enchant you the most.
We stuffed ourselves at buffet breakfasts and lunches. For dinners, we felt like VIPs, usually dressed well, donned jacket and tie, and joined Matthew, the captain and officers in their own private restaurant, and interesting conversations about all the places they've traveled in the world.
Princess Cruise Lines Official Video: Watch It on Youtube.
5. Cruise Ships As Sweatshops for Lower Deck Workers
Matthew generally had a good experience during his seven years working on cruise ships. Since his room and board were paid for, and he had no need for a car, he was able to save a lot of money while seeing the world. But his eyes were also opened to injustices experienced by workers from South American and Asian countries, as revealed in this video:
6. Can America Match the Glory That Was Rome?
Re-reading what I wrote above about modern Rome -- seeing mostly decline, decadence, inefficiency, surliness and corruption -- maybe I am just an arrogant American, as my own country will be hard pressed to make nearly the long-term contribution to Western if not world civilization, to art, architecture, religion, government, and cuisine -- that Rome has done over the centuries. The Roman Empire lasted 500 years in Western Europe, and a thousand years in Asia Minor, dominating both continents, as well as the Middle East and northern Africa. The fall of the Western Roman Empire around 500 A.D. led to the Dark Ages in Europe, 800 years of cultural stagnation before the Renaissance and the Enlightenment began to form modern Western thought.
If the American Empire fell -- if it faced economic collapse and the "united" states like California, Texas, and Alaska seceded and declared their independence -- does anyone believe that would lead to another Dark Ages? Perhaps. With a global and interdependent economy, in ways we all rise or fall together. Or would countries like China and India easily step in to the vacuum left by America's economic collapse?
Certainly from the perspective of the early 21st century, America looks far more solid and unified than the Greco-Roman empire ever was. We don't have the long tribal history, the "Tower of Babel" split into hundreds of languages and cultures, and we've benefited, at least since the early 20th century, from mass communication. Our language -- English -- is dominant in the world of business, at least until and unless the Chinese become far bigger players.
America grew out of the Greco-Roman tradition, and has been influential on the world stage less than 250 years. Is there any chance that we will match the glory of Rome, or even of the Italian Renaissance, which lasted 300 years, longer than America has existed?
Since returning from our trip, we've started to watch the HBO series "Rome." The Roman emperors in this series don't seem too different from popular perceptions of Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon and the Bushes, and our media celebrities not too different from Roman gods. In 2000 years, will there be a popular dramatic series called "America" that has as many episodes as "Rome"? Or will the story of America be seen as history repeating itself, Rome redux, only shorter? Who's to say that the decline, decadence, inefficiency, surliness and corruption that I observed in Rome won't be the fate of America in 100 years?
From my perspective today, it's hard to imagine. We are blessed by a huge geographical advantage, spanning an entire continent, a mindset of assimilation and a population that speaks the same language that the Roman Empire did not have. Even as America endures a Great Recession, what I hope and believe is embedded in our national character -- our gumption, our work ethic, our Puritanical streak that eschews corruption -- will save us from the fate of Rome. That's not guaranteed, of course. Economic, political and environmental forces could conspire to send us into deep decline.
The Roman Empire grew and maintained itself through military might, amassing wealth from its subjects and political dictatorship. My own view is that if America is to endure on the world stage, its power will not come from military might and amassing great wealth from client states, toppling governments and trying to impose democracy, in the process spending trillions, going deeply in debt and killing tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands as we did in Iraq. America's strength will come from the power of its ideas and ideals of equality, respect for diversity ("Out of many peoples, one people. From one people, many cultures that contribute to the whole"), individual freedom, economic opportunity, democracy, self-government, and self-determination.
Historians are perennially engaged in an interesting debate over the comparisons between America and Ancient Rome.
Harvard Professor Niall Ferguson wrote an intriguing piece for Newsweek: "How Great Powers Fall: Steep Debt, Slow Growth, and High Spending Kills Empires, and America May Be Next."
Piers Brendon, author of "The Decline and Fall of the British Empire,"offers a more optimistic assessment of America's future. Brandon, in a New York Times article, says America is in a far superior position to ancient Rome in its ability to maintain its world leadership because its economy is far more diversified: "The Roman economy depended on agriculture whereas the United States has an enormous industrial base," Brandon writes. The U.S. produces "nearly a quarter of the world’s manufactured goods, and dominates the relatively new invention of the service economy." Unlike Rome, America is constitutionally stable and not currently vulnerable to internal strife. Militarily, Rome was overrun by barbarians, but America's military remains powerful around the world. "It is hard to visualize an attack on America as devastating as that inflicted by Vandals, Goths and Huns on Rome," Brendon writes.
