A Travellerspoint blog

Schnitzel days

semi-overcast 20 °C

While in Greece, daily we must say, we ate a Greek salad, that wonderful concoction of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, green peppers ,capers, olives and all topped with at least a pound of fresh feta and drizzled with the oil of olives picked next door and while sopping it up with fresh crusty bread, beyond wondering why we even ordered an additional entrée, we talked about the name. Why is a Greek salad called such in Greece? Should it not simply be called the chef’s salad there?
In Vienna, every schnitzel is called a Wiener Schnitzel while we do not know what in the heck they mean. Is it just any piece of meat? With or without rib meat? Lamb or veal, chicken, turkey, pork or beef , breaded or not, fried or grilled, stuffed or unstuffy it is called a wiener schnitzel! While still not knowing, we have enjoyed learning and Vienna, with only 72 hours, is the place to find out.
Three days in Austria is not near enough to give the country justice but we sure gave it a try. Upon arrival at the airport we learned of the Wien-Karte (Vienna card) and for 13.00 Euros, a pass can be bought which gives 72 hours unlimited use of Vienna’s large metropolitan public transportation system and we hopped off and on buses, trains, trams moving all at times under, above and way above Vienna while all leaving and arriving with great Austrian/German engineering efficiency. Spend 5 Euros more and the ticket includes many extras like discounts for all the sights to see. With this great system in place it is no wonder that the air is clean since fewer cars are bothering driving around. Flying over Austria this late in a spring where they received an abundance of rain and sunshine is like flying over one gigantic park.
The Geblergasse hotel where stayed very comfortably for our days in Vienna is only a 5 minute walk from the Alser Strasse Underground exit and the walk is so much more enjoyable when not carrying heavy bags. Friday evening we wandered around , learning our perimeters and marveling over Vienna’s calm, composed atmosphere and Saturday was spent catching in turn Tram 1 and 2 which circle the city’s main attractions adjacent to the Donau canal. It rained our first morning there and dressed in shorts and t-shirts as if we were still in Santorini was a cold mistake. We huddled on the Ringstrasse tram and toured the city twice before braving off. The tram conductor must be used to tourists like us and never uttered a word about our lengthy stay. There is so much to see in Vienna and the Wiener-Card Coupon book gave us great instructions on how to reach each sight and many are closely clustered around the Hofburg square and the Osterreichischen Nationalbibliothek (National library). Even on a rainy Saturday these places were packed and many tourists hopped on available, horse drawn , covered carriages. There are way too many museums to mention and we have regrets on our shortage of time and not the foresight to book tickets to hear the Wiener Sangerknaben or see the training of the Lipzannaner horses at the Spanische Hofreitschule while we were so nearby. Long before we reached the famous Vienna Rathaus we heard loud music and not the Mozart or Strauss sounds expected. Instead it was a Rock and roll sound check for the Life Ball which was held in front of the Rathaus last Saturday and drew a crowd of 40.000 later in the evening. It is Europe’s extravagant Aids charity event geared to spread the message that Aids is a weapon of mass destruction and what is needed to turn its tide, We were not able to get tickets but our Arkansas friend Bill Clinton was one of the VIPs and later that night we saw some of the show live on TV. Our pictures of the Rathaus covered with the Life Ball stage are quite unique and we are glad to have seen this monument used productively. We spent most of our Saturday evening walking the Donau and found all 4! There is the Donau canal , close to the center with the Donau river a couple of Underground stops away split by the New Donau River through an enjoyable walk- able isle. We were determined to still find the old Donau and in the end found it the least impressive. How many Donau’s should one have?

When we first arrived in Austria last Friday it was so good to be able to read the signs and understand (mostly) the spoken German words. It was a little disconcerting that upon my speaking what I presumed to be quite understandable German, the Austrians would immediately answer in English . My German must not be what I think it is. I decided to stick with my guns though and kept conversing in German even while noticing the painful look on their faces. My German will not get any better if I am not allowed to practice. I do wonder how often I have done the same and discouraged others from learning Dutch by not allowing them to speak in a language foreign to them because it hurt my ears.

