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Out of It

Out of It

Former Provinces of Yugoslavia

A Backpack Journey through a Disturbed Region

April of 2002

 

A Slice of Turkey

Travels of Mike & Marcy through Western and Central Turkey

May of 2002

Foreword and Introduction    

 

To any reader, I suggest, no, state, that my facts are not 100% accurate. They represent the truth as I think I saw it.  My perception of my environment (the world), is also my reality.  Unquestionably, this is a work of fiction because few facts were corroborated, and most tales were accepted at face value, which was usually the smallest value at all, just slightly above zero.  I was the scribe, whose singular purpose was to record what often was told to me by a housewife, child, policeman, taxi driver, or guide. My memory is not close to perfect so when I found a moment to regurgitate the day’s events, it too was less than perfect because I may have shrunk them to fit in my brain. Compounded with my less-than-totally-reliable sources, and I have concocted a travel journal made in Hell.   Fortunately, the purpose of this journal is not to rewrite history.  There are few facts that I felt inclined to research since that would stray from the direction I intended.  I wrote all of these words with the sole purpose that I might reclaim the “feelings” I had during this trip.  As for what I saw, I tried to capture glimpses of that through video and photographs.  Those photographic mementoes of a particular moment are far less open to interpretation, or expressed in better terms than the subjective writings of an easily distracted scribe.

 

In order that I may get the “feel” for when I made this visit I have incorporated a list of some contemporary events of the day. Most was taken from the current newspapers of yesterday and today. (April 10th and 11th of the year 2002)

 

International: Israel is asked by George W. Bush (who has been in power less than a year) to pull their soldiers out of Palestinian towns. Ariel Sharon said yesterday they would not do so until operations of getting terrorist cells out of Arab homes and towns is completed...whenever that is. The fighting is fierce.  The two towers that made up the World Trade Center in New York’s Manhattan borough were destroyed last year on September 11, 2001, by members of the Taliban from Afghanistan.  Yasser Arafat, the head of the Palestinian authority, has done little to rein in terrorists who are purposefully creating havoc in Israel.  His contention is that he cannot control Hamas, a Palestinian group currently headquartered in Syria and Lebanon.

 

Local: Police Chief Bernard Parks was removed from office by the police commission.  Talk of a secession of the San Fernando Valley from Los Angeles has resurfaced again. 

 

Business: Mark, my son, is efficiently running M. Richards Insurance Agency, soon to be called C.I.G. Insurance Services Inc.  I am still trying to finish the procedure to incorporate. We are trying to sell a big policy to Deck King (Current prices are around 100k).  We want to get a new program for roofers.  It has been tough since the first day of 2002 when companies tightened up their underwriting and took huge hikes in the rates.  Minimum premium for small roofers exceeds $9,000. For comparison, last year the smaller roofers would have paid two or three thousand to purchase liability insurance for one year.

 

Personal: I left the Lexus for Mom and Dad to use to drive to Sunnyvale to see Aunt Tommie.  Maestro, our Dalmatian, is about five years old and I am going to be 56 years old in a few days.  Marcy is working at U.S.I. (formerly called Triwest Insurance Agency) and enjoys the pressure and prestige of a well-paid and important position there as a vice-president, in charge of insurance programs.  Dad is 84 years old.  Marcy has planned to go with Karen and her mother, Dorothy, to Palm Springs while I am gone.

 

How This Trip was Planned.     In June of 2001, Marcy and I concluded that it was time to travel. The last vacation we took together was more than two years ago.  We quickly agreed on Turkey, but we “argued” about how long.  Marcy felt two weeks was the longest she could leave her job at U.S.I. I wanted a month.   So we arranged it just that way.

 

I added Syria and Lebanon to my agenda, although news was coming about travel warnings there.  My flight was going to start two weeks before Marcy.   I’d meet her in Istanbul. Departure was scheduled for September 13th.  Unfortunately, less than forty-eight hours before our vacation was to start, the September 11th bombing caused all flights to be delayed or cancelled. Mine was one of the flights cancelled. The news was devastating for Turkey and many other progressive Arab countries that depend heavily on tourism for a proper balance of trade.

 

We had to schedule new dates.  We usually go just before or right after ‘High Tourism Season”. Leaving to go mid-April will mean some rain, but low prices and no crowds.  We bought our tickets through the Internet.   I purchased an additional flight to go to Dubrovnik.  It was a circuitous route I had to take.  From Istanbul I would fly to Budapest, then Zagreb, and lastly, Dubrovnik.  I reverse the route to return to Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul.

 

 

 

The Journey Begins

Thursday April 11th, 2002       Los Angeles, California

 

7:10 a.m.    I am sitting at the terminal for American Airlines waiting to board.  My stomach is filled with anticipatory butterflies. Because of the World Trade Center Building bombing on September 11th, 2001, seven months ago, and current Middle East tensions, everyone is on high alert.  The Muslim/Arab world has threatened more terrorism; security at the airport is very thorough.  Al Queda has stated that they intend to do more damage.  Nobody knows where they will hit next.  American soldiers are in Afghanistan with a new “interim” government formed by outside western forces.

 

My flight leaves at 8:00 a.m. for John F. Kennedy Airport in New York.  I have a three-hour layover before continuing on to Istanbul. Marcy drove me to the airport.  We left the house at 5:30 a.m., long before the Sun began to rise.   I reassembled my backpack last night, making certain I forgot nothing important, and culling items I can do without.   I stuffed the black twill zippered bag into a green nylon Army-style duffel to protect it from having the many pockets being rifled, snagged, or torn.

 

Text Box:  L.A. to N.Y.C. is 3 hours behind.
L.A. to Istanbul is 11 hours behind.
Flight time: N.Y.C. to Istanbul is 9 hours.
I’m already anticipating Marcy's arrival in Istanbul on Saturday, April 28th 2002 at 11 a.m.  My flight leaves in twenty minutes, but I have already boarded after being assigned to a seat next to the bathroom. If Marcy were here she would have gotten us bulkhead seats.

 

Besides the actual flight time, there is a four-hour time difference between L.A. and JFK/NY. Construction work in the airport is in high gear, causing all traffic to get bogged down. Disorganization reigned. Escalators and shuttle buses were not working.  To get to Terminal A (for Turkish Airlines), I had to wait forty minutes, and the bus was jammed solid.  Along with several other desperate travelers, I pushed my way aboard, fearful that the next bus might take equally as long and cause me to miss my flight.   I called Marcy from the terminal. I miss her and know she’ll be surprised when the flowers she receives her flowers on Monday, which I made previous arrangements to have delivered (She’s going with Karen, Dorothy, and Chris to Arizona this weekend).  The following Monday she’s supposed to get a wrist corsage, which I ordered from the same florist.  I have “owed” her one for over thirty years.  She’ll get that just before she leaves on the 27th of April to meet me in Istanbul’s International Airport, Ataturk.

 

Meeting my flight (once I got in the terminal) was not a problem.  This leg of the flight lasted about six hours. I spent the first hour of the flight reading the “Turkish News,” an English language newspaper.   While Turkey is Muslim, it is very progressive and moderate about secularization of the country.  The Turkish government has been very pro Israel, but the current Palestinian conflict is reflected in the paper’s attempt to be “evenly balanced.”  Some articles were pro Israel, others were not.  There was one photo of a prominent ambassador who was meeting with the “powerful Jewish Lobby” (but they didn’t show any representative of the lobby) in Washington D.C. I don’t know of a particular group that wields such power, but I do know of smaller, less influential lobbyists who frequently come together on certain issues.  Is there a powerful Christian lobby?  Maybe a Muslim one?  I think so, because I am certain these factions have such representation in Washington too.  They attempt to get support of other lobbyists for their cause. Collectively, several groups usually have more influence than one group alone.  I was a little startled by the innuendo put forth in that Turkish article. I believe that newspapers often reflect the views of the people, unless it is a government run affair.  Turkey has adopted most western values and mores so I took this to show a variation from official government views.  I would be watching for this while in Turkey.

 

The value of a U.S. Dollar has eroded further. In November it was 1.6 million Turkish liras to the dollar, six months later it is only 1.3 million.  The newspaper editorialized that the government wants this to occur so that it might avoid high interest on loans, and it artificially inflates or deflates the lira as their needs dictate.

 

I have not been able to watch CNN or other English language news on television, so I’m not informed about what news has happened today. Information shown on one of the on-board television screens indicates we will land at Ataturk Istanbul Airport at 10:37 a.m. tomorrow morning (that’s April 12th).  My flight to Dubrovnik leaves at 3:35 p.m. on April 14th.  In a precautionary mode I thought that I should allow at least twenty-four hours to adjust to the time change and to have time if there is a delay or rescheduling of any flights.  The plane headed east into earlier time zones at over six hundred miles an hour.  Time, for me, was compressed. I lost ten hours that day.  April 11th was only 14 hours long!

 

 

Friday April 12th, 2002     Istanbul, Turkey

 

Although I had two adjoining seats, the total length was inadequate for sleeping accommodations. Coupled with the shortened day caused by the changing time as I traveled east, I was feeling irritable and very tired.

 

The local time in Istanbul is 10:00 a.m.  We should touch down in less than thirty minutes. Without a definitive plan my travel future remains unknown.  I am beginning to feel the angst that I treasure so much.  The complete freedom to go north or south is a heady, unbridled feeling.

 

What I must do when I get to Turkey:

Choose a hotel in the central district

Select a travel agent to plan Turkey

Take a city tour of Istanbul

Find the Covered Bazaar

Find guides in areas we’ll travel

Arrange for flights to Cappadocia

Check out some unusual boat travel

Underground trains/subway

 

This way or from the airport was not pleasant.  The scenery was of a big, gray, mundane city, with little to set it apart from any other city of commerce.  Knowing how important first impressions are, this might have put a pallor over this section of the journey.

 

 

Fortunately, I had seen the heart of Istanbul before and I knew to expect much more. In the drive into the Sultanahmet district, I could sense I was close to its center.  It is rich with character that both charms and fascinates the most jaded of travelers.  Although teeming with merchants of all goods, it is still wonderful to be here again.

 

I paid seventy dollars for two nights at the hotel, including breakfast and transfers to the airport.  I checked my room to confirm that it was clean and satisfactory to me.  I had a view of Haghia Sophia from my fourth floor window, which looked out over an alleyway clogged with sellers of clothing and luggage.  I fell upon the bed and fell asleep, listening to the barkers hawking their goods, trying to be heard over the clanging din of the metal and wooden wheels of carts overloaded with huge bundles of merchandise being dragged this way and that over the rough and cracked asphalt alley. 

 

I left my gear in the room and walked to the Grand Bazaar.  Over a hundred riot police had gathered by a mosque where an anti-Israel demonstration is expected.  The police checked many people for explosives or weapons by frisking them and using a metal detector.

 

I only had twenty minutes to look in the Grand Bazaar because it closes at 8 p.m.  All shops inside the huge, covered bazaar must lock their doors before the main doors are shut.  There are hundreds of shops, some occupying a space barely larger than a closet, but none larger than a bedroom.  Outside the covered bazaar there were a large number of shops and small eateries. These shops were free to set their own hours.  Many had chosen to stay open five hours or more.  I walked into a candy shop and admired a rectangular, black-veined block of halvah, at rest in a wide display window.  I looked at the different candies they made.  The small shop was crowded with customers, but a bearded employee invited me to taste a dime-sized sample of the candy.   I bought a quarter of a kilogram, that’s more than half a pound. My eyes lit as my taste buds sent a joyous message to my brain.  This was absolutely the best thing I’ve ever eaten.  I crunched through the delicate flaky pieces of sesame pastry, momentarily pausing at the denser texture of pistachios.  The smooth aftertaste was not oily. Pinch by pinch the entire block was slowly consumed.  That was no help for losing weight during this part of my travels.

 

I went to sleep to the sights and sounds of CNN. I woke whenever a loud noise bellowed from the ancient speaker mounted on the cracked and worn veneer side of a seventeen-inch screen television.  Loud noises happened several times during the night, but I continued to keep the set on.  A new bus bombing that occurred today dissuaded Secretary of State Colin Powell from meeting with Yasser Arafat, Palestinian president.

 

Expenses of 4-12-03

Cotton tee shirt     $5

Meerschaum pipe  45

Hotel (2 nights)   $70

Kebaps (three)      $2 ½

Halvah candy        $1

Tips (various)       $3

Daily Total        $126

 

 

 

Saturday April 13th, 2002 Istanbul, Turkey

 

I woke very early this morning.  My biological clock has not yet reset itself. At 4:00 a.m. the Sun was just coming up.  As I started the water to shower, I heard a not so distant imam begin morning prayers from the balcony of the minaret.  Like an echo, another imam elsewhere in the city began his haunting morning prayers. I shaved and toweled dry.  The room was warm and comfortable.  Despite my urgent desire to go out and rediscover this city, I am overcome by sleep.  I surrendered to the urge to sleep and fall over onto the very firm bed.  Over two hours passed before I open my eyes again.

                                                                                                           

Internet              $3

City tour           $60

Kebaps (2)         $4

Tee shirts           $8

Bottled water (3) $2

 

CNN, the international news channel, was still on television when I woke. I walked upstairs to the breakfast buffet.  The red paper sign posted on a column read that breakfast would be served at seven until nine.  Because it is only a few minutes after six, coffee wasn’t brewed yet.  Two eggy gruels were available as was cereal (like Rice Krispies), plain yogurt, a beverage resembling Tang, rose jam, and very salty soft white feta cheese were among the choices I could select from.  I ate a small plain roll with a dime-sized scoop of cheese while I waited for the coffee to be prepared.  The restaurant area was glass-walled, permitting a panoramic view of a portion of Istanbul toward the Bosphorus.

 

Later, in the lobby, I spoke with the hotel clerk.  He showed me a brochure outlining places that an organized bus tour would cover.  It was a full day tour for sixty dollars and I would get an all-around view of Istanbul.  I was in a group led by a dark-skinned, English-speaking Arabic girl of twenty.

 

The tour is titled “Byzantine and Ottoman Relics.” Haghia Sophia was the first stop close to where I was staying.  She guided my small group of nine into the Blue Mosque and the Egyptian obelisk, then the Serpentine Column of Persian Shields.  All of this, and more, were around the ancient arena called the Hippodrome.

 

 

We were carefully shepherded to a pre-selected carpet store where a small army of salespeople was waiting for us to appear.  One well-dressed, gray-haired man explained the different ways various knots can be used in rug manufacture.  Except for Chinese or Persian silk, wool on cotton were the best rugs.  Different towns had different styles of creating very good rugs, like at the town of Kayseri, which is close to Cappadocia.  I made a successful effort to escape and meet them nearby at noon.  I roamed the streets looking for more great deals, and they could be found with the most modest of efforts.  When I rejoined the group forty minutes later in front of the rug store, I was not surprised to see that several members of my group had made purchases.  The rug merchants are especially aggressive, but from each I have been able to learn something about carpets.  Wool on cotton gets the finest knots, except for silk from Asia.  The pros and cons of vegetable and chemical dyes were explained.  Double knots versus single knots add material and labor to the cost of the finished product.

