Is worldwide travel safe at this time?

Flowers blooming in the yard here in the Korovesi neighborhood, here in Savusavu.

After yesterday’s warnings from the US State Department, and today’s world news, we carefully consider where we’re traveling over the next few years.  This travel warning was issued on November 24, 2015 includes the following:

“The State Department alerts U.S. citizens to possible risks of travel due to increased terrorist threats. Current information suggests that ISIL (aka Da’esh), al-Qa’ida, Boko Haram, and other terrorist groups continue to plan terrorist attacks in multiple regions.  These attacks may employ a wide variety of tactics, using conventional and non-conventional weapons and targeting both official and private interests.  This Travel Alert expires on February 24, 2016.

Authorities believe the likelihood of terror attacks will continue as members of ISIL/Da’esh return from Syria and Iraq.  Additionally, there is a continuing threat from unaffiliated persons planning attacks inspired by major terrorist organizations but conducted on an individual basis.  Extremists have targeted large sporting events, theatres, open markets, and aviation services.  In the past year, there have been multiple attacks in France, Nigeria, Denmark, Turkey, and Mali.  ISIL/Da’esh has claimed responsibility for the bombing of a Russian airliner in Egypt. 
U.S. citizens should exercise vigilance when in public places or using transportation.  Be aware of immediate surroundings and avoid large crowds or crowded places.  Exercise particular caution during the holiday season and at holiday festivals or events.  U.S. citizens should monitor media and local information sources and factor updated information into personal travel plans and activities.  Persons with specific safety concerns should contact local law enforcement authorities who are responsible for the safety and security of all visitors to their host country.  U.S. citizens should:
  • Follow the instructions of local authorities.  Monitor media and local information sources and factor updated information into personal travel plans and activities.  
  • Be prepared for additional security screening and unexpected disruptions.
  • Stay in touch with your family members and ensure they know how to reach you in the event of an emergency.
  • Register in our Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).”


As we’ve mentioned in the past, we don’t take these warnings lightly.  If we were simply on a two week vacation/holiday traveling to a less vulnerable location, it could be of less concerning.  With the world in front of us, we can’t help but proceed with caution.

As we consider countries we visited a mere two years ago:  Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Kenya, the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, UAE, we realize had conditions been as they are now, we may never have visited those countries or sailed along these seas.

Looking back, we’re grateful for the experiences, knowing the likelihood of us ever returning is slim to none.  As we waited for six and a half hours at the airport in Istanbul, sitting in crowded areas, we couldn’t help but consider the risks may be high in such a busy area. 

The night before our ship docked in Izmir Turkey on June 12th and 13th, 2013, we’d found this letter sitting on our bed upon returning to our cabin after dinner:

The letter we discovered on the bed in our cabin on June 11, 2013.

As we rode on the packed tour bus in Turkey on the long drive to visit the ruins of Ephesus in Turkey we couldn’t avoid feeling aware that the risks existed in this country, along with others in the upcoming itinerary. 

The day after we visited the Pyramids in Egypt, the State Department issued a warning for American citizens traveling to Egypt.  Luckily, during our tour of the Pyramid, our trusty armed guard, Mohamed, who’d traveled with us on the bus, stay close at our side as shown in this photo below:

Mohammed, who carried a foldable Uzi in holster under his black suit.  Oddly, he took a liking to us and stayed close to us during our tour of the Pyramids.


By reading world news daily, we feel we’re abreast of areas of concern worldwide as we continue to book locations far into the future.  Long ago we followed warnings from the US Department of State, realizing that no where on earth is exempt from risk. 

It was only 15 months ago we spent two weeks living in Paris, often walking the city streets for hours each day. Parisian citizens and tourists are now wrought with worry and fear over recent horrific attacks.

We remain mindful and on alert as we continue on our journey, hoping and praying for safety and good fortune to continue to travel along with us.

___________________________________________


Photo from one year ago today, November 25, 2014:

One year ago today, we posted this photo of Spam options available at the Kihei, Maui grocery store where we shopped each week.  For more details, please click here.
 

