Taking a Little Detour…

October 4, 2010 Comments Off on Taking a Little Detour…

Well, plans have changed folks!  I’m taking a little detour and heading to northern Africa for a while. I’m currently in Canakkale waiting to board an overnight bus headed to Istanbul. I will be flying to Tunisia on Wednesday evening where I will connect with my friend Rich. We are planning to frolic in the Sahara for a bit; see what kind of trouble we can get into. We don’t have set plans, just a few ideas. I’m not sure if I’ll have regular internet access on this leg of my journey, but I will do my best to post updates and send the occasional email whenever possible.

Don’t worry; I’ll be in good company. Rich is very well traveled. In fact, he’s been on his current trip for almost two years. If anything goes wrong, rest assured he can solve it. Of course, I can take care of myself, but it’s nice to know I can give the old thinking cap a rest if I choose.

For those of you wondering who this fellow is, I’ll do my best to paint a picture: 

(Rich, if you read this, don’t hate that I’m attempting to sum you up in one paragraph… or that I stole your pics.)

Mid-thirties from upstate New York. Majored in Philosophy and later attended law school in New Orleans. Shortly after passing the NY bar, he decided to scratch that plan and join the military. He was stationed in South Korea for a few years and eventually decided that wasn’t a good fit either.  His next path led him to Iraq where he worked as a civilian contractor. After two years (give or take), he decided to embark on the trip of a lifetime. He has visited numerous countries; Indonesia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, just to name a few. Some of his adventures include riding a motorcycle across Indonesia, trekking in the Everest region, hanging out with Komodo dragons, and of course, drinking Cobra blood (seriously, who does that?).

It should be an interesting time.

Oh, I should mention that he has a wonderful blog (www.travelyourassoff.com). Definitely worth checking out if you’re in the mood for an entertaining read. Who knows, he might inspire you to leave the daily grind behind too.

Mom Knows Best…

October 2, 2010 Comments Off on Mom Knows Best…

Now, I know better than to accept rides from strangers; my Mom taught me well. I honestly didn’t think the rule applied to thirteen year old boys on Vespa’s, though. Sounds harmless, right? Think again.

I was walking around town minding my own business when I met a seemingly nice boy on a bright yellow Vespa. The little rascal’s name was Yuleg (obviously that’s not the correct spelling, just my interpretation). At the time of our meeting, I was considering making a trip Ayazma, a little beach just a few miles north. After a brief chat about his scooter and the likes of Kobe Bryant and Shaq, he offered me a lift. A little jaunt on a scooter sounded  fun and it would save me a buck to boot (I’m far from cheap, but a dollar still counts for something in these parts, so I was happy to save one). It seemed like a win-win situation – emphasis on seemed.

I’ve spent plenty of time around teenage boys due to having younger brothers. In my opinion, most are completely harmless; mildly annoying, but harmless. This kid was just plain crazy, and no, not in a good way.

As we made our way out of town, my new friend thought it would be amusing to push the pedal to the metal and watch me squeal. I clung to my seat as we weaved at top speed across gravel roads and around sharp corners. After a few minutes, I could tell we were headed in the wrong direction – great. I made an attempt to explain this without avail. I’m not sure if he couldn’t hear me or if he just didn’t care; I’m guessing the latter.

He eventually pulled off on a dirt road leading up to a small stone cottage – his home. As we headed up the road, my little friend lost control of his scooter and I went flying off the back. Luckily, we were going relatively slow at this point, and I landed in dirt instead of on gravel or asphalt. I am also thankful that my camera wasn’t on me at the time, for it would surely be broken. I managed to collect a few scrapes and bruises, but nothing major – Phew! It wasn’t the crash that upset me, but what transpired next, that really pushed me over the edge.

We got up, shook off, and walked the rest of the way. When we arrived at this house, he lifted up the seat to reveal a rather impressive collection of miniature liquor bottles; whiskey, vodka, raki – he had it all. My guess is he barrowed the scooter from a family member, most likely his father. That’s beside the point, though. The point is Yuleg had been drinking prior to offering me a ride – little bastard.

He offered me a drink to which I replied, no thank you. I’m all for a good time, but my moral compass is duly intact, and it pointed south. Drinking with a thirteen year old just doesn’t seem appropriate on any continent, no matter how you look at it. That didn’t stop him from quenching his thirst, though. Oh no, it did not.

