Monday, September 22, 2014

The Black Sea a vital trading center linking Europe with Asia.

The Black Sea

The Black Sea is steeped in history and culture, a vital trading center linking Europe with Asia.

Soon, I will embark on a 12-night (round trip from Istanbul), cruise of the Black Sea (plus Greece).  I will visit ports in Turkey, Romania, and Bulgaria.  I will have visited 4 of the 6 countries bordering the Black Sea, including Russia.  Of note, The Ukraine was originally part of the itinerary before the military conflict with Russia, earlier this year.
The Black Sea
Named Pontus Exinus ("the inhospitable sea"), the Black Sea was navigated and its shores colonized by the Greeks as early as the eighth century before Christ and later by the Romans in the third to first centuries B.C.


Many of the colonial and commercial activities of ancient Greece and Rome, and of the Byzantine Empire, centered on the Black Sea. After 1453, when the Ottoman Turks occupied Constantinople (and changed its name to Istanbul), the Black Sea was virtually closed to foreign commerce. Nearly 400 years later, in 1856, the Treaty of Paris re-opened the sea to the commerce of all nations.

Among its vast historical riches, the Black Sea region is home to the legend of Jason and the Argonauts and their search for the Golden Fleece, and the Biblical account of Noah's Ark. Troy, Constantinople, Istanbul, Sevastopol, Odessa, and Yalta are just a few of the names in this coastal area that have been etched in world history.

From the Crusades to the recent collapse of the Soviet Union, the Black Sea has witnessed often-tumultuous religious and political change. In the face of countless conquests through the ages, the people of the Black Sea region have endured, and today represent a remarkable mixture of cultures and religions.


Today, this ancient sea means many things to the people who live on its shores. Still vitally important as a regional trading center, with major ports dotting its coast, the Black Sea continues to provide its inhabitants with treasured resources — major commercial fisheries, a diversity of marine life, world-class beaches, and perhaps a more tangible record of our past than previously imagined. The recent discovery of ancient wooden ships in the Black Sea, well-protected from shipworm attack in the oxygen-deprived waters, points to the new wonders these ancient waters may yield.

The Black Sea and its six bordering countries — Bulgaria and Romania on the west, Ukraine on the north, Russia and Georgia on the east, and Turkey on the south — each have rich histories and cultures worthy of considerable exploration.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Lovely Seville, Spain



Today (4-1-14), I made my second visit to the Andalusian region of Spain.  Known for the cliché symbols of matadors, flamenco dance & music, gypsies, bulls, horses, strolling guitarists, beaches, and tapas bars, the region was ruled by the Moors for 500 years and it is reflected in all aspects of the culture including architecture, art, music, cuisine, and more.

Our ship docked in the port of Cadiz, the oldest and most continuously inhabited city in Western Europe and the wealthiest trading port there during the 18th century.  I will visit this city during my next visit.

I decided to take a day trip to Seville, the capital of Andalucía and Spain’s 4th largest city, a 1.5 hour drive north of Cadiz.  Upon arrival, I was delighted to see the famous white-washed houses with wrought-iron balconies, brightly lined with bougainvillea: ornate majestic palaces, and its mixture of Renaissance and Moorish architecture.


We began our 3-hour walking tour with a visit to the impressive 11th century Alcazar (Palace) with its maze of rooms, exquisitely decorated patios, and exotic gardens (that even house wandering peacocks).  It continues to serve as the Seville residence of the Spanish royal family.


Although say Seville’s Alcazar and gardens reminded me of Istanbul's Topkapi Palace and Granada’s Alhambra, I appreciate this one most--Perhaps because it felt slightly less pretentious amidst all its opulence.


Next was the impressive Plaza D’Espagne, (which today mainly consists of Government buildings) an impressive august structure designed to serve as the centerpiece of the 1929 Ibero-American exhibition This event showcased magnificent stately pavilions from all the Spanish colonies including Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, Cuba (and even the US) (where several famous sci-fi films were shot) the backdrop is the verdant, beautifully landscaped Parque Maria Luisa which emits a blend of fragrances from wisterias, orange trees, giant fichus trees, magnolias and more.  What impressed me the most were the Plaza's tiled 'Alcoves of the Provinces' where there are many tiled alcoves, each representing a different province of Spain.


Of note, the Plaza de España has been used as a filming location, including scenes for the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia. The building was used as a location in the Star Wars movie seriesStar Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) — in which it featured in exterior shots of the City of Themed on the Planet Naboo.  It also featured in the 2012 film The Dictator.


A visit to the awe-inspiring 15th century Gothic Cathedral (the world’s 3rd largest after St Peters in Rome and St Paul’s in London) followed.  The Giralda (bell tower) symbolizes the city and dominates its skyline.

Our walk through the Santa Cruz Barrio (former Jewish Quarter) delighted me with its narrow cobblestone streets, whitewashed houses, flower covered balconies, and hidden squares.  I really smelled the scent of orange trees as we wandered through the city and its parks. 


The residents were friendly and accommodating to our group.

I look forward to a return visit to this charming city.