 

Postcards            $2

Taxi ride           $20

Postage stamps $10

Bottle of water    $2

Hotel Room      $50

 

Our next stop was Topkapi Palace, which in itself was worthy of a few hours from the casual tourist. Adding to that, this palace contained holy relics of Mohamed. I tried to link up with a local gift shop for the benefit of PrayerCentral.  The owner had a fax machine but no e-mail address.  I’ll continue my search for a correspondent.   I went to the hotel, dropped off everything but my passport and money, and then headed straight back to the Grand Bazaar.  I tried to buy a beautiful black leather doctor’s bag. The seller started at five hundred dollars and quickly moved down to two hundred fifty.  I started at one hundred dollars and slowly moved up another fifty. He let me walk, and then he called me back to explain that I don’t know about leather, he does.  He tried to injure me with the barb that ‘I am not trusting him.’ The theatrics became more intense.  He stuck with two hundred twenty dollars...any less and he loses money. It’s just as well since I’m not sure why I need such a bag.  I called back “One fifty” as I left, but he seemed so disjointed that I had impugned his integrity...which he said is very important to him.  I moved away, and continued to make my way through the bazaar, which meant going through a very busy flood of other prospective customers. Soon he lost sight of me as I did of him, and we both looked elsewhere for new interests.  There were many pretty things to see and buy, but I’ll be back and I can wait until then.

 

Sunday April 14th, 2002       Istanbul, Turkey

 

I woke around 5:00 a.m. just as the imam began singing from the city tower, calling the faithful to Morning Prayer.  I quickly dressed and opened my fourth floor window out to the balcony and a view of the ancient university buildings across Topkapi Boulevard.  The modern streetcars are as I remember them from my previous visit ten years ago. 

 

I bought a small piece of halvah from the candy store that has become my favorite here, called Kostas. I walked over to the Internet center and sat there for an hour responding to Shelby’s (Robin’s) request forwarded to me.  She said I should respond to a schoolteacher’s request for e-mails around the world.  I also wrote a romantic e-letter to Marcy.

 

At noon I was packed and had the hotel mini-van drive me to the airport.  I still had enough time to meet Ahmed and discuss plans for exploring Turkey once Marcy arrives, but I couldn’t find him. I’ll send an e-mail to him when I can.

 

Each of the three short flights will last about 90 minutes on the average, but also have over an hour for the wait. I was at the airport at 2 p.m, but the third leg ended when I arrived at Dubrovnik 10 minutes before 11 p.m.

 

The flights not only took the major part of the day, but they were also energy drainers.  Going from Istanbul to Budapest to Zagreb to Dubrovnik was not as easy as I thought it would be. Hours of idle waiting in airports gave me an opportunity to read more about my destination in the three travel books I brought along.  When planning my trip I prefer books with many pictures.  A photograph is subject to less editorialization than verbiage. Once details are selected, then my preferences reverse themselves.

 

At the Dubrovnik Airport I grabbed my bag and went outside in the warm evening air.  Although it was very late, there was a line of white Mercedes taxicabs waiting for a fare. I was a fare and I was very tired. I opened the door of the first cab and said, “Do you speak English?”  The driver answered, “A little.”  That was good enough for me so I got in.  The airport was about twenty miles from town, and the road was a windy two-lane ribbon that cut through hills.  We carried on a brief conversation, often finding some German words to use when the driver was unfamiliar with the English term.  I discovered that he had spent four years (during the recent local war) living and working in Germany.

 

In my Lonely Planet Guidebook to Croatia it offered a recommendation to a hotel in the newer Lapad district of Dubrovnik. The Hotel Lapad, even though they we in the midst of construction, asked for 310 Kuna per day, equivalent to $39. I paid 240 Kuna ($30) to the taxi driver.

                                   

 

Monday April 15th, 2002    Dubrovnik, Croatia

 

I really hadn’t seen a glimpse of Dubrovnik last night because of my very late arrival. The journey was tiring; nonetheless I woke at 7:30 a.m.  I had to dress quickly because I had talked with the cab driver that drove me from the airport and we had set an appointment for 8:00 a.m. to discuss him being my driver, which means taking me to several towns along the Croatian Adriatic coast, which is dotted with numerous villages.

 

One US Dollar equals 8.2 Kuna

 

I met Miho (the taxi driver from last night) at 8:00 a.m.   We discussed my hope to travel along the Adriatic coast. He said it would take two days minimum, or three days maximum to see most of everything between Dubrovnik and Pag Town.   If it was two days I should pay him six hundred dollars, and if it is three days I would pay seven hundred dollars (not kuna). I said it is way too much and I would pass on his offer.  We drank some dark brown liquid labeled coffee, but that was where the similarity to the beverage I am used to drinking ends.  We shook hands and separated.  He gave me his business card (everyone has one) and I told him I’d call if I changed my mind.  I wasn’t prepared to be skinned so early as a tourist.

 

Fish lunch for two (with wine & tip)   $20

Admission to the Old City Wall             5 Kuna

Internet Usage for an hour                 50 Kuna

Ferry Ride to Cavtat (Round-trip)       60 Kuna

Hotel room 700 Kuna

 

I ate some bread and cheese.  I overheard English spoken nearby.  A robust balding man of forty some years was talking with the English-speaking receptionist at the hotel counter.  I stood nearby and waited for an extended pause in their conversation then interrupted.  I asked him if he was going into town.  A journey whose length I was unsure.  He said we should take the bus since he was told that it would pass right in front of the “old town”.

 

I had told Miho to wait for me.  I didn’t want to stiff him on this short journey into town, so we took the taxi at my expense.  Customarily the charges are shared.  We introduced ourselves to each other.  Simon Neal was the name of this hearty Welshman.

 

He spoke with a pronounced brogue.  I understood every third word he spoke, but that was enough for me to piece together a fairly concise picture of his story.  He was married, no kids, but two cats.  His wife worked as a manager in social services in Wales.  He chose this hotel because it was the scene of a business conference he would attend on Thursday.  He is involved with environmental issues.  The balding gentleman had a jovial, infectious laugh and we quickly became comrades.

 

Embarking on an exploration of the old town, I paid three dollars to walk atop the four-kilometer walled perimeter of this fortified site. Immediately, I was struck by the profound charm of this medieval town, and took great pleasure in the first panoramic views.  There have been many articles written about the mindless damage to this historic village by Serbs.  Certainly there was another side of the story to tell (by a Serb as he saw it) but no such writings (in English) were seen.  In war, there are always at least two sides of the story; each side feels they are the vindicators of righteousness.  A Serbian article might reveal what slight was served up by the Croatians to encourage this attack for retribution.   I could see orange clay-tiled rooftops that were partially replaced with strange ochre tiles. Sometimes old tiles were decoratively laid over functional new tiles, successfully camouflaging the last of an inadequate number of old, original tiles.

Simon was quick to laugh, a characteristic I find rare and uncommon among people from the United Kingdom. We walked through parts of the old town and felt the early morning mist lift quickly, melting into a warm sun.  We walked along a route described in a Lonely Planet Guide on Croatia (My edition was March, 2002).  Because the book was published so recently I felt extremely confident that the information it provided would prove worthy as my sole guide.  Of course, the walk through old town and its features couldn’t have changed much in the past four or five years (since the previous edition of my book), and I walked through the narrow streets, making my way past numerous churches hewn from the local limestone.  Marble, used in many places, was quarried elsewhere.  The streets were marble and showed the markings of hundreds of years. I took many pictures because everywhere I turned was another photogenic scene.   I understand why this is the “Jewel of Croatia”, as it is claimed. The medieval charm and beauty I see everywhere I look astounds me.

 

I examined a piece of lace handmade by an old woman.  It was pretty, a 14”x8” white cotton, latticed piece. She wore a broad vanilla colored scarf over her gray hair.  The barrel-shaped woman spoke softly, but clearly, and her demeanor was not significantly changed when no counteroffer came.  She just turned away, and I left without the lace, but with my sixteen dollars. This small craft pier was a gathering spot for tourists so there was no shortage of customers, even in the pre-high tourist season period now.  The very old harbor was picturesque.  The old ladies selling lace certainly added to the quaintness.

 

For sixty Kuna each, we purchased a ticket to go to Cavtat Island.  The sun was in full brilliance, and the boat, holding fourteen passengers, exited the harbor and soon picked up speed.  The spray, speed, and cold water combined to give a chilly ride for the next twenty-five minutes.  We docked in the tiny azure blue harbor of Cavtat.  Simon and I got out and walked around the stone paved alleyways.

 

Being that Cavtat was a very small town we easily found a particularly well-recommended eatery just one short block from the waterfront.  When we sat I discovered that the owner spoke English. Since the recommendation for his restaurant came from the Lonely Planet Guide, I thought that would flatter him to read the words of praise in the recently published book.  It brought a broad smile across his face and his attention to us dramatically increased. 

 

Simon asked for a risotto with mushrooms.  It was butter-drenched with caramel overtones.  At the proprietor’s suggestion I ordered the local fish, gray millet.   The proprietor, who was also our waiter, showed the fish to me first then said he’d grill it for me.  He served a white wine with it. All this was deliciously outstanding, and it was the best meal of this trip so far.  The bill was 320 Kuna including tip (250 Kuna w/o tip) totaling $40, but it was well worth it.  We each put twenty dollars to the tab.

 

We walked some more.  Simon wore open sandals, which were not the best choice for a day of walking.   He unobservantly stepped into a huge, very fresh, dog dropping.  Simon, at this point, decided to once again mention his general dislike of dogs.

 

The ferry began its final daily return trip to Dubrovnik at 2:30 p.m. We arrived at the dock early, as did all passengers, there were no last minute stragglers, because this was the last trip of the day.  The return trip was just as chilly as the trip to Cavtat once we were in open water. Simon and I were getting along very well.  We climbed the castle/town walls after paying a five Kuna admission fee. The one and a half mile route around the city walls was quite a hike with plenty of steps to turn this walk into an endurance building aerobic exercise.  I saw some areas of the old town that were bombed and not yet rebuilt. I must have taken twenty or more photos as I walked the wall, even from up here the ocean looked translucent green.  I could see a few feet down to the floor of the Mediterranean, until the depth exceeded ten feet.  No problems were presented because I don’t speak the language.  I found some ice cream very close to Italian quality almost immediately after we walked down from the walls edge.  The ice cream had a deep rich flavor that is hard to duplicate.  The coolness was very refreshing after walking in the hot sun.  The ice cream, while delicious, left a bitter after taste, which was uncomplimentary compared to beer by Simon and I.  I drank some tap water to clear my palate.  It seems good enough, but I am prepared for the consequences if I get sick.  Actually, I couldn’t prepare for that but I am willing to bear the problems that may come from my violation of my own travel principles.  “Don’t drink any water, but bottled water”.

 

Simon suggested that we go for a beer afterwards.  I enjoyed the beer with as much gusto as the ice cream.  The rest of that hour was spent sitting and talking. Eventually we had enough of resting. Off we went to walk around the walls.  I stopped at a small internet café just outside the walls and asked how late they’d be open until, which is 10 p.m. every night.  I got knocked off like everyone else in the shop then so I left with Simon and we went back to hotel right in the new section.  We rode the #6 bus for ten Kuna, or you can buy ten prepaid coupons that reduce the cost to five Kuna.

 

 

Tuesday April 16th, 2002     Dubrovnik, Croatia and points southeast

 

The bus trip cost twenty dollars and lasted seven hours.  For the view alone, it was worth it.  The bus was scheduled to leave at 8 a.m. so that’s when I was at the bus station, which is eight hundred meters from hotel Lapad.  That’s an easy walk, even with a twenty-five pound pack.


 

Few businesses were open yet, and the clerk window was shuttered close.  The schedule of departures was posted on a large, yellow sheet of paper so I could confirm my bus.  Yesterday a tour bus company had it listed at ninety dollars for the round trip with a guide.  Maybe that would be good but my way, going from town to town, will let me see much more of what I want to see.  I bought my ticket when the window opened, then walked to a nearby café for a cup of coffee.  I caught up on my writing and then marched over to the bus that was now waiting to load luggage and board passengers.

 

I tossed my backpack into the bin and took a seat toward the front on the left side, which wouldn’t have direct sun shining in.  The ride was filled with spectacular scenery and unusual rock formations.  Unfortunately I left my camera in the backpack, so no photos of the trip were taken. During the 6½-hour trip we stopped three times for about 20 minutes each.  The third stop was at a pleasant restaurant called Zdrava Voda in the hills above the town of Jablanca in Herzegovina.  They had three lamb carcasses that were skinned and skewered, head to tail, on a thick, black, eight-foot long metal rod.  The skinless corpses were slowly turning above a huge barbeque spit filled with orange-glowing wood.  I stared into the ashen crust that covered each of the sections of burning logs.  I finished a generous portion of the barbequed lamb.  It was certainly among the best I have ever eaten. Three slabs of steaming meat, weighing about a pound in total, were served alongside herb and olive oil roasted potatoes. The thick slices of the weighty white bread needed no butter. The brittle crust crackled from my touch and the white center was soft and very fresh.  The bread possessed a mysterious sweet-sour flavor that charmed me.  I did not eat slowly. While no one other bus passenger ate, I was hungry so I ate.  Fortunately, the food came quickly, as did the bill when requested.  I paid 36 + 4 Kuna.

 

While we were in Herzegovina I was close enough to the border that they would accept Kuna. They wouldn’t take Kuna in Sarajevo.  The money here is Markas, I don’t have any yet, but I hope to soon.

 

When we arrived at 3 p.m. we had passed through Mostar and other smaller towns all showing definite signs of war aggravation. There was reconstruction but not at a fevered pace and I noticed people replaced only what was necessary, if part of a wall was destroyed they’d only replace part of a wall, the original type of construction didn’t affect their judgment when choosing their medium of either bricks, cement, or cement blocks.  Traveling to Sarajevo through Mostar, I was starting to see the damage of recent battles.that, a choice I have yet to make.  Nobody is expecting me.  I’m totally alone.  The measure of success is entirely of my making.  It is only my absolute aloneness that has me on a heightened sense of awareness. I must be self-reliant.

 

Istanbul is a civilized and modern city.  I went through the standard process of entry. While standing by a moneychanger’s office to acquire Turkish Lira, I met smarmy, overly friendly Ahmet Sahin.  He encouraged me to stay at the Sport hotel in Sultanahmet.  He said a full day with a driver/guide and an air conditioned car would cost a hundred fifty dollars.  The flight to Cappadocia would cost two hundred for both of us (one way).  Three nights at a cave hotel would cost two hundred seventy American dollars.  Hiring a car and driver/guide would cost a hundred fifty for two days.  Soon I could see that this was a “what the market would bear” situation, so he could discover how much I’d pay.

 

Text Box:  Depart LAX at 8a.m. Apr 11 local time 
Arrive IST 10:30a.m. April 12 local time
The hotel had a pickup bus that delivered me to the hotel.  Ten years ago I arrived by bus from Athens, Greece, which gave me my first taste of this country. The drive to the hotel

 

Lunch (roast lamb)        $5

Bus ticket                    $20

Cup of coffee                $1

Bottle of water (w/gas) $1

Room rent                   $10

 

At the very moment my foot first alighted from the bus on city soil I was met by the term “Sobe” meaning rooms to rent.  She said, “Twenty Markas”, I accepted, even though I don’t know what a Marka is worth. The opportunity to be in a home is a special pleasure, it could only be improved if I was invited as a guest, but I wasn’t so this is fine.  While I had accepted the offer, I didn’t have any local money, Markas.  I’d have to solve that problem very soon.

