Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Greece – Act I

We rode the metro for 45 minutes from the airport and found our way to Hotel Tempi. In the evening hours, crisp air filled our lungs as we ventured into the city streets of Athens to find money, food, and contact solution. Necessities that were easy to navigate amongst street signs layered in Greek alphabet and roman letters. Faces peered out of stylish ensembles of bomber jackets, scarves, hats and hoodies. Boots of every detail hit the pavement of dark alleyways lit up by hidden strips of restaurants/bars. Greeks mainly kept to themselves, but here in the night, they were as colorful as the graffiti that lined the walls of Athens.

I enjoy Athens, more so than the last big city we had visited – no offense Istanbul! There is something here that makes me feel happier even though nothing unusual or spectacular has happened. I can’t explain it, it just is. We spent a few days all together here and did a self-guided walking tour, which are always fun with the girls because we are easily distracted! We got to see the last runner finish the 2500th Anniversary of the Athens Marathon at the Olympic Stadium, the guards at the parliament house, the street dancers, and so much more!

We visited the Acropolis Museum, which is hands-down my favorite museum thus far!! The building, which was constructed to replace the old Acropolis Museum, had the advantage of knowing its exhibits intimately and therefore created the perfect spaces for its ancient arts. Man, every level and space was unique and so perfectly displayed its pieces with reverence and respect. This is a must visit folks! Love, love, love it!

Santorini was a charming little island and yes it was beautiful, but the white buildings and cobalt blue tops that it’s mainly identified as are well… not really representative of this place. You will only find this postcard perfect scene at Oia, at the tip of Santorini. I think perhaps, I came with too much expectation and therefore set myself up for a little disappointment. None the less, we spent five days on the island because it was the perfect place to rest, relax, and soak in some sun. We ate at Nikolas several times because the traditional Greek food there was so yummy! Plus, I had my best gyro ever on this island! Man the Greeks know how to eat!

Now, we are on our way to Meteora, central Greece, by bus to visit the monasteries that are perched in the mountains. It is raining… so we hope in ‘Act II” we can tell you that the sun came out, we’ll see!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Dedicated to the Turkish Men

Oh my! Dear mister brown eyes, how is that in the few seconds of our brief exchange have you already fallen in love with me? You have not even begun to understand my complexities, or barely examine the many chambers of my heart, or become fond of my quiet passing of gas in our night’s embrace.

Okay, that was some humor… but not far from the truth. In the first few hours of our arrival in Turkey, the girls and I all came to a conclusion that Turkish men are aggressive! Seriously, they are not shy about getting our attention and striking up a conversation. Some even have the bold spirit of inviting us to dance in public and hinting to marital bliss if we should choose. “Let me tell you how I feel” said one man. As we are adorned with flattery, I wonder can I truly be that cute in my bland travel gear or is it simply the culture??? Can falling in love really be that easy and instantaneous? If it is, I must be going at it all wrong!!! :D

As we continued on our trip, I have to at least give Turkish men a fair shake. Not all of them are aggressive. Some are very kind. Some offer help with no expectations of return. Some add humor to their expressions, “I love you more than my breakfast!” Some share their honest insight into Turkish culture and true friendship; yes I am talking about you Dunya - if you are reading this.

So I wonder… could this simply be romance? Are they true and pure in their intentions? It’s possible, I think. We met Burcin. He was really sweet and respected boundaries. He ordered us dessert and asked us about our lives. As we bid farewell with Turkish kisses, I thought to myself… in one night’s company and conversation over dinner, I can foresee kindness blossom into fondness.

So don’t give up on the Turkish men all together! Just be mindful as you visit Turkey. Think about your actions, even eye contact can invite overzealous proposals from the opposite gender. It will be hard at times because there are some gorgeous men here! But good looking or not, men are men, and then can misread your intentions. So if you come with your western ways of flirting, don’t be surprised if you go home with a few souvenirs and a new husband!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Merhaba [Hello] Turkey!

Turkey was recommended by Grace, so hence I came to Turkey without any notions of what it would be. I came with an appetite (no pun intended) to consume anything that this country offered and so far, Istanbul, Cappadocia, Olympos and Cirali have satiated my hunger. We have seen so much in a span of a week.

Istanbul was more city than city could be. It was consuming. We walked on this popular strip where cars dared not entered since the sheer number of people that retreated to this hub of eateries and shops multiple by the hour. Tucked away in the quieter cobblestone streets that wrapped the Blue Mosque, Haga Sophia, and other aged gems – we soaked in history and the gloomy weather. The little rain and clouds we encountered just added to our appreciation of Cappadocia as we reached its peaks of warmth and wonder.

