Distance travelled: 2,498 nautical miles
From Istanbul we were due to break in to the openness of the Black Sea and arrive in to Constanta, Romania the following day. However, as we have now changed our itinerary due to bad weather, our next stop is back the way we came, back through the Dardanelle Strait, back past Izmir and on to Marmaris (still in Turkey). For this reason, the day after Istanbul is now a day spent at sea.
I woke up conscious of the ship vibrating and checked my watch. It said 05:30. I can't argue with the captain being punctual if nothing else, I thought. Well I think I thought it. I was still half a sleep so may have thought I dreamt it!! Either way, safe in the knowledge that we were on the move once more, I lay back down and was asleep before my head hit the pillow.
The whole day was grey, dank and predominantly wet but this didn’t dampen our spirits. The temperature didn’t rise above 63 degrees F but the wind made it that few degrees colder. We weren’t in the slightest perturbed at the unexpected drop in temperature. You have to take the rough with the smooth and the entertainment team did their best to do what they were paid to do.
The Entertainments team will arrange 'party’ games around the pool but if bad weather prevails, the games are not cancelled (unfortunately!) they are just moved indoors. Today was just one of those occasions. Roisin and I entered the Savanah lounge where one of those games was in full swing. By sitting on a chair, the participant had to throw a football in to a litter bin. On the few occasions of success, an MSC mouse mat was awarded to the victor. Next game up was pool darts. This, as the name suggests, was ideal for the pool but had to be adapted for dry land. An inflatable dart board, 2 metres in diameter and 50cm deep was positioned in the corner of the lounge and the game player threw Velcro balls at the dart board with the highest accumulation of points using 3 balls declared the winner. There were certainly no shortage of volunteers and the queue at one point was almost as big as the line for the Basilica San Marco (minus the ‘nuns’ on tour!!!) I will post some photos of the entertainments team in action before the end of this trip. They all wear the most outlandish, garish, brightly colourful costumes and rush around speaking in foreign tongues at 90 miles an hour. They remind me of an army of Timmy Mallets on speed!!
Just before mid-day we took a pilot on board in order to navigate once again, the Dardanelle strait. This is the narrow channel of water that connects the Marmara Sea to the Aegean. En route to Istanbul, the channel was under the cover of darkness but now, despite being dank and grey and wet, we could clearly see land from both sides of the ship. At its narrowest, the strait is only a few miles across. At about 2:45pm we passed a castle with a large sign laid across the side of the hill facing the water. The writing was in Turkish but showed the silhouette of what looked like a soldier holding a rifle standing next to a flame. A few moments later, what I had been waiting to see came in to view. The memorial to all those soldiers who fell at the Battle of Gallipoli. A battle consisting of armed forced from the UK, New Zealand, Australia and France against the Turkish forces for supremacy over the control of this strategic strip of water. Whoever controlled this, could control the supplies in and out of the Black Sea. This was one of the most notorious campaigns of World War I and to quote a commonly used army phrase, the campaign went ‘ t*** up’ from day 1!! Due to the fierce resistance from the Turks, the allies only managed to get a ‘toe’ hold on the peninsula. Deadlock ensued with 9 months of trench warfare to follow. Almost 500,000 troops from both sides were either killed or wounded. The whole peninsula is now considered to be a memorial and as the ANZACs suffered the most casualties, there is an Anzac Cove on the Gallipoli peninsula named in their honour.
Back in to the Aegean passing many Greek Islands, we headed South West which would hopefully bring us to better weather.
Typically, there have been complaints about not sticking to the originally amended schedule. Victor, our waiter told us that one of his customers asked why we are not visiting Constanta. When he told them it was because of bad weather the reply he got was ‘I don’t care’. I think he must have just thought it was raining; nothing an umbrella wouldn’t solve then!!
After a bit of digging around I found that the wind was the problem in the Black Sea. If the wind is more than a force 8, the ships engines struggle to keep the ship on course and control of the vessel can easily be lost. I’m sure we were in a force 10 in the Southern Ocean but I expect it has something to do with the direction of the wind. The Costa Fascinosa (not a made up name!!!), the ship I took a picture of leaving Venice shortly before us apparently got in to difficulties during the storm we experienced on that first night after departing from Venice. The ship was affected so much by the wind that it was listing dangerously to one side with a threat of capsizing. It had to change course and head for the shelter of the nearest port. We were in the same storm but on a different heading so although we had one hell of a bumpy ride, the crew still felt they were in full control of the vessel. Someone said the Costa was experiencing waves 35m high. I think that has to be a slight exaggeration. If the waves were that high, the ship would be riding on the crest of a tsunami!!! In any case, the Costa fleet don’t seem to have much luck!! Victor also told us that Charlie Alpha is their crew signal to abandon ship whilst the passengers get 7 short pips followed by 1 long pip afterwards. ‘Thanks for the heads up, Victor!! Now can be change the subject!!’
The logistics of changing ports at short notice must be a nightmare although I’m sure the ship has contingencies. Not only does the Captain have to change the coordinates on his sat-nav but port authorities need to be informed, tours need to be organised and in the case of Marmaris, a shuttle bus was arranged from the port to the centre of the town. The daily programme was soon printed and distributed with the details of Marmaris.
According to www.whatsinport.com it is a pleasant 15 minute stroll around the marina to the town centre. The shuttle also takes 15 minutes due to the one way system and traffic signals. MSC were charging €9.90 for the return journey. We decided that as the weather had finally broken and it was pushing 75 degrees F, a stroll around the marina, admiring all the yachts I would never own was the most attractive option.
