Sam Bowker: The Grand Tour Diary (2005 - 2006)

This is the archived journal of a 2005-2006 'Grand Tour' around the Eastern Mediterranean and along East Africa, written by Sam Bowker, whilst in search of his PhD topic.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Italy - Florence, Day 2

Dedicated to the Greco-Egyptian Postal Service, for finally delivering all my Turkish ephemera and souvenirs to His Excellency the Ambassador Dr Bob.

The last couple of days in Florence have been busy. There's plenty to do here, even on Mondays when many of the major museums are shut. Today, I checked out the Palazzo Bargello, a fortress-like sculpture museum with a big emphasis on Donatello. Then there was Europe's first orphanage, which once hosted a revolving door for unwanted kids, a couple of significant churches, and my first real Florentine Queue.

This was for entry to the Duomo, the famous Cathedral of Florence. It's a stunning building on the exterior - all green, black and white Tuscan marble with crenellations, flutes, arched windows and quilt-like patterns. It actually only took about twenty minutes to move 200 metres. This, I'm proud to say, was well-planned around a good pizza lunch I picked up moments earlier at a fresh foods market. (You should have seen the shops of offal and very fresh poultry...).

This afternoon was spent at the Florence Archaeological Museum, mostly consisting of Egyptian and Etruscan treasures, plus a special if disorienting exhibition on ancient banquets. A notable object was a Roman ceramic vessel used to fatten up dormice for eating (rodenty things like squirrels). The evening, pre-dinner, has been spent watching wild otters amble about the banks of the Arno river, and the imaginative antics of street performers.

Yesterday was fairly similar - lots of exhibitions in smaller galleries, several churches of various size and artistic significance, the gardens of the Palazzi Pitti, and plenty of gelati. Never the same combination of flavours twice - a notable one was white chocolate, peanuts and banana, but the rich black chocolate with chocolate and coffee beans was also excellent! The hostel population has also been warming up gradually, so I'm going to bring back some nice wine this evening and see what happens.

Tommorrow, I'm going to the Uffizi and the Galleria dell'Accademia (the home of the David). I'm sure this pilgrimage is required for everyone who wants to legitimately call themselves an art historian! I'm likely to stay here for a couple more days to visit the town of Siena and the remaining galleries/churches I really don't want to miss. Who knows?

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Italy - Florence

Dedicated to Tabbi's Bad Experiences in Florence

The last night in Rome was characterised by a very long search for accomodation. It's a public holiday long weekend here and everything cheap was full. I eventually found a dorm bed, by chance, and shared it with five young women. Three were American students, one was a Belgian international volunteer, and I spent much of the evening talking to an Argentinian named Roxana.

The train ride the next morning was gorgeous when the landscape was visible. Tuscan and Umbrian fields shrouded in fog, golden light from the afternoon sun over autumnal leaves, and occaisional medieval stone villages clutched tightly upon mountaintops around castles. I was hapy to have found such a cheap train ticket online, but then realised that it may have been due to accidentally ordering an under-18 year-old ticket. I know Italian ticket checkers are vigilant about spotting tourists and making them pay substantial fines for mistakes like that, but miraculously, he didn't seem to notice. Or I was in the right. Who knows, but it felt very lucky indeed.

I'm now staying in a youth hostel that gave my dear sister Tabbi a hell of a time when she came to Florence. For her, it was a combination of after-midnight arrival, unhelpful bus drivers, being lost in a new city, hunger and rain. I sought to avoid all those things, from her experience, so I checked it out mid-afternoon.

It's about 20 minutes by bus from the city (which I'm supposed to pay for, but haven't figured out the ticketing system. Not knowing how the ticket system works has saved me quite a bit of money), and another kilometre's walk through a beautiful pedestrian avenue of old mossy trees and vineyards. The building is a former villa, very big indeed, with coloums, balconies, a garden and a reception area lined with architectural murals. As I arrived someone was practicing on a saxophone upstairs. Great initial atmosphere.

However, when I returned later that evening I saw it for what it really was. A destination for Italian and Spanish high school groups to run riot without their teachers, and make a hell of a noise in all the communal areas. These areas are very big and clinical, so there were no quiet areas to update my diary. No internet either, but at least the bathroms are well able to cope with the crowds. It's not a bad place, but it's too big to be social, and the annoying school groups really don't make it any easier to find other backpackers. I'm booked for three more nights as it is so cheap.

Anyhow - I'm off to get my museum tickets booked for the next couple of days. I explored much of the city centre last night, as well as the San Marco museum. The queues in this city are phenomenal - tourist crowds equal to the density seen at the Vatican and the Athenian Acropolis, but not even moving!!!

Maybe off to Siena tommorrow, as many of the museums will be closed.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Italy - Anna and Sam in Rome

Dedicated to Anna

I have just said arrividerche to Anna as she left for the airport on the green train.

And now I am suddenly feeling more lonely than I have ever felt on the Grand Tour.

The last few days exploring Rome with her have been great. We walked well over 20km every day, getting through every corner of the city centre, all the main shopping streets, restaurant areas, most of the major sites and heaps of gorgeous churches. Rome is the kind of place where aimless wandering is usually rewarding (except, perhaps, in Travestere!). It would have been a very different experience without Anna - staying in dorms, exchanging familiar faces every day, probably more pub crawls and bedbugs. This time, I suddenly had a familiar face around for almost the entire time - a first for a couple of months now. She's extroverted, remembers old mutual friends from our schooldays in Jerusalem seven years ago, and almost exactly as I remembered her still.

We saw the Colosseum, the Palatine Hill, the Vatican museums and held an audience with the Pope. (He looks friendlier in person than you might expect, but I did not get to ask him about the dwarf nuns. Or if he's really a Catholic.) We viewed the Sistine chapel, ate god knows how much gelati, went to good restaurants each night, and found a Cutesy Store. This was undeniably the highlight of Anna's trip - it was a shop of hand-made wooden toys, clocks, and old-fashioned paraphenalia of all sorts. She also collected a few handbags amongst all our shopping. We discovered that coffee in Rome is actually hard to find, but we checked out several places. And all kinds of pizzas and pastas. Heaps of photos were taken, and the tourist map I was given on my first day is so well-worn it can be folded like a rubix cube.

Now I have many things to do - diary updates, postcards to send, hostels to book. The Grand Tour continues from here with another day or two in Rome, dorming it up again, then off to Florence. Seeing Anna again was a highlight, and I'm sure we'll meet again one day.

Maybe in another seven years.

Italy - Freestyle Hostel, Rome

Dedicated to Sarah and Hayley

BROOKE AND JULES FROM NAPLES - DON'T GO TO THIS HOSTEL!!! And you both owe me beer in Melbourne some time. Write to me!

The Freestyle Hostel, the place I stayed at the night before seeing Anna, was the single greatest cesspit of the Grand Tour. It was a dungeon with spraypainted murals and needles in the street outside. No signage either. The kitchen was a modified corridor, the dorms had bedbugs (though I was very fortunately spared the extensive attacks suffered by some blokes from the other dorm). The bathroom was one tiny mouldy cubicle shared with up to thirty people, and no exhaust fan. The free internet didn,t consistently work, and the included breakfast and dinner was very basic. But hey, it was cheap.

