I am a native in this world And think in it as a native thinks

Sunday, December 31, 2023

Suez sunrise

It had been announced that we'd arrive at the canal at 3:30 in the morning, so I thought that by the time I woke up we'd already be in the middle of it. But ships travel through the canal in convoys, and though we were the first ship in our convoy, we didn't start through the canal until it was light.

I took this picture before we entered the canal—one of the many fishing boats working the waters around Port Said.

New Year's Eve bird blogging

Seagulls on the Suez Canal this morning.

I'm posting this picture because there was no way to take the one I really wanted: the gulls following the ship tonight. It's dark, with lights on shore in the distance and the wings of the gulls are white in the darkness, like a flock of angels dancing. My jaw dropped.

It was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen.

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Saturday reflections

I actually have a reflection shot! This is from the wonderful archaeological museum in Heraklion yesterday. (Pictures from the museum exhibits and Knossos will have to wait.)

Sea day

The sunset tonight. We're heading to Port Said, Egypt, and should be entering the Suez Canal at 3:30 in the morning, reaching the Red Sea tomorrow evening.

There was a letter from the captain yesterday, assuring us that they are in touch with all of the relevant authorities and monitoring the situation, and that they have “implemented enhanced security measures.”

This was a sea day, which is why I was able to post more pictures than usual. The rest of the day was devoted to eating too much, walking three miles on the track on the top deck to make up for it (although it was another beautiful day so that wasn't exactly a penance), reading, and just staring out at the water. I thought I might work on next semester's syllabus while I had all this free time.

This did not happen.

End of season

I was lucky that I had the ship to go back to, because if I'd been hoping to get something to eat in Rhodes, I would have been looking for a while.

Cats in Greece

There may not have been any other people in the moat, but of course there was a cat.

In which I finally make my escape

Silence has succeeded the roar of the guns, the shouts of combatants, and the clash of weapons. Scenes of slaughter and death have faded away. Yet the fortifications, the moat and the walls, the towers and bastions, have been consecrated by the sacrifice of thousands of human beings, most of them young men, who fell here during successive sieges, great or small, by Arabs, Franks, and Turks.

The visitor is called upon to seek the memories soaking through the stone and show due respect for the hallowed ground.

This was on a sign near where I took this picture—not, alas, a sign accompanied by a map with a handy “You Are Here” arrow, but it was the first sign I'd seen in the park. And this particular section looked a lot like the place where I had walked in, so I thought I had finally reached the end. (Spoiler alert: I had not.)

But what I did see, around the next bend, was a couple walking toward me—the only other people I had seen in the park. They had obviously entered the park from the other end, and that meant that, eventually, there would be an end.

It was maybe ten more minutes before I found it, and having by that point sought more than enough memories soaking through the stone, I showed my due respect by scurrying out and back to the ship.

The fortifications

Some of the towers and walls that glowered down at me as I made my way through the moat. I was just glad that it wasn't the middle of summer as I quickly finished off the bottle of water I had as it was.

Famous last words

I walked through the moat, which has been turned into a very pretty park, and when I got hungry, I just went back to the ship.

Easier said than done, as it turned out. The moat is a pretty park, but once you are in it, there's no way out. At least none that I found. I wasn't walking that fast, but it took me almost an hour to get to the other end of it, and I had started to believe that I might never find my way out.

Those are not decorative stones, by the way, but actual cannonballs. You may beat your swords into plowshares, but they'll still have been to war.


Another change to the itinerary after losing Egypt was spending two days in Rhodes rather than one. Rhodes is a perfectly pleasant place, but I'd been there before and I had a hard time choosing a second excursion I was interested in doing.

Which turned out to be moot, since the one I ended up picking was cancelled. I spent the unexpected free day walking around in the town of Rhodes, which was far more interesting than anticipated. I think the last time I was here we were docked in Lindos, and I never saw Rhodes at all. It has what's described as the largest living medieval town in Europe, all surrounded by extensive and impressive fortifications, courtesy of the enterprising Knights of St. John who basically built Malta.

The season is definitely over, so almost all of the shops and restaurants are closed, but I walked through the moat, which has been turned into a very pretty park, and when I got hungry, I just went back to the ship.

Friday, December 29, 2023

Cats in Greece

These cats were both in Ephesus, so technically this is Cats in Türkiye, but Ephesus is a Hellenic site, so I think it counts as Greece-adjacent.

Oxymoron of the week

Near Mary's house in Ephesus.

I saw similar signs at other tourist markets in Kuşadasi, maybe the result of some truth-in-advertising crackdown, but it did make me smile every time.