Cappadocia, Mother Earth’s magical sandbox created fantastic and fun fairy chimneys. These conical rock formations of tufa and basalt from fallen volcanic ash were shaped by ten thousand years of wind and flood. Each sculpture played up our imaginations to discover shapes that reminded us of Snoopy, Casper the friendly ghost, and so much more. The Goreme Open Air Musuem where ancient civilizations carved out homes in hopes of evading religious persecution. You can see some spaces used for churches by its painted walls of Christian symbols. Then there were the underground caves; we visited Derinkuyu which went 14 levels underground. Our tour took us down eight levels and to my surprise most rooms like the meeting hall or school were open with lots of ceiling space. We also strolled through Ihlara Valley cradled in the hard-etched walls of the mountains that soared high above.

Olympus and neighboring Cirali gave us sun-filled days by the water. We ate best, hands down, Turkish home cooked food at family-owned Saban’s Pansion, caught up on endless hours of sleep, [Grace] swam in the calm clear sea, hiked to witness the Cirali flames that have been burning for two thousand years from natural gases trapped underneath the earth, not to mention toasted some marshmallows that perfect strangers offered us! All of this that recharged us for the rest of Turkey!

And now we are off to explore Kas, Fethiye, Pamukkale, and Ephesus… here’s to the wonderfully unexpected!

[Link to photos to come soon]

Friday, October 22, 2010

Tienanmen Square

I'm in Turkey but here's a China post. ************* Interesting story: I was speaking to a restaurant manager and asked him about Tienanmen Square. He asked me why I wanted to go, I said that in the 80s I distinctly remember watching the riots and seeing how students were murdered by the government. Restaurant owner: “What happened then?” Me: “I saw tanks run over a student. I saw police shooting at unarmed students.” RO: “Oh yes, you say shooting?” Me: “Yes” RO: “You saw that on TV?” Me: “Yes” RO: “Well that never happened.” Me: “Really??!?!!??! You think that never happened? It was live on TV.” RO: “Um, well I don’t think…but maybe it’s possible. You know our government doesn’t tell us everything. So maybe” I was shocked but not completely surprised, with a communist all controlling government – they can just take out this chapter of their history and no one would know. Scary to think that governments can influence what the people think and do based on media. America may not be too much better but at times like this, I’m sure glad I am one.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Eternal Love

"The Taj Mahal was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It is widely considered as one of the most beautiful buildings in the world and stands as a symbol of eternal love..." I read this after visiting the Taj Mahal yesterday and it stirred something in me. A question...

What is eternal love?

The hopeless romantic in me believes deep down that there is a love for each person. A true love that will strengthen with time and withstand the unexpected and ugliness. A love that allows you to grow as your own person and together as life-long companions. A love that is so pure it will grant you freedom. A freedom to reject pride, accept humility, and give yourself unselfishly - completely.

The reality is though, I really don't know what eternal love is... day to day we live and we love and we learn. And sometimes when we look back at our past relationships and we wonder. I wonder about the decisions I have made and the thoughts that led me to make certain decisions. This is what came to me in the car ride leaving Agra heading back to Delhi. I randomly started running through the memories of my first love, the one I thought would be forever, the one I loved so much it hurt... I wondered if I had done something different, would we still be together now? How would I be, who would I be? You know, those kind of questions... where you know better but still wonder. I thought about the few I have been lucky enough to have loved and why things ended up the way that it did. Was it me? Or was it simply that I haven't met my right match? Not the right time?

As of this point, I feel that I hold no notion of what it should mean or what it means to me. Like a blank slate... I guess like our b&b owner said this morning, "the more you go through life, the less you will know!" This is so true and it applies to love too, I feel.

The lessons and relationships I have had, makes me feel as though I really don't know anything at all. You could have asked me 10 years back what I wanted and I could have summed up a good substantial list of character things that I wanted. But now, I couldn't even begin to say. Is it me losing hope or is it me too afraid to continue to hope. I mean, does it have to be so hard.

Can't it simply be that I want to love and be loved?
Call it eternal love if you want, who knows really if it can truly transcend time...

In the end, perhaps... there is such a thing? This eternal love. I mean, I did sit at the Taj Mahal and the feelings of love did stir in my heart. As if the beauty of "their" love glowed from the precious white marble adorned with rare rubies and sapphires. Or is it just like that, precious and rare?

