Monday, March 07, 2022

Istanbul, February 2022

Istanbul, February 2022

Posted by Dave Adair on March 7th, 2022

"It’s only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth – and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up – that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had."
~ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

"More can't be the point."
~ Sam Harris

Greetings, friends - current, future, and former! Last I wrote, Julieta had just left me in Antalya, in the south of Turkey on the Aegean coast. Five days after she left, her 14 year-old daughter was coming home from boarding school for 10 days. She said to her mom, "Are we flying to Turkey?" Julieta burst into action, and 24 hours later had flights for them to Istanbul - leaving two days later, only eight days since she'd left Turkey. Bang! Zoom!! Like a Batman comic, the Argentinian Hurricane is coming back to Turkey, and bringing her lovely daughter Eli, whom I have yet to meet. We stayed in the ancient center of Istanbul and practiced our tourist-jitsu: constantly saying no to charming hawkers trying to shmooze us into their shops or restaurants. I used to be pathetic at saying no, but India has taught me well.

On our first full day we were laughing about how last-minute the trip was, and Eli's suggestion that we come, when Eli said, "Actually, I was kidding." Julieta's eyes got big and her face dropped! She said, you didn't want to come?!? Eli said, no, I wanted to come - but I was joking and didn't think we would. Oh, well that's ok, then.

We had some seriously cold weather as well as some sunshine and beautiful views. Eli got a cold, and Julieta started to get a sore throat. They were both fully vaxxed, but when they got home Eli wanted to get tested for the sake of her schoolmates - and they ended up both being positive for Covid. I thought I must have it, but somehow I didn't have symptoms and tested negative. Eli had mild systems for two days, while Julieta was pretty sick (and testing positive) for 10 days. The mystery illness isn't over for the planet yet, but we're getting much closer. 

I hope you like the photos and stories. 


Enjoy the 43 photos below. That's too many, right? What to do. Captions below the pics...

My first night in Istanbul since I was here in 1992. This is Hagia Sophia, (pronounced "EYE-yah So-FEE-yah,") built in AD 537 during the reign of Justinian the Great, the frickin' Byzantine emperor. Minarets were added as it was converted to a mosque in the 15th-16th centuries after the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople in 1453. It was the world's largest cathedral for an astounding 1,000 years. OMG, this kills me!

The spectacular interior of Hagia Sophia. Stunning! It's incredible to me that this huge and beautiful structure, open and spacious, could have been built so long ago. And you don't build something this size and just hope it will stay up. Math. Lots and lots of math.

Built in 537 A.D. - that's not a typo. Serious question: what were other civilizations building/doing in 500 A.D.? Some say this is the most magnificent building ever built at any time, and it seems unimaginable to me to have built 1,500 years ago.

One of many chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.

Aha!! Look what I found: Europe in 555 A.D., right as Hagia Sophia was built. First, my summary: Men are Bastards - they were then, and they are now. Sorry. From the text on the image: The Western Roman Empire ended in 476, after losing most of its land to various Germanic tribes. The Franks settled in northern Gaul, the Visigoths in Hispania and the Vandals in Africa. Only the eastern half of the empire remained. When Justinian I became emperor, he was determined to reconquer the lands that had been lost to the Germans. First, he sent his general Belisarius to conquer the Vandal kingdom. After this, he was sent to reconquer Rome itself from the Ostrogoths. This war is known as the Gothic War. Justinian also fought many wars against the Sassanid Persian empire to the east, and reconquered southern Hispania from the Visigoths. He died in 565 after a nearly 40 year long reign.
Note: The Ghassanids and Lazica were vassals of the Eastern Roman Empire, but on this map they are shown as independent states.
1. Sussex, 2. Kent, 3. Essex, 4. East Anglia, 5. Lindsey, 6. Dyfed, 7. Glywysing, 8. Gwent, 9. Fortriu

Still on our first day, we walked to the Süleymaniye Mosque, built between 1551 and 1557. (They built the whole thing in six years?!) It's considered one of the most beautiful mosques in Istanbul.

My travels companions this week, Julieta and Eli. So far they're both still talking to me. But it's only the first day!

This little beauty started circling our table at a tea shop as Julieta practiced her Turkish on her.

The view inside the Süleymaniye Mosque. The mosques are incredibly, elaborately, detailed.

We're not in San Francisco, where they don't put severed heads in front of a restaurant unless you used the wrong pronoun.

"Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you." Friedrich Nietzsche

In small neighborhoods these pickup trucks, loaded with vegetables, mostly, will call out and stop for people to come out and buy what they need. It looks like quite a social event, and the seller is part of the community, regardless of where he lives.