Unlike the Roman empire, the British empire, or other relatively small countries that once had empires of one kind or another, the American empire is founded on a huge and bountiful continent bordering two oceans.
To avoid over-extending itself, America needs only to reduce its hard military commitments to make them more compatible with its resources, and rely more on soft power, diplomatic and economic strength, Brendon writes.
Far more important than grasping tightly on the trappings of empire and geopolitical power -- manipulating other nations like pawns on a chess board -- Brandon believes Americans should strive to maintain national self-esteem the way the Brits have done, by perpetuating “ 'the imperishable empire' of their arts and their morals, their literature and their laws."
As the Romans Did Cullen Murphy, the author of Are We Rome?, talks about the American empire's parallels with the ancient republic and how we can learn from the caesars' mistakes.
7. Pompeii, Italy, Buried Under Volcanic Ash for 1700 Years, Comes Alive With Tourists, and Google's Street View
Cruise ships travel slowly, lumbering along at only about 28 miles per hour, sometimes as slow as 18 miles per hour. From Rome we floated south overnight only about 200 miles, to the city of Naples, located in the shadow of a still active volcano, Vesuvius. The last time Vesuvius blew its top was 1980, but it still smolders, and tremors are frequent in the region. No telling when Vesuvius will again wreak havoc like it did in 1906. Then it killed 2,000 people.
The most celebrated eruption of Vesuvius was in A.D. 79, when it buried the town of Pompeii under 60 feet of ash and mud. Remarkably, all that ash preserved the town for nearly 1700 years pretty much the way it was on the day the volcano erupted. Pompeii now comes alive with more than 2.5 million tourists each year. The most macabre displays in Pompeii are the mummies. Haunting faces stare out from the eons. One mummy is shown behind Alex's shoulder in the photo above. The volcanic ash mummified hundreds of bodies in an air-tight avalanche of mud. The few mummies on display aren't actually skeletons, but imprints made from the hardened mud.
Archaeology Blogger Rossella Lorenzi pointed out on Discovery News that "If you can't be one of the 2.5 million tourists who wander through the streets of Pompeii every year, you now have another option: Google's Street View."
8. Climbing the Acropolis in Athens, Visiting Greece, the Foundation of Western Civilization and Cradle of Democracy
"Five hundred years before Christ in a little town on the far western border of the settled and civilized world, a strange new power was at work," begins Edith Hamilton in "The Greek Way."
That power was Reason, embodied by the ancient Athenians who gave us the idea that the rule of law was better than rule by individual. They also gave us democracy, the idea that the people should not be merely the subjects of autocrats and despots but self-determining participants in their own government. In a brief 200 years, the Athenians made huge contributions to architecture, philosophy, and the foundations of government.
It was thrilling to climb the Acropolis (Acro is Greek for highest point; polis is Greek for city), though Matthew overheard one woman complain, "We paid so much for this cruise you'd think they could provide elevators to the top." We walked around the ruins of the Parthenon, a temple to Athena, goddess of wisdom, and Nike, the goddess of victory; the Propylaea, a monumental marble gateway and the main entrance to the Acropolis; the Erechtheum, a temple famous for the perfection of its details.Return to Table of Contents
9. Greece: Photo Essays and History Lesson
- A Photo Essay on the 10 days our family spent in Greece, Athens, the Foundation of Western Civilization, and Delphi, Ancient Center of the Universe.
- Our slideshow of the Greek Isles. Click.
Related:Return to Table of Contents
10. You Can't Really Understand Modern Turkey Without Understanding Greece
After visiting Athens, it seemed strange to me that the Greeks and Turks don't get along better than they do. They share so much history -- both were a part of the Greco-Roman Empire -- so much culture, music and food, but in the 19th century became bitter enemies when Greece declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire. This enmity lasted more than 200 years. When the Ottoman Empire collapsed, Greece (with the help of allies) sought to recapture the western part of Turkey. Christian Greece has oppressed and discriminated against Muslim Turks in retaliation for what they felt was discrimination in by the Turkey.
The Greeks could not accept that Turkey was awarded the Aegean coast; the countries fought bitterly over Cyprus, and Greece harbored Kurdish independence movement terrorists in hopes of weakening Turkey and maybe even hoping that it would fragment so that Greece could pick up the pieces. I'm told that Greeks and Turks, when they meet outside their countries, become great friends, but inside their countries, where politics is concerned, they stare at each other warily.
Turkish feelings towards Greece are contradictory. "We are brothers," one Turk told me. Another Turk, however, expressed resentment at the Greeks, saying they can't be trusted. These two emotions -- love and loathing -- are common between Greeks and Turks, whose peoples endured a painful divorce. They are now forging two separate identities as competitors, adversaries and wary allies.
