MY TRIP TO THE BLACK SEA
by Maureen Halsall
On Tuesday, October 11, 2011 at 2 p.m., Airways Transit picked me up at my home in
Hamilton, Ontario for transfer to Toronto's Pearson International Airport Terminal 3.
Arriving too early at 3 p.m., I had quite a long wait for the Air France check-in counter to
open. Thereafter, however, both check-in and passage through security proved rapid.
As a result, by 4 p.m. I was waiting at Gate 33 for the departure of AF351 at 6:45 p.m.
Eastern Daylight Time (EDT).
On Wednesday, October 12 at 8:10 a.m. Central European Summer Time (CEST), after a sleepless but smooth and pleasant night-flight lasting seven hours and 25 minutes, I reached Charles de Gaulle Airport Terminal 2 in Paris. There, following an extra-thorough search
by security, I transferred easily to the waiting area for AF1590, which departed on time at
10:10 a.m. CEST.
After a flight lasting three hours and 20 minutes, we arrived at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport Terminal 2 as scheduled at 2:30 p.m. Eastern European Summer Time (EEST). For some reason unknown to me, Canadians are charged the exorbitant visa fee of $60US, which is
four times the amount charged citizens of other nations. After paying this (in US cash, as required), my passage through immigration was uncomplicated; and my luggage turned up speedily on the carousel.
Transfer to the cruise ship was delayed, while stray passengers were rounded up; but
eventually we all reached the dock. Before boarding merchant vessel Discovery, I purchased
a dozen postcards of Istanbul, in the mistaken hope that, if they were posted on October 13 (before the ship set sail that evening for the Black Sea), they might reach the intended recipients before my return home on October 26. Then I was directed to my cabin (number
5279 on Deck 5: the Pacific Deck). Also, prior to the first dinner sitting at 6:30 p.m., I found time to go to the reception desk in order to select and purchase 530 GB pounds worth of the Shore Excursions offered to passengers by Voyages of Discovery. After an excellent dinner
(at which only one of the three couples assigned to table 85 appeared), the rest of the evening until midnight was taken up with unpacking my gear and writing out postcards for posting
the next morning.
On Thursday, October 13, mv Discovery remained docked in Istanbul. Being well acquainted
with the city and also extremely tired from losing a night's sleep while travelling from Toronto
to Paris, I decided to stay on board the entire day, awakening unusually late and not
breakfasting until 9:15 a.m. (at the Lido buffet, because the main Seven Continents restaurant closed at 9 a.m.). After breakfast I visited the ship's library to read the news and select a
few books to take to my cabin. Following lunch at noon in the Seven Continents restaurant,
I napped all afternoon. At dinner I met all three of the couples with whom I was to share a
table: the Scots, Bill & Margaret (met the previous evening), and the two English couples,
Dennis & Eileen and Derek & Molly. Following a hasty dinner, we picked up our life-jackets
and dashed to the obligatory Fire Drill explanation held in the Discovery Theatre on the
Riviera Deck (Deck 6) at 7:30 p.m.
Then at 8:30 p.m. mv Discovery set sail; and overnight we passed through the Bosporus,
entering the Black Sea on Friday, October 14, all of which was spent at sea heading east.
Back in Istanbul the previous day the weather had been fine: 24C and sunny; but, as we
began to sail a counter-clockwise circuit east to west from the Bosporus through Trabzon,
Sochi, Novorossiysk, Yalta and Sebastopol, conditions deteriorated to cold and rainy.
It was not until we reached the second to last Black Sea port (Odessa) that the sun was
destined to shine brightly on our cruise once again.
Friday, October 14 proved uneventful, consisting of: substantial meals (breakfast at 8 a.m., lunch at 12:30 p.m. and a formal dinner at 6:15 p.m.); several port lectures (on Trabzon,
Sochi, Novorossiysk and Yalta); plus a get-together of Solo Travellers at noon and the
Captain's Welcome at 5:30 p.m. (featuring champagne and canapes, while prominent ship's
staff were introduced to us).
On Saturday, October 15 at 7 a.m. we docked in Trabzon, Turkey. The weather was cold
and showery. Since my shore excursion was not scheduled to leave until early afternoon, between breakfast at 8 a.m. and lunch at noon I read background material on this part of
the Black Sea coast, which was settled from as far back as 3000 B.C. by successive groups.
