Archive for the ‘Experiences’ category

Two Weeks in Turkey — Thoughts and Tips

December 1, 2008

blue mosque.jpeg
I actually got back from Turkey a month ago, but better late than never i guess.  It took me a while to get my pics up…more on that later… and then i got busy and started planning my next trip.  But below is a summary of the trips, highlighting the ups and down, my honest impressions, and traveling tips for those as absent minded as I tend to be while traveling…enjoy
 
My 2 week adventure in Turkey, as I expected and hoped, turned out great.  I was traveling with my best buddy Haricot, and after i picked her up from work so we could take public transit to the airport, the trip took a sudden and amazingly early downfall.  The cheap-ass luggage I bought already started fucking up on me.  I was walking down the street and suddenly realized that there is no way it should be this hard to wheel my bag along with me, as I did not pack that much stuff.  A quick glance around was all I needed to see the back wheels of my suitcase sticking out horizontally from the sides, nearly flattened and barely turning and I walked.  Amazing how just two days before when I bought this new luggage set I thought I had found the best deal ever (“Wow, a 10 piece set for $19.99, and it comes with a coupon for a 6 pc. Chicken Nuggets at MickeyD’s?? Sold!”).  I suddenly got dramatic and imagined myself carrying my suitcase on my back all around Istanbul…but Haricot assured me that she saw the wheel turning a bit and I’d be fine for the trip. Wheeling it everywhere for two weeks wasnt easy, but luckily it held up.  Lesson #1 — buy reliable luggage…the peace of mind is worth it alone.
 
Haricot was able to sleep the entire trip as I jealously stared and contemplated sticking things in her ears and nose to bother her and make her stay awake with me. We stopped first in Madrid, where we are held up for 5 hours after extensive delays.  We sneak our way to the front of the boisterous Spanish check in crowd, and land in Istanbul a  few hours later, at around midnight.  Lesson #2 — In airports, nice guys finish last.
 
We take a taxi to the house of our host, an American living in Istanbul whom i met online and was willing to let us sleep at her place for a few nights (every budget traveler should do this, great way to save).  She wasn’t there the first night tho; her brother, who recently moved in with her, was there to greet us.  Won’t get into the nitty-gritty details, but walking around that first night with him kind of made us consider sleeping on the street that night, or if it got too cold, whoring ourselves in return for a place to stay.  Luckily our host arrived the next morning, and she was a cool chick and helped make our stay in Istanbul a cozy one. 
 
The mosques were beautiful, though after a while you feel like youve seen them all.  Can go on and on about sites to see, but some of my best memories came just from walking around and soaking it all in.  Istiklal Caddesi is the Broadway of Istanbul, and the nightlife is PUMPIN.  It’s packed until pretty late Wednesday-Sunday, mostly with 20-somethings in small groups, looking for a place to eat, smoke shisha, and/or get wasted.  Plenty of options there for all three. I thought people there were pretty good looking, and while the females were varied, most the guys usually seemed to come from the same mold, at least with regard to style and fashion [see Turkey pics above].  This of course is when youre out on the night scene; take a walk through Kumkapi, Balat, Fener, and the rest of old Istanbul during the day and you’ll see the colorful clothing hanging from laundry lines tied across narrow cobblestone streets, boys playing soccer barefoot in alley ways and jumping out of windows of seemingly barren buildings, girls in colorful flower-laden dresses, whispering and laughing, women conversing from their respective stoops as they sew or shell nuts or trim vegetables, hear and smell the crackling of fresh fish on the giant street-side oil vats, and you certainly wont hear any English — not even the “Yes, please!” that is a constant in the touristy areas, where vendors try to convince tourists to visit their stalls.  But anywhere in Turkey, if you have a guide and have two functioning hands with which to gesture and point, youll be fine.   I learned about 10 words in Turkish: yes, no, bus station, train, and various types of food.  And I did just fine.
 
Cappadochia, the central region of the country, was an unforgettable place in large part because of the other-wordly landscape.  It is a land of compressed volcanic ash shaped into towers and pillars that fill the innumerable valleys cut into the a sprawling mountain range.  We rented motorcycles and biked from village to village, which was truly the best way to experience the region.  We sampled [devoured] all types of ethnic food the region had to offer, and fell in love with it…you didnt think fresh bread could taste that good, but it does there.  We saw traditional dances (in the few touristy places) and listened to old men making their instruments cry to the tune of Turkish folk songs.  We crawled through underground caves, explored tombs carved into mountains, hiked steep paths, picked and ate fresh wild produce along the way (including amazingly sweet tomatoes and cucumbers, disgusting apple-like things that tasted like cement powder, atrocious berries that made your mouth feel like it was being glued shut, and raw pistachios). Clean air, bright skies, quiet nights, friendly people, plenty of cheap hostels full of care-free young travelers to explore with.  Cappadochia is a must if you have the time.
 