I don't know, you tell me. Maybe you can help me understand this thing called love...

Knowing Our Elements

"You were so in your element. You had all this energy and looked so happy."

Grace said this to me after we took our day trek to Kernala, a few hours outside of Mumbai. I didn't realize that I was that much different from my regular self but after some thought, I really think she's right. When I see Grace she really lit up coming to Mumbai, a cosmopolitan city. You can see her energy level soaring with each beating moment of hustle and bustle. With Ngoce, she is totally in her element in Mysore with her yoga practice. When you see her practice, her bodies flows with elegance and a serenity washes over her. And I guess with me, when I am out in nature, I love the feeling of the dirt crunching beneath my feet, and the air is so sweet - I really find a quiet happiness inside.

And then I thought... if we have something that we really enjoy or love why not do more of it. So find that element that makes your heart beat and build that into your life and make sure you do more of it! It's a simple concept, so simple I think we tend to forget.

I am grateful to be traveling and having my experiences thus far, but I am also looking forward to SF and the great nature that nor cal offers. I think I definitely can do more hikes and will make longer trips each year... so with that thought, I want to thank Margaretta and Marvin for my first introductions to backpacking last year. This was when I really fell in love with nature and this love I know will continue to grow.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Great Wall

Great Wall – In China, it takes patience to get things done.
 Since I wanted to go with a travel group to the Great Wall, I followed the Lonely Planet online guide to buy real government sponsored tickets.
The ticket office I went to sold tickets for one of the Heavenly Gates on Tiananmen Square. It’s legit. I buy the gate ticket, I see the gate. In order to get in this area, there is security. At the same office, I bought a great wall package that includes a wakeup call at 5:30am to see the flag raising at 6am and a visit to Simati, a part of the Great Wall that is less touristy.  
I get two calls the night before. One guy saying he’ll pick me up at 5:30am, which is right in line with what I purchased from the ticket office. An English speaking tour guide calls at midnight saying she’ll pick me up at 8am. I tell her that’s confusing. She says she’ll call the ticket office to clarify for me. I wait 20 minutes – no call.  I try calling the number on my ticket. No one picks up. I call the tour guide back, she says she’s just a tour guide and to talk to the office….
In the morning, at 5:30am I get a wake up call. At 6am while I am in the lobby, the tour guide calls again and asks me if I’m going to Badaling. I say no – I’m going to Simati. I do not want to go to Badaling since I’ve heard it’s over crowded with Chinese tourists.  I told him I paid extra for this part of the wall. He is shocked I’ve already paid and says he’s no longer going to pick me up. What?!?!?!! It’s my last day in China – how else am I going to get there?
Confused, I call the number on my ticket. A lady answer then a man answers in sleepy incomprehensible Chinese and mumbles something about English tour guide.
10 minutes later the English speaking tour guide calls and says she’ll be there at 8am. WTF? Why I am up at 5:30am in the morning then? Why did the ticket office promise to take me to see the raising of the flag?
At 8am, I get on the bus. After 20 mins on the bus, I hand over my ticket. The English speaking tour guide, Tina, says that I’m on the wrong bus. This bus is not going to Simati! In fact, Simati has been closed for 2 months!
Tina asks how I got on the bus.   I ask how she got my number.  She says from the ticket office – I say well, I paid for that ticket.
She offers to drop me off the tour group so I can take a bus to go to Simati….Errr…didn’t she just say that Simati was closed??!?!?! Why would I take a bus to a part of the Great Wall that is closed?!!?!?!
I told her no way – I have no idea how to get to the other areas of the wall on my own without my Beijing guide book! She asks me if I want to go tomorrow. I tell her no – today is my last day Beijing. If I don’t go today I won’t see it.
Then we both agree that I should just stay on this bus. Very very confusing.
The ticket office completely promised me so many invalid statements just to get the sale. This was from an official government ticket office too!
 On the random plus side, my trip was 310 RMB – the usual price was 350 RMB.
 Finally, I went to the Great Wall – it was great. We only had 2 hours – I would have liked to hang out more but with the rain, that was enough. We also stopped by a tomb (cool), a jade store (interesting but tourist trap), and a tea tasting session (free samples! but also a major overpriced tourist trap)  
Ahhhh…Chinese tour groups…
Morale of the story: Try to do things yourself in China. For tour groups, go through your hotel.  Have a good attitude. Take lots of pictures at the Wall. You earned it.