Archive for the ‘Travel’ category

Turkey Pics

December 2, 2008

Small sample of pics from my trip to Turkey in October, 2008.

 

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Between the hair and scruff, this dude is the mold of the young Turk.

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Sunset in Istanbul, from the top of the Galata Tower.

Cappadochia Mountains                                                               A Valley in Goreme, Cappadochia.  Called “mushroom shaped” by the conservative locals.  Called “cock valley” by the not so conservative tourists.

turkish viagra                                          These were all over Istanbul..I gotta go buy me some apricots…

turkish kids                                              Street scene from Balat in Old Istanbul.

ortakoy mosque                                                                                    The overlooked and beautiful Ortakoy Mosque.

aya sophia                                            Cats are everywhere in Istanbul…this  one is appreciating the Hagia Sophia.

basilica cistern                                             View from inside Basilica Cistern.

166-1                                           View of Goreme Village in Cappadochia.  The pillars are made out of compressed and eroded volcanic ashe.

dscf0486-1                                        Vendor selling dolls in the village of Derinkuyu, Cappadochia.

dscf0877                                                               Not sure if this in Ephesus, or in NYC’s Chinatown.  Hard to tell.

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!

Sinking stocks, surging Giants, and pregnant teen agers = My September

September 22, 2008

Sorry for the hiccup in posts, I know that once a month posts do not a blog make.  It’s just that I’ve been real busy with a few minor issues…namely THE COLLAPSE OF THE AMERICAN FINANCIAL INDUSTRY (and the subsequent collapse of my bonus for the year) as well as violence in the [my] motherland.  So blogging took a backseat for a while. 

There have been some positives during the last month though.  FOOTBALL SEASON has arrived to save my Sundays until January.  And the defending champion NY GIANTS are off to a 3-0 start. [Tho I have to say I’m really pissed that Monday Night Football is on ESPN and not a public channel.  For cheap non-cable having bastards like me that is a huge blow.  The weekly showcases should always be on public TV.  I’m really sick of the big leagues selling out to the cable networks.]

I’ve also been real busy planning my trip to Turkey which is coming up in 2 weeks!! I’m so excited.

And I just can’t hide it.

………………………………..

AND I KNOW, I KNOW, I KNOW, I KNOW, I WANT YOU [shut up it’s a fun song]

After my insane previous experience with it I am actually asking for more punishment by trying to rent out my apartment again.  I put an ad up and got the typical idiotic responses from people saying things like, “Looks good.  I take apartment.  You said only available in October.  I need for November to February.  Where can I sign.  Take check?”

I got another hit from a chick who I soon discovered was a 16 year old girl traveling internationally on her own but meeting friends here..code for ” if you give me the keys to your apartment I will turn it into the set of the newest lifetime movie entitled The Young and the Pregnant.  No thanks sweetie.     Not in my bed, Suzie.

But I’m talking now to an older couple who seem pretty legit, so wish me luck.

PS  I’ll try to blog more often by making the posts shorter and more content-specific, so as to keep you fiends off my back about being lazy.

The holy-crap-its-already-August Round Up

August 4, 2008

The summer is flyin by, and I’m not happy.  Gotta make the most of it while we can, folks.  Ive been trying to, but that’s only part of the reason why Ive been seriously slacking with the posts…believe it or not, Ive actually been busting my ass at work.  Despite my best efforts to evade acknowledgment and remain anonymous in all aspects of the company other than the payroll, word got out that I actually exist and have the capacity to tackle a larger workload.  Sons of bitches…

Here’s another patented ramble to update you on my life, and ruminations on everything relevant (to me) outside of it:

•Just back from a weekend down on the Jersey Shore, where I stayed at my friends awesome beach house.  Saturday was a fucking monsoon and I got kicked out of the water because the sissy lifeguards were afraid of the raging lightening.  Wimps.  Sunday made up for it though…started the day early and got in plenty of sun, and my arabian skin did great under the pressure (I only used SPF 8 sunblock).  Came back to work today lookin extra crispy, wearing white to accentuate the contrast, which made all the home-bodies in my office hate my guts.  Mission accomplished.

