Monday, August 25, 2008
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
The day before the annual AIDS Walk, Clarice and I volunteered with Hands On Bay Area to help spruce up a [tiny] part of the route that passed through the AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate National Park. I know it looks like I'm having a tough time planting this little sapling, but it had nothing on the blackberry shrubs I was digging up later. Check out the photos here, and be sure to look deep in the bushes. That's where I was battling it out with the blackberries... and I have the scars to prove it.
It was a cold July day in SF (that never gets old), but we were greeted with a nice breakfast before getting started, and a bit of lunch at the end. I wasn't expecting either, really, so that ended up being quite the treat. The work was really tough, but I was loving it. The significance of it didn't really sink in until the end when we all gathered in a circle around the memorial and stood silent for a moment, hands joined, while we remembered and acknowledged those we've known and lost to AIDS. Many of the volunteers there - some since the inception of the memorial - had lost many, many more loved ones than I have, but it was a very emotional experience for us all, driven home as we spoke the names of those we lost. There is nothing else quite like getting genuinely present to a moment and a feeling.
Honestly, I can sort of see why most people try to avoid being present with their emotions at certain, intense moments. As incredible as the experience can be, it is almost too much to take on a regular basis. That may sound cold, and perhaps it is, but then I've always been on the bleeding edge of being overwhelmed by my emotions. But I also know that it's important to put emotions aside when it involves helping others, and often times helping others helps manage emotions. So I'm definitely signing on for more volunteer work with Hands On Bay Area, and elsewhere.
If you get a chance, give some of your time to someone or something else that needs it (besides your self, your kids, or your pets). As Mahatma Ghandi said, "You must be the change you want to see in the world."
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Our kilim and carpet came in from Turkey early last week, and the boys didn't waste a moment getting familiar with them, especially the kilim, which they have mistaken for a wrestling matte.
I added photos to our shutterfly collection: jandcinturkey.shutterfly.com
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Check them out: http://jandcinturkey.shutterfly.com
Saturday, April 12, 2008
What we will miss about Turkey:
The people, their kindness, openness, and overall hospitality.
The food, especially the wonderfully delicious, garden-fresh produce, and yummy yogurt!
The rich culture and history.
Cappadocia, Esbelli Evi, the caves, etc.
Tea, Turkish and apple, and Turkish coffee.
The flora and the fauna.
The ruins, especially Hieropolis.
What we will not miss about Turkey:
Bacon, or at least the lack of bacon, and other pork products.
Smoking, by everyone, everywhere.
The dogs. Most Turks - as I am sure of most Muslims - do not treat dogs very well at all. Heartbreaking.
The pollution - the smog in the air and the trash on the ground (which is really no worse than in America).
The good far outweighs the bad! Turkey is a beautiful country. We can't wait to go back!
We arrived at İbrahim Paşa (pasha), our hotel in the Sultanahmet district in Istanbul only to find that they screwed up our reservation by a day. Lucky us they had a double room open up, because the only other room was a bit small. In a hotel of small rooms, that saying something. But it's a really neat hotel, antique and modern at once, and it has a great rooftop terrace with a spectacular view of the Blue Mosque, and the Sea of Marmara. While nearly every place we've stayed had a very nice breakfast, the service at Ibrahim Pasa was one of the best, but their presentation was certainly tops!
We spent our last day in Istanbul shopping, or pretending to. Neither of us are very good at - nor interested in - haggling, so no doubt that we overpaid for the few things we did end up buying. But rewinding back to Selçuk, we did purchase a Kilim and a beautiful Turkish runner woven in the Aegean region. While we had no intention of buying any carpets at all, we got a real good feeling from the folks in Selçuk, and we spent quite a bit of time negotiating and feel we got a great deal. We also know that they have a terrific reputation, and we are very happy with this purchase.
In our last hours wandering Sultanahmet, the last person we ran into was the first carpet seller we met on our first day in Turkey . He remembered us clearly and invited us to lunch with him. We had already eaten, but we did try some of his food that he offered (damn, was it good!), and we chatted a bit before excusing ourselves. We didn't talk at all about carpets, only about our travels throughout Turkey. We left feeling very good about this guy. No doubt there are plenty of ways to easily get ripped off with buying carpets, but there are also plenty of sellers that can be trusted. If you find yourself in Istanbul wanting to buy a carpet, head over to Bazaar 55 Rug Shop in Sultanahmet just past the Arasta Bazaar. On that same note, avoid at all costs Er-Han, the first shop between the Blue Mosque and Arasta Bazaar! They will rip you off!
Our last dinner in Turkey was at a posh place named Cezayir (Jez-ah-yeer) across the Bosphorous in the Beyoğlu (Bay-oh-loo) district. It was a very interesting blend of very modern and very old interior decor, and the food was excellent. Although, I must admit, in many instances it was hard to completely enjoy our dining experiences because nearly every person in every restaurant chain smoked. There are so many things I will miss about Turkey, but one thing I certainly will not miss is the smoking in restaurants, and everywhere for that matter.
