Friday, August 24, 2012

Homestretch

The Dead Sea

After bidding Turkey farewell, I headed to the beautiful island of Cyprus and spent a fantastic 3 days there. Cyprus has gorgeous beach towns, quaint villages, majestic mountains... a little of everything. It was really great to learn about the island from a local, and to spend some quality time with one of the many friends that I've made this year.  It's definitely on my list of places to return.

In what seemed like the blink of an eye, it was time to leave and head to Israel.  Since touching down here, the days have gone by in an even faster blur.  Started in Tel Aviv where I got to see another friend from my Rio days.  From there, Jerusalem was the next stop which was really almost beyond words.  I will have to sit and write a post just about Israel when I have more time because it's been an experience, not just a trip.  From Jerusalem, the Dead Sea was next and that is easily one of the coolest places I've ever been in my life.  The Dead Sea is the lowest point on earth, and the salt content of the water is so high that you just float.  No treading water, no moving, you just float. It's probably the closest thing I'll ever experience to being weightless. Almost indescribable. From there, the next stop was a kibbutz (community settlement) in the north where my friend lives.  The north is completely different (green!) and it was such a great time visiting with her family and friends. We had an incredible meal together (it's up there with the best meals I've ever had) and just sat and talked and laughed. It was such a nice break from the rush that has been this portion of the trip.

The view from my balcony is now the Red Sea, and after one day here I'll be heading across the border to Jordan to visit Petra, and spend the last full night of my trip in a Bedouin tent camp in the Arabian desert. I have a feeling it's not quite "camping in the desert", but either way, I'm sure the night sky over the desert will be just as amazing as I'm imagining. Probably more.

It's the last weekend of my year(ish) of travel... so hard to believe.

~ N

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Day of Kindness



2 posts in a 2 days? Uncharacterisic, I know, but I have some time to kill and it's a neat story so why not.

I am currently in the south of Turkey, away from the touristy areas full of English speaking locals. I stayed at a hotel in Mersin last night, conveniently across from the bus station but very, very local.  Around 7:00 I went down to ask the receptionist (one of the few females I had seen since arriving) where I could have dinner nearby.  She asked me in broken English what I wanted to eat and I told her I loved Turkish food and would be happy with anything she recommended.  She said,  "Chicken kebap?" I said, "Sure", assuming she was sending me to the closest place with chicken kebap. She said "Please, please, sit", and proceeded to have my dinner brought in and served to me in the seating area of the hotel. Well that was nice. (And it was delicious.)

This morning as I checked out, I explained that I was going to Tasucu, the very small port area of Silifke, and that I was told by people in my last city that there were buses to Silifke all day and then I would take a dolmus (local bus) to Tasucu. Can I buy a ticket from any company? She looked across the street at the bus station, looked at me, and it was obvious she felt unable to explain something. Instead said "Come, come", and she and her 11ish year old son then went outside and basically stopped a minibus in the middle of the road. A man jumped out of the back and took my bag as she bade me farewell. Okay then...

After about 2 very hot hours, a lot of beeping and questions in Turkish that I couldn't respond to, the driver pulled a u-turn in a relatively busy part of town to get me to the right side of the street and pointed to a bus stop and said "Tasucu" while gesturing that I needed to wait. The butler-from-Mr. Deeds-ish man then jumped out of the back again and handed me my bag, also pointing and gesturing "wait here".

So...now I'm standing with a woman and two elderly men, waiting for the dolmus. What does a dolmus look like? Got me. Are there signs on them? Who knows. What I did notice was that there was a line of taxi-drivers nearby and not one had run up to me like bees to honey offering to take me wherever I need to go.  Nice change of pace...  Within minutes a minivan pulls up with the door open (or so I thought at the time, but in actuality, there was no door) and a small sign that says "Tasucu".  One of the taxi drivers who must have witnessed the earlier exchange of charades ran over to me nodding, pointing, and saying "Tasucu".  Well thank you, kind sir.

I knew that it was about 7 kilometers, and by this point I had figured out that I wasn't getting dropped off at a bus station, so my plan was to get myself to the center of "town" and find a taxi or, if I was lucky and my shore-side hotel was in walking distance, get pointed in the right direction.  However, this minivan was very, um, local. People would just shout to the driver and he would stop. It didn't look like he would be pulling up to town and telling us we've arrived at our destination. I estimated what was about 7 kilometers and sure enough, shops and cafes began to appear and the ocean was in near distance. I hopped off the next time the bus stopped and to my surprise there was a sign nearby with the name of the street I was looking for...(yay!)...aaaand an arrow pointing away from the water...(boo!)  Now I don't have the greatest sense of direction but even I knew that couldn't be right.  I decided to show the address to someone passing by and he pointed me towards the water (whew) and kind of, you know, to the right.  I ventured that way for a bit but it wasn't exactly a neat little grid and there were zero signs on the smaller streets so I stopped again and asked an older gentleman with his wife and what appeared to be grandkids.  He motioned for me to wait, disappeared into his shop, and reappeared with keys to his scooter. His little grandson hoisted my bag on the front and his wife helped me on.  Normally, I wouldn't have been too keen on this situation but seeing as his nearly 70 yr old wife and grandkids were in on it, I figured - why not? (Besides, how fast can a little old man drive a scooter on these tiny little streets? I could definitely jump off into a tuck and roll.) Three minutes later, we were in front of my hotel and he was refusing the few lira that I offered in thanks.  Wow. Once again - thank you, kind sir.

