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20 June 2008 @ 04:29 pm
Today was full of Ephesus, heat, and more heat. We leave this area tomorrow for another, and I'm ready to leave. It's hot as Hades, and even if the next location is no cooler, I'm sure the hotel will be more comfortable. I'm ready to go back to Istanbul. I really like Istanbul a lot, but I would hate being at the mercy of traffic.

At the moment, I'm sitting with my computer brightness dimmed, watching the remains of the Turkey v. Croatia match in the Euro Cup. So far, all I can think is that they are too evenly matched and simply butting heads; neither of them have scored, and both have similar statistics between shots and even fouls. Both of them have been so,so close to scoring the whole night, and still haven't managed it. It's bizarre. Not to mention that the game itself doesn't have the same sort of even distribution I usually attribute to football matches. The Turkish goalie has been pretty damn impressive so far, constantly defending. And I hope they win, the Turkish team. I'd really love to see Turkey go mildly faint with happiness. The team has so much heart, courage, and leaves me, at least, refreshed. I'd forgotten sports can be... Fun? Is that the word?

Nevertheless, I'm at the mercy of my bothersome brother, who insisted he could not fall asleep while the TV was on. (Despite the numerous times he's mysteriously managed it before, and could accept the light of my computer, and seems to have fallen asleep just fine.) Wouldn't even let me listen to Coldplay's new CD, grumbling that I get headphones. Grouch.

As I come back from the dead: TURKEY JUST WON ON PENALTY SHOTS!

I feel so happy and proud of them, and this isn't even my dang country. The stadium is simply a sea of Turkish fans who went all the way to Basel. Boats in the harbor are blaring their horns, and I can hear people watching celebrating. I think I heard fireworks just now. They've made it to their first ever semi-finals in the Euro Cup, and will play Germany. Victory is so much sweeter when you're the underdog, isn't it?
Space coordinates: Kusadasi, Turkey
Moody: ecstaticecstatic
17 June 2008 @ 09:49 pm
Hello! So, I haven't got any photos for you tonight as I've been traveling mostly without internet for the past several days and haven't had a chance to transfer / edit / sort through everything just yet. Instead, I wanted to take the time to write a little more tonight, and jot down a couple of things, for fear of forgetting. (If you know me, you know how horrible of a memory I have.)

Some general thoughts on Turkey. One of the things I love about being outside of the United States is that suddenly, the world feels as though it is suddenly being put in perspective. You are part of an international lifestyle, where the focus is no longer on yourself and where you come from; it's also about coexisting with other human beings in a peaceful, civilized, caring manner. That being said, the first piece of information exchanged between people is generally "Where are you from?". And usually, it's easy enough to discern, either from accent or language or looks. Judgments are passed, but if there's one thing I've also realized, it's that travelers are really the ambassadors of their country to those that never meet any leader of their country.

When we first arrived in Istanbul, my apprehension immediately disipated. I didn't know what to expect, frankly. I expected many run down, ghetto-esque areas, but the city is mostly modern, clean, and absolutely vivacious. Almost all of the streets are cobbled, with steep inclines and sloping hills. The landscape is dry, though hardly noticed when looking at the water instead. Most people speak minimal amounts of English, and apparently they begin studying it in grade school there. I am slowly but surely distinguishing between all of the European languages now, which I really enjoy; it's a delightful challenge to pick out words. Although I know for a fact communicating fluently in another language is the same whichever language you speak, something intriuges me about being able to communicate entirely in another language. I wonder how it would have affected me. Turkish is definitely one of the most interesting, confusing languages I've encountered yet, though. When Suleymann tried explaining the suffixes to me, it was complicated. Nevertheless, because Turkish is virtually impossible to spell incorrectly because it is all phonetic, Suleymann said they don't have spelling bees, because everyone would simply win. (I like this fact.)

One of the things I do like is that while shopowners do obviously want you to buy their touristy items, they're not as persistent as they are in say, China. And that may simply be a cultural and financial difference, but I appreciate not being trailed by people harassing me into buying something. Everywhere we have gone, the Turkish people have been fantastically warm, polite, and plain wonderful. Their hospitality is incredible, and they are so willing to help in every way they can, even when completely unasked for. The nationalism is also quite overwhelming, but frequently in a good sense. Everywhere, you see Turkish flags hung and stuffed into the ground with pride, even in private homes. The night Turkey won a match in the Euro cup, our neighborhood went into complete and total uproar, with the people screaming, dancing, singing and blaring their car horns as they drove through the streets. When compared to Turkey, I almost understand why the Turkish don't think much of elsewhere; they have such a rich, diverse cultural history that they don't need anything else, even if their existence is simple farming. Their country was the crossroads of civilizations for centuries. They are protective of their homes, their history, their families, and rightly so. I think it's wonderful that people can be so proud of their country, particularly as someone who has been disappointed by her nation as of late. I hope that Turkey will be let into the EU soon, before the Turkish feel insulted by EU politicians telling them that they are inferior and dangerous, etc. As we drove through the streets today, I couldn't help wondering if the children who live here think cities are just like the gigantic apartments carved into the stone that they have here. Or the adults, for that matter. It just kept hanging in my mind: whether they know just how special and unique this area is, whether they treasure it like that, or whether cultural heritage sites are just another local playground to them.

