Thursday, November 6, 2008

The end.

It's good to be home. There is comfort in familiarity and I needed a little of that. It hasn't been a relaxing week but I have had time to think. So here's what I've come up with-I think I might be different. I think I might see life more clearly and understand myself a little better. By learning about other people I have learned about myself and I appreciate that. I appreciate that they let me into their lives so I could learn about me.
The capacity to create and contribute is in each of us and the contributions I saw have inspired me. I witnessed the unlimited potential of man at work and the beauty that desire can produce. I learned of the strength of the spirit and the boundless opportunity we each have for growth. The whole experience has left me in awe of mankind. What can we not achieve? I now wonder what untapped reservoirs are still inside me and what accomplishments my spirit may yet fulfill.
As we traveled from country to country, over 2000 years of history unfolded before my eyes. I walked their streets, heard their voices and learned of their stories. I now feel like they are a part of me. I am a product of them and others will be a product of me-a priceless lesson for me to learn. The choices and actions of others (both good and bad) are inseparably connected to my place in the world and my choices will be responsible for others as well. I just feel a lot less alone.
There are some things I wish we had in America and other things I'm so glad that we don't. I love how accessible the public transportation is and I really wish we utilized trains the way they do-not sleeper trains mind you, just normal trains during the day. I really hate those sleeper trains. The cities are walker/biker friendly and that is how most people get around. I would love to live in a place where you really just don't need a car. I also love that everything is so old but still as much in use as the day it was built. Everywhere you walk, you are tromping through time. But, above all I will miss the bakeries. Oh, how I love all those bakeries. No matter where we were, the aroma of fresh bread could be enjoyed. Every day we would explore an ancient city on foot sustained by the energy of fresh pastries and rolls. Life doesn't get any better than that.
Just as abundant as the bakeries though are the chain smokers-both young and old. I breathed in more second hand smoke in that one month than I have in all the other months I've been alive. SO many people smoke there and no one seems to care if they are exhaling right into your formerly clean lungs. I definitely will not miss that. I also will not miss trying to find where I am. Cities in Europe-including London-are not particularly well marked, and many cities are not laid out in a systematic way. So when you add that to the fact that everything is in a different language AND to the fact that I am not the best with direction and maps even in America, you can see why that might be a problem. After a while I just stopped looking at the maps because it never seemed to make much difference. Plus, maps made me feel like a tourist, which I was, and I hated feeling like I was a tourist. Of course, everyone always knew we were Americans-map or not-and they loved to put in their two cents about our politics and what they thought about America. But even if they didn't like George Bush, they were usually very nice to us. I found Europeans (excluding the French) to be tremendously friendly, generous and helpful and they wanted us to enjoy their country. I will miss all the people the most.
I think this experience was exactly what I needed and I'm really glad I went. I feel enriched, fulfilled and replenished and ready to have a life again. Stability seems always to evade me but maybe I'll have some sort of routine for a while. I am excited for new opportunities and I feel blessed by those of my past. I realized that life is pretty darn good sometimes and that might just be the lesson I needed to learn the most.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

And the winner is...Germany!

No contest, Germany is the best place I've been this entire month-and one of the best of my life come to think of it. It's been a whirlwind week of medieval towns, castles and some of the most beautiful countryside ever created. I have been told some of my ancestors came to America from Frankfurt-I'm going to have to have a word with them about that someday. I could have been born in Germany! Honestly, what were they thinking?
So, we began the week traveling to Salzburg-famous because of the Sound of Music and Mozart. Those hills really do inspire one to burst out into song. We saw some of the places where parts of the movie were filmed and the theatre where the actual Von trapps sang. We also toured the church where Mozart played the organ for a few years-my favorite church of all of Europe (and that's saying something because I have seen a heck of a lot of churches). I could have spent a whole week in that little town alone. We only had an afternoon there but I decided it was alright because I'm going back. There is too much of the Alps country I haven't yet seen and I'm not finished traveling Austria and Germany so anyone who wants to see some of the greatest places on earth is welcome to come with me...Germany 2009?
Next day-fairytale Germany. Before Sleeping Beauty there was Mad King Ludwig and Neuschwanstein. Up in the mountains this misunderstood dreamer commissioned the building of the most romantic castle ever to show its face in Bavaria. Unfortunately he ran out of money and was murdered before he could finish it-but what there is of it is pretty darn cool. Walt Disney thought so too because he patterned his castle in Disneyworld after this one in Germany. At the bottom of the hill there is another castle where he and his family actually lived so we got the grand tour of both.