The Greek or Christian history of Turkey isn't taught much in Turkish schools. Turkish history pretty much began when the Ottomans conquered Greek Constantinople in 1353. And after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the modern nation of Turkey was founded in 1923. I learned this the hard way when I asked my students, "Is the US an old country or a young country?" and some of them insisted the USA is an old country compared to Turkey which is a "young country." Then they acknowledged that there were other cultures here before the Turks, but "they weren't Turkish."
11. The Poignant Story of How Modern Greece and Turkey Were Formed
When I first arrived in Turkey, I naively asked why there are so few Christians here, given that there is so much physical evidence of a long Christian history. The answer is provided in the book, Twice a Stranger: The Mass Expulsions that Forged Modern Greece and Turkey by Bruce Clark, one of the saddest and most heart-rending books I've ever read.
Average Turkish Muslims and Greek Orthodox Christians were friends and neighbors for centuries, sharing a love of the land and a culture of close families, lively music, exuberant dance, and hearty food. But as the Ottoman Empire teetered on the verge of collapse after World War I, there was a power vacuum. Greeks, who had lived here for 3000 years, fantasized about establishing "a new Byzantium," reclaiming dominance for their Orthodox brand of Chrisianity.
The Greek government attacked the Turkish mainland in 1919. The ensuing three-year Greco-Turkish war, really a civil war, ended with the triumph of Turkish nationalists led by Mustafa Kemel (Ataturk). Greece gave up most of the territory it sought, and both countries agreed to a population exchange of approximately 1.5 million people: all Greek Orthodox Christians had to move from Turkey to Greece, and all Muslims had to move from Greece to Turkey. This scheme, engineered by diplomats and politicians, may have prevented ongoing civil war, but it sure was excruciatingly painful for average citizens. Some even changed their religion in order to stay put or to maintain friendships. Clark writes:
...About 20 percent of the population of Anatolia died violently during the last ten years of the Ottoman empire's existence: some 2.5 million Muslims, up to 800,000 Armenians and 300,000 Greeks. To put it another way, a third of the Christian population and one eighth of the Muslim population had been killed, making the Ottoman empire a far more rural, and Islamic place: its population was now at least 96 percent Muslim, up from 80 percent before he decade of mutual slaughter began. The population exchange marked a final, cold-blooded conclusion of the process whereby Anatolia became Muslim and the southern Balkans became mostly Christian.
Clark says that parts of Turkey and Greece today are "haunted lands." While the divorce between Greece and Turkey may have been necessary to forge modern nations, the collective pain of separation is still felt so acutely that many Turks and Greeks find it difficult to discuss, he says. They still have a love-hate relationship with each other.
One reason there are so few Christians in Turkey is that Christianity was associated almost completely with the Greek Orthodox Church, and so if you were Christian, you probably spoke Greek rather than Turkish and were considered loyal to Greece or a disloyal Turk. Religious services were held in the Greek language, not Turkish language. Back in the 20s in the midst of nationalist fervor on the part of both countries, Christian Greek Orthodox Turks were forced to move to Greece and Muslim Greeks were forced to move to Turkey. That population exchange of approximately two million people was terribly unfair and painful for individuals and families, of course, but author Stephen Kinzer says it might have been the best alternative to war, constant insecurity and suspicion of the citizenry on the part of both countries.
Now Greeks and Turks are trying to mend fences politically and become friends again. SeeGreek Cafe in Heart of Turkey Signals a Thaw in Relations. See also background articles on Pope Benedict's 2006 visit to Turkey. And there are now Greek-Turkish festivals held, for example, in Cappadocia.
Watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding, I couldn't help but think how similar Greek and Turkish cultures are. Both cultures emphasize large extended families that live close in proximity to each other. There is a passion for singing and dancing and doing things together as a family. Family members tend to get into other family members' personal business, and there are super-strong bonds of love, caring and humor about each others' foibles. Some American families still have those tight bonds, but American culture promotes individualism and Americans tend to move for work, so family bonds inevitably loosen somewhat as family members scatter.
I love the proud Greek identity of "Gus," the head of the Greek-American family in the film (As his wife explained, the husband is the head of the Greek family, but the wife is the neck, and she can often turn the husband's head and make him do what she wants -- this seems similar to Turkish families, where wives often carry quite a bit of power if not more power than their husbands.)
"My ancestors were writing philosophy and performing plays when your ancestors were still swinging in trees," the Greek-American patriot Gus tells his future son-in-law.
"There is a Greek root to every English word," he insists. The ancient Greeks, he kept reminding his children, gave the world astronomy, architecture, sculpture, philosophy, and democracy. Indeed, Greeks have a heritage to be proud of.