Ephesus Turkey ruins, history, and a very odd touch of modern day…What?…A fashion show!…

Here we are, in front of more historic ruins, Ephesus.  This photo is rather similar to the photo of us in front of Petra in Aqaba, Jordan.
Note:  Today, our ship was scheduled to arrive in Piraeus, Greece with many tours scheduled to go to Athens. We had decided to travel on our own while there.  Last night during dinner, the captain announced that we werenot going to Greece after all. Apparently, as of yesterday, there was a massive strike in Greece resulting in a standstill of all public transportation and services including all port facilities. 
The view from our balcony as we entered the city of Izmir, Turkey.

Many passengers, bound and determined to see the Acropolis and other ruins are sorely disappointed. We chalk it up to all a part of the adventure, especially when tomorrow morning, we’ll be in Dubrovnik, Croatia, the historic walled city. Dubrovnik was not a part of the planned Ports of Call.

Time for cattle herding time to Ephesus. Moo.
Actually, we’re enthused for the opportunity to see Croatia after hearing so much about it from many passengers on our previous cruises, as a favored stop.
At sea today, we have no option but to use the ship’s WiFi to post the many photos today from our visit to Ephesus yesterday. 
Tom reminded me these are called “containers” not “cartons” as I erroneously referred to them.

Fact about Ephesus:

·    Ephesus is considered one of the greatest outdoor museums in Turkey.

Ephesus is the most well preserved classical city of the eastern Mediterranean, allowing visitors to soak in the atmosphere of Roman times.
Ephesus was once a seaport is now six miles from the sea.
The ancient city continues to be restored in a manner of fitting pieces of a massive puzzle in place.  It could take hundreds of years to complete it.
The Celsius Library in its day was the third largest library in the world with a capacity of 12,000 scrolls.  The facade of the library has two stories, but the interior has three stories due to its origi
The toilets in Ephesus were arranged side by side (photos below) with no privacy.  The toilet stones were heated by the slaves for their masters in the winter.
The Grand Theatre in Ephesus had a seating capacity of 24,000, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
There is an underground passage to the brothel on Marbel Street in Ephesus.
The  first church dedicated to the Virgin Mary is in Ephesus.  The 3rd Ecumenical Council was held in Ephesus was held at the Church of the Virgin Mary and is known as one of the seven churches of the Apocalypse.  Virgin Mary spent the last years of her life in Turkey, in a small cottage near Ephesus, visited by Pope Paul, the 6th and Pope Jean-Paul
.
St. Paul, the Apostle gave lectures in the Tyrannus Hall and the synagogue in Ephesus for two years in his third missionary journey.
Seven Christians who fled Ephesus are believed to have slept in a cave nearby for 200 years.
Cleopatra spent her honeymoon with Antonius in Ephesus in the winter of the year 188. 
Izmir is an older city with its buildings less modern than other major cities we’ve seen.
The hillside on the drive to Ephesus could have been any hillside in any part of the world with no defining Turkish markers.
The vendors were ready for us as our bus pulled into the Ephesus parking area.

Our safety in Izmir, Turkey was of utmost concern. Apparently, Norwegian Cruise lines felt the same way, instructing all tour vehicles to avoid the dangerous areas of the city as they made their way to various points of interest, most of which was the one-hour bus ride to the ancient city of Ephesus.

Once on the road, we felt safe except for the few minutes when we departed that our
bus driver couldn’t find his way out the parking lots at the port.  


The old rickety bus bounced along on the hour drive, stopping once for a pit stop at a shopping area where overly zealous vendors watched our eyes for interest in any of their wares.  We kept our sunglasses on as we waited in the line to use the facilities in an effort to avoid eye contact, which we were warned was a dead giveaway. 
Ephesus required a two-hour walk on extremely uneven stones, slippery chunks of granite
and marble and a mixture of odd-shaped rocks and surfaces.  Tourists everywhere added to the difficulty of the walk, some tripping, some falling and many lagging behind our well
informed but difficult to understand tour guide, Nadia.
As our long walk began with a series of similar ruins.
Never miss a photo op at the ruins.

