Sushu's Travel Journal

July 25, 2011

Top 5 Experiences of Summer Trip 2011

Filed under: Europe,Middle East — Tags: , , — admin @ 12:22 am

5) Swimming in the Aegean on Cres Island as the sun set on the waters.

4) Lounging in the luxury of the soft Ottoman couches on the first night in Istanbul, having my first lamb and eggplant experience, and then exploring the Great Palace underneath the restaurant and coming out of another restaurant that happened to be right across from our hotel.

3) Morning exploration of Rome, hitting all the sights at the right time, discovering hidden short cuts, stumbling on random pieces of the Roman Forum, and eating gelato.

2) Eating a lovely dinner of lamb and eggplant with Joanne at the Ottoman House Restaurant in Alanya, listening to "Wish You Were Here" sung by a sweet girl on a guitar and chatting with the friendly waiter after a nice amble down a mountain castle with great views. This was followed by a nice walk on the beach in the moonlight.

1) Walking down the Acropolis in Bergama with Jono, exiting from a hole in the fence and walking through the twisty medieval streets of old Bergama and miraculously finding Joanne a block away by the Red Basilica.

July 18, 2011

castles, churches, opera

Filed under: Europe — Tags: — admin @ 12:00 am

I am on a train to Siena.

After the last update I spent the next morning visiting Milan’s fortress. It was alternately used by Milan lords, Spanish lords, Napoleon, and Austo-Hungarian armies. Says something about Milan and Lombardy’s historical position in Northern Italy. Anyway, it is now home to a cute set of museums. I saw some “Lombardy style” statuary, and pondered Michaelangelo’s last Pieta for a while. It was fun to see the transition from gothic to renaissance as I moved from room to room. Then I came upon the crafts museum, where there was an absolutely wonderful exhibit tracing furniture style transitions from the middle ages to the modern day. The placques were very competantly written, highlighting relevant themes and trends supported with interesting details. It was cool to see the evolution of a cabinet or chest that had paintings on it in medieval times, and then was designed to look like a small building during the 1600s, and then becoming all curby and inlaid in the 1800s, and finally looking like ikea in the 20th century. They also showed some wooden figures that had been painted in the 1500s, but had their paint rubbed off in the 1600s when the paint was seen as”tacky”. As I travel around seeing all this old stuff, it makes me wonder how much we truly need to save in order to remember,value, and learn from our past. On the one hand, the Renaissance owed a lot to the rediscoveries of old stuff. Brunelleschi (sp??) would not have made the dome in the Florence Duomo if the Pantheon in Rome wasn’t around to prove that yes, it is possible. But on the other hand, we need to move forward. I heard that it’s nearly impossible to set up new subways in Rome and Istanbul because when you dig, you hit ruins. People in the past were destroying their past left and right… the Austrians whitewashed the walls in the fortress rooms, destroying the Milanese frescos. I feel like as Americans, we tend to treasure what little history we have. Out in the west, there is also room to expand. What happens if you are living in and on and with 3000 years of history? And not just bones and rocks… we are talking about the great Roman empire, Byzantines, Ottomans, Renaissance, Baroque, etc etc…. would you consider it inspiring or stifling?

Anyway, at 3 euros for all the museums, the fortress was a great deal. Milan is definitely agood city to live in… giant gothic cathedral, giant fortress, nice subway system, not oppressively hot, and modern and fashinable as heck.

I hopped on a train to Verona, then promptly got lost trying to find the hotel. But eventually I did, and then had a nice walk around… checked out 3 churches (they were on a 6 euro church pass), then had a horse meat salad and a nice local sparkly white wine at a pleasant osteria. The three churches were surprisingly different, given that they were within a 10 minute walk of each other. One was pretty conventionally Gothic, but filled with all these painted alcoves sponsored by various local families. Travelling around Italy, it’s kind of amazing to see how much bling churches have… I guess that’s what comes from being centers of culture and community for over a thousand years. It’s great for tourists like me … Churches tend to have longer opening hours than museums, and are often free to visit. Of course, they don’t exactly have curators, and after a while you do tend to get Jesus fatigue. Anyway, the Duomo, the second church I went to, was gothic, but very cheerful. Wait… cheerful gothic? All of those tall arches were painted white with lots of cool patterns, making the inside much lighter and airier. The Fuello had a romanesque crypt on the first floor, and a gothic church on the second floor that wasn’t overly decorated or painted. Today’s church, in Florence, was once again different. The outside was all this grren and white marble, which, capped with the red brick dome, was “uhnf” (my shorthand for that feeling of masculine hubris, also found pretty much everywhere in Rome… the colosseum, the campidoglio, the Typewriter…) And yet the inside is sparse and cooly Romanesque, drawing all attention to the dome, which was exquisitly painted with various heavenly images.