 


I followed my guide to a house four miles away from the town center and it sat at the top of a hundred steps. I kept balking that this is too far from the center of town.  She was steadfast in coaxing me forward, indicating that it is just a little way more.  I climbed the wide steps with my full backpack, then, at the creast of this hill she pointed to a large, modestly maintained apartment building. It looked exactly like thirty other apartment buildings all around us. Once inside the main door I saw that there was no elevator, just more cement stairs.  The “pensione” was up six flights.  Incredibly, I did it.  Once there I realized, well really concluded, this was a bad choice, nonetheless I stuck it out.   The “Mom “ kept trying to teach basic Serbian words to me, but I kept smiling and looking away.  She was insistent and her daughter was insistent...compulsive is the more accurate word that described her bizarre behavior.  I started thinking about the weirdest potential things that could happen, nothing that would be good.  I could be spending my last day here. Scary stuff.  They were eating weird food and I discovered there isn’t a lock on my door.  The mom forced me to watch a television program, the ancient black and white set had little contrast so I could barely make out the picture. The room was darkened; I was filled with a feeling of caution and foreboding yet I continued on “acting normal.”

 

 

Mystical Readings of the Coffee Grounds

I.                     My wife loves me very much.

II.                   My wife or I will lose our passport before this trip ends.

III.                  Marcy has thought seriously about another man, but loves me too much to do it.

IV. I am “economical.”

 

I haven’t seen any television news since leaving Dubrovnik.  When I get to Zagreb or Mostar I’ll be interested to see what is the news.  Since I am language-impaired, I depend on visual images exclusively.  There is no news shown on Sarajevo television.  With caution, I’ll try to sleep.  I feel like I’m in an eerie situation and am considering leaving now even though it is 11:30 p.m.   My tired eyes close and I can’t resist.  My last thought I had was asking myself, “Could I be drugged?”

 

 

Wednesday April 17th, 2002                  Sarajevo, Bosnia

 

I’m alive!   I woke up!!! Ja!!!  Alright!! I’m a SURVIVOR!  It is still dark outside but I hop off the couch that had been made into a guest bed.  Forgive my moment of jubilance but I didn’t know if there would be more entries in this book.  That was a real weird place!!  Something bizarre was going on.  I had such eerie “vibes” that I’d been sure deep sleep wasn’t going to be happening for me, and then it pulled me in, almost against my will.

 

Text Box: $1 U.S. dollar = 213 Bosnian MarkasIt’s 3:50 a.m. I don’t care!  I tried to be as quiet as possible so I wouldn’t wake anyone. I especially didn’t want to wake whoever was planning on killing me.  The light went on down the hall.  I could see the evidence, a sliver of light along the base of her door.  I hurriedly got dressed and left.  At the last moment Mama appeared.  I gave “Mama” Five American dollars more. After I walked out of small apartment I thought about how strange it was that she was still up. I walked down the hill and looked to find a taxi driver who can speak English, otherwise I am in trouble.  I hadn’t purchased a guidebook for anywhere but Croatia, so this could be bad.  I walked around a bit on the main street until I saw a taxi stand, there I asked if anyone spoke English.  Nobody except the station-controller knew of such a driver/guide. He called him. Sejo, was the name of the English-speaking driver who appeared in ten minutes.  We talked about my interests.   He set a course and said it would take two or three hours.  I asked him how much he wanted to charge, and he said “whatever I wanted to give.”  Nope - let’s fix a price now.  The other way would be too expensive.  I know from prior experience that it is best that we hash it out before hand.   We agreed on the meter price, plus twenty per cent, it was generous.  He said that although the battle for the city has been stopped four years ago, the war still rages elsewhere in Bosnia and if the U.N. were to leave the entire region would immediately burst into a hellish conflagration.  That was unsettling.  It heightened my awareness of where I was.  This isn’t Kansas.

 

First, he took me to a place where there was an underground railway.  It was used to get food into Sarajevo during the war years.  A dumb waiter on rail would be sent from one side of the empty field to the other.  Less than one mile of track linked the large town with the rest of the world during the years the entire city was under siege.  Now the tunnel entrance is a small, poorly run museum displaying tattered remnants of war litter (It is open for a small fee, of course).  Ten lithe cats warily patrolled the tiny roadside gravel parking area surrounded by a low-cut whitewashed picket fence.  The cats did not welcome me, instead, they wearily resigned themselves to my presence in their midst, if only temporarily.

 

I had Sejo drive to a particularly large apartment building I had passed on my way into the city. There are many large buildings that were destroyed or seriously damaged.  Many are still un-repaired, with the debris of battles fought littering the ground.  The structure that I had current interest in was a long, five-story apartment building along the south side of the main boulevard that ran into town.  A number of peopled streetcars efficiently cut up or down the middle of the wide street.  Two sets of shiny clean tracks lay atop a grassy island that stretched the length of the boulevard, dissecting the road evenly.  The former living quarters seemed to be politely upscale, and although it was colorfully painted, architecturally it was of simple communist-era design, totally pragmatic without a flourish of style.  Now the rubbled remains lay in tattered disrepair, the result of shelling by either a large caliber canon from a tank, or hand-carried bazooka-type missiles from just three or four years ago.  Huge chunks of rebar-reinforced concrete were all around, presenting a danger like the tentacles of a myriad of frozen spiders. I imagined that its owner and all of its legitimate tenants abandoned the building. I later discovered that I was accurate.  Refugees from the war had occupied the rooms that were the least damaged.  Little was done to make their environment more livable. They were basically camping there. Less than adequate effort was made to dispose of refuse. Translucent pink or blue plastic bags filled with everyday trash were piled high in a rear courtyard.  Many of the residents, according to my driver, were war refugees.

 

I was able to see inside of one of these abodes. The husband and wife that occupied it came from Pakistan over twenty years ago on the offer of a job. Nobody in the family of eight currently works. The husband worked as a laborer until he was injured two years ago in a construction accident.  He has no skills, so he hasn’t looked for work because he is “uncertain about the future” but refused, or was unable to elaborate on that to my guide.  Sejo didn’t understand this man very well. Sejo thinks he has some mental illness too.  The wife tries to keep a clean house and the three children looked surprisingly well cared for.  I could get no explanation for that because I imagine social welfare programs have all but dried up as one consequence of a long battle.  I can only imagine that some sort of governmental support system exists in some form. They say they get no aid from the government. I saw many such buildings apparently destroyed, yet inhabited throughout the city. The outlaying land was usually sallow farmland that was unworked.

Sarajevo was a city in need. I felt that this was a place that Muslims and Christians live more harmoniously than elsewhere in Eastern Europe.  The few tiny communities of Jews live quietly, trying as best they can to be obsequious in daily life.  To temper that statement I must add that no other factor has had greater divisive force throughout all of the former Yugoslavia than religion, itself.  I visited a mosque and spoke with its spiritual leader, who claims that his group is the largest mosque in Sarajevo.

 

Taxi                         300 Markas

Lace tablecloth        250 Markas

Zagreb hotel Room 780 Kuna

Bus ticket                183 Kuna

Sausage soup            27 Kuna

Snack                        20 Kuna

Tips                          16 Kuna

Purse                         50 Kunaa

 

From a hillside overlooking the city, I could count the towers from which the imams sing.  The Muslim minarets dotted the city everywhere. There seemed to be no section of the city’s topography that was without the slender stone towers.  Only in the graveyards, which were plentiful, did it seem that each group or religion congregated to itself.  So why would they choose segregation at death when they didn’t in life? It’s either a paradox or a lie. I suspect the latter. Certainly war can make enemies of best friends.  One-time foes become endeared allies as the history of wars show.  The bitter aftertaste of war is evident in one panoramic view of the cityscape.

 

Rusting hulks of smashed cars still sat randomly throughout the city, as monuments to the destructive powers of war.  I moved through the city, closely examining everything I could.  Like poor countries throughout the world, trash was a common component of the landscape in the city or the countryside.  Gutters were clogged with plastic bags filled with used diapers, cans and other refuse that Mother Earth would find indigestible.

 

The taxi driver drove to several places I marked on the small tourist map I’d recently acquired. Although Sejo was born and lived in Sarajevo all his life, it took a map to refresh his memory about places of interest to the traveler.  I was getting very tired because I had little sleep last night. In mid afternoon Sejo collected his fee with an extra bonus.  We separated at the main bus station.  He told me that he had enjoyed this day because sometimes he forgets what an interesting city this is.  I bought a ticket for Zagreb.  There was no wait, a bus was about to leave for that destination right then.  I got on immediately, without buying water or eating lunch.  The bus is usually much more direct than the train.  Trains in this region all emanate from Zagreb.  Like spokes in a wheel, it is easy to find a train going to or from Zagreb.  Track was laid to many towns and cities while under communism.  Because while under communist domination the political powers resided in Zagreb, train track was laid accordingly.  Since Zagreb is not in my travel plans, I will take a bus that connects the cities with each other and operates very efficiently.

 

Bus travel is very cheap.

Lots of farming and sheep.

Smoking is still very popular.

American cigarettes are preferred.

Very few dogs or cats were seen in public

Few women smoked in public, even in restaurants

A popular color of hair for young women is burgundy.

Women often plump after their thirtieth birthday.

 

My destination was Plivitce National Park, and I enjoyed the beautiful scenery we passed through.  The windows were stained with rain.  A woman passenger who spoke English told me that the rain is expected to be heavier tomorrow.  She lives near Plivitce.

 

On each bus there is a driver and a controller.  The controller is an assistant to the bus driver and drives with him.  He does the ticket-taking, the map-reading, the snack-for-the-driver-giving ... all those miscellaneous duties that must be done to keep the bus running smoothly.   I stopped the bus controller as he walked down the rubber matted aisle to ask if I could continue on because the heavy rain now in Plivitce would be unpleasant to sit out.  He scribbled on a small tissue ticket, “118 KN”.  I took the purple rectangle, examined the number to confirm that he meant 118KN, not 778KN and paid it.  We were about three and a half hours out of Zagreb and the total cost should have been more like 150 instead of 220 Kuna.  Reflecting back I don’t think I have been too badly taken advantage of (yet).  I cleaned a broad bowl of very lean, roasted lamb chunks simmered in red wine reduction sauce, then scooped over thick strands of spaghetti.  I sat alone, writing and enjoying the flavors of this delicious meal.  I tried to use some English with a waitress so I could get another paper napkin.  The restaurant owner brought a glass of wine and a big smile to me when he heard American words.  His brother moved to the U.S. during the war and is staying there.  He knew less English than I knew Serbo-Croatian. Nonetheless we communicated with gestures.  I felt good, like I had become his friend.  The wine was very pleasant too.  I went to an Internet café after exploring the city center in the rain, guided by a local cabby.

 

I rode a short cable car up an incline and visited a few old churches.  Most were either reconstructed from war damage or built in the twentieth century.  This city doesn’t show its scars from the war.  A taxi driver told me that about twenty miles beyond the edge of town was the closest point that the Serbian soldiers had encamped.  Further, there are very few Serbs living in Zagreb today.  Many had been lynched or otherwise executed if they were unable or unwilling to escape early enough.  I was told the heads of all members of a Serbian merchant family were put on a row of twelve wooden pikes at the edge of the Central Park.  I wandered farther, not hindered by the light rain.  I bought a large, handmade, lace cloth and a small purple, embroidered purse. I sought direction from the taxi driver who I’d hired as my short-term guide.  He brought me to a plaza that had an Internet café.  I wrote to my wonderful wife and to the rest of my family. I met several clowns who were taking a break from the rain while performing in a children’s show.  They spoke English.  While I spoke with them very briefly they said they were traveling around Europe.  Each of them is a student in a university in Breslin, Germany.

 

I paid about forty Kuna for each fifteen minutes on DSL. DSL is a very fast way to connect via the Internet. I was happy to have it work so well. The Internet coffee shop was pleasant and very busy, with no older people (except me).   I walked out to the tracks, found a streetcar that  was going to the bus center, climbed aboard the No.17 streetcar and climbed off at the train center.  There are no trains stop at Plivitce National Park, so I had to walk in the light rain about a mile to the bus center.

 

Zagreb is outside of Belgrade and all trains meet at this central point.  Zagreb was constructed largely during Tito’s communist regime.  Trains go to all points from here, but trying to get from one of the outer points in Croatia to anywhere else in this country (except Zagreb) is very difficult, although change is expected soon.  It isn’t here now and now is the right time for me.  Travel between towns is done, almost exclusively, by buses, which are comfortable, modern, and cheap.  

                                                                       

 

Thursday April 18th, 2002   Zagreb to Plivitce to Split Croatia

 

To get to Plivitce National Park it would be best to go by bus.  The bus station was about a mile away, but I walked there.  The rain was proving the weather predictions I found on the Internet to be correct.  The downpour was heavier in the National Park with some patches of ice.  The bus halted at a closet-sized, yellow and blue metal room at the edge of the forest.  The rear door of the bus opened hydraulically and waited for someone to leave.  Nobody was going to get off but me, but in all this rain I had to do something else!  I changed my plan; the driver’s assistant was paid another eight dollars to let me continue on to Split.  The bus ride from Zagreb was a long one.  We stopped two times, and it lasted nine hours from start to finish. We started at 1:30 p.m. and it ended at 10:40 p.m. 

 

I watched what many others ordered.  Many asked for a bean soup with sausage in it then they took two slices of thick white bread. I followed their lead.  Soon I’d discover why this was a local favorite, the sausage had a savory flavor that was pleasantly unusual to my palate.  I slurped the soup quietly, copying local behavior, and enjoyed that sausage!  It only cost 27 Kuna, or about three US dollars.  I was full!  The bean soup itself was nothing very remarkable, it had a cumin-type flavor.  The thick, hearty, white bread had real body to it as well as a slightly bitter, but pleasant flavor that complimented the soup well.  There were still over three hours left before this part of my journey would be over.

 

The moment I stepped off the bus I must have had that look on my face, which was easily read which says, “Well, I don’t have a good clue as to where I am going next.”  Quickly, a pleasant, but stocky woman grabbed me, maybe in her early sixties.  She said, “Sobe!”  Not “Sobe?” or even “Sobe”, it was “Sobe!”  I was somewhat apprehensive after my last experience.  I looked closely at her face.  She seemed kindly, and I asked how much she wanted “One hundred and twenty Kuna”, that’s about fifteen dollars.  She promised it was only three minutes away by the city center, but it was actually closer to fifteen minutes.  The walk through a very delightful city center was actually quite pleasant.  Across from a department store she pulled out a large, rusty, silver key and unlocked a large, heavy, creaky wooden door. A few steps down a hallway we started to climb the steps.  Carrying the forty-pound backpack up six flights of stairs was a fitting way to end this leg of the journey.  Out came the key ring, and with a brass key she opened the apartment door.

 

As it turns out, it is a pleasant room and she isn’t too imposing.  I was able to relax and use a room she had set for five people. Instead, I had the room to myself. I tried to straighten my backpack but it is getting too full.  In the morning I realized what a comfortable sleep I had right on the edge of the old town.  I must step back and mention that after parking most of my gear I was given the keys, and I decided to walk around town even though it is getting dark.

 

Digesting what I have seen on the way over here, I discover that I love this town.  There was marble all around.  Also, it’s not the flat, glassy kind, but the aged, foot-worn uneven kind that smelled of a long history.  It just feels good underfoot; I can feel the years it has lived.