More of the basilica

In the 6th century the original wooden church on the site was in ruins, and the Emperor Justinian had it torn down and replaced with a magnificent six-domed basilica, modeled after the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople. The wall and columns on the right are reconstruction, of course, but I especially love the marble on the columns. Obviously, you build with what you have—no one said, “Oh, I'm sick of all that white marble everywhere, let's have some fun!"

Thursday, December 28, 2023

St. John's tomb

I really had to restrain myself from titling this post, Who's buried in St. John's tomb? Because, as it turns out, the answer is “no one.”

Unlike Mary, there is historical evidence for John's presence in Esphesus, and most traditions have him dying of old age there, the only Apostle who wasn't martyred. But during the reign of Constantine, only a few hundred years after John is believed to have died, for some reason the tomb was opened and was found to contain no bones. This has been explained as proof that John, like Mary, was assumed into heaven upon death.

I think it is more likely that the traditional tomb was just built in the vicinity of where John was known to have been buried—that's certainly common enough in history.

Basilica of Saint John

After the House of Mary, we went to Ephesus. There was far too much there, and I have too many pictures still to process, to do justice to it now. So it will have to wait until I'm home, along with the rest of the pictures from the Classical Greek sites.

Selçuk, where this basilica was constructed in the 6th century over the traditional site of John the Apostle's grave, is near Ephesus, but not part of that city.

(The fortress in the background of the picture is from the Ottoman Empire.)

House of the Virgin Mary

Filling the gap in the itinerary after losing three stops in Egypt has been a kind of Mediterranean hopscotch. We were in Crete for one day, then back to Nafplion on the mainland. Christmas was a sea day. Yesterday we were in Turkey, and had to turn our clocks ahead an hour. Today we're in Rhodes, and had to turn them back. Friday, we're back in Crete.

The Turkey stop, in Kuşadasi, wasn't on the original itinerary, and though it wasn't really a substitute for the Valley of the Kings, it did mean that I got to see Ephesus. But the first stop of the morning was in the hills above Ephesus, at the house of the Virgin Mary. Now whether Mary ever actually came to Asia Minor, and lived in this particular house, I have my doubts. But the early start, and grogginess from the time change, combined with a sky worthy of a 1950's Cinemascope epic, made me somewhat less skeptical than usual.

Well, the Cinemascope visions collapsed pretty quickly in the face of those Christmas lights. This is a site that is considered sacred by millions of people, and it looked like the library in a small town at Christmas. No photos are allowed inside but there's really nothing to see—a small sort of chapel with no seating, and a partial fresco in the tiny adjoining room where tradition has it that Mary slept.

It's mostly reconstruction, of course—there's a red line painted on the walls, which you can't really see in this picture, that marks where the original walls end and the reconstruction begins. According to Wikipedia, “the four-walled, roofless ruin had been venerated for a long time by members of the mountain village of Şirince, 17 km (11 mi) distant, who were descended from the early Christians of Ephesus.” (I won't attempt to summarize how the house was identified through the visions of a German nun, or what exactly the Catholic Church officially believes, but it's all in the Wikipedia article.) According to the tradition, Jesus commended his mother to the care of Saint John as he was dying on the cross, and John eventually brought her with him to Ephesus.

I've been lucky enough to visit many holy sites in my lifetime, and have often been conscious of an atmosphere of reverence, a sense of walking on sacred ground, even if the local gods aren't mine. But not here.

I bought a candle anyway, and lit it for my mom, because that would have made her happy.

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Another portrait


Roasted chestnuts in the main square. You never see anyone selling chestnuts in New York wearing slacks and a sweater—that felt very Greek.

I realize that I haven't said anything about the ship, now that I'm actually on it. I haven't been on a ship since I went to Antarctica almost six years ago, though the expedition-type ships there and in the Galapagos were very different from a cruise ship—comfortable but utilitarian.

I haven't been on an actual cruise ship since 2011, and this is a very different experience. I have a sitting area with a couch and coffee table, a bathtub as well as a shower, a flat screen TV with a huge selection of movies and television shows, and wi-fi everywhere on the ship. (The wi-fi isn't great and most of the features on my phone that require iCloud or location settings don't really work, but it's a million times better than I remember from earlier trips.)

I'm not sure how much is true for cruising in general, and how much is because this is a very luxe cruise line, but I am certainly being pampered. When I had seen everything there was to see in Nafplion and walked back to the dock, they had a canopy set up so we could sit in the shade and sip on lemon detox water while we waited for the tender boat.

I think tomorrow I'm going to have breakfast served in my cabin, because why not?

Tuesday, December 26, 2023


I don't know if it was a trick of the light, but the bubbles that this little girl in the main square was chasing don't look quite real. More Christmas magic, maybe.

The soundtrack

One of the groups of children performing Christmas music. I followed one pair of girls who ran in and out of shops ringing bells and singing in high, sweet voices like musical elves.

