Istanbul, where the Middle East meets the West

April, 2022

As you may have noted from my previous post, I am in France not Turkey. However I have a special correspondent in Turkey at this very moment. I have adapted her notes and used her photos.

Istanbul was once called Constantinople for the Roman Emperor who did much to open the door to Christianity. His conversion came in 312 C.E. In 313 he helped create the Edict of Milan, which declared tolerance for all faiths. However it was Theodocius 379-95 who in effect made Christianity the official state religion, according to Professor Bart Ehrman

Yet today the city Constantinople, renamed Istanbul in the 1920’s, is swarming with Muslim tourists in a predominantly Muslim country. That change is the story of the Ottoman Empire’s conquest of the Byzantine Empire, the eastern part of the Roman Empire.

It’s Ramadan and everyone is on holiday. Working during Ramadan is difficult. Take restaurant workers. They are around food all day. In busy restaurants they are constantly on the move. One worker, when she heard the early evening call to prayer said, “Oh, thank goodness! Now I can eat.”

Although many do fast as required during Ramadan, it is pretty clear that the Turks are not generally fundamentalists. In Istanbul most of the fancier restaurants serve alcohol. In one restaurant a waiter said it was illegal to be seen serving alcohol. They moved us away from the window. He said the other diners would not appreciate anyone drinking wine until sundown, when at least they could eat. However they were already eating. Maybe they thought that if they could not see the sun from their seat it was the equivalent to the sun setting. Or maybe they were just ignoring the rules, not having to worry about enforcement. No Taliban here. You do see women in full burka, but it seems to be a very small number. Yet Turks treat Western women respectfully and kindly, and even will joke around. 

We visited the Tokapi Palace, one of the most sumptuous palaces on earth. You can visit many of the Sultan’s chambers, including the harem’s quarters. The kitchen, too, is now open for visits.

Coffee pot in the Topaki museum
Coffee pot

Coffee drinking was quite an important part of palace life. It was well established by the 17th century. It was served with sherbet and sweetmeats. There were numerous rooms dedicated to its consumption. Official visitors were served in special settings.

This coffee pot, you will notice, has a filter on it. It appears to work like a French press. You put the coffee in, add the hot water, allow the coffee to brew, and then slowing plunge the filter to remove the coffee grinds. This is notably not how coffee is served in Turkey, except in more Westernized cafes, where it can be much like anything you would get in, say, Europe. Turkish coffee is brewed in a special pot, frothed and then poured into the tiny cup in which it is served, transferring some of the grinds. The grinds settle to the bottom, so you don’t get too many of them in your mouth and none if you are careful. I dislike the flavor immensely as it is sometimes flavored with cardamom, mastic, salep or ambergris- I have no idea what the last three items are but maybe a reader will enlighten me. Per the exhibit, Turks have their own way of roasting the coffee, so perhaps this has something to do with its unique flavor.

Here are some items from the excavation of Troy, also in the Topaki Palace:

WhatsApp Image 2022-04-17 at 10.00.10 AM
From the excavations of Troy
Ottoman Helmut
Ottoman helmet, 1650

For much more on this fascinating city, see my posts here

Viking in Nederlands 2021 (video)

First song by Colm McGuinness. See more of his singing on youtube.
de hoef sm
De Hoef, watercolors
Windmill Nederhorst den berg
Windmill Nederhorst den berg

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Delft Port Towers
scene in zwammerdam wc sm
Zwammerdam, watercolor

All of these are available for purchase. Easiest way to make arrangements is to contact me at Prices range from $150-350 for these. Size A4, approximately 8.5″ x 11″

Amersfoort to Muiden, Weesp and Breukelen

May 9, 2021

From our perch just outside Amersfoort we managed to secure an appointment for a Covid vaccination. We called the appointment line on advice from the Irish boaters we met in the Amersfoort harbor and on a second try found someone who knew how to make the database work for people who live on boats.

