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Rick's Review of Istanbul 2015

Written by Rick Archer
August 2014

Rick’s Note: I am pleased to report that Marla has completed her insider’s information page regarding the Istanbul 2015 cruise. 

Marla does a good job on these write-ups.  She researches every port and comes up with a variety of options of places her guests might find interesting.

Believe it or not, one woman had the nerve to complain about Marla’s thorough job.  She said there were too many choices.  In her opinion, Marla should just tell everyone what the best choice was and then perhaps list everything else below.

If only it were that simple.  As if Marla can read everyone’s mind and know exactly the ONE place everyone wishes to see.

A good example of the complexity for this Istanbul cruise would be Naples

When Marla and I first visited Naples on our 2009 Barcelona cruise, we absolutely adored our day spent on the beautiful Isle of Capri.  What a stunning place.

However, that evening Jess and Pat Carnes fascinated Marla and me with their account of their trip to nearby Pompeii, the ill-fated city buried by the violent explosion of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. 

And then Mary Cioffi told us about her fabulous ride along the Amalfi Coast

Mary could not believe how utterly beautiful this area of the world was.  Mary said it was the most beautiful ride she had ever taken.

One visit, three great choices.  How does one decide?  Well, in my case, it’s easy.  I do what Marla tells me to do.  But not everyone has Marla to help with these difficult decisions and they have my sympathy.

On a more serious note, lately people have questioned the wisdom of scheduling a cruise trip that will visit Israel. 

In my opinion, the fighting between Gaza and Israel is tragic and heartbreaking.  There is nothing sadder than hearing about the deaths of so many innocent civilians, yet at the same time I cannot imagine how Israel can tolerate the tunnels, the threat of kidnappings and suicide bombers, and constant missile attacks. 

One of the great mysteries of life is the intense ferocity and passion generated by this small corner of the world. 

I don’t know much about Israel.  That’s one of the reasons I enjoy Marla’s decision to travel here.  Over the years I have gotten to learn so much about the world around us on a first-hand basis. 

There is an axiom in the Travel Industry that the first thing people do when they retire is go travel somewhere.  As the Baby Boomers quickly turn into the Sagging Bloomers, we all need something to cheer us up.  Travel is indeed an appealing option for many of us seniors.  We worked hard all our lives and now the time has arrived for our reward… especially while the window of opportunity stays open.

As I read Marla’s writeup about Israel, I noted for the first time that this country is practically all desert!  Don’t get me wrong… I knew that Israel had some dry spots and the Dead Sea and all that.  I don’t mean to offend anyone, but I was shocked to realize the extent of the arid landscape.  

This land is so devoid of natural vegetation that is hard to imagine why so much blood has been spilled in this region.  It isn’t like there is a wealth of natural resources to fight over.  The landscape is barren, dry, and inhospitable.  I accept that this sand stirs up so much passion, but without understanding the history, it doesn’t make any sense.

Israel is not large.  Texas, for example, is 31 times larger than Israel. 

Israel is about the size of Vermont.  There is one difference though… people have been fighting over the arid lands of Israel since the dawn of time while lovely Vermont has enjoyed a nice quiet existence for the most part. 

Another difference is trees.  Vermont has plenty of trees while Israel is determined to plant trees anywhere they can. Between planting trees, reclaiming the marshes, redirecting the Jordan River for irrigation purposes, and cultivating as much soil as possible, Israel seems determined to impose its will on a land that doesn’t offer many natural resources. 

So now I am in pursuit of the history of Israel.  Reading Marla’s writeup on Jerusalem, I was shocked to discover that Via Dolorosa, the route Jesus took to the cross, goes right past the Dome of the Rock, one of the most sacred points in the entire Islamic world.  And the place where Jesus was crucified is just a couple blocks away.  Furthermore, the Western Wall, the most sacred point in Judaism, is at most a hundred yards or so from the Dome of the Rock. 

It is unsettling to think that the three most sacred points of three of the world’s most important religions are within a stone’s throw of each other.  That is incredible.  It is such an amazing coincidence that one begins to wonder if it isn’t a coincidence.

However, with three of the holiest spots in the major religions of the world side by side, one quickly begins to see why so many people travel to Jerusalem. 

I am sure there are lots of people who already knew this unusual fact, but I didn’t until now. 

My point is that “Travel” opens my eyes in many ways wherever I go.  As Mark Twain is famous for saying, “Travel is fatal to Bigotry”.