I stood there in disbelief as I witnessed this pint-sized boy down Jack Daniels like it was Kool-Aid. I tried to explain that he was too young, and drinking and driving shouldn’t mix, but it was no use- in one ear and out the other.

I decided that walking was the only option, but I wasn’t about to leave without hiding his keys. When he went inside to use the restroom, I grabbed the keys out of the ignition along with the bag of bottles, and tossed them in a barrel on the side of his house. I then proceeded to run as fast as possible.

Now, don’t worry. I’m sure the little tyke found the bag within a few hours. Think of it as an involuntary scavenger hunt; in all reality, it probably helped sober him up. I think a thank you is in order, but that’s just me.

I was lucky enough to be picked up after 2-3 miles by a nice German couple. Because of their kindness, I was able to salvage the last few hours of daylight. After tending to my wounds and changing clothes, I visited a vineyard on the edge of town.  After several samples, I finally found a Turkish wine I’m rather fond of. I bought a bottle, curled up in a blanket at the end of a dock, and watched the sun go down.

I can’t say it was the best day, but definitely an entertaining one. Eleven down, who knows how many more to go…

On a positive note, I finally finished my book, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. Don’t pass judgment due to the title – it really is fantastic. Nick Flynn (best known for his poetry) tells the story of how he met his homeless father while working at a shelter in Boston. It’s a very real memoir; a very sad one actually. I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the homeless. I believe the present is made entirely of the past – so they are more than just a face, they have a story too. If you take the time to listen, you might be surprised by what you find. Just saying…

One of my favorite quotes from the book:

“There are many ways to drown, only the most obvious wave their arms as they’re going under. The man who imagined Pine Street didn’t see it as a life raft, more like a rock you could rest upon briefly, to catch your breath, get your bearings. A man named Paul Sullivan founded Pine Street, and he knew that his guys, many of them, were never going to find their way back to shore. The shelter was meant to be a waystation, a halfway house, but halfway to where wasn’t specified. The cot, the roof, and the plate of food were only made to tide one over. It was never meant to be a life raft. Even a life raft is only supposed to get you from the sinking ship back to land. You were never intended to live in the life raft, to drift years on end, in sight of land, but never close enough.”

Lost In La-La Land…

September 30, 2010 Comments Off on Lost In La-La Land…

Being in Bozcaada is like a dream. It’s warm, sunny, and oh so beautiful. Quaint, charming, sleepy… the list could go on forever. It’s the type of place you want to get lost in, stay awhile. The island itself is rather small. Old sailboats line the harbor, vineyards drape the hills, and the sun gives it all a warm glow. The days start to blend together as I immerse myself in good books, long walks, and wine – lots and lots of wine. You can’t escape it. I’m not going to lie; Turkish wine is decent, but definitely not a favorite. I’ve tried a variety and they all seem to be on the bitter side. I plan to ride my bicycle to a few vineyards tomorrow (I keep getting sidetracked), in search of something better; I’m feeling pretty optimistic. 

Since I’m on the topic of things I cannot escape, I might as well tell you that I’m in carb coma. Yes, a carb coma. Bread is consumed with every meal and it also happens to be the snack of choice here. It’s always served fresh, which makes it that much harder to resist. If I wasn’t on my feet all day, I’d have a serious problem – very serious.

Things just manage to fall into place here. I didn’t have accommodations lined up prior to arriving. Most of the sites I came across didn’t have the option to translate the text, so I opted to wing it. When I got off the ferry I was greeted by a scruffy old man who like most, didn’t speak any English. He handed me a tattered photo of his pansiyon which looked rather cozy. I was shocked to find out he only charges 35TL per night, which is equal to $24. It seemed too good to be true, so I had to have a look.

I followed him as he weaved through a maze of cobblestone pathways. When we arrived at our destination I was overcome with joy – it was perfect! The pansiyon is tiny, offering only two rooms. There is a rooftop terrace with an amazing view of the Aegean Sea, a little courtyard adjacent to the building, where breakfast is served (included in the price), and to top it off they have Wi-Fi. Does it get any better? I seriously doubt it.

The room across the hall is occupied by a father and son from Sweden. The father, Lars, is a professor in Stockholm. His son, whose name is slipping my mind, is an engineer there too. We’ve enjoyed long talks in the courtyard over breakfast in the morning, and wine in the evening. It’s been a pleasure getting to know them, as they have definitely added to my stay here. I’m a little sad to see them go. If my path leads me to Sweden I fully intend to look them up.

