We have just arrived in Rome, Italy and finally have internet connection.
Our cruise was a mixture of wonderful, indulgence and speed.
Wonderful – not having to worry about unpacking and packing each night. Wonderful, in that there is entertainment every night and delicious food and the chance to meet all these people from around the world.
Indulgence – there was just way too much good food. So much so that we got tired of eating after a while.
Speed – We covered so much in so little time! It’s amazing the things we got to see in 12 days. However, the trade off is that we didn’t get the chance to absorb any of the every day Greek culture besides the culture shock of entering a non-muslim country after being in the Maldives and Turkey.
As it was such a whirlwind of a tour, this post will be just as speedy.
By far the most beautiful of the Greek cities we visited.
On Friday 15 November 2013, Kev and I went on our first cruise tour group.
While on the Constellation, I’ve been thinking about how most of our sightseeing has been organised by ourselves and the idea came up that the cruise is in fact, a holiday from our holiday (if that makes any sense).
For one thing, all our meals are planned. Glorious food! It’s amazing how much variety and great food there is on this ship. Secondly, everything is done for us. From our rooms being made up, to activities being planned for us, to finally, every night having our beds ‘turned down’ (as in they open the blankets for us, leaving us with after dinner mints and a print out of our program for the next day).
So, after accepting this mindset (that we are on a holiday from our holiday) going on the organised day tours became an ‘experience’. I was interested in experiencing how it is to be a ‘tourist’ and see things from the customer side of a resort as opposed to our mini ‘behind the scenes’ experience in the Maldives with MWSRP and the Conrad Rangali. So far, it has been nice not having to worry about the little things like where to find towels for the day etc. However, I think I do miss the interaction that you get to have with the staff members. I still talk and have gotten to know a few crew members who I get the chance to hear about where they are from and they give me great smiles during the day, but it’s not the same.
Anyways, our first port of call was Kusadasai.
Ephesus is a beautiful place to see! The ancient city of Ephesus was abandoned due to Aegean Sea receding and leaving swamps around the city. The people then started getting sick believing it was due to the ‘bad air’ which they said was ‘Malaria’. However, they didn’t realise that it was due to the mosquitos and the swamps. This was just one of the cool stories told by our awesome tour guide Volkan.
So Ephesus was abandoned and was left for the elements to hide it.
It is currently an active excavation site and on our tour of the city, we were able to see archaeologists working on restoring it!
For me, the highlight was walking through the ancient city (through the Arcadian Way) and imagining myself as one of the citizens of the day. Things like experiencing the communal bathrooms, walking to the library (Library of Celsius) and going to the arena were the highlights of my time there.
Our second stop was another ancient city of Miletus which also had arena/theatre. Volkan told us how to tell the difference between a Greek theatre and a Roman theatre. In Ephesus, the theatre was Greek as they have a open style theatre where the audience can experience the view of the landscape as well as the show and the theatre is in the shape of a horse shoe. In Miletus, the theatre was a Roman, as it was built with high walls so that the audience would be totally immersed in the performance and the shape was one of 180 degree.
We were unable to further explore the rest of this city, which I was slightly disappointed about. But I appreciated that we were on a tight schedule.
Temple of Apollo
This was very beautiful and I just loved the stories that came from Volkan. He told us that the people back in those days would be drawn to the Temple of Apollo to seek insight into their future as Apollo was the god of the Sun and foresight. People would go to the temple, and write their question on papyrus and give it to an interpreter who would take the question to the oracle. The oracle and the interpreter would communicate in a special language that only they knew. The oracle would then burn certain leaves (opium) to see what the future had in store and then tell the interpreter who would in turn tell the answer to the eagerly waiting believer.
Due to bad luck, the temple was never completed (an earthquake and a war). However, it was used by those who worshipped the old gods and Christians. Volkan showed us some interesting graffiti on the marble floors which the Christians used to communicate to each other.
