A Traveler’s Terrene

You only live once. What are you going to remember the most?

Croatia: Highlights and Memories October 30, 2008

1. Taking the train from Zagreb to Split, and although the countryside was stunning with scattered colors of golden yellow, sun kissed orange and fire red trees, I was frankly more entertained watching the girl sitting kiddy corner from me sucking her thumb as she dozed off in her seat. Now you are probably, imagining a 3 year old. Maybe even a 5 year old at most. Now, scratch that image out of your head….and imagine a 20-something-year-old sucking her thumb. Yes! 20-something. I could not believe my eyes. So, I did like any normal person would do…and stared until she woke up and caught me looking at her.

2. Unexpectedly witnessing a wedding celebration. Right outside the tourism office, and in front of a grand old church walked the groom and wedding party into the middle of the square where music began to play, an accordion danced in circles, and Croatian flags waved inthe air as the groom was lifted to the groomsmen’s shoulders,  while everyone chanted a song in unison (it sounded almost like a fight song, perhaps the national anthem or maybe their favorite soccer team won and they just found out the score?) In any case, it was a beautiful surprise to see a square full of people happy and living life with gusto.

3. Getting a haircut and for the first time in 7 months and having my hair blow dryed and straightened. You have no idea how much I’d missed my dryer and curling iron, I felt like a whole new person. I actually felt cute for a change!

4. Suzanne and I renting a car and driving down the Dalmatian Coast!  I drove and Suz was the navigator and photographer (as we forgot to put her name on the contract).  It was one of the top highlights of the entire trip. Driving a manual on windy roads along the coast, stopping to take pictures whenever we found a scenic spot, and exploring the little towns nestled around each bend as we made our way to Dubrovnik. There is only one thing that would have made the day more perfect: a convertible.

5. Enjoying the view from a seaside restaurant, with a glass of white wine and Black Risotto, a Croatian delicacy made with risotto and octopus ink. The flavor was amazing, but it does momentarily turn your teeth black!

6. Suz and I dressing up as twins for our epic road trip!  We wore similar hats we bought in Thailand, identical shirts, jeans, bracelets, shoes and rocked our lovely jewelry we were given in Istanbul.

7. Staying at an adorable Croatian woman’s home in Dubrovnik,where she rented out rooms to travellers. She was so kind and sweet, giving us a welcome vodka shot (or some kind of clear liquor) on arrival and pomegranates from her garden for breakfast.

8. Going out to a wine bar with Tony, who was from Australia, and another guest at the woman’s house. He had been staying there for a few weeks and gave us the lowdown on all the not-so-touristy places to check out.

9. Soaking up the last of the summer rays down by the Adriatic Sea.

10.  Meeting Dan and Steven, two other Ozzies, on our walk back into town. Randomly enough, Tony knew Steven from Australia, talk about a small world!

11.  Exploring the Old Fort, taking shadow pictures on the wall, and being given a Croatian Welcome Pack by the gentleman at the door.  It came filled with brochures, dvds, lavender sachets, a key chain and a Croatian handicraft heart. (Poor guys, they weren’t given much love and only Suz and I received these gifts!)

12. Going to dinner, drinks and dancing with our new friends.

13. Walking the city wall at sunset, a wall that wraps entirely around the Old City that was used to protect the city from invaders but now a days, provides the most stunning views of the sea and town.

14. Going to dinner with the Ozzies, while listening to the Orchestra play music in the background.

15. Waving goodbye to beautiful Dubrovnik and boarding a ferry headed towards Bari, Italy!

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Turkey: Highlights and Moments October 29, 2008

1. Suzanne’s wallet being stolen on the tram within the first hour of arriving in Istanbul. Although this wasn’t a highlight, as that was her favorite wallet, she said it was worth it to have the money stolen for the experience she had while filling out the police report. Not only was she gawked over by numerous men at the station and invited to dinner, but she was also driven back to the hostel in the back of the police car, lights flashing and going at a mad speed (during the 5 minute drive back.)

