No, of course the world didn’t end. It would have been on the news if it had, right?
I’m writing this post from Istanbul, which has got to be one of the most exciting, exotic cities on earth. It’s my second trip here (my first one was 25 years ago, in 1984) and Barbara’s first. Istanbul was actually my very first contact with the mysterious East, and was incredibly exotic to me back then. I wondered if, after my millions of miles of travel to over 70 countries would have jaded me so that Istanbul would seem, well, ordinary. Nope! Not at all. It’s not as scary as it was the first time, but it’s every bit as exotic.
But let me not get ahead of myself too much. While in Odessa, we had much more fun than we’d expected to do. There was a very busy, very large market right behind out hotel, and we spend a fair amount of time wandering around it, taking photos, buying little this es and that s. I tried a beverage that’s apparently unique to Ukraine (possibly Odessa) called Kvas. It’s a sort of mildly alcoholic (less than beer), ginger-beery sort of drink with a slight chocolate finish. Not bad, but a unique taste.
We saw the famous Potemkin steps (famous, if for no other reason, because they appeared in the incredible film Battleship Potemkin by Sergei Eisenstein) when we went over to the passenger docks to make sure we knew where our ferry would depart. We wandered through and people-watched in a couple of really lovely parks. We strolled along two or three of Odessa’s upscale streets. And we wandered through some pretty broken-down neighborhoods.
My observations suggest that Ukraine is having a somewhat slower time recovering from the Soviet era than, say, Romania, but it’s not for lack of trying. There’s still a lot of officialdom and bureaucracy left over from the bad old days, but they’re improving constantly. Odessa isn’t the world’s most exciting city in terms of casual tourism, but there are some pretty great museums for those who like such things.
The ferry ride was really nice and laid back. We had no problems (in the end, after some initial panicking) getting a decent cabin booked, although it cost a bit more money than we’d initially budgeted (doesn’t everything!). Boarding was a bit of an adventure; the concept of a proper queue ("line" for the Americans) is apparently completely unknown in Ukraine. (To be fair, it’s unknown in much of the world.) Although Barbara and I were second "in line" to go through the customs/emigration/passport control door, with only one woman in front of us, by the time she’d invited her extended family and her 25 or so closest friends to join her, it was getting rather crowded Actually, it wasn’t quite that bad, but not far from it.
Our cabin was smallish and a bit spare, but clean and we had our own head (bathroom), which was worth the extra money. No TP down the loo, though…put it into the garbage can beside the loo. Not exactly a habit I’ve developed, but one gets used to it. (Putting the paper into the loo only stops up the pipes in the kinds of toilet systems on boats. And that gets embarrassing and inconvenient!)
The manager of the company that runs the ferry told us as we checked in that there were four other Americans on the trip and he put us all at the same table for meals. Well, we never saw but three of them, and they were youngish (252-30?) academics. One of them has lived and taught in Istanbul for several years, the other two live in Kentucky and were just in Moscow for a 2-month research activity of some sort. They were nice enough, but we don’t travel around the world to spend out time strictly with Americans, so we didn’t try to engage them in non-meal-related activities. Instead, we stood at the rail and watched the Black Sea go by (we were, according to my GPS, about 80 miles offshore most of the time).
Entering the Bosphorous this morning was wonderful! What a set of sights it presented. There were forts and castle-like buildings, hotels, radar towers (for port control), and ships all over the place. It’s a very, very busy waterway, much moreso than San Francisco Bay, New York Harbor, or even the Mississippi River at New Orleans.
After we disembarked (I love that word, don’t you?), we changed some money into Turkish Lira, hopped a tram across the Golden Horn, then walked the last 500 or 600 meters to our hotel, which is lovely. It’s pretty warm outside, but we have not turned on the AC and it’s nice and cool here in the room. We’re online now only to get information about the kids and all the disasters poor Amanda’s having to handle, but we’re getting ready to go out and do some sightseeing. We’ll report on that in some detail over the next couple of days.
Oh, a few meters away from our hotel, a very lovely largish dog wandered by and came over when we called him. He didn’t have a collar or anything on, but he did have a very visible red tag punched through his ear (like they do with cattle, sheep, etc.), which seemed to indicate that he’d been neutered. He was very friendly and enjoyed us chatting with him and petting him. But then we moved on and he went his own way.