The highlight of our short trip to Vienna was connecting back with Helga, an Austrian woman whom we briefly met on a New Zealand beach in early February. At that time we shared a rainy ocean swim and our meal. Helga then mentioned for us to contact her if our travels would bring us closer and they did. We met Helga last Sunday morning at Schloss Shonbrunn , the magnificent summer palace of the Habsburgs and still kept in its shining glory. We could not have had a better guide to take us through the gardens and show us the views. Afterwards Helga drove us south to the city of Baden where the former Emperors family ’s Kur park and Casino are still drawing crowds to hear the music of Strauss and Mozart surrounded by the park’s greenness.
In Baden Helga showed us the specific Austrian signs which lead locals and tourists to homes where authentic made food and wine can be consumed in a comfortable, home/garten setting and Helga treated us to a Bunschenank. While we were sharing the great breads, spreads and wine Helga promised us to many months earlier we commented on the great fact of sharing meals in some one’s private back yard while bringing mans’ best friends, their dogs. The couple next to us, with their dog, overheard our conversation done in both German and English and introduced us to their language . Liz, born and raised in Kansas and her Austrian husband Otto showed us how both our languages together, called Germish , can be spoken well .
Liz and I had a great time passing back and forth the humor Americans have for those living in Kansas and we are adding Liz as another great Kansas person to know. Our Kansas friends Jeannie, Annette and Bill should know that now with meeting Liz the scale is favorably tipping for Kansas.

Tonight, while writing about our Schnitzel days, we already are in Rome but Rome wanderings will have to wait for another day.
It was Helga who showed us another way, another word for saying Schuss, auf wiedersehen, good-bye or tot ziens. All words containing that we have a hope to see each other again.
Helga gave us the Austrian word of Servus, an ancient word meaning that while we may not see each other again on this earth we honor and treasure every moment we spent together.

Servus Helga, Vienna and Austria.


Posted by tomstrick1 13:53 Archived in Austria Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)


sunny 25 °C

With our time here in Santorini and Greece drawing to a close we took stock of all the extra’s we accumulated in the last 5 countries and were still hauling with us. It was time to put a package together and send it home. Finding the local post office is way more difficult than emergency medical care and many steps were taken on the Santorini Island before our box could be sent. It is a veiled gift . Our children, to whom this was sent are not allowed to open the box beyond the Nepali veil, covering their Christmas gifts. On the very top is a small clear package which contains 5 pouches, holding the coins of Thailand, Nepal, India, Turkey and Greece, the countries we have traveled in these last weeks.
They have been faithfully collected for our favorite son in law, Mr. Corbitt, and his class at Simon Intermediate school in Conway, Arkansas. While now in Euro land, we have learned that not all Euros are equal as pointed out to us in a small Santorini store where the owner showed us the Greek mark on the coins and maybe after Greece we will no longer see the 1 and 2 Euro cent coins. The Nepali pouch of coins is still the most special to us, partly because of the difficulty in aquiring them. In Nepal, rupee coins are rarely seen and passed and even for the smallest denominations, 1, 2 or 5 rupees, worth pennies each, tattered bills are now much more common which makes it hard to believe that as recent as 1953, when Sir Edmund Hillary scaled Mount Everest an 30 extra Sherpa porters hauled the coins needed to pay for his expedition since at that time rupee bills were still unheard of in Nepal . In our Nepal coin bag is a small piece of chocolate. It was the tender rendered for 1 rupee when the store did not have the correct change and seeing the pile of chocolates in the cash register drawer, very acceptable.