Marmaris is a port town and tourist resort on the Mediterranean coast located in southwest Turkey, along the shoreline of the Turkish Riviera. Little is left of the sleepy fishing village that Marmaris was when I last visited in 1992 due to a construction boom shortly thereafter. Marmaris is nestled between two intersecting sets of mountains by the sea making it an ideal place for both sun seeking tourists and admirals who want to accommodate an entire fleet such as Lord Nelson and his navy who sheltered in the harbour of Marmaris in 1798, en route to Egypt to defeat Napoleon's armada during the Mediterranean campaign.
With that factoid still fresh in our minds, we cut through an alley, following a sign to the old town. Climbing up a few steps, through narrow streets we arrived at the fort entrance and a few souvenir-cum-trinket shops. No sooner had we stopped to check our bearings than Roisin was accosted by an old crone who crept up on her like a Shogun ninja! She must have been in her 90s, was almost bent double and still wore the clothes associated with a WWII Eastern European gypsy peasant woman, warts and all (quite literally!!) She wouldn’t have looked out of place in Act I, Scene I of Macbeth!! Grabbing Roisin’s arm she pulled her closer, looking up and speaking passable English she said: ‘English? What’s your name?’
‘Roisin’, came the reply.
‘That’s a nice name’, said the old crone. ‘My grandmother was called Roisin!!’ Talk about patter. She tried to grab my arm with her other hand but I was too fast. (Well by her standards anyway!!) It was at that point we both realised that she wasn’t just another vagrant who would put a curse on us if we didn’t give her money. She was assisting in selling at the souvenir shop. She continued her sales patter: ‘Cheap shop everything is €1.’
We said a polite ‘No, thanks’, Roisin yanked herself free from the vice-like grip and we headed on our way. She seriously needs to change her sales technique. Perhaps a new wardrobe, some deodorant and maybe back corrective surgery may be a good start!!
Marmaris has busy beaches, wall to wall cafes, restaurants and bars and as we found out after passing through the old town, shops! We found ourselves at the entrance of the Grand Bazaar or I should say ‘a’ grand bazaar. There is only 1 ‘the’ Grand Bazaar!! In this feeble imitation, there were plenty of shops but only 5 or 6 alleys.
We stopped at a handbag shop to examine the merchandise. Roisin was checking out a ‘Michael Kors’ bag. There was no sign of a ‘genuine fake handbags’ sign outside. These therefore had to be dodgy fakes! Within seconds the shop assistant appeared and immediately opened the bidding at £25. We didn’t even have a chance with a counter offer before the assistant said: ‘OK, then to you I make special price - £15’. Was he for real? Did he realise he was haggling with himself?! Now when John Lewis’s are selling these handbags for £230+ even for a fake I’m sure Roisin was slightly tempted. However, she carefully examined the seams and stitching and whilst the bag (not the stitching) looked good and sturdy, she said: ‘3 weeks max before the bag becomes individual pieces of imitation leather!!’
We stopped off at the Purple Rain restaurant on the quayside in the marina not far from the where the ship was berthed. After ordering a beer, cappuccino and water it wasn’t long before the owner engaged us in conversation. He was impressed by the sheer enormity of the Orchestra and added that normally small ships such as the Costa or Aida fleet come to Marmaris. I’m sure he was going to have a coronary when I told him there were far bigger cruise ships than the Orchestra out there. I think he got the wrong end of the stick when I pointed out to sea as he must have thought they were waiting to dock!!
I was conscious of an antipodean accent sat behind me and it wasn’t until she said ‘Hodgson’ and I turned round that I realised it was a lady from New Zealand we had befriended in Ephesus. Apparently her son’s wife and in-laws are Hodgsons so it was easier for her to remember than Chris or Roisin! She was going to find out which generation emigrated and from where in the UK. She is still awaiting a reply. You never know, I may have relations down under. The NZ branch of clan Hodgson have a sheep ranch 100 miles south of Auckland on North Island. The farm is about 750 acres. A small holding by NZ standards but the size of a small town by UK standards!!
During this trip I was going to sample Turkish coffee. I have had three occasions to sample this delight (Izmir, Istanbul and Marmaris) but bottled it at the last minute choosing the safety of beer instead!! Some people get a kick out of bungee jumping or a rush from a sky dive. The amount of caffeine in a small cup of premium Turkish coffee will give you both these experiences but with the added insurance that you are not likely to suffer a fatal injury!! (unless you resort to snorting it!!) Turkish coffee is best described as a cup of soot with a thimble of water added.
Whilst speaking to Maria, the Cruise consultant, last night she mentioned that the captain’s cocktail party will be on 1. October. This will be on the evening of our final navigation day. However, on returning to our cabin this mid-afternoon a leaflet was wedged in to the number plate on the cabin door. It read in bold letters: ‘Heute ist Gala Abend’, Ce soir c’est la Soirée de Gala’, Stasera è la Serata di Gala!’, ‘iHoy es Noche de Gala’ and if you still hadn’t got the message: ‘Tonight is Gala night!!’ Not that there is anything wrong with Gala nights but there was no mention of it in today’s Daily programme and it is nice to get some warning so one can decide which outfit to wear!! After a full day out it’s good to come back and chill out; sitting on the balcony, listening to the steady drone of the propellers and following the mesmeric path that the ship is leaving in its wake. b***** all that, we need to get ready for another bloody Gala night!!!