Went to Ephesus also, near the Aegean coast and the most famous spot in Turkey to see the old Roman ruins.  The ruins are amazing but more sparse than I imagined.  Nice little side trip if you have the time.
 
Other random notes on Turkish-isms:
 
Random people will always ask you where your from if you speak another language.  If you’re from an Arabic country, they might not be so happy about it either (i gather this is because they want to distance themselves from the “arabic=religious extremist” stereotype as much as possible).  Avoid political conversations with people you don’t know!  Most Turks I spoke with had trouble acknowledging recent political history (see Greece; Armenia).
 
The food is pretty good but not spicy like I thought it would be…next time I go, Im bringing my own hotsauce.  The world-famous doner kebaps Turkey is famous for?  You can get much better ones from NYC street vendors.  Trust me.  Baked goods (anything bread-y) are great in Turkey.  Nevisade street + surrounding area in the Beyoglu section of Istanbul is restaurant/pub heaven.
 
Get an akbil pass (Turkish version of a metro card) for ultimate transport convenience on Istanbul’s extensive and really reliable transit system. Walking is great, but wear comfy shoes — hills galore.
Turkish delight (lokum) is….delightful.  Love the stuff.  If you go, bring me back some please…esp. the honey/pistachio ones (fistikli in Turkish).
 
Intercity travel — shop around the bus station and go to each office to find the best price for intercity travel. Be sure to get an official printed ticket and not some dude’s chicken scratch writing on a post-it note.  Make sure the name of your destination is printed on the ticket, and be sure to ask whether or not you have to change buses at any point — bus companies will go to great lengths to confuse and cheat weary travelers at intercity stops.
 
During long inter-city bus rides, the buses will stop at rest stops every few hours, cuz there are no bathrooms on board.  GO TO THE BATHROOM. Even if you dont think you have to.  Just do it.  And be sure to bring change, as every public bathroom charges a small fee (rarely more than a lira).  It helps to have a little pillow to sleep with on the sometimes cramped buses also… like one stolen from an airline perhaps…especially from Iberia Airlines if you want to pay them back for the 5 hour instruction-less delay they made you endure!  Just a hypothetical tho…
 
“Every price can be bargained down — except for movie tickets.”  A turklish saying, according to my Turkish homie.  Totally true from my experience.  Don’t be afraid to walk away — either youll get a cheaper price or youll find it for less somewhere else.
Pics soon!

Hope, personified

November 5, 2008

He won.

amazing. 

was at a friends place watching the television coverage until about 12:30am last night.  They had a bunch of people over.  Champagne bottles popped open, everyone screaming.  A few of them decided to head out into the city to take part in the street-side celebrations that were springing up everywhere.
I stayed home.

What’s wrong with you? they asked. Secret McCain fan?

They didnt get it.  They arent from the States, and for them, this was just a celebration. This was a lot more for me. I was just as happy as they were, maybe more so, but in a different way. It was pretty emotional for me… I just remembered watching the last two elections, and the disappointment I felt…and all the hard times we went through these last 8 years, with September 11th and the subsequent gloom and widespread anti-arab sentiment, and the wars that claimed the lives of friends or friends of friends, and the economic situation which caused many of my friends to lose their jobs and/or all their savings, and having to listen to the radio each morning to see if I still had a job that day…even if Obama hasn’t officially done anything as president yet, he’s already imbued me and countless others with a profound sense of hope that better times are ahead, and confidence in the belief that he has the wisdom, compassion, and courage to pursue ideals that appeal to the common man.  For this alone, I am grateful. His speech was inspirational…I couldnt control the shivers, and some point, the tears.

A new journey begins…where will it take us?  Where will we take ourselves?

I hope to have the courage to project this new-found sense of confidence and empowerment into something worthwhile in my life, and in the lives of others.

best,
Z

Election Day Jitters

November 4, 2008

I can’t believe today is the day! I recall the last two election days with horror, compounded by the morose, cold numbness one feels while watching the grim reality of their future materialize slowly in front of them, which is what I experienced watching the election results in real-time on TV in 2000 and 2004.  In 2004, I have to admit, I was deeply ashamed to be an American; I could not fathom reelecting GWB and the vote of confidence and approval his reelection signified…to be part of that conglomerate left me with a feeling of indignance that proved difficult to cleanse.