On the positive note, the best thing about this place was undeniably the company. The staff were friendly (but inexperienced - the Norwegian bloke only started that morning and arrived in Rome two days earlier. He did have a great ambition to ride back to Norway on a Vespa!). Meeting two girls from Kansas (Sarah and Hayley) was great. We stayed up for what became a four-hour conversation about everything from food, working dreams, experiences working for mental health rehabilitation, travel, all kinds of stuff.

That,s ll I needed to say here - hope you see this in time Brooke and Jules!

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Italy - Rome

Just a quick post to say I'm here and all's well.

Rome looks like it'll be interesting, but I've only been up to boring admin stuff this afternoon. Most of the day was spent on the train here and some final exploration of Naples, so I'll spare you the details.

I've checked out both sides of the Stazione Termini (Central Station) in the city centre. The "dodgy" side is truly seedy. The "good" side is a suburb of mansion-like multiple-star hotels with appealing Italian architecture. I'm staying in the cramped but friendly Freestyle Hostel tonight. It's decorated with spraypainted murals, and quite definately in the "dodgy" side. Tomorrow I'll be meeting my friend Anna, who is coming down from Helsinki for the week, and subsequently we'll be staying in a much nicer place in the "good" side. The Hotel Gabriella.

Anyway, got to get back to boring stuff. I'm sure the next post will be more interesting!

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Italy - Vesuvian Ruins and Naples

Dedicated to Jaume, the intrepid and well-organised Catalonian

Just after that last blog post, almost everyone in the hostel gathered together around the hastily-cleared reception desk and partook in an excellent pumpkin pasta provided by our host, Giovanni. Red wine was spontaneously generated and a great time was had by all - for free!

Yesterday was spent, as planned, exploring the archaeological sites buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD. I woke Jaume, the Catalonian traveller I met the previous night, and we eventually caught the right train to all the major sites. He also treated me to my first italian coffee - a cappucino in a plastic cup from the train station. It was actually much better than the Australian equivalent!

We first explored Herculaneum (love being an Austrian...). This was a village encased in a mud flow, leaving it much better preserved than the city of Pompeii, which was buried under ash and pumice. Wonderful reconstructed gardens, in-situ mosaics and small frescos. The streets felt like any modern city - just in ruins devoid of rubble, without advertising. The weather throughout the day was ideal for open-air site exploration, cloudy but never actually raining.

Pompeii was next - good lord it's vast! I think we took around four or five hours in there, constantly walking. The layout of the city is very easy to navigate, and the audioguides were helpful. (Mine was in English, Jaume got a Spanish one) By the time we got to Oplontis he was addicted and had to use my camera case, which produced suprisingly useful information! The colour scheme is grey (roads), terracotta (bricks) and pale grey (sky and mortar). Broad avenues, mansions, towers, temples, theatres and a gladiatorial ampitheare covered in lawn... wonderful stuff for the imagination. It was the first site I,ve seen were the crowds of tourists actually generated the atmosphere of an ancient city (Ephesus was not sufficiently excavated to have the same effect). We shared fruit and a sandwich in the theatres, watching tour guides perform in a few languages, and got briefly lost in a forbidden zone trying to find the Brothel Number 39. It turned out to be closed for conservation.

With an hour to go before sunset, we just managed to squeeze in a trip to Oplontis. Thanks for the recommendation Penny! Amazing floor-to-ceiling frescos and preserved palatial architecture. Oplontis was a recently discovered single-structure ruin, consisting of a mansion and a bathhouse. A high school project exhibition was opening simultaneously in the west wing. A strange object in the centre of a courtyard was dubbed the decapitation room, and if in doubt, everything was connected to the cistern or the limb storage areas.

That night, Jaume, John (of Raki Night in Istanbul fame), Vanessa (Aus), Emma and Lucy went to Guido Sorbillo,s for several of the best pizzas of our lives. Outstanding! I ordered one with four cheeses, others had things I can,t remember but the selection was exquisite.

Today was marginally less energetic. I explored the city of Naples, starting with the National Archaeological Museum. I was accompanied by Brooke, Jules and Simone (Aussie girls) from the hostel for this part. Unfortunately, a lot of the collections were closed, but we still had a great time with the Vesuvian mosiacs (Pompeii and others, some exceptionally fine), the Egyptian collection (with some very creepy mummified feet displayed like an upside-down flower vase), and best of all, The Secret Room.

That's really what it was called. It was portrayed as an intriguing history of museography, which it was, but for most visitors I'm sure it was a room full of dicks and erotic antiquities. Broken bits from statues snapped by souvenir-hunters (because they're fragile, portable and easily reached on the colossal ones), brothel menu murals, totemic talismans, priapic pagan pedestals, togas with erections and all kinds of ordinary looking artifacts with some smutty details. As well as a few fakes collected over time by accident. It was a seriously interesting little collection, and the history of it was well described. We had to book our visit in advance due to its popularity!

Later, I checked out many churches (mostly closed and locked - strange how mosques are almost never closed to the public, but 80% of the churches I've visited have been!), and the shopping streets of Naples. Plenty of strange junk shops, gelati places (oh my god it's great stuff...) and people selling complex navity scenes, or materials to make your own. Also got a great look at the sumptuous Royal Palace (very like Dolmabahce, but more tasteful), the New Castle (strangely laid out but some interesting medieval artworks), and the largely empty Egg Castle. It did have a great sunset out over fishing boats though.

Now, I am off to grab more pizza for dinner, and round up some people to join me. Rome tomorrow - Ciao!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Italy - Bari, arrival in Naples

Dedicated to my superb hosts in Naples, Giovanni (the hostel owner) and Giorgio (the concierge) (CONCIERGE!!!)

After 46 hours of travel, I have finally made it to my real destination in Italy - Napoli.

It has not been entirely boring, as I constantly have something that needs to be done (learning Italian, when in doubt). But I am very pleased to have located a bed I know I shall be in for the next three nights.

Italy greeted me with a superb sunrise - I haven't seen many of those on the GT! - and I greeted it with vague paranoia and a dozen pleasantries. Bari, the port town, and Naples are said to be two of the most dangerous cities for tourists, due to moped-bandits and pickpockets. I haven,t actually bought out my camera yet, due to concerns for it,s safety, but I'll pull it out tomorrow.

Bari was a lot like Antakya in Turkey. It was a fairly uninteresting place ideally suited to finding one,s feet in a new country. I caught a bus, wandered streets to a known destination, booked tickets to Naples, bought new jeans (farewell my beloved white pants, but thou hast been stained by the cursed leaking pen, and thou art consigned to the back of my pack until I needth a rag...), and visited a supermarket. All very day-to-day stuff, but in a new language and culture, it,s a series of little triumphs!

