Thursday, March 31, 2005

News Bulletin



Arrived in Athens this morning after a surprisingly chilly night spent sleeping on the floor of the ferry. Followed a herd of people off the ferry in hopes that they were going to the metro. Lucky for me, they were. Wandered around downtown for a long time trying to find the hostel. No map and no directions from the hostel other than, "it's a five minute walk from the metro." But five minutes in which direction?

Eventually found the hostel, settled in, and promptly fell down a flight of stairs. If my butt hadn't been exfoliated there might have been more traction to slow me on the way down. Guess this is a sign that the worn out hiking boots have to go. I'd like to survive this country of marble steps. Chocolate will heal the bruises.

But I'm not writing to inform everyone about my clumsiness. Actually, the purpose of this post is to tell people who know Shokufeh to look at her blog. She's got some news.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

The Lowdown



I had grandiose plans to write a big long description of the last week and a half, but time is limited and internet cafe funds are short. No chance for grandeur.

Right now I am surrounded by Greek men on a little island of the coast of Turkey. I can't understand a word being said and I can't read a single sign in the place. Time to bust out the Greek flashcards.

The last 10 days or so in Turkey were great. Lots of friendly Canadians. Met up with the McClure's again. Sang songs on the roof with Lily. Helped Morgan choose knitting yarn. Cooked pumpkin pie. Had all my food stolen. Got it back again. No time to eat said food because Oya, the wonderful woman at Homeros pension (where I wasn't even staying), fed me like a long lost sister. May her olive trees always bear fruit and her cows always give milk....

Saw the ancient ruins of Hierapolis and Ephesus. Visited the Grotto of the Seven Sleepers just like Mark Twain did 150 years ago. Got scrubbed to death in the Turkish bath at Bodrum. There really is no need to have butt cheeks exfoliated. Further tortured by a Turkish oil massage. Ouch. Saw the ruins of Mausolus's mausoleum. Tramped around a crusader's castle.

Tonight on the boat to Athens. Meeting Chris in three days!

Out of internet time... Bye!

Friday, March 18, 2005

Cappadocia



Seems like ages and ages ago since leaving India. Coming to Turkey feels like a fresh start, maybe because out of Delhi's incipient summer, I'm suddenly thrust back into the beginnings of spring. Yesterday the apricot and apple trees in Cappadocia's valleys were starting to hint at blooming. Maybe today's' sunny weather and relatively warm temperatures will coax them into showing themselves.

I spent all of my first week in Turkey walking around the streets and alleyways of Istanbul. It must be one of the best big cities in the world for just wandering around. In the central tourist area it's nearly impossible to get lost. There is the Bosphorus River on three sides to use for orientation and going upwards means going to the center of things. Going downhill means going back toward the Bosphorus again.

European prices have been a shock to the budget after many many months spent in Asia. Paying high entry fees into places like Aya Sofia and Topkapi Palace has meant that I could afford to visit one sight a day and still be able to eat.

And by the way, Turkey is not the heaven of humus and falafel I had been misled into believing. I should be in Lebanon, Israel, Jordan or Syria... All the Turkish kebob shops in various countries that serve falafel and humus complete with posters of Cappadocia's landscapes on the walls... they lie! There was one place in Istanbul with falafel on the menu and it was frou-frou cuisine that had artfully arranged falafel on a plate, drizzled with yellow sauce and a side of pilaf. Good, but not good like Mona's food and, incidentally, the most expensive falafel ever. My quest for delicious falafel in its native culture will have to wait for a trip to the middle-east. Someday.

I'm hungry. When I sit down to write at the computer I think I'm usually hungry. That would explain the recent obsessions with food. Sorry about that - I'll try harder to eat first next time.

In Istanbul, seeing the inside of the Blue Mosque was overwhelming. So huge, so beautiful, so perfectly proportioned. I sat on the carpeted floor for a long time and tried to take it all in.

Another highlight was entering the Basilica Cisterna. The admission ticket was relatively expensive so I had put off going there. What would be so great about an underground reservoir? Then I read Mark Twain's description of his visit to it in the 1860's. He convinced me to cough up the money and just go.