I love both the amazing structures like a giant mosque, and the dilapidated ones, like this beauty. It's the middling ones that pain me.

We walked on our first day for HOURS. A super day.

This is our neighborhood, and our hotel is just down the block. It's an ancient area, just near Hagia Sophia, but also too tourist-oriented. The hawkers try to arm-wrestle you into their restaurants, but they do give up after a few days.

A tea and coffee house. Turkey LOVES their tea, incredible how much people drink. They drink more than twice the amount of people in the UK (and 14 times what Americans drink, duh!)

I may do a whole post on food presentation here. I've never seen anything like it.

You have NEVER seen so many pampered, well fed, and healthy "wild" cats as you will in Turkey. And dogs, too, including huge dogs that normally would never be running free. People leave food and water for them everywhere - on sidewalks, at the coastline, in parks, and they have these little cat community houses. They cats are calm and affectionate, many of them. The NYT writes, "In Istanbul alone, a megacity of 15 million people, there are thought to be 130,000 dogs and 125,000 cats roaming free."

Taking a ferry today across the Bosphorus, exploring a new neighborhood in Istanbul. Warm in the sun, biting cold in the wind. Beautiful in all weather. The Bosphorus, (or Bosporus,) also known as the Strait of Istanbul, connects the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara, and by way of the Mediterranean, the rest of the world.

We stumbled across this dramatic restaurant in the Grand Bazaar, a huge covered market built around 1480. Wut?! Amazing over-the-top place. It's called: Nusr-Et Steakhouse Sandal Bedesteni. It just rolls off the tongue, no? If you're looking to buy a steak that's covered in gold foil, this is not a joke, you can get that here. That's the equivalent of lighting your cigar with a burning $100 bill. Classy, people, really classy.

Starting a long-ish walk on the last day of our 3-person group tour of Istanbul. We've crossed this bridge across the Bosphorus in all kinds of weather, and there are always many fishermen here.

Proof! Fishermen day and night. I assumed they were catching some substantial fish, and thought the small fish on their lines were bait. Turns out, that's what they're after. They look like sardines.

İstanbul has an incredible number and variety of neighborhoods, and this city of 15 million people is buzzing. I've made a list of people who should come here for a visit: (1) Everyone. Yes, it's a short list, and you are on it.

Turkey is famous for its sweets - they really are incredible. And Istanbul is famous for the presentation of food. This tower of sweets is much taller than I am.

I don't know what this says, but I'm assuming they're telling real men to sit like real men, not little school girls. It probably says, "Your legs should be spread wide, like your opinions, which should be similarly irritating."

My new favorite dessert in the world, seriously: baklava with ice cream. I'd never seen it before and thought it was a terrible idea until I tried it. Now I think it's a terrible day if I don't have it.

One of a hundred neighborhoods I visited, and a fountain in front of one of a hundred giant mosques in the city. Not kidding.

As I'm walking down dark streets on the way back to my van, or in this case my hotel, in a city that I don't really know, it seems very funny. How do I know where I'm going? How do I know it's going to work out and I'll be ok? And the only answer is: you'll find out for yourself that it DOES work out. And these amazing experiences/adventures change you in ways you can't anticipate, virtually always for the better. As I've said before, no one NEEDS to travel. But if you're tempted and afraid, that's perfect! Just go, and you'll know.

I like this street scene.

The famous Spice Bazaar, built in 1664.

I had just lifted my phone up to take a pic when the first firework went off. Nice timing. Apparently I have fireworks ESP. Send cash and I'll tell you your fortune. Hint: it involves you coming to Istanbul!

I'm walking across the bridge that carries cars, pedestrians, trams/street cars, and restaurants, with the Süleymaniye Mosque up on the hill.

I didn't think much about this tower, but looked it up after I took the pic. It's a Roman monument, so old it's original date is lost to history. But it was repaired 1,000 years ago. What will be here in 1,000 years from now, I wonder?

The famous Blue Mosque looks more blue in this photo than it did to my eyes. I didn't adjust anything. It's a 7 minute walk from my hotel, but I never managed to go. Weird.

One of my many ferry trips, waiting to take off.

Walking along the Bosphorus I came across this very comfortable coffee shop right on the water.

Hey, a mosque!

I went to a restaurant that had no menu, they only served the typical Turkish breakfast all day until it closed at 5 pm. I ate almost every bit of this. Moo.

Kitty condos with a view.