We ended our time in Santorini with that we did most of and that was walking. The island invites one to this, blasted as it was to smithereens by volcanic activity it leaves one side with sheer cliffs while on the other side gently sloping back to the sea, allowing black and red sand beaches for the tourists to bake on. Our most favorite walk was the 15km hike from Fira to the town of Oia, built along the rim of the caldera wall and known for a spectacular sunset. Walking through the narrow alleys, terraced on cliffs showed us the roof arches of Santorini, all whitewashed or painted the church blue and there to offset the other Santorini phenomena which is the hidden flat basins each arched roof carries to catch and utilize every raindrop which falls on this extremely dry island. Slightly tilted, each roof has a drain which carries the rare , fresh water to a cistern deep below each house. On top one could also see the stainless steel hot water tanks attached to the solar panels which gave us many good hot showers. It is amazing how an island without fresh water and limited rain days can maintain its greenness, flowers and grape crops for the Santos wine. We mentioned earlier the lowness of the grape bushes, barely 2 feet in height so as to be protected from the Santorini wind which is strong, fierce and as the few trees show, blows from one direction only.
We took the “See Santorini in one day” tour and had a reenergizing blast. The tour involved a visit to the prophet Elias monastery built on the highest point of the island in 1711 AD and of course the view was breathtaking. In the Athinios port we boarded the old King Thiras boat which took us first to the island of Nea Kameni which is still an active volcano and the walk around and on the volcano involves clambering on lava with lots of tourists and not all were sufficiently warned that on this hike no donkeys were available. Afterwards the boat sailed to the small island of Palia Kameni,where we were offered a swim in the green, hot sulfur waters flowing behind the active crater. This became quite comical. The King Thiras boat stopped quite a way back from the island and we were all offered the opportunity to jump in, swim through the very cold , early spring Aegean waters for 15 meters( give or take a couple of 100 meters) before enjoying bathtub warm, orange and white speckled sulfur waters and some of us did. That’s when true bonding starts with your fellow passengers; Chinese, Dutch, Australian, American and Greek all sound alike when only shrieks of pain and moans of joy are heard when the water temperature abruptly changes from 10 to 35 degrees Celsius. The swim back to the King Thiras became a race since only cold water was a certainty on the return. The island of Thirassia was visited next and we hiked up to the village of Manalos and wondered when the tour company will start warning tourists that their day program is quite a work out. In Santorini donkeys are of course ready and willing to take you up the 600 or so vertical steps with at least many more horizontal steps in between but even while knowing how it boosts the Santorini economy, we struggle with having these tiny donkeys carry our big bodies up. Port Athinos was built only 40 years ago when Santorini realized that the port of Fira was not conductive in attracting the tourists, not even the donkeys could carry all the luggage and there was no room for the winding road needed to carry the big buses and their load up which now is in place. It is in Athinios where the big ferries stop. Fira still has its port for the daily cruise ships and some years ago a smart business man built a steep cable car to take the tourist up and down which of course drew the wrath of the donkey owners. Lately a happy compromise has been reached in Santorini, the cable car owner gives twenty percent of his profit back to the donkey owners who sit waiting for the few costumers still wanting the authentic ride up the many steps.

What stands out for us in Santorini is not the sunset we watched in Oia with many others but instead the full moon slowly starting its arch over the Caldera nighttime blue.
It is the time spent in the village of Karterados, walking, waiting for buses, buying bread and seeing the town’s people white washing for the summer to come. It is in the greetings we received and gave back to those who recognized us as travelers who stayed on Santorini for longer than a couple of days.
Santorini is not only a place to live but a place to be and with both fondness and sadness we sailed yesterday back to Athens and spent one more night there, this time on the Southern Athens beach of Glyfada before flying to Austria tomorrow.

Let’s hear if the hills are truly alive with the sound of music.

Yassu and thank you Greece!

Tom and Els

Posted by tomstrick1 13:09 Archived in Greece Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

The colors of Greece

sunny 22 °C

Greece welcomed us at the end of May first with a glorious sunset, visible from our taxi which was careening at speeds of 120 KM on the 80 KM roads but our driver was in there by far not alone. Upon landing at the Athens airport we learned of the public transportation strike held but thankfully taxis were exempt. Earlier in the day, while leaving Istanbul we became aware of the May first status as a national Holiday in Turkey and the protestations and conflicts which resulted later after our departure. Taking a shuttle bus to the Istanbul airport we met a fellow traveler from the Netherlands, living not far from my old home town who told us about the mayhem which happened the day before in the Dutch town of Apeldoorn on Koneginne Dag (Queens Day). How 7 people died with many more wounded when in a deranged moment, by car, an attempt was made on the lives of the Dutch Royal Family and while they survived physically, it will change how a country looks at safety and protection and April 30 will never be seen and celebrated the same. At the root of what happened in Turkey, Greece and the Netherlands the same ailment can be found. Fear of existence in a world where many are losing their jobs and homes. Still, it was not the world’s economy which filled Tom’s hospital room with its CNN sounds but non-stop reports of the swine-Mexican-H1N1 flu. Traveling by air on May first brought it even closer, many people were seen in both the Istanbul and Athens airport wearing a filtering mask and at the Athens airport it was not a stamp which was placed in our passport but a flyer from the Hellenic Centre for Disease control and prevention, alerting us to swine flu in humans and what all to avoid, including visiting swine breeding locations and not to cover sneezes and coughs with hands, instead with upper arms.