My first Italian food was a doughnut. It was covered in sugar, and chewy, and had a hint of rosewater. It was one of the best doughnuts I have ever eaten. The apple that followed it was exceptionally crisp and juicy. I bought some packet chocolate biscuits for the bus, and imagine my rapture as each one was a dark and flavoursome as my favourite dessert, chocolate fudge pudding. Italians do food seriously well!

Now, I am in my hostel in Naples, with a lively bunch of mostly Aussie (Melb) backpackers. Thereàs also a Catalonian guy, two French girls, an American, two Israelis and a Dutch bloke. The owner is cooking us a pumpkin pasta as it is too heavily raining outside to pop down the street to the best pizzaria in Napoli (the pizza and calzone were invented here, and the margharita is said to be manna from heaven).

It was very hard to find this place. My first choice recommended it to me by phone, and I called for directions upon arrival in Naples. I got lost twice, and eventiually found it hidden down an interestign alley of frame-makers. It has no sign outside - I asked if it was for building heritage reasons. They told me it's actually becuase with an active mafia situation, you don't want to advertise small businesses of this sort too heavily! Lovely spot though, with great security.

Tomorrow - either a daytrip through Herculaneum and Pompeii, or a day exploring the city if it is raining. Great cathedrals, castle and archaeological museum here, helped by the local excavations around Vesuvius. (The storm clouds over it on my arrival were spectacular)

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Greece - Naxos and Patra

Dedicated to the ice-cream guy

I've spent the last full day exploring the capital town of the island of Naxos. It was beautiful, especially the old city. Literally thousands of photogenic alleys and doors, etc, despite the overcast skies. Great sunset through the sole remaining structure of the Temple of Apollo, a massive arched doorway standing on a tiny isthmus near the harbour. Superb icecreams too - a pitch dark bitter chocolate and bailey's one night, and a cointreau with caramel chocolate the next. Huge serves from a guy who wasn't fussy about getting exact change! Also loved the collection of Cycladic figures in their small museum, said to be one of the best in Greece (therefore the world).

I also caught a live performance by two Russian musicians - a pianist and violinist - in the Venetian Museum. This was a house museum of an aristocratic family within the old city walls, but getting back to the harbour in time to catch the ferry was an exciting run. I negotiated the labyrinthine streets after dark using a system of landmarks - left at the stunning old door, right at the stunning old door, down the stairs beneath the interesting old window...

But the last 15 or so hours have been spent travelling on ferries and buses. I am now on the other side of Greece, in Patras, awaiting my next ferry to Italy (the city of Bari). Six hours to kill, and a minor emergency to deal with.

Next post (probably) from Italy! Bring on the fifth language barrier!

Monday, October 17, 2005

Greece - Exploring Santorini

Dedicated to Paul, a Seattle-based geologist who has been popping in and out of my travels for the last few days.

Santorini has been extremely picturesque. (As my wordsmith grandfather pronouces it, picture-skew). Cats, although generally reknowned for their ability to pose, are truly supermodels here. Most views seem fit for postcards, given the right light. Indeed, they probably have been printed at some point in the last forty years. It may just be the most well-documented place on earth.

Tourism is such a big industry that there is a town, Ia (or Oia), whose survival is pinned on it's majestic sunsets. I hiked around 20km along the northern half of the island (up from Fira in the centre) to check it out. The sunset was gorgeous (an intense stratified red sphere against a purple sea and almost no clouds), but the walk itself was the real highlight. I walked along ghettoes of completely empty 5 and 6 star hotels, with superb flowing architecture, vineyards of coiled grape vines laid upon the ground, and many stunning stark white and blue churches. An impossibly well-placed and affectionate white cat provided company for a portion of the trek.
The windy winding pathway of red, black and white pumice pebbles took me up along the summit of two mountains, and right around the edge of the grand Caldera (volcanic lagoon). Outstanding views throughout!

But my time in Santorini has come to an end. I am now in Naxos, the largest of the Cycladic islands. It seems too big for a single day, so I shall confine my meanderings to the main town area tomorrow. Plus, I have a shopping idea...

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Greece - Santorini

Dedicated to the ancient Therans

I'm writing from an internet cafe playing "Mandy" in all it's kitsch magnitude, at high volume.

But on a positive note, I'm on the Greek island of Santorini. This place is spectacular - white buildings lined with blue doors and window frames are the norm. Expensive hotels and restaurants cling to the sides of steep cliffs that descend straight into the sea on one side, and slowly glide into beaches on the other. It's very touristy, but hey, that's all that's keeping this place alive. Every single one of the Greek islands we cruised past this morning was rocky and barren, just like Easter island. Presumably for all the same reasons!

(Hey DJ - now the cafe's playing the theme song to the Eleventh Kingdom!)

The whole island is shaped like the crescent and star of Islam. This is because it was once a volcano, which blew apart (like Krakatoa) when ancient people were actually living here. After watching a quietly gorgeous sunset, I stepped into an understated but impressive museum exhibiting the frescoes uncovered from local excavations. These are 3500 years old, and the ones on display were reproductions of those too fragile to actually show. Beautiful figures and patterns, simple line drawings yet highly animated, and sumptuous colours. These Bronze Age "Therans" are thought by some to be the same group that started the myths of Atlantis, due to the volcanic eruption.

It is the off season and I was able to negotiate a good room with private facilities for 15 Euro. However, it turned out to be about 3km from the town of Fira (the capital). It's not an especially picturesque walk either, but hey, I'm only there for one night. Tomorrow I'm planning to o/n in Ia, the smaller town on the far north tip, reknowned for outstanding sunsets and interesting alleyways.

Maybe a self-guided moped is in order for the day...

Friday, October 14, 2005

Greece - Museums in Athens

Today has been spent exploring two of the major museums here in Athens.

The National Archaeological Museum is seriously world-class. Astounding collections of Grecian antiquities, generally well laid out and well-staffed. I was particularly taken by the Cycladic exhibitions (figurines with clear white faces like a Brancusi sculpture, and elegant ceramic vessels), the Khouros collections, and Geometric Period vases.

Exploring it took around 5 hours, so I had much less time to take in the Benaki Museum. This was once a private collection, now turned over into a semi-private museum. It's housed in a former mansion on the embassy street, and loaded with exquisitie (and sometimes tacky but bejewelled) objects and artworks from across Greece's classical and more recent history. Both sites were free (love being an Austrian! That card has saved me a day's budget in just three days so far...)

I also located the only copy of Lonely Planet's current guide to Italy this morning, so I'm feeling well-organised. The internet cafe I'm writing from is at the top of an eight-storey building without an elevator, but the desk I'm at has a stunning view out over to the Acropolis.

Last night was fun - spent it out around central Athens with dorm mates Carl (NZ), Craig (Wales), Chantelle and Pru (Aussies). We checked out the monuments illuminated, local ouzo and cheap beers, and posed ridiculously for Tourist Photo Moments.

