August 5, 2009 > Travels with Margaret, Part 3
Travels with Margaret, Part 3
By Margaret Thornberry
Photos By Tessa Thornberry
The hectic shore excursions of the first few days were followed by a restful day at sea en route to Mykonos, a Greek island famous - or should I say, notorious - as a party destination, with clothing optional beaches. Those were on the other side of the island so we behaved ourselves and visited a small chapel of typical design - whitewashed with blue dome and trim to match the stunning blue water and sky. We ate at an outdoor cafe on the beach, with a great view of the famous windmills in the past used to grind the grain into flour during the time of the Venetians (16th century), flour being a higher value, more compact cargo than raw grains... now they're just decorative.
The next day our ship entered the Bosporus, the waterway separating Asia and Europe. Istanbul is a wonderful city of almost 13 million, the only city in the world located on two continents. I hadn't expected to enjoy Istanbul as much as I did. I found it beautiful, respectful of history and yet very modern. At every stop we've heard how the global downturn is having a negative impact on the local economy, but Istanbul seems very vibrant; in every direction, construction cranes are at work. Our wonderful guide was able to answer many of our questions about the current society of Istanbul as well as the history of the time when the city was known as Constantinople. We were expecting to be impressed by the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, the Topkapi Palace (and the 86-carat Spoonmaker's Diamond on display but were surprised by our visit to the old Roman cistern. Underground, it was delightfully cool on a hot day, with the many pillars and a high ceiling lost in darkness evoking a feeling of a cathedral. We could hear faint sounds of someone singing and playing a flute echoing across the dark water.
We could have spent much more time in Istanbul, but one drawback of the cruising life is the ship's departure! Escaping from the Grand Bazaar and a Turkish rug shop with only minor damage to the budget, we scrambled back to the ship and a wonderful dinner en route to Kusadasi up the Turkish coast and a visit to ancient Ephesus the following day.
The area around Ephesus was settled in Neolithic times; the city was a center of civilization long before Athens became prominent. Ephesus is mentioned several times in the New Testament, most notably in the Apostle Paul's letter to the Christian Church there. The city declined after the harbor silted up around 600 AD - ocean used to come right to the docks at the foot of the main road is now over 3 miles away - so by the year 1000 there was only a small village to be seen. Excavations have revealed much of the glory of the city hidden under many feet of dirt and debris and new discoveries are being made every day.
We had another wonderful guide at this stop, an amateur archeologist who was able to answer questions like 'Why are there holes in all these marble blocks?' Answer: After the city was abandoned, people scavenged the iron pins that held the blocks in place.
Fascinating as we found Ephesus, we were eager to go up the hills a short distance to the house of the Virgin Mary. Per local lore, St. John brought the mother of Jesus to Ephesus after the crucifixion and installed her in a small stone house in the hills nearby while he continued his ministry. A chapel was built on the foundation of the house in the 4th century, and the location has been confirmed as a site of pilgrimage by Pope John Paul II, as well as being honored by Muslims. It's a peaceful and charming spot... we drank water from 'Mary's Spring' and lit a candle for the health of a friend before heading back to the ship. On our return we passed by several residential developments which our guide told us are being snapped up - by the Irish!