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Circumnavigation of the Black Sea
Published on Thursday, November 17, 2011
Monday, September 26, 2011 - Istanbul, Turkey: After individual arrivals at Istanbul Airport we made our way to the beautifully restored Pera Palace Hotel, overlooking the Golden Horn. In the afternoon many set out to explore the city while others rested after the long journey to Turkey. Those that had been on the Cappadocia extension arrived after a wonderful visit to this magical part of Turkey. In the evening we had our welcome reception and dinner.
Tuesday, September 27 - Istanbul, Embark Clipper Odyssey: Today was reserved for a full-day excursion in Istanbul. We all visited Dolmabahce Palace, where we were wowed by the extravagance of the last Sultans of the Ottoman Empire. From the 10,000 pound lead crystal chandelier, a gift from Queen Victoria, to the beautiful grounds along the Bosphorus, the Sultans lived in exquisite style. After experiencing the hustle and bustle of the Spice Bazaar, we had a tasty lunch of delightful mezzos and kebabs, always saving room for just one more piece of baklava!
In the afternoon we had two tour options. One group visited Aya Sofya, the 'great church' of the Byzantines that, for more than 1,000 years, was the largest enclosed space in the world. This was followed by a visit to the Blue Mosque, so called because of the myriad hand-painted blue tiles with which it is adorned.
The second group visited Rustem Pasha Mosque, a relatively small edifice near the Spice Bazaar, where there were further examples of beautiful Ottoman tiles. They then visited the Chora Church, situated just outside the old walls of Constantine, a beautiful example of late Byzantine ecclesiastical architecture with wonderful mosaics and frescos still in place.
Later in the afternoon we boarded coaches for the short trip to the Marmara Sea to embark our ship, the Clipper Odyssey. During our passage through the Bosphorus, we were all out on deck as the setting sun cast beautiful light on the Ottoman palaces, the Blue Mosque, and Aya Sofya.
Wednesday, September 28 - Bartin / Amasra: We awoke to find the Clipper Odyssey in the cozy little harbor of Bartin on the northern coast of Turkey and set out on a drive along the coast to visit the ancient seaside town of Amasra. Upon arrival we divided ourselves into two groups, with the hikers setting off for the promontory overlooking the town. They accomplished this feat with ease and descended to the small, but excellent Archaeological Museum. The walkers started at the museum and then completed a stroll up into the oldest part of town where they admired buildings full of character, some dating from the period in which the Genoese occupied the town just before it was taken over by the Ottomans, which was reflected in the recognizable Italian flavor. We returned to the ship and after lunch our lecture program began. The first speaker was Allan Langdale, who lectured on the subject Byzantine Monasteries and Icons, followed by Rich Pagen whose topic was Wooden Boats and Flooded Coasts: Underwater Mysteries of the Black Sea. The evening concluded with Captain Alan McCarty's welcome cocktail party and dinner.
Thursday, September 29 - Samsun / Amasya: Today our adventures began in the port of Samsun, our base for a visit to the city of Amasya. Located in a narrow valley of the Yesilirmak River, Amasya’s history reaches back 3,000 years during which many civilizations left an imprint of their time in the region. While some of us explored the Archaeological Museum before making our way to the wonderful Beyazit II Mosque, others started at the Ethnographic Museum—a former Ottoman home that has been reconfigured as it would have been in the 19th century—before making their way to the Pontic Tombs, the final resting place of Pontic Greek kings that have been carved into cliffs overlooking the river which flows through the city.
After a dizzying ride up and out of the valley, we arrived at the Ali Kaya Restaurant perched high on a cliff overlooking the town. Here, in an idyllic setting, we lunched on a lavish scale, the delicious dishes washed down with Turkish beer and local wine. On our trip back to Samsun, many caught a quick nap, revived upon our arrival at the ship with a pleasant afternoon tea. This evening we enjoyed our first recap of the trip and a Q&A session with Nam and Dan, our Turkish guides.
Friday, September 30 - Trabzon / Sumela Monastery: This morning we arrived in the city of Trabzon, in eastern Turkey. From here we ascended into the mountains to visit the famous Sumela Monastery. This monastery was established in 386 A.D. by two itinerant monks from Athens. It became an important center of Orthodox spirituality and was continuously occupied by monks until the early 1900s. The climb to the monastery offered excellent views and we were impressed by the frescos on the walls. Many of us chose to walk back down to the lower parking area with Rich and Mike Moore to learn a bit about the natural history of the area.