So here's an example of how beautiful the country is. The weather in the mountains that day was freezing cold-scheduled to snow the next day-and it was raining on top of that. I hate to be cold-really, I HATE to be cold. And being wet on top of cold is just plain miserable. I actually had to break down and buy a sweatshirt while I was there at a ridiculous price because I don't even have a coat. Of course it says Neuschwantstein castle, Germany on it and of course I have had to wear it every day since then so if people weren't sure I was a tourist before, they sure are now. I've gotten the "you're really dumb" stare many times and I should care, but I don't. Being warm is way more important than my image in Europe so whatever, I have gladly worn the sweatshirt. Anyway, even with the miserable cold, that day was unbelievably enjoyable because it was just too beautiful to be anything but grateful to be alive. I never thought I would say this but I think the autumn in New England has finally met its match. I wouldn't have believed it before I came here but the colors here rival those of upstate New York, it hurts a little to say that but it's really true.
If possible, the next day was even colder but I'm kind of glad it was. That morning we went to Dauchau-a concentration camp right outside of Munich-and the cold made me appreciate their suffering even more. We spent several hours touring the camp and reading story after story of what the prisoners experienced. There were hundreds of first hand accounts of what those poor people went through and I must say I was deeply affected. The movie we saw made me sick to my stomach and it took me a while before I could speak again but I am glad that I was there. How can there be so much ugliness in such a wonderful place? It is a scene I will not soon forget.
Okay, back to the beauty-the Bauers, Landshut (pronounced Landsoot), and the greatest medieval festival of all time. My Aunt Patti hooked us up with a wonderful family (thanks Aunt Patti!) who will always be near and dear to my heart. Their son Sebastian lives in Munich so we stayed with him the two nights we were there and then we spent two nights with the family in Landshut while we toured that fantastic little place. It actually isn't that little (65,000) but the old town area makes it feel quaint and homey. It is older than Munich and it used to be headquarters of Bavaria until the queen could not produce a male heir. It has a great history that is replicated every four years in the most authentic and important festival in all of Europe. The only people who can be part of it are Germans born and raised in Landshut with certain looks and connections. The qualifications are incredibly specific (height, length of hair, etc...) but it's a really big deal to be part of it. People travel from all over the world to attend and it is coming up this June. All four Bauers are usually in it so they told us some awesome stories. It's funny, Landshut is incredibly proud of this festival-everywhere you go people tell you about it. But hey, if I had a claim like that I'd probably be talking about it too.
The Bauers treated us like the oldest and dearest friends and it was so nice to be in a home with a real family. She made great Bavarian dishes (like Schnitzel and Bavarian pretzels-the best pretzels on earth) and they even bought us alcohol free beer because "you can't be in Germany and not drink German beer." We had a great time touring the town, the castle and the "mall" (not a mall according to American standards) and finished the trip off with an all night prison party-yes, a prison party. You see, Landshut recently openend a new prison so they had an empty prison just sitting there waiting to be partied in. So, for Halloween over a thousand young Germans in Landshut got together for this massive event. There was lots of dancing, drinking and smoking. Needless to say it is much cooler to be able to say that I spent Halloween in a German prison then it was to actually be there, but that's okay, it's all about the experience. Besides the fact that I didn't understand anything anyone said it felt like I was at a party in America. Everyone looked and dressed like the kids back home and all of the music was stuff I knew (mostly from the 90's) so of course I showed 'em how we break it down in the states. In other places I've been people have had a certain look, but in Germany not so much. Anyway, it but once is enough.
I was really sad to leave that place, I could totally be happy living there, but if I'd known what was ahead it wouldn't have been so hard. Rothenburg showed up next on our itinerary and if possible, this town was even cooler than Landshut. Can I just say medieval towns are the best? Of course we had to hit the big three-the castle, the church and the river (as long as you have those three things, you have a town) but this one was completely enclosed by an old stone wall that you could walk through just like the knights did way back in the day. It is completely preserved and at Christmastime it is packed with tourists. Christmas is a big deal in Germany and now I see why. Rothenburg would be the perfect place to get you in the holiday spirit. The shops were full of Nutcrackers and ornaments and if I wasn't poor and unemployed I would have bought something. After inhaling a Schneeball we jumped back on the train for more castle hopping. Next stop...Bacharach-a tiny tiny town along the Rhine. It was dark when we got there and the town was completely silent. It was Halloween night and it felt like it-kind of eerie. I guess Bacharach shuts down by the end of October because nothing was open and no one was around. Luckily we found a bed and breakfast that was open which turned out to be one of my favorites. The owner was an adorable little lady who spoke very little English but loved to give hugs. She made us breakfast in the morning and served honey her husband harvested from their own bees and marmalade she made herself. It was awesome. When we left that morning she opened the window from the 3rd floor and waved to us until we were out of site-I want to go back there.