"We visited the Thousand and One Columns. I do not know what it was originally intended for, but they said it was built for a reservoir. It is situated in the center of Constantinople. You go down a flight of stone steps in the middle of a barren place, and there you are. You are forty feet underground and in the midst of a perfect wilderness of tall, slender, granite columns of Byzantine architecture. Stand where you would or change your position as often as you pleased, you were always a center from which radiated a dozen long archways and colonnades that lost themselves in distance and the somber twilight of the place." The Innocents Abroad

The reality was even better. Opera music echoed through the chamber, along with the drip drop of water falling from the ceiling. Medusa carved capitals have been discovered since his time, and the columns have become a glowing underworld, thanks to a modern lighting scheme.

One of the best things about Istanbul was meeting lots of interesting people. Ali and Angelo, proprietors of Mavi Guesthouse were very gracious hosts who tried to help extend my budget by teaching me the intricacies of gambling on European League football matches. I lost. No beginners luck.

The McClure's are an American family who were also staying at the same guesthouse. Traveling around the world for a year with their two daughters, it turns out that we've been in many of the same countries and at similar times, but it took until Turkey for our paths to cross. We spent a lot of time talking in the lounge and then our last full day in the city we went off exploring together.

We found a post-apocalyptic flea market just outside the city walls. We came across plenty of stores selling Kinder Surprises. I hope the McClure's forgive me for introducing their daughters to the addictive world of Kinder Surprises. I gave one egg each to Morgan and Lily, and by the end of the day I think they had each purchased two more. Can't wait to meet up with them again, maybe this weekend, to hear about their further adventures and to see how the Kinder Surprise collection has grown.

Since leaving Istanbul, I've been in central Turkey. The area is made up of several small towns, collectively known as Cappadocia. I made my home in Goreme. There are over 60 guesthouses in the town, but since it's off-season, most of them are empty. People arriving on the bus have their choice of places to stay. I went into the tourist accommodation office and looked at the posters, seeing what the different guesthouses have to offer. In the end, I couldn't pass up Kose Pansiyon which prominently advertised Spotty the Wonderdog.

Spotty and I have spent most of the last five days together. He's standing next to me now, impatient to go out and walk around. Spotty is a guide dog and will walk guests anywhere they want to go. The first day we went out walking, it didn't take long to realize that he's not the bravest of dogs. When a group of elementary school children passed by on their way home from school, Spotty hid himself behind me. A few minutes later, he hid behind a construction truck when a bigger dog came along. The construction guys chased him out of the way and he used my body as a shield from the other growling dog. Thanks. Guide dog, but not guard dog. Our walk together abruptly ended when he found a female dog friend of his. He's a bit of a Casanova.

The next day I followed him through Pigeon Valley. He did a great job up until the end. Some erosion had taken place at the end of the valley and the regular upward climb was cut off. Spotty looked at me for help. I had no suggestions. He searched around and eventually found another route. I followed him and quickly got stuck on a steep crumbling hillside, high above the valley. A Turkish man came to investigate because his chained dogs were barking and going wild. First saw a cowering Spotty, and then he saw me. The man and his son picked their way down the slope, grabbed me by the arm and pulled me back up the hill. Rescued! Spotty repaid them by ravishing one of their female dogs.

The landscape of Cappadocia is unique. The stone is soft and erosion has formed bizarre rock spires and towers that people have carved into. Early Christians from the Byzantine era carved churches out of the rocks, painting beautiful frescos inside. People also carved houses, castles, and cities out of the soft rock. In places where the local populations were under seige by invading forces, huge underground city shelters were carved deep into the ground. Complete with false passages, escape tunnels, hidden pits, and ventilation shafts, they are fantastic and thousands of years old.

Tonight I'm headed out on an overnight bus to Pamukkale, near the ancient ruins of Hierapolis. Greece and its culture will become more and more prominent on the eastern coast of Turkey and I'll start obsessing over Greek ferry schedules. I have to figure out how to get to Athens by April 2nd to meet Chris. Only 15 days until I see him again, ferries willing.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Loose Ends



There have been some threads of information that haven't been properly tied up.

The making of the dog-bone pillow... well, that was a bit disastrous. The tailor seemed very confident in his ability to make the unusual shape. I left him the old pillow casing as a model. I had the pieces all cut out and explained which parts should be stitched together and which parts should be left open so the pillow could be stuffed. He had the molded pillow stuffing to see the 3-D shape of the pillow. Feeling that I had overexplained things, he told me, "You know, I'm not stupid."

