Saturday, August 16, 2008

JACOB! (Greece and Turkey)

I arrived early in Athens to meet Jacob. I had a long wait until Jacob arrived, so I decided to make the most of my day. I stored my bags at the airport lockup and headed out to the Acropolis.

One of the first things to strike me was how LITTLE CLOTHING some of the ladies had on in Greece. After thinking on it, I realized that after being in Egypt for 3 weeks (where women show NOTHING... Not ankles, not wrists, not hair. Only faces, and frequently not even that.) Had changed me in some way. To see a curve was shocking.

The ladies in Greece were wearing nothing unusual by Western standards. I can now see how being in such a conservative (okay, not "conservative"... "EXTREME") environment (even for a short time!) can impact how one sees things.

Athens has a beautiful climate that reminded me of the area around my grandmother´s old house in Southern Californialots of pine trees everywhere, slightly dry, and beautiful... When I got to the Acropolis, I got the distinct feeling that all those awe-inspiring photos I´d seen were the result of Photoshop. There were traintracks, outbuildings, scaffolding, and not-very-subtly-restored columns EVERYWHERE. It was difficult to get a grasp on how these buildings must have once looked. I would love to return here in 152 years when they´re finally done restoring the buildings and get rid of all the mess. (Acropolis, Athens, Greece)

The "Porch of the Maidens" on the Erechtheum (One of the many buildings of the Acropolis). Behind the grey plexiglass, there´s lots of what looks like... JUNK! It seems they are using this porch as a... PORCH! Shameful! Yes, that´s right, this UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE is also a warehouse of junk... Probably supplies they´re using in restoration. Or maybe someone who works there is just too cheap to pay for a storage unit. (Acropolis, Athens, Greece)

I got my first feeling of what the Acropolis must have been like by zooming in LIKE CRAZY on this far-off building. It´s not even listed on maps of the Acropolis, but IT LOOKS FANTASTIC!!!!! Hopefully it is what the Acropolis will eventually look like. This building is off to the NW of the site of the Acropolis, and I wish it was open to the public! (Acropolis, Athens, Greece)


Being away from the life I had in Phoenix has been tough. It was a life I built through 10 years of effort both deliberate and unintentional. All those daily activities that provided structure, stimulus, and helped “grow” my personality and my relationships are “paused”. Being away from “my former life” has taught me things... One of which is how
good that life really was. I have gained much from this experience—but though I feel part of me has grown, I also feel a part of me has been stunted.

So much happening in others´ lives at home I have missed out on... Moves and birthdays and new relationships, promotions and achievements and parties, moments of clarity and uncertainty, times to comfort and times to be comforted... And I have been g o n e. . . And life goes on... So much stimulus myself... Experiencing the anxiety of living with no job, no home, and no bed. Seeing so many places I´ve only dreamt of, living in a way I never have, developing new language skills, meeting SO MANY fascinating people... It has been absorbing, rewarding—absolutely fantastic—And yet I have been experiencing a profound longing.

Such is the nature of choices in life: gain one thing, lose another.

Aside from a few small artifacts of my former life—my watch, the shoes I bought before I left, a few mementos given to me by loved ones—every part of my typical day has been devoid of markers from those days that came before. So getting a call from a loved one, or an email, or a care package takes on so much more significance—since to revisit the familiarity is to revisit a relationship I fear has dimished in my steadit is to reconnect and once again feel the pull and push of a friendshipIt is to revisit a part of my life that I dearly miss. So, when Jacob told me that he wanted to join me, I was ELATED.

Jacob and I met in Junior-high school when we were both big nerds (some things never change!) nearly 22 years ago. We met up in Athens, then went counter-clockwise south to Kos (Greece), then to Bodrum (Turkey), then north to Istanbul, and finally West to Greece.

Being able to share this time with Jacob has certainly been one of the highlights of my trip.