•Reading Things Fall Apart right now.  It was assigned in college but I Sparknote’d that biatch.  My friend Andrew gave me a spare copy and I thought I should actually read it, being it’s a classic and I haven’t read any other books set in Africa.  More to come on this.  No spoilers, please.

•I lost my phone in a  taxi after it fell out my pocket.  No one called or tried to return it.  I hate that.  Ive found phones before and went to crazy lengths to get it back to the owner.  Feels pretty crappy, cuz I know someone found it…  Ah well, I have insurance cuz I know I always lose or damage my phones; the list is pretty impressive.  I’ve dropped a phone down a sewer grate, in the toilet, in four feet of snow and couldnt find it, one fell on the street and got ran over by a truck…I could go on for a while.  That’s why I am the only person in the world who has no interest in an iPhone…I know Im gonna lose that shit in a week.  Not much of a gadget person anyway…long as I can make a phone call and it’s smaller than the one Zack Morris used to pull out of his ass in Saved By the Bell,  then I’m all good.

•SPORTS. Ok, plenty of quick thought, cuz each is deserving of it’s own post…  Brett Favre is a selfish bastard and the Packers are assholes for now declaring that he can compete for the starting QB job, after all this freaking talk about being committed to Aaron Rodgers.  They totally gave in to this drama queen.  They drafted Brian Brohm because Favre said for the 716th time that he was definitely hanging up his helmet.  He put the Packers in such a bad spot, and for that reason alone they shouldve had the stones to move on.  Federer is losing his #1 ranking, but is still the best player in the world.  I think he’s gonna bounce back in a big way, and people are nuts for prematurely predicting his demise.  Manny to the Dodgers is good for both teams. He is gonna play great there (a motivated Manny is the most dangerous hitter in the league), and the Red Sox dont deserve the negative backlash theyve gotten since the trade.  That team won 2 championships because of team chemistry, and Manny gave up on them and called out management on a daily basis.  Francona is the best skipper in the league and he needs respect from everyone in his clubhouse.  They gave up a lot, but in getting Jason Bay and ridding themselves of a clubhouse cancer, theyre a contender that will only get better.  Team USA basketball is looking great in their tuneups, and D-Wade is STRAIGHT UP NASTY.  Do not sleep on this man!!  He lost some luster in the eyes of many the last two years because of serious injuries, but somehow he looks more explosive than ever and has been their #1 highlight reel so far (and he’s a only sixth man).  I’m not afraid to say it: USA Basketball is gonna dominate the Olympics.  Write it down, bitches.  Ron Artest to the Rockets?  I’d be lying if I said I’m sure it’s gonna work, because Artest truly does deserve his rep as a headcase.  But the conditions are as good as they can be, as he’s playing for a coach who he actually respects, in a system he can benefit from, will be asked to contribute offensively and handle the ball at times, which will make him happy since he’s always clamoring about not being utilized offensively, and Shane Battier can come off the bench as a top sixth man who can play multiple positions.  The Rockets are my fav team after the Knicks, and, if by some strange turn of events the Knicks do not win a championship this year, I want the Rockets to go all the way.  T-Mac is too damn good to never get out of the first round. 

•McCain is a dirty bastard and his attack ads are ridiculous.  Trying to knock Obama as a leader by comparing calling him a celebrity in the likes of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears?  That shit is weak.

What a loser.  Later y’all.

I’m an American, and I want a Visa, NOW! [please?]

June 16, 2008

Ive been saying for a while now that I want to live abroad, for a short while at least, and experience life in a completely different environment.  Ive begun to travel a lot recently, but that has only motivated me even more to get off my ass in pursuit of adventure.  I have a great job here in NY, some stability, friends…but there are other great places besides NY, my friends will still be here and I can make new ones anywhere, and stability at 23 is kind of overrated.  It sounds romantic, but living abroad for a while is becoming an itch that I have scratch.

