On the Black Sea, history lies in many layers. Jason and the Argonauts rowed these waters searching for the Golden Fleece. Mark Twain explored this sea in the 1800's on the ship, Quaker City, perhaps the first voyage of its kind. We travel though this sea experiencing history, past and present, first-hand.
Above the Turkish town of Amasya, Pontic kings, (scions of Alexander’s fractured empire) were buried in tombs carved into cliffs. During our hike above the Izilirmak river valley our feet followed passages cut for their funerary processions, over stones now polished by twenty-two centuries of visitation! Over the steady creep of time, their names, deeds, and indeed the tombs themselves, have been softened and obscured by the steady creep of time.
On Georgia’s streets, horse-carts, pigs, and Mercedes sports cars vied for right-of-way. In nearby Sochi we found quite a different scene. This coastal spa city is sleek and modern, and getting ready for the 2014 winter Olympics. Here we wandered Stalin’s secret dacha, and contemplated the room where he watched movies from his bullet-proof couch.
On the Crimean Peninsula we learned about relatively recent history in Livadia Palace. It was here that the “Big Three,” Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin held the Yalta Conference in 1945. Our lunch at the adjoining restaurant overlooking the Black Sea was a suitably royal affair and we tasted delicacies straight off the menu enjoyed by the Romanovs.
Now we have sailed further north and arrived this morning in Odessa, the Pearl of the Black Sea. This city that Catherine the Great built and Richelieu designed is rich in beautiful architecture and steeped in musical tradition. We sat for an exclusive operetta performance at Gagarin's Palace and then walked up the boulevard to visit the newly restored opera house.
The natural history of the Black Sea is as varied as cultural history. We had a playful escort of beautifully striped common dolphins, who cavorted and surfed in our bow wave. The birds we've spotted include splendidly colorful bee-eaters who circled above us or perched in nearby squadrons; rock thrushes and crag martins have eyed us from along the cliff side; and for those who relish the intertwining of nature and culture, imagine watching black storks spiral about the minarets of Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia as the Ramadan chants of the Imam waft over the city that straddles two continents.