You can’t go back… to Constantinople.

As a cruise ship employee, who is going on 11 years at sea, I can tell you that when you’re an old man of the sea like I am, you loose all track of time. I have written before about the illusion of time, and how crew can loose complete track of it. The day of the week is lost to what port of the week it is, what month it is depends on how many months into your contract you are or how long you have left before your leave time, and the years are measured more by the number of contracts you have done than by anything else. Eventually, the years slip past as well and you can only really gauge the passage of time by the changes in the ports you stop at, or at least the changes in the way you perceive them.

For example, when I came to sea on my first contract I was doing the Mediterranean run with Princess Cruises. Barcelona to Istanbul and all stops in between. I fell in love with Istanbul. It was a beautiful, exotic place. The port area where we docked was huge; it was loaded with duty free shops, busy with trucks bringing supplies to all the small cargo ships jammed into tight berths along the pier. It was noisy, busy, and crazy and it was a 24 hour operation.

Now, on another ship, with another line, I return to a season of Istanbul turn around days but Istanbul does not feel the same. It’s been almost 7 contracts (around 5 years) since I was here the first time and my memories must have become glamorized in my aging brain because now Istanbul seems more like a tourist trap. Aggressive salesmen at every turn, outrageously priced restaurants where nothing on the menu has a price until you get your bill at the end of the meal (my bad for thinking a tourist would be treated fairly), and of course, lets not forget the beer. There is a small café right on the pier where the cruise ships dock. It is not fancy at all, and really only the crew of all the cruise ships and tankers go to it for a beer now and then or a quick kebob and when I visited the first time you could also get a large Efes beer for one dollar. Now that same Efes, in the same place that hasn’t been washed, upgraded or hired a waiter in 5 years costs four dollars. That’s more than a cost of living price increase, that’s a “let’s hose the cruise ship crew who come here and support us” price increase.

The harbor where we dock is still busy, but the duty free shops that used to be everywhere are all gone and only empty run down buildings remain. Where there was access to shops or a nice photo opportunity large ugly fences have been erected. You can still take a picture of the nearest beautiful mosque, but only if you don’t mind a bit of an “obstructed view”. The pier itself is seeing allot more cruise ship traffic these days and from the harbor area, at least, that puts just a slight twist on the beautiful scenery. The Blue Mosque, seen in the distance beyond the big red lips and gaudy paint job of an “unnamed” cruise ship, is still impressive, but somehow…. It’s not what I remember from my first time here.

I don’t know. I guess Istanbul is still Istanbul. I suppose that when I first came here I had never traveled, was wide eyed and excited and was taking it all in with a different pair of eyes. I think I was seeing Constantanople..Ancient, exotic, mysterious and mystical.. Now, I just see Istanbul for what it is, no better and no worse.

The band “They Might Be Giants” was exactly right when they sang “You can’t go back to Constantinople”. It’s been a long time gone.
5 Responses
  1. Anonymous Says:

    I'm very happy you updated your blog. I check back all of the time. It's a great and interesting blog. Please post more often!

  2. Anonymous Says:

    It's been awhile...good to hear from you!

  3. J and D Says:

    Glad to see your back posting. I have been reading your blog for a few years and have enjoyed your insight from the crew perspective. Hope to see more.

  4. Anonymous Says:


    More please

  5. Its not really that hard to forget the time if you are a cruise ship crew as you would be preoccupied with tons of jobs and tasks on board. If you are on break, then you will use all the time to rest or have fun yourself.

Post a Comment

HI. Thanks for leaving a comment! If you want to contact me you can email me at (sbmclean at gmail dot com). Cheers!