Tomorrow is going to be spent on the boat to Santorini. This'll give me seven hours to read about Italy, admire passing islands, and generally bum around. Love it!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Greece - Archaeology beyond Athens

Dedicated to Adam and the anonymous scholars on the bus

Today, rather than being shipped out to the Islands, I took a bus to a few ancient Greek/Roman archaeologically significant sites. It was a small group (only 7, three did not speak much English), with a small and box-shaped guide who always had something to say. Sometimes this meant she had several lines of thought running simultaneously, in spoken parantheses, and did not stop for air for up to an hour at a time. Her speech was occaisionally so convoluted that it became surreal - like watching a Chinese-language B-grade movie dubbed into English!

(I recall, as I wrote snippets of it down, "Because, you see, they say that it is that losing life is like a bus..." This was during a discussion on King Agamemnon, the Byzantines, Abraham and the Old Testament, local flora, and her mother's pork sausages!)

Despite her idyosyncracies, the sites were good. We drove past the Olympic (2004) region before passing over the sudden and dramatic drop of the Corinthian Canal. From there, a real highlight for me, was exploring (at a furious pace) the site of Mycenae. This was a city-civilisation in the time of the Minoans (of Crete), many centuries before the ancient Greeks, let alone the Romans. These were amongst the first people in Europe to build monumental tomb architecture. The major tomb on this site (the Tomb of King Agamemnon) was something I first encountered in my first Art History lecture in the ANU. The acoustics in the tomb were wonderful - loooong echos from the slightest sound, so a footstep on soft dust became an extended crunching noise. As always, the views from the acropolis were gorgeous, although it has not been reconstructed to the extent of Delphi or many other sites I've seen lately.

The next notable site was Nafplion, where we spent ten minutes geting a few photos from the jetty. It was once a Greek capital, but the only items of interest we saw were a massive fortifcation (a huge wall wrapped like an obese python around three-quarters of a mountain top, looping in seven smaller fortresses), the turquoise seawater, and a fantastic castle built edge-to-edge on a flat island maybe 200m out from shore. My notes say these were Palamidi Castle (the mountaintop) and Fortress Bourtzi (the island) - check them out through the links!

Adam, a Canadian uni student travelling before he finishes his degree, and I decided that one day we would buy Fortress Bourtzi. Being billionaires, we would fix them up, install a trebuchet (or several), trampolines, a flying fox down from the Palamidi and jet packs to get up there. Oh yeah, that would be so cool!

Dashing off after that, we checked out the excellent theatre of Epidaurus, which is said to have the best sound quality of the anicent theatres of Europe. Although our guide didn't appreciate our doing it, most of us sneaked off to explore the site museum and the associated ruins of the Askelpion. Like the one in Bergama, this was a hospital site, but very differently laid out. It was much larger and with more scaffolding in place, although the structures were in less pristine condition.

The bus trip back to Athens was loaded with discussion of Orthodoxy, Byzantine history and theology, Iconostasis and good authors on these topics. It was like a Uni tutorial! Great fun.

I'm planning to have a cheap day tomorrow, taking on the major museums of Athens. The next day I'll be off to the Cycladic islands, as I have booked ferries to and from Santorini (the island with the blue and white churches that appear on all the postcard stands here) and Naxos, which I know nothing about. Then off to Italy!

PS - Last night I was invited into a Champagne scam! I knew what it was from the outset of course, so don't worry (to those of you that do...). A friendly grandfatherly publican invited me to his coffeeshop, unambiguously named Pub Love, which was warm and dark with three goregous women sitting around looking lonely. I told him I didn't drink and was not interested, but asked him how much the drinks were regardless (why not? I knew I wasn't going in). He honestly (I think) told me that my soft drinks would be 5 Euro, and those for the girls were 20 Euro (32 Australian!). A dorm mate later that night told me his brother in Bucharest was almost stung with a US$1000 bill in a similar setup, but luckily he was playing pool with the bartender who warned him not to drink there.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Greece - Athens (1)

Dedicated to Sarjan

Actually, Sarjan has nothing to with with Athens. He is a young cowherd in Edirne (like a shepherd but with less sheep and more cows). I should have dedicated one of the Edirne posts to him, but I've decided not to retroedit those from weeks ago. I met him outside one of the most spectacular mosque complexes, the Sultan Bayezid Mosque, set in white stone against the Tunca river. It was very like the Taj Mahal. Apparently this was once a medical centre for mental illnesses, centuries ago under the Ottomans. Distinctively, they used music therapy for their patients, a practise which Turkey claims to have invented.

But back on topic - Sarjan and I had one of those no-shared language conversations. Mosques were pointed at and exclaimed to be superb (Enfes!), he would disagree and say "If you think that one is superb, wait until you check out that one", with an eloquent finger gesture and the same word. Similar process for his cows. I recall him beaming with pride as he confidently asked me "Where! Are! You! From!" and "What! Is! Your! Name!". He deserves a post, as he was barefoot, probably rarely saw tourists, and wore very worn-out clothes. I suspect he will never otherwise have a reason to appear on this vast ocean of information that is the Internet, and he may never even approach a keyboard. So Sarjan, this one's for you.

Athens has proven to be a vast, generally clean and energetic city. It is the most European city I think I have seen since leaving London as a small boy. People dress like something out of a David Jones commercial, there are motorbikes and fashionable cafes everywhere, and people seem to live the lives that are promoted in glossy magazines. The city, when seen from the Acropolis, is a complex texture of white apartments and black windows.

I took a walking tour this morning. Just four of us (two Canadian girls, myself and the guide Eduardo) wandering the old city, with Ed explaining Greek mythology, current society, some architectural history and lots of the wars-dates-names history that cities this old accumulate like barnacles on an ocean liner. We saw many things, which I will not list here for fear of sounding like a tour agency flyer, but suffice to say I feel a more complete person for experiencing them all.

That sounds pretentious but I mean it. Walking through the Parthenon and surrounding temples, watching the scaffolding bend under the weight of reconstruction marble blocks, and smoothly sliding between hordes of amazed tourists was something I've wanted to do for a very long time. Likewise, by seeing the site of the Temple of Zeus, I have notched another surviving Ancient Wonder to my belt. And who wouldn't feel enlightened watching tall Greek men with heritage uniforms and pompoms on their boots strut about like a Monty Python skit?

My student card paid for itself twice today, making up for all my time carrying it in Turkey. It lists my university as "Aust Nat Uni", so when they ask where I'm studying, it's Austria. That means I get EU passes (which are FREE, better than $8-10 Australian for students and $20ish for non-students!) for each site. Wunderbar!

Tomorrow - perhaps a three-island cruise. Who knows?

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Greece - Delphi and others

Dedicated to Katya and her well-travelled mates

I just lost my original post, due to weird issues with saving functions on the website. Here goes round two!

Today has really been a travelling day. I found myself in Lamia last night, which really has nothing going for it as a location. I know this because I spent an extra four hours there due to language difficulties with an amiable but unhelpful elderly Greek lady who sold the bus tickets. On the plus side, I did locate a good basic hotel with some local help (more on the quality of that in Greece later), which had a charming balcony the same size as the room. They even sent up takeaway tortellini to my room, so I could continue watching English-language movies, for no extra cost!