Turkey is a beautiful country with a very rich culture, and the people are hands down the nicest and most hospitable we have ever encountered. We saw quite a lot on our brief visit, but we know we barely scratched the surface on all there is to see. We look forward to going back someday, hopefully soon.
We approached a toll plaza, and did our best to ask the toll taker where the airport was, but he answered our same question differently each time we asked. We figured out the reason for the different responses, but only after each subsequent misstep on our part. He was trying to tell us that the airport was behind us (remember that first sign?) but that we could take the next exit and backtrack. We did neither. Instead, we kept going straight until we realized that there was no way a major airport would be anywhere inside of a big city like Izmir. After turning around and taking that first (backtrack) exit, we started seeing airport signs again. Unfortunately, this backtrack route took us right through big city morning rush hour traffic. But I'm not talking freeway traffic, this was city street traffic. Busy, Turkish city, bumper-to-bumper, rush hour traffic. As hectic and crazy as it was though, I'd take driving in Turkey over driving in the U.S. ANY DAY! While on the one hand it seems frenetic and crazy, the Turks all seem very situationally aware of everything around them. Rules be damned, there were no signs of angry drivers, or fender benders, or anything of the like. That said, I'm sure my hair got a little whiter that morning, if for no other reason than feeling anxious about possibly missing our flight.
We eventually found the airport, but then faced another ordeal trying to find the rental car return lot. Suffice it to say, it was as difficult to find as was the airport, for all the same reasons. Once we finally made it into the terminal, right about boarding time, we found out our flight was delayed forty minutes, or an hour if you're on Turkish time. Minus 1 point for Turkish Air.
The brief flight to Istanbul was good though, and we were even served a meal (very tasty!) on a flight so short that American flights wouldn't have bothered with beverage service. Score 2 points for Turkish Air.
The best part is that our bags were the first on the belt! Score 3 points for Turkish Air.
Thursday, April 10, 2008
The next morning we explored the famous white terraces surrounded by a gorgeous garden, then strolled through the archeology museum on the site. From there we explored the ruins of the ancient city of Hieropolis, and recreated in our minds what it must be like to have lived in such an amazing place. On the way out we passed by the pool of ruins. It was an amazing thing; a man-made pool fed by a natural warm water mineral spring flowing over remnants and broken columns from the former city. I wish we had our swimsuits.
From there, we drove to our next stop in Selçuk, the site of ancient Ephesus. The place we wanted to stay was full, but the owner helped us find a place for one night and booked a room for us the following night. Our first room at a pension down the street was a half step up from a hostel. We had a tiny room with a rough bed and no heat on a cold night. The blankets were nothing to speak of, but our hosts were very friendly and helpful. The owner of the other hotel was super helpful and was very accommodating, even going so far as to chauffeur us around to some sites. This place is called Hotel Bella and it's one of the best in the guidebooks for a reason. It is very quaint, and the on-site restaurant serves some amazing food.
Ephesus was spectacular as you could imagine, especially the recently excavated residences, but Hieropolis still shines as pride of place as far as ruins go. We broke down and hired a guide, and while it was quite expensive even for Turkey, it was well worth it. We got lucky in that our tour guide was a former history professor and was a fountain of information.
Later in the day we went to see the nomads, and I must mention the incredibly delicious pancakes - or crepes - the gypsy women make. I can't describe how good they are. Bananas and honey. Mmmmm.
Our last night in Selçuk was mellow, spent watching the storks build the pole-top nest from the rooftop terrace of Hotel Bella, enjoying a very nice bottle of Turkish wine, compliments of our hosts for having bought a carpet and a kilin from them (their other business). I also tried rakı (rah-kuh). Our waiter Savaş - the Turkish Robert Deniro - says rakı is for men, Ouzo (Greek version) is for women. I say that rakı with water in it - the Turkish way - is for little girls. Oh yeah, Chelsea kicked your butts, too, so here's your towel to cry on! (inside joke).
We left for Istanbul this morning on a flight from Izmir, but not before a crazy adventure trying to find the airport, and the place to return the car. That story to follow. But for now I am going to focus on our last few hours in this great country.
Tuesday, April 8, 2008
Behind this is the ancient ruined city of Hieropolis, which is simply incredible to behold. More on that later.
Monday, April 7, 2008
Other thoughts on driving through Turkey:
The geography and geology changed drastically over every hill or around every turn.
There were occasional areas that were hard to distinguish from the San Joaquin valley at times.
Driving a car in Turkey is easier than riding a scooter in Bangkok.
Gas is expensive - though still cheaper than SF, and Turkey could well benefit from smog controls (and a strong recycling program).
More to come.
This morning started out even more cold and rainy, which was worrisome since we had decided to drive to our next destination. Hmm... Driving in the rain in Turkey. There are many things I would much rather do for sure. But we did luck out, and the weather cleared. Again.
So indeed, we did rent a car to drive across Turkey. Hat tip to our hosts at Esbelli Evi for pointing us to economyrentalcars.com.tr! As a gold member of Hertz, I was able to secure a deal for a car for a mere 800 Euro. But through economy cars in Turkey, we were able to score a brand new car for a whopping 72 Euro. Note to travelers, avoid the big car chains when in Turkey.