 

I took about twenty pictures. I love this!!!  It’s so difficult to explain, the flow of ancient times, all leading to this moment, to be trodden by me, a lone traveler who merely wanders by to taste the air and smell the harbor air, a heady mist of sea foam, wet marble pavement, and petrol. I easily made my way back along the strangely photogenic street, illuminated by an eerie mix of rococo street lamps and colorful neon signs advertising the tiny retail shops along each side.  The lights splashed off the rain dampened marble and reflected in ghastly shapes in the moonless night.

 

Only a few shops were still open this late.  I bought a scoop of ice cream from a street vendor.  The ice cream was unremarkable, except that it was filled with jam.  I made my way back to the apartment.  I climbed the six flights of plaster stairs with my only company being the hollow echo reverberating through the tall stairwell. I had the door keys, but all things aren’t locked down, like in L.A.  The front door was left unlocked.

 

A long day of traveling, and the very clean smelling bed, encouraged me to take a shower despite the late hour.  I examined the Eastern-European-type contraption in the shower to figure out how to control water flow and temperature.  I’ll certainly need the instruction manual for this device, but I proceeded without it, knowing that I risk freezing or scalding water.  I managed to avoid both.  The bed was soft and clean, with the unique fresh smell of being aired in the sun.  The window overlooked a busy street.  At two a.m. other than the occasional bus that went by or the soft clicking of solitary heels maintaining a gentle cadence on the sidewalk, there was nothing to disturb a pleasant sleep.

 

Friday April 19th, 2002         Split, Croatia

 

I woke, and then dressed quickly.  My time is valuable and I don’t want it wasted in sleep or useless lounging. The madam woke too so she could greet me.  She asked if I wanted coffee and I accepted a cup of the thick chalky brew.  The brown liquid was very hot and I noisily sipped it while I gestured that I had to wash clothes.  She said she’d do it, but no price was discussed.  I paid her 120 Kuna for the room plus an extra twenty for the washing.

 

On the bus, I noticed how the weather changed, once the bus traveled beyond Plivitce National Park in the mountains.  Moments later, the modern bus began its descent to the coast.  Instead of a thick fog wrapped around patches of dense rain, it is pleasantly sunny, and skies are clear with only a few white wisps of clouds. I decided this would be a day of rest, and getting my future plans set up.

 

I shall go to Medjugoria tomorrow, it’s a three hour bus ride each way, so I’ll be leaving early in the morning.  I’ll return and take a late ferry to Starigrad, stay overnight and continue to Dubrovnik or come back to Split and take a train south.  Having talking with Ante, he persuaded me to go to Hvar Town rather than Starigrad.

 

Without any pressure I leisurely traveled around and through the town, eventually finding a guide.  I met Ante, he’s a Croatian living his whole life in Split except for four years he was in the army. He's Catholic but not really big into the religious stuff because of problems he suffered with the church when he divorced after ten years of marriage.  This particular indifference to religion is incongruent with most of the people of Croatia who are overwhelmingly Catholic.  He brought me through the town explaining items of history.  Since I was alone, he charged me 150 Kuna (less than twenty dollars) for an hour and a half.  Make no mistake about it this was a business deal, I only rented him for a specific period of time during a slow period.  This is his livelihood.  Between cruise ship dockings, it was difficult for him to keep busy.

 

Text Box:  Ante told me afterwards that he saw a side of Split he had not ever seen before.  Especially, the Muslim area was the one he felt most insecure about.  He said he thought  “...they could be with the Taliban!”    While such things happen in this part of the world, I saw this as a measure of worldwide Muslim trepidation.He knew many people in the town of 300,000.  So it was no surprise that he stopped to chat with twenty people at different times along the route we traveled.  I asked him to include a stop in our walking tour, at a Catholic church, a Jewish synagogue, and an Islamic mosque.  As I would soon discover, the Muslims had tremendous fear of persecution if a mosque was erected.  They were relatively anonymous now, and by renting a building and holding quiet prayer within they were invisible to all except those that knew where they were there. The head of the center says they are trying to raise enough money to build a mosque anyway.  Muslims hold the most menial jobs and are among the poorest inhabitants of Split.

 

No one greeted us at the Catholic nunnery, although Ante takes great pleasure in having several keys to certain doors within the nunnery.  The women were not to been seen.  Ante had a key to enter their building.  Then we met the synagogue's president, who said there are only eighty members, all over fifty. They are unable to attract new members so the order may be join another in ten years.  Muslim tyranny was no worse than the Catholic rages that defiled life and land to the east and south.  There was oppression here when the fascist military moved in, and then again when it left. 

 

 

Croatians quickly took the lead from their German masters.  Brutality was just an everyday thing.  The names of forty people are inscribed on the wall, so that they will be remembered, until the synagogue is gone.

 

The temple president, a tall, slender, white-haired, man in his mid-sixties said that even he is married to a catholic.   Like many of the congregation’s offspring, his children don’t care much for any religion and don’t readily identify themselves as Jews.  He sees the congregation as slowly dying, with only forty members left after WWII.  He said that residents of the city were polarized during the war.  They were in his perception of those times, split almost equally for the protection of the Jews, or for their extermination.

 

At the mosque I found dissatisfaction with the current system, but for different reasons.  The imam said that they haven’t asked to build a tower because they think that it would call too much attention to them, so they won’t try to do so.  Further, the young imam said they had never asked for permission or monetary help from the government.  This was a contrast with the synagogue, which had asked and received some help.

 

The Catholic religion is the state religion.  The government sponsors it heavily.  Ante said, that the economy was better under Tito.  There was no infighting, and everyone was employed. The way it is now, if you have one slow year you are destroyed financially, and you’ll never recover from it! He is searching for those responsible for his plight.  At one time he ran a successful travel agency, but he had one bad year after seven good ones. This is typical of the Balkans, I would soon discover.  Someone else is always responsible for the bad stuff, and in Croatia, they thank Jesus for the good.  That's the result of capitalism (to Ante).

 

An Observation of the Women of Split: The young ones are pretty with very pleasant figures, but almost all middle-aged, elderly, and even a few young women had severely misshapen breasts caused by bras designed by someone, probably during the communist era, who is unfamiliar with the female anatomy. I suspect it was the bra; at least I hope it was not the result of a Cold War experiment gone awry.  It was quite a phenomenon!  Because it was so common, it was more than a little unsettling!

 

 

The ferry is along the dock, and the train and bus terminal were all very active today.  The schedules of time are all posted and followed fairly strictly.

 

I walked through a very active market place that had all sorts of mercantile goods.  There was a separate section for produce, and another one for flowers.  The restaurant Sarajevo was open.   It offered a special of lard-soaked meat cooked with spices and served with potato balls, tiny ones.  The shiny burgundy gravy was speckled with grated cheese.  I randomly chose, from the wine list, a local white to drink, pretending that I could tell one Croatian wine from another.  One glass cost 52 Kuna.  For the entire meal I paid 98 Kuna, tip included.

 

I climbed the worn marble steps, twelve stories, to see a panorama of the town.  The narrow marble steps were uncomfortable for my wide foot. The evening weather was pleasant.

 

Saturday April 20th, 2002 Split to Medugorje Croatia     

 

Text Box:  Bus to Medugorje (Main Sta)
Departs Split: 6:05 a.m.
Departs Medugorje: 9:40 a.m.
Arrives Split: 11:30 a.m.
Cost: 68 Kuna each way.
I woke early to go to Medugorje.  The bus stops in Mostar, a larger village that I spent too few moments in.  Several buildings, and a historic stone bridge have been recently destroyed.  There was shooting in this area yesterday.  Everybody is on edge and few stores are open.  The cute downtown area, about three blocks big, has some vehicular and pedestrian traffic.  The bright morning sun belies the tragedies of yesterday.  I took a taxi from the bus station to the town where Mile, Carol’s husband, is from.  Often I cannot see the end of the paved road and the beginning of a gravel road. The climate here is typically Bosnian. The foods reflect Bosnian tastes, meat and potatoes, not the fish and broad assortment of vegetables found in Croatia. There was only a momentary stop at a small store where I could buy bottled water, then I returned to the bus stop where I continued on to the “holy place” of Medugorje.

                                                                                                                                               

The bus let me off around the corner from a large church that was built as a monument to a miracle. The church sits adjacent to the holy hills, site of the apparition.   I hope to gather some information for a project, a web site that I’m working on.  I think it will be possible since there are many gift shops around. I have high hopes because this place is very highly commercialized.  The merchantability of the supposed miracle seems to be the most profitable, and it is certainly the most abundant, industry in town.

 

Once I got my bearings, I sat at a small white table along the sidewalk in front of a quiet restaurant. It was partially shaded by a new green canvas umbrella.  I requested steak “Zagreb style,” selected from twenty entrees listed on the fancy menu the waiter handed me.  That got me a thin flank steak is rolled with ham and cheese, and then deep-fried with a lightly breaded crust.  I walked across the asphalt street to the Medjugoria complex of building. English was a common language, so I talked with several proprietors, and only one had an e-mail address.  All were happy to have a fax sent to them. I slowly walked along the cement sidewalk looking at everything around me.  

 

Within a minute a swarm of thirty children, all severely disabled, and forty parents, moved quickly in a grey-brown cloud of dust.  They came in from behind me, encompassed me, and then moved rapidly ahead of me.  They were on a determined mission, of which I was merely an observer.  I heard German and French excitedly spoken; this must have been a special moment for them. Quietly, I found this moment difficult to assimilate without cynicism.  I understand the hope that these parents and, lesser so, the children place on this “miraculous” site.  I can sense the anticipated miracle if only one of the children was cured! The story is almost too thin to recall accurately from my memory.  From what I recall, the children that saw the vision of Mary were all born before 1971, and were preadolescent when they claimed to have “seen Mary several times.” There were five kids who witnessed the reoccurring event.  Here is either the strength or weakness of this “event.”  The locals say the kids swore a holy oath that this is true and nobody has been able to disprove this yet!   My cynicism shows through, I can’t be apologetic for my feelings any more than believers can for theirs.  I had hoped for some sign, but the only sign was how an insignificant dot of a town gains notoriety for a “miracle,” but it has become, by far, the greatest industry in this part of an otherwise obscure plot of land.

 

Room 120 Kuna

Lunch in Medjuoria 67 Kuna

Bus ticket to Med 47 Kuna

Bus ticket to Split 51 Kuna

Religious Trinkets 49 Kuna

Dinner Pizza 8 Kuna

Internet Use 35 Kuna

 

 

The sight of fifteen seriously ill children being paraded over a gravel parking lot saddened me. The is a constant crunch of knuckle-sized stones being ground by heavy steps, or ambitious wheelchair pushers walking behind the whitewashed church and auditorium, who reach a wide dirt path leading to the hills of the apparitions.  A fifteen foot tall white wooden cross supported a large bronze statue of a bearded, European-looking Jesus on the cross.

 

I realized how wonderful it is that in spite of how small a chance there is of a miracle, all of the parents had pinned high hope on a miracle for their child.  Looking deeply into the eyes of many of the fathers and mothers, I saw a dreadful look.  A look that is truly indescribable because it spoke of the deeply seated fear or knowledge that said  What shall we do after this?”

 

I stopped and took a deep breath. It was an emotional minute for me.  I was brushed by a collage of hope and tragedy that electrified the air. I had to leave; it was not right that I shared this deeply personal moment with them.  Even as I pen these words my heart recalls too well how I felt then.

 

The sun shone brightly. I took off my green jacket and stuffed it into the red, nylon bag that was always with me.  Even my casual blue shirt was too warm.  The street lacked any trees or vegetation.  The rows of tightly spaced white buildings abutted the sidewalk, and the sidewalk was against the black asphalt of the street. The only escape from the heat was indoors.  I was seeking a better understanding of the importance of this site.  I was incredulous that the story I had heard was enough to anoint this sleepy town as a holy site.  I tried to follow the story written in six languages on the outer wall of the church gift shop. I bought a booklet to explain it to me, but that was a waste of twenty Kuna. Without blind faith no booklet will open the door of understanding for me.  I trailed behind a group of German tourists, not one of them burdened with less than sixty-five years.  The side of the blue and white bus was painted with a sign partially obscured with mud flung up from the wheels.  The metal placard indicated a tour company from Munich sponsored this journey.  I couldn’t truly grasp their story because my understanding of German has grown weak from thirty years of disuse.  I was certain they sought relief from some earthly pain.

 

I left the church compound to traverse neighboring streets.  I wanted to find a gift store that spoke English (that was no problem) and had an e-mail address.  That was the problem.  I eventually got enough information to send to Steve by e-mail.  I caught the 11:30 a.m. bus back to Split.  Waiting even a few minutes in the hot sun stung.  Shade could only be found indoors.  The bus was half empty, so I was able to take a double seat all by myself.  The bus followed the same path in reverse order, generally westerly, until, three and a half hours later, with the sun speedily dropping lower, I stepped down the narrow metal stairs to touch the ground again. The town of Split is situated on the Adriatic, so it faces west toward Italy (I could take a ferry from here to Italy).

 

While sitting, writing, and people watching, a tape of somewhat disharmonious accordion music disturbed me, accompanied by a tenor’s rich voice.  It just didn’t belong in this setting and irritated me like a fingernail across a blackboard.  The sound played loudly through two five-foot tall black speakers placed conspicuously along the walkway.  Even this dissonance was disturbed by the muscular, rapidly approaching, heightened drone of a motorcycle as it was being raucously driven on the marble paved pedestrian pathway by a pimpled-faced, fair skinned, helmet less boy.  The noise was amplified into a huge crescendo by the brick buildings that solidly lined both sides of the pathway.

 

Sunday April 21st, 2002   Split to the Island of Hvar, Croatia

 

After two false early morning starts, I finally rolled out of bed. Once I got up while still dark.  I sleepily enjoyed a three-minute pee.  The toilet was typical of an English loo, with the water tank over six feet up on the wall.  I pulled the chain to flush and a huge torrent of water followed.  I had to wake the matron of the apartment after I endeavored to wash up a bit.  The sink was stopped up and there were no simple tools to fix it.  I walked over by the bed, and then fell back into it for a few more minutes.  When I woke again I peeked at my luminescent pocket-watch, and then glanced outside through the large lace-curtained window to see the chilly light of early morning.

 

Information I had gotten last night was that a 7 a.m. ferry leaves for Starigrad.  I wanted to be on that boat.  I paid 104 kuna for a round trip ticket to Starigrad, an island town. From port side, in Starigrad, a bus shuttles those that will pay fifty kuna, over to Hvar town, according to my Lonely Planet guidebook. The yellow and black schedule was thumbtacked to a white fibrous interior wall in a glass-covered bulletin board displayed at eye-level across the street from the town marketplace.  Since bus, ferry, and train schedules in all languages are similar, I saw in Croatian, what seemed to be a 7 a.m. departure time.  I was soon to discover there was another schedule posted elsewhere that correctly said 9:30 a.m. for the first departure of the day. 

