Circumnavigation of the Black Sea: Turkey, Georgia, Russia, Ukraine & Bulgaria

  • Note: This alumni adventure is closed.

  • August 29th through September 12th, 2013

The Trip

You are invited to join Carleton professor David Tompkins to circumnavigate the Black Sea aboard an elegant small ship that offers a wide range of prices and great value.

Embark the comfortable, 350-guest Aegean Odyssey in the magnificent city of Istanbul, and cruise counterclockwise around the historic Black Sea, calling at ports in Georgia, Russia, Ukraine, and Bulgaria, admiring Byzantine churches, Tartar and Russian palaces, and elegant 19th century urban architecture. Relax, explore, and learn about ancient, medieval, and modern history--from the Greeks to the Byzantines, Ottomans, Russian Tsars, and Stalin--with David Tompkins and other onboard lecturers.

Prices start at $5,590 per person for this 15-day program, including round-trip airfare from 8 East Coast gateways with low-cost add-ons from 60+ North American cities, and much more.

To make a reservation please call 800-811-7244 or email Carleton College Alumni Adventures with your cabin preference.

View the full brochure of this trip (1.54 MB)


  • Two hotel nights in Istanbul, with visits to the exquisite 6th century Agia Sophia, Ottoman Topkapi Palace, 17th-century Blue Mosque, and more.
  • Batumi, Georgia, a beautiful coastal city boasting impressive Botanical Gardens and an interesting combination of old and new architecture.
  • The impressive 14th/15th century Genoese fortress at Sudak, outside of Feodosiya, whose walls seem to stretch along the hillside almost as far as the eye can see.
  • The elegant seaside town of Yalta, whose Livadia Palace was the site of the 1945 conference between Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill.
  • Evocative sites associated with the Crimean War, such as Sevastopol’s Panorama Museum and Balaklava’s “Valley of Death,” plus Balaklava’s Naval Museum (once a Soviet nuclear submarine base).
  • The grand city of Odessa, with its famous Potemkin Steps and splendid examples of elegant 19th-century architecture.
  • The charming old town of Nessebur, Bulgaria, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was one of the most important Byzantine towns in the western Black Sea.

Faculty Leader

David Tompkins is an Assistant Professor of History and the Director of the European Studies Program at Carleton College, where he teaches a broad range of courses on European history. In his own research, he specializes in the culture and societies of Eastern Europe. David spent his undergraduate years at Rice University (with stints in London, Vienna, and the south of France), and did his graduate work at Columbia University. He has lived for extended periods in East-Central Europe, including in Berlin, Warsaw, Krakow, and Moscow, and travels there regularly. He has led two previous alumni tours to Eastern Europe, and looks forward to sharing this Black Sea voyage with our group next fall. Some of the topics he expects to address during the program include the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and emerging national states, the Russian Empire, and red communism around the Black Sea.

Itinerary (abbreviated-subject to change)

Days 1 & 2: Thursday & Friday, August 29 & 30, 2013 - HOME | Istanbul, Turkey
Day 3: Saturday, August 31 - Istanbul
Day 4: Sunday, September 1 - Istanbul | Embarkation
Day 5: Monday, September 2 - At Sea
Day 6: Tuesday, September 3 - Trabzon
Day 7: Wednesday, September 4 - Batumi, Georgia
Day 8: Thursday, September 5 - Sochi, Russia *
Day 9: Friday, September 6 - Feodosiya, Ukraine
Day 10: Saturday, September 7 - Yalta
Day 11: Sunday, September 8 - Sevastopol
Day 12: Monday, September 9 - Sevastopol
Day 13: Tuesday, September 10 - Odessa
Day 14: Wednesday, September 11 - Nessebur, Bulgaria
Day 15: Thursday, September 12 – Istanbul, Turkey | DISEMBARK | Fly Home

* Subject to change due to port construction relating to the 2014 Winter
Olympics. An additional day in Odessa may have to be substituted.

Itinerary (detailed-subject to change)

Day 1: Thursday, August 29, 2013 - DEPART NORTH AMERICA

Day 2: Friday, August 30 - ISTANBUL, Turkey
Arrive in Istanbul and transfer to our hotel, where we overnight for two nights.

Day 3: Saturday, August 31 - ISTANBUL
Byzantium, Constantinople, Istanbul—in this city you will find some of the greatest buildings and works of art in the world. Your morning’s sightseeing will take in some of the greatest highlights of this exotic city, including the Byzantine 6th century cathedral of Hagia Sophia, with its immense dome and magnificent frescoes; the Hippodrome of Constantine, where chariot races were held in antiquity; the fabulous Sultan Ahmet Camii (Blue Mosque), with over 20,000 brilliantly-colored Iznik tiles; and Topkapi Palace, seat of the Ottoman Empire for almost 400 years. Magnificently situated above the Bosphorus, the 143-acre Palace complex features courts, fountains, gardens, a harem, and treasures of former sultans.