Wearing two-way radios on strings around our necks with an earpiece, we were able to adjust the volume as we walked through the area, losing the connection if we were too far ahead or behind.  Tom and I preferred to work our way through the crowds and stay ahead most of the time, although we didn’t miss anything.

Ornate rock.

Having seen Petra in Aqaba, Jordan, in May, our expectations were high. Had we not seen Petra, we would have been enthralled with Ephesus. Interesting? Yes. Profoundly so?  Not as much.

No more than 20 minutes into the tour, we both acknowledged that touring in a bus-sized group was not our thing. In the future, we decided that we are willing to pay more to either tour in a
small group of six or less, with our own guide or on our own. This “group thing” is not for us,
missing so much of the personal experience in the process.
  

Varying stones were used to avoid a slippery surface. 
The ridges on the marble were etched to reduce the slippery aspect to provide traction for the iron wheels on the chario
The original medical insignia.
Another well-preserved work.
Perhaps, the craftsmen spent their lifetime creating these works.
Its hard to imagine the lives of the citizens during this era.
This piece was one of the most appealing having survived for centuries.
Decorative archway.
Decorative pillars and structures.
Ornate design.
The crowd was so thick at times it was hard to walk.
It was hard to believe how many people were there.
Some ornate design remains.
Check out this handiwork!
Its amazing this is still here!
Work yet to be completed.
The trough at the toilets.
Yes, these are toilets but with not much privacy!
The Celsius Library.
The crowds.
More ruins to be restored.
More work yet to be completed.

  

It was hard to find a good spot for our photo.
Feeling well again, the long walk was easy.
It was difficult to take photos without including other unknown tourists.
Lots of people.
The Celsius Library bears some resemblance to the Treasury in Petra.  But it is not nearly as magnificent.
At the Celsius Library.
It could be centuries before they piece together these stones.
In a way, we’re becoming a little bored with ruins, having seen so many in our travels.
More impressive ruins.
What was the purpose of these narrow spaces?
It will take many years to complete the piecing together of the ruins.
This is the road Cleopatra traveled while on her honeymoon in 188.
 Steps from the Great Theatre to the road below.
These original roads led to the Great Theatre.
Another view of the Great Theatre.
The Great Theatre view.
 The Great Theatre.
Oddly, as we began the bus ride back to the ship, we stopped at a local leather purveyor, expecting a primitive factory with workers pounding away on leather products. Instead, we were herded into a newer fancy pillared Greek styled building to a darkened room to be seated in
comfy theatre seats surrounding a t-shaped stage. 
The tree lined walk back to the bus.
Alas, a grouping of professional good looking, well-dressed models began parading the neon
lighted “catwalk” in what proved to be a contemporary fashion show, as one would see in Paris or Milan, all wearing expensive leather jackets, fur coats, and other leather goods.  


We were given a checklist on which to mark our numbered items of interest. Loud popular music blared in the background as the models, both female and male pranced down the runway, one after another, to quickly change backstage to yet another enticing outfit. 
Models prancing the runway in leather jackets.

How ironic.  Here we were, our brains wrapped around a classic Roman lifestyle from over 2000 years ago only minutes ago to a pop fashion show.  After the show, two large wooden doors opened to a huge showroom where the leather goods were displayed in a manner one would expect in an exclusive store.

There was no way out!  All 40 of us were trapped in this showroom while the owner tried to convince us, extolling the quality of their handmade laser leather products, to purchase their expensive products many upwards of US $1200.

How odd, that we were sitting there!  We just left a historical site and now we’re at a mandatory fashion show.  We’ll surely be writing the cruise line about this!

We couldn’t get out of there quickly enough. The captive audience listened while Tom and I sought the most available exit to hurriedly make our way out the door, relieved to be outside at
last. I must admit I enjoyed the fashion show so out of place in our historical day, but the trip inside the showroom made me want to scream.
 

Passengers were brought onto the stage “to perform.” Not us!

With no practical way in which to avoid the crowds in these historic spots, at least in the future, we can go at our own pace.  In Turkey, with the dangers surrounding the rioting, it seemed to make sense to travel in a large group. Returning back to the ship by 5:45, we were anxious to shower and head to dinner in the Windows Dining Room.