2. Sitting down to dinner at 6pm, only to remember that it was Ramadan, and although the restaurant was packed, dinner would not be served to the customers until around 7pm when the sun set. (Luckily, since we had a show to go to at 7:00 they served us earlier, although we felt quite guilty being the only ones eating in the room of starving people!)

3. Going to a Belly Dancing performance, although the waiter who was enamored with us was by far more entertaining. Suzanne and I quickly found that all you had to do was make eye contact and you would have a string of suitors. The waiter supplied us with 2 bottles of free wine, endless appetizers, fruit, dessert and even made me a flower out of paper!

4. Being offered free apple tea, a glass of wine or a beer whenever we walked past a restaurant.

5. Enjoying the gorgeous views from the Galata Tower. We looked down on the sparkling Bosphorus Strait, grey stone lined city streets and countless mosques that scattered the endless rolling hills but whose spiraling towers guided your eyes to their points like the runway lights for a plane. I’ve always thought Prague to be the most beautiful city; however, Istanbul has taken it’s place.  Istanbul is like a dream city, you truly feel like you are a princess both with the surrounding architecture and the constant affection of admirers.

6. Enjoying our first dark beer (literally called “Dark Beer”) in over 5 months at an outdoor restaurant on the riverfront.

7. Watching a Dervish Concert–the men dressed in all white, twirling and dancing–at the historic train station while eating roasted chestnuts.

8. Walking to one of the main parks where a Ramadan festival was taking place. Street vendors lined the area with toys and trinkets for the children, and multiple stalls and booths were set up selling traditional Turkish food.

9. Walking to the ferry to purchase a ticket, but being stopped by a man on the boardwalk who wanted to sell us a tour on a smaller ferry boat. We told him we couldn’t afford the price of the tickets (which came to about 20 US dollars each) so with a brief talk to the boss, we were able to get on free as well as served hot Turkish coffee as soon as we sat down! We cruised down the straight admiring both the Asian and European side of Istanbul, the only metropolis in the world that is situated on two continents.

10. Being showered with presents after we got off the boat. We only stopped to tell the man thank you for letting us take a free tour, but while we sat chatting with him he quickly got up and went to his car to bring us back little Turkish flags, rings and necklaces. Spoiled, with a capital S!

11. Enjoying a massage and soaking up the warm water and hot steam at a traditional Haman Turkish Bath. After sitting in the bath house, we waited our turn for our massage, which was great but I was quite shocked to find that in addition to a massage, there was more or less a naked scrub down that followed–imagine big foamy brushes, exfoliating crystals and buckets of water. Quite similar to a car wash.

12. Getting a tattoo.  Well, a henna tattoo that is. I’ve always detested tattoos from an early age (mostly due to my dad’s strong opinion against them) but after the final touches were drawn, I do have to admit I quite liked it and felt pretty “cool”. And, although I will never get one as I am extremely fickle about loving something and then hating it, I can now relate to why people do get them and see how it could be quite addicting.

13. Eating dinner at the Ramadan festival, and trying the most random concoction of a baked potato which included basically  every vegetable and condiment imaginable piled onto one potato. Mustard and salsa, check. Green beans and cooked cabbage, check. Tomatoes and peas, check. Hot dogs pieces and corn, check. Let’s just say it was “interesting”, and although you should always try local food, this is definitely something I will skip on my next trip back…

14. Suz and I sitting contently, sharing our potato dinner in the middle of the park. Dressed in our fisherman pants and sarong to cover our shoulders with our wet hair pinned up and mascara running down our faces as we just left the Turkish bath.  In short, we looked horrendous, but with literally doing nothing other than sitting there, we were offered free apple tea, then later serenaded by 8 guys (one singing us songs with his guitar) and given sweets, bracelets, necklaces, and rings.  Quite the ordeal!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely not trying to boost my own ego with these accounts, it’s just that I’ve never found a culture of men who were more extreme with their lavish gestures and constant acts of affections. Even Italian men wouldn’t be able to compete! (gasp!) All I can say is for women who are going through a breakup, forget the sad love films and containers of ice cream; instead, buy yourself a plane ticket and head to Istanbul! It’s pretty much a guaranteed fix to cheer you right up:-)

