July 31, 2007

Day 147 - Istanbul

Beloved Turkey, where have you been my whole life?

Okay, not quite, but that's how we felt upon arriving in İstanbul to a new world full of paved streets, clean air and modern structures. After five months in developing nations (and in light of our last post), you can imagıne our excitement. I think our second wind came precisely at the moment we entered our first public bathroom. It was void of flies, stocked with toilet paper, had a sink (with soap!) and the best part of all - the toilet was the kind that you can actually sit down on. I must have spent an hour in the there.

A few notes on Istanbul:

*We traveled through Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq to get to here. And by through I mean in reclining seats at 36,000 feet. And on the exit row I might add.

*We have walked seven miles a day over the past three days, which is around eighteen miles more than we walked in all of Indıa.

*Today we traveled by ferry across the Bosphorus Straight to visit the beautiful Princess Islands - the famous straight seperates Europe from Asıa. We were back in Europe by the evening.

*Istanbul is rather incredible. The Blue Mosque and Hagai Sofia were surprisingly more impressive than the Taj Mahal; the waterways, cobblestone streets and hills make Istanbul feel like a cross between Stockholm, San Francisco and Sydney. The people are absolutely wonderful - always helpful, kind and seemingly without alterior motives.

They say Turkey is the Gateway to the East, but for us it is a much welcomed Gateway to the West.
Day 151 - Selcuk, Ephesus

Our five days in Istanbul were incredible. We visited most of the sites, took a day trip out to the Princes Islands, drank wine with other travelers on our hostel's rooftop terrace and ate meat for the first time since Thailand (we went vegetarian in Nepal and India).

Beyoglu's Main Street

Blue Mosque

Fisherman on the Galata Bridge

Inside the Hagia Sofia

Our Hostel's Rooftop Terrace

A few more photo's of Istanbul, the Princes Islands and other sites can be seen here. Photo's of the Taj Mahal are here.

July 29, 2007

Day 153 - Selcuk, Ephesus

Usually when something bills itself as the "biggest" or "best" in the world (or in Florida or Europe, etc), there's a good chance it's going to be crap. Like pretty much anything you see advertised while road tripping across Interstate 80. Or the Yankees. It's not just a place's inflated view of itself that gets you in trouble, it's the expectations such advertising raises. Even a nice hotel can be disapointing when it was advertised as the world's finest.

So you can imagine our cynisism as we pulled into Atilla's Getaway, which hails itself as "one of the best hostels in Europe." Lying in Southwest Turkey, a few miles outside of Selcuk and just steps away from the ruins of Ephesus, Atilla's boasts a swimming pool, great food and a perfect place to meet other travelers. We coldly figured that it probably once was a great hostel, say in the Clinton Era, that the pool would be filthy and dinner's would be feel rather lonely. These are just the sort of problems we learned to expect from Asia or any place that hails itself as the best.

We couldn't have been more wrong.

This place actually is a desert oasis. The pool is a temperature perfect 75 degrees. The showers have hot water every hour of the day. The food is delicious. The staff constantly goes out of their way for guests. The rooms are tidy. And in the evening it's packed full of travelers. It just might be the best place we've stayed in over five months of traveling.

Swimming Pool

Fountain (our room in background)


Backpacker "Living Room"

If you're interested in our photos from Selcuk and Ephesus, a few more can be seen here.
Day 156 - Fethiye

It's an all out British invasion here in Fethiye. So much so that many restaurants and hotels state their prices in the English Pound. But there's a good reason why so many English and European's are flocking to Turkey - as far as ideal holidays go, Turkey is hard to beat. The weather is flawless and the scenery is breathtaking, but ıt's the endless opportunities for excursions that really sets this country apart.

In the morning we spend our time visiting B.C. dated ruins, architectual masterpieces or natural wonders. In the afternoon we do nothing but lay on a beach and swim in crystal clear water. It's almost perfect - if only we could afford to eat in the restaurants. Bloody English Pound.