All right, the Opera. Oh my god. So this was my first serious opera experience (that weird German oe in that Istanbul castle doesn’t count). Last night, it was Aida, in the Verona amphitheater. First of all, no microphones, but I could still hear them just fine in my nosebleed seats in an amphitheater that seats 30,000. Secondly, in the scenes of pageantry there wereover 200 people on stage… dancing, singing, playing harps and trumpets, RIDING HORSES, carrying torches… now I understand why operas are such a tour de force. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t play nice, so I left at half time. But still…wow.

July 16, 2011

Processing time

Filed under: Europe,Middle East — Tags: , — admin @ 11:58 pm

So I am in Milan now. Took a long nap, and then explored the Duomo a bit. It’s rather impressive. After a quiet dinner in a small bar, I got back to the hostel and now I’m taking a relaxing evening to unwind a bit from the whirlwind of Turkey. Since I am now destiny my own schedule again, and still uninterested in night life, I can take more time in the evening to write and process things.

The following are a few thoughts, drawing overly large conclusions based on a pittance of anecdotal experience.

Italy is much less stressful than Turkey to travel in, for a variety of reasons.
Even though I don’t really speak Italian, as a Romance language it is close enough to Spanish that I can figure out the basic structure of sentences and catch enough cognates to make navigating through various situations much easier. Turkish is based on agglutination (it’s like a whole language of saying “admirably” and “argumentatively”, except longer) and the word order is subject object verb, so when I was in Turkey the language posed a greater challenge. I wasn’t even sure about the sentence structure for asking questions. Even Saying “Please” and “thank you” was difficult. That made me much shyer about asking for things, affecting my entire mindset. There were also many cultural expectations that I wasn’t sure about. I didn’t want to offend people by wearing or doing something inappropriate, so I was constantly checking myself.

The cities that we visited also varied in Tourist-readiness. I’m not just talking about the ability to speak English, but also the attitude towards tourists. There is a certain set of western tourist expectations of courtesy and service. In Istanbul and Antalya, they were used to tourists, so they knew not to push too hard, that in fact a soft sell is more effective. In Alanya, there was more of the hard sell, the penny-pinching and money grubbing… It’s the discovery that you can charge tourists for everything, and deciding to milk it for what it’s worth…not yet fully realizing the symbiotic relationship of the tourism industry. But it’s not just our expectations of the tourism industry, but also the local level of comfort in dealing with tourists. The stares and muttering aside, there was also the trepidation. Between Russia, Croatia, and Turkey, I knew from experience how much can be conveyed through simple gestures and pantomime, but in Konya we had situations where the waiters didn’t come to take our order because they were worried that they would have to speak English.

When it was just Joanne and I, it was also harder because of all the questions about where we’re from (no where we’re really from), and all of the konnichiwas that we had to field. In contrast, I see Chinese people all the time in Italy. Of course, I get confused when I see people of different races in these different contexts because I don’t know their context. For example, I saw a bunch of black people in the park today. Do they consider themselves Afro-Italians? Libyan-Italians? Tourists? Immigrants? Just plain Italian? Are they Christian? Are they discriminated against? Are they expected to work in a specific job sector? For example I haven’t seen any Chinese laundry businesses here in Italy, but plenty of Chinese operated jewelry wholesalers.

Being in Turkey also made me think a bit about tolerance vs. acceptance. In Istanbul, but also in Konya, I see a range of clothing that is accepted. for example, I saw two veils in a school tour group who were clearly best friends. One was in a head to toe hijab, and the other was wearing skinny jeans. I did tend to see less thigh and less hair, but in general,there is a range of clothing difference that is just accepted, in the “okay, you decide to interpret the Koran this way, that’s fine” or the “you just happen to be more religious than me” sort of way. It’s accepted that some people would go to every prayer and some people don’t go to any. And some are Jews and others are Christian. But I feel like this sort of acceptance is different from the whole tolerance message that I learned in American schools. tolerance seems to be “You don’t have to like it,but they have a right to do this.”. Whereas the message of acceptance might be more like “We’re just different people living in the same world.”. I’m not saying that Turks were uniformly more accepting, but that it was interesting to experience a completely different set of social rules and assumptions. I feel like with the help of the Internet, it is easier to avoid tolerance situations. If you don’t like what some people are doing or saying, you can just move… To a different city, or a different Internet forum, etc. But you’re not tolerating them, and you’re not accepting them…. You’re just avoiding them and meeting only in confrontational situations.