 

Text Box:  Ferry boat to Starigrad
Leaves at 9:30 a.m. & 11:30 a.m.
Cost: 55 Kuna   Duration: 55 min
I had 2 ½ hours to fill before the ship left on the one hour, forty five minutes trip.  An open-air restaurant was just across the street.  I sat at a round white table and sipped a cup of espresso while I waited for the waiter to bring a baked sandwich of ham and cheese on a quarter circle of bread.  The spongy bread had a white interior, but a very crunchy, fried crust.  The sandwich was an inch thick and at least eight inches across.  Like a pizza, it was cut into four sections and served with a filling of your choice. Such a sandwich is called a “Burek,” it is the “street food” here.  Pizza, itself, is in second place.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Maybe because today is Sunday and it is early, yet few people are ready to get up, which was why there were few people aboard this vessel.  At 9:30 a.m. the ship pulled out of dock. I stopped on the dock in Starigrad for a brief moment where I was cajoled by a seemingly “friendly” cabby into sitting in his taxi to wait, rather than on the hot, dusty bus.  In no time he took off with me as the sole passenger. It looked like a mini bus but when we had started the journey I saw the meter lit and running.   He caught one!  Me!

The drive form Starigrad to Hvar town was a race through a well-paved passageway between steep rounded hills.  The island roads were very well maintained like most in Croatia, much better than Italy.

 

I paid 170 Kuna for this ride.  If I’d been on the bus the trip would have cost less than thirty Kuna.  I was the only English speaking person here.  The taxi driver continued his charade of not understanding anything I said except “Here’s 170 Kuna.”  He was gone in a moment.  Needless to say, I started with a bad feeling about this place.

 

The sun is out in full force; it might be 90 F today.  I couldn’t wear a jacket now, but it was good to have it for part of the boat trip this morning for coming to the island Hvar, then from docking at Starigrad. The town of Hvar is one of three popular villages: Jeni, Hvar and Starigrad.  After the morning buses there are several hours that pass till the return bus starts at 14:10.  I was at the stop when I asked a woman who was cashiering a small kiosk if she knew when they’d be back and she said yes at 16:00. That’s four p.m. to those that are not “military”.  There wasn’t enough to do and see to use a whole day but I was obliged to do just that. Ouch!!!

 

So I left for a while, and I spent several hours in the small town.

 

First observation: over one hundred aged German tourists pour off a bus, and they overran the small town even as they moved through it like a giant blob.  Although I could see that this was a charming place, it was too touristy. Just as that a though entered my head, the swarm of Germans had reached the end of a picturesque seaside street.  Two buses sucked them back in like a huge dust buster.  They disappeared and all was quiet again.  I had climbed twenty stories of steps to get to the top of the “Spanish Fort,” built on the highest point of the island. Climbing down was much easier, but I was exhausted and very thirsty.  The dust rose higher on the hill because of the intense heat.  Tiny fragile ringlets of mud caked around my nostrils as I breathed a little harder because of the extra effort required to reach the summit.

 

Ferry ticket (round trip)

to Hvar          104 Kuna

Coffee               5 Kuna

Sandwich         10 Kuna

Hvar Taxi      160 Kuna

Fish Stew         80 Kuna

Ice Cream          4 Kuna

 

I sat in a restaurant and asked the waiter for some filets of fried cod like I had seen on another table nearby.  The waiter brought a delicate, very pleasant fish soup with the fried fish.  I enjoyed the warm soup, and even as the sun continued to radiate heat, I could feel a refreshing cool breeze come in from the ocean. After an hour at the restaurant, I felt re-energized so I walked around the town more.  While there was little else to see, the bus to return to Starigrad, on the other side of the island, wouldn’t be there for another three hours.

                                                                                               

Especially interesting in Hvar was the Venetian influence seen in the tile and stonework.  I found an Internet service on the island of Hvar right by the bus stop.  I wrote a few letters, then the bus appeared at 4 p.m.  In a moment the bus was crowded and people were being turned away because there was no more room.  This is the ONLY afternoon bus.  I got a seat quickly; it cost nine Kuna but took ten minutes longer than a taxi.

 

Everybody got off at the ferry station.  Since I had already purchased a return ticket I saved some time and I got right on the boat. This morning there were ten autos and a hundred people, now there are six times that, fully loading the large ferry. From this point I could choose to further explore some of the small outer islands if I didn’t want to get back to Split right away.

 

I dragged myself upstairs through a steep and narrow stairwell to get a good seat on the boat. I expected to see many Germans who, by far were the most populous tourists on the island, but I did not see any on the ferry.  To reflect back on this island visit, like Medjugoria it cost too much time and money to see too little.  This is a tourist town whose main export is lavender flowers. 

 

Text Box: I intend to do the following
 
I.		Find out times that the bus leaves for Dubrovnik and focus on the one that arrives between 5:30 and 7:30 a.m. on Monday.
II.		Go pay for one more night at the room.
III.		Wash, shave, etc. and lay out my clothes.
IV.	.	Repack and get to sleep regarding #1 if I want to arrive between 5:30 and 7:30 a.m. and the trip takes 4 ½ hours I should leave between 1 a.m. to 3 a.m.
I checked on the Internet, with the help of the office manager, to see if it was still raining in Plivitce National Park.  Before checking the weather map the fellow told me, “It is always rainy there.” Sure enough, the weather report indicated heavy rains today and heavy rains are expected for tomorrow.  Now my plan is to drop down to Dubrovnik and arrive in the early a.m. so I can arrange further passage south, hopefully to Kosova, Montenegro, Albania.  The area formerly known as Yugoslavia has splintered so much (with more changes expected,) that how someone gets in or out is going to be a big discovery for me. The guidebooks, even local residents, nobody knows the answers.  The exploration of Kosova will be strange because it is still under a “Cease fire” request from the United Nations, and still cursed with heavy state department warnings to avoid that area.  I’ll be considerably more cautious and keep my stay to a brief day or two before moving on to somewhere else.

 

I must get Kuna because I must pay on the bus, also I must pay for the room tonight. Sunday evening at 7 p.m.  I'm eating a whole medium-sized seafood pizza for 40 Kuna (less than $5).

 

I’ll take a 3:20 a.m. bus to Dubrovnik, so I’ll arrive at 8 a.m. If I can’t arrange a trip to Kosova this way I’ll take the train to Zagreb, then a train to Belgrade, and then a train to Kosova. I might try to find Atlas Travel, they have a strong presence throughout Croatia.

 

 

Monday April 22nd, 2002   Dubrovnik, Croatia

I am sitting on a bus headed (I suspect) to Dubrovnik while I recall and write the following words.  I wanted to leave very early in the morning today but I had no Kuna to buy the bus ticket or to pay the matron for the use of a room last night.  I had only hundred dollar bills and traveler’s checks.  Businesses normally opened at 8 a.m., when the church bells rang.  I had several orphan coins left in my pockets, enough for coffee and a flaky folded pastry that was being bought by everyone, it had a cheesy salty flavor, but by far, it is the most popular thing here.

 

I exchanged a one hundred dollar bill, for 816 Kuna.  The moneychangers only want the new kind of dollar bill with the metallic thread running through it because the old American hundred-dollar bill was too easy for forgers to duplicate.  I paid for my room (120 Kuna), bought another pastry that I discarded after two bites. Although it was fresh, it smelled of fish.  I bought a bus ticket to Dubrovnik.  I could have sat at the bus station, which is right near the tourist part of town. Instead I chose to walk around for the next thirty minutes.  I stopped one last moment at the Internet café to say good-bye to Zack, the owner of the Internet station.  He allowed me to use the computer while I waited for the bus, but refused payment. He said I was there too briefly.  Apparently Internet cafes are found in almost every larger town but are seldom frequented by locals.  Most individuals don’t have their own computers linked to the Internet at home, if they even have a computer at all.  Croatia seems to be plodding forward economically, but they are still about fifteen years behind the levels of most metropolitan areas in the U.S.

 

The bus ride continued for a comfortable four and a half hours because we made several stops for stretching and stops at small, disjointed restaurants that want to sell “everything for the traveler.”  Their monopoly on the bus passenger’s trade is enforced by isolation from any other nearby businesses.

 

The Adriatic coastline was an ever-beautiful panorama outside my window.  It was a very pleasurable drive.  The coastline between Split and Dubrovnik was stunningly beautiful, sparkling under a dazzling summer Sun.

 

I recognized the bus stop in Dubrovnik as the same place where I caught the bus to Sarajevo.  As soon as I stepped off the bus, like hungry vultures calls of “Sobe?” and “Zimmer?” were hawked loudly.  I wanted a room in the city center but took one close to this singular intercity bus stop because I’d make further travel plans to go by bus.  The next bus heading in my direction will leave at 11 a.m. tomorrow.  If I was going to be stuck in a town, this is a good one to be stuck in.

 

I wish I’d been able to convert dollars to Kuna yesterday, since today it is already too late to do so at a bank rather than a moneychanger, who takes a big slice.  I would have saved a day but I’m in no rush, I want to savor my time here.  Tomorrow will bring something of excitement, of that I am certain, for I shall enter the land to the south of which is unspoken here.  South of here is Montenegro, then Serbia (Republic of Yugoslavia).  Although the border is thirty miles away, nobody “sees” it.  It is as if the Earth ends here.  The house matron, Ivana, spoke some English actually rather well. She told me her life story, including the death of her husband while she was pregnant.  Ivana said he died in an auto accident.  Personally, I thought I would find little reason to feel sorry for anyone in Yugoslavia after their mistreatment of Jews before and during World War Two.  She was a kind woman filled with compassion, and ultimately I found myself feeling her grief.  She explained that she is a nurse at a local hospital trying to earn enough money so her daughter can continue in Zagreb, studying at the university to become a doctor. A doctor’s strike looms heavily in the very near future.  They are going out on strike, and if they do Ivana will be without work.  Being without work means no income.

 

Ivana’s mother and father lived here after her grandmother died.  A second house in the rear was added, but Ivana has acquired two dogs and four cats.  They are the regular residents of that building.  She must spend fifty Kuna daily to feed them.  Ivana’s mother speaks no English, so there was no conversations with me unless Ivana was there to translate. I was already comfortable in this house, although I had been here less than two hours.  Exhaustion from the bus ride was quickly catching up to me. I lay, fully clothed, on the thin, but stiff mattress for ten minutes.  I realized I was too tired to sleep.  I needed some physical exertion, so I got up and walked for twenty minutes into the old town.  It was an uphill walk, not the kind I like, over a hill during a hot day. The fort appeared as I walked through twisted streets paved with large gray stone bricks that measured one by two feet each.  The older, central areas of Dubrovnik are made such.   I could have taken a quick bus ride but (at first) I thought the walk would be good for me. Certain buses (Numbers 3,6,9) all travel the four-mile route from the central bus station to the old Fort. It is a not a large city.  On the other side of small harbor lies the brand new district of Lapad.  I knew this area because it is where I stayed when I first arrived, at Hotel Lapad, for more than one hundred Kuna per night.  I walked around the old village and had a scoop of ice cream.  I used the Internet at a little shop (twenty Kuna for thirty minutes).  I took the #6 bus for seven Kuna to a stop near to the room I’m staying at.  I walked around Lapad, and ate a light dinner of squid and salad at a restaurant that was highly recommended by my guidebook. First I was served some bread and a small bottle of local white wine. While the wine was a bit too woodsy for me, I drank enough so I didn’t insult the waiter who took special pride in the wine because his brother either owns or works the winery. The calamari was herbed and grilled with olive oil. A special word about the olive oil.  At several restaurants in Croatia, I have found it is exceptionally light and clean, always adding a light unique bouquet in whatever dish it is incorporated. The meal total was a hundred Kuna (including a fifteen Kuna tip).  That works out to be twelve dollars.  I walked back around the small harbor Portable snack    

 

Bus ticket 91 Kuna

Haircut 50 Kuna

Pizza                      8 Kuna

Room 120 Kuna

Bottled Water       15 Kuna

Room in Dubrov100 Kuna

 

I tried to reorganize the backpack but I felt exhausted, and while still clothed laid down on the bed. I was soundly asleep in minutes, even though the bed was extra firm and felt like it was stuffed with blankets with almost no yield at all.  While the bed was wide enough for two, it was too short for one.  My height of six feet allows me to usually fit into most beds. This one required that I lay diagonally so my feet wouldn’t hit the footboard and my head wouldn’t crook on the top.

 

Tuesday April 23rd, 2002   Dubrovnik, Croatia

 

Ne   -   No

Da   -   Yes

Voda   -   Water

Dobro   -   Thanks

Havalla   -   (Most gracious) Thanks

Musliman   -   Moslem

Frizeur   -   Haircut

Sobe   -   Room

 

The bus I want to be on leaves at 11 a.m.  It is the only bus headed south because the “frontier” border is only thirty miles from here.  I spoke with Ivana about many things this morning.  I was awake before 6 a.m. to do the morning routine (of shower, shave, then dress), and then walk to a nearby coffee shop.  In the rear of the shop was a market, neither a “mini” nor “super”, just big enough to have it’s own small bakery and butcher shop.  After getting the attention of the counter attendant I pointed to a circular, dark brown bread.  The young woman wrapped it with small sheets of waxed paper then enclosed the warm, aromatic bread in a brown paper bag.  The top was dusted with white flour.  The 12” wide bread was only two inches tall.  I could smell the display of cheeses nearby.  There were several types on display.  The one I chose was light yellow, sliced very thin, and pleasantly tart.  After a short wait in a quiet line of shoppers, the cashier, standing behind modern equipment commonly found in the U.S. asked me for seventeen Kuna to complete my purchase.

 

Bus ticket to Prishina   $31

Bread and cheese           17 Kuna

Coffee                              4 Kuna

Bottled Water                 $1

I very briskly walked the short distance back to my temporary shelter.  I offered some of the fresh bread and cheese to Ivana and her mother, but they declined.  We continued to talk until 10 a.m., they were very interested in America’s perception of Croatia.  A ticket to Tivat was what I purchased but it turned out I should continue to Ulcinj, which is deeper into the interior of Serbia (Yugoslavia).  I am heading into an area where there was little to read about beforehand.  To me this is “the unknown”. The bus ride is quite an ordeal; not so much, in a negative sense, but measured in its uniqueness.

 

I was one of many people who crammed together, trying to be the first to board the bus.  Ultimately, there were few passengers so there was little need to secure a good spot.  I wanted to make certain to sit on the west (or ocean) side, and toward the front of the bus where bad shocks could make for a miserable journey. The bus made its first stop at the Dubrovnik airport, which is sixteen kilometers beyond the edge of town.  In about another twenty kilometers the bus driver stopped the bus and turned off the engine.  Passengers were instructed to take everything off the bus.  I followed those instructions, then followed the riders as they exited Croatia and had the passport stamped as they entered Montenegro.  The two border points are one kilometer apart but it was downhill, so it was an easy walk. I saw an older white-haired lady struggle with a heavy package; I was traveling very lightly so it was not a problem to add her large box to my load.   For this she was most appreciative. While language prevented a clear understanding of what she wanted to say I could see she felt it necessary to carry all of her packages through the checkpoint.  They detained four young men who didn’t get back on the other bus that was waiting for us on the other side.  The Montenegro bus was not in such excellent condition as the Croatian bus, but everything was well civilized.  Mechanically the bus had a non-working speedometer, and bad brakes, which squealed around each corner and emitted an irritating high-pitched wheal punctuated by a guttural shutter when the driver came to a complete stop. The ride was pleasant, nonetheless, because the coastline of the Adriatic is spectacular.   Mentally, I compared it to the Monterey peninsula of central California.  This was more spectacular because it is two hundred miles long and studded with stone fences, fortresses, and beautiful homes.  This vision was psychedelically enhanced with abundant color by the hundreds of auto carcasses strewn anywhere without care of the environment.  Sadly, I think some people might not see through this environmental stain, and they’d miss the stunning beauty of the coast. I struggled not to doze off because I might miss another view.

