Labouring in Istanbul - it's a riot!!

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May 1st 2013
Published: June 26th 2017
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Civitavecchia to Istambul

Our next port of call, Istanbul is 1118 nautical miles from Civitavecchia and there were 2 sea days before arrival. Time for some relaxation and catching up on my blog while Roisin tried to catch up on topping up her tan!!!

The route took us down the Tyrrhenian Sea where we passed the Island of Stromboli off the North coast of Sicily. Stromboli is one of 3 active volcanoes in Italy, the other 2 being Etna, on Sicily itself, and Vesuvius over shadowing the Bay of Naples. We were advised that we would pass Stromboli at approximately 06:45 in the morning so, not to miss out on a photo opportunity, I set my watch and leaped out of bed at the set time. f you ever find yourself in the same situation, I recommend that you stay tucked up in bed! There were a number of headlands visible but none of them stood out as being a volcano, active or otherwise! The scene that greeted me could have been of any landmass in the world. We were sailing at least 5 miles off shore so the land just appeared as a silhouette with no definition. The early morning mist added to the obscurity. There was nothing more to do than to return to my 'pit'. It is a stupid name for a volcano anyway!! It sounds more like something that should be served up with Italian meatballs!!

Shortly after 9am we entered the strait of Messina. This is a narrow stretch of water that separates the toe of the Italian mainland with the easterly most point of the Island Of Sicily. The strait is only 3 miles wide and at one point we sailed within ½ mile of the Sicilian shore. We could actually see people out for a morning stroll on the beach waving. C'mon Captain. Don't get too cocky. Don't take your eye off the ball and start ‘showboating' (sorry for the pun!!) We all know what happened to the last ship whose captain was ‘showing off' by sailing too close to an Italian Island!!

Today is the start of the World Champions quiz. 10 teams entered. We are the only British Team. We teamed up with another 2 Brits from Manchester, Robin and Sandra. The format was similar to the World Champions quiz we played on the Lirica 2 years ago. Every team is given a folder with the name of a country thereon. Being a stickler for tradition, I asked for our last team name, Bolivia, but unfortunately this was not available. Our next choice, Fiji Island was also out of the question. We settled on Panama. The quiz consists of 10 questions, 10 points for each correct answer. The quiz is played on each sea day and the points are carried forward. We have got off to a steady start scoring 7/10 and laying a credible 2nd. I did the usual thing of talking myself out of an answer. Question: What is the University featured in the 1971 film ‘Love Story'? I thought it was either Harvard or Yale and of course we chose Yale!! Still it's early days.

Day 2 of the quiz. Question: Where is the Moscow Sea? Having never heard of this expanse of water I said to the rest of the team, ‘it's probably somewhere like the moon.' We wrote this down. Robin and Sandra laughed. We ended up putting the Arctic Ocean and surprise, surprise…it is the ‘moon'!! Despite that stumble we are clear in 2nd place but are now 2 points behind the leader. The next quiz is in 3 days time so no more updates on quizzing for a while!! Other than to say when the answer was read out, Sandra apologised because she thought that the question was ‘where is the coldest sea?' Still, it's only a game!!

The shows have been as diverse as A Frank Sinatra tribute, classical music, a selection of Italian favourites. (who could forget such classics as: ‘Volare' and Funiculi, funicular??) and a variety show including a juggler (who I shall now refer to as ‘Dropsy'!!), an acrobat and the dancers doing a spin on the can-can. This was very enjoyable as you could feel the energy the dancers had put in to this routine. They also managed to throw in a touch of comedy. Also a good thing as the slapstick is very visual and will appeal to all regardless of what language you speak

I was almost roped in to a Mr Lirica contest. We don't usually attend the ‘fun and games' that start at about 11pm but last night we were buzzing after a good old refrain of ‘Volare'. We decided to head along, as it sounded interesting. Grown men making fools of themselves. As long as I can be entertained and not become part of the entertainment then we'll get along just fine!!

When the show started, the MC asked for all the men to come to the centre of the stage. Whoaa! No one told me this was on the agenda. I noticed a few of the men leaping over a small table to get to the front of the Lirica Lounge while the English hostess was trying to drag me up to do the same.

I'm sorry Kathleen', I said. I don't have a good track record with obstacles. Especially if I have to climb over them!!' She released her vice like grip on my shoulder and I once again breathed a sigh of relief!!

Only 9 men dared go to the front. They all had to disco dance for 1 minute then 3 were chosen for the final. ‘That could have been you' Roisin kept saying.

‘I'm not humiliating myself and having people laugh at my expense for a poxy t-shirt and ball cap. I get enough of that at work!!' I said.

By the time we woke at 8:30am we had already docked in Istanbul. We were a few hundred metres nearer to the ‘Golden Horn' than last time. The Golden Horn is the name of the river that is a tributary of the Bosphorus.

It was Labour Day in Turkey. I asked for a map from reception. We were advised that some of the roads are closed due to a demonstration. Not to worry I thought. We don't plan on taking a taxi or bus. We can easily take a tram to where we want to go.

What greeted us when we arrived on the main street adjacent to the cruise terminal that leads straight to Galata Bridge was more serious than we expected. The police were out in force. The roads weren't so much closed as barricaded with Police Vehicles and even public buses. The Galata Bridge, the main artery to most of the famous sites such as the Blue Mosque, the Spice Market, Hagia Sofia, the Grand Bazaar and the Topkapi Palace had been raised. At first I thought it was to let a ship or other sailing vessel up the river. The reason was to contain the demonstrators from spreading across the city. The only businesses rubbing their hands with glee were the boat tours!! Every boat that sailed passed seemed full to capacity. There were other bridges open further down the river but as there were no taxis or buses available the only other way was to take a walking detour of a few miles.