Actually, it’s more like an infected, open wound.  Why?  Because getting a Visa in the EU (my preferred destination) is so damn hard.  What happened to the good old days when an American could just go and settle anywhere he wanted just because he was an American? OK I don’t know if those days ever existed, but I think it was easier before because Americans never fell into the group of skill-less mass migrants who threatened to rely on public assistance; American workers generally had more money and skills and were usually a boon to foreign economies.  But the way things have been going, the EU has its own surplus of skilled and educated workers, and work visas are much more easily obtained by laborers from third world economies than skilled foreign competition.

Being an American sure has lost its luster. What the hell, Europe! Dont you want me to bring democracy to your people!  Freakin commies…

My company won’t relocate me to a European office because, frankly, Im not nearly important enough here to warrant visa sponsorship.  I don’t feel like studying abroad just so that I can get a work visa, which is what I really want — that would be way too expensive. Basically, unless I marry me a Frenchie, I’m on the outside lookin in.

Chicago is looking like the more likely destination if I plan on getting my ass out of NY anytime this decade.

Turkish Court Bans Headscarf In Universities — Again

June 6, 2008

This really pissed me off.   I’m going to Turkey for a few months on vacation; it has always been my dream vacation.  I think about it as a crossroads of modern human history, where so many civilizations have made their mark on the world, a mark whose beauty is reflected today in the diversity of the Turkish culture.

That’s why I was so pissed off by the news report today that the Turkish High Court overturned a legal change issued by Prime Minister Erdogan that would allow women to where the headscarf at Turkish universities on the grounds that the change violated laws protecting Turkish secularism.

Read that sentence again.  The purpose of the overturned legal change wasn’t to require women to wear the headscarf; it was to allow women who choose to wear it to attend a Turkish university. 

I know the history of Turkey is complex and that there is a strong general desire to protect secular laws from religious extremism, but this isn’t a question of zealotry or “Islamism” or security.  It is a question of liberty, justice, and equality.  Secularism can be maintained while preserving individual liberties.  These kind of laws cannot be made to assuage irrational fears; think about where the U.S. would be if lawmakers and courts never took a stand against irrational and often ignorant public opinion. The decision of the high court is appalling because Turkey is trying so hard to kiss EU ass and prove that it is progressive, yet refuses to pass laws securing individual liberties for it’s own citizens (the other well known grievance is the strict code of expressive censorship Turkey enforces). The courts are also considering banning Erdogan and his widely popular AKP party from politics altogether…they have banned entire parties in the past and are expected to do it again here.  

Obviously there are many other countries in the same boat, but I guess I just expect more from Turkey.  I am also especially sensitive to human rights violations that are validated by the courts…I place a lot of faith in court systems as the guardians against corruption, and I feel indignant when they instead become the purveyors of it (I wrote about a similar story a few months ago regarding a US supreme court decision).

Here’s hoping that Turkey can be a place where all people are afforded equal rights, and that any protests that result from this decision are widespread, yet peaceful.

Thinking about renting out your apartment? Be warned!

May 21, 2008

People are weird.  Especially people you meet online. And if you’re planning on letting these weird people you meet online rent out your apartment, do yourself a favor and think about it real hard.

I’m planning on going away for a few days and figured I’d try to recoup some of the money I’m spending on my trip by following the lead of a few friends and renting out my apartment when I’m not there.  Basically, the idea is that if you’re going away for a while on vacation, and being you in a tourist hot-spot, there would probably be a bunch of people who’d be willing to rent out your place while they are in town.  Sure, my place might be considered a slight downgrade from the Mandarin Oriental, but it’s a nice apartment in a great location, and not staying in a five-star hotel means that the guest won’t pay five-star prices. I’m just looking for a normal dude who wants a cheap, comfy place to sleep and shower.  Not too much to ask for, right?

OK, the view from the Mandarin is pretty nice… but my fire escape/laundromat view is right up there.OK, the view from a suite at the Mandarin is pretty nice.  I don't mind my fire escape/laundromat view that much though...

Well, it didn’t quite work out that way for me. 