The highlight was reaching Delphi. The drive was spectacular, taking me through steep mountains with clouds streaming between their summits, and tiny red-tiled white villages surrounded by olive orchards a slightly more silver-grey shade of green than the encompassing wilderness. The visit to the museum and archaeological site was rushed, as I needed to catch the last bus to Athens three hours later, but I saw all I wanted.

The museum was ridiculously full of tour groups, mostly (when I was there) loud highschool boys who clearly weren't interested in the exhibitions. Yet it actually flowed quite smoothly once I entered - the designers clearly had the flushing of large groups in mind from the outset. During the gaps between groups the spaces were conspicuously large, well-lit and easy to navigate. It was possible to take most of my photos without including people's heads - quite a feat if you saw how packed it was! I loved the staturary and photographs of the items being excavated during the 1920s, surrounded lovingly by French archaeologists posing like Japanese tourists.

In the ruins, I actually had a lot of them to myself in the final half hour. I used this time to sit back and take in the extraordinary view out over the sheer valley, across the Temple of Apollo, from high above the ancient theatre. The Apollonian temple was where the Oracle of Delphi was based, although only the foundations and a few recontructed columns remain. It is nonetheless stunning, especially with that view, and the huge cliffs towering above the other side of the old city. I found an abandoned guidebook there, in my bag now, which reproduced the last known utterance from the Oracle after the Romans converted to Christianity and left the complex to rot and be looted. (I will reproduce it here when I have time to do some long-overdue retroeditting of posts.) It seemed such a sad, and apt, thing to have said when gazing out over the skeletal remains of a glorious city that once powered massive world-conquering empires.

Now I am in Athens, comfortably set up in a friendly youth hostel (with dodgy internet!). I shall explore the city on foot and make my plans for the next few days tomorrow. Local Greek concepts of directions are lousy - they love to help but get things so wrong. I ended up spending three hours on buses to the airport and back to the centre following advice from a charming but decidedly unhelpful African Athenian!

More tomorrow.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Greece - Meteora

Dedicated, with aplomb, to Grant and Louise's new baby boy! Congratulations guys!

Such wonderful news deserves a properly written blog post, but sadly I am very pressed for time. This is because my bus to Lamia leaves very soon and I spent far too long distracted by the photos and recent updates on Mum's Cairo blog.

Still - I spent today exploring the incredulously positioned monasteries of Meteora. These are seriously world heritage sites, set upon the very tops of narrow but sheer rocks that rise like the Cappadoican towers high into the mountains. The landscapes are like Chinese silk paintings, with lush green forests laden with mossy rocks, magnificent gnarled trees and birdsong. Walking along the roads, dodging massive tour buses, I ate wild blackberries and took far more photos than the bus tourists were able to.

I also sneaked non-flash photos of a number of church interiors, including gorgeous motifs on illuminated manuscripts, under the not-so-watchful eye of an Orthodox monk.

You must do a google image search and check the place out - they are amazing.

Must dash, off to Delphi via an overnight stop in Lamia.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Greece - Thessaloniki (2)

Dedicated to Nothing In Particular

Today has been dedicated to dull administrative stuff, the necessities of travel rather than the exotica I really set out to do. Subsequently I won't attempt to summarise most of it here.

On the more interesting front, I explored the city extensively. Many intriguing Byzantine Churches were discovered to be locked for private functions, and the museums were very flashy and new but almost empty of visitors. This wasn't a bad thing, technically, but it felt like I was in a huge house alone, with staff staring at me like they had nothing better to do. Excellent collections focussing on Byzantine everyday life, and a mind-blowing exhibition of Macedonian Gold from local tombs.

It has been particularly interesting to observe the changes in museological attitudes to the Ottomans, coming out of (victorious) Turkey now to the (conquered) Greek perspectives. Small but pertinent selections of words and emphasis are most telling.

Walking along the Agean's edge at sunset was superb, lined with lots of near-identical tub-thumping Euro Cafes pulsating with shiny-haired young people. Greeks love to show off, it seems, and they do with the same way here as they do in Australia. With a serious subwoofas bro. Yeah mate, fully sick mate.

Off to Meteroa tomorrow, or as far as I can get at least. It is likely to be another dull travel day, but hopefully the views will improve as the area gets mountainous.

Greece - Thessaloniki

Dedicated to the Only Internet Cafe I have seen after three hours of walking...

Which pleasantly enough is playing good music!

My God the bus trip out to Greece from Istanbul was boring. 14 hours and interminable waits at border crossings, and no-one who spoke English on the bus. The dry wheat biscuits they provided only transcended boredom. They were so bereft of interest that the void in itself became fixating. It was almost Zen.

I found a basic budget hotel fairly close to the bus station shortly after midnight. It was the Rex. Next door was the Vergina. In between was a strip club, across the street was an adult shop, and the only person on the street was a homeless man with bare feet and a huge gold-foil wrapped cross hanging from his neck. It was an atmospheric location.

By morning Thessaloniki really livened up. Although all the signs are in Greek, most people speak some English at least. Locals even asked me for directions, which my 5-year old map fortunately provided. It's a refreshingly clean city, with fresh air that smells like bakeries and souvlaki spices. There are lots of fashionable shops and well-dressed young people, Byzantine red brick ruins, open plazas and traffic that stops regularly for pedestrians.

I'm now going to find a post office to send all my Turkish acquisitions to Cairo. I've been carrying them around all morning in a crumbling plastic bag, and will be happy to send them off. Next stop then, the museum, the youth hostel (for tonight) and a travel agent to find out how to get to Meteora.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Turkey - Edırne and My Last Nıght ın Istanbul

Happy Ramazan (Ramadan) Everyone!

Just fıve mınutes to wrıte thıs, so Ii,ll expand ıt later. Thıs ıs the prelımınary versıon!

Wonderful mornıng explorıng four stunnıng mosques ın the ancıent Ottoman capıtal of Edırne. Got pıctures and wıll post lınks to ımages. Sublıme mornıng lıght and ınterestıng two-storey wooden houses cattered through the old cıty.

Due to dısappoıntıng lack of an overnıght bus from Edırne to Greece I had to backtrack to Istanbul for one nıght. Sorted out my tıcket to go tomorrow to Thessalonıkı, but I,m back ın Sultanahmet and my old hostel. Grotty experıences of travellıng but SUCH A PERFECT NIGHT!!!

It,s Ramazan and I,ve been at the street stalls and blowıng my last Turkısh lıra. So much great food - huge gold tubs of Salep, all kınds of kebaps, sweet sugary soft toffees ın dıfferent colours wrapped by exquıstely nımble fıngers around stıcks, turkısh donut equıvalents, and Boza, a custard-lıke goop that tastes of apples and beer. There are huge crowds, lıve musıc, and the atmosphere ıs brıllıant. I,m havıng so much fun!

