Saturday, August 07, 2004

Limited Time Only! Back in the US of A!

Well, I’m back. Sitting in the basement of my parents’ house, doing laundry, typin’ away.

Just a couple quick things in closing. I didn’t do too much my last days in Istanbul. The morning after I left you, I visited the Topkapi Palace, home of the Ottoman sultanate and suitably adorned, including an 86 carat diamond. That afternoon I decided to hit the Grand Bazaar. Now, I had waited all the way through the Middle East to do my heavy duty shopping, waiting for the largest Bazaar in the world. I was so excited I was practically skipping down the narrow alley toward the entrance. I saw the sign, stepped under the bar and.... my heart stopped. Florescent lighting? Linoleum floors? AIR CONDITIONING? I was in the $&*#*ing MALL! I wandered around in disbelief. Where were the donkeys? The little old men and their bundles? The dirt? The pickpockets? It was so traumatizing I didn’t even buy anything during my first outing. (Never fear though, by the next morning I had recovered enough to drop $250 on a hand inlayed Turkish end table and $70 on a four foot green glass hookah pipe.)

The next day was spent shopping in the morning, and at the rug museum. (Everything in Istanbul is about selling rugs to tourists. Go in to a restaurant, rugs for sale. Museum, rugs. Baths, rug. Trying to seek sanctuary in the post office? Rug stamps. It gets to the point where “hello” from travelers has been replaced by “I don’t want to buy a rug. Now, can you tell me...”) That evening I was hanging out with some other travelers, drinking beer and playing backgammon, as I have been known to do on occasion. There was this Turkish guy that worked at the bar that was just beyond annoying. He leered at all the women and won’t let you play backgammon for a minute without butting in and moving your pieces. I HATE that. The other girls couldn’t stand him either. And he was obnoxious, “White people don’t know how to play. They move too slow. Turks invented backgammon. I am the best! Ha ha!” I don’t know what came over me (though a good bet is that the fact that I had been sitting around drinking beer all afternoon had something to do with it), but I challenged him. Truly threw down the gauntlet too. There would be no good winners in this match, only pathetic losers. As play started he got a little worried by the fact I could count and move my pieces as fast as he did. Yeah, buddy, well things are gonna get worse. I not only beat him, I not only GAMMONED him, but I BACKGAMMONED him. Given I got some lucky rolls, but the guy certainly wasn’t good enough to talk the talk. I tossed down the dice and said, “And I thought Turks were supposed to be good at this game.” Then walked off with the other travelers, who might not have thought me a complete god, but certainly a minor deity. And the bastard was too embarrassed to speak to any of us again. High point of Turkey.

Next day I took a boat cruise on the Bosphorus to the mouth of the Black Sea. Nice enough. I decided, in one of my moments of mental lapse, to take the local bus back to town. Yes, despite the fact I had no idea where I was, which direction to go, nor did I speak Turkish to ask anyone. [Insert comical musical interlude here, with me getting on and off various buses in various urban and rural landscapes, stopping being lost only long enough to eat a shwarma.] That took care of the rest of the day, except for the requisite stop to eat pudding in the joint from Midnight Express.

Next day I headed home. I checked my luggage and got into the airport with 2 hours until my boarding time. I was hungry, so I went to peruse the food court. What to my watering mouth should appear, but SUSHI! (I don’t care what stereotypes there are about Northeastern liberals, I LIKE the stuff!) I walked over cautiously to check the piece. There was a picture of a roll (6 pieces for non-sushi eaters) with a price of $3 below it. Reasonable! I ordered two rolls. I enjoyed my tuna roll. The California roll was a bit of an adventure. Normally it is made with crab and avocado, this one was made of shrimp salad and pickles. Right colors anyway. Then the bill came. $40. WHAT!?! The price was per piece, not per roll. I had no where near enough money to pay for that. And no way of getting more. Luckily the guy I was sitting next to and had been chatting me up paid for me. (He is an Israeli working in northern Iraq, but scolded me for being reckless because I went to a dangerous place like Syria, all without a trace of irony.)

Then, after a 20 hour layover in Zurich, home again. I will hang up my cargo pants with the pocket system of small change, entrance tickets, bus passes and room keys that would make Molloy’s head spin. The backpack gets a wash and goes on the wall. Shoes are retired.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Nobody’s Business but the Turks.