Another story that Volkan told us, was the story of where the Aegean Sea got its name. This I vaguely remembered from my primary school days and my heart lit up when he told it to us. There was a King named Aegea. His people were terrorised by the Minotaur (the half bull half man dude) and so, they would send the Minotaur a human sacrifice on a yearly basis. They would send the sacrifice by a ship with black sails as they were very sad about this. King Aegea had one heir to the throne, and he was determined to kill this beast to rid the people of this threat forever. After some convincing, the King agreed to allowing his son go, and told him that if he defeated the Minotaur, to change the sails to white. However, if he was unsuccessful and had died, then to keep the sails back. The son was able to defeat the Minotaur and buzzing from the victory he forgot to change the sails. As such, the King who was eagerly watching the horizon, saw the black sails and was so distraught that he jumped into the sea, the Aegean Sea.
I loved this. My imagination had a ball on this day!
So I’m a little behind at the moment. Anna’s been far better at keeping up with being updated with the blog but I’m going to catch up! One thing I’ve found is that now that I’m in control of my holiday and away from the routine of volunteering is that I have a lot LESS idle time. There are far too many distractions when I have the freedom to roam all over an amazing city like Istanbul. In this city there are plenty of awesome sights like the Topkapi Palace, the Blue Mosque, The Grand Bazaar etc. And not only that when you’re travelling you have to plan what you want to do and how to get there. Compared to life in the Maldives where the programme organised everything and we were just along for the ride. I can only imagine that it’ll get busier here on out.
We’ve eaten a LOT since being on this trip. Most of it (as shown by Anna) has been delicious but here are some of the stranger things that I’ve tasted in the spirit of adventure
This popular Turkish drink ended upon my table due to a misunderstanding with the waiter. I only asked what “salgam” was not order it. But at three Turkish lira (1.50AUD) I thought I’d give it a whirl. I thought wrong. I took a sip and I was revolted by its sour meaty flavour. Anna described it best as “something that I’d use to cook meat with”. If I read the ingredients first I would have known that I had a bottle of hot fermented carrot juice.
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt is that fermented food is a sure sign of a local delicacy that will strongly divides opinion between lovers and haters (vegemite, stinky tofu, century eggs etc). I was not a lover of this one.
That is a tub of drinking yoghurt. It was a bit of shock as I’m used to drinking yoghurt being sweet but this was another sour sensation. I did finish it as it was a great chaser with the kofte (Turkish meatballs). This one gets the thumbs up.
So this dish was a source of argument between me and Anna. I saw it a few times while walking the streets of Istanbul and insisted to Anna that I wanted to try the “sideways kebap”. Anna was adamant that it was no different to a regular kebab it was just in a different orientation. As an engineer I find significance in geometry and spent my last day searching for some so I could finally taste it. And when I did I ran up to it and ordered one. I couldn’t wait to take a bite and see how this was deliciously different to the vertical kebaps. While waiting in anticipation I saw the menu. It HAD ENGLISH! I SAW KOMURDE KOKOREC AND IT WA…wa…was sanitised sheep intestines =/. I had an ambivalent triumph, I was happy I was validated that my assertion was correct but I was also crestfallen as my stomach was churning in fear of taking a bite.
To be honest. It was OK. The intestines were heavily salted and oiled. And they were placed in a bun with tomatoes and fresh red chillis which turned out to be quite nice in a sandwich bun. Despite it being tasty I didn’t finish it as I struggled mentally with the fact that I was eating BBQ poo pipe. Instead I rushed off to get another Turkish staple Ishkal Burger. Which just seemed to be a burger patty in a bun then steamed in ketchup. Delicious.
My crazy cat lady friends take note. Cats are everywhere….here’s a sample of the many feline encounters we had during our stay
Hamam (Turkish Steam Baths)
I know Anna mentioned this in her post. But its worth mentioning again as it IS a unique experience and although it can be a bit scary with the language barrier and not being fully aware of what is going to happen. I also went for a steam, scrub and massage. And like Anna there are helpful attendants ushering me along the way to move onto the next step in the process. Rather than go through the details I’ll step through the event with my thoughts.
Get naked and having nothing but a tea towel to hide my nakedity. Feel slightly awkward.
