I'm just back from a Black Sea cruise, with stops in Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Georgia, Russia and Turkey, capped by four days in Istanbul.
I've scooped up a handful of photos from hundreds. Takeaway: I confess to having some pre-trip trepidation about Istanbul. Wrong. It was the knockout highlight of the trip, from all the ancient wonders, to the endless fascination of watching the thick maritime traffic on the Bosporus and Golden Horn (preferably in the course of a 75-cent ferry ride as in the picture below), to the sights and smells of great food, served copiously and cheaply.
We joined the enormous throngs in this city of 15 to 20 million on the mass transit — bus, tram, funiculars old and new, ferries — and walked miles through marketplaces where coffee has roasted in the same spot for five centuries and temples of worship dating back 15 centuries. Yes, an obvious westerner like myself is importuned to do some rug shopping with regularity, but the approaches were generally genial and unthreatening, unlike, say, the pests in Tangier.
The picture of me at top was taken in Stalin's private film screening room and office at his forest dacha near Sochi, Russia.
Dare I say it? Tomatoes in Turkey, now in season, were almost as good as Arkansas tomatoes. And much cheaper. At 3.5 Turkish lira for a kilogram, they cost about 85 cents a pound.
Seafood was abundant. I should have found my photo of a plate of fried red mullet, fresh from water within yards of our restaurant, but the market shot is typical.
Puffy flatbread, fresh from the oven, was a staple at the ubquitous kebap houses. Shaved mounds of seasoned lamb with onions, herbs and yogurt were good everywhere.
We trekked up to the ancient Sumela monastery near Trabzon, one of many sightseeing highlights (yes, we saw the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque and Topkapi, among others, in Istanbul.)
In Odessa, no shots need be dodged on the stairs made famous in the "Battleship Potemkin," just souvenir vendors and hordes of tourists in a beautiful Ukrainian city with a European feel.
A gustatory highlight was this morning treat served up in a seaside cafe in Batumi, Georgia. This is a town exploding with building, including Jetson-style futuristic skyscrapers, for a future as a casino resort. A sure old-school winner is this treat, the Adjara khachapuri, which cost about $5. Puffy dough is filled with a fresh farmhouse cheese — like ricotta but a little tangier — then topped with a raw egg and baked. When done, it's topped with a slab of fresh butter. It's a meal for two. I can't recommend the Georgian beer, however.
And for good measure, one more kebap shot from Istanbul.
And, why not a beach shot from Romania?
And a thoroughly inadequate shot of the Blue Mosque.