The leather showroom where we were herded to make purchased. Not one passenger on our bus made a purchase.

We dined with a fabulous couple last night, Deanna and Wally, having the time of our lives, finally clearing out the dining room after 10:00 pm. Tonight, we’ll meet up with them again for yet another expected evening of incessant laughter and endless storytelling.  What a social cruise this has been for us!

The sky began to cloud over on our return to the ship.

After a long and event-filled day, we languished in our cabin, blissfully tired and pleased with another great day. 

Older buildings lined the highway.
For the first time on this entire cruise, now on our 10th day, we had rough seas last night as winds howled in the 55-60 MPH range, the ship rolling to and fro. Now, as more experienced cruisers, especially after the 50 foot waves on the Norwegian Epic in late April, we gave it little
thought to allow the rocking to lull us to sleep.
It began to rain shortly before we arrive at the pier to board yet another shuttle to get us closer to the ship.
Today, a sea day on our way to Croatia, we look forward to our last few days on the Norwegian Spirit and then of course, in three days, beginning our half-day drive to our future home in Tuscany for the summer.  Ah, life is good.

Izmir, Turkey excursion today…Off to see Ephesus…Rioting in the area…

For news on Izmir, Turkey, please click here.

Last evening, as our ship the Norwegian Spirit, pulled away from the pier in Istanbul, Turkey.
Turkey’s interesting architecture.

At 11:30 am this morning, Turkey time,  which is eight hours later than the US Midwest, ten hours later than the West Coast, our ship will dock in Izmir.

Feeling a bit concerned about visiting Istanbul, Turkey we stayed behind yesterday planning to visit Izmir, Turkey today on a prepaid excursion, feeling an organized excursion would be safer than wandering around on our own.
We took these photos facing the sun as it set yesterday in Istanbul.
Our new friends, Nicole and Gerry had called yesterday, asking if Nicole could join Tom and I since Gerry sprained his ankle and won’t be able to go on the tour to Ephesus after all. Of course, we’d love for Nicole to join us. We planned to meet at the designated meeting area at 11:45 this morning. 
The excursion is scheduled to depart around 12:15 pm, returning to the ship at 5:30 pm. 
A haze obstructed the view as the sun was setting, a combination of heat and pollution, a result of the big city along the sea.

Last night, after attending yet another Latitudes members cocktail party in the Galaxy of the Stars venue at 7:00 pm, later dining in Windows Dining Room, another wonderful evening was behind us. Dining alone for a change we chattered on about our experiences thus far and our dreams for the future, albeit some of which is uncertain which much to our surprise, is fine with us.

The spires of the many mosques dotted the skyline in Istanbul.
Returning to our cabin around 10:00 pm, typical for us since we awaken quite early, we found these two items on the bed:
This adorable frog was sitting on our bed last night when we returned from dinner, made from one of our beach towels and a few washcloths!
This letter was on our bed last night when we returned from dinner.

Feeling committed to our non-refundable tickets and our plan to meet up with Nicole for the excursion, we decided to forge ahead. When in the future with so much “world” left to see when would we ever return to Turkey?

Most likely we’ll be safe. Wouldn’t it be great if our Uzi welding, security guard, Mohammad from Egypt, was riding on our bus and following us around! 
Ironically, there I was writing yesterday, providing all the reasons to avoid risk and here we are today, walking right into it.  So off we go today, camera in hand, ready to shoot what we hope will be better photos of our expedition as we explore the ancient city of Ephesus.

It’s a one hour drive each way to Ephesus, where we’ll spend approximately three hours.  I’m hoping it’s as exciting as Petra minus the difficult three-hour walk uphill half of the way.  In any case, if we prove to be safe, I’ll crawl through mud to return without incident (and take photos of that as well).

We’ll be back tomorrow with our story, hopefully safe and sound and grateful for yet another enriching experience as we continue on in our worldwide adventures.

Ancient buildings at every juncture.
Goodbye Istanbul.  May your citizens (and visitors) be safe from harm.

Istanbul, Turkey…Story and photos…

Mosques and churches are abundant in Istanbul.
What a view of Istanbul!
The contrast between old and new is breathtaking in Istanbul.