These invaders ranged from Turan tribes from Uzbekistan, through Hittites, Greek
colonists from Ionia and Persians--plus, of course, Alexander the Great, who seems to
have gone everywhere--right down to the Romans, the Byzantines and finally the Ottoman Turks. After the sack of Constantinople by Crusaders in A.D, 1204, Alexius Commenus (grandson of Emperor Andronicus I) founded the longest reigning Byzantine dynasty at
the cultured and opulent court of Trebizond (now Trabzon). Trebizond succeeded in
avoiding trouble from invading Seljuk Turks, Mongols and rival Byzantine rulers until
A.D. 1461, when the city was captured by Sultan Mehmet II, eight full years after the fall
of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire.
At 1:15 p.m. the excursion entitled Highlights of Trabzon set out. These highlights included
Gulbahar Hatun Mosque, Hagia Sophia Church and the Ataturk Pavilion.
Sixteenth-century Gulbahar Hatun Mosque was built during the Ottoman period by
Yavuz Sultan Selim in memory of his mother. In the right foreground of the photograph
below is a roofed circular font for ritual ablutions before entering the mosque for prayers.
The Archaeological Museum was built at the end of the 19th century as the home of a local Greek banker. A relatively small, but interesting collection is housed in these conspicuously wealthy Victorian Age surroundings.
The restored 13th-century Byzantine church Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom) is the jewel of Trabzon's monuments. Its interior walls and vaulted ceilings are adorned with splendid
frescoes. The biblical scenes and portraits of Christ are amongst the finest examples of Byzantine painting. Also displayed on the grounds are fine examples of Muslim tile-work.
Ataturk's Pavilion was built in European style for his visit in June 1937, more than a year
before his death in November 1938. This is where he wrote most of his will, leaving his entire estate to the Republican People's Party. In the garden there is a life-like bust of him, which
well withstands comparison with the ubiquitous stereotypical full-figure statues of this
father of modern Turkey.
Our tour coach returned to mv Discovery at 5:30 p.m., in ample time for those of us with
a first-sitting dinner reservation at 6:15 p.m.
That evening we were instructed to put our clocks one hour forward at bedtime, as we set
sail from Trabzon, Turkey, which was operating on Eastern European Summer Time
(EEST), to Sochi, Russia, which would be operating on Moscow Daylight Time (MSD),
also known as Russian Federation Zone 2 Daylight Time (R2DT). For Ontario
passengers, this was our third time change. Already we had put our watches forward
six hours upon arrival in Paris, which was operating on Central European Summer Time
(CEST). Later the same day, upon arrival in Istanbul, which was operating on Eastern European Summer Time (EEST), we had put our watches forward one more hour,
making a total of seven hours in advance of Eastern Daylight Time (EDT).
On Sunday, October 16 at 7 a.m. mv Discovery docked in Sochi, Russia. The day dawned
rainy and cold: its mid-afternoon temperature of 14C barely reaching the winter average
for this town, which was purpose-built only a century ago in the last years of Tsarist Russia
to create a so-called "Caucasian Riviera". Famed for its mild Mediterranean-style climate,
Sochi was to become a favourite Soviet health resort, delighting visitors with its profusion
of exotic trees, shrubs and tropical plants. The surrounding hillsides apparently also enticed visitors up to view rich green tea plantations, orchards, vineyards, tobacco fields and forests.
None of these warm weather delights had any attraction for us on October 16. I, for one,
was glad to have chosen a morning excursion entitled Sochi City Museums, whose pleasures promised to be entirely indoors.
Soon after breakfast, our excursion set out at 9 a.m. for the Cathedral of Michael the Archangel, which is the oldest Orthodox church in Sochi and indeed in the entire Black Sea Oblast (administrative district) of the former Russian Empire. The existing building was designed by Alexander Kaminsky and built between 1874 and 1890. Long neglected by the Soviets, the church was restored in 1993. The circular domed baptistery and the sunday
school were built next to the church in the 1990's. While we were there, the church, which
has no seating, was crowded with worshippers, who seemed constantly in motion: entering, taking part in the service in progress, and then leaving long before its conclusion.