The group in the picture had not quite mastered their instruments but they looked so endearingly bashful that it really didn't matter.

In the Old Town

Most of the Old Town was crowded, with shoppers and musicians and carolers, and families enjoying the beautiful weather, but I found lots of empty streets to wander through.

Back in town

The street along the waterfront is full of restaurants and cafes, and of course, like any self-respecting Mediterranean metropolis, there is a fortress in the harbor.

Monday, December 25, 2023

Views from the shore walk



(The Greeks call it Nafplio, but since I just got used to pronouncing Nafplion, I'm sticking with the spelling they use on the ship.)

I'd actually been here already—we spent the night here on Thursday, but we arrived late after a two and a half hour drive in the rain that made me regret that I'd eaten so much moussaka at lunch, and left again right after breakfast. So I had an impression of a pretty little town, but didn't see anything except for the hotel.

I'd cancelled the excursion I'd booked, since I realized I'd seen most of the sites—like the Corinth Canal—on the pre-cruise tour, so that gave me a day to investigate the pretty little town on my own. I walked to the end of the marina and found this path along the shoreline; there was a locked gate and a sign warned of danger from falling rocks, but I saw all the locals ignoring the sign and walking around the gate so I did, too.

This man was one of several I saw fishing that day, but none of them seemed to have caught any fish. I'm wondering if all the fishing was less for bringing home Christmas Eve dinner and more for getting out of the last-minute Christmas shopping.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Cats in Greece

Patroling the acropolis at Mycenae.

Sunday cat blogging

Many years ago I saw a collection of notecards in a bookstore called Cats in Greece. Each of the cards featured a picture-postcard photograph of Greece, like ruins against a mountain backdrop or whitewashed buildings on a hill above the sea, with a cat. I found this hilarious for some reason and almost bought the cards, even though I knew I'd never use them.

I've been reminded of that on this trip, because cats are in fact everywhere in Greece. Every ruin, every restaurant, every landmark, has at least one cat. I saw these two in Nafplion today. The kitten was wandering by itself on a street in the Old Town, and Mama Cat appeared and herded him back into a walled garden. I saw another cat on the same street with half of a very large fish in his mouth, but alas I couldn't get a picture.

Saturday, December 23, 2023

At the café

This man was having a coffee at a table in the corner. I loved his face so I had to sneak a picture.

A few examples

Saturday reflections

This isn't really much of a reflections image, but who is going to notice when there are such enticing baked goods in the picture?

This was taken on the drive from Delphi to Olympia Thursday. I was very lucky that the group for this pre-cruise tour consisted of only three people, myself and a couple from Australia. (And that they turned out to be delightful travel companions.) When our guide announced we would be stopping for a bathroom break, one of my fellow travelers asked if it was possible to get a coffee as well.

So we stopped here, a small bakery-café called Furnos Kondyli, located just before the very long suspension bridge to the Peloponnese. I say “small,” but it was crammed with glass cases featuring at least a hundred varieties of cookies, plus breads and other pastries, and refrigerator cases along the walls full of cakes.

I'm still impressed that we each limited ourselves to one small pastry to have with our coffee.

Friday, December 22, 2023

Really, it's a tourist attraction

Hey, we were tourists and we were there.

The signs on this market were obviously intended to be understandable by non-Greeks, but one thing I've noticed over the past three days is how many businesses have their company names in Latin letters rather than Greek. Before this trip I'd only visited Greece briefly, and it was a long time ago, but I don't remember this being common then.

We've left Athens and are now heading for Crete, sailing through the winedark sea. I'm going to go sit on the balcony for a while and then go to bed.

Corinth Canal

This was the last stop on our Classical Greece tour, before heading to Piraeus and boarding our ship, and unlike the other sites we visited during the past three days, it can be covered quickly.

The Isthmus of Corinth separates the Peloponnese from the Greek mainland; this four-mile long canal links the Aegean and Ionian Seas through the isthmus. It opened in 1893, but was never used as much as expected. It's too narrow, and prone to landslides from those steep rock walls. It's mostly a tourist attraction now, though that does amuse me because you have to stand on a highway overpass to see into it, and though it is an impressive sight, it's hard to spend more than five minutes there.

Thursday, December 21, 2023

The stadium

This large, rectangular plot of dirt is maybe the least impressive part of the site, although since it was where the competitions took place, it was one of the most important.

And apparently it wasn't any more impressive 2500 years ago; apart from the stone structure on the right which was where the officials sat, it probably hasn't changed that much. If you had asked me what I expected to see here I would have guessed something like a Roman amphitheatre, but this stadium wasn't round, and didn't offer any seats for the spectators. (Though it is very large—the woman walking at the far end gives you some idea of the scale.) Events like wrestling, long jump, and javelin throw were done here.