Get sat down on a nice hot stone in a steam room. Muscles relax, feeling relaxed.
Ali baba shows up to scrub me down. Nice guy but I still felt uncomfortable making eye contact while this 50 year old man is essentially giving me a bubble bath. Feel slightly awkward.
Getting punched in the gooche as he goes accidentally (I hope) too high with a scrub motion. Feel REALLY awkward.
Get cleaned up and sent to the massage room for massage. Feeling really relaxed and not too traumatized from the earlier intrusion
Istanbul is a maze of narrow one way streets and to keep traffic flowing rather than use signage they’ve installed devices to encourage vehicles to travel the correct way down one way streets.
This one way dragnet has spike that fold down if you go over them in one direction but then destroy your tires should you travel over it in the other direction. I’m not sure how traffic flows after a car gets completely ruined but as you can see above the locals have found a way to get around these pesky (probably expensive) obstacles by just taping them down when they wish to pass.
Lastly floor numbering. 0 is ground. If you go above 0 its 1, 2, 3… and below 0 its -1, -2, -3… THIS IS AWESOME. I have no idea why but a good labelling system has rustles my jimmies.
12 days in Istanbul flew by so very quickly. We are currently in the middle of our 12 day cruise and are in Mamaris, Turkey. The internet has been scarce so there hasn’t been ample opportunity to post. Anyways, since we have found the net, here’s the last post for Istanbul. A lot that has happened, so I will try to keep this post as succinct as possible.
The must see trio – Topkapi Palace, Underground Cistern, Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia
These are the typical tourist destinations, and don’t really need my commentary on how wonderful they are!
This is a MUST DO peeps! Definitely something to do when you are in Turkey! I have always been quite conscious of my body, and so when I heard that you were to expect to be topless when having a Turkish bath, I was a little nervous. But within minutes of entering the ‘Hamami’, my nerves were replaced with confusion and that overwhelming feeling of curiosity and excitement.
Men and women are separated in the Hamami (this was very reassuring for me). Once I was given my little package (containing a small washcloth, black undies and a token for the traditional bath and for a massage) I was directed to go upstairs to change. The area where you change and where you can rest and have a drink. The first thing I saw were women relaxing with their friends topless. Their indifference and comfort in their own skins definitely made me less shy.
I got undressed and was ushered to the bath area which was a large marble room with a high dome with holes and stars cut out for ventilation. The bath was a sauna. There was this round, raised marble platform in the middle of the bath where I saw women laying on top of towels and resting. One of the wash ladies unwrapped the towel that was around me, laid it on the marble platform and motioned for me to lay on it. So I did.
As I slowly grew comfortable under the heavy damp heat of the sauna, I stared out into the dome above me and started imagining how it would be in these ancient baths back in the day. Suddenly, warm water was splashed onto me like a heavy slap. It shocked me, but then I realised this was part of the bathing experience. The wash lady then walked off to get another bucket full of warm water.
So, after allowing me to lay in the room for a bit, she then started scrubbing me with this rough towel. She scrubbed pretty much everything, which was surprisingly relaxing it felt really clean. She then soaped and washed me. I couldn’t help but imagine that I was Daenerys from Game of Thrones. Tee hee.
Ok, there are these blue cartoon-looking eyes everywhere in Turkey. They are keychains, necklaces, pendants, wall decorations, towel patterns etc. In our apartment, our landlord had a towel hanger with this eye on it. We asked him what they were and he explained that these blue eyes were ‘The Evil Eye’ which the Turks believe are a sign of protection. They kind of freaked me out, but after hearing that they are for protection, I began to warm up to them.
Later, we found out that the eye is supposed to represent the mirror which Perseus used to show Medusa to turn her to stone.
Now, I wasn’t a big cat person. Not that I didn’t like them, but mainly because I am a BIG dog person and I never had a cat. Turkey is THE country for cats. There are stray cats everywhere and they are so adorable! I couldn’t help but fall in love with them and want to pat them! They are so affectionate too! I have a theory that it is because a lot of them are stray cats and do not have a home or people to pat them whenever they want, so any attention is savoured. They purr and meow so sweetly. They definitely have helped me feel less sad when I think about my dog Coco (Big cuddles being sent your way Coco!).