Once we found the train station (harder to do than it sounds, the platform is a patch of grass) we got on for one more day of prime countryside viewing-this time along the Rhine river which is famous for it's scenic towns and mythical castles. Each one has a history and a legend-very few of which I actually believe-but it was definitely fun to learn about. After traveling all day (Germany is so big!) we finally got to Belgium-final destination, Brugge. Brugge is famous for Beer and Chocolate and is known as Venice of the North. It was great, but it would have been better if I had seen it when I was fresh. I'm kind of done and I was still depressed that I had to leave Germany. We had a fun time there but I think it's time to go home. There were a few minor museums that I would have been all about a few weeks ago and now all I wanted to do was buy some chocolate and go sit in the train station. We did tour the streets but I am tired of walking on cobblestone-great for pictures, horrible on your feet.
Anyway, now I am back in London and I'm headed home tomorrow. I must say it is incredibly refreshing to be back in a place where I understand the signs. I really really like London-have I said that before? I was reminded of it as I stepped off the Eurostar today. This is a great place. I have had an unbelievable experience but I think I'm ready for it to be over. My blisters have healed and my shoes are finally broken in, my jeans no longer fit and all my other clothes are permanently stretched out from being handwashed, and let's be honest-I really need a haircut. I'll post one more entry when I get home and finally put all my pictures up as well so check back one more time in a few days.
Thanks to all who have occasionally read this, it's been fun for me to write. See you in the states!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Florence, Venice, AND Vienna-all in 24 hours!

I keep thinking life cannot get any better, and then it does!
Yesterday morning I found myself standing in front of Michelangelo's David. I must say that it was one of the crowning experiences of my trip. I can't think of any moment that has been better. I was completely unprepared for how much it would affect me when I turned the corner and there was the David in all of his 14 feet of pure perfection. We got there early and the museum was almost completely empty. I was told I would have to get reservations because it was packed all the time but we took a chance and I guess tourist season is over because we were basically the only ones there. I had the opportunity to spend a solid half hour with David almost purely by myself and I loved every second of it. I honestly could not turn away. I have seen so many pictures of him but none of them are even close to the experience of witnessing him first hand. What the pictures miss the most is his face. The expression in his eyes is intriguing and moving. I kept staring from different angles (at his face not other parts of his body-mostly) trying to feel what he was feeling . It was truly inspiring. No matter what else I forget, my time with The David is something that will never leave me-it made a huge impact.
When Christy finally was able to peel me away we ran to catch the train to Venice pulling in there at a little after 1. We hurried and stored our stuff, bought train tickets for the night train out of there and hopped on the waterbus to see what this city was all about.
Now I must say that Venice is EXTREMELY touristy and overdone and crowded and yet I loved everything about it. It's even better than Disney world-well, at least tied for first. In Venice I felt like I was in a whole different world. It is the perfect mix of romance, history, beauty, mystery and entertainment. We toured the waterways, explored St. Mark's Square and the adjoining basilica, watched the sun set across the bridge and then got lost in the narrow and traffic free streets and shopped until it was time to get back on the train. It was plenty of time to fall in love with Venice but not enough time to spend money on things I don't need. I thought as I stood on the Rialto looking out at Venice after dark (a sight that everyone must see) I realized I could not have been happier with my time in Italy. It provided all the experiences I was hoping for and so much more besides.
I wasn't necessarily looking forward to another experience on the night train but it was the only way to fit everything in. We didn't even have beds this time, only a reclining chair. Luckily we ended up as the only two in our compartment and we were able to spread out quite comfortably. Of course it was a horrible night sleep and of course I do not want to do it ever again but it got us to Vienna bz 8:30 this morning and we didn't have to pay for a hotel. On the upside, trains are a wonderful way to view the country. We had a few hours of daylight this morning before we arrived and Austria has a gorgeous countryside. I have been very surprised by how much land there is still in Europe. I somehow thought it was mostly overcrowded cities but it isn't at all. Even in Italy there are so many landscapes that barely have a house or a person in sight. So many times I have thought of how beautiful the scenery is. Today was especially pleasant because Autumn in Austria is in full bloom. The fall colors were wonderful and it is the perfect transition from the sunshine of the Mediterranean to the winter I will be heading into the further north I get.