Jacob and I ate our first meal together at a sidewalk restaurant immediately across the street from our hotel, where the proprietor had just finished screaming at an old man who neglected to pay his bill. The jury is still out on whether the old man thought "I look like a bumbling old man, and I´m going use it to get a free dinner", or more like, "I´m not hungry... But I don´t remember eating here... And why is this man yelling at me?". Dinner was followed by a small (complimentary) glass of ouzo. It was deliciousjust like wood alcohol, only rougher going down (Kos, Greece)

Night helped bring out Kos´s magic. This is a picture of one of the overgrown bouganvilla bushes (I definitely have a "thing" for these breathtaking bushes!!) strung with party lights over an uplit wall. I loves the theatrical lighting! (Kos, Greece)

From the island of Kos we took a somewhat exotic form of transportationa hydrofoil. The boat floated just like every other standard boat until we got out into the open water and then they opened up the throttle and we kept getting higher and higher in the water. But once you´re up, you can´t see over the side of the boat, so you can´t really see JUST HOW COOL you look (how sad!). One thing I DID notice was how small our wake was. The model of boat is called "Meteor" (Kos, Greece to Bodrum, Turkey)"

We landed in Turkey! Yay! On the walkway from the international ferry landing were these beautiful statues. So of course I had to grab my trusty Lonely Planet Turkey and join them (Bodrum, Turkey)

Leaving Bodrum in the rental car, we had to fill up the tank. It had 1/4 of a tank, so we only added 3/4 of a tank. And when you do the conversion, we added about 11 gallons, and the price was about $123.00. About $11.18/gallon. Yes, that´s right, ONE HUNDRED TWENTY THREE U S DOLLARS for THREE QUARTERS OF A TANK OF GAS. Turkey has the MOST EXPENSIVE FUEL PRICES IN THE WORLD (Leaving Bodrum, Turkey)

Purty! (Rose garden in Urla, Turkey)

While driving, before we saw any signs for it, was spied the ampitheater of Epheses. At the site, there are ruins all over the place. This particular vista reminded me a bit of images I´ve seen of Tuscany. I love the junipers! (Epheses, Turkey)

Majestic old roads with columns (Epheses, Turkey)

The Ephesus bone-yard. Such beautiful ornamentation! (Epheses, Turkey)

Warning: you might start breakdancing (Epheses, Turkey)

The restored Celsus Library at Epheses is an absolute jaw-dropper. Approaching it, it is difficult to make out what you´re looking at. But quickly after coming out from under the entry arch, you look up and here is this MAGNIFICENT old facade that is so delicately ornamented and HUGE. And something else remarkable is the sociological aspect of the library as well: These were a people that valued education. This is the view looking up through the ruins (Library at Epheses, Turkey)

During our time at Epheses, a documentary for the History Channel was being filmed. The gentleman on the right claims to have found a link between the library at Epheses and Judaism in the form of a rough-cut menorah. The lady in the near left is watching the video feed wirelessly broadcast in HD from the video camera, and is giving direction to the cameraman and to the interviewer (in black). After they were done filming, I asked the interviewee (in the blue polo) if there was any possibility of the menorah being a late addition to the steps to which he seemed incredulous, saying, "of course not". Maybe I´ve learned too much about hoaxes during my trip. I´ll call it a "scientific detachment" :) (On the steps of the Library of Celsus, Epheses, Turkey)

Beautiful (Entry to the Temple of Hadrian, Epheses, Turkey)

Where tourists go, so do the things tourists buy. ´Tacky´ knows no international boundaries! (Tourist kiosks, Epheses, Turkey)

In Istanbul, Jacob and I found a FABULOUS restaurant called... Umm... Really hard to say. I´m lacking some Turkish characters, but it´s something like "Meshut Kofteci battal usta". We were looking for dinner, wandering the neighborhood scouring menus and looking to see where the locals were eating. The Maitre´d told us his food was wonderful, took us over to a nearby serving table, and started popping morsels in our mouths. He was rightit was SO SO SO GOOD! We ate here every day thereafter! (Istanbul, Turkey)

Me being a dork on a street with the Hagia Sofia ("Hagia" is pronounced i-yah) in the background (Istanbul, Turkey)

The Hagia Sofia is absolutely, completely, totally, amazingly breathtaking. It is SO SO SO SO SO BEAUTIFUL! It is probably the most beautiful building I´ve been in on this trip. (Hagia Sofia, Istanbul, Turkey)

Pictures absolutely cannot convey the beauty or the grandeur of the space. It is a magnificent convergence of architectural perfection and man´s artistic possibility. This building sits majestically at the height of human inspiration. (Hagia Sofia, Istanbul, Turkey)