Turks also have a heritage to be proud of, but their culture hasn't quite penetrated American consciousness the way that Greek culture and history have.
13. Links Between Turks, Greeks and Americans
We in the West have glorified and romanticized Greece -- see Edith Hamilton's classic, The Greek Way -- and pretty much ignored Turkey because it was Muslim and therefore "the other."
Yet I've heard Turks boast that Native Americans were originally Turkish -- there are numerous similarities between Native American languages such as Aztec and Turkik languages. (Turkish word for tent is tepe, for example. Indeed, one linguist found more than 300 Turkish words in Native American languages. ). Native-American and Turkish carpet patterns are similar as well. The ancient, nomadic Turks originated in Central Asia. So theoretically, they gradually moved from Central Asia to what is now the very eastern edge of Russia, over the Bering Strait, down into the Western part of what is now the United States. Some scientists have found DNA links between native Americans and the Tuvan Turks of Siberia.
The major reason for lack of American awareness of Turkish influence is that Turkish immigration to America has been far less than Greek immigration. Well over half a million Greeks immigrated to the U.S. between 1820 and 1982, according to www.everyculture.com, due to poor labor conditions in Greece. An average of more than 2,000 Greeks have immigrated to the U.S. every year since 1982. More than one million Americans claim they have at least one Greek ancestor.
In contrast, "the history of Turkish American immigration to the United States is not well documented and is generally unknown," according to www.everyculture.com. Turks have not generally immigrated to America due to poor labor conditions in Turkey, but they have immigrated to Europe.
In recent times, however, Turkish-American immigration to the U.S. has been steady. Since the 1970s, the number of Turkish immigrants to the US has risen to more than 2,000 per year, and the total Turkish-American population is estimated to be between 100,000 and 500,000. Turkish-American communities, according to Wikipedia, have developed in New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Florida and Maryland. List of famous Turkish Americans.
With immigrants, there's always tension in determining the degree of integration, assimilation, language acquisition and cultural adaptation that could endanger or subsume one's native identity. My Big Fat Greek Wedding deals with that issue with humor and grace. I'm now waiting for a popular movie to show the integration of Turks into American society, maybe marriage between a Muslim Turk and an American Christian or Jew. It does happen from time to time.
- Turkish Americans - History, Modern era, Significant immigration waves, Settlement patterns, Acculturation and assimilation, Cuisine, Traditional costumes
14. Pyramids, and Cairo, Egypt
To visit the Great Pyramids of Giza, we had to battle aggressively obnoxious vendors, as I illustrate in the video above. Learn more on preparing yourself for the dishonest touts around the pyramids.
We also had to battle the chaos and congestion of Cairo -- a city of 20 million people, 23,600 miles of road, and two million cars. The documentary, "Cairo Drive," by Egyptian/ American filmmaker Sherief Elkatsha, really resonated with my brief experience. It used automobile traffic as a metaphor for why Cairo, and Egypt, barely function.
"Taxis, buses, donkey carts, and swarms of people, all jockeying to move through the obstacle course that is their daily lives. Sitting at a cultural intersection, Cairo is a city unlike any other, where different faiths, races, and social classes all share a few clogged arteries of tarmac."Watch the trailer for "Cairo Drive" and learn more about it.
15. Glorious Stroll Along Alexandria, Egypt's Waterfront, Home to the New Library, Which Is Challenging Egyptians to Think Critically
Overnight, we sailed to the Egyptian seaport city of Alexandria, on the Mediterranean Sea, founded by Alexander the Great in 332 BC. It seemed to function better than Cairo, with a population less desperate and maybe more financial opportunities. Alexandria was home to the oldest and largest library in the world, housing the wisdom of ancient Greece, but that library was lost to antiquity. A new library now stands in its place, shaped like a sundial, and includes the only backup of the Internet archive in the world. Smithsonian Magazine covered the new library's 2002 opening, and The New York Times reported on a November, 2009 conference held there on evolution, challenging Egyptians to think more critically about issues that challenge religious fundamentalism.
We had only a few hours to stroll the waterfront and explore Alexandria, but it seems to be far more modern than Cairo. Wikitravel has a good overview. My cousin Abe Katz spent his junior year in Alexandria and kept an interesting blog. I also found it useful to re-read President Obama's excellent 2009 speech in Cairo, "A New Beginning" on U.S. relationships with the Muslim world, fighting "crude stereotypes" of both Muslims and Westerners. The beauty of Alexandria's waterfront, the glory of its history and the modernity of its library certainly do not fit the stereotype of a benighted religion or culture.