In the afternoon you are free to relax at your hotel, explore the city on your own, or take in an optional afternoon cruise on the Bosphorus (confirmation pending), the winding waterway that separates the continents of Asia and Europe. Aboard a private boat, relax and take in the unfolding scenery of picturesque seaside mansions, small fishing villages, hilltop lighthouses, an Ottoman fortress, and more.

Day 4: Sunday, September 1 - ISTANBUL | EMBARKATION
This morning’s tour begins with a drive to Gulhane Park to visit the Archaeological Museum, a three-building complex housing such treasures as the prized sarcophagus of Alexander; tombs from the necropolis at Sidon; tablets inscribed with the Code of Hammurabi; a Babylonian poem from the 8th century B.C.; and the world's first peace agreement, the Kadesh Treaty. A second building is dedicated to the ancient Orient, with Sumerian, Hittite, and pre-Islamic collections; and the third building is the 15th century Tiled Pavilion of Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror, with a wealth of Seljuk and Ottoman ceramics, plus exquisite Iznik tiles.

From the museum, take a short walk to the Underground Cistern, built by Justinian I in A.D. 532. With its 336 columns rising out of water and haunting sounds of dripping water, the cistern encapsulates the mystery and historical fascination of this great city. In the afternoon, transfer to the port to embark Aegean Odyssey.

Today offers the chance to relax and enjoy onboard lectures and the ship’s amenities as she makes her way to Trabzon.

Day 6: Tuesday, September 3 - TRABZON
With its eerie mist and forested background, the monastery of Sumela is perched spectacularly on a mountain ledge. Construction began in A.D. 385 and, to this day, it remains a wonder how this huge monastery was built into the rock cliffs. Legend holds that this ethereal structure was built to house the miraculous icon of the Blessed Virgin painted by St. Luke. By the 14th century the monastery had grown to a 72-room maze of courtyards, chapels, and a library. Return to the ship for lunch and an afternoon at leisure to explore the sites of Trabzon on your own, if you wish, such as the 13th century Church of Hagia Sophia.

Day 7: Wednesday, September 4 - BATUMI, Georgia
Founded as a Greek trading colony in the 2nd century B.C., Batumi is situated in a charming natural harbor. The Greeks established a colony, Bathus, on the site of modern Batumi, capital of Georgia's autonomous republic of Adjara. This morning you have a choice of two excursions: the Botanical Gardens or Gonio Fortress.

The delightful Batumi Botanical Gardens are home to a variety of unique plants that cover 279 acres and contain over 1,000 varieties of roses. The Gardens are nestled above the shores of the Black Sea in an area called Mtsvane Kontski (Green Cape), which in antiquity was known as Colchis, and in legend was known as a wealthy kingdom to which Jason came seeking the Golden Fleece (and found Medea). The botanical gardens are characterized by their extensive variety and are among the largest in the former Soviet Union. They were the work of Russian botanist Andrey Krasnov (1862-1914) and opened in 1912. Krasnov's love of travel is reflected in the garden’s astonishing diversity: more than 5,000 species of plants from all over the world represent various climatic and geographical zones.

Alternatively, discover the large, well-preserved fortress that once marked an important Hellenistic and Roman urban center in the region of Colchis. En route to the fortress, we will drive through old and new Batumi, with evidence of the city's revitalization everywhere. The Gonio Fortress was built at the mouth of the Chorokhi River in the latter half of the 1st century A.D. The site rose to prominence in Hellenistic and Roman times, but successive rulers added their touches: pebble-and-brick walls by the Byzantines and merlons by the Ottomans. View the towers, Roman baths, and garrison mosque. Next visit Adjara State Museum, housed in a classical 19th-century Treasury building, whose exhibits illuminate the history, nature, and culture of Adjara. Continue to Batumi's European Square, dominated by a monumental sculpture of Medea, and conclude at Primorsky Park, founded in 1884, with its beautiful colonnade, musical fountains, and sparkling blue sea. The afternoon is at leisure to relax and perhaps visit the vibrant market independently.