I won’t harp on the choices others have made in the past or will be making today.  I just hope that everyone who cares about the future of this nation and has the privilege of being a part of it gets off their ass, heads to the polls, and votes for the candidate they honestly believe will do America best.

Hoping to leave work a little early to avoid what I expect to be massive lines at my voting site.  In case it is packed, I have a magazine and an election-day playlist on my iPod to keep me going.  Tired as I am right now, nothing is gonna stop me from “Barack[ing] the Vote”, as the young kids are saying these days.

Good luck America!

Embellishment — Writing’s Favorite Condiment

August 18, 2008

I was reading an old post (actually the last one but I’m a lazy bastard and my last post was almost 2 weeks ago) about how I always break or damage or lose my phones, and I was listing some examples of how these things happened.  I mentioned that once my phone was run over by a truck.  I began to recall that episode in my head.  I remembered the truck being yellow, and fairly small. It had black dashes painted along the side and a lit sign on top with glowing numbers.  The driver looked like one of the bad guys in True Lies.

It was a taxi cab.  A small regular sized taxi cab.

Had I forgotten this minor detail? No and no.  No I did not forget, and no this detail is not minor.  But I didn’t lie on purpose, either.  I was just writing, lost in my own thoughts and madly orchestrating my fingers to weave a web of words on my keyboard, tangled or otherwise.  In my writing trance superfluous details such as facts are sometimes usually disregarded.  I’m actually surprised that I didn’t go for a little more.  If I could do it over, it would have read as follows:

So I was backwards-worming down the street and my brand new phone that I bought like 12 seconds ago slipped out of my pocket and onto the 10-lane highway.  Cars were blazing by for almost a full minute, but amazingly my phone remained unscathed.  When the light changed I forward-wormed back out onto the street to get it, but just then the train that runs above-ground in my neighborhood careened off the tracks and plummeted 50 feet right onto my motorola RAZR just as I was leaning in to scoop it up. I easily could have died and I would have (and according to many, should have) but fortunately (unfortunately according to those same aforementioned people who feel that I should have died) Arnold Schwarzenegger saw the train racing towards me through the air and charged and tackled me while yelling Get DoOoWn before his rabidly gutteral Austrian gargle was drowned out by the train exploding directly onto my cellphone.  Luckily no one was hurt.

  My version would be called “Little Falafel Boy”.

You see how I skillfully toe the line between reality and fantasy?  This is a master at work here, folks.  Here’s a tip for you newbie bloggers (upstart novelists, screenplay writers, journalists, court reporters, etcetera) — don’t over do it.  Por ejemplo, I could have said that when I went back out onto the street to get my phone, I backwards-wormed, just like I did before when I was crossing the street.  Yes, backwards-worming is more impressive.  But if I was backwards-worming when I was walking down the street then naturally I would have to do the opposite whilst backtracking.  Turning around just so that I could backwards-worm in the another direction would be just plain ridiculous.  Furthermore, backwards-worming twice in a row would be so shockingly impressive that it would detract from the excitement of the derailed train (for those of you who disagree, SCREW YOU because you have clearly never seen me backwards worm).  That’s why organized religion stinks — the scribes who wrote it just went way too far.

That’s just the name of the game folks.  The blogosphere gets boring when people only wanna pretend to know about politics or regurgitate whatever they read in the paper that day.  We gotta spice this shit up.  My blogging name is Zuér.  My real name is Leslie.  See that? Sex[iness] sells. That’s why I put this picture of myself on my about page — I look dead sexy there, and if I didn’t you wouldn’t be reading this right now.  FACT. You see how when you saw my picture you said to yourself, “god DA!mn this dude looks smokin hot”?  That’s exactly what I was going for.  And I got it.  Why?  Cuz I gives you what you want.

Here’s another fact — my blog audience has increased in size by 300% since I learned how to embellish (from 1 to 3 regulars).  It’s elementary.  Chapter 1 of How to be a Playa (which I also wrote). 

On a serious note, I’m always honest in my blog other than when I’m going for a laugh.  If you read this post and didn’t realize that it falls under this category, well, then, shame on me.

This was a delightfully painless Monday after a great weekend. Have a great week!

5 Effective and (mostly) Safe Ways to VENT

June 20, 2008

Here are my favorite ways to safely vent when something really pisses me off or when Im just having an all around shitty day:

1- Curse.  Thats the beauty of curses — they are words that have a strong meaning, but theyre still just words.  Observe: “Hey dude, FUCK YOU!”  See?  I expressed my rage, but I dont really wanna fuck the dude in question. And I put so much effort into the expressive FUCK YOU pose that I actually let off some steam there.  Just dont curse out someone bigger than you…then it would cease being safe.