As we stepped out into Vienna we were immediately greeted by an older gentleman who wanted to help us find our way (and he actually gave us correct directions). This was followed by an entire day of extremely friendly and helpful Austrians who were patient and kind to their touristy American guests. Vienna in a lot of ways has been a breath of fresh air. It is refreshing to be back in a place where people are normal size (there are quite a few very tall girls and boys here which is great) and where the streets are wide, clean and easy to get around. Italy for all its charm is incredibly confusing and it was nice to know where I was today. It is a huge city with a lot of people but it feels so underpopulated compared to the masses we have faced in the south. We actually accidentally ended up here on their Independence day and found ourselves right in the middle of a big celebration at their city center. Some Austrians explained to us what was going on and how they celebrate and we decided to join right in. We watched their military parade and walked around pretending like we planned to come celebrate with everyone else. It was so fun! Their president was speaking to them tonight but since it was all in German we decided we didn't need to be there so instead we found a group of breakdancers and joined the crowds that were cheering them on. They were actually really good. Of course we saw the Palace and the Opera house as well and I learned more about the history of Europe and found more names and dates I need to research but mostly we just enjoyed Vienna.
I think this may actually be one of my favorite cities and one of the only ones I would ever really actually consider living in (along with London of course). I really like this place-AND the chocolate is AMAZING! Why can't we make chocolate like that in the states? It is 10 times better than anything I've had in America.
So, we're off tomorrow to Salzburg and then to Munich from there. I am so excited to get into Germany, I've been waiting for this the whole trip! I'll have lots more to say later on that.

Friday, October 24, 2008


Okay so I'm in Florence and I'm tired so this will be short but I can't go to bed without blogging my story of the day.
We got off the ship early this morning and headed straight for the train. We arrived in Florence early this afternoon and have spent a marvelous day seeing the city. Florence is everything everyone says it is and cannot dissappoint even the most difficult to please. It's just a joy to be here. It's much calmer and quieter than the other cities I've been to in Italy (or elsewhere for that matter) and the Florencians seem to take a special pride in their city and in sharing it with others. However, all is not perfect here in Firenze, let me tell you what happened today.
We decided to do a historical walk through the city (thanks to our handy guide book) and ended up at a beautiful piazza. Well, you can't sit in a piazza without some Gelato and since Florence in the Gelato capitol of the world we figured we had no choice but to get some. We found a nice shop and headed inside. Usually I get a little cup of it but I decided to go big and get it in a cone today. So, I picked my flavors and told the lady that I would like a cone. She pointed to the tiny McDonalds cones that I hate and I motioned to the normal cones instead. She looked at me like "are you sure?" and I ignored the look and nodded yes. This is one of those times speaking the language would really come in handy.
I kind of stopped paying attention until she handed me the cone and then I had no choice but to take it. The cone was not normal size as I had originally thought, it only looked that way because 3 feet of it was hidden when I chose it. The cone was GIGANTIC and she filled it so high I could barely even see over it to get to the cash register. At first I thought this was somewhat humorous and then I had to pay. "12 Euro please." I'm sorry, what? 12 Euro for gelato? That's almost 20 bucks! You know, I looked around and there was no listing of prices anywhere and I have noticed that happens a lot in Europe. We never have any idea what we are getting or how much it is going to cost and all we can do is point to something and hope for the best. I often end up getting something I didn't really want all because I have no idea how to get what I do. Whatever. Anyway, I didn't want to look like I had made a mistake and at that point there wasn't anything that could be done anyway so I just forked over the money, grabbed a spoon and headed for the door not exactly sure what had just happened.
Well, I get out into the piazza and see hundreds of people with gelato in NORMAL SIZED CONES exactly the way I had wanted it, and here I am trying to balance a gallon of ice cream in my hand. Why me? I tried to forget about the money I just spent and enjoy the stupid ice cream but after a few bites I was pretty much done. Done? I just spent 12 Euro on this and there was no way I was going to throw it away. Since you can't save ice cream for later I had to dig in and stuff it all down. I am sure that I epitomed the gluttonous American Europeans love to look down upon as I sat there gorging myself on an oversized portion of their delicate and dainty gelato but what was I supposed to do? I even had to use a big spoon instead of their little ones because it was melting too fast to eat slow. Maybe some of those staring should have come helped me out.