Next we drove to Art Square, where a statue of Vladimir Lenin gazes down the long
approach to the neoclassical facade of the Art Museum built in 1936 by Ivan Zholtovsky.
This museum houses exhibits from local artists as well as the works of painters and
sculptors from other Russian cities. Among the more dramatic of the larger paintings is
one of Alexander Pushkin, who in the 1820's was exiled to the Black Sea region on
account of his vocal support for social reform. Outside the museum are a number of
fantastic--not to mention comical--metal sculptures, including one of a band and also
one of Jason's Golden Fleece and its ferocious Dragon guardian.
The rain began in earnest as we left the Art Museum; so I declined descending from the
coach at Theatre Square to photograph the facades of Sochi's theatres. Our last stop was
at the dacha of Valeria Barsova (1892-1967), the Russian opera prima donna at Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre for 27 years. Dubbed The Russian Nightingale, she was Stalin's favourite singer; and in 1947 he granted her a plot of land in this (reputedly warm) resort city to build herself a home. Inside the dacha we were treated to a recording of Madame Barsova's magnificent voice; and afterwards the English-speaking guide to the house played for us
on the singer's grand piano [only Web photos of dacha, mine having turned out too dark].
We returned to mv Discovery just in time to be able to lunch in the Seven Continents
restaurant rather than in the Lido buffet . After a hairdressing appointment at 3 p.m.,
I attended the port lecture on Sebastopol at 5:15 p.m., followed immediately by dinner.
On this, as on every other day of our Black Sea cruise, I eschewed the entertainments
offered in the various lounges and in the theatre, preferring either to read or to watch the
news, movies, documentaries, lectures and other programmes available on my cabin TV.
Until noon on Monday, October 17 we were still at sea. After breakfast, at 9:15 a.m.
I attended a port lecture on Odessa. Following lunch at 11:30 a.m., I watched as mv
Discovery manoeuvered prior to docking in Novorossiysk, Russia. Then, while the ship's engines were slowed to await a pilot boat, I went down to my cabin to prepare for that afternoon's shore excursion. Unfortunately, just as I put my key in the cabin door lock,
the ship's engines suddenly started up again, the steel door swung open, and I was flung
to the floor, landing heavily on my left upper arm. I was lucky, falling so hard in such a
narrow space, to receive only a 9"x 5" bruise and several hematomas on my upper arm,
as opposed to a broken wrist, elbow, shoulder or ribs, or even a broken head.
Novorossiysk is Russia's primary Black Sea port and one of Russia's Hero Cities.
Founded in 1845 upon the orders of Tsar Nicholas I, it developed quickly and by 1896
was the capital of the Black Sea Governate. In 1942 the Germans occupied the port.
For 225 days a small unit of the Soviet Navy displayed outstanding heroism by defending
the area of the town known as Malaya Zemlya against them until the Red Army arrived
and liberated the city. Today Novorossiysk is primarily an industrial city and a bustling
port for grain and also for oil, being the terminus of the Tengiz pipeline from the Caspian
Sea. As a result, the city proved a most unlikely tourist venue, despite our potential
interest in its lengthy defense during World War II.
Instead of touring the various striking monuments to this heroic defense and hoping to see
more of the countryside, for the four hours from 1:15 p.m. to 5:15 p.m. I left Novorossiysk
to take part in a shore excursion entitled Russian Coast and Architectural Park. That was
a big mistake. It rained the entire time. We made one stop along the coast, where I got
out to take some photographs; but, when we reached the Architectural Park, I stayed on
the coach and hence have nothing to show of the Park's advertised "replicas representing
the architecture of all major epochs and cultures". I also declined to take a final cold
and wet walk along the city embankment at the end of the excursion, including an
opportunity to board the cruiser Mikhail Kutuzov, preferring to photograph its deck from
the shelter of Discovery before going up to the Lido for a much-needed cup of hot cocoa.
After dinner at 6:15, I attended to the bruising and scrapes resulting from my noon-time
fall, but decided that no medical attention was required. That evening we were instructed
to turn our clocks back an hour at bedtime, as we were leaving Russia for the Crimea and
re-entering Eastern European Summer Time (EEST).
This account will be continued in My Trip to the Black Sea, Part Two at: