Archive for May, 2008

Istanbul is [Insert east-meets-west cliche here]

I decided on the one-hour flight to Istanbul from Selcuk rather quickly.  The alternative was a 12-hour (probably overnight) bus ride in which I would have arrived too early at a hostel to check in forcing me (and my need-to-wash-everyday hair) onto the streets too tired to appreciate any thing.  So, even though the flight was 4 times the cost of the bus I still consider it a good choice.  (And big thumbs up to Turkish Airlines for serving a snack and drink on the 50 minute flight – take that any airline in the US.)

The airport is conveniently connected by public transportation to the main center of town.  The metro train connected with the tram which was eventually packed to the brim.  Luckily, I boarded the tram at the beginning of the line and was able to snag a seat.  The fun part was shoving myself and my luggage out at my stop.  When I finally looked up after playing with my bag that first view of the Blue Mosque literally took the air out of me.  That doesn’t happen often.

I found my hostel easily by myself even though a couple people asked me where I was going and if they can help me find my hostel.  Those people were carpet shop owners and were perhaps buttering me up for a possible future sale.  Istanbul is notorious for its’ carpet sellers and their polite tactics in which you feel bad for shrugging them off.  Every time I left or returned to the hostel it was like running the gauntlet.  One man asked if my dad owned a candy shop because I was “sweet”.  Gag me!!  He was trying to get me in his carpet shop and when I said no he insisted I have one of his business cards.  “Come in and I’ll get you a business card.”  It is never just a business card.

I hit all the major tourist sites in the area over two days- the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia, and the Grand Bazaar.  The Blue Mosque is one of the few mosques in the world that allow non-Muslims in.  The day I visited there were cruise ship passengers galore and most of them did not respect the customs of a mosque by remaining quiet and for women to cover their heads.  There were also people blatantly taking photos of the men performing their prayers.  Signs posted at the entrance negate any “I didn’t know” claims.  The sad part was that most of the accents were American.

The Hagia Sofia faces the Blue Mosque almost like they are in competition with each other.  Originally built as a Christian church, the Hagia Sofia, also known as Aya Sofia, was converted to a mosque centuries ago.  Today, the Hagia Sofia is not used as a practicing mosque.  Recent renovations have uncovered Christian mosaics.  Imagine that… two major religions side-by-side in one building – Arabic script next to images of Christ.  The juxtapositions is endless.

The Grand Bazaar is a great respite during hot days because it is covered.  Here’s a tip: go during peak times because there will be a greater ratio of shoppers to sellers which means less of a hassle.  It’s unfortunate that I visited the Grand Bazaar last because at that point I was just tired of complete strangers wanting to talk to me.  It’s never genuine.  They want something from you.  One man asked if he could ask me one question.  I continued to walk by and said no.  He then said, “Really?” like he was shocked that someone would say no.  I didn’t turn around, waved my hand, and said “yup.”  I then heard him say something about being rude.  It is never one question and if I stopped and talked to everyone that approached me I would still be in Istanbul today!

I also rode the “Hop-on, Hop-off” bus one afternoon.  So, I did get to go to the Asian-side of Istanbul which is no different than the European-side of Istanbul.  (FYI, Istanbul is the only city on two continents.  Hey, you might need that on Jeopardy one day!)

Istanbul is a great city and one of my favorites so far.  The sights are amazing and it’s easy for English-only tourists.  Just try not to get sucked in by the charms of shop and restaurant owners and above all keep your sense of humor when dealing with them.  My little taste of Turkey left a good impression and I will get back there someday.

Being Home and Photos (Finally!)

I received my monthly email from STA Travel yesterday (granted it’s a student travel agency and I’m not technically a student but hey it’s about travel which is totally relevant to me).  The email included: “You know you’re a travel addict when you’ve just spent the first night in your bed after a 40-day trip abroad and you dream about going back.”  I smiled because not only did my trip last exactly 40 days but because I dreamt about the next leg in my journey my first night back.  I guess that’s what happens when you have travel in your blood.

People always ask me if I appreciate the things I have at home more when I get back from some far-off place.  Yes, the “one-stop shopping” is way more convenient than going to a pharmacist, a produce stand, and trying to find shampoo separately.  But, the way I see it is that there’s no place like home.  It doesn’t matter what country you’re from – Kenya to Uzbekistan to Canada – you’ll always feel at home at home.