Speaking of different social assumptions, it’s interesting to see the men/women divide in Turkey. In the US we are used to thinking of women as nurturing, in supportive and service roles, whereas men are active,doing the hard labor, bringing home the bacon. In Turkey, however, it seems that the divide is between private and public. Men present the public face. Men are often in service jobs, whereas Much of the farming is done by women. Women make the carpets in the privacy of their home, men sell them. Women are to be protected and cared for, much like America, but for slightly different reasons.

July 15, 2011

Konya

Filed under: Middle East — Tags: — admin @ 11:57 pm

Am currently sitting in a cheerful hillside cafe in the central park in Konya, site of the original Seljuk palace,smoking an apple flavored Nargile (hookah). The chairs are cushy, the music is unobnoxious turkish pop, and I am enjoying what is most likely my one and only smoking experience.

I had a wonderful fruit filled breakfast.. great cherries and melon, and even a kiwi. Discovered that Turks like their plums hard and sour.

Today we walked around Konya and visited barious museums. Konya is a bit different from the coastal towns that we had visited. It’s inland and further north, so drier and cooler. The population is more conservative, prices are cheaper. I picture young men in Istanbul saying to their girlfriends, “I gotta take you home to meet the grandparents. You might want to find a head scarf or something. I want them to like you.” The two main draw of Konya are its Seljuk history and its Sufi history, which means it is mostly internal tourism. They are used to tourists, but not used to English speakers and not used to non-tour group Asians. We got two photo requests, a lot of stares and asides about “Japones”. Interesting enough, the Asian tour group we saw seemed Singaporean.

I was pretty tired today.. perhaps reaching the end of my travel desires? Anyway, when I am tired or stressed I tend to suffer decision paralysis and end up making poor decisions. I think I need to be more aware of that.
I am flying to Istanbul tonight, and then to Milan early tomorrow morning. The airport hotel is 120 euro, so I’m trying to decide whether I should get that or just spend the night in the airport. Is 6 solid hours of sleep worth 120 euro? I’m also going to have to get mymind to shift gear to Italian.

July 14, 2011

More Turkey

Filed under: Middle East — Tags: — admin @ 11:55 pm

Things have reached that point in travelling when all the experiences and feelings pile up and everything seems to be a blur. Jono has come and gone, and now Joanne and I have only one more stop left before we part ways. So here are some bits and pieces extracted from the blur.

canakkale was fun.. meeting Australians and getting a great guide for Troy. Seeing the nine layers of Troy and hearing all of the Trojan horse hypotheses. I also feel like I know more about Gallipoli. Plus runningg around actual trenches.

Bergama… our first big Roman ruin with standing columns and really the feeling of a once thriving and complex city. Didn’t get a guide so missed some of the nuances. But feeling the breeze as you stand in the amphitheater as the outlines of the ancient acropolis opens before you, with the cute medieval town behind was amazing nonetheless. We got separated from Joanne while finding a way down, but we managed to make our way down through the ruins and a hole in the fence. We miraculously met back up with Joanne at the Red Basilica. Breakfast on the rooftop terrace of the guesthouse, shaded by grapevines.

Managing through luck and phone calls to wrangle a last minute guide to Ephesus who turned out to be the company’s best guide… degree in Translation and Archeology. Learned a lot of the background context for all the Roman ruins, saw the civic center at Ephesus. Also visited a cini shop… porcelain-like but not.

Saw Jono off at the airport and horrible night bus to Antalya.

Sketchy guy in Antalya as we wandered lost on the tiny streets. Scored last minute boat cruise at less than half price… 6 hours on the water, with yummy fish lunch, and swimming in the ocean. Explored some caves that were only accessible by water. Got a bit scratched up by sharp rocks and lost my ring, but found the perfect chillaxing cave grotto and the perfect place to hide pirate treasure. Exciting Troy dance show at the Aspendos roman amphitheater turned into disappointing Troy dance show at the fake Aspendos theater. Managed to see real Aspendos the next day thanks to the helpsul hotel staff and a taxi driver who insisted on speaking to us in German.

Alanya was hot. But beautiful castle on a tall bluff next to the beach means great views and great castle setup. Nice 4km amble back down to the beach where we had the perfect meal at an Ottoman house restaurant with a sweet girl singing sweet songs, andvery attentive waiters. This was followed by a hamam… the whole deal. The oil massage was a bit unnecessary, but the rest was great.