My first full day was spent wandering around the sleepy streets snapping photos, stopping for the occasional glass of wine, and exploring the grounds of Bozcaada’s castle. The original castle dates back to Phoenicians time. It experienced extensive damage due to attacks on the harbor and was later restored by the Genoese and the Venetians. After the Ottoman take over, Fatih Sultan Mehmet ordered massive renovations of the fort, appearing as it is today. I was lucky enough to have the entire site to myself. I crawled in and out of holes, scaled walls, and basically acted like a twelve year old for hours; the child instead is still very much alive – it was awesome.

I later found the perfect spot to soak up some sun, catch up on my book, and make a few journal entries. I sat for hours perched on a cliff, feet dangling; nothing but blue skies and sea for miles.

Bozcaada really is a treat. I must admit that it’s the type of place you want to share with someone; it’s the type of place I’d like to share with you.

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Carpet, Anyone?

September 28, 2010 Comments Off on Carpet, Anyone?

I now know entirely way too much about carpet; Turkish, Iranian, and Afghani carpet to be exact. I was on a leisurely stroll through the park yesterday morning when I met Recep and his cousin, Yeleni. They both reside in the states, but spend a significant amount of time here for business purposes. Recep owns multiple businesses throughout Turkey. Something like two hostels, a travel agency, and restaurant, just to name a few. His most coveted business is a high-end boutique, selling handmade carpet. Not just any carpet, mind you. He offers the crème de la crème to people with money – lots of it. Can you imagine spending 10K on a 4×6 rug for your entry way? Insanity I tell you.

The carpet industry is huge here, so of course, I had plenty of questions. After a brief discussion, I was invited to follow them back to his shop for a look around. I was slightly skeptical when we approached our destination, because it looked like a house; no signs or store front. He then explained that it isn’t open to the general public. Once inside, I was greeted by his staff: Gunner and Josef. Two of the sweetest people you could ever meet. They gave me free roam of the place and provided a detailed history lesson. It was truly fascinating. 

By the end of the day, I was offered a job, as well as room and board. My initial thought was: what could I possibly bring to the table? Well, make the Americans feel more comfortable, of course! Nothing like a young redheaded girl from the west coast to help you pry open your wallet. It all sounded very nice, but of course, I had to decline. If I was strapped for cash or wanted to reside here long-term, I probably would consider it. Luckily, that’s not the case. I’m here to enjoy myself, not work; God knows I’ve done plenty of that over the past few years. The experience would probably be a hoot, though. Can you imagine the stories I’d have to tell? I’ll hang onto his card, because you never know what the future holds.

Later that evening I decided to hit the road. I boarded an overnight bus to Geyikli, so that I could catch the morning ferry to Bozcaada. Overnight buses make me nervous. My last experience in Vietnam was horrible. Picture this if you will: Me, in the middle of nowhere, disoriented, flailing around, with bodily fluids pouring out of every possible exit… nonstop. It was one of only two times that I’ve actually wanted to die. Sure, I can see how that sounds a bit dramatic, but it was honestly hell on earth. After that, I swore off overnight buses… until now – never say never.

Much to my surprise, I passed out within minutes. I dozed in and out of consciousness as we made multiple stops throughout the night. I was the only passenger left by the time we reached Geyikli. We arrived ahead of schedule, so I was dropped off on a street corner around 5:00am, completely clueless.

Geyikli is a tiny rundown town in the middle of nowhere. I’m convinced it only exists due to its port. I stood there for a few minutes hoping someone would come by, but quickly realized that wasn’t going to happen. I wandered the streets for a while, before catching the attention of several dogs. These were not the cute and cuddly kind either; these were the big, dirty, and rather aggressive kind. Luckily, an old man appeared out of nowhere to rescue me. He scared off the dogs and motioned for me to follow him. He didn’t speak any english and my Turkish is limited to good morning and how are you. After that, it was just hand gestures and facial expressions.

We sat outside of his shop for about 45 minutes drinking tea. Eventually a few of his neighbors decided to join us. One understood that I needed a ride to the ferry, so the old man was kind enough to take me; bless his heart. I’m seriously amazed by how warm and welcoming people are here. The chances of that happening at home are slim to none. I wish I could bake him cookies or send a thank you card.

I arrived at the ferry with a few hours to spare, so I decided to make myself comfortable. I found a nice spot along the shoreline, dropped my bags, and watched the sun come up over Aegean Sea. It was truly beautiful. I can’t think of a better way to start the day.