In my case, I respect all three religions.  I just wish people would find a way to worship in peace.  I cannot imagine a deity that relishes the death of people whose only mistake was being born into the wrong religion. 

Naturally the recent round of brutal fighting between Israel and Gaza has prompted several people to tell Marla that they are going to ‘wait and see’

As for Marla scheduling a cruise trip to this controversial part of the world in the midst of all this fighting, Marla may have inadvertently picked the perfect time to plan our trip.  Seeing as how there are typically two to three year intervals between these conflicts, hopefully next October’s trip will see peace return to the area.

I might add that if a cruise ship can change its direction to avoid a hurricane, it can also change its direction to avoid a war.  There is always risk involved in travel, but in this case I wouldn’t worry too much.  No cruise ship would dream of docking anywhere near trouble.  For example, back in 2012 when Mexico was in the midst of a wave of violence, our cruise ship headed from Los Angeles to Panama refused to stop in Acapulco and Cabo.

Speaking of the perils of travel, who can name the story of the most terrifying sea journey in history?  C’mon now, this one is easy.  And don’t say ‘Titanic’ either.  Titanic is in second place.  I’ll tell you in a moment.

Another interesting thing about the Mediterranean Sea isn’t just the known history, but rather the tantalizing rumors.  The Mediterranean Sea is chock full of some great myths and legends.

One of my favorites is the legend of the Great Flood.  Following our visit to Turkey in 2008, I researched a very interesting story that suggests the legend of the Great Flood might have something to do with the Black Sea.

Did you know the Baltic Sea was once a large inland lake?  During the Ice Age, the water pressure became so powerful that some of the land between Sweden and Denmark burst open and the water rushed from the North Sea into the Baltic area depression caused by the receding glaciers. 

Today this breakthrough area is known as the Skagerrak Strait.   And where did I learn this?  On our cruise trip to Russia in 2012.  If it wasn’t for cruise trips, I wouldn’t have any education at all.

Once upon a time, the Black Sea was basically a large inland lake as well and the same thing happened to it as the Baltic Sea.

The thinking was that as the waters of the seas rose during the melting of the glaciers following the Ice Age, perhaps the thin wall of land separating the Bosporus Strait from the Black Sea broke open like a dam bursting. 

Then the higher water levels of Aegean Sea flooded into lower elevations where the Black Sea exists today.  In rapid fashion, the size of the Black Sea practically doubled.

If people in the Black Sea area lived in the low-lying areas, they would likely have been flooded out (except for Noah who had been warned ahead of time).  This event could very easily have given rise to the Great Flood legend. 

This theory hasn’t quite been proven yet.  Research continues today for evidence of villages at the bottom of the Black Sea that might have been victims of the sudden onrush of water.  

Great Flood Story

Another fascinating legend is that the Lost Continent of Atlantis might be sunken somewhere below the waters of the Mediterranean.  Several areas in the Aegean Sea are high on the list of speculation. 

Will Atlantis ever be found?  Will the Great Flood Theory be proven true?

Well, you never know.  Since this entire area is a major cradle of civilization, archeologists cannot get enough of this region of the world.  They just keep digging away. 

For example, if someone had been born in 1850 and had asked about the existence of Troy, the historians of that era would have shaken their heads sadly and said that was just a myth.

Then in 1865, they discovered some very interesting ruins up in the northwestern part of Turkey not very far from Constantinople, the previous name for Istanbul.  Today it is commonly accepted that these ruins were indeed the Troy of the legendary Trojan War. 

Thanks to that fascinating discovery, from this point on, no archeologist would dream of saying “never” when it comes to the myths and legends of the Mediterranean.  They might say “unlikely”, but they make sure to leave a little room for hedging.

In case you want to know more, I wrote a story about Troy as well. 

One of the places we will visit on the Istanbul Cruise will be an interesting place known as Ephesus.  This area was once the largest city in the Roman Empire outside of Rome.  Today Ephesus has an amazing array of well-preserved Roman ruins. 

Ephesus is pretty interesting for another reason.  When we visited the place in 2008, my friend Iqbal Nagji told me that once upon a time Ephesus was a port.  Considering Ephesus is located five miles inland, I was aghast.  I had a hard time believing him… but before I said so, I made sure to check when I got home.  To my consternation, sure enough, Iqbal was right. 

I went back and researched this story as well.   Here’s an interesting piece of trivia.  One of the reasons Ephesus stopped being a port was due to a wandering river that kept changing directions.  This river was known as the Meander.  Yes, that’s where the phrase “meandering” comes from.  I wrote a story about Ephesus and the Meander River as well.

