Lost on the Streets of Venice… Sea Ports of the Mediterranean

Walking through Venice allowed us to enjoy what was unique about the city, such as this lamp.

Walking through Venice allowed us to enjoy what was unique about the city, such as this lamp.

I have always felt the best way to learn about a city is to walk its streets. (I feel the same way about a forest.) Fortunately, I was travelling in Europe with companions who also loved to walk. For the most part, we skipped the tours recommended by the cruise line. It isn’t that the tours were bad… we enjoyed the ones we did, but they are regimented and expensive. There is no wandering off on your own, or taking longer to enjoy a particular site than the tour leader allows.

Venice is a great walking city… if you don’t mind getting a little lost. Streets have a tendency to take you somewhere you weren’t planning to go and come to abrupt ends. Street signs are rare. What the city does do, however, is post signs that will eventually lead to major monuments. And of course, you are on a relatively small island. How lost can you get?

A good map is an important tool when walking off the beaten path (or main tourist routes). We didn't always agree on where we were or the proper route to take, however... and we all considered ourselves something of experts in map reading.

A good map is an important tool when walking off the beaten path (or main tourist routes). We didn’t always agree on where we were or the proper route to take, however… and we all considered ourselves experts in map reading. Our companions caught many photos of us studying and ‘discussing’ maps. This was in Venice.  (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Common sense is important.  Wandering down dark, lonely alleys can be risky at times, regardless of where you are. But in restricting your journey to major streets and walkways, you limit your opportunities to have adventures and develop a true sense of the communities you are visiting.

It is important to look around and notice the small as well as the large, the seemingly insignificant as well as what is featured in the guidebooks. Photography helps, I believe, once you get beyond ‘we were there snap shots’ and allow your mind to feast on the wonderful variety that any area offers. It teaches you to see new things and to seek out what is unique. Following are various locations and objects that Peggy and I found of interest.

This photo provides a good example of our wandering off the main tourist routes of Venice.

This photo provides a good example of our wandering off the main tourist routes of Venice.

Peggy Mekemson knocks on a door in the back streets of Venice.

Of course, you can always stop and ask for directions…

We found this open air market just off of the Rialto Bridge. Even on a cold, rainy day, it was packed with people. I suspect there was a fair amount of Christmas shopping going on since it was mid-December.

We found this open air market just off of the Rialto Bridge. Even on a cold, rainy day, it was packed with people. I suspect there was a fair amount of Christmas shopping going on since it was mid-December.

I don't remember where I came upon this friendly looking, gargoyle-type of lion, but he was definitely worth a photo.

I don’t remember where I came upon this friendly looking, gargoyle-type of lion in Venice, but it was definitely worth a photo.

Venice street scene showing colorful buildings and flower boxes.

I felt this photo captured the colorful buildings and flower boxes of Venice streets. Also note the green pharmacy sign and green pharmacy lamp on the lower left.

Window flower boxes are common in Venice, Italy.

One thing you find much more of in Europe than in the US are flower boxes. I can depend on Peggy to photograph them. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Another example of window flower boxes in Venice. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Another example of window flower boxes in Venice. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Colorful flower box in Venice Italy.

I captured this colorful shot of a window flower box in Venice.

The Hotel Iris is definitely not one of your more swank hotels in Venice... and it knows it. I looked it up online and its website headline proclaimed: Hotel Iris: A Cheap hotel in Venice. Cheap was capitalized by the hotel. I consider that truth in advertising. In the US it would be "affordable lodging."

The Hotel Iris is definitely not one of your more swank hotels in Venice… and it knows it. I looked it up online and its website headline proclaimed: Hotel Iris: A Cheap hotel in Venice. Cheap was capitalized by the hotel. I consider that truth in advertising. In the US it would be “affordable lodging.”

Starry roman numeral 24 hour clock found off of St. Marks Square in Venice Italy.

One of the advantages of a telephoto lens is it allows you to capture detail you can’t normally see. I doubt I would have spotted the Winged Lion of St. Mark in the center of this starred 24 hour roman numeral clock found off of St. Mark’s Square. Note the wild minute hand. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

I am always intrigued by what I consider as invitations, such as this stairwell in Venice. It's saying "come and climb up. See what's up here." Unfortunately, the locked steel fence said something else.

I am always intrigued by what I consider as invitations, such as this stairwell in Venice. It’s saying “Come and climb up. See what’s up here.” Unfortunately, the locked iron fence said something else.