Must go, I,ll wrıte agaın from Greece!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Turkey - Leavıng Istanbul, arrıvıng ın Edırne

Dedıcated to whoever,s readıng thıs to procrastınate...
Just a quıck one to brıng my news to the mınute...

I had a fınal breakfast wıth Emmanuelle, packed my bags, paıd my debts, and walked her to the Basılıca Cısterns where we saıd goodbye.

It was a great stay at the Istanbul Hostel. I am sorry to see so many new frıends leave, but that,s travel for you. There are always goıng to be ınterestıng people around the corner.

I dashed about the Grand Bazaar and a few other places I had spıed durıng the week to gather a few gıfts for specıal people. They shall be lugged about ın my backpack for the next couple of months, so no-one should get theır hopes up!

Once done, I caught a few wrong trams to the Otogar, guıded as always by helpful Turks. The Istanbul Otogar ıs serıously lıke an ınternatıonal aırport, just wıth masses of parkıng space for buses rather than runways. Fındıng a bus to Edırne was ımpressıvely quıck. I was on my way ın a few mınutes.

Now I,m ın Edırne, at a surprısıngly cheap and pleasant ınternet cafe overlookıng the quıet streets. Ramazan ıs on now, so people had Iftar (ate dınner at restaurants or wıth theır famılıes) just after sunset. Thıs has left the streets to the local cats and late-nıght wanderers. (The fırıng of cannons at the declaratıon of ıftar sent mıllıons of starlıngs ınto alarmed flıght over the cıty, lıke a psychopomp agaınst the orange sky).

Tomorrow I plan to vısıt to spectacular mosques of Edırne before catchıng overnıght transport to Greece. Hopefully I wıll arrıve ın Thessalonıkı the next mornıng.

Greece wıll be a challenge, perhaps more so than Turkey. I am delıberately travellıng wıthout a guıdebook, just to see what happens when I do. I am only there for a week, maybe ten days. I plan to focus upon seeıng Thessalonıkı, a couple of nıghts somewhere ın the mıddle, and then spend most of my tıme ın Athens. There wıll be at least one daytrıp to the Islands.

I don,t know a sıngle word of Greek, but that should be OK, as I only knew three Turkısh words when I arrıved here.

Any recommendatıons guys?

Turkey - Istanbul - Dolmabahçe Palace, Mevlevi, and French Night

Dedıcated to the Emmanuelle, Helen, and Aıda.

The next mornıng was decıdedly seedy. No surprıse there I guess. LP reckons Trıple Soup ıs a hangover cure, but ıt really dıdn,t feel that bad.

Sarah and I got out of bed (dıfferent ones) and had an early breakfast outsıde by the street. Everyone else gradually emerged and we saıd our goodbyes (except you Sam!) and headed off ın dıfferent dırectıons.

Most of my day was spent gettıng the wrong ferrıes to the Dolmabahçce Palace. On the Asıan sıde of Istanbul I met Mustapha, a busıness-suıted, well-educated Turkısh gentleman wıth a whıte moustache and a background ın Alabama. He helped me fınd the rıght ferry, and ınvıted me to the art gallery he was openıng that evenıng. It mıght have been very ınterestıng, but I had already made plans wıth Emmanuelle that mornıng to see the Mevlanı (Whırlıng Dervıshes) perform that nıght. I was serıously lookıng forward to the perfomance too, so that ruled out hıs ınvıtatıon.

D. Palace was very lıke what I expect Versaılle to be lıke, but transplanted to Ottoman-era Turkey. It was so baroque ıt was embarrassıng. It had bear skın rugs wıth heads, massıve gold mırror frames, ostentatıous dısplays of wealth on every surface, a ten-tonne chandlıer, and French desıgn ınfluences totally engulfıng anythıng but the humblest ıntrusıon of pale Turkısh carpets. The Grand Hall was truly Grand, but everythıng else was so lavısh ıt blurred the boundary between Wow and Camp. The tour (needed to control vısıtor numbers) was hurrıed and largely unıntellıgıble, wıth far too many people per guıde. Asıde from all that, I,m pleased to have fınally seen ıt, and I took heaps of photos.

I just managed to catch a bus back to Emmanuelle ın tıme for our rendezvous. We spent the hours before the performance shoppıng and wanderıng around behınd the Spıce Market, checkıng out Ottoman tombs and local ınteractıon. We came across the confectıonery busıness whıch ınvented lokum (Turkısh Delıght), and the shop whıch has been operatıng sınce 1777. An auspıcıous year! Exquısıte marzipan ın all kınds of varıetıes were consumed throughout the evenıng as we walked the streets of Istanbul.

The Sufı concert ın the traın statıon was mesmerısıng. I really enjoyed theır waftıng musıc, and the vocal components ın partıcular. The Dervıshes were hypnotıc, and I found myself losıng track of tıme as we watched them swırl. It was clearly not a ``real`` event, as there was no Master present ın the performance ıtself. There were fewer Semazens (Dervıshes) than usual, and less musıcıans. Women wore coloured dresses, and I,m not sure about the authentıcıty of that aspect. But I really dıdn,t mınd - ıt was great to see and a real hıghlıght of thıs journey through Turkey. I took a couple of vıdeo clıps as well as several photos.

Afterwards, Emmanuelle and I were prıvıleged to meet the Istanbul Mevlevı master. He was a charısmatıc gentleman, very grandfatherly. Through a translator he ınvıted us to a ``serıous`` Sufı event ın several days` tıme. Thıs was a great gıft, but I decıded later to not stay ın Istanbul specıfıcally for ıt. I have to see Greece, and my vague ıtınerary ıs not quıte that flexıble. Emmanuelle was very excıted though, as thıs was her major reason for comıng to Turkey, and she has rearranged her trıp to be ın Istanbul ın tıme for theır second rıtual event later thıs month. We spent some tıme dıscussıng Rumı, Mevlana, and general spırıtualıty wıth the Mevlevı and each other afterwards.

Amazıngly, as we searched for dınner (and I was dıscussıng LSC%PH wıth Emmanuelle), the French gırls I met on the ferry yesterday popped up behınd us (Helen and Aida). Thıs was ıncredıble consıderıng thıs ıs a cıty of roughly 20 mıllıon people! Turned out that the three gırls were avıd French speakers. We joıned forces for dınner at a small kebap place, speakıng ın French throughout (except me, who relıed on theır tone of voıce and body language to work out what was beıng saıd). It was a great nıght, even wıthout Rakı. We walked through the park between the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofıa late that evenıng to get back to the hostel. These superb buıldıngs were illumınated for Ramazan, whıch began today (the day after French Nıght). It was a beautıful tıme, and I never want to forget ıt.

Turkey - Istanbul - Raki Nıght

Dedıcated, obvıously!, to Sam, Sarah, Emmanuelle and John, wherever you all are now.

I,m ın Edırne now, a cıty on the very edge of the Turkey-Greece-Bulgarıa border. There,s quıte a lot of stuff to update from my last 48 hours ın Istanbul, so there,ll be a couple of posts tonıght.