Life is good. Actually, scratch that. Life is great…

A trip To Hagia Sophia…

September 26, 2010 Comments Off on A trip To Hagia Sophia…

It’s official; I’m a backgammon master. I was about to give up on the game when along came Vehbi. I enjoyed a lazy afternoon on a rooftop terrace drinking Turkish tea and perfecting my skills. For some reason I couldn’t wrap my head around this favorite pastime, but practice makes perfect! That and having Vehbi repeat himself about ten times. I feel like I could go up against the best of the best. Well, maybe that’s a little ambitious, but I won my fair share. In my eyes, that’s an accomplishment… and no, he wasn’t going easy on me either!

After a while, I decided I should motivate and see one of those most popular sights in all of Istanbul: The Hagia Sophia. When I arrived, I was stunned by the massive amount of tourists swarming the scene. I was half tempted to throw in the towel, but after all, I’m a tourist too. It’s funny how travelers tend to get this anti-tourist attitude. We all want to feel like we’re the only one around, when that’s obviously not the case. So, I decided to give it a shot. After all, it must be worth seeing if everyone and their brother is here. Luckily, I had Vehbi to help me with the task at hand. There were two separate ticket lines at the entrance; one for tourists and the other for Turks. As you can imagine, the tourist line was outrageous. Since Vehbi is Turkish, he offered to get in line for me. He returned in less than two minutes with my ticket in hand. Thank you, Vehbi! Two hours turned into two minutes – pure magic! He gave me a few pointers and I was on my way.

The Hagia Sophia was originally a Christian church completed under the rule of Byzantine Emperor Justinian in approximately 537 AD. It was later converted into a mosque under Ottoman rule and is now a museum undergoing major renovations. I love history and can appreciate the unique architecture and attention to detail. The mosaics and minarets are truly amazing. Of course, the construction and scaffolding definitely detracts from its beauty, but my imagination was in full force, as usual. I wish I could have obtained some decent photos, but between the horrible lighting and crowds, it was next to impossible.

While I’m happy I went, I can honestly say that seeing the sites isn’t on the top of my priority list when traveling. Meeting the locals, learning about their culture, customs, and beliefs is far more interesting to me. I’m sure I’ll do both, because I’ve got time on my side – lucky me.

While I’m enjoying my time here, I’m considering heading south tomorrow. There is a little island by the name of Bozcaada calling my name. Getting there will require navigating bus routes and ferry rides, but I’m up for the challenge. Visions of long bicycle rides, bottles of wine, and sailboats in the harbor dance through my head. Sounds like my kind of paradise.

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Welcome To Istanbul!

September 25, 2010 § Leave a comment

It was with mixed emotions that I said goodbye to Portland and departed for Istanbul. At this very moment, I’m sitting in my well-appointed room at a small guesthouse, tucked away on a little cobblestone street. Much to my surprise, I’m feeling eerily calm given the host of emotions stirring internally. It feels a bit like a dream to be honest. I can’t believe I’m actually doing it, that I’m actually here. My dream is now a reality. From this day forward, each day is whatever I want it to be. My life is finally just that – it’s mine.

I made it here safe and sound! There were a few little hiccups along the way, but that’s to be expected. The flights were relatively painless and luckily, I was able to catch some much needed shuteye between Chicago and Frankfurt. I was very pleased with flying Lufthansa and would highly recommend them; they put United to shame.

 I got checked into my guesthouse in the midafternoon on Thursday .I must say it’s rather quaint. It’s a small family run place and the daughter working the front desk is beyond helpful. I’ll be here until Sunday; after that, it’s anyone’s guess. I had the opportunity to explore the surrounding neighborhood on my way in, but not by choice. There was a traffic jam and my taxi driver, who didn’t speak any english, pulled over and let me out (without a map, mind you). He pointed up an alley and made a few grunting sounds, so I just smiled and carried on. Luckily, I found it twenty minutes later with the help of a few locals – Let the fun begin!

My first night was uneventful. I was exhausted and took a very long nap… so long, that I missed the opportunity to go out and have dinner. Thankfully, I had M&M’s and a power bar – delicious and nutritious.

I awoke at sunrise to the call for prayer. Laying there in the dark, listening to words I could not discern, I was reminded of just how far away I am. That home, even though I no longer have one, isn’t an option. My thoughts quickly shifted to the fact it’s my twenty-sixth birthday; another year has come and gone, again.