It is every year that many people die all over the world from different strains of the flu and its complications so we have decided to not add it as an additional worry to our travels but stay very focused on where the bus and taxi drivers are coming from out of narrow alley corners because they still remain our most immediate danger.

Returning to Athens, to Greece was very monumental to Tom and I. In the fall of 1973 we were here. It was our very first trip together at the prill age of barely 20 (Els) and almost 22 (Tom). We see our return as a successful completion of a trip around the world starting many years ago and that the next two European months are an extra. While our return to Athens almost 36 years later may be significant to us, wandering around the Acropolis last Saturday, seeing the Parthenon and Athena’s temple once again, monuments which more than any other epitomizes the glory of Ancient Greece in the 5th Century BC reminds us that in their grand scheme of time we are merely a dot. Spending the day retracing our steps we again became enthralled with the grace and harmony found in the Parthenon even while most of it was surrounded in scaffolding for reconstruction purposes. In 438 BC, in an attempt to achieve perfect form the Parthenon lines were ingeniously formed to counteract unharmonious optical illusions. “The base curves upwards slightly towards the ends, and the columns become slightly narrower towards the top with the overall effect of making them both look straight“.
Simply not much different from the grace and allowances we make in relationships so that harmony can appear.

We booked our Athens stay at the Apollo Hotel on Archilleos Street and while it boasted an Acropolis view from some of the balconied rooms we were so surprised when it actually did. Traveling as long as we have and booking on internet we have become quite skeptical. I have walked down to the reception desk upon arrival and showed them the picture advertised on internet only to say” THIS is the room we want to stay in tonight and where are you hiding it? ‘ En suite’ should mean the bathroom is attached to the room and not a flea infested , squatter toilet without paper two floors up. The Apollo hotel was great, the view was more than promised as was the walking distance to Athen’s great sights. With Tom only having been discharged from the hospital the day before we limited our wanderings and took many rests which in Athens are a sight in itself.. Again here, as in Turkey, they are at the early beginning of a hopeful successful tourist season and prices are still lower. For some unexplainable reason so far, last Saturday, May 2, none of the sights in Athens charged admissions including the Acropolis, Ancient Agora, Roman Agora and museums which was highly appreciated by us, even more so after traveling in countries where as tourists we usually were charged up to 10 times more. The money saved was of course spent on a very good meal and surrounded by street vendors we were highly entertained while the sun once again colorfully set over Athens. Street vendors carry their wares in sheets which make good displays on the ground and somewhere an extra set must be hid since the wares offered are immediately changed when the weather does, which quickly can in early May Greece .

Our trip in Greece this time is different. We are of course older but probably no wiser. In 1973 we landed in Rhodes and slowly traveled our way up by ferries to Athens while stopping and staying at the islands of Kos, Leros and Myconos. We remember the ferries very fondly, broke as we were then (and now) we traveled steerage which today is called economy class. In 1973 the ferry boats were not the luxury 8 deck monsters which now give us an idealic crossing of the Aegean Sea ,watching islands roll by while the American Extreme home makeover and Super nanny are shown on a TV above.
Then, in 1973, Tom and I snuck in the life boats dangling on the upper deck and enjoyed a calm crossing while in steerage it would not have been pleasant and now we wonder about all the rules we broke as 20 year olds.
This time our destination is one island only . The island of Santorini and while our ferry took us by the islands of Paros and Naxos only pictures where taken of them while they showed us other great places to come to and rest. Our first view of Santorini gave the impression of snow topped mountains and it was not until we were closer that we saw instead the white washed buildings of the villages perched high atop the cliffs. It was around 1450 BC that the volcanic heart of Santorini exploded, sank and left an extraordinary landscape. It remains possible that the volcanic catastrophe destroyed the Minoan civilization but neither this theory nor the claim that the island was part of the lost continent of Atlantis has ever been proven.