Our next destination is Muiden, famous for its castle, and the Vecht is lovely from here and most of the way to its source, passing through the lovely historic towns of Weesp and Breukelen (pronounced like and giving its name to Brooklyn) and small villages. It was a lovely if windy ride, with just a bit of wave action hitting us broadside so it was a comfortable trip to the lock. The friendly lockkeeper was waiting, the gate open. It’s an easy lock in and out right in the middle of town, shops, restaurants and houses on each side.

Muiden Castle, watercolor

Muiden does not have any moorings in town center, unfortunately, so it’s either on a mooring from whence there is no land access or a paid spot in an unattractive area with neither water nor electricity, and a grumpy harbor master who did not bother giving us a receipt. So we moved on the next day to the downtown mooring in the middle of Weesp. From there we took the train to Schipol to get our digid code for the Netherlands. We will probably not ever need it, but if we need to interact with the Dutch government we can now do so online, as the digid code, as they call it, suffices for your signature.

Weesp harbor

We spent two days in decent weather near Nederhorst, where I rewired the persnickety navigation lights (corrosion had spread through the wire for several meters), before proceeding up the Vecht to Maarsen for the night, then through the next day Breukelen has magnificent buildings on the water, easy to enjoy at the sauntering pace. We now rest in the tiny village of Monfoort, just one other boat and a few dozen houses.


In the Frozen North

After the complexities of our journey north we then faced a week of bad weather. The forecasts were highly accurate. Howling winds kept us in the safe harbor. We kept warm during the day with a small electric heater, just 750 watts, with the addition of the diesel heater that pumps hot water through radiators. The boat is well insulated, which helps a lot. The windows are not double pane so they have to be wiped dry a few times a day as they fog up. As we absorbed the moisture off the panes we gazed out at snow flakes, hail, sleet and the occasional blue sky.

View from Viking
View from our window in April, 2121
first boat pizza
First pizza of the year

We took the time to deal with any issues that arose over the winter. People were skating on the canals this year, for the first time since 2012 or so. This used to happen every year but the climate has been warming so skates spend long lonely years in the closet. We expected issues and found a few. The shower faucet froze despite having been drained by normal means. I should have removed it completely, apparently. The shower pump failed. A window leak worsened. It needs to be removed and re-bedded. Not bad overall.


We arrived on the 4th and left on the 13th for our annual haul out. You need to check the anodes that protect the boat from electrolysis. Sometimes there is stray current in the water. This current causes weaker metals to migrate to stronger metals. Unchecked you can ruin a prop, rudder and other parts. You can install a galvanic isolater, which we will do. It prevents DC voltage from doing its worst. DC can cause problems when the boat is connected to shore power.

Monday the 12th April broke at O centigrade but sunny. We have outside steering only but stay warm and dry under the rainhood. There was some wind, a bit of hale and a snow shower or two, so staying dry and out of the wind helps greatly.

Along the way I monitored a leak at the prop shaft. There is a grease fitting around that shaft that has probably never been renewed. Before we left I made arrangements for it to be repaired at the haul out.

We made it to the tiny town of Zwartesluice in the large lovely marina. The next morning we being a few days living on the hard, as we say. The boat is put on a frame, they bring a set of stairs so we can easily get aboard, and we plug into electricity. The only disadvantage is the walk to the toilets, as we can not use the one we have aboard. The morning temperatures are still around freezing.

The next morning we make progress on the repairs. In spare moments we made an appoint for temporary residence, required if EU citizens plan to be in the country for more than three months. With the number they give you you can get the covid vaccine. We made the appointment for the number. They are vaccinating the people in our age group now. I’ll report on that as matters develop.

Adventures in Covid Travel

April came about and we are off.  Off our rockers, according to some, and not without just cause, given that our destination is in the midst of a third wave of the corona virus.  But I mean ‘off’ as in we are on the way north to Netherlands, literally the low lands, and to Viking, our floating home, for the next several months.

But first a word from our obstacles.  There were many between us and our destination in Freisland, the northeast part of the country, where our boat spent the winter well under the freezing temperature of water.