I really have nothing interesting to report. I spent one more day in the cave full of Australians, then headed down to Olympos. I spent the last day hiking with two random Brits and a crazy Canadian mother hell bent on taking her two grade school age children to Syria. We went to Love Valley, where the natural rock formations would make Dr. Ruth blush. It was a little lost on the kids. Luckily I was juvenile enough to appreciate it.

Olympos is supposed to be this super cheap, mythical backpacker mecca where the conversation is chill and the dope is plentiful. I fucking hated it. Cheap? Perhaps I shouldn’t have spent almost four months in the developing world before hitting it, but $6 bucks a night to sleep in a “treehouse” (read: rough wood shack with holes in the slates big enough for a chicken to walk through)? No. Not cheap. There was plenty of dope there, although it was mostly in dreadlocked human form. I escaped the scene a bit down to the ruins and the beach, with were admittedly beautiful. That night, around midnight, I went to see the Chimea, the legendary flames spewing forth from the rock, reported to have guided ships since the ancient times. It is supposed to be breath of a mythical beast living below the ground. Scientists speculate that it has something to do with leaking natural gas deposits, though they have about as much empirical proof as the mythical beast theory. The hike up was surprisingly steep and difficult, though short, and I made it (the hike) with some Norwegian guy. The flames are just plain eerie. They burn nothing and from nothing.

Next day I booked a 4 day Mediterranean cruise, and headed out to sea on a huge sailboat. Other than some sunburn, the trip was uneventful. We stopped a few places to swim, pirate caves and the like, and explore some ruins, but that is pretty much it. One of the other guests and I, both crazy American women of course, decided to jump off a cliff at one of the places we stopped to swim. The local kids were doing it, and the Australians of course, both of which have no sense of their own mortality. We passes a couple of older local guys on the way up, procrastinating about the uncomfortable distance between them and the water. We jumped without hesitation, eventually shaming them into doing the same. The captain was mad though. Apparently some crazy American girl had done just the same thing a couple years ago, and managed to break her neck. That captain got sued. This captain wasn’t interested in that fate. He liked me, anyway though, and tried to convince me to stay on the boat to work there. As I sat in the sun, cruising through the beautiful turquoise waters of the Mediterranean, I would be lying if I said I didn’t think about it for a while. “Hi Mom. It’s me. No, everything is fine. Yeah, I decided to blow off the Fulbright and Harvard to be a sea dog in the Mediterranean. What’s that? You are coming to kill me?” I turned him down, but did take his card for future reference.

After the sun, I went to Ephesus, former home of the Temple of Artemis, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world, current home to some kick ass Roman ruins. (There is some Greek stuff too but I can’t figure out how to spell Hellanistic.. Helenist... whatever, I am going with Roman.) It is hard to describe ruins (and then there was this mind blowing DORIC column), but they were cool. Back in the main town of Selcuk, I went to the Selcuk museum, which had some bits of the long ago demolished wonder of the world, and a great detailed exhibit on the various ways gladiators had of killing each other, with medical textbook like descriptions. Then it was the tomb of St. John the Apostle (apparently he and Mary moved up here after all the goings on in Judea), which was nice, in that ruined Byzantine Church sort of way.

I am currently in Istanbul. After getting off my second overnight bus in a row this morning, I decided that the best use of the first day was to take a nice long nap. When I came to around noon, I headed off to see the sights. First stop was the ATM, which, given the prices here, will be a frequent one here in Istanbul. Then to Hagia Sofia. It’s a church. It’s a mosque. It’s a museum. Whatever it is it is awesome. (Took over the title of my favorite place of worship from St. John the Divine uptown.) There are Byzantine mosaic, Islamic frescos, immense architecture. It’s got it all. Then I hit the Blue Mosque. Also pretty, but not ol’ Sophie. Final stop of the day was the Underground Cistern, which was, as promised, both underground and a cistern. You could wander on platforms above the flooded floor, where big ol’ carp swam around. In the back they had two colossuses heads of Medusa, one upside down and one on it’s side, that the original builders must have scavenged from a Roman temple to use as column bases. One the way home I wandered through the Hippodome (obelisks for one and all) and had some sour cherry juice (complete with song and dance from mobile cherry juice salesman), and called it a day.

That is it for now. I’ll be back in the US on Friday, so there will likely only be one more installment on Kristen in Wonderland as Dad calls it. Never fear though! I should be in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania by mid September, so the adventures can continue.