I’ve already singled out a couple of tours for South East Asia that encompass pretty much everything I want to see.  China is a real possibility as well depending on how well I stick to my budget (I didn’t do so well the first six weeks).  I’m also still debating whether I want to sweat it out in Dubai for a couple of days after Egypt.  Decisions!

I finally have my pictures uploaded – not all of them but the most interesting ones.  Looking through them I realized that I don’t take enough “everyday” pictures.  Most of my pictures are of the tourist sites.  I wish I would have taken pictures of the butchers in Morocco, more pictures of the people I’ve met along the way, and more of everyday living.  I just feel odd taking pictures of things that the locals think is nothing special.  It’s like someone taking a picture of a grocery store aisle.  Wouldn’t you find that a bit odd?  It is something I will work on in the future.  I’m going to put a permanent tab at the top of this website labeled photos but here’s the link for now.  The link will take you outside this website to Photobucket and I’ve organized the photos by country.  (The photos are copyrighted by me so please ask my permission before using any of them for anything other than personal use i.e. no selling or commercial uses.)  Enjoy!

http://s150.photobucket.com/albums/s110/svoorhees/

When you open the link the albums are listed on the right-hand side.  Once you click on an album the pictures will open up as thumbnails.  Click on the picture to see a bigger version as well as a description (although some of them don’t have a description).  Some of the albums have more than one page so click on “View All” near the top of the left-hand side – this only works once you are in a album.  Click on “back to svoorhees” to get back to the album list.

I’m also working on a post about my time in Istanbul as well as a “Funny Miscommunications” post.

 

Taking a Break…

Independent travel is hard and it’s a common theme among other fellow solo travelers.  Sure there are the highs of the places and cultures visited but also the lows of loneliness and trying to find accommodation in a city where you’ve just arrived after a full day of travel.

The hardest aspect of this whole experience is dealing with the loneliness factor- extreme loneliness.  Solo travelers are far and few between.  Most people travel with a friend and/or a significant other so it makes it difficult to approach people who are already in a group.  In my “normal” life, I do not meet people as easily as others and this is only magnified while backpacking.  I’m shy and self-conscious.  But, during this trip, I think I have broken out of my shell by making myself start conversations and asking people what they are doing for dinner.  The nighttime is the hardest because I can keep myself busy during the day visiting sights.

Morocco was especially tough on me as many of you know.  The old medinas, the friendly people and the amazing handicrafts were everything I had imagined Morocco to be.  But, I still felt lonely and I did everything I could to meet people including staying in the first hotel listed in the Lonely Planet, and hanging out in the common areas but to no avail.  I did eventually meet some great travelers in Morocco but not until my last two days.  Pity.

As soon as I reached the hostels in Italy and Greece things had turned around.  For the first time on this trip, I met other solo travelers and for the most part they all shared a common “lonely” theme.  This revelation that I wasn’t the only one feeling this way was reassuring.  But, the thing with independent travel is that everyone is on their own schedule and as soon as you meet someone they are out the door on to their next destination.  During, my time in Italy and Greece I met loads of people but something inside me just didn’t seem right.

Once I reached Turkey, after a night of shivering on the deck of a Greek ferry, I realized that I wasn’t having the time of my life as I had expected to.  What was wrong?  I love travel.  But, when I look back on all my other travel experiences the things I remember most were when I was part of a group tour.  Now, some people throw their noses up at the thought of an organized group tour but I love them.  Tours are more expensive (but really not that more expensive) than on your own but I feel like I get to see and experience more as part of a tour and it’s also a guarantee of meeting people that are going to be around for more than a day or two.

I came home yesterday not as a failed round the world traveler but as one that is figuring out what works personally and what doesn’t.  I talked about going home with lots of other travelers and a lot of them told me to keep with it and don’t go home.  But, I feel like I know what’s right for me and even as I type this I don’t regret coming home.  But, this is definitely not the end!!

I used the money I would I have spent making my way to Egypt to meet my sister to buy a one-way ticket to Seattle from Istanbul and also a one-way ticket to Cairo from Seattle.  I’m still going to go to Egypt with Amy in July and after she leaves I will continue on to South East Asia on the round the world tickets I originally bought.  In the meantime, I will be looking at adventure group tours as well as some volunteering programs (as suggested by one traveler).