The dınner wıth the ``breakfast mob`` was brıllıant. Myself, Sarah (Aussıe, Melb, also travellıng untıl Feb), Sam (Aussıe, also on her long trıp, recently workıng ın Hostel ın Scotland), Emmanuelle (Canadıan young woman wıth a background ın Tunısıa and the Ivory Coast) and John (Aussıe bloke wıth ınterest ın Buddhısm and great sense of humour) bussed up to Taksım to check out the cosmopolıtan eatıng areas by the Passage of Flowers.

The nıght was excellent - from stumblıng across roads ın the process of beıng cobblestoned, to floutıng touts, frsh fısh and lıve musıc ın the restaurant, the most anımated dıscussıon of books I,ve had so far ın Turkey, and the drawıng up of Must-Read lısts for each other. There was plenty of Rakı ın the restaurant and ın a street-edge bar later on, plus some huge beers. Rakı ıs lıke the Greek spırıt Ouzo - clear untıl you add water, then ıt becomes mılky. It tastes sweet and slıghtly of anıseed, delıcıous!

Durıng our search for Kahramanmaraş`s chewy ıcecream, John found a few lıve musıc venues. We spent most of our tıme ın a hıdden-upstaırs place wıth what was descrıbed as ``the Turkısh equıvalent of the Spazzıes``. They played mostly Western songs, ıncludıng two Brıtney Spears pıeces, Roxanne, Seven Natıon Army and several others I,d heard orıgınally on TrıpleJ. They were great, dıd requests, and there was much dancıng wıth the Turks.

We all stumbled back to the hostel godknowswhen ın an overloaded taxı. It was just the way to spend an evenıng ın Istanbul - wıth three gorgeous and ınterestıng women, a fun bloke, and lots of Turkısh culture. And raki. Thanks guys!


PS - If you,re readıng thıs Sam - sorry I mıssed out on sayıng goodbye to you! I couldn,t fınd you that mornıng ın the dorm. Hope you made ıt OK to your next destınatıon!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Turkey - Istanbul (5)

Dedıcated to Strıkıng Up Conversatıons wıth Strangers

Today was another wet day, more grey and drızzıly than truly pourıng. The early mornıng`s brıllıant sunshıne was just plaın deceıtful.

After breakfast wıth two new dorm mates, gırls from Australıa and Canada, we set out ın dıfferent dırectıons to conquer Istanbul. Agaın. My path took me to the Beyazıt Mosque, Istanbul Unıversıty, and the Suleyıman Mosque vıa the Spıce Bazaar (aka the Egyptıan Bazaar). The Suleyıman Mosque ıs actually larger stıll than the Blue mosque, although I was more taken by the humongous `elephant feet` pıllars and elaborate tılıng on the ınterıor of the Blue than the Suleyıman. The Suleyıman,s whıte marble courtyard and vast ınterıor were superb, as were the nearby mausoleums for Suleyıman the Magnıfıcent (just how many places has he been burıed anyway?) and Roxanne, one of the most ınfluentıal women ın the Ottoman Empıre.

The Spıce Bazaar ıs much more lıvely and random than the toursıty Grand Bazaar. It sells all the household stuff a major cıty needs, and ıs laıd out more lıke Damascus,s souqs, wıth tıny alleyways and even smaller stalls, all crammed wıth local shoppers. A very ımpressıve, colourful, noısy, good-smellıng commercıal labyrınth.

Thıs path eventually took me to the Bosphorous Ferry I had planned my day around. Thıs ıs the thırd boat I,ve set foot ın so far on the GT - after the Swan Rıver and the ferry to Istanbul from Yalova. It,s a long, broad body of water loaded wıth ındustrıal shıppıng, smaller ferrıes, and lıned rıght to the edges wıth attractıve old tımber houses. There are also areas of newer apartments, ınvarıably wealthy resıdentıal suburbs, and a few patches of forest or herıtage-lısted gardens. There are a handful of palaces and mosques too, and a couple of waterfront unıversıtıes. It,s a very scenıc rıde up to the Black Sea, where we stopped at a tıny fıshıng vıllage ostensıbly to eat at the fısh restaurants desıgned for tourısts.

Instead, I wandered around for all of fıve mınutes before realısıng the ferry wasn,t due to leave for two hours. I walked along a road whıch I thought led to a Crusader-era castle on top of the hıll, and found myself on the road goıng through a mılıtary restrıcted zone. I asked the soldıer ıf thıs road led to the castle (Kale? and poınt), to whıch he nodded and smıled. Half an hour further on I could see the castle well behınd the vıllage, ın the opposıte dırectıon. Passıng the soldıer agaın, the same statement receıved exactly the same reply. I thınk he had no clue of what I prevıously saıd.

The vıew from the cıtadel was fantastıc, but ıt took a run back to the ferry to meet ıt ın tıme. I dıd have suffıcıent tıme to grab a walnut and mulberry ıcecream on the way, whıch was excellent. Throughout the rıde I chatted to two beautıful young French women, and took plenty of photos of the gorgeous Bosphoros resıdences.

Not I,m off to the hostel agaın to catch up wıth the breakfast mates. We,re headıng up to the cosmopolıtan Taksım regıon for dınner. I,m tempted to try Kokoreç (however ıt,s spelt), because ıt,s the kınd of thıng I,d rather be eatıng ın company - and you can,t get ıt anywhere else but Turkey!

And two other comments - Thanks Onners for the comments, great to hear from you! I dıd actually check out the Basılıca Cısterns the other day, can,t thınk why I dıdn,t mentıon ıt here. They are fantastıc - a subterreanean cathedral, drıppıng wıth water, through whıch you walk through a darkened forest of nıne metre hıgh columns upon boardwalks. These overlook a creepy but clear pool, ın whıch pale grey carp languıdly glıde past, movıng ın and out of the pıtch-dark shadows. Two of the columns have massıve Medusa head,s carved ınto the base at strange angles, and no-one knows why they,re there...

And the new Lıra ıs now almost 1:1 wıth the Aussıe dollar. It,s cheaper lıvıng here than ıt would be ın Australıa, but not usually by much.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Turkey - Istanbul (4)

Dedicated to Mum - Happy Birthday!

It was another wet and grey day in Istanbul, with quick storms and erratic periods of abstinence.
One of those days were you can happily spend an extra hour in the dorm bed just because you can hear it raining outside, and think, "What's the point of getting up now? This is nice."

Once up, I made a special pilgrimage for Mum's birthday. She wanted images of "patterns", so although I've been gathering them constantly since the GT began, I saved my visit to the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts until today. It was an extraordinary place - so many huge antique carpets, hanging from walls the size of those in the NGA's lower galleries. Briliant ancient mosque doors, ornate metalwork, some tiles, and plenty of calligraphy and those long elegant scissors she really likes. And I took plenty of "patterns".

After that I leisurely strolled through thunderbursts, armed with my black umbrella, to the Little Aya Sofia. It was closed for renovations and looks like it has been for years. Still, I found a few more gorgeous mosques and made the most of those. This included a nice long chat with a Belgian-Russian young couple who didn't realise there was such a thing as mosque etiquette.