Next…Konya

July 8, 2011

Istanbul

Filed under: Middle East — Tags: — admin @ 11:54 pm

Istanbul was quite amazing. The Turks do sinfully delicious things to eggplant and lamb. The Topkapi palace is eerily similar to the Forbidden City… built at around the same time, with many courtyards ranging from thr public administrative courts to the private harem residence with the queen mother. Isnik tiles adorn the walls and there is calligraphy in every room. There were stelae memorializing battle victories and random sultan exploits. There were also throngs of people because the Topkapi has such religous ttreasures as Muhammed’s footprint and the rain gutter of the Kaaba.

At night the call to prayer form the mosques compete with turkish pop fromvarious night clubs and cafes. There are so may cafes here for you to sit, grab some chay or ayran, and play backgammon.

There are a lot of scarf and carpet salesmen everywhere, paying us all the compliments in the world, “For such a pretty lady I have a special offer”… but equally gracious when we refuse.

We have made our way to canakkale and today we are on a tour of Troy and Gallipoli. The tour guide speaks inAustralian English because the majority of the foreign tourists are Aussies here to celebrate Anzac Day. Gallipoli is a source of Turkish nationalism becuase this is the one point where they were able to hold off the Allies during WWI, lead by Ataturk himself. It is also a source of Aussie nationalism because so many of them died in what seemed like a pointless war for their mother country.

July 3, 2011

Back towards Zagreb

Filed under: Asia — Tags: — admin @ 11:53 pm

Well, my hiking attempt this morning was somewhat hindered by weeds and what looker like poison oak in the path. Since I was in shorts and flip flops, the situation was not ideal. But I did come across some olive groves, a donkey, and a sheep path, so it wasn’t a complete loss.

Now I am on a bus back to Zagreb, and tonight I will be meeting Joanne for dinner, ending the first solo leg of the trip. Despite my initial trepidation, I’ve really enjoyed travelling alone an keeping my own schedule. There was less wiffling because there was only one indecisive person (me) instead of many. It does mean that I turn more to the internet during the down times of bus rides and meals, though. On the whole, I’m looking forward to meeting up with Joanne and then Jono, but I am also looking forward to my second solo stint in Italy.

July 2, 2011

Cres

Filed under: Europe — Tags: — admin @ 11:52 pm

So it turned out all right. There were not any people holding rooms for let signs, but I asked the Tourist info office who directed me toa travel agency who booked me a room behind a restaurant for 45 euro, which was roughly what zi was expecting to pay.

So this is really intended to be a relaxing resort style island experience… lots of restaurants and boutiques, and you can sped your day swimming or hiking or exploring small villages, etc. I’m on the island a total of 14 hours, and that includes the sleep part. So I had to keep telling myself to relax…otherwise I would not get any enjoyment out of it. So I had a fancy dinner, and thenwalked along the seaside until there weren’t so many people around. Then I went for a swim just as the sun was setting over the Adriatic, and then walked back and ate some gelato. People keep staring at me, but that may be bexause I am the only asian I’ve seen all week. So any Germans, Croats, Italians, etc. They must be like, what’s up with this lone squat Asian chick? Maybe that’s what it’s like to be gaijin.

Anyway, if I wake up early enough omorrow morning, I’ go for a hike through the hills before heading back on the 8:30 ferry. It’s so weird, but the only means of getng on the island all happen at night, and leaving the island is only possible in the morning.

In Rijeka

Filed under: Asia — Tags: — admin @ 11:50 pm

Just went to the weirdest castle ever….

Each of the three towers were in a different style, reflecting the three major (re)building efforts… 1200s, 1500s against the Ottomans, and finally, the late 1800s by an enterprising Austrian field marshall. He decided to put a greek temple mausoleum in the castle.

…yeah

On the other hand, because the locals don’t really consider it a major site (far eclipsed by the nearby church that is on some holy pilgrimage location), visits are free, and no one was around to yel at me for some scampering about the old castle ruins. (They were mostly drinking coffee in the outdoor cafe inthe castle courtyard)

Next up is the most uncertain part of this mini excursion… I am catching a ferry to the islan of Cres, but it’s one hotel is completely booked. The hostel peole back at Zagreb (Bella and Sandra) says there will be people holding signs advertising private rooms on the pier. Let’s hope I get relatively unsketchy accomodations!

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