Tasucu is a beautiful little port city, very tranquil, and seemingly a vacation spot for locals. At this point I was starving so I found my way to a cafe for something to eat.  I'm going to reiterate here - 'vacation spot for locals'.  No English. No menus with pictures. Not even the Turkish looked familiar (regional maybe?) so I didn't recognize a thing.  The waiter recruited someone from a nearby stand who didn't speak much more English than him but was better at charades. He somehow understood that I was fine with whatever they brought me. When they walked away, the son and daughter of a family sitting at a table nearby came over and said (in English!) - "If you need help, we are right here, we are Turkish". Wow, so sweet.  Lunch came, it was chicken and veggies in a pita. Perfect. When I went to leave later, I thanked the young girl for her kindness and the family invited me to have tea with them.  Now, Turkey and Egypt may have some differences but I'm pretty sure it would be just as ungracious to turn down the offer of tea here as it would be in Egypt.  So I sat. With the mother, father, daughter, uncle and 2 cousins.  Yep, one big happy family...and me.  It turns out some of them are living in London and the 2 kids speak perfect English so they translated as we chatted and drank tea and enjoyed the sea breeze.

And that was all before 3:00pm.

~ N

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Feels Kind of Like Home...

Home meaning the US? "Home" meaning Argentina?  No, in this case, your nomad friend is referring to Egypt.

Turkey has been absolutely amazing, and several times a day I think (or say out loud, which I'm sure gets tiresome) - "this reminds me of _____".  I've heard in the past that scent is one of the senses most directly tied to memory, and these two weeks I have definitely been witness to that.  Really distinct memories, buried for years, have come to the surface in vivid detail just by the scent of a certain spice in the market, or corn roasting on the street. I have to say, this has been the part of the trip that I have missed my family the most, and as I travel through Cyprus, Israel and Jordan, I have a feeling that will just get stronger.

Spent 5 days in Istanbul exploring the Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque, Basilica Cisterns, and a plethora of other things that were constructed forever ago.  What an incredible city. You're just constantly in awe. Here are few shots from some of the sites...

Hagia Sofia




Royal Palace















Basilica Cistern






One of my favorite afternoons in Istanbul was spent on the Asia side (much less touristy, calmer) wandering around a market around lunchtime.  We found what would be the equivalent of a specialty deli with a case of all sorts of delicious looking salads and regional dishes. This was not a tourist spot, this is where the people that live in that area shop.  The owner spoke zero English so all our communicating consisted of pointing, smiling, and handing me forks of delicious things to taste.  After choosing grape leaves (of course), and 3 or 4 other things we sat at a table outside to enjoy our little picnic.  The owner came out with a distraught look on his face and through sign language I discerned that he was upset because he didn't realize we were going to eat there and he would have put everything on plates for us.  After assuring him we were just happy to be enjoying his delicious food, he disappeared across to another vendor and returned with fresh bread. Once we were completely stuffed, he reappeared again with dessert (Mom - it was kunefe, and it was delicious).  What a great last afternoon in Istanbul.

From there, the next stop was a little town called Goreme in the Cappadocia region of Turkey.  It is breathtaking here and even after 5 days the views still make me smile.  The first morning I was awoken very early by an odd noise outside the window.  It kept happening and when I finally moved the curtain and looked out, I caught my breath.  The normal view from the window is the really cool lunar-esque landscape (which in and of itself is beautiful), and at 6:00am every morning it is complimented by tons of hot air balloons. Indescribable.

The next morning, I was in one of them, and it has been one of the highlights of this entire year.  I mean, look at this....

















I've also hiked one of the valleys, toured a really incredible ancient underground city with 7 floors, visited a monastery set in a cave, spent the day getting pampered at a hamam, and enjoyed several amazing meals.  (Mom - every meal makes me miss you, not just because it reminds me of your cooking, but because I know how much you would love the food and desserts here. One day, we will visit together.)

Now I'm off to a city on the southern coast for a few days before taking a ferry to Cyprus.  I am really excited for the next part of the trip because aside from the fact that Cyprus and Israel are really incredible places, I get to visit great friends in both of them.  Diana & Oren - can't wait to see you guys!

~ N 

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Montenegro ("Black Mountain")


Leaving Montenegro today after a fantastic week.  One of the best days of the entire trip so far was spent here - rafting in the Tara River Canyon, eating an absolutely fantastic home cooked meal made by owner's wife, visiting Durmitor National park, and stopping for coffee on the way back at the house of our guide...with his entire family. Wife, kids, parents, sister - none of whom spoke English, yet all so hospitable and kind.  His 6 year old son was so proud to say "Hello" and "Goodbye" to us in English and put his hand out to help me out of the van.  Quite the little gentleman! (Although I would have bowled his little body over had I actually tripped getting out.)

The Bay of Kotor was a great home base and the country is small enough that you can visit much of it by day trips.  The old city in Kotor is a beautiful "mini-Dubrovnik" and still unspoiled by heavy tourism as Dubrovnik now is.  It will be one day, so I'm glad I was able to experience now. 

Next up - Turkey!  Heading to Istanbul today and beyond excited.  A little concerned about the amount of food I am going to consume there but the next 3 countries are some of my absolute favorite cuisine so I'll just have to do a lot of walking and stairs.

(Speaking of food....Mom & Dad - El gibna bida hina zae bitar masr! Coul youm bekhoul eish shami bi gibna bida wi uta.  Kemen andhouim dora meshwe...bes mish zae betana.)

I'm cracking up right now. Georgys - let me know if mom and dad figure that out!

More soon!
~ N



p.s. There are Croatia and Montenegro pictures up on the left, but not too many since how much I can upload these days is limited by time and slow internet.