Talking Turkey (Day Eight in Istanbul)

WEIRD, REAL-TIME PHENOMENON:  Prior to going on this trip of a lifetime, I had only been on a cruise ship once.  I was pregnant with Kid D at the time.  It was a fun trip with my sisters and my mom, but I was not a huge fan of cruise ships following that vacation (you try shaving your legs with an unyielding, pregnant belly in a tiny box of a shower stall).  Then there are all of the grouchy, old people (you would think that people of every age on vacation would be happy, but noooooo, that is not always the case).  And the lines.  And the waiting for elevators because the stairs are nearly impossible to find and they never go all the way from the bottom to the top.  And the nit-picking, à la carte charges for all of the “extras” (I wouldn’t be shocked if there was a daily charge for my unborn child; but in fairness, I was eating for two).   Did I mention the never-ending lines?

When my mom was bouncing around the idea of the original six of us going away together, I was all “YAY!” but then she mentioned doing it on a cruise.  Well, bollocks (I’m much more European now, so I can use a fancy word like “bollocks.”  In the moment – pre-trip – I likely just said “crap.”).

But all of the cruise stuff ended up being fine (even the shower even seemed bigger because I wasn’t growing a human being inside of me this go-around) and I got over the lines and tried really hard not to be a grouchy, old person myself.  I had a really great time with all of my family and friends.  I’m sure all of the wine helped, too.

In the end, you can say that I am still not a cruise person, but I got to see so many interesting places and it really was a cost-effective way to travel.  I might even be on the fence about the whole deal.  So much so that last week I found myself going on the line and looking up other cruises to see where we could go and what it would cost.

Oooooh… Alaska!?!  That sounds fabulous.  We could even bring the kids for that price.  And look!  A short cruise up and down the California coastline.  That sounds romantic for me and Sheepdog.  And Airtran flies on the cheap to SFO.  We could totally do that!  

How quickly I forget.

Then, yesterday Good Morning America ran a news story about how the Royal Princess – the exact same ship we lived on for twelve days – had broken down in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, and was likely cutting the cruise short, giving people refunds, and making arrangements to fly them home.  Here’s an article about it: “Bollocks” doesn’t even cover it

A college friend, who had just texted me another article about scuba suit-wearing protesters throwing themselves in the Venice canal to block the passage of large cruise ships because of alleged structural damage to the city, summed it up best… “I can stay home and have the power go out for a lot cheaper.”  Agreed.

…but have you checked out the itinerary for that Alaskan cruise?

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I woke up to a cloudy view of a crowded city skyline.  It was the first time in over a week that my waking eyes weren’t met with an abundance of green mountains and/ or blue sea.  The forecast is for a bit of rain, followed by mostly sunny skies and a high of only 25° C (77° F). The date is September 10 and today we are in Istanbul, Turkey.

Turkey is a country of 75 million people.  15 million of them live in Istanbul.  Istanbul is divided by the Bosphorus waterway into two sections… half lies in Europe and the other half in Asia.  The European side has both historical and modern sections of the city, while the Asian side is primarily residential and offers much more room for growth.  In many ways (population, traffic, skyline, a general vibe of crazy), European Istanbul reminded me of New York City.  So I guess that would make the Asian side a kind of Turkish New Jersey.  I guess we’ll see tomorrow when we get to Kusadasi.

Our tour bus deposited us in the Hippodrome, which is a city square in a very busy section of historic Istanbul.  As we climbed off of the bus, it was loud and confusing and we were immediately met with several Turkish men who were trying to sell us guide books to Istanbul.  During the first week of our travels I had developed what I found to be a fantastic, universal language, Maverick-is-disengaging procedure (a loud, “No, no!” accompanied with a head shake, similar to what I would do a million times a day when my kids were toddlers) for use in such situations.  I used it in my best don’t-mess-with-me-cause-I’ll-cut-a-bitch voice, so the men left me alone.

My dad, however, had been out of the tourist game for a couple of days.  The cruise ship had made him soft, and you need to be tough or New York City Istanbul will swallow you whole.  He didn’t understand the language, the men were shoving the books (and now postcards too) into his hands, but he also didn’t want to offend anyone.  There was so much confusion and so many men trying to hand these books to everyone.  It was crazy and not a little scary.  We needed to get back to our tour guide.

I saw what was happening and quickly told my dad to hand the books back to the men and not to buy them.  In retrospect, that was probably not the wisest course of action for me to take.  The man who was on my dad whipped his head around to me and yelled with anger in his voice and fire in his eyes.

“You say, ‘No, no, Daddy?'”  Spittle flew from his venomous mouth.  “You should say NOTHING!”  The last word came out as a snake-like hiss.

Bollocks.

He turned to my dad and spitefully said, “You take.  Is gift.”  But I do not think “gift” actually meant “free,” because he and his friends all tried to get money from my dad at that point.  Blood pressures and tensions were definitely high.  My dad pulled a bill from his pocket and handed it to the man, who finally left us alone so we could catch up with our group.

So, that was our first five minutes in Istanbul.

The rest of the day was actually quite awesome, especially because it was definitely filled with a lot less street fighting.  We went inside the incredible Blue Mosque, a 17th century landmark renowned for its huge domes and 6 minarets (historically, more minarets means it is built by and for the higher classes).  We also visited the Hagia Sophia, which was built in 527 A.D., has served at different times both as a Christian church and a Muslim mosque, and is now operated as a museum.

