At ReviewFromTheHouse we are now using the Disqus comment system which permits you to comment either as a member, anonymously, or as a guest. In the latter 2 cases when you write a comment you do not need to provide your email address nor a password but just click the box that says "comment as a guest." The comment section appears at the end of the full post. It's always great to get feedback whether you agree with my reviews or not, so this post links to my theatre, food, travel and dance blogs.
On this Black Sea journey on the MV Aegean Odyssey, the big treat of the stop in Odessa, Ukraine was a private ballet performance by the State Academical Opera and Ballet Theatre for the travelers of the MV Aegean Odyssey, at the Odessa National Opera House. The two-part show consisted of a classical ballet – Les Sylphides (Chopiniana) and The Carmen Suite, a ballet set to a modern adaptation of Bizet’s music.
Les Sylphides is described as a short non-narrative ballet choreographed by Michael Fokine to music of Frederic Chopin. It premiered in St. Petersburg in 1908 as Chopiniana or Reverie Romantique: Ballet sur la musique de Chopin. In 1909, named Les Sylphides it was first presented at Theatre du Chatelet in Paris. For this production, the backdrop of the stage was black with a white circle depicting the forest glade where white–clad sylphs dance with the poet in the moonlight.
Before dinner on the previous evening Professor David Tompkins of Carleton College gave a talk on Odessa, the Multicultural Jewel of the Black Sea. As he told us, Odessa is one of the youngest of the great European cities, having been founded by Catherine the Great in 1794, after the Russians pushed south into the northern Black Sea coastal areas that was under the control of the Ottoman Empire.
The cumulative effect of much less than my usual 7 hours of sleep and two half-day, group excursions yesterday left me really tired and less than enthusiastic about the prospect of the two half-day excursions in Sevastopol. As well it was grey, chilly and raining. So while most of the passengers went off on the morning excursion, I opted for a Swedish massage in the Athena Spa to ease my hard-worked muscles.
Though I find the plays of Anton Chekhov very heavy going and depressing I have to acknowledge that he is regarded as one of the giants of Russian Literature, both as a playwright, but especially as a master of the short story genre. And actually I quite enjoyed a production of Ivanov that I saw a few years ago in Vancouver.
I am also fascinated that he was a practicing physician, ill with tuberculosis for much of his later life, and yet published several hundred short stories, one-act plays and his full-length plays, two of which (Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard) were written while he lived in Yalta. He is often quoted as saying " Medicine is my lawful wife, and literature is my mistress." For my part I could say that I divorced my lawful "wife", (Medicine - when I retired), but though I have been pursuing the creation of literature ever since, like a willful mistress, it continues to elude me. Hmmm... so if men have mistresses so women have masters? Doesn't sound right, does it. Well back to Chekhov.
He was born in 1860, in Taganrog in Russia. It is a port city on the Sea of Azov, just near the dot on the map that marks Rostov-on- Don. The other unlabeled dot just between Kerch and Yalta indicates the previous stop on this Black Sea cruise: Feodosiya.
Our next stop in the Ukraine was Yalta. This was interesting for many different reasons. Most people associate the name with the Yalta conference – February 1945 when Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin met to ratify the post-war division of Germany into 4 occupation zones. This took place at the Livadia Palace – which interested me primarily as the summer palace of the ill-fated Romanov family (Nicholas, Alexandra, the four daughters (Maria, Tatiana, Olga and Anastasia) and their hemophiliac son, Alexei.
The first of 4 ports we were to visit on the Crimean Peninsula in the Ukraine was Feodosiya or Theodosiya. The ancient Greek name for the Crimean Peninsula was Chersonesos Taurike – the Taurian Peninsula. The Taurians, whose origin is unknown, were an ethnic group inhabiting this area. They were first mentioned by Herodotus in his Histories, written in the 5th century BC, in the context of the war between the Greeks and the Persians.
This peninsula on the North coast of the Black Sea was conquered by many different tribes over the centuries. Just to mention a few (most of whose names I had never heard of until now), there were the Cimmerians, Greeks, Scythians, Goths, Huns, Bulgars, Khazars, Turks, Tatars, and Mongols. Even Venetians and later the Genoese, at times ruled parts of Crimea. It is now an autonomous parliamentary republic within Ukraine with its capital at Simferopol.
By day 3 on board the MV Aegean Odyssey I finally got my morning breakfast routine down to a fine art. The Lido deck “healthy breakfast” opens at 6 am – so I pull on my shorts and a top and head out of my cabin to the deck. I fill a bowl with creamy Greek yogurt, walnut pieces, and fruit, pour a cup of coffee, and take it back to my cabin to enjoy. I add my almonds and Gojii berries to the yogurt and have the perfect breakfast.
Our cruise had one stop in Georgia, in Batumi, the administrative centre of the autonomous republic of Ajara. If you are wondering, as I did, exactly what that means, this is how I understand it. In 1921 Georgia was taken over by Soviet Russia as the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic, part of the Soviet Union until 1991 when the Soviet Union dissolved and the Russian Federation took over. Struggling economically and politically from the 1991 breakup, in 2003 Georgia had the Rose Revolution resulting in democratic and economic reforms. Internally it has a couple of autonomous regions, that want to be independent states, and Ajara is one of them. How autonomous they are is not clear to me. As we drove around Batumi, it was very lush and green, reminding me a bit of Madeira which I visited en route from Cape Town to Southampton. One has the impression that the locally grown produce is plentiful and cheap.
The mythological connections to Georgia fascinate me. Georgia is located south of the Caucasus Mountains on the Eastern coast of the Black Sea. In classical times this is where the independent kingdoms of Colchis and Iberia were located. See the map in “Where in the World is the East?” Colchis was the kingdom to which Jason and the Argonauts travelled to retrieve the Golden Fleece.
After a long morning excursion, taking in a viewpoint over the Bosphorus, the Sultan Suleyman Mosque, the Chora Museum and a final stop at Topkapi, we finally got to the port of Istanbul to board the MV Aegean Odyssey. Once we arrived at the terminal the check in was really quick and in no time at all I found my cabin, complete with bottle of champagne cooling in an ice bucket, and a plate of sweet delicacies including chocolate covered strawberries. After settling in we set off to explore the ship. Of primary interest to us was the dance floors, of which there are two.
After a day at sea, our first Black Sea port was Trabzon in Northern Turkey. This was the first day of excursions of the cruise. With the exception of a couple of optional excursions, all the rest are included as part of the educational component of the cruise.
The ship excursion in Trabzon was a visit to the Sumela Monastery, constructed – how I can’t imagine – high in the mountain cliffs about an hour’s drive from Trabzon. The story goes that two monks discovered an icon of the Virgin Mary in a cave on the mountain and decided to construct a monastery there. This begs the question of what on earth the monks were doing on that mountainside, which you can see from the photograph is steep, almost vertical in fact, and covered with trees.
Our bus left at 8:30 am and we drove for an hour to the first stop- a viewpoint from where you could see the monastery in the distance. It gives one a first perspective of how the structure clings to the mountainside. I marveled at the fact that anything could have been built there. How would they even get building materials up the mountainside- and again I wondered what were the two monks doing in the mountains when they happened on this cave?