Something people may have been wondering about, as I did, was the gender role situation in the country. As a woman, I was not nervous to come to Turkey, but I definitely expected more conservative outlooks. I was ready to wrap myself in a blanket and wander around the streets all day. Just today, I wore short shorts, and it was the first time I had felt comfortable doing so, but it was also not something regarded as drastically liberal or inappropriate, from what reactions I could see. If anything, I felt more inspected by the women at times, and not always with an air of disapproval, but more of astonishment.

...Drat. I'm being dragged to bed by my father. So much for telling you about our ballooning excursion and my father's face of absolute fear and lots of other random crap. For now, just trust me when I say the rock formations here are unbelievable. I'll be back! <3,

Space coordinates: Cappadocia, Turkey
Sountrack of my life: Jazz
14 June 2008 @ 11:07 am
I am still a day off, but at least I'm catching up at a decent speed, riiiight? So yesterday, we started around 10 AM, and managed to get through Tokapi Palace and went out on the water afterwards. Because I haven't got the time just yet, I think I'm just going to chuck photos at you. Sounds like a plan, right? Awesome. Here goes:


The view from Tokapi Palace of the Bosphorus, which leads into The Golden Horn and Sea of Marmara


Several of the mosques from our boat


Inside the Sultan's mother's quarters within the Tokapi Harem


More of the Sultan's mother's room


The Sultan's mother's courtyard


Ceilings of one of the Sultan's entertainment rooms within the Harem


The same room, continued


Since I'm obsessed with their tiles...


More tiles inside the Harem


Another room


The same room, most likely for daily activities


Yet another courtyard. The rooms along the top level were for the Sultan's and his mother's favorite women. They're simply more spacious and beautiful than the other rooms in the Harem.


Another view of the same courtyard


Traditional dress of an Ottoman soldier
Space coordinates: Istanbul, Turkey
Moody: exhaustedexhausted
13 June 2008 @ 11:58 am
Yipes. I'm supposed to be keeping a travel journal (blog?) and have already fallen two days behind. Silly me. I'm supposed to start at the very beginning, right? Our first stop is Istanbul, Turkey. We barely got onto our flight, pleading at the check-in to let us on, and once let through, were rewarded with about an hour waiting to take off the runway. I definitely caught up on my recent movie intake, though, to be sure (4, I think? Definitely, Maybe; The Bucket List; The Golden Compass; Charlie Wilson's War.) We landed at about 10, completely jet lagged, feebly bought tickets, and shuffled through the short queue at immigration. All of our bags fortunately landed with us, and we again, shuffled outside, where our wonderful driver picked us up.

I still have to learn how to spell his name correctly, but he's wonderfully sweet and very funny. I came down early today, so he, Suleymann and I sat around talking and making jokes. We all discussed the coming US election, particularly Obama; compared to Turkey, which has already had a female Prime Minister, it's pathetic that with all of our freedom we're incapable of accomplishing that much. Before I ramble too much, we made a couple of stops that first day, with our Turkish guide, Suleymann. He literally takes us everywhere we go, giving us a walking and talking tour of each place. Here are photos from yesterday, just to give you a peek at our two stops, the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. (I have tons more, but here're a select few. Sorry for the poor picture quality, it's LJ's fault entirely.)

Entrance to the Blue Mosque.

Another view of the entrance to the Blue Mosque.

Inside the Blue Mosque.

Still inside the Blue Mosque.

A little boy awaiting circumcision inside the mosque; the costume is made to make them feel like a prince, and proud of themselves. The boys are circumcised when they are older so that they will remember it for the rest of their lives.

The beautiful tiling of the Blue Mosque, for which it is named.

A close up of some of the tiles inside, from around the 17th C. These sorts of tiles were made from the 15th - 17th C, with the quality petering out by the 17th.

Hagia Sophia, meaning literally "Higher Wisdom," after St. Sophia

Inside Hagia Sophia

The left wall of Hagia Sophia

The back / right wall of Hagia Sophia

A beautiful column and ceiling of Hagia Sophia

Mosaics discovered in Hagia Sophia. This is one of my favorite stories, too, actually. The queen pictured to the right essentially married so many times that each time she remarried, they had to change the name and face of the figure on the left to that of her current husband / the Sultan. You can see the edits particularly well on the left, to the top and bottom of the text. Something about this makes me giggle, I dunno what.