And yet, we did see things that were shocking and repugnant to our Western eyes. We were in Alexandria during the Festival of Sacrifice, where sheep, goats, and cows were dragged out into the streets, their throats were slit, and their bodies carved up, with the edible parts donated to charity. Blood was running in the street. We had to step over animal heads and feet. There seemed to be very little concern for sanitation.
In Turkey, I read that the sacrifice is mainly conducted by professional butcherswith a concern for sanitation. That did not seem to be the case in Egypt. Today's Zaman has other articles on religion and animal sacrifice.
We in the West love meat but we prefer to keep the sacrifice of animals for our culinary enjoyment hidden from our eyes. Alex declared himself a vegetarian after watching the sacrifice, but he must not have been too upset by it because he returned to the cruise ship to order steak for dinner.
16. Egypt: The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same
I saw men fishing in stagnant waters in Cairo, and that pretty much symbolized the whole society for me: culturally stagnant, under the clamp of Mubarak's one-party rule, then rule by the Muslim Brotherhood, then military dictatorship. Alexandria was far more modern and welcoming to my Western eyes, except for the animal sacrifices we witnessed in the streets.
An online acquaintance recommended the movie, "The Yacoubian Building," as offering great insight into modern Egypt. According to the book and movie, Egypt as a nation "has squandered its promise and has been forced to compromise its own principles, resulting in a corrupt and undemocratic political system."
I must say that was also my impression after 48 hours in Egypt in December 2009, shortly before the "Arab Spring" began to stir. The country was under a state of martial law from the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1982 through the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in 2012. Mubarak planned on passing the job of President to his son Gamal, with U.S. blessing. Egypt was viewed by advocates of Islamic democracy as "the sick man of the middle east, teetering on the brink of social precipice." After a few promising moments during the Arab Spring of 2011-2012, it seems not much has ultimately changed in Egyptian people on the street. In 2013, with demands from secularists and perhaps a majority of the Egyptian people, the military topplied the "democratically-elected government" of the Muslim Brotherhood and moved to suppressed the group as was done during the Mubarak years.
The U.S. is in the delicate and some might say hypocritical position of condemning Arab nations for their autocratic ways and human rights abuses, while at the same time supporting and propping up authoritarian regimes in Arab nations that engage in human rights abuses, that stymie the development of democracy and respect for human rights, and that do not allow dissent or political struggles through peaceful means. Because of our dependence on Middle Eastern oil, we fund and empower autocracies that quash democracy. Does not terrorism grow in part from frustration that the political process is anti-democratic, that it will not allow, hear, validate or be responsive to citizens' concerns?
That said, if the U.S. withdraws support from the authoritarian Egyptian government and it falls, again, to Islamic extremists, what then? The United States and Israel depend on Egypt to provide an indispensible role of mediator and leading voice of moderation in the Arab world. Ambassador Edward Walker made a cogent point in a 2006 symposium on "The Future of Egypt":
"I am great proponent for democracy, but I am also a firm believer that we cannot impose it, and that it ought to be up to the Egyptians. The more we interfere, the harder it is for them. We have this real religious commitment to democracy, which we have to constrain if we are going to have substantial relations with these countries and if they are going to be able to get on with the problem of generating democracy from within."
Our video slideshow from Barcelona. My sons and I visited in early December, 2009 as part of a Mediterranean Cruise. We were very impressed with Barcelona (Wikipedia entry) in the short few hours we spent there. There is a remarkable atmosphere of creativity, as expressed in many well-designed buildings and symbolized by the fact they've made a saint of an architect, Antoni Gaudi. There's also a remarkable sense of diversity and palpable sense of openness about Barcelona. They've welcomed thousands of new immigrants with open arms, in hopes of beating their arch-rival Madrid economically and politically.It looks like a great city to visit, very modern and looking to the future,
unlike Rome and Athens that look to the past, and not so much Spanish as international in flavor.
Read My Barcelona by Paul Goldberger for National Geographic Traveler.
Below, Destination Spain video:
19. Where Europe Meets Africa: The Rock of Gibraltar. Beneath It, the Gates of Hell
Watch This On Youtube.com
At the southern tip of Spain, across a strait from Africa where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean is a fascinating town and tall rock filled with strange monkeys and a prehistoric cave once thought to be the entrance to hell. My sons Matthew and Alex and I visited Gibraltar at the end of December. It's where our cruise together ended.
To see the comments of Facebook friends on this video, go here.
