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 2, 2011


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.

June 30, 2011


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

I seem to have lost 2 posts about Rome by trying to use the iPad. Alas!

Well, the posts talk about getting unpleasantly lost in Rome, and also yesterday which was quite perfect… Due to jet lag, I got up early enough to experience the campidoglio and it’s museums without too many tourists. Then I walked to the pantheon and the Jesuit church while eating some yummy gelato. The gelato in Italy is so amazing, they were having a service in the major church, which made it even better. The Jewish museum wasn’t open, so I had some mediocre food nearby. Then I walked down the cirrus massimo or whatever, which has now devolved into something resembling the Midway inChicago. Eventually ended back by San Clemente church, and unlike the day before, the archeological digs were open, so I got to see some eerily familiar Christian motifs in a subterranean fourth century basilica, and then I went down another level to the first century roman building that looked like a bunch of unfurnished apartments. They had a running spring water system, and a Mithraic chamber. It was kinda cool to be walking on floors from 2000 years ago. Sure, the colosseum was that, too, but I was a bit turned off by the bloodlust in the colosseum… Whereas places of worship and tombs are more familiar.

Anyway, I got back to the hostel, updated the lj post that was eaten, and then got on the train for Zagreb. I realized that I actually would be stopping in Venice for a bit less than two hours, so I went and walked around Venice for an hour… I got thoroughly lost, until I realized that a road on a map might be a hole in the wall. But the part I saw of Venice was amazing. Suzhou doesn’t have anything on this…yet. Venice has this nice smal town feel despite the tourists. And it is labrythine yet easily accessible and understandable to tourists.

After the Venice stop, I got on the train to Budapest that stops in Zagreb. The train was to get into Zagreb at 4:20am, so I was trying to sleep, but too nervous. Just when I was falling asleep, though, we entered the Croatian border and the customs boarded the train to check passports, etc. A poor family got escorted off the train becauae they only had a schengen visa. So I get to the hostel at 5am, and it doesn’t open until 7am. But I got to hang out and watch the old woman open the bar downstairs. There was a cute cat walking the roof, and I got to read up about Zagreb and Croatia, there weren’t any beds free, so I took a short nap on the couch and went to the open air market nearby and bought lots of yummy fruit. Then my bed opened and in slept until 2 pm. Then I walked around upper town and checked out the cathedrals. I went to the city museum, which was quite thorough insocumenting thehiatory of the gradec part of Zagreb. Zadec was actually two medieval towns each occupying a hilltop and hating each other. It took me only 10 minutes to walk from the cathedral of one to the other, so it’s a bit crazy to see all this rivalry. The croatian nationalism in the museum was also pretty interesting… It’s more blatant than I’m used to, but I guess the other places that I’ve been have each had their moment In the sun as some sort of world power, whereas Croatia… Not as much. How do you define Croatian when youre sometimes venician sometimes Hungarian, sometimes Austrian, and sometimes Yugoslavian?

June 24, 2011

Summer Trip 2011

Filed under: Europe,Middle East — Tags: , , — admin @ 11:44 pm

Man, planning for my summer trip has kicked into high gear.

Here is the rough itinerary:

6/27: Plane to Rome
6/28: Arrive in Rome
6/29: Train to Zagreb
6/30: Arrive in Zagreb, meet up with Joanne
7/4: Plane to Istanbul, meet up with Jono
7/8: Ferry/bus to Canakkale
7/9: Gallipoli and Troy
7/10: Go down the Aegean coast, stay at Bergama
7/11: check out, Ascelpius, and then head to Izmir. Jono flies back to Istanbul, we take overnight bus to Antalya
7/12: Antalya
7/13: Antalya, bus to Alanya
7/14: Alanya, bus to Konya
7/15: Konya, plane to Istanbul
7/16: morning flight to Milan
7/17: train to Verona
7/18: train to Siena
7/19: train to Rome
7/21: plane back home

It’s… a lot of travelling. Unlike previous years, I won’t be in one place for long. Instead, it’s lots of places strung together by about 2-3 hrs of travel each time. Hope I survive!

July 12, 2010

On the Trans-Manchurian

Filed under: Europe — Tags: — admin @ 11:25 pm

So this is day 3 on the trans manchurian. The km signpost that we just passed said 4262.This means that I am over 4000 kmfrom Moscow and about halfway done. The train is relatively comfortable. In my room we started with woman who is a piano teacher from Italy with a daughter my age and a son slightly younger – the age of the young man returning from his year of mandatory military service. He is shy, but also fiercely proud of being part of the great military review last year. He got off at Per yesterday. The last one is a Chinese chef making his 2nd annual trip back to wife and son in Harbin. The woman lived in Siberia for 16 years when she married to a Russian soldier. After the divorcE 10 years ago, she went back to Italy. This is the first time she has bbeen this far back to Siberia in 10 years.