When I went back an hour later to pick up Mr. Clever's work, I did not recognize what he handed to me. Three panels of fabric had been sewed together, flat. The resulting shape was too small for the molded pillow stuffing so he shredded the stuffing and shoved it in so tightly that the seams stretched to the ripping point. He couldn't understand why I was unhappy. A fellow tailor, who didn't speak English but understood the basic problem, stepped in and tried to explain the fundamental tailoring flaws. We ripped out the stitching and he started over, ignoring the curves in the pattern among other things.

No good. I made him rip out the stitches again. Tempers became short. He was sloppy. I tried to hijack the sewing machine. Both the tailors thought it was hilarious that I couldn't work the old fashioned foot-peddled machine. "You only know how to use an electric sewing machine, haha!" Defeated, I gave him back his sewing machine. Mr. Clever did the bare minimum, and I said I'd finish putting it together by hand. He told me to get out. The end.

Returning to Delhi, the hotel staff gave the low-down on my nemesis. They refer to her as "the crazy lady." The hotel has a policy of letting people stay only 15 days, although the manager can give an extension. The crazy lady did not receive an extension. It might be because, among other things, she spent most of her fifteen days chasing one of the male staff members, begging him marry her. La Senora Loca, que se vaya bien...

Thanks to the funny looking dog-bone pillow, sleeping in the Frankfurt airport was relatively comfortable. There was lots of time to explore Terminals 1 and 2. Riding the monorail between the two is a good time killer. Spending so much time there, it was possible to uncover some interesting things. Like, why, in an airport that does not have televisions to distract waiting passengers, nor a place for watching regular films, why is there a porno screening room in Terminal 1? And in Terminal 2, what are parents doing while their kids play in the plastic ball pit next to McDonald's? There was an explosion of balls. Some balls traveled all the way down to another story of the building and came to rest near the car rental booths. More than a few airport employees lost a little dignity, burrowing under tables and behind planters, trying to reclaim wayward balls.

At 6am I finally found some Kinder Surprises. Most of them were disguised as big Easter basket treats. That why they had been so hard to find. I bought one normal sized surprise and inside was a knight on a horse with a Medieval tent. One more like that and it would be possible to have a jousting match.

Zurich's airport was very very efficient. Officially in transit and not in Switzerland, it turned out that the only way to mail the original broken camera to the service center in Australia was to go through immigration and customs and go into Switzerland proper. The immigration official, as a matter of routine, asked where I was going. Most people probably say a city's name or something like that. My answer was, "to the post office." He didn't even blink. Coming back through passport control was just as simple. I love Switzerland.

On the Swiss Air flight to Istanbul, I had my eyes closed most of the way. Not exactly sleeping, but close enough. Duing the part of the trip where free Swiss chocolate is handed out, I missed out. The male flight attendant whizzed down the aisle handing out chocolates. I opened my eyes when I heard all the people around me opening their chocolate wrappers. Too late for chocolate! The man sitting one seat over hadn't saved me one. I couldn't help thinking (sexist or not) that a woman flight attendant would have checked to see if a resting person wanted chocolate. And a female seatmate would have saved a chocolate for a fellow passenger. Women understand what chocolate means to other women. The men on the plane seemed clueless, not to mention that they scarfed their Swiss chocolates like beernuts. The horror.

Now I'm in snowy Istanbul. Despite the snow, it's much warmer than in Germany. Here people can only see their breath when exhaling through the mouth. In Frankfurt, everyone looked like firebreath─▒ng dragons on the tarmac, vapor streaming from their noses with every breath.

Bought a half kilo of cheese today in the spice bazaar after eluding countless Turkish men who want to stop lone females. Either they are all extremely well-dressed roaming carpet salesmen or Istanbul is the world capital of gigalos. The hostel owners, both men, have warned me to stay away from the "bad men" who hover around the tourist quarter. According to Ali, "You give them your hand and they take your arm!" No worries. I'm not talking to any of them. One Rico Suave with dagger-shaped sideburns followed me halfway through the grand bazaar. To my disappearing, Spanish-speaking back, he announced, "You are so RUDE, you know that?" Igualmente, cabron. Igualmente. "I'll see you again on your way out, you know." Thanks for the tip. I took the back way out.

Just like anywhere, the real people, the people who are not out to take advantage of others, are kind and helpful. All the men in the many cheese shops were so friendly and informative. One man kept patting me on the back, sorry that he didn't have a fresh, spreadable cheese.