20. Comparing a 19th Century Cruise to a 21st Century Cruise
Has cruising changed much since Twain's 1867 voyage? Yes and no. The weeks-long Atlantic Crossing, thanks to the advent of air travel, has been eliminated for most cruisers. No longer do you sail for months, as Twain did. That part of the journey no doubt contributed to a sense of camaraderie and friendship amongst passengers. Twain, traveling with only a few hundred passengers and crew, described a sense of intimacy because he got to know the personalities on his voyage quite well, enough to write humorously about their eccentricities. Passengers shared seemingly endless hours of boredom, seasickness, and sometimes a feeling of being trapped, like a rat or a caged animal. To go weeks without setting foot on land, for many passengers, was a mental hardship.
Modern cruises, in contrast, with thousands of passengers traversing broad boulevards aboard ship, with dozens of amenities and forms of entertainment on board, generally do not develop a sense of camaraderie and intimacy among strangers. Only if you charter a small ship for a group with a common interest are you likely to achieve the kind of intimacy Twain wrote about.
Life aboard a cruise ship has been democratized. No longer is cruising reserved for the super-rich. No longer are you likely to "hob-nob with nobility and hold friendly converse with kings and princes, Grand Moguls, and the anointed lords of mighty empires."
Regular middle class people -- school teachers, accountants, small businessmen -- can afford to cruise for weeks a year, living in a style on board ship that would have seemed incredibly luxurious in Twain's time. The masses can now do what only aristocrats could do in his day:
"scamper about the decks by day, filling the ship with shouts and laughter—or read novels and poetry in the shade of the smoke-stacks, or watch for the jelly-fish and the nautilus, over the side, and the shark, the whale, and other strange monsters of the deep; and at night they were to dance in the open air, on the upper deck, in the midst of a ball-room that stretched from horizon to horizon, and was domed by the bending heavens and lighted by no meaner lamps than the stars and the magnificent moon—dance, and promenade, and smoke, and sing, and make love, and search the skies for constellations that never associate with the “Big Dipper” they were so tired of; and they were to see the ships of twenty navies—the customs and costumes of twenty curious peoples —the great cities of half a world…"
21. Too Much of a Good Thing?
After 18 days and for me, too many sea days, I was climbing the walls and eager to get off the ship. I felt too contained. I'd wake up in the morning, read about the qualifications of the great gourmet chefs of Europe who would be feeding us, and my mouth would start to water in anticipation of the foods I was going to eat that day. I morphed into a gourmand -- a greedy and ravenous glutton taking too much pleasure in food. Like many cruisers, with the unlimited, always on, "all you can eat" buffet, I seemed to be gaining about one pound per day, or 18 pounds in 18 days. Forced to loosen the buckles on my belt, it became clear this was not a long-term healthy lifestyle for me.
As in Twain's time, life aboard a ship traveling the world was over-hyped as infinitely glamorous, when the day-to-day reality by the two-week mark was beginning to feel mundane.
A long sea voyage, he wrote, tends to bring all the worst traits a man has, and exaggerates them, "and raises up others which he never suspected he possessed, and even creates new ones. A twelve months' voyage at sea would make of an ordinary man a very miracle of meanness."
I wouldn't mind going on another, shorter cruise with fewer sea days and lots of stops, like New England and Nova Scotia, or Alaska, with the fjords visible right from the ship's balcony. We almost took a cruise of Scandinavia and the Baltic, which would have been nice because that region is so expensive and a cruise would be a good way to contain costs. But I don't think I'd ever become a cruise-aholic, eager to sail from California to Hawaii or across the Atlantic or Pacific or around the world. Way too many sea days.
Still, I was envious of Matthew and all he had seen of the world. Working on a cruise ship seemed like a wonderful way to spend your twenties. He was exposed to so many different cultures and nationalities, and developed such an international-minded world view. That's in contrast to most Americans, who as a rule, "aren't very worldly or knowledgeable of the world," he said.
He had learned that "Juneau (Alaska) is the only state capital that can't be driven to. They have been trying for years to build a road there, but it doesn’t look like it will happen in the near future.
"I've seen with my own eyes glaciers in both Alaska and Norway receding due to global warming.
"That just because a ship is running into ice doesn’t mean it’s going to sink.
"That Iceland is Green, and Greenland is ice.
"In most countries in Europe you can go for a long bike ride and end up in the next country by the end of a good days ride."
After seven years on cruise ships traveling the world, and routinely emailing, texting, Facebooking and video-calling, for him "the world isn’t that big." Certainly not compared to Mark Twain's time, when it would take six months and half a fortune to see Europe and the Holy Land.
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22. Turkish North Cyprus for Christmas and Spring Break
In anticipation of the trip, I downloaded the Academy-award winning 1960 movie, "Exodus," a slightly fictionalized account of the founding of the state of Israel. It was filmed partly in Cyprus, where Jewish refugees from the European Holocaust were held by the British before being allowed to board flotillas to Palestine.