So have you figured out my question about the most terrifying ocean journey in history?  How about the Odyssey?  

Our friend Odysseus was responsible for the Trojan Horse trick that caused the fall of Troy. Apparently some of the Gods and Goddesses who were rooting for Troy got mad at Odysseus and made sure a violent storm threw him and his men way off course on their way home.  Then Odysseus made a big mistake… in order to escape the Cyclops monster, he had to blind the one-eyed creature.  While this did allow his men to escape, it turns out Cyclops turned to his powerful father – some guy named Poseidon - and asked for vengeance.  Poseidon made sure Odysseus was driven to every distant corner of the Mediterranean as punishment.  It would be 10 years before Odysseus finally made it home. 

So now another popular game the archeologists and historians like to play is to study Homer’s Odyssey and try to guess which Mediterranean locations might correspond to the travels of the Greek hero Odysseus.  Where was the island of the Cyclops?  Where was the island of Circe?  Where did the lotus eaters reside?

The fun part of the game is that no one can be wrong. 

Various websites are dedicated to this interesting exercise and here are some of the suggestions.  From what I gather, our Istanbul cruise will pass right by some of these locations.

The island of the nymph Calypso who kept Odysseus captive for seven years corresponds to a small island just off the coast of Malta. 

The lotus eaters lived nearby on the coast of Tunisia 200 miles to the south.

Cyclops is said to have resided in a cave in Sicily.

One spot everyone agrees on are the Straits of Messina.  Here Sicily and Italy are separated by less than 2 miles of water.  This is the legendary home of the monsters Scylla and Charybdis.  If a ship sailed too much to one side to avoid one the monsters, the other monster would nail the ship. 

This gave rise to the phrase "between Scylla and Charybdis" which meant being trapped between two dangers, choosing either of which would bring harm.  The phrase “caught between a rock and a hard place” means essentially the same thing.

You will surely be amused to know that on Italian side of the Messina Strait there is a city named “Scilla”.  Take one guess where it got its name.  Our cruise ship will go straight through these narrow waters when we visit Messina.  Hopefully Scylla and Charybdis will be taking a nap.

I love the story of Odysseus and the Sirens.  The Sirens were naked mermaids who lured sailors to death with their song and their beauty.  The stunning Isle of Capri near Naples is listed as a definite possibility for this particular legend.  There are all sorts of fascinating jagged rock formations jutting out of the water around Capri.  It is easy to imagine ships crashing on rocks like these as punishment for listening to the song of the Sirens. 

You might be surprised to learn that within the past couple years the archeologists have located yet another spot as the possible home for the Sirens.

I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t report that the island of Giglio has recently been suggested as yet another location for the Sirens.  You may vaguely remember the name of this Italian island.  It was said that a trio of beautiful naked mermaids lured the captain of the Costa Concordia just a little too close to this particular island and guess what happened?

The misty isle of Giglio is not the only danger we need to watch out for on our Istanbul cruise.  Yes, indeed, there are many modern perils of travel in the Mediterranean as well.

Marla and I once fell into one of the most famous tourist traps of Rome… the great Gelato scam. 

Right near the Spanish Steps, one of the highlight locations of Rome, there are a series of shops that sell delicious gelato, better known as Italian ice cream.  Of course the Italians claim their gelato is the best in the world and they believe this gives them the right to charge maybe just a little bit extra for their precious commodity.

I did some research and discovered an ice cream cone at McDonald’s costs about a dollar.  So what does an ice cream cone cost in Rome?

Well, I happen to be an expert on this subject.  I can actually answer the question “So what does a gelato cone cost in Rome?”

Back in 2008, I paid the ungodly price of $72 for three small gelato cones at a shop named Caffetteria Antica Roma.  I was fit to be tied.

If you want a smile, you can read my original story:
The Great Gelato Shakedown

Recently Marla forwarded me an article she found on the Internet.

US tourists shocked over ice-cream prices at Rome café

I flashed a huge grin when my eyes crossed this line in the story:

“Last year, the price of gelatos in Rome hit a nerve with a group of British tourists who were charged 64 euros (American $92) for four ice-creams at the Antica Roma bar and gelateria near the Spanish Steps.”

 OMG, they are still at it!!

When our group visits Rome during the Istanbul trip, I intend to lead a group through Rome and retrace the walk Marla and I took back in 2008.  

The historical part of Rome is amazingly compact.  It makes for a wonderful day-long walk… and unless you fall for the Gelato Trap, the walk is free!! 