The most interesting part of the day for me was a demonstration by Turkish rug makers.  They won me over when they first offered us warm apple tea and raki (Turkish moonshine, like the Greek ouzo), along with simit (think sesame bagel, yet more savory), but what I learned about rugs was even cooler.  The incredible amount of work that goes into making them (time, talent, materials, natural dyes) was very interesting to learn about.  Now, I have a new appreciation for quality rugs.  And raki.  Şerefe!

We ended the day shopping (of course) in the Grand Bazaar.  I was kind of getting sick of the aggressive sales techniques on this trip, but my mom and sisters, along with Kid A, were having a ball bargaining and haggling and boosting the local economy.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…

On Deck

What a crazy/ busy/ exhausting first few weeks of school!  I was so worn out by 4PM on Friday of the first week that I sat down on the couch after the last kid wandered in off her school bus, and I promptly fell asleep for close to two hours.  Right in the middle of all of the kids and all of the chaos.  Granted that I had donated three full bags of platelets at Atlanta Blood Services that morning, but that just pushed me over the edge.  And even after my glorious nap, I went to bed by 9PM.  I think I need to get a little tougher if I’m going to make it through this school year intact.  There’s way too much stuff coming up and happening for us right now!

Kid E started kindergarten a few weeks ago.  He is settling in nicely, making new friends and learning all of the mundane rules that he will have to follow every school year from here on out.  He has already determined that recess and P.E. are “the only good parts of school,” so we have very high hopes for his educational prospects.  He also started playing baseball and, after a rough first day (it turns out he had croup, thus the meltdown at practice), he seems to have settled in nicely.

Kid C has been dancing en pointe for a few months now and is doing really well.  She has learned how to pad-up and tape all of her vast and varied foot and toe injuries, and she has grown accustomed to blood and blisters as a part of her everyday life.  She is looking forward to auditioning for a role in The Snow Queen in just a few weeks.

Kid B is adjusting to high school after a rough academic start.  Her class load is really tough one, so she has to work really hard to keep up.  It wasn’t like that for her in middle school, so she has had to figure some stuff out.  But she just sucked it up and did it, which is awesome.  She also just started soccer season and is tearing it up.  This weekend her team is playing in the Atlanta Cup Tournament and they had three shut-outs before losing a penalty kick-only semi-final 4 – 2.  They have gotten really aggressive on offense and Kid B continues to train hard, make great saves, and be an all-around badass.

On Friday, Kid D got to have the experience of a lifetime.  My brother-in-law is Somebody Important and he knows how much that boy loves baseball.  He set it up so Kid D went down onto Turner Field just before the Marlins v. Braves game and make the announcement over the P.A. and on the Jumbotron… “It’s time for Braves baseball… Let’s PLAY BALL!”  He did a fantastic job and he is still beaming about it.  He looks forward to Quick Pitch and Sports Center playing this clip over and over once he gets drafted by the Braves to actually play ball sometime around 2030 or so.

Kid A is enjoying her final year of high school very much… especially all of the perks that come with being a senior.  She is in the process of completing the common application for colleges, and soon she will fine tune other submissions for a few early admissions, and then even more for regular deadlines.  She is also still dancing ballet and is looking forward to The Snow Queen auditions.

Sheepdog just jumped out a plane for the first (but definitely not the last) time.  He went up with a group of friends on a beautiful Georgia summer day, and experienced the amazing rush of flying in free fall.  Be prepared to watch the video of his leap from 14,000 feet anytime you step foot into our living room, at least for the next few weeks or so.

Today, I am leaving, along with both of my parents, two of my sisters (the third is too pregnant to travel), Kid A (who took Sister D’s spot when she got herself knocked up), three aunts, two uncles, and a handful of family friends, for Barcelona, Spain.  From there, we get on board the Royal Princess for 12 days of travel around the Mediterranean Sea.  We have stops planned in France (Toulon/ Provence), Italy (Florence/ Pisa, Rome, and Naples), Greece (Mykonos), and Turkey (Istanbul and Kusadasi).  Then we travel back, pulling into port in Greece (Athens) and finally, Italy (Venice).

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If you look closely, you can see me on the Lido Deck, sunbathing with a drink in hand.

I have been pretty busy getting the family adjusted to the new school and sports schedules and we are just settling in to the routines.  Now, I’m going to go and screw everything up by leaving Sheepdog to run the show, single-parent style, all while taking the oldest kid (and third driver) away with me for a total of 15 days.  Oh yeah, and he still has that thing called a full-time J-O-B, too.  It’s a very good thing that Sheepdog’s parents are coming to Atlanta to help him out.

I have only been on one other cruise in my lifetime, when I was four or five months pregnant with Kid D.  I went with my mom and all three of my sisters.  It is always fun to be with them, but I didn’t love the cruising part of it as much.  Yet, when my mom and dad proposed this “Trip of a Lifetime,” with all of the amazing destinations on the itinerary, I couldn’t pack my suitcase fast enough.  I have never been to Europe, so I am buzzing with excitement and enthusiasm for the experiences that lie ahead.

Here’s to some amazing things that just happened and even more things on deck.

Wish me luck for tomorrow…