Here's a sample from our last three days:

The Travertines were an amazing spot where water dissolves into a pure white calcium and has (over the last two millennia) formed cascades of white on a desert mountain:

We spent a day taking the 12-Island Cruise Around the Mediterranean:

The Karaköy Ghost Town was formely a home to thousands of Greeks until the town was completely vacated in 1924 in a people exchange between Greece and Turkey:

More photos can be seen here.

July 27, 2007

Day 160 - Antalya

[A few mostly dismissive notes: 1. Since our arrival in Turkey we have scarfed down 46 Döner Kebabs ($2.00 each), 25lbs of cherries (1lb = $1.25) and 30lbs of grapes (1lb = $1.00). 2. After 160 days of ear cleaning, I used my last Q-tip today. Which is only noteworthy because I must have packed 400. 3. For the first time on our trip, we have been asked for directions from locals. And as a pay back for all the wrong directions we got in India, I confidently point the locals in a random direction.]

July 26, 2007

Day 163 - Antalya

[Our camera broke. It could be three weeks before some wonderfully mediocre photos surface again.]

So we were talking about this website the other day. I was complaining to Kari about how I wished I had more hours to work on some post ideas that have been rattling through my brain. I explained that in Nepal and India I simply had more time to write and how, in Turkey, we were just way too busy for me to give the appropriate amount of time that each post deserves. And then I realized where we were and what I was doing at the moment this conversation took place.

We were sitting Indian style on a long pebbly beach with aqua Mediterranean water lapping up to our feet, and I was digging a hole to see how far down the pebbles went.

This realization and the laughter that ensued led to a further discussion about how when you're traveling, the term 'busy' takes on a whole new meaning. At home, being busy for us means a long day of work and a list of to-dos that runs into the double digits. But out here on the road, being busy might mean a special trip to the Post Office for stamps or a two-hour bus ride to another town. It's nearly impossible for the traveler to be busy. We don't have jobs and we live out of a backpack. The only purchases we need to make are for necessities like sunscreen and toothpaste. And the only to-do list we have require such little effort that it can usually be accomplished in under thirty minutes.

So I was digging a hole the other day and felt busy. I'll let you how it goes when we get back to Los Angeles.

July 25, 2007

Day 166 - Antalya

We're suckers for routine.

The need to be repeat customers. The need to have a normal day void of surprises. The need to not get lost. The need to stay put long enough to know where the best grapes can be purchased.

So when you find a place as untouristy and cozy as Antalya, you end up staying for a while. We rolled into town a week ago and every day have decided to "just stay one more day." Even more, we have held the same mundane schedule every single day at almost the same exact time every day. Which, in this case, includes the following:

9am - Eat Breakfast for free at our hotel.
10 - Spend exactly thirty minutes checking email and news.
11 - Hit the beach for three hours.
2pm - Lunch at Antiola's.
3 - Lay around in our (air conditioned!) room.
4 - Spend two hours on-line doing whatever we feel like.
6 - Walk around, buy grapes.
7 - Tavuk SiS for dinner.
8 - Walk around some more.
9 - A bottle of terrible wine and a game of Yatzee.

Sadly, our routine will soon go into hibernation as tomorrow we get on a bus and travel into the middle of Turkey. Unless, of course, we stay just one more day.

A few pre-broken camera shots from Antalya:

A few more here.

July 24, 2007

Day 169 - Göröme

There's a saying that I've been using with increasing frequency the more I see the world. Okay, it's not actually a real saying, as in, 'Your breath could kill a cow,' but I think it has some potential - at least in backpacking circles or maybe an AA style meeting for travelers who can't return to normal life.

Here it is: Everywhere I go, I'm reminded of somewhere else I've already been.

Obviously traveling doesn't start out this way. The first travels for anyone are fresh and unique, whether it be a family road trip as a kid, or the college students first romp around Europe. But sooner or later, maybe after twenty States or three continents, the landscape is bound to remind you of somewhere else. And while still holding a not-yet-experienced vibe, the new place loses it's spectactularly unique appeal as it blends together with something else you've seen. The ruins in Cambodia echo the tribal cities of Guatemala. The cliff road on Turkey's Western shore weaves a similar path to the Great Ocean Road in South Australia. Dodger Stadium in LA mirrors Shea Stadium in NYC. Ultimately, this is why the veteran traveler goes farther and deeper into the World, craving an ulimately new and unique experience in places like East Africa or Saudi Arabia. "Europe is boring," they say.