We returned to the ship for lunch and then set out for a short excursion to the Aya Sofya Church to the west of the city. This was a perfect example of late Byzantine architecture, and we again marveled at the wonderful frescoes that had somehow survived the centuries. We had free time in town before our return to the ship where we resumed our lecture program. Roger Crowley spoke on The Fall of Constantinople.
Saturday, October 1 - Poti, Georgia / Kutaisi: After an early wake-up call we boarded our buses at the port of Poti for our day in Georgia, a country that few of us had visited before, and which is reputed to be the destination of Jason and the Argonauts in their search for the Golden Fleece. Our aim for the day, despite the rain, was to explore the city of Kutaisi, situated some 100 miles inland. On arrival we enjoyed a pleasant snack at a local restaurant and then departed for the Gelati Monastery complex founded in 1106, situated high on a hill overlooking the town. During our visit we learned that the founder, Kind David the Builder, arranged on his death to be buried directly in the gateway so that all visitors could tread on his tomb. We also had the opportunity to visit the cemetery, where the pictures of loved ones were on the headstones, often with a picture depicting how they died.
We returned to Kutaisi and had a quick stop at the covered bazaar. It was filled with everything from beautiful produce to meats and fish, and from sweets to underwear and shoes! Then it was off to enjoy a sumptuous lunch of Georgian delicacies. We were entertained by a wonderful choir singing a cappella, and an extremely energetic and accomplished dance troupe.
Sunday, October 2 - At Sea: Today turned out a bit different than originally planned. After the harbormaster closed the harbor in Poti, we stayed dockside over night and departed this morning for the Ukraine. The weather gave us a bit of a wild ride, however, our ship provided a wonderful respite for some migrating songbirds. The best kind of bird watching is when they come to you; at one point we had more than 30 birds drying their wings and hitching a ride!
As a bit of a pre-cap for our visit to Odessa, Allan presented Eisenstein’s Odessa Steps Sequence. Following Allan’s lecture, we enjoyed the amazing film work of Eisenstein’s The Battleship Potemkin. Our lazy, yet bumpy, afternoon continued with viewing Charge of the Light Brigade in our cabins, followed by a second lecture from Allan and an ice cream social.
Monday, October 3 - Yalta, Crimea, Ukraine: Sunshine greeted us as we arrived dockside in the resort section of Yalta. It was a beautiful morning and the day promised to be warm. This morning started with a short drive to Livadia Palace, completed by Czar Nicholas II at the beginning of the 19th century. The palace may be better known as the site of the Yalta Conference in 1945 which set the lines on the map for the rest of the 20th century. Our tour began in the ceremonial entrance, famous as the location of the photograph of Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin. After touring the rooms associated with the conference, we headed upstairs to the private areas of the Romanov family. Unfortunately, Nicholas and his family were only able to visit the palace four times; their sad fate became real for us through the tour of their private photos and possessions.
Following a hearty lunch on deck, we set off on a walking tour of the waterfront. After winding our way through the streets, we stopped at St. Alexander Nevsky Orthodox Cathedral. The mosaics and golden domes sparkling like jewels in the afternoon sun as we strolled back to the boardwalk stopping at interesting sites, including the statue of the Lady with her Lapdog. The promenade was buzzing with activity, all of us enjoying the late summerlike weather.
Tuesday, October 4 - Sevastopol: Yet again we awoke to a beautiful, clear morning, however, the crisp chill of autumn was in the air. Our morning started with the drive through the city to the dramatic seaside ruins of Chersonesus, once the largest Greek port on the north Black Sea. After visiting this well-planned city, we visited the Cathedral of St. Vladimir, a working monastery. The main sanctuary was a beautiful display of mosaics and icons. We then headed back to Sevastopol to visit the Panorama Museum. This Cyclorama was an amazing 360 degree depiction of the Battle of Sevastopol. Many of us chose to stroll down the hill to the port and lunch in the sun on board the Clipper Odyssey.
This afternoon we had choices to make. Those who wanted a change of pace from military history had the option of driving through the countryside to visit Bakhchisaray Palace. Once the capital of the Crimean Khanate, the palace was built at the beginning of the 16th century. Within the walls of the enclosure, we were able to get a feel of how life truly was, as the interior is decorated to appear as it would have been in the tradition of the 16th-century Crimean Tartar style.