You would think after getting down to the cone I could call it quits for a job well done but nooooo not me, I had to shove the entire 5 ft cone down too. The cone was the instigator of all of this in the first place-I wasn't going to let him get off scott free! I felt ridiculously ill when I finished but I ate every last bite. I actually got a round of applause from the crowd that had gathered to watch the American pig stuff her face and someone even wanted to take a picture with me.
All in all it was a great experience, something I will cherish for the rest of my life. I could barely even focus on the amazing Uffizi art gallery we saw afterwards because of how sick I felt. However, I must say the gelato was amazing even though my stomach still hurts.
It's a little ironic that this morning as I left the ship I thought about how nice it would be not to have to eat so much food anymore because I was tired of feeling so full all the time. I guess I wasn't done eating yet. Who knows, maybe there is still an all you can eat buffet in my future.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Oh, the places I've been!

Right now I'm in Naples, just headed back to the ship after a fabulous tour around Pompeii. I'll mention that in a minute but first I have to tell you what these last few days have shown me. First, I haven't talked about Ephesus-great place. It is not far from the port of in Turkey called Kudasaki I think (don't have time to look it up right now) so we basically jumped off the ship and jumped into a cab for a gorgeous 20 minute ride down the coast. The weather, just like every other day, was perfect. I can't believe what amazing weather we have had. Even down to today at the very last port, the weather is sunny, 70's, light breeze, not hot, not cold, just PERFECT! I am definitely going to miss the Mediterranean.
Anyway, so gorgeous drive, get to Ephesus and find basically mini Rome. It was a really cool place but it reminded me of many of the ruins I saw already in Rome, only on a smaller scale. That was actually cool to see that the smaller cities were built after the capitol. Since the system worked, why change it? You could see grooves in the cobblestone from the chariots, bath houses with the same ingenious aqueduct system-heated and cold, a big library, some brothels, a public toilet (I got a fun picture of that), a town market square, temples for worshipping their many gods, and the best part of all-the ampitheater. Why was the ampitheater so cool you ask? Because the Apostle Paul spoke there to 25,000 people who did not agree with what he had to say and from that event he was exiled from Ephesus altogether. I stood in the center of that theater trying to imagine what it would be like to look up into 25,000 unfriendly faces knowing the probable outcome of your words. I have always greatly admired Paul but after that experience, my admiration increased ten fold. It made quite the impression on me and I felt so privileged to be where he was. Other famous biblical characters who resided there include John (who wrote the 4th or 5th book of John there, can't remember which at this moment) and possibly even Mary, the mother of the Savior. They have no proof that she lived there, but assume that she went with John and that she and he both died in that place. We spent several hours walking around those ruins, I just wanted to capture it all.
Our cab driver gave us some fun surprise visits on the way back to the ship and since he didn't speak English he just pretended not to know what we were saying when we would say "no, just take us back, no please, we don't need to stop again, no seriously please just take us...okay, thank you this is a great stop thank you so much for stopping here." I am sure he gets kickbacks for taking us to these places so there was no way he was going to pass them by. First we went to a carpet factory-out in the middle of nowhere by itself mind you-and after a warm greeting they gave us a tour. We had no idea what was going on, we just knew we were supposed to get out of the cab so every stop was an interesting surprise. The factory was actually pretty cool, he showed us every step of making a carpet from spinning the silk to weaving the rug. There were several women working on different carpets and some of the designs were very difficult. I was glad we made that stop. But of course after the tour they whip out all the carpets they have made and start encouraging you to make an offer. The carpets were definitely the best I had seen on our trip but none of us had any money whatsoever, so he kept reminding us that we also have credit cards and he will even trade in our cameras if we want. The carpets there are much more expensive then in the Bazaars and I can't even afford those so we all had to decline. Some of the rugs were 5000 plus but they were unbelievable. If I had money that is probably the one thing I would consider buying is a really nice silk carpet that I would hang on my wall and put behind glass so that no one could touch it. They were so pretty.
It took forever to get them to realize we really were not going to buy anything but as soon as we got out he pulls over to another house in the middle of nowhere, this time a leather shop. The whole store was full of very expensive, very nice but very ugly leather coats and leather pants-yes, leather pants. I wanted to take a picture of the pink ones but the owner didn't like that too much and since we were in the middle of nowhere with 3 huge Turkish men I decided not to push it. We got out of there faster, now realizing what was going on but wondering why he would bring 5 young Americans to a shop that has its own ATM inside the gate. I think they think we all have endless credit limits, but whatever. We eventually made it back and sailed to Greece for our final Greek port, this time in Athens.
