A Mediterranean Cruise on a luxurious floating city isn’t such a special experience these days when so many people are used to world travel, especially on cruises. Back in 1958, we military brats were excited by the prospect of visiting exotic ports, buying souvenirs, and enjoying the teenage social activities aboard a Navy ship like the General Rose. When we–my mother, sister and I–embarked in Tripoli along with about 100+ dependents, the Rose headed for Athens, as I described on my previous blog, and a couple of days later, the Rose left Greece and headed east across the Aegean Sea to Istanbul. That night there was a teenage farewell dance since the families we had recently met, who had boarded in New York long before we had gotten on, were getting off in Istanbul to travel inland to their new homes in Ankara, Turkey. We sailed through the famous Dardenelles at 10:30 p.m., but since that narrow strait is 38 miles long, I’m sure it took us a while. The ship’s daily report probably informed us that the ancient city of Troy is near the western end of the strait, and we would be sailing along the peninsula of Gallipoli (site of a famous WWI battle) until the ship entered the Sea of Marmara and kept going east to the port of Istanbul.
On Monday morning, we woke up in the harbor of Istanbul. Greece and Turkey weren’t on good terms and my mother was concerned we’d be caught up in it somehow. She’d also heard that Turkish cab drivers were erratic and drove too fast. Rumors about driving talents were rampant in the Middle East. The British, for instance, were considered dangerous in Tripoli. Despite being an enterprising and usually fearless Army wife, Mom did worry, probably more so because she was in charge for this trip, not my absent dad.
Mom, my sister Tupper and I were meeting up with Army friends who lived in Istanbul, and we had to catch a taxi to take us up to the main city from the harbor. Listening to the angry Turkish voices on the cab driver’s radio didn’t assuage Mom’s fears, but we did make it without incident. Our friends made sure we hit the hot spots in that large bustling city: the Sultan’s Palace, the Blue Mosque (we had to remove our shoes), the Topkapi Palace (the home of Ottoman sultans for 400 years), and the exotic Bazaar filled with hundreds of shops. I bought a Turkish towel at one of the Bazaar shops. There was nothing terrycloth about this so-called towel: the material seemed like linen. Through the mists of memory, I can still see the fancy embroidery depicting a frog highlighted with shiny pieces of metal.
Istanbul was very large and beautiful; it was a bustling modern city with all the exotic accents of the Middle East.
The ship left Istanbul that night and by the next morning, we had already sailed back through the Dardenelles and south to dock in Izmir, in ancient times it was called Smyrna. Per usual, military passengers and dependents departed while new ones embarked. Years later I had a next door neighbor, Omar, who had lived in Izmir (another one of those “the world is a small place” examples). Wanting to document everything about this voyage, I kept track of all the teenage passenger names. It’s no wonder I later became a newspaper reporter.
Diana Darling, a friend from Tripoli, and I hung out together during the cruise. I documented my remark that her brief shipboard romance was getting off the ship in Izmir, and that the new kids, who’d gotten on in Istanbul, weren’t very friendly. According to my next scrapbook remark, it didn’t take long for all of us to get acquainted. One of the new fellows, Bill, was the ripe old age of 18, and he and I got very friendly. He didn’t seem to mind that I was only 15.
In Izmir, Diana and I ventured out on our own. We took a tour of the city and saw a Roman fort, a market and Kultur International Park. “We met two cute American sailors who bought us a Coke at the snack bar after the tour,” I wrote in my scrapbook. From the ship, I had taken two blurry photos of the mountains bordering the city and two clearer ones of the harbor area but didn’t take the camera on our excursion. My camera skills in those days were pitiful.
The two of us didn’t understand the Turkish currency, or the language, but managed to figure it out enough to take a gharri ride. The familiar horse-drawn carts had two horses here; in Tripoli they were pulled by a single horse. The ride was quite bumpy over cobblestone streets but we made it back to the ship safe and sound. The ship pulled anchor that night and headed west to Naples, a two-day sail.