Typing on the Kindle is slow going. Suffice to say that the land is majestic and the people few. My cabin m.ates communicate in a combination of Chinese Russian and Italian/Spanish. I buy breakfast and lunch from the ladies on the oplatform, but enjoyed dinner at the dining car enough to go back and brave the Russian menu

July 8, 2010


Filed under: Europe — Tags: , — admin @ 11:25 pm

Took 4 hour bus to Novgorod.  Provincial town has 2 hotels, and as we discovered, only 2 restaurants.  But the river is beautiful and we chanced upon an Orthodox service in a 1000-year-old church in the middle of the kremlin.

Today is a day of travel — train back to St. Petersburg and then train to Moscow and then the Trans-Siberian, so no more internet until I get into Shanghai.  Wish me luck!

July 7, 2010


Filed under: Europe — Tags: , — admin @ 11:23 pm

Just a quick update today because I hurt my lower back yesterday and spent the online time looking that up instead. 

Instead of the walking tour, we did a boat tour.  Man, so many pretty buildings and parks, mostly built by Tsars and Tsarinas who "felt like it" or to commemorate a special occasion, or for their lover, etc.  I’m in awe of the amount of resources and manpower at their command — These buildings are all decorated with statues and friezes and other crazy stuff.

Then we spent 7 hours in the Hermitage, which is a giant palace with lots of European artwork.  Impressionist paintings always look better close-up.  Also caught some nice Reubens and Rembrants.  What was most amazing, however, was this exact duplicate of Rafael’s Loggias from the Vatican.  (  At around hour 5 was when my back started feeling crappy.

Then we went to dinner at this little Russian restaurant.  The meat dumplings here were even better than the last place.  I got chicken breast stuffed with egg, and a cauliflower soup.  Soups remain delicious.  There was some sort of party there, where people were getting up to make speeches, and then singing songs while playing the guitar or accordion.  A dude also made bird chirping noises with 2 rubber bands.  It was very amazing, we felt like we were guests at someone’s house.  A man walked around trying to toast everyone, and when we left, an old man kissed my hand.  It makes me really want to learn Russian and come back to Russia properly– The food is yummy, the people are nice, and the art is awesome.

July 6, 2010


Filed under: Europe — Tags: , — admin @ 11:23 pm

So we’re in St. Petersburg.  St. Petersburg is very different from Moscow.  Whereas Moscow has these very stern and solemn buildings and squares, St. Petersburg felt like a Scandinavian city, and reminded me a lot of Copenhagen — wide canals, tree-lined boulevards, neo-classic and rococo facades, countless stands selling hotdog rolls.  There seems to be more artists here, they’re more relaxed and I’ve seen many just relaxing on the grass in a park. 

Yesterday we took the hydrofoil to Peterhof, which is a Versailles-like palace that Peter the Great built away from St. Petersburg.  It was very pretty.  Aside from the Versailles-like fountain stuff, Peter also built some smaller retreats closer to the seaside in the Dutch style.  This is also when I discovered that the Gulf of Finland is (a) very shallow, and (b) very polluted and brown.  :(

Peterhof was mostly populated by Russian visitors.  Like YuanMingYuan, lots of locals go there to relax at the beach, walk in the park, eat ice cream, and frolic in the fountains.  For locals, entrance fee is only 140 py, which is like 5 dollars.  In addition to the stately marble fountains from Tsar times, there were also fun soviet fountains like fake trees and flowers that squirt water.  It was a great place for relaxing and people-watching.

After getting back from Peterhof, we wandered the streets until we found the restaurant we wanted but they asked us to come back in 30 minutes or so (of course, my question about putting ourselves on a list was meeted with a shrug).  There happened to be a cute little park across the street with a statue of Pushkin, so we bought ice cream and relaxed in the park.

The dinner was super-yummy.  I got a salad that had slivers of tongue, yellow bell pepper, cucumber, and cheese.  Smothered in mayo and dill, of course.  I also had a meat and veggie soup with sour cream and dill.  (I’ve had very good soups in Russia).  Finally, I had meat dumplings that looked reminescent of wontons, served in a little urn, and smothered in sour cream and dill.  CS Bear had some really good Beef Stroganoff, with a delicious light sauce.  What made the dinner perfect, however, was the music.  A very passionate violinist and a very laid-back guitarist. 

Today we’re going on a formal walking tour, so I’ll talk more about city monuments tomorrow.

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