It was great to see, in the movie, some of the sights I actually saw in Cyprus, but also to be reminded of the early courage of the Israelis who risked everything to found their own country. While I had serious doubts about Israeli policies toward the Palestinians, I think the founding of Israel was basically a heroic act. This movie told that story without whitewashing the plight of the Palestinians, especially for those who aren't familiar with how Israel was founded in 1948.
The temperature on Kipras at Christmas wasn't exactly swim weather -- in the fifties -- and public transportation wasn't as easy or plentiful as on the Turkey mainland, so we didn't make it to a swimmable beach. In retrospect, we made a mistake not to rent a car for our brief stay. Walking from our hotel -- The Ship Inn -- a mile outside Kirenia (Girne) -- was along a very busy street, and Girne was more built-up and developed than we would have liked.
There is still a big British influence in Cyprus, the island having won independence in just 1960 -- they drive on the "wrong side of the road," and nearly all of the guests at the "Ship Inn" resort we stayed at (package deal -- including breakfast and dinner) were older British couples.
The highlight of the weekend was our visit to the village of Bellapais and the monastery there, built by exiled Augustinian monks, listed as a "sacred destination," but now a museum. Alex climbed the trees shown in the picture and started knocking out what he thought were ripe oranges, and collecting them for his backpack, but turns out they were bitter lemons. You should have seen the twisted expression on his face when he took a bite!
The abbey's history can be traced back to the 12th century. Interestingly, the Catholic Church of Cyprus is independent of Rome.
Climbing the steps of the abbey you can see great views of the harbor, sea and coastline.
Alas, we had to depend on online photos for pictures, because Cyprus uses europlugs, and the ones I purchased didn't work with either my camera phone or my laptop, so we didn't take any pictures over the weekend.
As our visas were expiring in late March, and again in June, Alex and I had to exit the Turkish mainland and the most convenient way to do this was to go to Cyprus. We surmised (wrongly) that it would be cheaper to take a ferry than to fly over from the Turkish mainland. Actually, flying was only 135 Turkish Lira (about $80) for two people, whereas bus/ferry combination was 180 Turkish Lira (about $120).
The Lonely Planet guidebook to Turkey is, overall, a great resource. But on the question of how to get from the Turkish mainland to the Turkish Republic of Cyprus, it is sorely lacking. In the "Eastern Mediterranean" chapter, it mentions only that ferries travel from the city of Mersin to the Cyprus port of Gazimagusa three days a week. Has this service been discontinued? On two separate occasions, bus company staff seemed not to know of it. According to this LP page, tourists report that the Mersin ferry has been discontinued, though another tourists posts links in Turkish claiming the ferry from Mersin still runs.
Anyway, bus company staff steered me instead to the town of Tasucu, about 90 minutes west of Mersin near the town of Silifke. (Getting off at the Silifke otogar or bus station, you take a service bus, van or taxi to Tasucu. From Tasucu, a fast ferry leaves for Cyprus each morning, taking about three hours, and a large ferry leaves each evening, taking about eight hours. Sleeping on the ferry, stretching out by taking up four seats, makes for not-so-bad a journey, especially since you're saving a night of a hotel bill. Roundtrip fare for two to Girne, Cyprus was 190 TL, plus 20 T.L. "harbor fee" and 47 T.L. "tax." Entering and leaving Northern Cyprus with just a passport was no problem whatsoever.
There are many things to see in North Cyprus. You will It need to rent a car, as the public busses don't go to many tourist destinations. There's the Saint Hilarion Castle, the Kyrenia Castle archeology museum, the Othello Castle, Buffavento Castle, Leonardo DiVinci's Porte del Mare (Sea Gate), the Farmagusta port founded in 1000 BC, the church and monastery of martyred St. Barnabus, the ruins of Salamis, and the beautiful village of Tatlisu on the Karpaz peninsula or panhandle of Cyprus.
And that's not even considering what there is to see on the Greek side of Cyprus.
During off-season, we did discover the five-star Acapulco Resort for $50 a night per person, including breakfast and dinner. The 3000-year-old beach goes back to the neolithic period.
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23. Never Expect, in Winter's Depth, to Make 3 European Flights in One Day
The descent into Istanbul from Kayseri was one of the more terrifying I’ve experienced. The plane seesawed. There were sudden drops, leaving my stomach airborne hundreds of meters above my body. This experience left me shaking for well into my bus ride through a snow-covered Istanbul.
I’m not sure I’ll ever do an international flight in January again. My plane to Rome was delayed an hour and a half. Once we boarded, we sat on the tarmac in a snow storm for two hours. I wish I’d had someone from the family with me. I saw many planes, angled and still; a few with dark interiors, but red beacons on, primed to go.