And races. There was no track—the athletes just ran from one end of the stadium to the other. And if there were multiple laps, they just stopped at the end and ran back in the other direction, like swimmers in the modern Olympics.


Today we drove into the Peloponnese and visited the site of the original Olympic Games. This picture, taken near the entrance to the archaeological site, doesn't show any of the important structures, but does capture the mood of the day. The weather was perfect, there were few other tourists, and unlike Delphi, there were no stairs to climb. It was idyllic.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

The Oracle will see you now

I got to Athens late last night, and left on the three day pre-cruise tour early this morning, so I'm too tired to do more than post this picture one of my fellow travelers kindly took this afternoon at the Temple of Apollo in Delphi.

Other pictures will have to wait.

Monday, December 18, 2023

The cat is apparently alive

I went looking for water pictures and found this from Berkeley in April. A long way from the Mediterrean but peaceful water views have always been the thing I enjoyed most about ship travels.

I'm flying to Heathrow tonight, and on to Athens tomorrow afternoon. I have a pre-cruise tour of Classical Greek sites, and the cruise proper leaves on Friday.

I guess we're really doing this.

Friday, December 8, 2023

Urban poetry

I don't seem to have posted this picture: laundry drying from the windows of a high-rise in Lima.

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Schrödinger's Cruise

I continue to be amazed by just how much work is required to create a weekly class, but that's only part of the reason I've had so little focus for posting here, especially in the last several weeks.

After my (mostly) wonderful trip to Peru in June, I decided that I was ready for a splurge, a big adventure, a chance to finally use some of the credits and points and miles I'd accumulated after having to cancel four planned trips in 2020 and not doing much traveling since then.

I almost booked a trip to Antarctica, this time including South Georgia, but it would have required missing the first three classes in the spring semester. Then I saw a reference somewhere to the scene in Lawrence of Arabia where he sees what appears to be a ship sailing through the sand dunes and realizes that it's the Suez Canal. I'd always loved that scene, and I remembered that I had once looked at a cruise that went from the Mediterranean to somewhere in the Middle East, transiting the canal. I don't remember why I decided against it—timing? money? both?—but it inspired me to look for Christmas cruises that went through the Suez Canal, and I found a perfect trip.

It was on a very deluxe cruise line, and a lot more money than I wanted to spend, but it included an overnight option in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt and several stops in Saudi Arabia, and I decided that this would be my sort-of-post-pandemic Big Trip and I booked it. I spent the summer planning, looking at the shore excursions and planning a post-trip stay at the King David hotel in Jerusalem and honestly enjoying all of the logistics and possibilities for the first time since the world shut down.

Then Gaza happened. No post-cruise trip to Jerusalem, obviously, and I wasn't even really disappointed because the horrors of the war just made me grateful that I had the option of staying away. A few weeks later there were changes to the itinerary—first, no Sinai, then no Valley of the Kings. That was a disappointment, but the travel rep said that the canal and Saudi Arabia were still happening, and they added a stop in Ephesus, which although not the Valley of the Kings was a place I'd always wanted to see. But I was getting more and more uneasy about the trip and honestly wished I could just cancel the whole thing.

Now Yemeni rebels have been firing ballistic missiles at ships in the Red Sea, and I check my email ten times a day because surely they have to cancel the cruise now, right? It's not just that it no longer seems remotely safe to be putting myself inside a giant target in a volatile part of the world, it honestly feels obscene to go on a high-priced frolic in the middle of a war.

But as of this morning the cruise is still happening. The rep explained that the ship has to go through the Suez Canal no matter what because it has to get to Asia for the winter cruise season, but if they decide to avoid the Red Sea ports the cruise will probably end in Oman rather than in Jordan, with no Saudi Arabia. This is not a cruise I would ever have signed up for, especially not at this price. And I certainly have the option of staying home, but if I do, I lose all my money. I have travel insurance, but it turns out that cancellations because of “war, invasion, acts of foreign enemies, hostilities between nations (whether declared or not) or civil war” are NOT covered.

It’s so crazy. I never imagined that I would be in a situation where I actually had to worry about a war exclusion in an insurance policy. And so I sit here in New York, trying to focus on all the work I have to do but not knowing if I'm actually going to be flying to Athens the week after next and if I do, what will happen then? It's Schrödinger's Cruise and no one wants to open the box to see if it's going to happen or not.

(The picture is of the very rough Atlantic seas on my 2011 cruise out of Lisbon where they had seasickness bags available in all the public areas of the ship. Smooth sailing compared to this mess.)

Friday, December 1, 2023

Urban poetry

Two more classes and I'm done, but in the meantime I'm crazy busy.

But this picture made me smile on yet another gray cold day: El Parque John F. Kennedy in San José last year. I spent a lot of time waiting for buses next to this park.

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