 

It was suggested by Ivana that I stop in the ancient town of Kotor.  In hindsight I should have done so, but because it wasn’t in my original plan I would have had a difficult time trying to rearrange my tickets, saying nothing about the cost of extra time used.  As the bus cruised through the village, I saw a domed church and another old stone building domiciled on an islet, no more than a hundred yards off the coastal shore. The craggy basalt outcropping rose only a few feet above the high water mark and was protected by a huge, tranquil bay. Many homes, mansions, and commercial buildings were built along the shore, right up to the water’s edge. 

 

The islet church was nobly capped with a green copper cupola.  A short bit south of that, maybe ten kilometers, was an island that was separated from the main land by twenty feet, yet every inch of that island supported a building – also incredible.  The bus made many stops and seldom exceeded thirty mph.  From 11 a.m. to 4:20 p.m. we drove to Ul. Ul, Montenegro doesn’t have charm that is apparent to the casual visitor like me.  I found an Internet service, but they don’t open to the public until after 8 p.m.  They are holding class today because many people want to develop computer skills here. The only place I could change money was at the “banka,” and I was pointed to where the “banka” was.  I walked a half mile to a glass store front underneath a big blue sign that read “Banka” I looked in the front window and saw textiles, white plastic tubs of laundry soap and various plumbing parts sorted in gray, wide, plastic bins.  So I walked on, looking for the real “banka,” praying that wasn’t what they were talking about when I said I needed to exchange American dollars, formerly hidden in my money belt, into local currency.

 

The town walkways and streets were covered with a white chalky dust.  There were rumbling cement sidewalks and asphalt with long deep cracks, that knowledgeable drivers knew to avoid.  I happened to pass a tourist bureau.  I wasn’t exactly certain of what type of business it was except that it looked professional, that is it was clean, neat and modern.  I could see three young women working behind their desks, two of them on the telephone. I stood quietly at the wooden desk closest to the door.  All three of the young women became silent, ceasing whatever task they were in the midst of and stared at me expectantly.  The girl behind the desk stood.   She was tall, and slender with long straight black hair.  Other than a half dozen small red pimples on her forehead, she’d be described as pretty.  I looked around and asked, “Do you speak English?”  She spoke enough English and had the desire to help me so we were able to communicate fairly well. I definitely needed the bathroom. She let me use it, thankfully.  I am expecting Turkish style toilets, but was pleasantly surprised to find European type.  This was a travel agency.  She sold me a round trip ticket to Kosova for thirty-one Euros.  The bus station in Dubrovnik was not able to provide the connecting bus, and instructed me to buy it at some point in Montenegro.  They took dollars instead of Euros, one to one.   Although the US dollar is worth about ten percent more than an equal amount of Euros currently, they explained I should go back to the ‘banka’ where a row of moneychangers sits in the rear of the store!  I thought that was a little unsavory so I paid the penalty knowingly.  I asked for a few Euros so just in case I am without them when I arrive in Kosova at 4 or 5 a.m.  According to them, the bus leaves at night to return to Ul at 6 a.m. then, when I return, I’m to take the bus to Dubrovnik at 7 a.m.  I’ll really like it if the schedule works out like that. I anticipate breakdowns in the scheduling and shortages, which alter how many or when buses in any direction successfully leave.

 

I walked back to the bus station with over ninety minutes to spare.  This is the best time to write in my continuing journal.  Several white mosques stood, blue capped, stark against a cerise sky.  The places of worship predominate this small city.  Music played loudly from small cafes, driving me away from it (but possibly attracting the younger crowd).  It wasn’t uncommon for either Western music or Middle Eastern style sounds to be intermixed on the radio, tape player, or whatever was the source of the tunes.  Dogs roamed freely, a rarity in Moslem countries.  As skinny as the canines were, they still had a life preserving respect for motorcycles, cars and trucks.  There was no reciprocating respect extended for the hounds, and it showed. The bus cuts through the town picking up and dropping off many people.  One old lady, whose thin white hair was poking out in wisps from underneath a tightly wrapped blue checkered kerchief, entered dragging a large satchel of horse manure that challenged her physical abilities. The putrid odor upset most people on the bus so the driver had to finally ask the old bent woman to get off at the next stop.  I sat, quietly writing, recording what experiences I have had until the bus arrives at this bus stop.  I am having some language difficulties, but the thrill of overcoming that minor obstacle is relished.  I wish the language created in the first half of the twentieth century to breach communication between languages, named Esperanza, had flourished, instead of fading away.  That would have changed the complexion of travel.  These very obstacles are what keep others from doing what Marcy and I do. The thrill of the journey is certainly equal to the pleasure of the destination.  The bus lurched forward across an ill paved parking lot, and we were off to Kosova.  It was time to put away my pen and watch what happens.

 

From the oceanfront flatlands we began to head toward an outcropping of mountains.  Narrow roads that cut through the gray slag were just wide enough for one car to travel in each direction.  Heavy rain would wash the loose dirt and gravel of the sides, and they would mire the asphalt roads.  Skies were clear so I felt certain that we’d make it to the other side safely.  I felt a bit uneasy when I looked at the passengers in this bus.  Many of them looked like miners, oil riggers, or mechanics. They were dressed to rugged unkempt work clothes, with a small brown cloth satchel, probably to carry their lunch.

 

The bus driver steps hard on the gas as we enter a flat straight road.   I looked out of the window to see a small village of one-story houses all with the same color scheme. Brown-orange tiles over white stucco walls.  It was quite pretty to see.  In the next mile of travel another village had twelve or thirteen houses that resembled ones I’ve seen in Tijuana’s shantytown.  This hodgepodge of pockmarked hovels was assembled with whatever excess construction media they could scrounge.  Part stone, part brick, part wood, part something else.  The roofs were often tin sheeting.

 

I am jiggled about in the bus, not because the shock absorbers are bad (which they are), but because the complexion of the road has changed.   Because of huge potholes, the driver could seldom go more than fifteen miles per hour through long stretches of the roadway.  I had left at 7:30 p.m. from the last bus pick-up point, now at 1 a.m. as we passed a checkpoint as we headed into Serbia (formerly Yugoslavia), the police (not military) came aboard the bus.  When he was sitting directly behind me the staccato of one long coughing spell followed by the next. Wet, phlegmy, mucousy, coughs by somebody.  It echoed through the bus.  The policeman was spitting, and where he spat I don’t know; I tried to avert my eyes as he walked the aisle checking everyone’s face and asking questions.  I believe, when he was spitting, he was trying to show disdain for us for a reason I am not aware of, other than the fact that none of the Yugoslavian countries get along with their neighbors. He instructed the driver to let him off at a point further down the road.  While he looked at me closely, he coughed without putting a hand over his mouth. In the faint interior light of the bus I thought I saw a disgusting yellow globulate fly from his mouth. What will I discover on my clothes at daybreak?  I was surprised that I was never asked for my passport.  Nobody showed identification papers, visa, or passport.  Nobody, near as I can guess, was asked for it.

                                                                                   

 

 Wednesday, April 24, 2002   Prishtine, Kosova province , Serbia (Yugoslavia)

 

It was another four hours before arriving in Prishtine, Kosova.  We had, on part of the last stretch of roadway, to navigate through narrow, snow-clogged streets, barely wide enough for one vehicle.  If another car approached from the opposite direction, the solution was that one vehicle had to give way by backing into a slender dugout carved into the mud walls.  A banged up yellow Mercedes passed us shooting billowy clouds of black smoke from his tailpipe.  The blue-black stream of smoke spun like a pinwheel before it blossomed into sight blinding, suffocating, chemical mist.  A mile further on the road we saw the driver of the yellow car being interrogated by an armed soldier.  Fortunately I had gotten some Euros in Ulcinj because the taxi drivers in Prishtine like the world over, are opportunists, ready to take advantage of the next naive soul to visit their town.

 

Everywhere I’ve gone I have noticed that cabbies are a tough lot.  The singular taxi driver waiting at the bus stop at four a.m. is like an old fisherman who baits his hook and then sits on the bench waiting, with infinite patience, for some unlucky fish to happen by.   He played his part well and he knew this time, that I was that fish.  At first I wasn’t able to communicate my intent, which was to be in the town center.  I’d like to be sitting in a coffee shop watching the town wake up while I was sipping a hot cup of coffee.  The weather was clear but very chilly.  He got out of his taxi, ran over to a local policeman who spoke English and brought him back to me.  The policeman translated.  The driver said he’d drive me for five euros.  What could I do?  I accepted, there was no meter in the taxi and I had no idea of how far he’d have to travel to get me there.  Then the driver brought me about one mile to a poorly lit café and said, in effect, we’re here.  I said “Town Center!”, “Centrum!”, and “Centrale?”  Reluctantly he proceeded.  The roads seem fine in the city.  I will see how they look in the full light of the day.

 

Slowly, very cautiously, the town came alive.  Unexpectedly, I saw no treasure trove of historical items here. This city (and it is a city), is the communist ideal with little to look at, with roots dug far back into history.  This city was built from nothing but six buildings that acted as a shoddy, lackluster nucleus.  Real construction started in the seventies and ceased in the eighties.  All the larger structures were starkly modern with no flair, no flourishes, and no flamboyance.  Everything was strictly utilitarian.  Even the ruins of an ancient village where the people lived underground was now used as a site to build three factories, rather than making any effort to glorify the ancient history that existed there.  Prishtine is devoid of a physically colorful past, and from the communist perspective, it is unencumbered with myths of old.  This was in large part the reason this city was created. Communist officials decided it was necessary to build a city where one had not been before.  Only the foundation of a one-century year old mosque, and the gigantic statue of an Albanian King of the fifteenth century who defeated Turkish advancement on the precursor to this city numerous times are still here.  His statue looms tall over the city center.

 

I spent several hours at the Grand Hotel in the morning.  The rooms there were $75 a night, but it was a 5 star hotel (they claimed).  The rooms had simple furnishings, but the walls had at one time been laminated with the most elegant wall coverings of flocked gold and silver.  At 8 a.m. I started to get a clearer overview of the city altogether.  Tourist offices either didn’t speak English, were not open, or did not have any tour I was interested in.  The only way I found to solve that problem was to hire a taxi.  Two drivers said they’d be my driver till 6 p.m. for one hundred Euros.  This was a preposterous proposal, but they may have thought I was very wealthy, or, even more likely, here on business with a business account.   I politely declined since neither driver spoke English well.  I’m certain I’ll find a better offer if I wait and ask around.   A travel agency opened its front door and a young woman threw a bucket of water across the sidewalk and into the street.  The front window was decorated with several travel signs, some were written in English.  I spoke with the girl behind a desk.  She spoke English with a heavy French accent. I asked if they had a city tour, embellishing my question with a stirring motion to indicate ‘going around the city.’  She looked at me quizzically and said, “No.”  That was it, no alternative plan, nothing.  Right here we had one of those long ‘pregnant pauses’, while I waited for her next words, none would come without further prompting.   I asked if they had tours of historical interest to nearby towns or villages.  She replied, “no” with the starkness of someone who is without interest in continuing any kind of dialog.  I stood waiting for her next words but they would not be coming.  I shrugged my shoulders and walked out. She didn’t notice that because her head was bent as she read some papers on the desk, to avoid the courtesy of any departing remark, such as “good bye.” 

 

I stopped to talk to a taxi driver, and I quickly discovered that he and the two drivers queued in line behind him, spoke no English, and to make matters worse, they laughed among themselves.  I admit that, back in America, I might respond similarly if someone was speaking like “Latka” (of the 70's television sitcom “Taxi”) and said “Yibbi Da.” That means something in Albanian but I don’t know what, just like the syllables I spoke to them had equal nonsensical value.  A man standing nearby overheard the conversation, if you can call it that. He said he would spend about four hours to show me the town. I suggested a price of fifty Euros and he was happy to accept, since that was an average week’s wage in Kosova.  He introduced himself, as I did.  Each of us included a very brief “bio.”  My first request of ‘Essat” was to take me to a bank so I could get some Euros. Although they are not part of the European Common Market, they chose to use Euros to replace local currency.   The bank was my preference over the black marketers who were willing to give 1.20 Euros instead of the bank’s 1.15 to the dollar for the difference of 5 euros (when I changed $100) I didn’t think it was worth the risk of getting counterfeit money because I really didn’t know exactly what a Euro looked like.  That’s the common currency used in Albania, Kosova, and Montenegro.  I agreed with Essat to meet in a half hour to start our four hours because I wanted to use the Internet.

 

There were several Internet cafes along the main boulevard.  I walked into one built into the second floor of a three story wooden building that may have been a large warehouse at one time.  The cost was reasonable at one Euro for two hours use. They even had DSL here. In a moment I was logged on and communicating with people back home.  Marcy should have gotten the wrist corsage of gardenias by now. She hasn’t said a word about it though. I was surprised that Carol wrote that Mile was insulted that I didn’t think “his” country was the best.

 

Mile claims to be Croatian but his hometown is far within Bosnian borders.  Living with his parents if he did, in an area clearly reflecting Bosnian way of life on many levels included variations from Croatia like a dietary change.  Croatians eat fish and many vegetables, Bosnians eat mainly meat and potatoes.  Croatia is progressive.  Bosnia seems to stagnate.  Roads and private conveyances, like cars and trucks, are remarkably newer in Croatia.  Bosnia is Moslem, Croatia is Catholic (and THIS is the GREAT separator between all the minuscule Yugoslavian states.  Religion, it appears divides people in some sort of chaotic, rapidly shifting game).  He wants to think of himself as Croatian.   Croatia is a far cry from perfect, but, in general, they seem to be moving quicker towards the twenty-second century than other parts of Yugoslavia I have seen so far.  From the perspective of a tourist, there are beautiful parts of it for sure, the coast is incredible, which it shares with Montenegro.  Most of the people I have met are very sensitive people.  That last remark isn’t intended in a good way.  What I mean is that the people of the former Yugoslavia have difficulty hearing anything but praise for their petit, impotent country, whichever one it is that they associate themselves with.  The only power they ever would have, other than as a cute tourist attraction, is if they bound themselves together under a strong leader like Tito.  I have heard several people lament his passing.  It is the pettiness.  That is why fighting breaks out so frequently here.  Without many Jewish communities here since the brutality of WWII ended fifty years ago, they can only point to each other to find blame for their failure.  The brutality still exists, but it manifests itself differently.

 

Essat met me after I finished in the Internet. I suspected Internet is all over this city too.   I have felt the presence of the Internet in every town and city I’ve been in so far, small and large.  DSL, a rapid port for Internet transmissions over telephone lines, is very popular now, at the very beginning of the new millennium, and is not uncommon or all that difficult to find.

 

Although the fighting has significantly declined in Kosova, it is currently under the domination of Albania, and is trying to establish itself as a sovereign nation.  The Serbs are rejecting their claim because, although (according to Essat) they pay taxes to Serbia (Yugoslavia), you must simply “follow the money.”  That means if taxes go to Serbia then this is part of Serbia. Essat says “no, it should not be that way. Most of the taxes must stay here to help people locally, not a kingdom far off.”  Essat continued while I sat in his car. “Serbians are Slavic people, but Kosovans are Aryans, like Germans,” he said proudly.  I try to remember that these are the thoughts of one man, not an entire province or country.  He drove me out to Mitrovica when new fighting is breaking out, and

 there is a very strong UN presence here with hundred of armored vehicles and many soldiers of all nations.  In the town of Mitrovica there was the real danger of being shot. Most visible were the French soldiers in their foppish berets.