What is proven to be true is that Santorini is an absolutely delightful and colorful place to be in early May. Prices are cut in half to attract the early birds which allows us to have great lodging in Pension George, a charming, of course whitewashed, blue trimmed family run pension in the centre of the island, within walking distance of the capital town of Fira. George’s wife Helen is English which sure aids in communication. Just up the street from us is the best bakery on the island and every morning we take a short stroll and pick out our loaf for the day and together with the fresh feta and fruit from the store next door, accompanied by a bottle of Santorini wine it makes for a good meal on our balcony. The first morning in the bakery I was a little overwhelmed with all the choices of bread and wondered if the proprietor would let me tap the loaves and see which were crispy since our languages did not meet. During my somewhat embarrassing attempt to purchase a crispy loaf of bread a friendly villager walked in with great understanding of the English language who showed me the bread I wanted and now each morning I happily only point a finger and the bread of choice is there. Our first two days here were rainy. We somehow are destined to bring rain there where it is needed and in Santorini it has been rare and the vine bushes show the shortage. We gladly do our part to make the wine flow. Thankfully we can afford the rainy days and during those days Tom rested, healed even more but lost a cap on one of his molars. With the cap in hand we walked through the small town of Karterados and found the local dentist-office , mentioned by Helen from our pension and within minutes Tom’s cap was back in place. In Karterados the dentist still works by the first come, first served order and can afford to charge only 30 Euros for remounting a cap since the overhead is almost nil. He performed not only as the dentist but was the receptionist, dental hygienist and accounts payable. Tom paid considerably more the first time it was put down and it did not stay in place. Hopefully we now are done checking out local emergency dental and medical care.
We plan on staying 10 days here in Santorini and there is plenty to see and do. Buses are not quite running on schedule since the tourists are not all here yet but that makes it even more entertaining. We hopped on buses yesterday which were either an hour late or an hour early depending on the sounds around us, for us they happened right when we walked up not expecting anything and pleasantly surprised. We have as of yet not learned when one is supposed to pay for these bus rides. Invariantly the bus driver says “ pay later” and often we part from the bus and have not paid and wonder if later in the day when we do it all evens out. The island can be walked easily as we did today and after a 45 minute hike we found a black sand beach all to ourselves. The water is still extremely frigid but doable for a short time only to say that the salt of the Aegean Sea was tasted on our lips while enduring a brain freeze.
After now six weeks of traveling there where we did not understand the languages and it all sounded Greek to us, with pun intended now it does. There is something with the Greek language that makes it fascinating for those of us who do not understand it to watch. When words are lost, one pays more attention to the other forms of communication, facial expressions, body language, timbre, gestures and the Greek gives plenty. While the words exchanged could be as banal as “ honey, did you remember to turn of the lights” , their communication gives forth an intimidation, an aggression foreign to us.

We are surrounded by the colors of Greece, the intense blue of the Aegean sea with a sky trying to match daily while all are sprucing and white washing the immaculate houses for the summer to come.
It is a good place to be in early May.


Tom and Els

Posted by tomstrick1 10:45 Archived in Greece Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Ancient city,ancient art.

rain 15 °C

We are back once again in our friendly Sultanahmet hostel in Istanbul where the narrow alleys share equal space with 5 star hotels, rug dealers and doner vendors. Tomorrow morning we head further West to Athens , spend two days there before taking a ferry to the island of Santorini for a much needed rest.

Last Saturday morning, after having arrived in the town of Pamukkale the day before, Tom woke up with excruciating pain in his left side and unable to keep any food or water down. I knew it was serious when at 6.00am he consented and let me call a doctor. Even at that time in the morning I found friendly hotel staff busy sweeping the courtyard and upon understanding my frantic…sick!…doctor!, a call was made to summon the local family doctor out of bed. Within the hour Doktor Sakir Bayur knocked on our door armed with the old physician’s bag which holds everything to check patient’s vital signs and administer basic lab tests. Enough anyway for Dr. Sakir to diagnose a kidney stone. Part of his diagnosis resulted from a test Tom may laugh about later but not yet today. During the exam the pretty good-sized and hefty doctor looked at Tom and while questioning‘“ Hurts” chopped him in the left kidney with enough force to leave Tom out of breath and stunned. My kidneys felt rattled just watching Tom’s pain. Dr. Sakir , wondering about Tom’s lack of response whacked him fitfully once more before Tom thankfully moaned out in pain. Armed with Tom’s passport he took off for the pharmacy and returned shortly with two shots and four other medications with instructions on how to take them and to return if pain stayed on for more than three days. His total bill for the house call, tests and all meds totaled to 210 lires, $ 140.00 Not bad and how great that in this ancient town the ancient art of healing still continues. The day before we had taken a tour of Pamukkale, a small town, nestled close by the ruins of Hierapolis and while in the far distance snow capped mountains can be seen, the purest whitest slope ever is at the end of the village street, at the bottom of the plateau where the ruins of Hierapolis can be wandered. Thermal spring waters have formed these fantastic formations of stalactites and the calcium deposits appear at times like frosted cakes with blue icing on top. The blueness is the mineral’s water absorption of the sky above. Our tour guide Ramadaz was very informative on the history of Hierapolis, first occupied by the Greeks, then the Romans before Byzantine’s and now Turkey’s influence. We have learned that when one does not speak the language and all explanatory signs are in the native tongue it pays to spend a little more, and join a tour to hear the history. More ancient ruins, cities, catacombs and history will certainly be displayed and divulged when we continue our travels in Greece and Italy but our tour of Hierapolis will always remain special through the sheer freedom of wandering it gave us and the color of the wildflowers dispersed throughout the hillside. It was the red of the poppies mixed with the purple, white and yellows of other flowers that more than the old stone spoke of: “ As it was in the beginning, is now”. At the top of Hierapolis the old theater can be found, extremely well preserved after all these centuries and earthquakes. The greatest gift any old theatre/arena can be given was granted here when a couple of months ago this Roman built Apollo Theater was the place for a rock concert. What a tribute and how right to not be afraid to use it properly.