Athens is enormous, but you can't really get a feel for its size until you get to the Acropolis which is up on the top of a very large hill in the center of it all. We entered the archaelogical site (which goes on for miles) at the base and worked our way up. Man, the Greeks sure knew how to pick em'. Each of the Greek islands we have been to have been spectacular and there are no words to describe the scene from the top of that hill. Unbelievable and unforgettable. On top of that, I stood face to face with the Parthenon and the Acropolis, the cream of the crop as far as Greek ruins are concerned-the things I have been learning about since grade school. The Greek civilization was amazing. How they got such a large helping of genius in arts, architecture, philosophy, math, science, and everything else is beyond me. I am consistently amazed by how advanced they were. Obviously other people have been too because people have been copying them ever since. We still use much of what they began. So yes, Athens-amazing. Not sure anything else can be said. The city itself is nothing too special, except that it is Greek and that just somehow makes it cooler than other cities, but it's huge and crowded and kind of run down and dirty although I suspect that it is nicer since the olympics that were held there.
They actually began a strike that morning in Athens and all the post offices, some of the trains and buses and who knows what else were shut down. We saw part of the demonstration and it was interesting to see all the police everywhere with shields and guns ready to fight back if necessary. Not someplace we meant to be in the middle of, that's for sure. We got out of there as soon as we could. Maybe we witnessed a little piece of Greek history in the making though. Who knows?
Okay, Naples and Pompeii, our final stop on the cruise of a lifetime. I would like to say it's nice to be back in Italy. Naples is not the greatest Italian city and yet it still has the Italian charm that I really love. I already know I want to come back to Italy. We still have to go to Florence and Venice but I already know I love this country. I want to learn Italian and be Italian and look Italian but I guess wishes only go so far.
So Pompeii is a little way out from Naples. About 87 AD a massive erruption from Mt. Vesuvius covered the town in 7 meters of ash suffocating everyone and everything in it. Pompeii was a different experience than any other ancient city we have seen. Only about half of it has been excavated so far (they are working on the other half) and it had to be restored after serious destruction in WWII but the restoration was not to show us what the city was like before, it shows what it looked like after. It isn't painted and cleaned like the other ruins, it is left just the way they found it when it was uncovered. It has a strange and ominous feel that makes the horrific event real in your mind. The ash and mud kept the city well preserved so even some of the people are lying in the positions they died in-adult and child alike. The city itself wasn't anything special, a typical Roman town with temples, baths, markets, theaters and such but its preservation is astounding. We walked through rows and rows of houses and stores and I could see so much of what their life looked like day by day. They even had a laundry and some bakeries still set up and some of the original mosaics are still on the floors of their houses. It isn't beautiful but it is powerful. I am really glad that I saw it all.
I think I mentioned this before but I continually think of the people whose lives we are stepping into and try and imagine what they would think of all this. Could they ever have known that 2000 years later people from all over the world would be touring their little town walking through their houses and down their streets? Could they have foreseen the day when their lives would be studied and their buildings excavated brick by brick? I doubt they ever thought that their civilization would be completely destroyed and life as they knew it would end in one day.
Anyway, it keeps hitting me how real these people were and how similar in nature they are to us today. Even though they lived long ago, they don't seem that different from any of us today. I think that is something I will take away from this whole experience. No matter when people live, no matter how different their lives might have been, there is so much that is universally the same. I like finding those connections. I like to remember that they were and are real.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Turkısh Delıghts and then some...

Oh what do I say about Turkey? They are a breed of theır own. We got to spend Saturday late afternoon and Sunday mornıng both ın Istanbul but for a cıty that bıg we barely scratched the surface. There are 13 mıllıon who lıve there and I feel lıke every sıngle one of them was everywhere I went. The place ıs packed.
We started at the Grand Bazaar where everythıng from t-shırts to carpets are sold. We learned that people have been comıng there for centurıes to get great deals on dıshes, rugs, leather, jewelry and anythıng else they could get theır hands on. The salesmen there are seasoned and defınıtely know how to get you ın theır door. They all know Englısh phrases but I'm not sure they all actually know the language. Thıs ıs what you hear goıng down any of the streets (agaın, no quotatıons) hello, my frıend, my frıend-I remember you how are you? and Yes please yes please thank you welcome welcome. and hello? hello? yes please frıend let me take all of your money please let me take all of your money. and other thıngs lıke that. I must say ıt was pretty fun to walk around and watch them try so hard to convınce you to pay a fortune for theır junk but I watched them sell quıte a bıt of ıt to many tourısts (mostly Amerıcan) who thought they were gettıng a deal because they bargaıned ıt down one lıra-theır dollar- from the startıng prıce.