Day 8: Thursday, September 5 - SOCHI, Russia *
This morning in Russia presents a choice of two excursions: a visit to Joseph Stalin’s summer home, or to the Botanical Gardens and Tree of Friendship. Those who choose to visit the dacha of Stalin, absolute leader of the Soviet Union from 1924 until his death in 1953, will take a short drive through Sochi’s picturesque, tree-lined streets into the heart of this fashionable resort city. While Stalin had several summer retreats, one of his favorites was here in Sochi, with its sub-tropical climate, beautiful parks, and curative sanatori. Stalin's summer villa, now a museum as well as a functioning hotel, is set atop a green hill with a lookout fort in the distance where snipers kept watch. Visit the simple stone-and-wood dacha, with its courtyard garden and furnishings of Stalin's everyday life: a desk with letters from such leaders as Mao, a bulletproof couch, and his beloved pool table. A second building is home to the uniquely-shaped indoor pool used in Stalin's health treatments, along with a conference room, dinner hall, and movie room. On our return to the ship, stop for a walking tour at the Dendrarium, a 30-acre botanical park laid out in the 19th century, noted for its variety, with thousands of different species of trees and shrubs.

Alternatively, visit the Dendrarium (also described above), with over 2,500 botanical species just steps from the city's bustling main thoroughfare. Founded in 1892 by Russian journalist Sergei Khudekov and assisted by gardener Frantz Lampau, the park is a monument of landscape art. Stroll avenues dotted with pavilions, fountains, and strutting peacocks. Drive to Sochi's Tree of Friendship, a symbol of peace, whereupon different citrus fruits have been grafted by visiting dignitaries. Since 1934, representatives of 167 countries have made over 635 graftings that include the Italian lemon, American grapefruit, and Japanese tangerine. A museum educates visitors about grafting and relates it to man's desire to live in harmony. Our final stop of the morning is the Museum of Sochi Sports Glory, which is of special interest given that Sochi will be hosting the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. This sports museum focuses on Russian sports and the history of the Olympic movement in Russia.

Everyone returns to the ship for a lunchtime departure for Feodosiya and an afternoon at sea.

Day 9: Friday, September 6 - FEODOSIYA
Today we have a full day docked in Feodosiya, which was originally founded by a colony of Greeks from Miletos. Take a scenic drive this morning to the remarkable Genoese fortress at Sudak. Built in the 14th and 15th centuries and perched high on a cliff top, this massive, remarkably preserved fortress is hailed by UNESCO as a unique complex of monuments of medieval archaeology and architecture. The magnificent sandstone structure was built by Tatar craftsmen with massive 6½-foot-thick walls that blend harmoniously with the surrounding natural landscape of sheer cliffs and sea. Walk the cobblestoned courtyard and take in the spectacular views.

This afternoon is at leisure to relax or explore this resort town independently, or you may choose to take an optional excursion to visit the home and gallery of painter Hovhannes (Ivan) Aivazovsky (1817-1900), the renowned seascape artist and native of Feodosiya; the ruins of Kaffa, a Genoese trading settlement on the Silk Route, established in the 13th century and known by the 16th century as a major slave trading center on the Black Sea; and the town's Archaeology Museum.

Day 10: Saturday, September 7 - YALTA
There is much to enjoy in this elegant town that was once the summer residence of the Russian royal family. In the morning, visit the Chekhov House-Museum and the Livadia Palace. Enjoy a panoramic view of Yalta en route to the House-Museum, a charming two-story cottage set amid delightful gardens laced with a winding footpath. The neo-Renaissance Livadia Palace, built in 1911 as a summer residence for Tsar Nicholas II, was the site of the 1945 Yalta Conference, when Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin met to divide post-World War II Europe.

After lunch aboard ship, continue on to the exotic, 19th century Alupka Palace. Begin your drive with a photo stop at a viewpoint above the famed Swallow's Nest, providing a superb view of this Gothic fairytale castle. Since its construction in 1912, the castle has been the symbol of Yalta and the Crimea (entrance to Swallow’s Nest is prohibited). Drive onward to Alupka (Vorontsov) Palace, enjoying panoramic views of the coast and Ai-Petri Mountain, the palace's stunning backdrop. The building was designed by English architect Edward Blore, who designed parts of Buckingham Palace. Work on the grandiose building started in 1826, and the end result is a bold-but-harmonious blend of styles in a building that resembles a Scottish castle from one angle and the Moorish Alhambra from another.

Day 11: Sunday, September 8 - SEVASTOPOL
This morning, our first of two in Sevastopol, we begin the day with a visit to the evocative Panorama Museum, whose circular painting is augmented by props, diorama-style, to help tell the story of the 349-day siege of the city. The enormous canvas, by Russian battle artist F. Roubaud, depicts the assault on Sevastopol on June 18, 1844. From atop the observation platform in the center of the hall, you will feel as though you are on Malakhov Hill during one of the fiercest battles of the Crimean War. Also visit the 4th bastion, which was the main fortification of the city during the siege of Sevastopol.