We will see the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the Roman Forum and of course the Colosseum.  However, I know everyone will definitely want to pass by Antica Roma and tease me endlessly for falling victim to the worst tourist trap in Rome!

Guess what?  Just like Scylla and Charybdis, there is another danger in Rome.  That’s right, the gelato trap is not the only danger in Rome to watch out for.  Beware the Gladiator Photo Scam

As background information for the story I am about to share, I have been to Rome twice on cruise trips.  On our first trip to Rome in 2008, we spent the day walking through the streets of Rome.   We saved the amazing Roman Colosseum for last.  The Colosseum was very helpful; in a way similar to the Eiffel Tower of Paris, the Colosseum is so enormous that we had no trouble keeping it in sight as we wandered around Rome. 

Just as we approached the outskirts of the giant structure, a very engaging young man pulled Marla, my daughter Sam, and me aside to offer a guided tour of the Colosseum.  He said he was from Scotland here in Rome to attend college.  The young man was so friendly and outgoing that I immediately agreed to be escorted by him... only to find moments AFTER he took our money that he wasn't going to be our guide. 

I frowned.  I had a feeling the tour guide wasn't going to be nearly as engaging as this young man.  Unfortunately I would later have my hunch validated. 

However, this young man had my money and I didn't feel like arguing.  The young man directed us to stay in one spot under a tree.  From there we watched as he culled other people from the crowd.  

I learned what his job was.  He was in charge of creating a tour group out of thin air.  There are many tourists who wander over to take a look at the Colosseum.  With just a little persuasion, they can be talked into joining a group tour. 

The young man was really good at this.  Over a period of 25 minutes, he collected a group of 30 people awaiting the tour.  I had to hand it to the kid - he was a born Pied Piper.

While we were waiting, I decided to go buy a tourist book on the Colosseum at a nearby news stand.  On my way over there, a beautiful young Italian woman dressed in a scanty white toga as a Roman goddess stopped me in my tracks.  It wasn't difficult... she was that pretty.   The toga covered one shoulder and the other shoulder was bare.  The toga was very low cut.  This lady was a joy to behold.  And then she smiled at me… I was hypnotized!

Before I knew what was happening, the girl came closer and then she wrapped her arm in mine.  Suddenly a man popped out of the crowd to take our picture.  The girl promptly vanished into thin air, a copy of the picture appeared and suddenly the photographer began demanding money in return for the picture. 

I asked him how much.  Ten euros.

I was seriously cash-strapped to begin with, so I just laughed at him and walked off.  It was so crowded I don't think he dared to pursue it further, but he followed me and cursed me out in Italian.  I could not believe how aggressive this man was.  I had a mind to confront him, but thought better of it.  We had seen a gang of gypsy thieves acting together in Barcelona just a couple days earlier, so I decided to back off.  I kept wandering till he gave up, and then returned to where Sam, my daughter, and Marla were sitting.

My memory of this ugly incident was restored when I saw this next story about a Gladiator shakedown gang. 



The Guardian
John Hooper in Rome
Thursday 11 August 2011 14.02 EDT


On a daily basis, dozens of modern-day Romans dressed as centurions or gladiators make a living by posing for photographs alongside tourists in return for tips.  They make extra money by enticing them onto tours in exchange for payments from the organizers.

However this practice has been plagued by complaints that some centurions resort to threats and coercion.  There are claims that centurions have offered to pose for a picture, then turn around and demand up to 30 euros for a posed photograph.

Another ruse involves approaching a tourist, offering to take a photograph of the tourist with his or her own camera, and then refusing to give it back until a substantial amount of money has been handed over. 

Nor do the gladiators appreciate competition.  There are allegations that it is a "closed shop" from which outsiders are rigorously, and sometimes brutally, excluded.


A police operation was launched after four complaints from legitimate tour agencies.  In addition, there was a complaint from two Italian tourists who said they had been tricked by a costumed tout into paying for a tour of the Vatican museums that never materialized.  They were threatened by the man when they demanded their money back.

There have long been tales of fake centurions who prey on tourists visiting the sites of ancient Rome.  Considering how vital tourism is to Rome, Italian undercover police decided the time had come to clamp down.  

In a sting operation, two policemen donned similar gladiator outfits and began soliciting business right alongside the centurions who work the area on a regular basis.

The undercover officers wanted to provoke a scene.  It didn't take long till they got their wish. 