Obstacle one, we had to get a PCR test with a negative result within the allowed time constraints.  The EU rule, which the Dutch follow, allows you to take a PCR test within 24 hours of boarding OR within 72 hours along with an antigen test within 24 hours of boarding (an improvement over the 4 hour limit that had been replaced only a few days earlier. Whichever option you choose, you must hope that results get to you within 24 hours.    

Unfortunately, Peg made flight reservations over Easter weekend, so most labs were going to be closed. I spent hours finding a 72-hour test a day before the flight and a four-hour test in Alicante (our flight was from there, not from Valencia) on Saturday, the day our flight was scheduled, at a lab that would be open one whole hour that morning.

Three days before the flight, when the requirements changed, we had lunch with our neighbors and their niece, whose twin brother works at a laboratory. Not only was he able to get us into the lab within the 24-hour window, but at a “friend discount” of 55 euros each, about half of what we would have ordinarily paid. The clinic opened on time after lunch on Good Friday, we told the receptionist we were here on the part of the twin, we were on her list and we got our swabs, with 20 minutes to make our train to Alicante. The taxi ride took 5 minutes, which gave us time to buy tickets, buy bottled water, and jump on. We could also cancel the previously scheduled 4-hour before departure test scheduled for the next morning.

Our lodgings were a room in what had been a private home, 5 minutes from the train station.  Check-in was completely person-free. We phoned the owner, who WhatsApped us the instructions to open the front door, go to the second floor and the code to a real estate lockbox. The code opened the lockbox, which had a key to the door of the flat. The key was chained to the lockbox, so we opened the door, returning the key to the lockbox. The door to our room was open and two sets of keys to the building door, front door and room door were in it. Amazing!

Our flight was at 3:00 pm on Saturday, so we checked our phones for the results every 10 minutes beginning at about 10:00 a.m. No negative test results, no flight.  We had plenty of time to come up with a Plan B for a short term let in Alicante, just in caseTesting positive would have seriously hampered our plans for work on the boat that is scheduled for April 8.

My negative test results arrived via email around 10 a.m.  At noon Peggy’s had not arrived so I called the special number the receptionist had kindly given me for any problems. Speaking when masked, to someone who is also masked and speaking 90 kilometers a minute in Valencian, Spanish and English and who is sitting in a row of five people, all of whom are scheduling testing appointments and completing testing paperwork for people standing in front of them, is not all that easy. With Peg’s test number, we got to the problem rapidly, which was Peggy’s email address, which was missing a “K”.

When the report arrived at Peg’s email two minutes later, we did a little jig in the nice little bar two blocks from the Alicante train station, where the express airport bus stops.

At the airport, the only hiccup was that the Easyjet app lost my reservation after an update.  The friendly guy at the gate got it sorted. Peg’s sewing scissors were confiscated by security – to which she said, “Duh.”

Then came the obstacles between the airport in Amsterdam and the boat in a country undergoing its 2nd or 3rd wave of quarantine restrictions – I’ve lost track of that number too.  I figure we will be fine. Last year we traversed Netherlands and a good portion of Germany by boat, all the way to Berlin and back without getting infected.  I know. I have tested now 5 times for covid, three of which were the antigen quick type, now a PCR, earlier an antibody test, all negative.  No antibodies means you are not a symptom free carrier.   

We spent Saturday night in a high tech shoe box room of the CitizenM Hotel staffed by competent and light-hearted staff. Peg loved it – each room has an IPad that allows you to control everything, including options for full-spectrum of colors for the room lighting. The next morning our good Dutch boating friends drove us 1 ½ hours to the boat in less time than a train journey. He helped us get the rain hood installed and she brought sandwiches, ‘brood’ (bread) as they are termed here. The rainhood is a canvas and isinglass item that stretches across stainless steel tube frames and insulates the outside steering station from the weather.  It will come in very handy for the cold and rain/snow expected over the next couple of days.  I proceeded to de-winterize the boat. 

There is no end to the possible number of obstacles one might find on a boat that has been sitting in cold water for six cold months. Boat engines in the type of boat we own use diesel fuel. Unlike a diesel road vehicle, they have no glow plugs and so can be hard to start when cold. We don’t have a sailboat, so in our case, no engine, no going anywhere.