That's all for tonight (morning), folks. I'll add more later, I promise, but it's about 1 AM here, and I have to be up at 7:30! Lotsa' lurve,

~ S <3
Space coordinates: Istanbul, Turkey
Moody: tiredtired
10 June 2008 @ 04:22 pm
It will become increasingly difficult for me to write here, as my privacy is, well.. Limited. However, I hope I won't succumb to the influence of fixing things too much for watching eyes. I intend to remain completely honest, but even honesty can become dulled if not carefully maintained.

Aaaanyways, I had to do a little shopping on Gigi's birthday. Julie and I walked into a store claiming to sell Tibetan goods. What was really inside was more of a discombobulating combination of products from India, China, and the Himalayan region (obviously including Tibet). Because of my trip to Turkey, I've had to buy a couple of scarves to use as head scarves while there. Julie had left the store to throw out her drink, and I was suddenly prey. As I bought one and a few smaller jewelry pieces for Gigi, I started talking to the shop owner.

We slowly discussed the situation in Tibet, and I said I was very sorry about what has happened there in recent times. He graciously thanked me, and then started interrogating me. He was very soft spoken, mumbled and had a bit of an accent, so at first I couldn't understand him. I thought he was asking if I ate duck, and eventually figured out he was asking if I do drugs. He then proceeded to ask me whether I smoked or was depressed. To all of them I answered no, and he did the most peculiar thing next: he asked me, "So why your finger shake like that?" and I looked at my finger rather curiously, though it looked no different than it ever had. He demanded to know whether or not I was lying to him, though I obviously had no reason to. Everyone's hands are not perfectly stable, and mine are no exception, but he then propped my arm with both of his hands, one near my elbow, and one near my wrist, closing his eyes to concentrate. Suddenly, my ring finger on my left hand started shaking. It was the strangest, most surreal moment I've had in a long time.

(What else would you expect from a place on St. Mark's, though?)

All I can say is I hope he doesn't do that to all of his customers, because I'm not sure all of them would be quite as understanding as I was. Part of me was thrown off by the fact that this timid man asked certain questions that are not naturally open to discussion so easily. The other part of me felt insulted that he felt he was being lied to; though I'm sure he meant no particular harm by it and was earnestly concerned, it did not make me feel comfortable in his store, nor encourage me to come back.

Today was lots of packing joy. And when I say joy, I mean that packing and unpacking has become my least favorite activity, ever. I'm ecstatic to be leaving this country again, but much more apprehensive than I anticipated as well, particularly about Turkey. Living abroad is not unrealistic, but it does take time to adjust. My perspective is essentially entirely international, but I do not know what to expect from Turkey. Most of my context is scraps about the Ottoman Empire, Silk Road, and their acting as a buffer between Europe and whatever remains of the Middle East.

More than anything, I am worried about my gram being on her own any longer than she absolutely has to be. I don't want to be away, but I also know I don't want to stay in the U.S. She called me up on the day of the Puerto Rican Day Parade, when I went down to St. Mark's with Julie, practically demanding that I come over, and sounded very upset. I'm scared of reaching that point, mentally, and hope someone will be as attentive to me in my later years. But at the same time, I had no desire to crosstown, through the parade, most likely taking hours. Chances are they wouldn't have even let me cross anyways, and as a woman, I don't like being out during the Puerto Rican Day Parade.

Recent events occurring in the city are only more indicators (to me, anyways) that New York is changing much more rapidly than anyone here is willing to admit. On my block, between Madison and Park, there have been two muggings within the past six months. If you're unfamiliar with NYC, my area simply does not have crime rates that the rest of the city do. I live on the Upper East Side, which is primarily residential space, restaurants, boutiques, and stereotypically upper / middle class. If it gives you any perspective, my building was used as part of Charlotte's apartment in the Sex in the City movie (when they're leaving to go to Carrie's wedding).

The first mugging happened to a close friend of mine, and while she was held by a man at knife point, she lost just about everything: her laptop, cellphone, iPod, music, cash, credit cards. I forget at this point if there were two men; I think there were. It was miserable, but more typical, understandable mugging situations: late at night, on the way to another friend's house after dinner with me, and barely any light on the street (if any).

At this point, I don't walk on the block, but what is more unsettling to me is the second incident, which occurred to a neighbor of mine. While walking down the block in broad daylight around 7:30, a man attacked her from behind, smashing a piece of metal into her face, landing her several fractures, stitches, and a blackened eye, besides a stolen purse. If my neighbor were more petite, I would understand their targeting her much more easily, but as it is, she is very tall, definitely not weak, and there were several others on the same block as her. To me, this indicates that the assaulter is no longer concerned about being seen, let alone caught. And that is what scares me; the fearlessness that seems to be pumping through his veins.

Hopefully, I'll be able to write something a little more intelligent soon, but I'm extremely exhausted at the moment. I suppose the heat wave passing through the city recently has fried my brain more than I want to acknowledge. Apples to Apples is awesome and definitely needed on a more regular basis! (More on Kung Fu Panda and other movies later.) Much love & take care,

~ Sammi <3
Space coordinates: New York, NY
Moody: calmcalm
Sountrack of my life: Edith Piaf