After writing the song for the MWSRP, I became a little inspired to try writing other songs on my ukulele if it came to me. As in the Maldives, I woke up early in Istanbul and was unable to fall asleep again. As frustrating as this is (especially being unable to go for a morning run due to it being completely dark and I didn’t want to kill my ankles on the cobbled street) it was the perfect time for a song to come to mind.
So I wrote this short fun song which I post below.
I was quite nervous filming it as it was in front of the Blue Mosque with tourists, tour guides, locals and Bosporus Cruise salesmen everywhere. It is guaranteed that when you walk around this area you will experience the exact conversation three to four times:
Bosporus Cruise Salesman (Salesman): Hello, hello! Where you from?
Salesman: AU-stra-lien?! G’Day Mate!
Me: Haha, hiiiii.
Salesman: Brisbane? Sydney?
Me (while walking away): Perth!
Salesman: Want Bosporus Cruise, give you special price. Usually 20 Euros, I give you for 18.
Me: No thank you… (now briskly walking away).
So when I was recording Is-tan-bul on the benches outside the Blue Mosque, and saw a salesman approach me, I was a little weary. But when he arrived the cheesy charming attitude was not there. Instead I got:
Salesman: You? Play? (shyly smiles as he points to my ukulele).
Me: Ah, a little. I am not good, just beginner.
Salesman (sits down across from me) Can I?
Me: You play? Of course!
The salesman took my ukulele and started plucking the strings. To me, he clearly knew his way around a stringed instrument, but he had this baffled amused look on his face when he realised the ukulele was different to the instrument he was used to. I was so fortunate that Kev ninja’ed a video of the experience! See below!
We spent a long time talking about music and he was amazed at how small the ukulele was. He had never seen one before. He kept saying that he was used to a bigger instrument but he loved the sound of the ukulele. I said to him ‘I picked it up because it sounds happy.’ He burst out with excitement ‘YES! Happy!’. I loved how in this experience I got to see a glimpse of the person behind the salesman. After that, other salesmen came over to listen to our conversation. It was nice to see them joke and interact with each other instead of hounding us to purchase a ticket for a Bosporus Cruise tour.
Looking back now, I realised that it wasn’t too much of a surprise that he was quite good on my ukulele. In Taksim, every second store was a music store selling guitars, violins, ukuleles, Turkish guitars, pianos, drums, you name it! Also, there were numerous talented musicians playing in the streets! It seems that the Turks are clearly musicians!
First few days here have been quite an eye opener. A huge change from the quiet, sunny days in the Maldives.
Istanbul is a city. Lots and lots of people everywhere. Women and men alike are gorgeous with intense eyes and beautiful faces. People don’t seem to smile as much as they do in the Maldives, however, that could be because we were staying on a resort where smiling is probably mandatory.
The food smells here are so mouthwatering that I’m afraid that I’ll gain back the 3kgs that I lost! First meal was borek; one with spinach and one with cheese, together with turkish tea! The tea is served in these tiny delicate glasses which makes my heart melt. They are the sweetest things. So cute! The tea is bitter than what I am used to, however, tastes delicious with the food. The borek, soft fluffy pastry which is slightly chewy on the inside. Hrmmmm. So good.
Another delicious dish that we had was this wrap that has minced beef cooked in garlic and it had this awesome cream/yogurt on the side. Oh god. It was so tasty.
Last night, Kev and I decided to buy some goodies from the spice market to eat for dinner. This is what we ended up getting:
Oh and the sweets. Gosh the sweets are to die for. The Baklava oozes with smooth, buttery goodness together with the soft and chewy pastry and the slight crumble of pistachio. Yum, yum, yum! It’s a winner in my books, and I’ve been craving one every day (hello fat Anna!).
I never really understood what was so good about Turkish delights. For me. It always was a little rich and it got stuck in my teeth. But, being in Turkey and having some Turkish delight with Turkish tea, really brings a new meaning to ‘short eats’.