I put an ad on craigslist and only got one response (I posted it kinda late).  I spoke to the woman on the phone and she sounded really polite and sincere.  She was visiting from Florida and her parents were visiting from India, and they have family that lives in the area, but they didn’t want to stay with them (understandably).  We arranged for her parents, who were already in town, to come see the place that night. 

So they get there, and they seem normal enough.  Pretty quiet.  They bring their brother-in-law. He goes into the bathroom and stays there for five minutes.  I’m near the door.  No tinkling sounds.  This dude is totally snooping through my meds…or taking them (was actually hoping he’d take some deodorant, because the dude was stank).  The parents are walking around, not saying much but exchanging a few comments in Hindi.  We start shooting the breeze a bit, and they seem very friendly and interesting.  By now the brother-in-law is laying on my couch, perusing my coffee table books.  Things are going well with the parents, until:

Mother: Your apartment is very nice.

Me: Thank you.

Father: But, uh, can you move some things?

Me: Huh? Oh yea, sure, I’ll clear space on the dresser for you guys to put your things on, no problem.

Father: No, uh, other things. 

Me: What things?

Father: These things (pointing to picture frames littered throughout the room) and those things (pointing to the posters on my wall).

Me: What? You want me to take down my pictures and posters?

Father:  Uhh Yes. Yes.

Me:  Why?  You know this only for a few days, right?

Father: Yes.

Me:  So then…? (giving a wtf are you talking about look)

Father: Maybe someone will come who doesn’t like those posters and these other things.

Me: What? Why not? Who will come?  Are you planning on having guests?

(Father abruptly pulls out a phone and starts talking to someone in Hindi for 3 minutes, then turns back to me)

Father:  (Looking at wife, then me) OK, we will be frank.  Some people will come to see us here.  (pause) And they cannot see these things. (pause) We would not keep these things in our house. (pause..notices my intensifying glare) OK, because, we are going to tell them that we live here.  That this is our apartment.  So we cannot have these pictures. You see now…you know the truth!

Me: But, how would, why would, are you saying that..

Father: Yes YES exactly! You see now! I am a hindu priest, I cannot have these things! Hookah? No I don’t smoke a hookah, you have to hide this.  And these children [in the pictures], they know my daughter, these are not my children. You see now!?

Me: ………..

Mother: You don’t have to take down everything.

Father: No, no. Just this, that one, these things, yes just take them down, those things, yes see it can come down quickly (nearly ripping poster)..

Me: Don’t touch that poster!

Father: Ok you can do that later of course. Ok so here is some money where do I sign?

Me: Um yea I don’t know about this..

Father:  Oh yes dont worry here take the money we have to go now take the deposit call my daughter to arrange dont worry heresthemoneycalldaughter.

(Door closes behind them)

Ok.  WTF just happened?  Telling people they live here?  How many freaking people were they gonna have over? Why would they lie about that? What else are they lying about?  If there weren’t posters that wouldve busted there cover and would have been impossible to discreetly remove, would they have bothered to tell me this? I doubt it.  And I don’t like the idea of them moving all of my pictures, plaques, posters, arab-esque decor and anything else suggesting that this apartment is not usually inhabited by a conservative Hindu Indian couple in their 60s, which would be a whole lot of stuff.  I’m not trying to come home and re-decorate my apartment, or worse, see something missing and have to put a 60 year old Hindu priest in a head-lock.  Not to mention the fact that they seemed ready to have a Diwali party in my apartment (I thought that wouldn’t be a concern with 60+ year old guests)… and if I came home to see the tall, lanky brother-in-law sitting on the couch, wearing my underwear and watching a pay-per-view bollywood movie, I’d have to kick his ass, then just set my apartment on fire and find a new place to live. 

Actually coming home to this Diwali party would be pretty fun… 

Even if none of this actually happened, having these thoughts run through my head is not my idea of peace of mind, and that is something even more valuable than the small amount of money I wouldve gained for the short rental.  How much value it has to you is something you should strongly consider if you’re ever in the same boat.