The sunset call to prayer... Oops, been rambling too long. Time to find the way home before it gets too dark! Hosca kalin. (Stay happy.)

Monday, March 07, 2005

Dreams of Cheese



Time is passing. The clouds cleared and showed a bit of blue sky before the sun went down. I fell asleep on a bench, hunched around my carry-on bag.

One excellent suggestion of how to pass the time in the airport was to go buy some Kinder Surprises. They do come from Germany originally. Nothing like a purchase that is a chocolate, toy and surprise all in one. Only snag in the plan is that they don't seem to be sold here in the airport.

The big event of the evening has been getting a sandwich for dinner and realizing that for the next several months, I will be in lands of amazing cheeses. Cheese cheese cheese. The fresh cheese, tomato, and watercress baguette for dinner was divine. Wednesday there is a market near the hostel in Istanbul and it will be possible to shop for all kinds of cheeses....

Going to go back to the sleeping bench now. The check-in counter will be open ─▒n eight more hours....

Sunday, March 06, 2005

The Terminal



It's dreary and overcast in Frankfurt today. Surprise, surprise. As the plane taxied into the airport, the captain announced that it was currently two degrees below celcius. The plan to not step foot outside the terminal has been vindicated by the elements.

Frankfurt International is a great place to be a drifter for a day. There is free internet. There is a photography exhibition on the architectural fabric extravaganzas of Christo and his wife Jeanne-Claude. The benches in public areas don't have armrests to discourage sleeping across them. And last, but not least, it is possible to spot tall blond German men wearing black turtlenecks within two minutes of leaving the plane. Cue the Kraftwerk! Fun times in Germany.

Only 19 hours to go.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

A Circle Completed



It's the last day in India and I'm trying to steel myself for a 20 hour stint in the Frankfurt airport. It's will be too cold to go outside in the clothes that I've got, and too expensive to stay in a hostel for half a night and catch an early morning cab back to the airport. If anyone has advice on amusing things to do in the Frankfurt International Airport, please share.

After leaving the comforts of Goa, I headed to Mumbai. Going to Mumbai wasn't originally in the plans, but after reading Midnight's Children, it couldn't be passed up. The city itself is such a character in the book. Salman Rushdie writes so beautifully and with such detail that fantasy and reality mix completely. It's difficult to know where reality starts or stops. The spell cast by the novel is my excuse for saying that the highlight of my time in Mumbai was seeing rows of brand-new concrete tetrapods lining the sidewalk of Marine Drive near Chowpaddy Beach. Small detail captured in the novel, or book come to life?

I'm gonna read the book again while languishing in Frankfurt.

Today was a great day and the perfect way to end seven weeks in India. On the express train to Delhi from Mumbai, I was in a berth above Nic, fellow backpacker and lover of Richard Scary picture books. We kept each other company on the train, and hoped to meet up in Delhi. Today we took a local bus 15 kilometers south of the city center to visit the Qutb Minar ruins. It was the start of the fun.

The bus was crowded and the conductor kicked two men out of the ladies only seats so we could sit down. That was unexpected and kind of nice (for us). We paid our fare and watched the city go by out the windows. A few minutes later the conductor and a man behind us got into a big shouting match. It got louder and louder. I hoped it had nothing to do with us. Nic thought we were in the free and clear. Then we saw people pointing at us. Oh dear. The conductor came over to us and held out some money. He didn't want to explain. A woman behind us told us that the conductor had doubled the fare when he took our money. Passengers on the bus had ganged up against him so that he would return the money. We said many many thanks to the people around us.

Later we returned to the center of town and we gave a hard time to all the touts who came our way. I was Maria from Mexico and Nic was nameless non-English speaking person. We hadn't established her name or identity. I was her spokeswoman. Sometimes it's necessary to play these games to stay sane because simple politeness doesn't work. Yesterday I was polite to a man outside a shop and in return he harassed me and then followed me around downtown Delhi. I finally lost him by running out the back exit of a highrise building.

So tomorrow, to Germany, where no one will follow me around. And then on to Zurich, Switzerland to hang out in that airport for a few hours. Eventually I'll arrive in Istanbul, Turkey. After three weeks or so, I'll catch a ferry over to Greece to finally be reunited with Chris. Only 28 more days to go.