 

There was some light gunfire far across the bridge.  I walked across the silver metal river bridge into a fairly large residential district of apartment buildings. The four-story structures lined both sides of the street leading away from the river and looked like they were built after 1920, and before 1940.  Under the bridge and on both sides of the river stood the brown, earthen banks of the river.  On it stood one fortified structure, which was probably an office building before some military forces took it over.  No flags flew to identify the forces within.  The masonry building was surrounded by burlap bags of sand or dirt and topped with razor-edged barbed wire.  I stood around a corner, out of the line of fire, protected by the stone wall of a corner apartment building.  I could hear frequent bursts of shooting that wasn’t far off in the distance.  An occasional burst of machine guns, or larger gauge weapons would erratically punctuate the momentary silence.  Usually I could hear small arms fire, such as hand guns or rifles.  An occasional stray bullet would ricochet down this street making a ghastly, whizzing sound.   I don’t remember hearing a shot, when at one particular moment a part of the masonry from the apartment building I had taken shelter behind suddenly had a cemented stone fly off and spin on the sidewalk I stood on.  A small white cloud of gritty dust settled in my hair as I listened to the ricocheting twang of a nearby bullet invisibly whizzing by from somewhere unseen.  I wondered no longer why Essat refused to accompany me, instead saying he’d wait in the car, on the other side of the bridge.  It has been a chilly day, probably no warmer than 50F. I shot a few pictures then I left, crossing the bridge a second time.

 

After that, Essat brought me to a recent graveyard with fresh graves.  I could tell they had been made recently because of the color of the turned earth above them.  Several had the red and yellow military arm patch still resting on top of it.  These plots were dug on grassy public land with a white wooden cross dug into a mound of dirt above.  Each grave was covered in bouquets of plastic flowers.  The grassy field was an acre on a hill overlooking the city.  A big part of the park served as a playground for children from a neighboring governmental housing project.  I shot a few more pictures of some of kids playing near the graves, oblivious to the sacrifice young men made, and without full knowledge of what good their death served. None, I’d say.

 

Essat showed me a modest mosque that had no grand story behind it, nor was it worthy of a photo because of its aesthetic grandeur.  He showed it to me to “prove” that there was acceptance of other faiths here.  I bought a couple of Kosova hats, made of light tan felt in the shape of a deep cu,p without a brim or any other decor.  The ride out of here is long.  I wanted something to eat on the bus so I bought some peanuts and two liters of water.  My bus leaves at 7 p.m., so I should make it by morning.

 

Wednesday April 24th, 2002 Prishtine, Kosova

 

The airport is closed and the trains are not moving.  No embargo, as I understand, just mischief and issues of local skirmishes. Essat didn’t know why there are no trains to Belgrade now.  I suspect that the violence has prevented trains and planes from operating.

 

There was plenty of time to kill before the bus would leave.  The bus terminal had been badly damaged in the war five years ago, but the damage remains un-repaired, other than simple dirt and asphalt fill-ins in the roadway.  The people work around it, blindly avoiding any recognition that something is out of the ordinary.  Three huge pillars supporting a huge quadrant of the cement overhang are so badly damaged that the area below cannot be used.  The behemoth corner folded in on itself from it’s massive, now unsupported weight, and so it remains.

 

Text Box:  Sam Kinison, an American comedian, said the best way to help the people of any country who suffer from famine, war, or poverty is to send them luggage and say: “Move away!”I have another three hours before the bus goes to Montenegro for transfer, and it has given me an opportunity to tune in to the Arabic music played, scratchily, over the loud speakers. I may be the only one that the music annoys; it must be like elevator music to everyone else.

                                   

The bus began its long journey just a few minutes before 7 p.m. Most everybody in this part of the world uses a 24-hour clock throughout the former Yugoslav country.  When I boarded this time, there were many more people to accommodate, so I didn’t have the luxury, as before, to stretch out between seats across the aisle. Because I knew how long this drive would be, I had purchased a small block of yellow cheese and a large round, dark rye and sesame bread from a vendor at the edge of town.  Most people brought some food or drink with them.  Soon the bus has many unusual smells wafting by my nose.  Not all of them are pleasant, especially the fishy ones. Even the driver is eating a thick sandwich and drinking from a thermos while he is driving.  Unlike Croatia, there is no assistant to accompany or relieve the driver if he is tired. 

 

The ride is long, it is about 2 a.m. right now.  We stopped at a small restaurant for some coffee if we wanted some, and to walk around while the driver refueled.  Passengers enjoyed a cup of rich, flavorful coffee at all hours.  There was little beer or wine drinking.   We make the long journey all the way through with only the one short stop for gas, and the men pissed unabashedly by a small gathering of slender trees at the edge of the asphalt parking area.  The women just ‘held it’ because there were no facilities for them.  The evening passed by the bus window as I watched.  Eleven, eleven thirty, midnight, one a.m.  The time just ticked by slowly in the black night.  Seldom was there a speck of light to see.  Everybody slept.  A large burka-shrouded woman sat, snoring loudly, two rows behind me.  Each of her exhaled snores was accompanied by a fecal odor. I buried my face in my jacket to mask this disturbance.  I slept a bit more.

 

 

Thursday April 25, 2002     On the Road in Montenegro

 

The bus driver knew I am from United States, so he took special care that I understood what was happening.  He was a wiry young man of twenty-five years of age, with a yellow band of gold that said he was married.  His sharp features appeared Russian.  He’s hold up so many fingers to indicate a break for so many minutes.  I’d smile and nod in appreciation and as a note of acknowledgment.

 

After all other passengers were discharged he kindly brought me to the exact spot I was to wait for the next bus to Herzegovina.  I left him with a tip of one Euro which he made certain the remaining passengers on the bus saw.  Hopefully, he must have thought, they might do the same.

 

Bus ride back to Dubrovnik $43

Taxi ride to Dubrovnik         $31

Lunch in Dubrovnik 30 Kuna

Internet Use                        20 Kuna

Room in Dubrovnik 100 Kuna

Clothes washing                  20 Kuna 

 

If I had an opportunity to come back to this part of the world I am certain I’d want to spend some time in Kotor.  It’s about thirty-five kilometers north of “Sweda Schefa,” which is an island that is completely developed.  Three acres of land jutted slightly above the high tide waterline, and it was swollen with brick homes that filled every meter.  Kotor, the town on the peninsula, not in the peninsula, superficially showed much promise as a place to visit.  My observations were made as we approached and traveled through the town.  A medieval castle stood in the center of the town. Ghosts of knights long gone, I could imagine, jangled as they walk across the castle bridge onto a green pasture where stables once encircled.  Although Euros are need in Montenegro, prices were about forty per cent cheaper than I’d expect to pay in the U.S.  And they were about 25% cheaper than Croatia; Dubrovnik in particular.

 

I fell asleep for a short while, but when the bus stopped at the end of the line I exited with the other passengers.  I carried my small bag and a half bottle of water through the passport control checkpoint. A modern bus was waited with it’s engine running on the Croatian side.  When all passengers had boarded the bus, it took off for Dubrovnik.  We were at the main bus station in twenty minutes.

 

I had nothing that I had to do except get stamps for Steve and a Dalmatian t-shirt for Mateo. Then I’ll leave beautiful Dubrovnik the day after tomorrow.

 

I went to a restaurant recommended by my Lonely Planet Guide.  The book was only published two months ago, so all the information is as fresh as possible.  After I had spent several hours resting at the ‘sobe’, I had a chance to reflect back on my recent adventure. I packed everything away.  All gifts and souvenirs were packed tightly together, then I showered and shaved.  That really freshened me.

 

To buy drinking water, sold in plastic bottles,

If you want ‘without gas” look to see that the cap is blue.

If the cap is white then it has gas, like seltzer water.

 

I thought about sleep, having had very little before my return, but instead I opted for a pleasant evening walk, about four kilometers where I was the only customer.  It was still early (for dinner); it was only 4:30 p.m.  I enjoyed an appetizer of sardine filets in olive oil, then I was to use some fish cheese, it looked like a mix of butter and cream cheese but it tasted like lox. Toast corners were spread with the butter then the sardine filet was laid on top.  It was very good.  Truly a surprise to me!  And I must admit I was very proud of myself for not throwing up!  This was not something I ordered, but since I was the only paying occupant of the restaurant the waiter, who spoke some English, took special pride in guiding me to making the best menu choices.  His pleasure, and certainly mine.  I had a very mild fish soup that was mainly fish broth with tiny, almost minuscule, bits of fish (I can only guess it was) and a few grains of white rice.  I ate some white bread with oil and red wine vinegar. The olive oil found in Dubrovnik is very light and uniquely pleasant.  My fondness for this butter substitute grows daily.

 

At first I was sitting inside the dimly lit restaurant, but I was bored with the melancholy radio music playing in the background.  The yellow-tinged, rough stuccoed walls were slathered with many expensive-looking, but nonetheless bad paintings and cheap posters. I moved outside, into the bright sun, and I discovered a shaded corner of the patio where I could watch the people and traffic pass the busy corner.  Petrol fumes seldom wafted my way, but it was a small price to pay to watch the Dubrovniks push their way home at the end of the day.  Quartered and herbed potatoes, long dark green strings of very fresh spinach and two small filets of “pomodoro” fish was enough to fill me.  The fish was braised, then pan-fried with a coating of olive oil and a sprinkling of greenish herbs.  The white flesh had the texture between fish and calamari. I slowly savored the very mild but tasty flavor. For this meal at an “upscale” bistro, I spent about $16, including tip. I elected to omit wine because, well, I’m not a big wine drinker. I walked around the Lapad area, which is dotted with small shops of all sorts. No large restaurants, markets, or other such places.  In fact, many of the small coffee shops seldom served anything but small mass produced packages of candy, chocolate, or nuts, coffee, coke and beer, except maybe, they might offer a cellophane wrapped cold sandwich baking in the front window in the hot sun, but that’s it.

 

I am attracted to a sweet smelling bakery.  I struggle with myself to buy just one light pastry.  The crisp sweet bun is savored slowly while I walked along the harbor’s edge. I noticed that I was the only one who was walking and eating.  I bought a Croatian chocolate bar for later.  It was neither better nor worse than others I’ve had, right there in the middle of “average” somewhere.  Actually, I take that back, American chocolate bars are becoming more waxy with a bit of sugar and brown coloring.  Taste is not an ingredient in an American chocolate bar of 2001.  So for this matter, Croatian chocolates are superior to American.  This was the first candy I've had on this trip and a real treat, even if it tasted a little ‘old’.  I bought some drinking water.  This is the one commodity I strictly purchase rather than drink from the household tap. It has helped me maintain good health throughout all of my travels.

 

Friday April 26th, 2002         Dubrovnik, Croatia

 

 

I fell asleep quickly and I awoke in a snap, just before 6 a.m.  I could see through the chilly morning haze that the sun would be out soon.  From the fourth story bedroom window I could see sharp shadows thrown across the tops of buildings that dotted this crowded town center.  When I walked outside, the brisk cold morning air was too sharp for me to be comfortable so I retrieved my jacket.  There was just no need for me to challenge the elements, regardless of how brief the chill would remain.  I wandered around with little purpose other than my desire to find a shirt for Mateo, colorful postage stamps for Steve’s collection, and some beach soil to put in a small plastic film canister for my collection at home.  I walked to the dock where the ferries load.  Nothing is going to happen here until 1 p.m., which is when the ferry leaves for Lokrum, and I can rent appropriate equipment to scuba.  I’m told that the beach by Lokrum is an ideal spot.  I had a cup of espresso in a small Internet café.  I wrote emails to several people, including Marcy. I make sure to write to her even, if it’s a letter to someone else. I finished and walked on to a bakery where I had flaky, horn-shaped roll filled with apricot and walnuts. It was still hot.  The rising steam from the tan pastry caused the powdered sugar on the top of it to congeal into a brittle yet fragile coating.  Strangely, I am struck with the realization that bakeries here do not sell cups of coffee and I have not found a coffee house with pastries.  I imagine I will, I just have not yet.

 

I spent ten Kuna to take the number 6 bus into old town.  It was a stressful walk because the walk is almost all up hill, until sighting the fortress at the last twenty-five or fifty meters.

 

In old town, the original section of Dubrovnik, I found a Dalmatian t-shirt for Matteo and Steve’s stamps.  I gathered a pinch of beach soil and a small, brightly colored porcelain statuette of Dubrovnik.  I packed all these things together tightly and spent the next two hours exploring the town and the fortress.  Cruise ships pull into a nearby deep water port and allow passengers to have a brief excursion into this section of Dubrovnik.  Stores and local craftspeople immediately raise all of their prices while huge hordes of people follow the designated leader, who usually holds a highly visible article of some sort, like a gaily-colored parasol or a small rectangular cloth of light green.  The groups travel en masse, usually about thirty in number.

 

The circumference of the fortified old city is about a mile long.  Adjacent forts are an added defense in case of attack, which has happened many times. Serbia and Montenegro launched a recent attack on December 6th, 1991 and did the most damage to the old town.  There were several full-color books that depicted the savage attack.  None of these books, and there were several, cost less than the equivalent of twenty U.S. dollars.  Prices were usually posted in dollars in this neighborhood.

 

Because I had less pressure to see the city, I was able to leisurely browse through three of the many tiny museums in old town.  The damp sea air damaged beautifully colored frescoes that decorated the outside overhang of a walkway in a nunnery.  Pieces of the stucco were separating from the ceiling but the colors remained vibrant and clear.  There was restoration work being done to preserve and repair this treasure.

 

Writing Pen                   5 Kuna

Stamps for Steve     230 Kuna

Pastry                           7 Kuna

Room                          100 Kuna

Bus Ride                       10 Kuna

Coffee                           10 Kuna

Tee Shirt & Small Gifts 150 Kuna

Loaf of Brown Bread      27 Kuna 

 

The layouts of the museums that I visited were strangely similar.  Each museum was quite small, seldom more than three rooms off one large chamber with a very little shuttered one, which was probably used to store valuables.  The cruise ship passengers had been called back to the ship by three long blasts from its bellowing horn, and the town immediately became sparsely populated. Several shops closed early because of inactivity.  The summer sun cast long shadows, providing welcomed shade on a very hot day. Resisting the impulse to have a cool ice cream cone, I bought a small bottle of water in a tiny market, and paid seven Kuna to a young woman in a caged kiosk for a bus ticket for the ride home. This was the terminal point for the city bus, and many people stood with me waiting for the next one.  The buses come, fairly promptly, every fifteen minutes, but fill quickly once the passengers scurry aboard, looking for the best seats. 

 

In the evening, about a kilometer from my room, a small gathering was starting.  I investigated the reasons for such a gathering. I was told that a young boy, ten years old, was discovered to have cancer. He badly needed chemotherapy, but couldn’t afford the expense. In order to help this family, two hundred or more people, especially young ones, showed up to drink one beer, or even a few.  Most of the men would toss down a hamburger, which is surprisingly similar in appearance to those sold in America. Knockwurst-sized sausages, rather than a much skinnier hot dog, sizzled on a large wood-burning grill.  Tiny yellow embers flew up from the grill and speckled the darkening sky.  I could hear the bubbling of the dark sausages as they were rolled on the large metal grill. I watched a young woman wrap the sausage in a small light tan dinner roll, open her mouth wide, and then crunch through this delicacy.  My mouth watered.  My fingers wandered through my pockets to grasp enough change to pay for one sausage.  If it were not for the fact that sausages are a marginally healthy “meat,” composed of whatever remnants of a slaughtered beast are unclaimed by the butcher, I would have enjoyed more than one. I hate myself when I start thinking like this!