Those that chose the military tour headed out of the city to the Crimean War Monument, overlooking the site of the Charge of the Light Brigade. Continuing to Balaklava, they boarded local boats to tour the harbor and visit the secret Russian submarine tunnels. Once inside, we had the opportunity to walk through this amazing labyrinth, created to hide and service the Soviet subs.
Wednesday, October 5 - Odessa: Amazingly, our luck with the weather continued as it promised to be another summerlike day. We had options for the morning; those who felt invigorated ascended the famous Potemkin Steps, the signature landmark of the city. They continued on a walking tour that ended outside the amazing Odessa Opera House where they boarded their bus for the drive to the Monument to the Unknown Sailor and the Russian Art Museum. Those more circumspect boarded their bus at the ship and avoided the steep ascent joining the rest of the group at the overlook.
The early part of the afternoon was free, but we met later at the Archaeological Museum for a guided tour, followed by a wonderful concert of classical music that took place at Count Tolstoy’s Palace. Then we made our way to the recently restored Opera House where we marveled at the opulent decorations of this stunning building.
Thursday, October 6 - Danube River Delta, Romania: Encouraged by Rich to be out on deck in time for our entrance into the Danube, many of us huddled in the pre-dawn hours waiting for the sun and wildlife. First we saw the lights of the pilot boats guiding us in to the channel. The sunrise followed with spectacular views of swans, white pelicans, gulls, and many more, including a small pod of common dolphin. This was the first of our two days in Romania and our focus was natural history and the delta of the River Danube. After traveling up the Sulina Channel, we disembarked while underway and boarded the smart little vessel Europolis. An exciting start to our river cruise! We were told that Europolisonly draws 90 cm (3 ft) and we marveled at the skill of her captain in navigating her through waters that seemed far shallower than that to us. We spent a wonderful day with our staff and local guides, spotting wildlife and learning the history of the area. The scenery was also extremely attractive and the weather was perfect, clear and sunny, but with a refreshing breeze. We had lunch on board and continued nature watching until the afternoon when we suddenly emerged into the main channel to re-board the Clipper Odyssey. In the evening we enjoyed a caviar tasting on deck as we transited back down the channel to the Black Sea.
Friday, October 7 - Histria / Constanta: This morning we proceeded to the ancient site of Histria, a Greco-Roman settlement an hour to the north of Constanta. This beautiful place was occupied successively by Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines for more than 1,200 years before silt deposits closed off the channel leading to the Black Sea, causing its decline. Histria is quite extensive, though only partially revealed, and we marveled at the neatness of the layout, that standard gridiron pattern that the Romans used throughout their empire, as well as the stout construction of the walls of the buildings. The adjacent museum further illustrated the unfolding of civilization in the region. Afterwards we visited the large Roman mosaic in a covered building in Constanta. Our last stop of the day was the Archaeological and Ethnographical Museums in the town.
Saturday, October 8 - Varna, Bulgaria: Today found us in our sixth and final country, Bulgaria. We arrived as the sun came up in the port of Varna. After a short ride we arrived at the Archaeological Museum which has a splendid display of artifacts from all periods of Bulgaria's history. The highlight was the Thracian gold, of such exquisite craftsmanship that it was difficult to believe that some examples were more than 3,000 years old. We then set out on a walking tour of the old town, stopping at the impressive Church of the Assumption, constructed in the mid-1800s. Moving further down the road, we arrived at the Ethnographical Museum, with its interesting display of folk life in rural Bulgaria. Our last stop was the Roman Baths, a bathing and social complex. Still in an excellent state of preservation, it required almost no effort to imagine how the building appeared during its heyday in the 3rd century.
Many of us chose to enjoy the wonderfully warm temperatures for a bit longer by lunching one last time on shore. On the stroll back to the ship we saw many of the locals taking advantage of the beautiful day at the community pool or the beach. Later in the afternoon we gathered for our final recap, and enjoyed Allan’s wonderful slideshow from the trip. It was great to take the time to reflect back on our journey around the Black Sea. Everyone then hurried off to shower and get ready for the captain's farewell cocktail party and dinner.
Sunday, October 9 - Istanbul, Turkey / Disembark: This morning our ship transited the Bosphorus in the early pre-dawn hours. We docked in Istanbul, thus completing our Circumnavigation of the Black Sea. After breakfast we said our goodbyes and disembarked, some to the airport, and others to hotels in the city; all of us pleased with the experiences enjoyed and friends we made on this memorable voyage.