So yeah, I drove across Turkey today and lived to tell about it. We are now in Pammukale at a decent little pension hotel called Venus that we wouldn't have known about were it not for the persistence of someone who really insisted we come check this place out. Good thing we did. The place recommended to us wasn't all that great, and we just finished a great dinner, chatted with some other travelers, and are now enjoying Turkish TV before crashing out.
Details on the drive to follow.
For me, the most impressive structures were the underground cities. It is really hard to describe just how fascinating and well thought out these things were. It seems there was not a detail overlooked. In all of these places, it didn't take much to imagine myself traveling back in time and seeing events unfold, from the mundane to the important. Being in touch with so much of human history was very humbling, and we barely scratched the surface of all there is to learn here.
It would be easy to spend an entire trip in Cappadocia, and it wouldn't be terrible if all that time were spent staying in Urgup at Esbelli Evi. Great hosts, great accomodations, great food, great everything.
One of the nice surprises of this trip is that the creator of the one and only Turkeytravelplanner.com - a former travel writer for Fodors and Lonely Planet - was staying at our hotel. Since we hadn't planned out the last part of our trip, we were able to go straight to the best resource available to help us figure out how to make the best use of our limited time.
Details on that to follow.
Sunday, April 6, 2008
Saturday, April 5, 2008
It is hard to say how much of this is Old World original and how much has been recently added, but the best way to describe it would be to say that it is like an ancient stone village with all the modern luxuries you could want, from built-in sound systems to wireless broadband internet.
Our hosts are amazing, very warm and friendly, and so very knowledgeable about this region. They are not without a sense of humor either, which we found out after their profuse apologies for only being able to provide us with a small room, when in fact they upgraded is to a massive "honeymoon" suiite that is larger than our apartment in the city. Even the bathroom here is as big as the last room we had in Istanbul.
After settling, we were directed to a cafe down the road, which I must say now - it is a definite must-see! The place is called Ziggy's, and the staff are just as warm and friendly as anyone we've met here, and the food they serve is outstanding!
It was late when we arrived, but they took us in. A guest sitting alone at the prime spot by the fireplace graciously offered his space to us. After we gorged ourselves on the feast we ordered (hey Chris, we had some awesome borega!), we got to know the staff and hear their stories (once again, French came in handy whenever there was a Turkish/English impasse). They were a lot of fun, and very generous. Along with sharing with us shots of some great melon liqueur, they sent us off with a nice gift in honor of our honeymoon. We weren't even working it. Our hotel hosts had put a word out, it seems.
It was a great first night, and our first day here will be loaded by a full slate of hiking and sightseeing, kindly organized by our hoteliers. Details on that to come soon.
Friday, April 4, 2008
Before heading to the airport, we wound down with some tasty street food enjoyed in the park (and were joined by a kitty of course).
Day 2 was quite an adventure. We started out at the Turkish-Islamic Arts museum, which was fascinating. Then we meandered to the Grand Bazaar. With over 4000 shops packed in a labyrintine maze, we were totally overwhelmed. It was made worse because we really weren't shopping for anything. But there were lots of people who were so the hawkers had plenty of people to bark at. On our way out of there we wound up in an alley that was right out of the markets in the Harry Potter movies. Very cool.
From there we walked across the Bosphorous and up to Galata Tower for a panoramic view of Istanbul, and the Bosphorous. It totally feels like a sister city to San Francisco.
We then set out to find a restaurant recommended to us by a Turkish woman we met on the flight over. The place was Galata Evi and it was an adventure finding it. We walked in circles, up and down hills, and back and forth through alleys with no luck. But we met many locals who were more than eager to help us out. One man even walked us many blocks up a hill to find it. Of course, when we did find it we realized we had already walked past it unnoticed. But once we were there, all our efforts paid off. Our hosts were very friendly and gregarious, and they served us some very delicious food and plenty of conversation about current affairs and Turkish archeological history. This was a fantastic recommendation!
We ended our adventure with a long meandering stroll through the residential area near our hotel. It was very illuminating and educational. It's always great to see how the locals live!
Later the first night we saw the Whirling Dirvishes, who were just amazing. Afterwards we had to dodge all the restaurant barkers while trying to find a place to eat without getting charged the special American prices. I have yet to figure out how to turn off that neon "sucker" sign that floats over my head. We scored when Clarice found a decent chap on the street to help us. He didn't speak English but we were able to communicate with a little French. He kindly walked us several blocks to a local dive off the tourist path where we had some local food and a very interesting wine from Cappadocia.
It was a great first day to be sure.
Thursday, April 3, 2008
Our hotel here in the Sultanahmet district is beautiful and close to everything. We saw a stunning performance by Whirling Dirvishes last night, toured the Haghia Sofia and the Blue Mosque yesterday, and were twice sucked in by very clever - and very nice - rug hawkers.
The food here is incredible, the people very warm and friendly, and we have lucked out with the weather.
Today we practice our haggling skills and the tour the other side of the bay.
More to come.