Tom snoozed a couple of days in Pamukkale, sweating away his pain and discomfort and even the muezzins sky flooding invitations were not enough to waken his rest. During that time we were greatly taken care of by the Koray Otel family members. There could not have been a better place for Tom to have taken ill. The Otel is family run, with “Papa” the patriarch still close by the helm and throughout the day he would charmingly bring me flowers and fresh mint for my tea, always making sure that all our needs and wishes were met. His sons and daughters run the hotel while his many grandchildren play and learn. Whatever the family ate became our meal and without menus seen the fare was grand. In the morning endless baskets with crisp, fresh baked baguettes were served together with the standard Turkish/Mediterranean breakfast of sliced tomatoes, cucumber , boiled egg and various olives. On our tour of Pamukkale we met 5 South African women, a mother with her two daughters and their friends. It was while anxiously waiting for Tom’s recuperation that I learned that all four young women were medical doctors and sitting in our Otel’s courtyard they shared their insight and were able to explain more about the meds Tom was taking since through our inability of understanding Turkish not all was clear. While talking with them, the call of prayer was chimed through town and these young, very modernly dressed and Westerly educated female Muslim doctors pulled their scarves higher over their head and explained so much of their religion to me, It was to them I gave the book “Sweetness in the belly” and in gratitude they gave me the only book they had with them which was the Turkish to English 3500Word two-way dictionary. It has come in handy.

We decided to forego the scheduled trip to Ephesus after Pamukkale and instead after an extra day rest at the Koray Otel headed back to Istanbul. Tom bemoans the fact of missing The Artemis Temple and the House of the Virgin Mary in Ephesus because of his kidney stone and while I am sure they are a great site to see it would have meant missing getting to know the wonderful people of Pamukkale and their friendship. We took the overnight bus back to Istanbul on Monday evening. It is a shame to take those long rides during the night hours. They are very long, tedious and the dark shrouds the beautiful landscapes found throughout Turkey. Sleep is difficult to find anyway on the overnight bus rides with the interruptions for refreshments and bathroom use. There is no such thing as a free pee in Europe and we are close enough to Europe to have it already in practice here. Common fee for public bathroom use is 1 and means either 1 Lire, Euro or US dollar which is somewhat comical since their value is not at all alike. Throughout Turkey all three currencies are accepted and without following daily market fluctuations the prices are usually set like these; Ten postcards 1 Euro, $1.50 US or 2 Lira and that is quite close to what our exchange rate has been. When asking a vendor for a price and he holds up 5 fingers do not assume he means 5 lira because when money is handed over it suddenly becomes 10 lira since he was holding up Euro fingers!