2- WORK OUT.  When I started working for a big financial firm my brother advised me:  “When you get stressed out, dont start using heroine, like most of your coworkers.  Just go to the gym and take all the stress and channel it into your workout.”  Seriously, Ive reached new limits at the gym by going when Im really pissed, and Im on the road to dieselness as a result.  Thanks for making me work last Saturday, douche bag boss.  Im gonna turn that into washboard abs, get really sexy, and screw your wife.

 “Yea, I’m gonna need you to go ahead and work this weekend, mmkaay? That’d be greAaat.”  This dude will have you cleaning out your ab lines with a Q-tip in no time.

3- Call your best friend and ramble in a really loud voice about everything thats stressing you out.  A good best friend will let you do 95% of the talking, interjecting only occasionally to express understanding or empathetic rage (e.g. “What, she really did that?? Youre right, she is a fucking whore!”).  Keep going until youre exhausted and youll find yourself able to conclude the call by saying, yea this fuckin sucks but, whatever dude, I guess shit happens.  And isnt that the goal of venting?  I think it is.

4- WRITE.  I was gonna include this as a variation of #3 because writing can be a form of rambling, but writing is different in a way because it takes longer and, most importantly, it’s tangible.  You can see what youve written, read it over, and edit it.  Editing it is really important because it can be a slow process, and reviewing your rambled writing really forces you to think conscientiously about what youre feeling.  Taking care to memorialize your thoughts can be incredibly therapeutic.  The final draft often coincides with a feeling of closure, and you can move on after that.   Blogs are a great option. Some prefer writing with their own blood on the doors of people that broke their hearts.  Either works fine.  (Crap I forgot that these are supposed to be safe ways…that’s really limiting.  Ok…use fake blood…or ketchup. But trust me, it’s not as effective.)

5- CHOKE A PUPPY.  Preferably a small one.  A poodle perhaps.  YES!…Im just imagining myself walking in the ritzy Upper East Side and jumping one of those filthy rich snooty ladies, pulling the pure bred groomed poodle out of her $2000 leather bag and choking it until its tail stops wagging.  Wow thats already cheering me up, and Im not even stressed out! This method IS safe (for you, not the puppy) as long as the poodle doesnt have sharp teeth and the lady doesnt have pepper-spray.

Ok FINE #5 is not a good way to vent, but I forgot what #5 was supposed to be and I cant remember for the life of me. 

Im open to suggestions.

Worthless Words? My Text Message Poem

June 15, 2008

I texted this message to my friend on my way back from dinner, where I discovered that someone I care about is huge liar and hypocrite. It was a depressing discovery because I had a lot of respect for him before… my friend wanted to know how the dinner went, and here is the message I sent, in it’s original texted format:

Not too bad. But bad. I need to start doing drugs. Numbness is good. Short term at least. Words have limits. Theyre pretty worthless. But powerful. Weird. Limited, worthless…but so powerful. Mayb the impact is a result of the realization that theyre worthless…when you didnt believe them to be b4. Thats powerful.

Relax, Im oK i swear.

I dunno how I feel about this now, as I read what I wrote…I guess words arent totally worthless, cuz if they are, why am i even writing this? But maybe words are just the conduit through which we share our thoughts and feelings…ourselves…making words shallow in and of themselves, yet precious in effect.  Hypocrisy, more than anything I think, illustrates that words are nothing in and of themselves, and that they derive meaning from their source.  I’m gonna start paying as lot more attention to the source going forward.

Whatever. Words are overrated sometimes. I’m gonna bike to the park and lay on the grass for a while.

My 5 Minute Journey Into Vegan-ism

June 3, 2008

Five minutes. Yea, it didn’t go so well. I’m slightly ashamed.

On the other hand, the ice cream I’m eating right now is so damn good.

I started thinking about cutting animal products out of my diet after reading a lot of blogs about how vegan and raw food diets can really transform the way we look and feel, for the better. The testimonials are boundless in praise, relating the stories of people who swear to have twice the energy, half the fat, buns of steel, filled in bald spots, whiter teeth, better LSAT scores, cheaper gas, and farts that smell like roses. And as I’ve been becoming more health conscious, cutting the crap out of my diet and going to the gym more, I said to myself, hey, I want me some roses. And if I can avoid the 2-hour long food coma that I endure after most hearty servings of meat, then that would be an added bonus.

