Wednesday, November 23, 2011

thailand: don't you rock my boat

as we mentioned several weeks ago, we've learned a few things while on the road.

longtail boats, koh lanta, thailand
newest lesson? having a beach within 30 seconds of your thailand bungalow causes a severe drop in interest in a computer screen. and we mean severe

that's just one of the many reasons we'll probably never make it big as travel bloggers, not that it was ever our intent. the laziness and slow pace here starts to creep in, slowly at first, until you realize about a week later that even pressing the power button on your laptop would require too much thought and energy. 

another lesson? when the weather's gray and a little choppy in the morning, and you're stepping on to a boat for an hour's journey to a remote island, and the snorkeling guide says "oh, when it's like this in the morning, it always calms down in the afternoon," run... run far away until the sun shines again. 

hey, it rains a lot. who has time for a rain coat?
koh lanta, thailand

we'd like to think we're no pansies as travelers but, holy freaking cow, that ride back was NOT through calm waters! as we left the protected bay of our snorkeling spot later in the afternoon and headed around the island into the teeth of the wind and rain towards home, we hit a cross sea (too many jack aubrey novels were running through my head at this point) and all of us were being thrown around the cabin, our speedboat was SMACK-smack-SMACKing against the next wave, a little kid was puking into a bag, the french couple across from us stopped their playful banter and took on a wan, pale, stare-into-the-distance kind of a look, and everyone else just went quiet.

one could barely talk above the din yet the on-board british photographer that came along announced, no SCREAMED, above all of the noise "ok everyone, i have all of the photos imported on to my laptop, LET'S ALL HAVE A LOOK!" i laughed out loud, it was so comical, yet everyone gamely turned his way and gave it a shot. however, as we smacked into the next wave we could only focus for a few seconds, then it was back to the million-mile-stare. lesson learned. 

included in the price of the trip was a ride back to our resort from the pier. while shivering in the pouring rain up pulled a pickup truck with an open-air bed and benches in the back. someone from the dive shop stepped out and waved their hand toward it suggesting "here you go, your limo, as a thank you from us."

back in the safety of some free wifi now, where we found the energy to turn on our laptops, it all seems suddenly comical. we love it that over the course of a day we can now count as new friends some danes, some french, a few swedes and a brit. again confirming for us that the best thing so far about travel is the people.

see? this is what we're talking about! it's hard to step away. koh lanta, thailand.

moving on: we've already extended our intended stay here at relax bay, about half way down the island, but we'd like to stay even longer. sadly, staying here would kill the budget so we're moving to a simpler place with very simple bungalows set back from the beach. they quoted us $12.50 a night but suggested that we could also haggle a little "for a better price." a better price! i don't think either of us have ever stayed in something that cost $12.50. it seems our walk to the beach will now be a full minute.

we'll report back.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

thailand love you long time

that 27 degrees detail on the boarding announcement? that's why we made the difficult decision to leave istanbul. so much more of turkey we planned to see! we made it from berlin to istanbul over the course of four months, through germany, austria, a little bit of hungary, slovenia, croatia, bosnia, greece, and turkey. we were following the sun. but we knew the day would come when the weather in europe would leave us cold. well, with istanbul gray and drizzly, 27 degrees said "go now."

going where the climate suits my clothes...

so hey, we're in thailand! koh lanta in the andaman sea, to be exact. roughly the same latitude as sri lanka, ethiopia and guatemala. which brings us back to why we came. all kinda warm places, yes? yes.

we'll make this post a quick one. when we arrived (after a red-eye flight to bangkok, a connecting flight to krabi, and a two hour drive including two ferries) we found this...

and in this morning's sunshine, we found this from our porch...

got a great beach, a great bungalow, an open air restaurant, a beach bar and nothing to do but recover from jet lag.

southeast asia, thailand in particular, is a well-worn traveler's destination. i doubt there's much we can contribute to what's already been written, blogged, filmed or whatever, that's original but we'll do our best.

we'll report back.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

my turkish bath

kule hamam, galata, istanbul, turkey
kule hamam, our neighborhood turkish bath in istanbul. talk about a humble doorway. if we hadn't read someone's positive review of this place kindly left behind in our rental apartment, we would have avoided it like the plague.

by the way, it's good to be a man in turkey. hamams, if they take women at all, only provide a few hours per week for them to be abluted (it's kind of a word), scrubbed and massaged. i, however, was welcome any hour, any day of  the week.

i entered and all eyes fell on me. clearly not a local. the dude behind the counter asked in turkish "are the penguins full featured in autumn?" i think. to which i confusedly replied, "no, no, i'm here for a hamam and massage."

he pointed down the stairs to a sweltering changing room and into a stall with, for some reason, a nearly full window in the door. facing other full-windowed changing stalls. what was the point? i could clearly see some other men and they could clearly see me. i haven't been around such naked machismo since the marine corps.

the "new" mosque (built in 1597!), istanbul, turkey

i was handed a sarong-like thingie (a pestemel) and i dutifully stripped, wrapped myself in my sarong and stepped out. then, with several more grunts, was pointed in the direction of a door with the word "hamam" on the front. "sweet," i thought, months of traveling, not a hot tub to be found (we miss ours back home so bad), and we walk everywhere. the body will enjoy this, big time.

the magic door opened on to a square 20x20' gray marble room with five or so marble stalls along each wall with stone basins, tiny water taps and plastic bowls. in the middle of the room was a large flat, two foot high, maybe 10x10' marble platform. splayed out smack in the middle of that was, what appeared to be, a heavily sweating tony soprano flat on his back in a plaid sarong.