We arrived back in Istanbul early Tuesday morning and Tom who had started to feel better had enough of a relapse in pain and discomfort that I took him to an Istanbul Hospital after another uncomfortable night. At the back of the Istanbul guide book all the hospitals are listed, all 16 of them and of course “ American Hospital “ jumped out. Even more so when the young Canadian man sitting next to me at the hostel downstairs while I am frantically trying to make contact with our insurance company, points out in the little book he carries “ Good hospitals worldwide“ that in Istanbul American Hospital tops the lists, the only one the list BTW. A taxi is called and Tom and I head to the American Hospital and upon arrival are a little mystified that all the signs are still in Turkish and every one keeps on speaking that language we do not understand and where are the Americans? We quickly are told that American is a name for the hospital ? So , what does that mean for all the other Istanbul hospitals by the other names: Armenian Hospital, Italian Hospital, International Hospital, German Hospital, Jewish Hospital, Florence Nightingale hospital and all the others. All kidding now aside, the Istanbul American Hospital is a hospital that any American city would proudly claim as its own. Tom’s treatment there these past two days has been admirable and the surgery to remove a lodged stone in his ureter could not have been performed better anywhere else. Nurse Fathima did her best to be understood and all failure was strictly our fault for our inability to not understand her language. As Tom’s
“ attendant” I received royal treatment including meals, showers and a good bed. Admissions/discharge worked with us and through any language barriers and we were so happy to learn that our primary American Blue Cross/Blue Shield was accepted and without delay paid with us only having to pay the much smaller co-payment due by our Travelers insurance which the Istanbul Hospital does not accept. Here all along we thought it would be our travelers insurance which would protect us but strangely that was the one not accepted.

It has been a week where al lot was learned. Walking through a sleeping village, waking up from its winter slumber while preparing for summer’s tourist onslaught is something I would not have wanted to trade. One learns a lot from a village and a country which sleepingly is arising to greatness. One truly learns a country and its people when misfortune happens and how it is dealt with. When we now hear the call to prayer we know why it is done five times. It is calculated according to the movement of the sun; the noon prayer time begins when the sun has just passed its zenith at one’s location and it therefore changes with seasons according to where one is in the world. Thus, there is not even a single moment without prayer being made throughout the world. Five stands for the pillars of profession, declaration of belief in God, obligatory prayer 5 times a day, the giving of charity, fasting from dawn to dusk during the month of Ramadan and the pilgrimage to Mecca once in a life time for those who have the means. What I will remember most are 5 South African women who explained when I asked them whether they needed to go to Mosque to pray when the muezzin called laughed and said they had an hour to find the place to pray and God did not live in buildings . It will be the words from Rifat Durune , from our Pamukkale hotel who upon our leaving was thanked for treating us as family and his simple reply:
“ That is what we are all called to be for each other”.

Tonight Tom is still a little sore but we are both very grateful for Turkey’s care of us both and its natural beauty. Reading through our little Turkish book we are slowly becoming wise to the language. One of our favorites is the numbers.
1 is bir (pronounced beer)
2 is iki(pronounced ee-kee)
See the fun that can be had while isolated in a small hospital room overlooking the great, ancient Turkish peninsula and the Bosphorous?

What we also learned is that gula-gula is an appropriate goodbye saying for those who are staying.
Those who are leaving say allahaismarladik

Tom and Els

Posted by tomstrick1 08:00 Archived in Turkey Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

When nature and humans join hands

overcast 18 °C

While our plane from India carried us silently through the night over Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Syria before landing in Istanbul we read the book “Sweetness in the belly” by English author Camilla Gibb. While fiction, it beautifully crafts and transcends the boundaries defined by propaganda makers that pit Islam and the West against each other. It offered us an insight in the Muslim tradition we were previously unaware of and it now aids in understanding there where we are. Trading books all over the world with passing travelers has enriched our lives and kept money for other purposes. We have as of yet not been caught without a good read. In Phuket, Thailand on our way out of the door we came across the book ” America unchained” by Dave Goreman and a must read for our Kansas friends. The book in humorous details describes the journey an Englishman attempts in America, coast to coast, determined to not give any money to “the man”, staying away from big corporate franchises and only fraternizing the mom and pop businesses.

