Friday, September 11, 2009

All Roads Lead to Rhodes

Actually, all seas lead to Rhodes is more like it. We took a hydrofoil to and from Rhodes today. I know how it got it's name - it goes on water and is as sturdy as a roll of aluminum foil. Shala calls it a coke can - either way not real sure it would meet US safety standards!

I wasn't a fan of Rhodes, but today things just didn't go our way. I know, I know, it sounds terrible to complain about a day at a Greek Isle. It's just that it is probably the most commercialized touristy place I've been since Disney World. After walking around the fortified old town we grabbed a taksi to one of the "best" beaches. We wandered around looking for an authentic taverna to get a lamb gyro for lunch. At one point I looked at Shala and asked her if we were in South Padre! We found Subway, KFC, Pizza Hut, Mickey D's, and TGI Fridays. We couldn't find a place for a gyro. We finally stumbled on one, sat down at the counter and ordered our lamb gyros. All out of lamb today, we were informed. Seriously, out of lamb in Greece?!? So we settled for chicken gyros then grabbed a cab all the way back to Old Town because it started to rain. It was blue skies when we arrived, then a couple hours later it rained for the first time since May! Why am I not surprised? Afterall, Istanbul started to FLOOD while we were there! It was a cute old town and we did our part to support the Greek economy while there. All in all neat place, just lost its charm somewhere along the way.

In search of something very local back in Bodrum for dinner, we had mezes at a fantastic place where we sat outside overlooking the harbor and castle. We were the only non-residents; the owner's mom does the cooking and there is no menu. Whatever mama cooks, you eat. Mezes are the equivalent to tapas in Spain. I've been in Turkey a week and the word for eggplant is the only word I've learned!

Our mildewmobile survived the trip Ephesus yesterday. Only 4 of its 5 gears work and it constantly drips water on your feet, but it served its purpose. I tried to sell Shala on the dripping being an added Turkish foot bath feature but she wasn't buying it! We loved Ephesus. Very cool to walk where Paul walked - turns out he lived in the 'burbs and not the urban center of Efes. Words just don't do, one of those places you just need to go to know.

It's been an eye-opening trip. We are here during Ramadan so I've learned about that. We discovered that you don't have to show any ID when flying within Turkey, and that customs in Greece is purely optional! There is an emergency code for women to dial from any phone if they become victims of "international human trafficing." Regretably, jorts seem to be in style for men. Genie pants are the craze for women. The watches are genuine fakes. UB40's Red Red Wine seems to be topping the charts here because it's played constantly. The people are warm and friendly. The food is delicious and the wine goes down smoothly.

I'm afraid I have contracted a new strand of the H1N1 Swine Flu. It's the 'little piggy' strand and I got it from 10 days of partaking in the local cuisine and wine. How's the old saying go...when in Turkey?

This trip's been a Turkish Delight.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I hope my credit card has good fake car rental insurance!

We rented a car today so we can explore all the sleepy fishing villages on the Bodrum Penninsula and drive the 90 km to Ephesus tomorrow. We went to a place in town that was an obviously local rental shop.

They used what looked to be a standard rental agreement - but I now think the blank agreements were stolen from National Car Rental next door. In talking to the guy who arranges these types of things at our hotel and looking on the Internet, 85 Euros seemed to be the going rate per day. Our local place though, they offered us 50 Euros for two days - what a deal, right?!?

Having had a previous run-in with Avis in Spain, I made these guys to the requisite walkaround so we could mark up the damage. Our car is a hoopty. We basically marked the entire car picture up on the contract - I think all surface areas have been in contact with a pole! When he first started it for us, it wouldn't even start. I said to the rental guy who speaks broken English - this car is pretty beat up, never seen a rental car in this bad of shape. He looks at me and says - oh this isn't one of our cars, it's my buddy's and he needs to make some extra money so I'm renting it out for him.

Really?!? Is that even legal? So we are now tooling around Turkey in our mildew/smoke smelling beat up Fiat. I love a good bargain but I may be pressing my luck with this one... I sure hope it survives the trip to Ephesus tomorrow!

-- Posted from my iPhone

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Would you like wine with your snorkel?

 We love Bodrum, it's a picturesque seaside town with white washed houses that dot the hillsides. We chartered a 20 meter boat today, one normally packed with loads of tourists. Just the two of us, our crew of two Turks and an Albanian, and the sparkling Aegean Sea. (Had I cracked open a travel book prior to coming I would have known I was not going to the Med like I thought until today.) We are not high rollers, merely fierce negotiators : )

After about an hour of going along the coast we stopped in an area they call the aquarium - really turquoise water so you can see everything. We jumped in the water and the crew threw us some snorkel gear and dropped bread in the water. Giant schools of fish appeared immediately! We are snorkeling in the sea, no life jackets so paddling away, and our crew brings in a floating tabletop into the water, and pour us wine. Watching Shala take that first sip of wine while wearing a snorkel mask was the funniest thing I have seen in a long time. It may sound easy, but wine while snorkeling requires great skill. While treading water and keeping our glasses out of the waves while taking a sip - whew. Because we had on snorkel masks we couldn't breathe through our noses while we drank; I never realized until today that oxygen to the nose while imbibing is something not to be taken for granted! There was one point where we were in the water and the crew in the boat that I regretted that lazy Saturday afternoon I watched Open Water II, Adrift at Sea.

After a tough day at sea, we indulged at yet another street vendor - the Turks serve up a mean grilled cheese!

We saw so many beautiful places today that it made me think a lot about my mom. She always wanted to come here and she would have loved today. When God created the earth He added something special to this place. If my mom has a say in her backdrop options in Heaven I think this incomparable cultural mosaic may be it!