OMGWTFBBQ! Hold your horses everyone because Istanbul is the shizz for shopping. And for real, it is. Don’t discount what your friend has said about how great it is (or your parents advice for that matter – Hi mom and dad!), your loved ones are damn right!
The clothes here are well made and the fashion is very cool. Different to Australian fashion, but not so different that it would look odd wearing it back home. In fact, it would help you stand out from the crowd. I have bought a jacket that makes me look like a little Jedi warrior, a shirt, bracelets, the prettiest ring and the sweetest bag all for a great price! I’ve already accepted that I’ll need to send stuff home before we leave Istanbul.
The cool thing about shopping in Istanbul, is that we’ve been meeting the coolest people. The shop owners are all so very nice, and I’ve really enjoyed our 1+ hour conversations about people and life. They seem to really want to connect with you, which is a great technique for the salesman, but it also gives me the greatest gift of getting to know someone new.
Meet Onur. He is a university student studying acting and business. At first I was a little tired, and to be honest, could not be bothered talking. But he was really funny and had some cool things to say. Next thing, we are chatting for 1.5 hours and I’ve chosen my bracelets. It was a cool experience. He gave us his contact details and said he was happy to go out drinking and eating with us! So far, still kinda tired but will definitely be considering a night out soon!
Now meet Mr Janut. Kev and I met him in a leather store on the way home from a walk to the Cisterns. The line was long, and we decided to call it an early day. As we walked down the steep cobble streets, I saw this window with cool puppets in it.
When we walked in, there were all these different leather bags. I’ve been looking for a new bag for a while, but it was only when we spotted two leafy bags (one is bigger than the other) did my heart skip a beat. These bags were soooooo awesome! Janut started talking to us while I tried on the two bags. Janut started talking about life, and how one needs to love what they do. He also described his observations on the wealthy tourists who don’t even say hello or appreciate the small things in life. He said:
‘They live in their Christian Dior bubble, don’t see reality of Istanbul.’
I liked him. Instantly. His large, warm, fatherly bear like movements were just so engaging. So we chatted for a long time. Eventually I made my decision and I chose the smaller bag of the two as it was slightly more sweet in its design, and it was lighter.
Anywho, hopefully tomorrow we will have the chance to so some sightseeing!
Kev and I have landed in Istanbul 3 days earlier than initially planned to avoid any Maldives visa issues. We were to stay 32 days in the Maldives, however, the tourist visa is for 30 days and after discussion with the MWSRP team on the options available to us – chance it and just stay for the two days (and risk a fine of $600 each); attempt to gain an extension for the visa (which was very troublesome); or buy a return ticket from Male to Colombo, Sri Lanka (only an hour flight one way) so that our 30 days is reset; the best option that eventuated was to pay a fee of $90 per person to Turkish Airlines and change our flights.
In the first week, Katie and Alissa proposed that if we were comfortable enough, the volunteers could do a little presentation of photos or of anything regarding their best moments on the program. Sure enough, I automatically thought of collecting photos. However, I found that over the month, I didn’t take as many photos as I would have liked. But that was ok, as in the first and second week of the program, I wrote a song on my ukulele about searching for whale sharks.
It just came to me on a morning ride on the Dhoni. I remember sitting outside at the front and for some reason all these words came to me. Things like ‘ink blue’ and ‘tear drop’. Words that Katie had used to describe what to look for in the water. For some reason those words stuck and then when I wrote then down, the rest of the song just came.
The chorus tune also came to me on the Dhoni ride. After that, whenever I was out on the Dhoni or in the water searching for WS I played around with the tune. So here’s the finished product! I recorded it on our last day in crazy hot weather. So please bare with my mistakes here and there!
Here are some more photos from my camera:
A game of guess who with all the random photos of watches, hands and other limbs
Random photos here and there:
So that ends our chapter in the Maldives. Until next time! Thanks again MWSRP. I can’t thank you guys enough for such a wonderful, eye-opening experience. Missing you guys, the water and the whale sharks already. Please keep in touch!!!!