 

India: Highlights and Memories

1. Arriving in India, and being invited to our travel agents Iffy and Joma’s home for dinner with their family. We sat on the floor, Indian style, eating the most amazing curries, rice, and vegetables with our hands. It still amazing me how hospitable locals are to foreigners.

2. Changing our flight on a whim from Leh to Srinigar with hopes of trekking and fly fishing in the rugged Kashmiri outdoors.

3. Touring Dal Lake by Shiraka, a small row boat. The lake was clear as glass, and dotted with pink lotus flowers. The mountains, trees and houseboats reflected on the lake as though they existed as their own entity and not just a double. I played music through my speakers. It was relaxing and tranquil, the ride as like a unforgettable daydream.

4. Listening into our intuition to leave Srinigar early when news of riots and protests erupted in the city center–leaving one boy dead after being hit (accidentally) by a policeman’s tear gas canister. Shops were closed and protests were suspected to continue due to the lack of support by the government to provide supplies and shelter to the Hindus during their pilgrimages. It was unfortunate to leave, but with this news as well as the upcoming India Independence day, it was not particularly safe to stay as we did not want to be caught in a wrong time-wrong place situation. Beautiful Srinigar, I will be back. One day.

5. Flying from Srinigar to Leh and glimpsing our first views of the Himalaya Mountains!

6. Lazily spending three days in Leh acclimatizing, reading books, trying different Indian cuisine, and wondering the shops and walkways.

7. Hiring a jeep with 2 other travelers and journeying to Nubra Valley, travelling alongside the cliff’s edge on windy roads and crossing the highest motor-able pass in the world.

8. Exploring a handful of monasteries. My favorite, was a giant construction perched atop a hillside cliff 100 feet away from a roaring waterfall. The sound of the rushing water and the isolation of the monastery gave the place a magical feeling.

9. Riding two-humped camels through sand dunes!!!!

10.  Leaving on a trekking trip with Reme and Gabriel, brother and sister from France, and getting a flat tire about a 15 minute walk from our starting point destination. After a hilarious photoshoot, we walked the remainder of the way to our campsite where we met an Italian couple and spent the remainder of the night playing cards and speaking in 3 languages.

11. Reme and Gabriel left after 6 days, but Suz and I signed up for a 14 day trekking trip. We woke up each morning to hot tea outside our tent and a warm breakfast waiting in the cooks tent. We walked 4-8 hours a day through stunning landscape, crossing valleys, rivers, climbing 4 passes-the highest being over 4950meters high and celebrating with swigs of Chang beer (a homebrewed wheat beer made by the locals).

12. Suzanne and I nicknaming our guides, cooks, and ponymen “gangsta names”, there was G-Unit, T-Dawg, Ice Cube, Flava Flav, Diggity, Dr. Dre, Q-Diddy, LL Cool J and Snoop Dawg. Since Indian names were hard for us to pronounce and easy to forgot, we used these nicknames and it was a HUGE hit. They in turn nicked named us Indian names, Reme was Gime, Gaby was Achan, Suz was Zesma and I was nicknamed Padma (meaning flower), and called Pame for short.

13. Helping T-Dawg, our amazing cook, make Momos–a Tibetan pot sticker type dumpling.

14. Witnessing a rainbow in the dark. I would have never imagined this was even possibly, but there it was a beautiful full sized rainbow lit up by the glow of the full moon.

15. Putting together a limbo competition while listening to music from our Ipods.  Our cooks, guides, ponymen–everyone participated. It was so much fun!