It was not an easy decision, deciding not to visit Istanbul, Turkey today. Tomorrow, while our ship will have docked in Izmir, Turkey we are going on an excursion to Ephesus, not returning until late in the day, posting the story and photos on Thursday. 

As our ship overlooks this magnificent city, it is quite tempting, to simply walk off the ship and venture out on our own.  From the information provided to us by the excursion desk, it’s about a 30 minutes vigorous walk through the city to arrive at the mosques, the Grand Bazaar, the Underground Cistern, and many other renowned historical sites of interest.
We were able to zoom in on many historic sites from the deck of the ship.
Google Maps
Taksim Square wherein lies the political unrest in Istanbul, Turkey, is across the bridge from the Blue Mosque.  The far-left point of the blue line is the Port of Istanbul.  The end point of the blue line toward the right is the Blue Mosque and an area of most of the tourist attractions, a little too close for comfort by our commitment to safety.

Staying behind is not based on fear as much as on practicality and logical thinking. Most likely, if we did go out, we’d be safe. The odds are in our favor.
Honestly, it’s more my being cautious than Tom. 

Looming in my mind is all the bus bombings and terrorist attacks that have occurred whereby tourists have been killed, injured, and captured. In many ways, Turkey is safer than in many other countries.  But, in our own US, who would have thought the Boston Marathon would be a high-risk area, on that particular horrifying day?

When we planned this year’s long adventure, we made a commitment to each other: we will protect ourselves from the “things we do know” since we have no control over “the things we don’t know.”

Today, Istanbul falls into the category of “things we do know.” Thus, we stay behind, perhaps viewed as overly cautious and “chicken” by some and sensible by others.  Whichever the case, we’ve made peace with our decision.

Here again, old and new intertwined in Istanbul, Turkey.

We reminded ourselves that only four weeks ago, we traveled the Middle East, visiting many high-risk areas, reveling in the adventure of it all, grateful for the experience.  We’re not pushing our luck to see yet more mosques, shopping areas and historical buildings, however magnificent they may be.

We find this French style of architecture not only in parts of the US, but in other cities throughout the world.

We remind ourselves of our personal travel objectives: to focus our time, money, and energy experiencing amazing wildlife, vegetation, natural wonders. And most of all, living in and learning the culture of people all over the world.  This makes us happy.  Historical buildings?  Nice to see, but not as life-changing for us as it may be for others.

This simple church spire adds to the Istanbul skyline.

The Panama Canal, Petra, and Mykonos tell us a story that fills our hearts and minds with awe and joy.  Wearing the burka and thobe in Abu Dhabi visiting the Sheikh Zayed Mosque gave us a gift of cultural differences that will remain with us forever. 

Mingling with the Mayan people, eating their food from their shops and markets in Belize was so meaningful to us.  Tom getting a haircut from a Creole barber while sitting under a tree on a plastic chair atop cement blocks was a delightful experience for us both. 
Also, on our trip to the Monkey River in Belize, seeing the howler monkeys, the manatees, crocodiles, dolphins, the unusual birds and vegetation, the likes of which we’d never seen before, left us reeling with pure pleasure.  And, the lunch at Alice’s Restaurant will be etched in our minds forever, as Alice and her family ran circles around us to serve us their perfect version of local lunch.

Who’s to say what “trips one’s trigger?”  Luckily, both of us have similar expectations.  Five days from today, we’ll plant our feet in Italy for the summer, living for two and half months in a non-English speaking area, learning their ways of daily life, eating their locally grown foods, attending their summer festivities, enjoying their rolling hillside all the while and making friends along the way.

The Port of Istanbul, where we sit today, a 20-minute walk from the unrest in Taksim Square.

Yes, we are doing what we want, when we want, what feels safe to us while enriching our lives daily to the world around us. It’s not perfect.  It never will be.  But for us, this, our friends, is as good as it gets.

Sea day…On our way to Mykonos Greece, arriving in the morning…

No photos today due to poor Internet connection on a sea day with many passengers on the ship using WiFi.