Three fake centurions who worked this area on a regular basis were upset to see these new men dressed in full centurion regalia appear out of nowhere in the Piazza Venezia.   When they saw the newcomers start to solicit tourists for pictures, they grew angrier.   This was their turf!  They decided to confront the new kids on the block. 

They had no idea these new centurions were undercover police officers sent to investigate claims of racketeering and fraud in the shadow of the Colosseum. 



The three fake centurions approached the uncover officers and began to threaten them with violence unless they left immediately.  Angry words followed and suddenly a fight broke out.

Imagine the surprise of the three centurions when the two uncover officers decided to fight back the old-fashioned way - they drew their swords!   The centurions were not used to people fighting back, especially if they are outnumbered.

In a scene that surely must have contained elements of humor, as the argument escalated, swords - albeit wooden ones - were soon cleaving the air.  Now for the first time since the Fall of the Roman Empire, gladiator swords clashed in earnest outside the Roman Colosseum. 

A huge throng of onlookers rushed to the witness the fight, assuming this gladiator battle was being staged for their entertainment.  One woman exclaimed, "These guys are really good.  They are fighting like they are serious!"

Unbeknownst to the trio, a nearby party of street cleaners at work was also made up of undercover police officers.  Upon seeing their colleagues being attacked, they sprang into action using a flanking maneuver Caesar surely would have approved of.

The three shakedown gladiators were completely taken off guard.  Seeing themselves outnumbered and outmaneuvered, they quickly dropped their swords.  Now to their dismay, the targets realized they had been duped by the police.

To the amusement of the many onlooking tourists, the police clamped handcuffs on the aggressors, confiscated their swords as evidence and hauled them away.  Instantly dozens of cameras started flashing.  Now this was a picture worth taking!   And it was free!



According to the Corriere della Sera newspaper, the three men arrested on Wednesday were accused of assault and risked additional charges of criminal conspiracy.

They were among 30 people arrested as a result of the investigation.  Others taken in included tour guides and the owners of tour agencies who employed the centurions to bring them customers.


Rick's Note:  Surely the ghost of Spartacus rests easier knowing these charlatans have been dispatched for behavior unworthy of a gladiator.  I have warned that travel can be very dangerous.  This story is a good example of the perils an unsuspecting tourist can face.

Believe it or not, a good friend of mine ran into this same problem.  This lady… call her Francis… was visiting Rome with her husband, daughter and son.   Sure enough, they were in the giant field next to Colosseum.  When her husband took off, apparently a young Roman man dressed as a gladiator noticed his family was unguarded. 

Now Francis looked up because her 14 year old daughter was suddenly crying profusely.  Her daughter was accompanied by an angry Roman gladiator demanding a king’s ransom in return for a picture taken of him and the lady’s daughter.  He had his hand around the poor girl’s arm.

Francis gestured to the arm and ordered the man to let her daughter go.  He didn’t speak English, but he knew what Francis wanted.  Instead he put his hand out and demanded 10 euros ($25). 

Francis did not have the kind of money being demanded.  She said ‘no thanks’, but the gladiator refused to stop harassing her.  Things were getting very ugly and the daughter was still crying. 

Francis looked up and saw a nearby Italian policeman across the campo.  She whispered to her son to quietly go fetch the poliziotto.  The gladiator never even noticed.

Sure enough, the poliziotto was more than happy to intervene.  I think this policeman knew exactly what was going on.  Only one problem… he didn’t speak very good English.  Something got switched in translation.  Francis was trying to say the man wouldn’t let go of the girl’s arm, but the policeman understood her to mean that the gladiator had “touched” the girl in the wrong way.

By the time Francis had finished explaining what had happened, the policeman began accusing the gladiator of molesting Francis’ daughter.  Now this was a very serious crime.  A look of horror came over the gladiator’s face and he began to beg Francis to explain his innocence.  The gladiator was so frightened, he began to cry. 

The sight of this belligerent, heavily-muscled gladiator suddenly reduced to tears and begging on his knees for her help was more than Francis could handle.  She began to laugh and put her hands up as if to say, “Enough already. Calm down!”

To the policeman, Francis began saying everything twice, “It’s okay, it’s okay, scusa, scusa, no problema, no problema.”

Eventually the policeman got the idea.  He cuffed the gladiator on the side of his head and walked away. 

And you thought Scylla and Charydis were the only dangers you had to worry about??

Fortunately, the next time we take a cruise trip to Rome, I think I can protect everyone from the obvious dangers.  My suggestion is to walk the streets as a gruppo.  In the land of the gelato traps and gladiator photo scams, the best protection is always safety in numbers.


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