Our first Turkey sunrise was seen from the overnight Istanbul to Cappadocia bus and after a very long, sleepless night it was a welcome and beautiful sight to witness once again a bright red sun peeking over mountains. It was our first, clear sunrise in over a month since the sun is so overshadowed by smog in the Asian countries we have been. The overnight public buses in Turkey are quite comfortable, once one figures out which is the correct bus to board. We booked our Cappadocia trip through a travel agency associated with our Istanbul hostel and together with a large group of young travelers from all over the world we boarded a bus commandeered by a Turkish Al Pacino look alike who frantically tried to make us understand our transfers and who became quite frustrated when upon his order; “understand” all in unison shook their head. Being lost with the crowd is more freeing and enjoyable than being lost in the crowd and in great humor our trip to Cappadocia went under way. The bus ride is around 13 hours long and appears even longer if one has a cranky, old woman sitting behind you who is determined that you will be the only one on the bus not allowed to recline the seat. That was my luck and after an unsuccessful attempt to battle it out with sheer strength against 4 feet of veiled, distempered anger I used my wits and sweetly told the steward on board that my seat was broken and he put it in the reclined position under a barrage of angry retorts which continued with well placed kicks the rest of the trip.
Arriving and now spending three days in Cappadocia has been amazing. The area is set high above sea level and surrounded by the snow capped volcano’s whose eruptions formed this geological wonder. Spreading lava, together with lakes, formed a high plateau up to 100-150 meters in height. Today’s valleys were created through erosion and the harder, wider layer of rock on the top, called chimney rocks formed. Chimney rocks can be seen in other regions of the world but nowhere as densely formed as in Cappadocia. Human hands early on joined creation and carved these thick but pliable porous rocks and made them suitable for houses, monasteries, churches and underground shelters when protection was needed. Christianity settled in this region in the third century and a mystic monastery life began which lasted until the 12 th century when Islam took its place. The town of Gorame where we are staying in a delightful, family run, cave pension (Star Cave Hotel) is surrounded by hundreds of cave churches, all small and many used as schools before the 12 th century. We visited some and saw the ancient paintings on the walls which made them unsuitable for the Islam faith tradition. While some of the painting is very primitive and done by local church attendees many centuries ago, other church paintings are master pieces created by Roman artists. One of the cave churches we visited today, now well over 900 years since last used as a church, still carries in its domes and on its walls pictures of every biblical scene. These paintings have lasted through the years because of the natural make up of the paints. No chemicals were used since there was no existence of these in those times. The color red came from grapes, yellow saffron, blue ground lapis lazula, and green from ground shells. What will stand out more than anything we saw today was hearing a young Turkish, Muslim woman describe to us, in a very gentle voice, the biblical scenes portrayed so many years ago and still holding its color. What is equally amazing are how these formations, many years later, still offer its usefulness to the people who live here and not only as a tourist attractions. Centuries ago, human hands built pigeon houses and artfully built steps in the soft rock so that the pigeon droppings could be collected and spread as manure on the fields and around the grape vines. Today, these pigeon houses are still used for that exact same purpose and the wine, manufactured in the Cappadocia region is still stored inside the caves where the temperature is perfect without human intervention. As with all tours we have been a part of this past month, one does end up in the local industry and with their hopes up, cajoled into buying. In Cappadocia it was pottery and rugs and if we had the funds we gladly would have bought the pieces of craftsmanship we saw today. Even today, the red clay used for the pottery is still gathered from the river which runs through the region, and fitfully named the red river. It is the largest river in Turkey and flows into the Dead Sea. We have one more day here tomorrow and will use the time to hike around the region before boarding an overnight (drats) bus to Pamukkale region which also offers the beauty of natural wonders, this time in calcified, terraced hot pools.

Traveling these past couple of days with young people from Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Japan, China and Germany makes us realize how different it is to travel when there is at least 30 years difference in years. We listen to them and remember the ease with which we in the early seventies, as our young friends do now , threw on our backpack and the disregard we had then of where we would lay down our heads to rest at night and whom we had left behind. We require more rest, comfort and peace of mind now. In the book “ Sweetness in the belly” 6 year old Lilly asks her parents, nomad travelling hippies, why they have to move once again and her father’s answer is that staying in one place means that roots will be put down and roots grow. The child asks why that is so bad and the father’s reply; “It just makes the passage between places too painful. It’s all about the journey. You don’t want to spoil the journey by missing what you’ve left and worrying about where you are going”. If missing makes one a lesser traveler, we no longer are great travelers. Beyond missing our children’s presence we miss the normality of living life. The simple task of opening our own front door and finding the paper there and reading the news while enjoying a great cup of good brewed coffee. We now have spent many months in countries where tea is the norm. Our young traveling friends shared their journey time and we all bemoaned the noticeable inclined prices in Turkey and what can be expected when the Euro countries are reached. Some of our young friends were ready to head back to Asia where “ Life is cheap”. There are two ways to look at that statement depending on where the emphasis is placed.

Is life valued less there where lesser value is needed to live life?

Gule , Gule,
Tom and Els

Posted by tomstrick1 16:04 Archived in Turkey Tagged round_the_world Comments (1)

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