Continue on to Sapoune Ridge and the observation platform over the Balaklava battlefield, site of the ill-fated British cavalry charge on October 25, 1854. Stand on the spot where British Commander-in-Chief Lord Raglan watched the disaster unfold and imagine his horror as he saw his men ride into a cul-de-sac controlled on three sides by the enemy. Sapoune Ridge is also the site of a memorial to World War II and an outdoor display of weapons used during battles in Sevastopol.

After lunch onboard, visit Balaklava’s Naval Museum, once a Soviet nuclear submarine base, built into a natural underwater cave and protected by massive, nuclear-blast proof doors. This base, hidden deep inside the hillside and accessed by canals running through an underground cave to a secret inner harbor, made Balaklava one of the most restricted towns in Russia until the Soviet Union collapse in 1991. Return to the ship for an overnight in port.

Day 12: Monday, September 9 - SEVASTOPOL
Today we will explore the more ancient heritage of the Crimea, with a visit to the beautifully-situated archaeological site of Chersonesos, a coastal city founded by the Greeks in 422 B.C. and later the site of the birth of the Russian Orthodox Church. Magnificent St. Vladimir Cathedral, built in the 19th century and recently restored to brilliance, sits amidst the archaeological site. Some of the impressive ancient elements of the site of Chersonesos include a Greek theater, Roman fortifications, and marble columns from an early Basilica.

After lunch aboard ship, the afternoon is at leisure to enjoy Sevastopol independently, or you may choose an optional excursion to Bakhchysaray, a Tartar stronghold from the 16th to the 18th centuries, including a visit to the imperial Khan’s Palace. Located on the bank of the Churuk-Sou River, the palace (built between 1532-51 by slaves and craftsmen from Iran and Turkey, and today a History and Architecture Museum) is a spectacular example of the Middle Ages of Tatar culture. Beyond the beautifully-carved Ambassador's Gate lay official rooms, living areas, a harem, and several fountains, including the famous Fountain of Tears that was memorialized in a poem by Pushkin. Return to the ship for an evening departure to Odessa.

Day 13: Tuesday, September 10 - ODESSA
Admire the serenity and architecture of the lush streets and avenues of Odessa on a morning walking tour of her great sites, including the Opera House, designed in the 1880s by the same architects responsible for the Vienna State Opera; and the impressive Greek, Scythian, and Slav artifacts in the Archaeological Museum. Along the way, see the new monument to Catherine the Great; the statue of Odessa's first governor, the Duke de Richelieu, set above the sweeping Potemkin Staircase, which welcomes visitors arriving by sea; and the recently-restored Transfiguration Cathedral, Odessa's largest church. After lunch aboard ship, the afternoon is at leisure to relax or explore Odessa independently (a visit to the Pryvoz market is recommended) before an evening departure for Nessebur.

Day 14: Wednesday, September 11 - Nessebur, Bulgaria
Relax during a morning at sea, attending lectures and enjoying the ship’s amenities. A lunchtime arrival in Nessebur allows for an afternoon exploration of the beautiful old town’s charming streets and important sites, including the Byzantine-style Church of Christ Pantokrator, the 5th century Old Metropolitan Church, and the Archaeological Museum (with a particularly good collection of local icon paintings that illuminate the city's Byzantine past). Old Nessebur is one of Bulgaria's most endearing towns and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Stroll along quiet cobblestoned lanes, savoring the charm of the small squares lined with 19th-century wooden houses, and step inside the 11th- century Church of St. Stefan, noted for its beautiful 16th-century frescoes. Depart Nessebur this evening for Istanbul.

Day 15: Thursday, September 12 - ISTANBUL | Fly Home
Disembark this morning and transfer to the Istanbul airport for flights homeward.

* Subject to change due to port construction relating to the 2014 Winter Olympics. An additional day in Odessa may have to be substituted.

Pricing (per person)

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* Includes round-trip airfare from eight East Coast gateways, all government fees, airline surcharges, air ticket taxes and round-trip airport transfers.  Low-cost add-on fares of $100 - $200 from over 60 other North American cities are available. Contact us for information regarding available gateway cities.

** Please note: Category GG, I, II and some HH cabins have partially restricted views.

Singles: Once the single cabins in the categories listed above are full, double cabins may be purchased as singles at a supplement of 25% (Categories M-L), 30% (K-I), 50% (H-F), 75% (E-A) of the double occupancy fares listed, if available.
Optional Excursions: While most shore excursions are included in the cost of your program, when an excursion is called “optional” it is offered at a small additional cost (about $48-68 pp).
Special Offers: Note that any special offers are strictly capacity controlled and may be withdrawn from sale at any time.

Deck Plan:



















To make a reservation please call 800-811-7244 or email Carleton College Alumni Adventures with your cabin preference.