While we're not planning a trip to Somalia in the near future, the reality of the world blending together is becoming more apparant. And yet for the next week, my ridiculous saying has become wholly irrelevant.

We've arrived in Cappadocia.

Our overnight bus approached right on cue, as the sun was rising and dozens of hot-air balloons were all taking flight over Cappodicea's magical mushroom-like stones and colorful valleys full of vineyards and natural wonders. By day we hike and climb through volcanic rock that has been shaped over millenia by water and erosion. We peek in and out of ancient cave dwellings and explore 6,000 year-old underground cities that feature rooms carved eight levels deep into the earth. And at night, we retire to our hotel room, which is in a cave carved into the side of a mountain. Welcome to Never Never Land.

(All pictures borrowed, of course.)

July 23, 2007

Day 175 - Istanbul

Time Out Istanbul Magazine - June 2007 - Issue 6 - Page 18

The Cycles of Traveling:

a) Enchantment - the "WEEE, I'm traveling!!" stage.
b) Normalcy - the "Here I am, still traveling." stage.
c) Drudgery - the "Traveling, schmaveling," stage.
d) Annoyance - the "Why can't anyone do anything right!" stage.
e) Hope - the "I can always go home if I want to." stage.
f) Indifference - the "Screw it, I'm used to it, I may as well keep going." stage.
g) Rediscovery - the "It's not exotic anymore, but it's more interesting now in other ways, and besides, I can always go home." stage.

While we've skipped a few of these stages, we meet long-term travelers all the time who are working there way through them one by one. The funniest travelers to run into are those in stage d - and they're usually English.

July 22, 2007

Day 177 - Istanbul

The complete reading list for leg 2 of our trip (Nepal - India - Turkey). Leg one reading is here.

Into Thin Air - John Krakauer - 2 stars
Life of Pi - Yann Martel - 2 stars
Popcorn - Ben Elton - 2 stars
Freakonomics - Stephen Levy - 4 stars

Miss Wyoming - Douglas Coupland - 2 stars
The Lost Continent - Bill Bryson - 2 stars
Hey Nostradamus! - Douglas Coupland - 4 stars
...and every issue of Time and Newsweek for two months.

1968 - Mark Kurlanski - 2 stars
Made In America - Bill Bryson - 3 stars
Interpreter of Maladies - Jhumpa Lahiri - 3 stars
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius - Dave Eggars - 2 stars
Primary Colors - Anonymous - 4 stars
A Season on the Brink - John Feinstein - 3 stars
Day 179 - In Transit

[Just a quick word: The following post should not be read as THE final post for our entire trip - this is just the end of the asia leg. There is more still to come.]

What can I possibly say here that would do justice to the wonderfully epic ride that we've taken through Asia over the past six months?

Without a pre-conceived agenda, we have explored Asia from her Far Eastern coast clear across to the Bosphorus Straight where we tip-toed on the invisible line that divides Asia from Europe.

We floated on bamboo rafts through a hail storm in Northern Thailand. We hiked deep into the Himalayas to watch the sun rise over 27,000 feet peaks. We raced the sunset on motorbikes in Vietnam and slept in caves in Turkey. We sprained an ankle on the Great Wall of China and threw up at the Taj Mahal.

We've endured.

And while the Asia of our pre-trip imagination mostly existed behind ticket booths with admission fees, the real Asia left us with more than we could imagine. Over the past 179 days we spent 446 hours traveling through the guts of Asia, through her canals and dirt paths, on freeways and back roads, on trains through the country and in every other imaginable way to get from one place to another.

The bottom line is that we did it. We set out to drift, open to Asia's leading, and that is exactly what we did. And I'm proud of us.


Turkey Stats:

- 1,679 Total Miles
- 49 Hours on a Bus
- $62 a day (for both of us, every expense included)
- Days 144-180