Eventually I crossed the Galata Bridge again, ostensibly to find the Dohmadahce' (totally mispelt) Palace. Turns out I needed a ferry to get there, so I'll put that excursion off until we get some better weather. In my attempt, I chanced upon the alley that led to the Istanbul Modern Art Gallery.

This was a very impressively scaled contemporary art gallery, just what you might expect for a city of 17 million. It looks like a Coles outside, with pink lines across the carpark, and a spacious, functional, excellently aligned white cube inside. Rhetorical and flourishing artspeak translated from the Turkish was suprisingly quaint, but it still sounded much like anything you might find in an Australian catalogue. It was a great exercise to explore the permanent exhibitions and assess which pieces (and artists) were regarded as holding the most significance within their collection.

Their temporary exhibition - Centre of Gravity - hosted a few familiar international names, such as Jeff Koons, Louise Bourgeois, and Anish Kapoor, amongst others. I contributed to an immersive viewer-participation installation consisting of colour photocopies volunteered by visitors. These could be of anything - their faces inside the machine, the content of their pockets, their hands, whatever. Mine was the back of my hand, Fatima pose, with the golden kangaroo pins scattered around, and my watch face visible. I took a photo of it on the mural wall with some of the others as a self-portrait.

Later, as the rain ended and the gallery kicked us out, I made my way steeply uphill to Istiklal Caddesi. From the garden of a sublimely positioned mosque I caught the most stunning sunset over the Bosphorous. I was able to witness the ships passing between Asia and Europe, the towers of the Topkapi Palace and five other mosques, the golden apartments strecthed out across one side of the strait, and the most bold rainbow I have seen in a long time. All with a bar of dark chocolate I picked up cheaply that morning.

I will have to tell Lonely Planet about that view.

The day wrapped up with a generous dinner in a busy restaurant, yet another Turkish menu but I was lucky this time. I also located a CD of the Turkish pop song that has been following me around the place.

Tomorrow - perhaps a ferry ride?

(Love you lots Mum, hope you had a great day!)

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Turkey - Istanbul (3)

Dedicated to Hedonism

Thıs afternoon has been full of novelty and decadence.

Sınce the last post, I have penetrated the full length of the crowds ın Istiklal Caddesi, whıch really looks lıke some of Canberra or Sydney´s pedestrian malls. But gettıng that many people ınto one spot would be ımpossıble wıth Canberra´s populatıon, and doıng ıt ın Sydney would requıre polıce co-ordınatıon! Teemıng and Swarmıng seem hardly fıt to descrıbe ıt.

I also watched locals gamblıng on a game of spot-the-pıpe-wıth-the-rattlıng-beans, whıch seemed to be movıng money from hand to hand at a very hıgh speed. I,m certaın it was rigged by the shuffler and his mates, but ıt was mesmerising to watch.

I managed to locate a place that thınks they can replace my ınternatıonal student card. It helped that I scanned a copy to my emaıl account before I left Australıa. Wıll fınd out by Monday, fıngers crossed. I have postponed the Whırlıng Dervısh concert untıl I have ıt back, as ıt ıs the fırst thıng ın Turkey I have encountered whıch offers a sıgnıfıcant tertıary dıscount.

I had been cravıng an ıcecream all afternoon, but had been puttıng ıt off untıl I achıeved a few more mınor tasks and vısıts. I,m very pleased I dıd, as I chanced upon a tıny puddıng bar (lıke a desserts cafe) only offıce-sızed, but sıx storıes hıgh. The mınıscule elevator took me to the rooftop terrace, overlookıng fıve mosques and the Bosphorous - ıncludıng a terrıfıc sunset vıew of the Blue Mosque, from just the rıght angle! I ordered a bıg almond-honey sundae and an iced mocha. I stıll don,t thınk I,ll need dınner.

The fınal decadence was my fırst experıence of a Turkısh Bath, or hamam. Thıs was hot and thumping and soapy and cold and not as confusıng as expected. I now feel very stretched out, clean, and smell dıstınctly of cloves and lemon cologne. I have not had so many buckets of varıous-temperature water dumped unceremonıously on me sınce Bıg Camp. I thınk I mıght do ıt agaın before I leave Turkey!

Fınally, for those of you who care, my sılk bag from Faısal ın Damascus fınally dıed. I had patched ıt myself from other scraps of fabrıc, sewn the seams back together, and gotten used to the massıve wounds gouged down from the strap, but ıt has now been replaced. The new one ıs a sturdy, masculıne, rug-lıke thıng ın shades of brown and whıte wıth a geometrıc pattern.

Who knows what I´ll be doıng tommorrow? I,ll let you know when I do.

PS: Great to talk to you today Tabbı!

Turkey - Istanbul (2)

Yesterday was brıllıant. It was spent explorıng the vast Topkapı Palace, the nearby Archaeologıcal, Ancıent Anatolıan and Turkısh Ceramıc Arts museums, and checkıng out an exceptıonal paır of contemporary photography exhıbıtıons. One of these was by Turkısh photographer who had recently travelled through Malı, and the other featured works by Steve McCurry, the Natıonal Geographıc photographer most well known for hıs ıconıc Afghan Gırl portraıt wıth the startled eyes.

The Palace was one of the most ornate and extravagant ımperıal resıdence ı have seen - and I am about to fınd another thıs afternoon! Heaps of open courtyards, great wall decoratıon of tıles and marqetry, wonderful treasures both made for the 36 Ottoman sultans and taken as vıctorıes from warfare. The Harem was rushed, due to the logıstıcs of theır tour lımıtatıons for that area, but I maxed out a second memory card. (All good now, nothıng mıssed and they,re all on CD).

That evenıng I managed to get quıte lost ın Istanbul,s dark and empty resıdentıal streets, havıng mıstaken the mınarets for the Suleyman Mosque for the Blue Mosque, and completely reversed all my compass poınts. Ended up gettıng ack to the hostel at the tıme I antıcıpated, and learnt a lot more about the street layout ın the process!

Today I explored the Aya Sofıa - mındblowıng sense of spacıousness, even wıth a garguatuan set of scaffolds ın the centre - and several remarable mosques. Notables ıncluded the Ruschıpasha camıı (I know that,s mısspelt but I,ll fıx ıt later), small but wıth more tıles per square ınch ın more varıetıes than any other ın Istanbul, allegedly, and the Yenı Camıı or New Mosque. I crossed the Galata Brıdge ınto Europe (where ı,m wrıtıng from now), and Iim tryıng to fınd the pedestrıan bustle of Istıklal Caddesı. A mate from the dorm reckoned there were over 600,000 people walkıng along that major mall area yesterday, and ı can,t waıt to fınd ıt!

Partly because my student card ıs mıssıng and I need to arrange a replacement, whıch they say they can do from an offıce on that street... Fıngers crossed!

Hope to check out the Whırlıng Dervıshes tonıght, as I mıssed out on them at the real Mevlana ın Konya.