This very Turkish method of preparing and serving hot meats for sandwiches was invented about 100 years ago, and is seen all over the country.

When I couldn't get my hands on baklava and ice cream I would have these sweet fried dumpling things. Yum.

When we first arrived we took a private Bosphorus boat tour, about two hours, and it cost 50 euros each. That's a little expensive, but I thought it would be worth it. Then I found out that the public boat tour is just as comfortable, goes farther, stops along the way, and costs 2 euros each! I ended up taking that one twice. Near the Black Sea is this old fort used to control passage and collect taxes from passing ships. There was a 1 kilometer long chain (.6 miles) that they raised to stop boats from crossing.

A coffee shop with hanging book lamps. Congratulations for getting this far!

(The End)

Friday, February 04, 2022

Road Trip! Serbia - Macedonia - Greece - Turkey, January 2022

Road Trip! Serbia - Macedonia - Greece - Turkey, January 2022

Posted by Dave Adair on February 2nd, 2022 

"I Am That - but... I need to take responsibility, heal my life, go deeper, become more aware, be here now, enter the stillness, save the planet, express my emotions, think positively, become the witness, be blissful, find a guru, be useful, find the meaning of life, calm my thoughts, do good works, get rid of the ego, enter manhood or womanhood, be more practical, get enlightened, find my soulmate, perform a ceremony, become initiated, get in touch with my feelings...
Maybe you do. How can I disagree? While you’re busy with all that, I’ll go and have a cup of tea and read the paper."
~ Nathan Gill
Greetings, friends. I hit my "12 Years of Bad Decisions" milestone recently. On January 25, 2010 (because I find solace in dates and lists of places I've been,) I gave up my job and chihuahua-sized apartment in San Francisco as an experiment in an untethered lifestyle. I've been saying since, "It was an experiment, and the experiment continues." Have I escaped one cage and replaced it with another? I'm not sure it will come naturally to settle down and stay in one place after this peripatetic nonsense that I enjoy so much. There are always trade-offs, of course, and at times I'm not enjoying it. But isn't that true of being at "home" full-time? One day it will happen, and it will be my job to accept my lot. Soon enough I'll be too old to hike, then too old to walk, then too old to get out of my chair unassisted. Perhaps those ailments will similarly affect you! It's worth a ponder, in my opinion. There's not a negative aspect to it, just an acceptance that it's coming, like a freight train, and we are chained to the track. Now what's the schedule of the train, again? Oh, right, we don't know. Get busy, or get relaxed, but Live Your Life, like only YOU can.
My partner in crime, the lovely Julieta, the Argentinian Hurricane, suggested visiting me in Belgrade, Serbia, where I spent two months. Are you kidding me. It was cold so I refused to go outside the whole time. Eh, I might exaggerate. Anyway, I suggested a road trip, if weather conditions allowed it - driving to the southwest of Turkey where a couple of friends have spent a lot of time, and have really recommended it. We didn't know until a few days before whether we'd actually go, but we went! Crikey, it was a monumental trip, for some reason. I guess because we didn't know what to expect, and my only trip to Turkey was 30 years ago, so I was seeing it with demented eyes. Wait, I mean, fresh eyes. Amazing place. Pack your bags and come visit, because my plan is to get residency here, which is straight forward, and allows me to stay dramatically longer than the normal 90 days here and there, like I have been. What's next? If you know, tell me, cuz I have no idea. Exciting stuff!
Enjoy the pics and stories, love,
Note: About half of these photos were sent to my WhatsApp group, which YOU can subscribe to, and they were written as we drove. So captions like, "tomorrow we're going here..." are from then. They're in chronological order, but my mind doesn't have so much order, so do your best in figuring out what I'm talking about.
Many photos! Captions below the pics...

Is it too late to wish you a Happy New Year, now that 3.5% of the year has passed? Wow, time flies. This is the Belgrade Waterfront, in Serbia.

The lovely Julieta has joined me here, rescuing me from two months of hotel living. We're leaving on a road trip this morning: 21 hours of driving to southwest Turkey. This is my second attempt, some of you might know. We go via North Macedonia, crossing into Greece, then east along the Aegean to the Turkish border. Maybe it works!

Is it bad when a diesel leak inside your engine compartment sprays the engine with diesel as you're driving? The best part of getting the van fixed in Skopje, North Macedonia is that the mechanic is a professional opera singer! Lovely guy, amazing voice, and now, a working van. Driving south to the Greece border.