-- Posted from my iPhone

Monday, September 7, 2009

Hoping for a magic carpet ride, but terrifying taxi ride is as close as I got!

I'm more than a wee bit tired right now. It's 7:45am and we are catching a flight to Bodrum for 5 days on the coast.

We really liked Istanbul and are excited we have another day here before we return home. I've come to terms with the little ditty 'Istanbul not Constantinople' being in my head so long as I'm in the city. It could be worse for Shala though, in Costa Rica it was the songs from Dirty Dancing.

We had a super busy day exploring Istanbul. There are so many Mosques and when the call to prayer fillsvthe air it's a bit unnerving - very loud and unusual to an American's ears.

At lunch we devoured baklava which was amazing; and Shala ordered Turkish coffee. She took a sip and said - you have to try this it tastes just like dirt! And she was right. Muddy dirt. But did I mention the baklava?

We toured the Topkapi Palace which was fantastic. It's similar to the Alahambra in Grenada and the Forbidden City in Beijing in that it was a self-contained, own little world for almost 400 years. When I was in 6th grade my mom dressed me up like a harem girl - she told me a harem girl is similar to a belly dancer. Having toured where the sultans kept their harems, well I'm pretty sure she wasn't telling me the complete story.

We of course ended up at the markets - the Grand Bazaar is over 70 acres of catcalls, I mean stalls of Turkish goods (I think a bunch was imported from China). We heard every line scores of times - where are you from? Are you Swedish? Do you want a new friend? Is your name Jennifer? You have the most bluest eyes. Do you want to go to a discotec with me? And on and on. According to my buddy Frommer, the "less attractive" girls get the most attention because they are most likely to fall for the bull. I got a good laugh out of that one. The Spice Market was my favorite and smelled so delicious it made me wish I cook! There was one place that distinguished itself in such a way that those who know me well will see it's a convincing selling point - check out the pic.

I have to mention that we had the scariest taxi ride yesterday. And not just bc it's fresh on my mind - it was worse than taxis in Beijing and Nairobi! We drove on sidewalks, into oncoming traffic, nearly took out several pedestrians who were literally leaping for their lives our of our path. We had prenegotiated a very low flat rate, and the traffic was so bad our impatient driver was beside himself! Hitting the roof, extensive honking, shouting - and we seemed to be the only car on the road in such a rush. I cannot repeat the words that flooded from my mouth during this 45 minutes of terror, but it's safe to say my mom would wash it out with soap! Shala made a good point - next time we should just go with the meter because our lives are worth more than the money we saved!

Our hotel has a bar on the 15th floor with amazing views. We were having a (free) glass of wine up there debating our dinner options when we met a couple IBMers. We ended up going out to dinner with them (Dad, I had my saw) and it was a lot of fun. The British guy works in the same group as Shala and used to live down the street from me in Dallas. We discussed his favorite Tex-Mex places in the neighborhood and even he made fun of Mesquite! It's a CRAZY small world.

On the plane to Bodrum now and ready for five glorious days on the Med!

-- Posted from my iPhone

Saturday, September 5, 2009

How to eat your way through Madrid in 48 hours

That is really the most appropriate title for our two days in Madrid. We've been what I call "lazy tourists" but Shala says we are "non-tourist tourists" which sounds much better!

We've mostly just walked around, sipped cafe con leches, we had Gelato, churros and of course tapas and wine! Churros come with a coffee cup full of melted chocolate! Tapas translation is 'small plates' but so far there has been nothing small about what we've had! Lots of cheeses, yum.

Having spent 5 weeks here 6 years ago I've been able to provide invaluable insight for Shala. In the gardens outside the palace I told her...these statues represent something, but I can't remember what. Or, this arch has bullet holes from an assasination that started a war. Of course I couldn't remember who, or what war! Shala made fun of me mimicing- to your left is a big fancy building, and to your right is a big fancy building.

Last night we went out in an area predominately for locals. After dinner we went to a bar where we ended up crashing a Spanish/French bachelor party. Whoever said that 93% of communication is non-verbal is full of crap! I hummed the theme song to Dallas and they all immediately knew where we are from! Will our Texas reputation ever extend beyond JR Ewing? I was asked two funny things - do I eat lots of cheeseburgers, and is there no sun in Texas because I am so white. The only thing fair about that fight is my skin tone!

We went to Museo Reina Sofia today which is home to an impressive Picasso and Dali collection. Dali was definitely smoking something when he was painting! We saw his painting entitled Electrosexual Sewing Machine - what the heck?!?

In a world of constant change I'm comforted that I can count one thing not to remain the same - Spaniards stink in the summer!

We're resting up for dinner and headed out in a bit - pizzeria tonight! We fly to Istanbul in the morning.

Me cooling with a pitcher of tinto de verano!

-- Posted from my iPhone (so please forgive my spelling!)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Ready to leave Margaritaville and go to Sangriaville!

Shala and I are at the bar in the airport drinking margaritas. We are enjoying a final taste of Texas and I'm hoping my margarita with chambord helps me sleep on the plane.

I made it through security with my executioner's saw. I was a little nervous about it, having visions of scenes from Locked Up Abroad as I anxiously waited for my bag to clear! I would hate to end up as the sequel to Midnight Express, so hopefully my luck will continue.

I couldn't sleep a wink last night so I got up at 4am to unpack from my last trip, sort laundry and make the all-important decision about what flipflops to bring! Then I downloaded music that's supposed to help me sleep, but the peaceful water rushing sounds ended up just making me wonder if I need to pee! I literally packed in under 10 minutes this afternon so hope I end up liking what I brought!

We are spending the next two days in Madrid and our mouths are already watering for authentic sangria and tapas!


-- Posted from my iPhone