Finally, after an hour, my plane revved up for takeoff. It began its taxi and then lurched sideways. I turned from the window. An Italian man and a Muslim woman stared fully and thoughtfully at me. The plane came to a screeching halt.
Thirty minutes later, a de-icer came up. There’s a raised cabin for the operator and then a gun which sprays solution from the guy’s cabin. At first I thought it was shot by a human because the gun had such range of motion. But it was not – it was automated.
At last, we took off – no skidding – and rose into the night. Still I felt an icy knife in my gut and continued to feel it for more than an hour.
After our precarious launch, Alitalia thoughtfully showed a video of beautiful, slow-moving deep sea creatures performing a ballet among waving sea fronds. A good technique to soothe wrenched nerves.
I saw the most beautiful sight. A night-lit coast as we cruised beyond to where no lights lay and the Adriatic Sea began.
Thank God – a family friend, Brent, was front and center at the Venetian Airport. Quite a day – three planes, three buses, and one taxi....
Logistically, it was the worst trip I’ve made in my life. On my return, the flight from Venice was delayed, hence I missed the Rome flight to Istanbul, and my scheduled return to Kayseri. I arrived in Istanbul a little before 2 am, so slept in the airport – a first -- then managed to get a flight to Kayseri the next morning. Never, ever plan a trip of three flights in one day, especially in January.
24. Venice in Literal and Metaphorical Winter: A City of Old People, No Cars, Every Street Like A Museum; Awed By Art of Florence
Brent and I took the vaporetto to San Giorgio Maggiore in the hopes of catching a Gregorian chanted mass at 11 am. We searched the church, stumbling on a regular mass, but alas, no Gregorian mass. This island church is famous in landscapes as its domes and turrets rise in gorgeous symphony. The day was chill and gray, but we walked everywhere, across canal bridges and past the palazzo backs.
Venice was enchanting. The majority of the buildings, 14th - 17th century palazzos and churches, remain close to authenticity without the antiquity refurbished away. We speculated on the laws that might cause restoration to be a disincentive to residents, apart from the associated towering costs.
Gothic, spiked lanterns were everywhere. The city has no cars or trucks. And there were stepped bridges over all the canals. Woe betide you if you’re in a wheelchair.
Everything, everything brought into the city has to be hand-carted over the stepped bridges. I saw these poor stalwarts carting mighty loads up steep steps. The garbage is placed in handcarts and boarded on canal boats. Instead of a car, residents have motor boats. The average resident is 50 or older. There appears to be a lot of aged relics soldiering along the cobbled byways. Venice is perhaps too expensive and too old for a young family with tourism Venice’s life bread and the city is a museum.
Yet the feel and look of Venice remains exquisite. The shop windows display Murano glass, antiques, gilded portrait frames, dazzling clothes and carnevale costumes, and leather accessories. A persisting holiday feeling stirs from the lack of cars, some of the most alluring store displays in the world, the jaw-dropping architecture of old, and the divine food.
25. Awed By the Art of Florence
Florence was a “must” in my life. The art found in the churches proved a great source of wonderment…the paintings, the use of marble, the architecture. One of my happiest times, during an Italian trip, is to sit in a church, gazing at a typical eye-filling altar and meditate for a time without limit.
I once read a New York Times’ reporter’s account of his trip to the Uffizi. It was summer and he said he couldn’t see the pictures for the people. That made a deep impression and I vowed I would never go to Florence in the summer. So, in January, I soaked in the Uffizi for a thorough five hours.
What made this trip so compelling, aside from Italy itself, was my friend Brent’s deep knowledge of the cities and the itinerary he set. He said it was his 10th time to Venice. He saved me a fortune in time because he knew all the streets. Venice is known for its ability to lose people in its walkways. During the nine days I was in Italy, I never took a bus and a taxi once only. Brent led the way from 10 am to 6 pm, not stopping for lunch, only for exploring. This resulted in my losing nine pounds during that week. While Brent is happily retired, I had to make the observation that his particular brand of touring and his knowledge could profitably place him in a second career.
Venice Sites to See
Museo di Palazzo Mocenigo
Fresh fish and vegetable market
Basilica di S. Marco
Basilica di S. Maria Gloriosa del Frari
Chiesa di S. Giorgio Maggiore
Museo della Musica
Chiesa di Santa Maria di Nazareth
Basilica di SS. Giovanni e Paolo
Venice (Wikipedia entry)Florence Sites to See
Florence (Wikipedia Entry)
Bronze doors of the Baptistery
Loggia del Mercata Nuovo
Piazzo della Signoria