On our prior seven cruises since 1/3/2013, our captains were rather chatty, announcing destinations, weather condition, points of interest plus generally anything at all that may peak the curiosity of the passengers and crew. Not so much here on the Norwegian Spirit. 

He’d hardly said “boo” until today when we attended a “Latitudes” members only, cocktail party at 1:00 pm for the 419 passengers on board who have attained a certain number of points starting at Bronze, then to Silver, Gold and ultimately to Platinum. 

Currently, we are Silver members, but when this cruise ends, we’ll be Gold members, allowing certain privileges, none of which are relevant to us at this point, other than the 15 minutes of free Internet time and invitations to a few cocktail parties with free drinks and appetizers.

Thus, today at the party, the captain finally spoke at the party as many of us eagerly await the cruise line’s decision to as to whether or not we’ll be allowed to get off the ship safely in Istanbul with the news of ongoing
civil unrest. He didn’t provide us with a definitive answer at this point. From there, we’ll have to make of our own decision, should they give us the “go ahead,” as to whether or not we’ll choose to get off the ship to tour
Istanbul.  With all the amazing comments we’ve heard, we’d love to see Istanbul.

However, if we can’t get off the ship in Istanbul in a few days, we’ll hopefully be able to venture out in Izmir, Turkey in order to take advantage of the tour to Ephesus, supposedly comparable in its wonders to Petra, Jordan, my favorite all time places to visit since we began our travels over seven months ago.

We’ve made it through the Middle East without incident (aside from illness), one would think an eastern Mediterranean cruise would be relatively safe. But, as we continue to watch the BBC world news daily (only news we can get on the TV), violence continues to rage everywhere in the world, including in the US (based on the latest shootings in Los Angeles county a few days ago). 

Tom and I have a theory that perhaps some share with us: that the terror throughout the world has been going on for years and its only the media’s constant announcements of these events that bring it forefront in our minds.  “World at War” then and “World at War” now, generation after generation, leaving each civilization suffering the ravages of political, religious and social unrest. 

When will it ever end? Never. As long as humans have the ability to think, to be coerced and manipulated and to strongly uphold their  beliefs, right or wrong in society’s view, this state of terrifying expression will continue, leaving those in its wake at dangerous risk. 

Drive-by shootings occurred only 1/2 hour from us in our “old lives.”  We chose to avoid these areas as much as we possibly could. Tom’s mother, a dear woman, passed away in 2008, having spent many years living in that kind neighborhood. In many cases, it’s poverty that increased the risks in certain areas. Perhaps, in many of these worldwide high risk areas, it’s not only the criminals, but where you happen to be at any given time.

Tom and I don’t know any “high risk” people (that we’re aware of) but we’ve increased our exposure as to where we will happen to be at any given moment.  We proceed with caution…possessing a desire not to diminish our experiences while we continue to grow our range of experiences.

After all, in the past month we’ve been to Egypt, Jordan, the Suez Canal, the Gulf of Aden, Strait of Hormuz, United Arab Emirates plus we’ve traveled past Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Iran, Yemen and Oman, albeit with a bit of adventure, coming out safely on the other side, having loved every moment while feeling safe most of the time.

Soon, we’ll know how as to the safety of visiting Istanbul, Turkey deciding from there our course of action and sharing it all with you here.

Tonight, a dress-up night on a sea day, we’ve been invited to join a party of four from the US for dinner in the Windows dining room. With our dressy clothing long gone to lighten our load, we’ll make the best of it, me in a casual long dress, spruced up with accessories and Tom, in black long sleeved dress shirt and dress pants.
With this as our last cruise for the next 17 or more months, we’re at ease to no longer hauling dress up clothing. 

Updates: Xcom Global responded to our frantic inquiries, explaining they have reset the MiFi and it should be working by tomorrow morning. Secondly, the property owners of the house in Tuscany have graciously agreed to accept our credit card payment for the two and a half month rental, making paying the balance much easier for us. Plus on the 16th, they’ll meet us at the property at 3:00 pm to let us in and familiarize us as to how everything works. 
Moving right along, photos coming after tomorrow’s visit to Mykonos, Greece!