Twenty-five was a year of change. Looking back, I can see that some of it was necessary and other parts, just heartbreaking. Regardless, I recognize that I’m in a better position for going through all of it. That now, I have a better understanding of who I am, what family really means, and that it’s okay to let down my guard; to not only be present in my emotions, but to express them too.

One of the hardest things to accept was my parents’ divorce. I had to accept that my perception of their relationship was all wrong. That all my life, I placed them up on a pedestal. That I assumed everything was perfect, when it was clearly not. Maybe the signs were there and I was just too young or preoccupied to notice. I suppose it doesn’t really matter, because the damage is done.

It’s hard to know that I cannot go home again. It’s hard to accept that the family dinners, discussions, and outings won’t be happening. Correction: They are not gone, just different… incomplete. Cue that homesick feeling I’ve come to know so well.

Some might say I’m slightly hung up on this event. That I’m an adult and I just need to get the hell over it. That I should look at the statistics and be happy they stayed together for so long. In some ways I suppose that’s true. I just hate hearing it. I’d like to think I’m having a hard time letting go, because I care so damn much. You know, I think I just care way too much about everything and everyone. Care less, perhaps? Is that even an option? Food for thought. They say divorce is like an amputation; you survive, but there is less of you. This proves true for the entire family involved.

Alright, I’ll stop with the emotional stuff. There will be plenty more to come, no doubt.

My birthday was interesting to say the least. I enjoyed a wonderful breakfast on the rooftop terrace of my guesthouse, bright and early. The sun was out and the view of cargo ships scattering the bay was a nice contrast to the cityscape. I took my time and made friends with one of the staff, Muset. I helped him practice his English, which wasn’t half bad, and he taught me a few Turkish phrases that I cannot recall. I’ll catch on eventually.

After breakfast, I set out on foot to tour the city. I had intended to be gone a few hours, which quickly turned into all day; seven hours of walking and my feet are still intact! I enjoyed lunch under the Galata Bridge. Local fishermen cook up fish sandwiches right on their boats. It was a little hectic down there, but I loved it. They were really tasty too.

I also befriended some Jordanians, who invited me to join them for tea in the park. It’s seems to be the favorite pastime around here, so I was all for it. They attempted to teach me backgammon… it didn’t come naturally. That is one game I just don’t understand. There was definitely a language barrier, but we managed to piece together a decent discussion of travel and politics. All in all, it was a good time.

Later that afternoon, I met a local by the name of Bakir. He’s Turkish, very well educated, and spoke perfect English. He noticed I was lost and offered to point me in the right direction. After a brief conversation he invited me to join him and a few friends for dinner at a place not far from my guesthouse. I graciously accepted his offer, as my overall vibe was good.

When I arrived at the restaurant I was greeted by Bakir, and only Bakir. Maybe that should have been my red flag. I shrugged it off and decided dinner wouldn’t hurt. The restaurant was fabulous. Turkish cuisine is tasty, healthy, and very fresh. Dining here is a process, unlike at home. Taking your time is encouraged. It’s not unheard of to spend 3-4 hours enjoying your meal over conversation. That’s something I could get used to.

Bakir is friends with the owner, who treated us like family. We enjoyed an array of fresh seafood and tasted a variety of local wines; all of which were good, I might add. We talked for hours about all things Turkish. He’s a non-practicing Muslim and talked freely about his beliefs and other religions. I tend to shy away from such topics with strangers, but I figured what the hell. It’s my birthday and I can talk about whatever I want. Besides, I’m fascinated by Islam and he was a wealth of knowledge.

When we finished our meal, he suggested we meet some friends for a drink, just a short walk away. I was ready to call it a night, but I thought it might be fun to meet some other locals. Bad idea. When he said it was a short walk, I was thinking a few blocks at best. After about 10 minutes I suggested we call it a night. He then became very persistent that we continue. I knew right then that it was time to go. His demeanor changed rather quickly, which made me very uncomfortable. I stopped, told him I was going back, and asked him to please give me directions. He refused, so I just walked off. Oh, but Bakir wasn’t going to drop it. He followed me, tried to argue with me, and then eventually threw himself at me in an attempt to get a kiss. Yeah, like that was going to happen. Are you F-ing serious? Keep dreaming, buddy. I had no problem giving him a piece of my mind. Think F off times ten. I did this in the most lady like way, of course. I never forget my manners. Needless to say, Bakir will never bother me again. Thank god for taxis. I could have been lost for days.

Well, happy birthday to me! What happened to cake and presents? It’s tough getting old.

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