Luckily the Spice Market and Grand Bazaar were low down on our ‘to do' list so neither of us were that bothered we would miss out on hunting down that ‘bargain' the guide books always insist you will find!!

Before we do anything we needed to find a place that sold bottled water. The 1l

Bottles available on the ship are too big to carry around and we had nothing to transfer the water in to. We spotted a kiosk on a corner that was selling mineral water but no prices were to be found on any of the goods.

Here we go, I thought.We are now in haggling territory. Well I'm prepared to pay £1 for each bottle. That's how much you'd pay in EU resorts.

‘2 small bottles of mineral water', I asked

‘No gas', Roisin added

Putting them on the counter the vendor said, ‘1 Turkish lire…for them both!!' That translates to about 30p!! OK, he may have just filled the bottles up from the Bosphorus but it was cold and inviting so I wasn't going to argue.

As I turned around to walk away, there was another vendor that seemed to be selling what I can only describe as fake IDs!! There seemed to be laminates of all shapes and sizes (see photo). I didn't stop to examine them any closer as I may have ended up returning to work as a Swiss Insurance Salesman from Bern by the name of Heidi!!

Top of our list was to ride the funicular to the top of the hill where Galata Tower stands. Galata Tower is allegedly the oldest tower in the world dating back to 6th century. Then it was built from wood and used as an early lighthouse. It was redesigned then rebuilt from stone in 15th century and used for military purposes. Today it is a top tourist attraction that hosts magnificent views of the city and even houses a nightclub at the top. The beauty of this sight was that we were on the right side of the river. Unfortunately as it is Labour day (protest or not), many stores and businesses are closed, as it is a national holiday. The funicular was no exception. Not to be disheartened Roisin and I danced up the 66 steps then skipped up the rest of the hill to the entrance of the Tower. (OH! Ignore the dancing and skipping bit!!) I was not disappointed with the view. At this stage I was more interested in the recent disturbances than the culture this vibrant city has to offer!! I spotted a small group of protesters on the Galata Bridge with their red and yellow banners and flags.

On the way back to the ship I asked a motorcycle cop who was sitting next to a sleeping policeman (that's a policeman who is taking a nap, not a speed ramp!!) what is the demonstration? He spoke really good English and was happy to explain that it is Labour Day and the annual march by the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions to Taksim Square. However, Socialists and anarchists who are content with making trouble have hijacked this peaceful march.

Taksim Square is less than 1 mile from the cruise terminal and to hear that the Riot Police had confronted the crowd with water canons and tear gas may be disconcerting for some people but to me it would make a great blog photo. Unfortunately, and to the relief of Roisin, the public couldn't get anywhere near Taksim Square at present.

After popping back to the ship to pick up her iPad, Roisin and I headed to a Starbucks we know of, for refreshments and the free wi-fi. From what we remember, Starbucks was in the direction of Taksim Square so we decided to take a refreshing glass of Turkish çay (tea) in a traditional café. What happened afterwards was truly amazing if not a little spooky.

In the last blog entry on Civitavecchia I mentioned the Psychic who said we would meet someone we knew on this trip. Well, we had encountered all 20 of the Brits on board the Lirica and we were sure that we knew none of the crew from previous trips so we were starting to think the Psychic must have either seen in to the past where we were with Ronda and Alan on our last cruise or seeing in to the distant future when we will be joining our good American friends Kaye and Charlie in October 2013 on the new Royal Princess.

After heading back in the direction of the ship, Roisin suddenly said, ‘Is that Francesco? Yes it is! It is him' There, a few paces in front of us, was the Deputy Cruise Director from the Lirica when we cruised the Arabian Gulf. We had struck up a good friendship with him. He had something special that you don't easily forget. Call it charisma; call it what you will, but this guy made a huge contribution to the success of our trip.

Francesco!' I shouted. He immediately turned around and his eyes lit up.

Hi!' he said raising the pitch of his voice in the way only an Italian can without sounding like Joe Pasquale!

‘Do you remember us?' I asked.

‘Yes, but of course! The Lirica, Arabia'. He said.

We chatted for about 10 minutes. He is now the cruise director of the MSC Divina that is also in port today.

If the riots weren't on. If we had gone to Starbucks. If the bridge wasn't raised. If Roisin had brought her iPad with her instead of us taking a detour back to the ship to collect it. If Roisin hadn't waited until updating her status on facebook before I paid the waiter. If any action had been delayed by only a few seconds, the likelihood is that we would never have known Francesco had been here. I don't want to sound too prophetic but this has to be proof that the future is already written and every action has meaning and no matter what we do, it is for a reason and everything and everyone is definitely connected by a greater cosmic force than we understand (Touch, the new series starring Kiefer Sutherland, Sky 1, 8pm Tuesday!!)

So there you have it. Dorothy the psychic's prophecy came true. She has never let us down yet.

So one mystery remains. All the roads were closed. We saw the tours leave at 08:30am and saw most of them returning at 13:30pm. So where had they been? The tour buses couldn't get anywhere near the cruise terminal as the roads were blocked.

I asked a lady at the reception if the tours were cancelled because of the problems in the city. I don't know if it was the way I'd phrased the question but I think she took umbrage with what I was implying!

‘No! They were not cancelled. The left exactly on time and at regular intervals as they always do at every destination!'

I had so many more questions I wanted to ask but I thought better of it. Nodding I said, ‘Oh, right!' then thanked her before walking away.

The ship departed at shortly after 5:30pm and headed down the Bosphorus before entering the vast expanse of the Black Sea and across to Yalta in the Ukraine.

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