So the next day I wake up ready to live the lean-and-green life. I usually walk straight to the kitchen from bed to make coffee and a small breakfast. That usually includes eggs. (Mmm. Soft, warm, creamy eggs. Vegan diet or not, eating too many eggs probably isn’t good for you, but I haven’t slowed down..theyre so easy to make, can be prepared in so many ways, and are just about the best thing in the world for breakfast. God made eggs so that people could eat breakfast. It’s true.) Clearly, I knew ahead of time that I couldn’t eat eggs if I wanted to be a vegan. I’d just find something else to eat.

Easier said than done.

Cereal? Need milk. Oatmeal? Need milk. (oatmeal with water is NOT an option). Soy milk is an option, just not a good one, far as I’m concerned (although ice cold chocolate soy milk is delicious). Cheese? Uhh, no can do. Bread? Ok, I can eat bread. Let me spread some butter on that…crap, can’t eat butter. Fruit? Why not… oh wait, that orange in my fridge is a big ball of penicillin…ok, how about that banana. Yes, bananas are great. I’ll have a banana with my coffee..my black coffee. Ugh, I don’t drink black coffee. Guess I will today…gonna have to go a little heavy on the sugar though…there, ok, not too bad. Damn, I’m still hungry. What’s that shiny thing over there? It’s a little heart shaped chocolate thingy…mmm, little heart shaped chocolate thingy looks tasty. Yes it’s the morning, but only good things can come from a little heart shaped chocolate thingy. Gotta get this damn foil wrapper off…mmmm, this is some delicious milk chocolate. Oh, CRAP.

As is usually the case with diets, chocolate was the culprit.

Yes, MILK chocolate. As in anti-vegan chocolate. Ehh, whatever dude. Throw some eggs on the griddle and let me get back to reality.

Now, I know that there were plenty of other things I could have eaten; I’m only pretending to be this ignorant, I swear. But the truth is that being a vegan – or making any other radical change to your diet, or any other daily routine – takes a lot of planning, especially when you start. You need to really make a commitment to it, and that means shopping properly so that you don’t feel like you’re denying yourself every time you see a heart shaped chocolate thingy staring you down. And there are actually plenty of things a vegan can eat…

…but not too many things that don’t cost twice as much as stuff a vegan can’t eat. Vegan-friendly food, and even healthy food in general, is expensive. Everything is expensive these days, but go to a health food store and stock up for a week, and then go to a regular supermarket and compare the bills. It’s crazy! I cringe every time I pass by the produce stand near me and see the price of avocados (my favorite thing in the world…$2 each!), but I still manage to eat healthy by sticking to basic vegetables. And though I save money by never buying prepared foods, I still sacrifice by rarely buying things I love to eat cuz they cost too much — fish, red meat, good cheese, fancy condiments — and being a vegan would take the sacrifice thing to a whole new level.

Not only is price a concern, but the ingredients found in a diverse vegan diet — what planet are they from? Try to make some vegan and raw food diet recipes and you’ll find yourself in Mongolia looking for a rare root that grows only in the mountains between June 4 and June 12. Wheatgrass, hemp seeds, bee pollen, seaweed..this stuff is not found in the typical Queens supermarket. Goya does not make tofu seasoning.

Dinner? Do I look like a freaking rabbit? Diets like this are what make Ben & Jerry’s so successful.

Vegan and raw food diets become especially difficult if you’re trying to cut down on the carbs. It would be a whole lot easier if I didn’t mind eating rice and pasta for dinner every night, but I do, because I’m trying to cut down my body fat and get in shape. That bread I saw that morning for breakfast? i could have eaten it with peanut butter and that would have been fine. But I don’t want a big piece of bread for breakfast every morning…I love it, but it isn’t great for you and it gets boring after a while. Take out the carbs, and these diets become damn near impossible.

Of course I know that it CAN be done, and many people do it everyday. But instead of making a huge leap, I’m just gonna take it one step at a time. I’ve started by adding a lot more veggies to my diet, and have gotten used to eating less meat. After that I can work on cutting back on the eggs and milk. As for the sweet treats like ice cream and chocolate, I actually prefer sorbets and dark chocolate anyway, and buying expensive fresh fruits can be my reward for eating well. I doubt I’ll ever come to the point where I’m having a seaweed shake for lunch every day, but I don’t have to in order to enjoy a healthy diet. I think the moral of the story is that as long as we are conscious of what we are putting into are bodies and moderate our intake, a healthy lifestyle can be achieved.

I’ll start right after I finish this ice cream.