the door closed behind me.

i had no idea what to do. i laid on the marble thing, tony soprano looked at me. i got up, fiddled with the taps a bit, some tepid water leaked out. i thought it would be a sauna in here. nope. i stepped back outside and was grunted back into the room. next thing, the sarong-wrapped dude who pointed me in to the hamam followed behind, opened the tap of water, had me pour water over my head, pushed tony soprano to the side and gestured for me to lay down. "on the marble?" i thought. well, yes, yes. he left, i laid on my back, looked over at a couple of younger turks who laughed and made a gesture that conveyed "roll over, freak, you should be on your front." OH!

turkish delight, istanbul, turkey
in comes mister hairy guy who starts making a HUGE pile of suds in a basin, shoves a towel in it, turns to me and masterfully showers down an amazing array of warm, soapy suds. aaaaahhhhh... now we're talking. after being covered in suds this guy went to work. legs, back, shoulders, pinning my arms behind my back and working on the shoulder blades. he spoke two words of english "YOU OK!?" i spoke one word of turkish, at the moment, "evet!" (yes) through gritted teeth. i think it sounded more like eeehhhhvvvvveeeettt...

all the while, men are coming in, splashing themselves with water, sitting there sweating, inches from where i was being beaten. i kept trying to steal peeks from behind all the soap and towels but one thing you don't want to do is be caught eyeing other men in a turkish bath.

ok, two more words of english, finally. "sit up." and dutifully i sit up, swing my legs over the side... and *SPLASH!* "holy freaking cow, what the HELL was that?!" i was hit in the face with scalding hot water from a plastic bucket. i guess i was now being rinsed. then, just as suddenly, pushed to the corner, water tap turned on and it was clear, we were done. rinse yourself. i staggered out, somehow managed to put my clothes back on, paid some cash, uttered some rudimentary turkish that went something like "hhffruummf kishduhmmm, vroom, bye," and walked out in to the cool, november, istanbul air.

in the end, i'm not completely sure what happened but, wowza, i'm glad it did. i felt like i just stepped off of "the sidewinder" ride at the carnival when i was a kid. remember that thing?

travel is weird. weird in a very cool way.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

our athens regret (in a good way)

"athens is noisy." athens is dirty." "athens is chaotic." "athens is a hole." that's what you always hear, right? well, it's all true.

road through the old agora leading to the acropolis, athens, greece

but what else is true is the fact that it packs a whole lot of awesome.

caveat: no attempt here has been made to enlighten, educate or even shine a new perspective on a city that's been written about a million times. here below is a quick impression of a bunch of "wow." wow that such a noisy, dirty, sprawling, chaotic city could be that seductive. ok, maybe not seductive, but more like grab you by the lapels and kiss you in a kind of rough, affectionate way.

our regret is that we didn't schedule more than the four days we spent there. running out of pages in our passports (that's a great feeling!) we decided to head to athens, from crete, to visit the u.s. embassy and have pages added. worked like a charm. what surprised us was just how sad we were to leave athens, and greece in general. two and a half weeks on crete lulled us into comfort and athens was a slap in the face. but in a really good way.

yeah, the parthenon is behind me but everyone knows
what that looks like. look at this sprawl!
athen, greece
this city goes on forever and there's no better place to get a sense of that than from the acropolis. everyone talks about the acropolis, and they should, it really is that fantastic of a place to visit and absorb, but no one really conveyed the sheer expanse of concrete madness that would splay out below us. wow. just wow.

after getting our bearings and checking into our hotel (hotel attalos) a couple blocks from monastariki square and dying to see the city, we... took a nap. that's right. a nap. THEN we headed out. now here's the thing about athens... "honey, let's go to that mini-market for supplies." "ok, wait, what's this? a three thousand year old ruin across from the stop-and-shop?"

i mean, that's the thing. we had dinner with friends our last night there and literally, ten feet to our right was a 12th century church. we're eating souvlaki, drinking wine, chatting about current events and at any moment we could get up and place our hand on a wall of history. AND, from that spot, we could look into hadrian's library. from 12th century to the 2nd century in 180 degrees. and in the middle? the stop-and-shop!

poor guy. athens, greece
favorite spots for us were, of course, the acropolis and the new acropolis museum. it's unrivaled. it's every postcard you've ever been pummeled with all your life. but the older national archaeological museum a mile or so walk up some of the most busy, some would say seedy, streets to an oasis of calm, and one of the most impressive displays of mycenaean finds you'll ever see, blew us away.

the athens open market was a rush! it straddles athinas avenue with a loud, boisterous atmosphere selling every kind of fish, meat, vegetable and fruit you can imagine. the unrelenting meat hanging from hooks for an entire block is something to behold. the fish slime through which you walk in the middle part of the market is not for the squeamish. ok, maybe not as bad as the pigs heads hanging from hooks in the meat market, but you are IN IT when you enter this section. and do these people love octopus, or what? it's clear they do. and it's not for show for the tourists (think pike's place market, seattle), this is a working, functioning market and the people who come to shop here know what they're doing. they have no problem bumping you out of the way either. we ended up with a sack full of olives, carrots, bread, cheese, sausage, figs... for about $10.

just another 13th century church laying about.
athens, greece.

this list could go on but if there is one thing you should take away from this rambling post it should be "go to athens." just be prepared to experience everything you love and everything you hate about travel to happen every single minute.

next stop: istanbul. we'll report back.