Iron gate in Venice.

Speaking of iron fences in Venice, was this one saying “Take my picture.” or “Don’t even think about climbing over!”?

NEXT BLOG: Window shopping in Venice. Think Masks.

Athens… The Cradle of Democracy and Unrest… The Mediterranean Cruise

The Acropolis with its graceful Parthenon shown above is probably the wold's most famous historic site.

The Parthenon, standing proudly on the Acropolis in Athens, Greece, is probably the wold’s best known historic site.

Athens was grumpy. Several years of extravagant spending by the Greek government and its citizens had come home to roost with the worldwide financial crisis of 2009. The European Union had required steep austerity measures in Greece as the price of a pulling the nation back from the brink of fiscal chaos. Nothing was sacred from spending cuts including social services, wages and pensions. A massive influx of impoverished immigrants and a nascent neo-Nazi movement added to the country’s woes. Everyone was expected to make sacrifices to help solve the crisis.

Since sacrifices are best made by someone else, there had been massive strikes and violence in the country.

Standing near the Temple of Zeus, we watched as yet another group of protestors hit the streets of Athens.

Standing near the Temple of Zeus, we watched as yet another group of protestors hit the streets of Athens.

We didn’t know what to expect but had decided to see Athens on our own. Tours offered by the cruise line were very expensive. It helps assure a healthy profit margin. There is neither encouragement nor support for independent exploration. No handy-dandy sheets are handed out saying this is what you should do if you want to see such and such on your own.

Normally our self-guided tours worked great but Athens proved to be challenging.

From the moment we stepped off the ship, taxi drivers offering tours inundated us. Tourism had dropped with the fiscal crisis and was dropping even farther with the end of the tourist season. The air of desperation turned to rudeness when it was discovered we were planning to use public transit. Finding the right bus stop and the right bus turned out difficult, however. When we finally did find the bus it was pulling out of the bus stop. Out of frustration I turned to a taxi driver. We were able to hire two taxis for an all day tour for the six of us that was substantially less than the cruise tours.

Was it worth all the hassle? Absolutely.

Much of who we are in the West evolved from what happened in the City State of Athens between 500 and 350 BC. We visited the cradle of democracy and walked where Socrates, Plato and Aristotle had walked. We climbed up the Acropolis and admired the Parthenon and other buildings that have been a major inspiration for Western architecture for 2000 years. We watched the changing of the guard at the Prime Minister’s residence, visited the site of the Athens 2004 summer Olympics and concluded out tour with an expensive but excellent Greek meal.

If you are a history buff, as I am, having your photo taken with the Parthenon as a backdrop is a true privilege.

If you are a history buff, as I am, having your photo taken with the Parthenon as a backdrop is a true privilege. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

This corner shot shows one of the few statues that remain of many that once decorated the Parthenon. (Many can be found in the British Museum.)

A close up of the corner  shown behind me above features one of the few statues that remain of many that once decorated the Parthenon. (Many can be found in the British Museum.)

Extensive renovation work is being done on the Parthenon, as well as other buildings on the Acropolis. ( Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

Extensive renovation work is being done on the Parthenon, as well as other buildings on the Acropolis. ( Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

A full-scale replica of the Parthenon as it would have looked like originally can be found in Nashville, Tennessee. We stopped by to check it out after our Mediterranean tour while visiting with our daughter and her family.

A full-scale replica of the Parthenon as it would have looked like originally can be found in Nashville, Tennessee. We stopped by to check it out after our Mediterranean tour while visiting with our daughter Natasha and her family.

My grandson Ethan provides an interesting perspective in this Nashville photo on the original size of the Parthenon.

My grandson Ethan provides an interesting perspective in this Nashville photo on the original size of the Parthenon.

Another impressive building on the Acropolis is the Erechtheion. An olive tree decorates the front of the building.

Another impressive building on the Acropolis is the Erechtheion. An olive tree decorates the front of the building.

Another important building on the Acropolis is the Erechtheion, which includes the Porch of the Caryatids, lovely Greek maidens who have been turned into graceful columns.

the Erechtheion  includes the Porch of the Caryatids, lovely Greek maidens who have been turned into graceful columns. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)

A close up of the Elechtheion, windows, and an olive tree representing Athena's gift to Athens.

A close up of the Erechtheion, windows, and an olive tree representing Athena’s gift to Athens.

