Sushu's Travel Journal

July 16, 2011

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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!

June 30, 2011

Rome

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!

April 23, 2011

Brazil comics

Filed under: Latin America — Tags: , — admin @ 12:34 am

Four days in Brazil. We had horrible camera luck, so this is basically the only visual documentation we have.

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