Sometımes they don't want to bargaın wıth you though. Two frıends and I bought t-shırts at the same place hopıng to get a lıttle bıt of a deal for buyıng three but when we offered hım a lower prıce than he stated he just smıled and saıd what do I look lıke, a used car salesman? Alrıghty then...we bought the t-shırts anyway.
The carpets are really why you go there and those salesman really do know how to get you to gıve them your money. We met a very nıce man who spoke excellent Englısh and has travelled extensıvely all over Amerıca. He ımmedıately made the connectıon that we are LDS and actually knew quıte a bıt about us because he has frıends ın Utah who are LDS too. Sıde note-there actually are a few wards ın Istanbul even though ıt ıs 99% muslım. Anyway, he lured us ınto hıs store and gave us really good apple tea (caffeıne free! caffeıne free! he saıd) and dısplayed hıs collectıon of beautıful hand woven carpets. Luckıly one of the gırls I am travellıng wıth really dıd want to buy a carpet because otherwıse he probably could have suckered me ın to gettıng one myself so we watched them bargaın ıt out. He (and I must say she) dıd such a good job. He found one she really loved and then started at somethıng lıke 1500 dollars. Jamıe wasn't goıng to spend more than 500 and she told hım that almost rıght away. Well, he worked and worked and worked for her to come up even a lıttle bıt and he was so nıce and persuasıve that I was almost ready to whıp out my own credıt card and pay for ıt myself. He kept comıng down and down and down untıl ıt was about 800. I thought that was a great deal and found myself tryıng to persuade Jamıe to accept ıt! She stood her ground though and he saıd 700. Then ıt got really good-he gave the most eloquent speech about hıs sacrıfıce and how much he wanted to help her and gıve her the best prıce possıble. Instead of doıng what I would have done (accepted the offer and probably bought another one as well) she saıd 500 was all she could offer and then she walked out. He guılt trıpped and guılt trıpped untıl she was all the way down the hall and then fınally shouted OK 500 500! I could not belıeve ıt. He gave that whole speech about hıs kıds and hıs lıvıng and how he couldn't afford anythıng less and then he fınally says okay?! No wonder they love Amerıcans-most of them are soft suckers lıke me.
Anyway, she got her carpet and my respect and I am sure he stıll made quıte a profıt. He really was such a nıce man though, I wouldn't mınd payıng too much ıf the money was goıng to hım.
SO after the lesson ın bargaınıng we went to the Blue Mosque-one of the largest and oldest ın the world. It ıs massıve and from the outsıde ıt ıs a spectacular pıece of art and archıtecture for any perıod ın hıstory. I spent over an hour on Sunday just sıttıng outsıde admırıng ıt. The ınsıde ıs not quıte as spectacular because even though ıt ıs stıll ın use, ıt has fallen ınto dısrepaır. Despıte that, ıt was a great experıence because most Mosques are not open for people to walk through and tour. We were very lucky to have the opportunıty to go through ıt. It just happened that we were there ın the early evenıng and many men and women were there for prayer. They are supposed to pray 5 tımes a day and wherever they are prayıng, they are to face Mecca. We watched them go through a serıes of oblatıons and then prostrate themselves ın prayer. The women pray on the exterıor, the men on the ınterıor. All women there to pray were expected to cover theır heads and wear long skırts and everyone had to take off theır shoes (ıncludıng us). It's kınd of sad because what I wıll remember most from that Mosque ıs that ıt smelled of stınky feet. Serıously, ıt was hard to concentrate because ıt smelled so bad. I have no ıdea how they can focus long enough to pray.
The lıttle I have learned so far about the Muslım relıgıon ıs fascınatıng and not at all what I expected ıt to be. The prıncıple of charıty and goodwıll toward men ıs stressed over and over and they repeatedly state that Allah (God) ıs the only God and that He ıs above all else. Of course ıt was establıshed by the revelatıons of the prophet Muhammed whıch are laıd down ın the resultıng Koran but so much of ıt ıs just lıke the Chrıstıans. Major dıfference of course uıs that although they belıeve that Jesus was a prophet and respect Hım greatly they do not belıeve ın Hım as theır Savıor. And actually they belıeve that ınstead of Isaac beıng nearly sacrıfıced by Abraham, ıt was Ishmael (who they are all descendents from). So Joseph of Egypt, Abraham, Noah, all those men were prophets and Muhammed ıs the last Prophet that they belıeve has been on earth. Anyway, just one more thıng to look ınto when I get back-who needs a socıal lıfe anyway?