A view rarely seen: beside the main room of the Hagia Sofia are barrel ceilings with inlaid mosaic tile, these beautiful columns with beautifully done iron capitals, and very interesting lights atop pedestals. The Hagia Sofia is a masterpiece (Hagia Sofia, Istanbul, Turkey)

A monster stalks Jacob as he uses an ATM (Istanbul, Turkey)

We left Istanbul on the overnight train. It was crowded but not altogether unpleasant. During the night we were awoken first by the Turkish border officials, then later the Greek border officials... and finally we were in Thessaloniki! This is the view from the roof of our hotel, "El Greco", which is funny since "El Greco" means "Greek" in Spanish! Why they have a Spanish sign on a Greek hotel in Greece I haven´t figured out yet. But it was a nice place! :) (Thessaloniki, Greece)

Jacob and I took a trip (in another rental car) from Thessaloniki to Mt Olympus. It is easy to see why Greek mythology calls Mt Olympus Zeus´s home... It is nature on a huge scale. And it is SO beautiful! We forded a stream in the foothills and drank its water. (Foothills of Mt Olympus, Greece)

Nearby the stream, we saw a sign to a "holy cave", which sounded interesting enough to make the hike. When we got there, we saw this rather un-holy looking structure wedged into the cave entrance. BEHIND this building is a very dark space from which a spring (or partly underground stream) sprang from the back wall. Jacob got very excited when he noticed a "large crevice" in the back of the cave and had to be convinced not to start splunking into the depths of Mt Olympus. Wouldn´t want to upset Zeus! (Mt Olympus, Greece)

On the way back to Thessaloniki from Mt Olympus, we went for a long drive and got lost in some overgrown farmland. It was wonderful (From Mt Olympus to Thessaloniki, Greece)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Southern Egypt (Abu Simbel, Luxor, Valley of the Kings)

After Cairo, I headed far south to the city of Aswan on the train. Aswan is the closest city to Abu Simbel, the monument which was moved 200m to higher ground when the Aswan High Dam was built on the Nile.

The incredible frontal view of the front of the Abu Simbel monument. It was built by Pharoh Ramses II to honor himself and to intimidate Egypt´s southern neighbors. The statues wear the combined crown of southern and northern egypt, significant because the two were unified at this time. Behind the photographer, spreading out 180 degrees, are the waters of lake Nasser, created when the Aswan High Dam was filled. (Abu Simbel, Egypt)

Inside Abu Simbel... There is a cave that is accessible between the seated kings. This is Ramses II depicted as Osiris (Abu Simbel, Egypt)

To get to Abu Simbel from the city of Aswan, you must get up at 3:30am, so that you can join the caravan to go north to Abu Simbel. The Egyptian government does not permit unescorted cars to pass along the roads between Abu Simbel (far to the south, close to Sudan) and Aswan. After getting up so early, then waiting at the checkpoint for about 35 munites until around 4:45, we finally were underway. The government alleges that it is safer this way, but really, if you´re someone intent on doing harm: doesn´t it seem easier to shoot & hit someone in a convoy than it does independent cars along a road? Just one of many things I don´t understand in Egypt.

On the way back from Abu Simbel, there were a couple of trucks moving animals around. Here you can see camel heads sticking up, looking around curiously at the quickly changing desert scene before them. For some reason, I just really like the shape of their heads & necks. They look like such friendly animals (but they are NOT!) (Road from Abu Simbel, Egypt)

On the way back from Abu Simbel, we stopped at a small island in the Nile River named Philae, the site of the cult of Isis. We had to negociate like CRAZY to get a "normal price" for the boat ride to the island. First, they wanted to charge us quadruple the normal price one way. THEN they agreed to take us one way for DOUBLE the normal price. Finally, after the group of us banded together and told them we would NOT be gouged, we FINALLY got the CORRECT price for the round-trip voyage. In general, negociating for prices was the most difficult in Egypt compared to the rest of the places I´ve been. (Philae Island, Egypt)

The island of Philae is a breathtaking location... But the temple inside is not proportioned with the same sort of dimensions that make traditional Roman architecture so pleasing to the eye. However, inside the grounds there are these wonderful columns with ornamentation at the top that has been preserved over the years. In this picture one can see at least two different types of ornamentation on top of the columns: lotus and papyrus flowers (Philae Island, Egypt)

Heading north on the train from Aswan, I went to Luxor, a city surrounded by Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, Valley of the Workers, Luxor (the ruins itself), Karnak and probably some others. It may be the single greatest trove of ruins in Egypt.