16. Watching the mountains change colors, from purple to yellow to green to gold over the course of our 14 day trek.

17. Washing our laundry on rocks in the river with the warm sun on our backs.

18. Taking baths in river streams.

19. Finally developing a taste, and love for tea!

20. Teaching our cook, guide, poneyman and two monks how to play the card game “Spoons” in the tent.

21. Standing less than 50 yards away from a herd of 30-40 Ibex, and after watching them graze in the grass for 20 minutes, I ran after them shouting with a Seagull voice just to see them stampede. It was remarkable watching them run.

22. Skipping rocks on Tsokar Lake with Zesma, G-Unit and T-Dawg.

23. Going to Yoga classes at a meditation center.

24.  Zesma and I renting bicycles and riding out of town with a daypack, and stopping in a small village called Thiksey for the night.

25. Waking up before dawn and hiking to the top room of the monastery. We sat on the floor in a room of 30+ monks who were sitting on cushions, chanting their morning prayers and being served breakfast (tea, water and wheat flour, which they mix together to form a dough-like substance). Most of the monks were young boys and it was quite hilarious watching them play and joke while they were supposed to be chanting.

26. Riding a few hours to another small town, and instead of carrying on in the rain, we convinced a car to strap our bikes to the top of the roof and let us hitchhike back into Leh. This whole conversation was done in hand gestures as they didn’t speak English and we didn’t speak Ladakhi.

27. Flying to Leh and hiring a driver to take us to Jaipur and Agra.

28. Going to a Bollywood film with our driver and his friend.

29. Walking around he Monkey Temple, a temple outside of Jaipur, and taking a photoshoot with local children and women dressed in beautiful Saris and henna-painted hands and feet.

30. Walking around the Taj Mahal and taking pictures of the white marbled temple at sunset.

31. Being asked to be in photos with an Indian family (grandparents, parents, children etc.) which turned into a 10 minute photo shoot.

32. Witnessing the burning of bodies in Varanasi. 300-400 bodies are burned a day and are ignited from a flame that has supposedly been burning continuously for over 2000 years. The bodies are carried by family members on bamboo poles and weaved grass mats and are wrapped  by scarves each family member gives as a final gift. The body is tipped into the Gange River, the face and body splashed with the holy water. After drying, the scarves are removed and set to the side and the body, now wrapped only in a cotton sheet, is placed on top of the wood and a man in charge places more wood on top of the body and finally ignites the wood from a neighboring fire. The cremation process takes 3 hours, leaving only the collarbone from a man and hipbone from a woman in the pile of ash. After the cremation is finished, the brother or closest relative extracts a bucket of water from the Gange and extinguishes the fire. The workers gather the ashes in a bucket and hand it to a man who is wast deep in the river. He pours the ashes into a weaved basket, filtering the ashes to salvage any pieces of jewelry or bits of gold that were buried with the deceased. These items go into the pocket of the owner of the crematory. The expense of a cremation depends on the type of wood selected, but for Iron Wood (similar to Sandlewood which is used to mask the smell of the burning body) costs roughly 250Rp per Kilo of wood. Each cremation requires an estimated 200 Kilos of wood. For the families who cannot afford this, other families chip in until enough is purchased and the body can be burned. Since Varanasi is deemed one of the holiest cities in India, the majority of people bring their loved ones here to be cremated, as they believe that here the body will be released to Nirvana.  The only bodies they do not burn are pregnant women, children (under the age of 16), animals of any kind, and people with leprosy. Instead they are weighted and dropped in the middle of the river. Despite the cremation process that takes place in and around the Gange River, we rode in a boat at sunrise watching men, women and children bath and wash their clothes in the river, as they deem this water to be holy.

35. Standing on a rooftop over looking the banks of the river, while watching locals perform Puja, a type of blessing.

34. Going to a restaurant recommended by our travel agent, and ordering a South Indian dish that was similar to a crepe. We ordered the one that looked like it has the most variety of stuff in it, but turned out it just meant that it was the biggest. The crepe was bigger that my arm!