This is a shot looking upward at the end of the Erechtheon opposite the Porch of the Caryatids.

This is a shot looking upward at the end of the Erechtheion opposite the Porch of the Caryatids.

Looking upward at the Temple of Nike on the Acropolis.

A final view: The Temple of Nike on the Acropolis.

NEXT BLOG: We continue our exploration of Athens with a visit to the huge temple of Zeus, see the site of the 1904 Olympics, watch guards do the kick step and eat fish and moussaka for lunch. Note, in order to make more time for other writing projects, I will be blogging on our Mediterranean Cruise Adventure on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

“Psst, you want to buy a fine rug?” Kusadasi, Turkey: The Mediterranean Cruise

Dozens of Turkish rugs were scattered on the floor in Kusadasi, Turkey, thrown out in a frenzy of encouraging us to buy.

Dozens of Turkish rugs were scattered on the floor in Kusadasi, Turkey, thrown out in a frenzy of encouraging us to buy.

The rugs were flying, quite literally, and landing on the floor in front of us. Twenty minutes earlier they had been neatly rolled up at the back of the room. Now five Turkish Rug salesmen were expertly flipping them out onto the floor, a new one every ten seconds. We had been wined; we had been dined; we had been educated. Now the final push was on, the push to get us alone in a room where more multi-thousand dollar rugs would be thrown at us and we would eagerly pull out our credit card with the highest limit.

Part of the show was an interesting demonstration on how carpets are made. Hundreds of hours are involved.

Part of the show was an interesting demonstration in the craft of carpet weaving. Fine rugs can take over a year to complete.

Peggy was ready. The falling rugs had hypnotized her. Her eyes were glazing over and she was levitating out of her seat as a handsome dark-eyed Turk wooed her with fine words. The last time I had seen that look we had ended up with a timeshare in Mexico. This time I was fortified, however. When the salesmen was passing out drinks to soften us up, I was one of two from our tour group of 30 who ordered arak or raki, the unsweetened Middle-Eastern anis drink with the smell of turpentine and the kick of a mule.

I admit the rugs were beautiful works of art, but I was arak strong. Our cabin in the woods of Southern Oregon did not need a Turkish carpet. “I’m sorry,” Peggy explained to her new best friend. “My husband doesn’t want a rug.” I was truly the bad guy in this scenario and the salesman gave me the look to prove it before he sidled off to corner another victim… oops I mean client.

Buying a rug in Kusadasi is reputedly the quintessential Turkish experience and a whole industry is set up to make sure you have it. The cruise industry is a major partner in this endeavor. Lectures on bargaining and quality are given on board the ship before arrival. Lists are provided of safe, preferred shops (i.e. those that share their profit with the ship). Our tour guide hurried us through ancient Ephesus sergeant-like to make sure we would make it to the shop on time. Tours are tightly scheduled. Each tourist needs the opportunity to buy a carpet.  Everyone profits. For the cruise ship this can mean a 50-60 percent kickback.

I hurried Peggy out with the promise of lunch and the opportunity to buy presents for the grandkids. Her brother John and his wife Frances stayed to buy a carpet, however, and ended up with two. Later we celebrated with them in their rambling Texas home as they rolled their children’s inheritance out on the floor.

Dozens of small shops were located in a modern Turkey bazaar near the port. It was touristy but fun. Since we were one of the last ships of the season, we found true bargains.

Dozens of small shops were located in a modern Turkish bazaar near the port. It was touristy but fun. Since we were one of the last ships of the season, Peggy found numerous bargains to make up for carpet we didn’t buy.

I was amused by this shop that offered genuinely fake watches... truth in advertising.

Truth in advertising. (grin)

As we wandered through the shops of Kusadasi I was attracted by the rich colors.

As we wandered through the shops of Kusadasi I was attracted by the wealth of colors.

This plate was another example of the rich colors found in the shops of Kusadasi.

This plate closeup is another example of the rich colors and intricate patterns found in the shops of Kusadasi.

Francis unrolls John and her new silk carpet in their Texas home.

Frances eagerly unrolls John and her new silk carpet in their Texas home.

A closer look at the carpet. It really is beautiful and John assured me they bargained for a good price.

A closer look at the family heirloom. It really is beautiful and John assures me they bargained for a good price.

NEXT BLOG: We visit the Greek Island of Mykonos on our Mediterranean cruise adventure and meet the island’s famous Pelicans up close and personal.