There was nothing special about my room in Luxor, but the light hanging from the ceiling was REALLY COOL! (Luxor, Egypt)

Sunset over the Nile looking out over a dock (Luxor, Egypt)

you glad you´re not one of the construction workers in Egypt working on this scaffolding, held together by twine? (Luxor, Egypt)

I saw the temple of Luxor (actually in the CENTER of the city of Luxor--a 5 minute walk from my hostel) at night. (Luxor Temple, Egypt)

The next day I walked to the temple of Karnak, the site of generations of temple builders, each improving on, destroying, or ignoring their predecessor´s work. This is one of the canals which is connected via underground aqueducts to the Nile river. In the distance is the mountains of the Valley of the Kings (Karnak Temple, Egypt)

Although pictures are not permitted inside the tombs of the Valley of the Kings, this is a picture of the 3-D model of the valley. The wavy plastic is the surface of the mountains of the area, and the diagonal lines descending below it are the passageways into the tombs. It was amazing to see all the paintings inside the tombs. To get an idea of what they looked like, there are some pictures later from the Valley of the Workers. (Valley of the Kings, Egypt)

It had to be done: Walking like an Egyptian (Bangles interpretation) (Valley of the Kings, Egypt)

Temple of Hathshepsut. It is possible to take a 45-minute hike from the Valley of the Kings to the temple of Hathshepsut (I didn´t! It was 125 degrees!) (Luxor, Egypt)

After seeing the Valley of the Kings, I went to the Valley of the Workers (Deir-al Medina). These tombs are not so grandiose, not so special by reputation. But for that reason, these tombs were not raided over the course of centuries. Tomb raiders were interested in the booty of pharohs, not the remains of typical workers... And so what remains in the Valley of the Workers is some of the best preserved in all of Egypt.

Inside the tombs photography is permitted, but the guards ask you for money to allow you to take photos (no flash). The cash is a bribe, and here in Egypt, it greases the lower-level economy. There is a word for it: Baksheesh. You can get anything you want in Egypt for some baksheesh.

Although part of this wall has crumbled, what remains amazed me. What can plainly be seen here is a couple playing.... CHESS. (Valley of the Workers, Egypt)

The colors remaining in the Valley of the Workers are shockingly vivid. When I descended into the tomb, I just stood there staring for a full 5 minutes, mouth agape. In this photo there is some reflection from the protective plexiglas over the walls. This barrel-vault tomb was the best preserved. (Valley of the Workers, Egypt)

Friday, August 1, 2008

Mi vida en españa!

I made it to Madrid!

I found an apartment to share, and it feels SO GOOD to have a HOME again!!! Santiago (my roommate) cleared a shelf for me in the bathroom and--believe it or not--I cried a tear when I put my toiletries there. As goofy as that sounds, maybe it gives an idea about how I´ve been feeling lately about being homeless.

I have met a few times with different language exchange clubs (Intercambio de idiomas) and have learned that lots of people want to learn English. And they get mad if you DON´T correct them!

Something else "hit me" the other day about living in Spain... That I could actually get MARRIED here. It was a weird feeling to realize that. I am accustomed to living in a country that does not consider me an equal... That DICTATES I cannot have the same future as my contemporaries. A future of being married is a future that only exists for me in a foreign country... Not the country I love--the country I consider ´home´.

I started Spanish classes today. The professora speaks REALLY fast (actually, everyone here does--and they don´t enunciate much, EITHER... Grrrr!), and I only understand 20-30% of what she says. I will try out the lower-level class on Monday to see if it "feels" closer to my level.

Internet access is 1€ each hour (my blog postings take several hours each), so I have used my internet time sparingly. Santiago has put a computer online here at the flat, so I will be posting to the blog again soon. I know some have been very concerned about me--please know I am alive and well and enjoying the mundane--like cooking breakfast & coming home to the same bed every night... And always finding my toiletries on the same shelf where I left them.

More soon. Love to all!