This bridge in the center of Skopje was started in 1451. That statue in the back, one of hundreds built by the city, was started in the last 10 years. The massive building projects transformed the city, I suppose, but it wasn't to everyone's liking, and this poor country spent hundreds of millions of dollars on the "beautification" project.

The city center is kind of beautiful, kind of garish, definitely not your run of the mill capital city. Friendly people, great restaurants, odd, interesting! Hey, check out the bridge - more statues! And look - one of two hotels in the river that look like boats, but aren't.

The Macedonian mechanic/opera singer gave us a CD of him singing, and we listened to it as we drove south to the Greek border. That helped us relax as we got to the border and they asked for a covid test, which we didn't have. Oops. They said, you're not going anywhere, and turned us around. We spent maybe 2 hours getting a test and filling out a ridiculously detailed "Passenger Locator Form" which required ratting out all my friends. Sorry for you guys. Freedom isn't free! We wild camped near this lake in Greece, and were happy to have a working heater. It was dang cold.

Sometimes you have too much diesel and it's spraying everywhere, sometimes you don't have any. For the first time in my van (and in decades) I ran out of fuel just as I drove off the highway. We managed to push the van into a parking area where a new Greek friend drove us to fill a small container, then back to the van. He cheered with us when we got it started. The whole crew at the service station laughed at my stupidity, and the owner gave us a cupcake as a gift when we left! That's never happened before!

We sailed through the Turkish border after the guy barely looked at our papers. We couldn't believe it - we thought it would be really tough. Turns out he was the first of 5 stations in the process, and the whole thing took an hour and a half. A full body x-ray of the van (seen here) was no extra charge, almost no one spoke English and we were stressing. At one point Julieta said, "He doesn't have the right to keep my passport!" I said, " Do you know where you are? He's got the right to throw you in jail if he wants." We were stressed.

We looked for wild camping just as the sun went down and ended up at a little funky campground with a large stone restaurant. Really nice people, cold beer, and a warm fire on a cold night in the restaurant. First night in Turkey!

The ferocious/lovebug of a watchdog at the campground. Do you think he cares if you bite him on the neck? He SO doesn't care!

Fancy Turkish breakfast. Olives, jams, tahini, grape molasses, spicy pasty stuff, butter, nuts, bread, salad, cheese, tea. Eggs and fried bread came later. There's an obvious problem with a meal like this. I'll eat until it's gone or I pass out.

I had heard about the Gallipoli peninsula but didn't know where it was exactly. As we waited to depart on this car ferry I found out it was behind us, but we were blocked in and couldn't go. Famous 1915 battle, amazing place to visit, don't miss it! Oops. We missed it.

A colorful little market in Çanakkale. At sunset we drove on a dead end road towards an historical fort on the coast that is off limits, we learned. There were no signs, but as we approached, every bright light in a huge area started blinking in unison, included a massive blinding light pointing towards us. At first it just seemed strange, but we realized it hadn't been blinking until we got close. We took the hint and backed up a LONG way, since there wasn't room for a 3-point turn, and the blinking stopped. I assume it was automated, and maybe no one was there. It was a little freaky. Google Maps (later) told us the fort was off-limits, and Turkey takes its security seriously. We wild camped nearby. Today, driving towards Ephesus! (Or so we thought.)

We're heading south along the Aegean coast of Turkey. This little inlet from the sea caught our eye. We spend a lot of time wondering how things work, what the speed limit is, and speculating about why so few people speak English. When we see a behavior twice, we say, "Turkish people do this..."

We had read something flattering about Bergama the day before, then forgotten about it. Today we saw it on a highway sign and, oh right - it's one of the most impressive archaeological sites in Turkey. That seemed like a good enough reason to visit. Ten minutes later we're freezing our asses and seeing what we can before it closes. (It's really cold!) This is the sacred road leading to the world-famous and ancient healing center of Asklepieion.

This is a snippet of a snippet of the whole shebang. We walked around what was this major healing center, founded in the 3rd century BC. It included mystical and practical treatments, analysis of dreams, massage, hot and cold plunge pools, and a huge theater, because social life and art are an important part of health. This 70 meter (210 feet) long tunnel was part of "the incubation," which we only skimmed the surface of. Wow. In this dark and cool tunnel patients would sleep, possibly with the help of natural medicines, before their dreams were analyzed.

"Lazy mongrels" is usually an insult, but here it's just a description. These poor guys were shivering.

We're no walking into Ephesus, one of the most famous archaeological sites in Turkey. It's almost obscene to include just a few photos of such an incredible place. It needs a book, a detailed video including drones to be able to capture it. This is the great theater, started around 200 B.C., which seated around 25,000 people.