Stay tuned… I hope to have some pictures posted soon as well as some other stories of my travels so far. 

…and Finally into Turkey

I called my parents and my sister when I arrived by ferry in Samos, Greece from Athens at 2:15 in the morning.  The morning ferry to Kusadasi, Turkey left at 8:30 am so I thought I would save money by not getting a hotel for a couple of hours and staying in a 24 hour restaurant.  Little did I know when I called home that night that I would be stuck in Samos all day because there was no ferry that morning.  The ferry leaves at 5pm and I had basically had no sleep.  Luckily, I ducked into a nearby hotel to enquire about using a hotel room for the day.  They offered a room for 23 Euros which is about how much a hostel is in Athens/Rome.  I had the best 4 hours of sleep ever!  I got on the ferry at 5 and everything else turned out fine.

Right now, I’m in Selcuk (Sell-Chook) which is right next to these amazing Roman ruins (Efes- there are several ways of spelling the site I choose the easiest).  I think the ruins are better than the ones in Italy!  In Italy and Greece there is a big effort to restore the sites to make them look like the originals and sometimes it is hard to tell what’s original and what’s not.  Here, they have left the site alone and only used concrete as support in some areas but it is very obvious what is original.  This is probably my favorite ancient Roman city.  Anyone going to Turkey should include Selcuk and Efes on their intinerary.  Oh, and the city during it’s heyday  (around 100 to 200 ad) also had running water!  Them Romans are quite smart!

I also went to the Artemis Temple which is one of the original ancient wonders of the world.  All that’s left is one column.  Apparently, it was four times the size of the Partheon.

So far Turkey is a very pleasant country but then again I’ve only been to one place.  The people are very friendly and eager to please.  We had free fresh fruit after dinner and after we paid.  Unheard of in my traveling – nothing’s free.

Turkey has shown me a good first impression.  We’ll see if it continues…

I’ve Fallen in Love…

… with Greece.  We are so happy together.  Italy and I had a good run but I’ve moved on.

I left Italy by train and overnight ferry to Greece.  The ferry was amazing.  It was basically a cruise complete with restaurants, bars and even a disco with a dj blasting music.  I met Tara, a California girl, immediately while waiting in line to board.  And then I met Megan, from British Columbia, while I was moving into the dorms on the ferry.  All three of us traveled together for the next couple of days.  We eventually found out that we booked the same hostel in Athens.

I’ve met so many people in this hostel and it has been fabulous.  I had expected Morocco to be similar and it’s the only reason I didn’t like Morocco that much.  If fact, I’m traveling with Katie from Canada here on Santorini (more on that later).

I spent three nights in Athens and have only seen the Parthenon once in passing on the tram to the beach.  I’ve been wandering the streets of Plaka ducking into shops, eating yummy gyros, and splurging on ice cream.  I’ve been trying new foods such as tzatiki, a greek specialty, made with yougurt, cucumber, dill, and garlic.  It goes good with the roasted pork gyros.  Jealous??

Meaghann arrived last Friday and we immediately hightailed it to Santorini because this past weekend was extremely busy due to May Day.  We’ll get back to Athens later this week to do all the touristy stuff.

Santorini is absolutely amazing just like you would imagine a Greek island to be- narrow cobblestone streets, steep steps, and the occasional donkey.  A Holland America cruise ship was docked today so I imagine it is a bit busier today than usual.  It’s still low season here until July.  Today we spent the afternoon at the black sand beach apparently related to the volcano that erupted hundreds of years ago.  The island was originally round until a volcano erupted through the center.  It is now shaped like a half moon.

Tomorrow, we will be going on an all day cruise around the island including sunset at Oia – supposedly the best place to the see the sunset.  We will also swim in the hot springs near the crater of the volcano.

I’ve been looking for ways to upload some pictures for you all but it’s been a bit of a hassle.  I tried in Morocco and failed miserably.  So, I’m trying.

Well, I’m off to get some dessert and some local wine, yup, Santorini also has a wine country.  What more could a girl want??  Now, do you see why I’m in love!


Where’s Stacy?

Stacy is in West Virginia and totally amazed by the power of Math. (Nerd, I know!)

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