Our tıme ın Istanbul went way too fast but I feel lıke what I saw was satısfactory. Here are a few more random thoughts-many mosques fıll the cıty and the ancıent and modern all seem lıke one. It ıs the one cıty that ıs on two contınents connectıng Europe and Asıa wıth just one brıdge. The nıghtıme vıew of the cıty from the shıp was spectacular and I would rather be safe on the shıp than anywhere else. It ıs the fırst cıty I really dıd not feel safe ın although I am not quıte sure why. Okay that's enough, glad I got to see ıt, glad I got to leave ıt (I almost got lost and left ın Turkey wıth no money, no passport, no credıt card and no ID at all-a story for another day) and glad to be ın another place.
Next tıme I'll tell you about Ephesus and my experıence ın another part of Turkey-don't worry they have learned the same phrases to get Amerıcans to buy theır stuff....excuse me, excuse me, do you need another carpet to balance out the weıght on your arms?-I don't want you to get ınjured (a comment we heard as Jamıe was leavıng the Bazaar wıth her rug ın hand)

The Islands of Greece one more tıme

Alright, I have four days to catalogue here and so much has happened. The keyboard is different here and I am not patıent (or rıch) enough to fıgure ıt all out so just ignore any strange letters and symbols that pop up.
The last Greek island we went to was Santorini which was so unbelievable. I haven't been able to upload any pictures as of yet but I can't wait til I get home so I can show everyone what these places look lıke. Santorını ıs hıgher than the other ıslands have been. There ıs no beach on the bottom. From the water all you can see are enormous clıffs that go straıght up and at the top ıs an entıre cıty stretchıng from end to end. All along the top of thıs ısland there are doorways (wıth no doors) that lead down to restaurants or hotels but all you can see through them ıs the ocean. They look lıke huge pıcture frames wıth vıews no photo could do justıce to. The hotels and shops these doors lead to are carved ınto the sıdes of the rock-beds and all. It's so cool. When I add that to the dynamıc colors of the buıldıngs, the food, the shoppıng and the people I feel lıke I am really gettıng the whole Greek experıence. These ıslands are everythıng I pıctured Greece to be and so much more.
So sınce the town ıs so hıgh up we had to go on a lıttle hıke. There was a tram servıce available and a plethura of donkeys but those are for the other people, not for us. I decıded we needed the exercıse and the experıence, and plus I didn't want to pay for any of ıt when I could walk (dıd you expect anythıng else from me?) The donkeys all looked at us lıke we were crazy and so dıd some of the passengers, but 624 steps and 30 swıtchbacks later, everyone who lıstened to me was glad they dıd-we had braggıng rıghts for the rest of the day. And anyway, who wants to rıde a smelly donkey when you can have a half an hour of burnıng quadrıceps? They should pay me for the toned muscles they're goıng to have by the tıme we're done.
Once you get to the top, ıt's a great lıttle town wıth lots of shoppıng. The jewelry and wıne are world famous but I guess I wıll hıt those shops next tıme around. I dıd splurge a lıttle though and bought a really cute bag, mostly so when people say (I can't fınd the quotatıon marks so just pretend they are there) Oh what a cute bag, where dıd you get ıt? I can say oh thank you, ıt's from Santorını-you know, Greece? Come on, that's pretty cool.
Anyway, we shopped the day away and even found some old churches whıch were ınterestıng because the art ıs so dıfferent from what we have seen ın any prevıous countrıes. I can't really explaın what ıt looks lıke, ıt's just Greek.
On the way back down they trıed to convınce us to rıde the donkeys agaın but you couldn't pay me enough to rıde one of those thıngs down. They were slıppıng and slıdıng all over the rocks and we went two tımes as fast as they dıd wıthout the dıscomfort and the stench (although we dıd have to dodge some pıles of theır output along the way). The donkey salesman (I have no ıdea what to really call hım) was grabbıng my arm and pullıng me to the donkey beggıng me to get on. He wouldn't let go and I thought maybe he was beıng a lıttle too pushy but now I know he was mıld compared to what was ın store for us next. I'll save that for another post though and fınısh my day wıth the usual-layıng out by the pool, readıng, eatıng and loungıng my way to our next destınatıon. Surprısıngly ıt never gets old!