I'm having trouble breathing here, boss. Turkey is immense, too much to hold in my heart and head! This is the library, which was completed in 135 A.D. Any standing column in sites this ancient will have been renovated to a degree.

Julieta took this fine photo. I don't think this angle would have occurred to me, but I love it. Sometimes when I was taking a lot of street photos from the hip, where you don't really compose the shot, a photo that I normally would never take would be really appealing.

We were lucky with weather. It was supposed to rain all day but mostly it didn't, and mid-winter there were only a few other visitors.

The public latrine was a popular meeting place, according to the guides we overheard. Did I miss something? They also like to shout Bombs Away in ancient Greek, and then laugh at their own dad-jokes. I'm just reporting what I heard. The fact that they were happy to poop sitting next to their friends, without dividers, is maybe the most amazing thing in the whole place.

I thought people were living in caves 2,000 years ago. Maybe my information was wrong.

The scale of the ruins and partially reconstructed buildings is incredible.

You can see the library in the distance. Read more about Ephesus here:

Julieta is actually huge, but you don't notice it until she stands in front of a totally normal sized door.

We walked around a hilly neighborhood away from the center of town.

We're happy when we get away from the only-tourist areas. Shades of India in this photo. This might be the only vehicle in town older than my van.

We're getting close to the "end" of the road trip. This is near the town of Kaş, which was in our heads as the destination. We saw there a nice hotel with a spa on, but wanted to verify it was available before we shelled out for it. We drove there from here, found it closed, and then decided to sleep in the van just in front of the hotel. Welcome home, van dwellers. Sort of.

We only spent one more night in Kas. It's a beautiful place, with islands offshore and massive mountains just behind the town.

The view from our hotel. And hey, there's the van, waiting patiently for us, like an old dog that needs to go to the vet all the time. The most patient and unreliable friend a guy could sometimes want.

We had to drive another three hours to the airport for Julieta's flight home, and just after leaving Kas the road climbs to this snowy scene. This is the same storm that buried both Istanbul and Athens in snow, and brought both cities to a standstill.

We came to a small beach and village named Cirali. This is one of the best restaurants, and has a massive fireplace in the center.

Yeah, ok, so we're not really roughing it. This is the spa at our next hotel, two nights at a place with a sauna/steam/hammam. A hammam is a traditional Turkish bath. It's not hot like a steam bath, but every surface is warm, especially the table in the center, where traditionally you receive a soapy massage. It's an important part of existing Turkish culture that dates back to the Greeks and Romans. There's a LOT of information here:

I didn't realize how mountainous this area is. Some of the mountains plunge right into the sea. This is Cirali.

OK, that's it, I'm coming clean. I may be driving an old van, but I'm definitely not a "backpacker" any more. There, I've said it! This is the open interior of my hotel. I checked in for one night and I'm been here for a week. The sauna, steam room and hammam are the highlight. I found this hotel after delivering the Julieta package to the airport. Wow, what a two weeks we had! It was surprising to both of us what an "epic" trip this was, for some reason.

Me, at a mechanic? Imagine. No one has managed to talk sense into me about replacing this van, and you probably won't either. The fuel hoses, easily replaced, weren't the problem. The problem was: a mystery, since these friendly guys only speak Turkish, and they don't have much patience for talking via Google Translate. The fuel pump and the injectors, I gather. What about them? You got me. They needed fixing.

It feels like someone has yanked down the underpants on my van. Maybe on the first day of school. But nice shiny parts, no? Now that I have a new engine and a fixed fuel whatever, I have... a 30 year old van! This repair stuff won't go away until I go away. Who will give up first!

My first Turkish hike on a mostly beautiful day into a deep canyon. Nice artwork here. It's massive, maybe 3 meters, or 10 feet tall.

Near the end point of the in-and-out hike.

Coming back I took a diversion, and this very young Russian guy, who doesn't speak a word of English, had the misfortune of teaming up with me. We only spoke via Google Translate. We walked a ways looking for a bridge, but there wasn't one. He suggested going all the way back, but I encouraged a crossing. I wear my hiking shoes on these crossings and they'll dry, eventually. After a couple of hours walking back to the highway, he'd been practicing his English with his translator, and with a big grin said, "This was a great adventure." Good attitude!

The beach across the street from my hotel. In summer it's a ridiculously popular tour-package destination.

The view from my breakfast table, overlooking the flooded patio, and the pool, with the sea in the distance. There was a big storm, with crashing thunder, strong wind and big waves. I was forced to take refuge in the sauna.
(The End)