 

The milling crowd congregated around the beer stalls. The food lines were short, which was quite a contrast to the beverage line.  Several pockets of local police stood at rest on either end of the closed street at nine o’clock. Today is Friday, and many people were going stay out till the morning hours if permitted, especially if the beer kept flowing.  The evening air was cooled as it came in from over the harbor waters.  Wood fires were started in large, black, metal drums, drawing those less appreciative of cold, brisk, moist evening air.

 

The temperature dropped ten degrees (F) in less than an hour.  I walked back to the room and spoke with Ivana for an hour or so. “Thanks,” I said for her hospitality. Her mother stood nearby, and for whom all communication, except Croatian, including English and ‘sign’ language, was an insurmountable obstacle to the expression of a single thought.  When the mother saw me, in the warm afternoon, writing and nibbling on a small snack, sitting in the lavender laced garden, she brought a knife, cup, and plate to make me more comfortable.

 

I repacked everything to prepare for an early morning flight at 7 a.m.  It had been requested that I be at the airport by 5:30 a.m.  Ever since the World Trade Center in New York were destroyed on September 11, 2001 by Muslim Arabs who were part of the Taliban, an extremist Sunni Muslim paramilitary group based in Afghanistan, air travel has been increasingly difficult. Security measures in the U.S. and around the world have been amplified.

                                                                       

 

Saturday April 27th, 2002 Dubrovnik to Zagreb Croatia and Budapest, Hungary

 

I didn’t sleep well, I had left my window open yesterday and a bevy of bugs decided to spend sometime here too.  Although I didn’t see them, they knew exactly where my ear hole was!  They droned around my head all night like evil sugar plum farces.  Partially covering my head with the cotton sheet left my mouth and nose as favorite areas for them to touch and light.  I turned on the light and put on my glasses at 2 a.m.  They shirked from the light and hid.  Their pleasure comes from invisible nocturnal taunts.

 

I turned the light off again hoping for one or two hours of sleep, but they wouldn’t have it.  To continue my torture, they giddily returned to their fleshy playground.  I took momentary solace in the fact that gnats generally have a life span of two weeks. The futility of my unwilling participation may be the only joy in the life of a gnat.  It was time to leave.

 

Bus Ride        25 Kuna

Coffee/Strudel   45 Kn

Budapest in Taxi   $30

Sausage and Roll     $2

Room in Istanbul   $35

Kebaps (2 @)           $3

Halvah (1 Kilo)        $3

Dinner                      $5

Internet (90 min)     $2

 

I always suspect that I have lost, misplaced, or had a small item of value pilfered from me.  It was a constant fear.  But this was is necessary so that I always remain on a high level of vigilance. Travelers and tourists are always a favorite target of thieves.  Before leaving the room I checked for keys, tickets, money, all items at least twice, usually more.  Feeling confident that I have everything, I wrote a brief card to Ilyana thanking her and promising to send a copy of a photo I took of her once I am back in America.

 

A small white bus with large blue letters saying ‘ATLAS’ emblazoned on it appeared at 5 a.m. at the main bus stop.

 

The bus traveled the 20 miles to the airport. I waited, and boarded at the Zagreb airport where they scanned my luggage and found a Leatherman pocket tool.  I surrendered it rather than miss the flight, which was to leave in ten minutes.  He saw it as good for air safety overall, but I still wasn't too happy to leave it.  The weather is bad in Zagreb, like when I was there a week ago, and it was just as bad in Budapest.

 

The plane landed in Budapest, Hungary and gave me three hours to look around.  I've been here before but I might find something to enjoy here. At the airport the main foods offered was Sbarro pizza.  I bought some wurst and brot, and then brought them back to the airport.  All of the luggage was already checked through, so I had little problem going through customs and leaving, especially because the plane was forty minutes late.  I met a man in his mid-fifties who has traveled the world with his mom. They were truly adventurers; they had been to many of the places I’ve been, and a few I hadn’t.

 

We landed after three hours of flight from Budapest to Istanbul.  My bag was one of the first to come off the ramp.  From a distance it looked strange.  As I examined it once it came closer, I saw that had been ripped open. A baggage handler somewhere took about $100 in cash and $1000 in travelers’ checks.  I saw several locks were ripped off.  I walked to the Malev airlines office to make a report, but they said a baggage report identified the problem and made a record of damage when it was taken to them, from Croatia Airlines.  Apparently this happened in Croatia.  The clerk seemed nonplused.  Such things happen frequently and she didn’t seem optimistic that anything would be done about the damage or theft I told her about.  I made an official report anyway.  The cash was gone, but I had the numbers of the travelers’ checks with the travelers’ checks. I had no record of them, thus I would suffer the loss of the travelers’ checks too.

 

I met Mr. Ahmet of the Sport Hotel, where I am staying in Istanbul in the Sultanamet district.  He also has an office at the airport.  I spoke with him, and he tried with little effort to be sympathetic and helpful.  There was nothing else for him to do. Each of his employees asked me questions like “Did you check every pocket?” or, “Why did you not carry the money with you?” The answer to the second question is that I carried all hundred-dollar bills on me, stashed in a secret pocket and all credit cards, i.d., etc. with me.  I have Traveler’s Checks, $1000 in twenty dollar notes, plus one hundred dollars in brand new dollar bills, which was a thick stack and not very easy to conceal. Everything was too bulky to carry with me.

 

When I packed this morning I put everything of value in the duffle bag that I brought with me on the plane. I packed little of value elsewhere. When I got to my room in the hotel and took inventory, I looked in the pocket where the money was stolen, and my return tickets to the U.S. were missing!  You lose an hour on the clock when traveling from the Yugoslavian Peninsula to Turkey.  I was tired and had gone through an emotional drain; to have someone pick through your stuff like that disturbed me.  As bad things are, this wasn't the worst that could happen, because I found the Traveler’s Checks receipts.  I called the American Express office and replacement checks were promised. So that’s it!

 

Rather than repair the damage to my faithful backpack of a few ripped tabs I decided to live, temporarily, with the inconvenience of having a difficult time opening or closing certain zippered pockets.  I will leave it as a remembrance and testament to travelers’ vulnerability.

 

Text Box:  In Turkey, a man is usually addressed as Mr. (Whatever your first name is).  
It is a different situation for women.
Tomorrow morning Marcy arrives.  I am very happy to see her!  Tonight I had arranged to meet Mr. Ahmet in the hotel to discuss further travel throughout Turkey.   He should be here at 9 p.m., that’s what we agreed to, but because Turks obey different business etiquette, 9 p.m. could mean 10 or even 11.  Bye and bye I would discover that 9 p.m. meant 11:20 p.m. to Mr. Ahmet. I was already asleep.   I finally had an opportunity to watch CNN, and I closed my eyes for the last time this night while listening to news of the world. Of great importance to Muslim Turkey is the worsening situation in Israel with the Palestinians.  The Israeli-Palestinian problem was highlighted by several armed Palestinians holed up in the church of the Nativity looking for refuge, but they were also well armed.  Quite a paradox.

 

In the Yugoslavian Peninsula there was no CNN, and the news emphasis was on sports.  Mr. Ahmet called my room and woke me.  I told him we should talk in the morning because it is too late to chat now.  He said he’d meet me in the lobby at 9 a.m.

 

I had prepared everything to leave the hotel early, including a driver and taxi to the Ataturk Airport, so I’d be on time for Marcy’s arrival tomorrow morning.  I really miss her and I am anxious to see her. I watched CNN until I fell asleep again.

 

Sunday April 28th, 2002     Istanbul, Turkey (Marcy arrives)

 

I woke with the distant singing of the imam’s morning call to prayer.  I ate a simple breakfast upstairs on the top floor.  Large floor-to-ceiling windows let the light from the rising Eastern Sun come through on three sides of this coffee shop sized room. The breakfast was just coffee, plain yogurt (which I added some rose jam for sweetness), a small, crisp, tan roll with a very soft white inner part, which I stuffed full with small slices of cheese and salami.  I ate as I walked toward the window looking out over parts of this tumultuous city. The lone Japanese man walked softly while I wrote in my journal.

 

At 9 a.m. I had the hotel driver bring me to the airport, about twenty-five minutes away.  I waited until I could see her face pop through the only gate through which every exiting foreign passenger must exit. She was happy to discover my face in a sea of strangers.  I ran over to her and we hugged each other.  I was glad she was okay, and she looked beautiful!  I missed her very much.

 

Candy                     $2

Room                    $70

Fish Lunch            $20

Lamb Kebaps (2)    $3

Internet (2 hrs)        $2

Phone (Local calls) $6

 

She was wheeling her luggage, which she handed to my driver.  He put the items in the car and we drove off to the hotel.  The clerk at the Sport Hotel gave us a different room, one with a parlor and a large window with a partially obstructed view out over the sea of Marmora.

                                                                                     

Marcy flopped on the sofa. In a moment she was asleep in front of the TV with CNN on. I sat next to her for a while.  After ten minutes, I got up and straightened out some of the personal affects that were scattered randomly around the room.

 

When Marcy woke from her very brief nap I took her on a short walk around the hotel.  Although this is not the finest hotel, it has a wonderful location at the edge of the Sultanamet district.  Marcy saw the entrance to the Grand Bazaar.  Time was whizzing by and the Grand Bazaar closes at 7:30 p.m.  She only was able to glance inside as the giant doors were closed for the evening.  I saw a special glimmer in her eye, the look she gets when she’s ready to do some serious shopping.  She’s ready now.  On the periphery of this huge indoor swap meet are a great many shops and street vendors who benefit from the daily closing.  We bought two barbequed lamb sandwiches called “kebaps.”

 

Marcy got a good look at the Turkish bath house, which now seemed to have acquired a huge tourist trade. I don’t recall so many visitors when I had been here in Istanbul before, twelve years earlier, when I had visited Greece, which is located southwest of this ancient metropolis.

 

Text Box:  Kebaps are skewered layers of lamb, chicken, but very rarely beef.   Because this is a Muslim country, there was no pork.  Enough meat is firmly skewered with a seven foot rod.  That is long enough to allow one foot of unencumbered rod on either end.  The rod and meat is suspended over a fiery pit vertically, not horizontally. The top end of the rod is attached to a motor, which turn the rod slowly.  As it turns, juices from the meats above marinate the meat below.  The vendor slices thin, fire tinged flesh from the spit and puts it  in a small, tan, horn-shaped dinner roll with small bits of vegetables.  Such a sandwich is sold commonly throughout Turkey, and usually costs the equivalent of eighty cents.One vendor had fried seafood had a pleasant display. He offered us an opportunity to sit upstairs. The food was disappointedly greasy, with small portions of less than memorable quality.  I am certain he chuckled when he charged seven dollars for two small glasses of poor table wine, possibly wine vinegar.  I noticed that this seemed to be a favorite ploy played out in many little restaurants.  The owner of the shop tries his best to lure foreigners upstairs.  Foreigners are perceived as wealthy and “fair game” for the restaurateurs.  After that bad experience, we wouldn’t let that happen again. 

 

The Imams sang from the open towers of the mosque minarets.  The Arabic chanting filled the quiet streets.  The entire city was bathed in the charming Eastern rhythms. I think a westerner needs to acquire an ear for the mysterious sounds. The modern streetcars traversed the main streets.  We walked back to the hotel and went to sleep at about 9 p.m.  The Grand Bazaar is supposed to be open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.  We can take the streetcar to several important historical sites along this street or other streets nearby.  I met Mr. Ahmet back at the hotel and confirmed tentative plans to have a tour of Istanbul tomorrow, but with a private driver to take us to places further out.  Care needs to be taken about Marcy’s foot.  It begins to hurt after only a small amount of exertion.

 

Monday    April 29th, 2002      Istanbul, Turkey

Mr. Fahtid, (pronounced like Mr. Fatty), our driver and guide, was a balding man of forty years, and showed every day of it. Soon we felt very confident with his guidance.  His limited knowledge on English was impeding a fully comfortable day for us. With some effort I was able to express ideas to him, and he was able to give an understandable answer to me.  Undoubtedly, his knowledge of English far surpassed my repertoire of five Turkish words.  The American Express office was the first place to visit to get replacement checks for those that were stolen.  The bank clerk had me fill out a quick form, then go to a nearby bank, Cok Bank, later today or tomorrow.  This bank ran out of travelers’ checks and couldn’t give me cash, either in liras or dollars.

 

We ate a very light breakfast of cumin spiced rolls, small wedges of soft Swiss cheese, thin American-style coffee, yogurt, and eggs.  The only unusual item was rose jam, and it did taste like it was made from roses. Tomato soup was available too.  Japanese prefer soup for breakfast.  There were many Japanese here at this hotel.

 

After breakfast we took the aged elevator down to the hotel lobby where we met Mr Fatid who brought us to the waiting car.  After a short drive we got out to walk around the hippodrome area. Marcy’s foot limited the amount of walking she could do.  The cobbled streets paved with uneven surfaced stone rectangles made walking in the boot difficult for her.  Several areas were paved with raised, rounded, silver dollar-sized stones mounted in concrete.  That was even tough for me to walk in canvas shoes, it must have been much worse for Marcy.  We left this area and drove through congested streets to the Europe side to get my travelers’ checks at 2 p.m.

 

Parking on the sidewalk often solves the problem of where to park. Drivers seeking a place to temporarily lodge their car will think nothing of angling the vehicle in any odd way while shopping or conducting business around town. Some people try to prevent

 

The most precious things to a Turk are:                          

1.  Horse (now an auto)

2.  Gun

3.  Wife (or mother)

 

 

sidewalk parking by installing a mushroom-shaped cement post to barricade a car from entering that area.  Istanbuli drivers, when pushed, become very creative. So property owners have to be more inventive.  It is definitely a case of “one upmanship” between drivers and landowners.  One devise is a low platform constructed of metal with spikes pointing up to destroy tires.  Cars edge each other out in congested streets, often traveling less than ten miles an hour, and the air is flooded with noxious black plumes of oily auto exhaust, or bus exhaust from broken gaskets.

 

Mr. Fahtid owns a new Volkswagen Autobus with no air conditioning. This particular deficiency was overlooked because we were enjoying good weather, about 75F temperature.  We saw the fancy buildings on the European side, the Anatolian side.  This is the Golden Horn.  There are three bridges that span these two parts of the city.   One was built to resemble the Golden Gate Bridge.  Along the shores of the Bosphorus there were numerous homes and palaces that showed diverse styling. Rococo, baroque and modern architecture melded together to reflect the diverse history of the city.  We sat waterside in the outside plaza by a palace, drinking afternoon tea.   This is the point where the Bosphorus meets the Marmora Sea; temperature and thermoclimes conflict, and it is easily apparent by watching the water surface. Fahtid drove by an ancient fortification built to stop a naval invasion.  It didn’t work, the invasion was successful.

 

Mr. Fahtid, Taxi Driver $130

Room in Istanbul             $70

Topkapi Museum             $30

Miscellaneous  Snacks     $10

 

We watched black gowned women, hidden frequently behind thin veils, walk through the streets wearing fashionable shoes and glittery jewelry all hidden under the gown.  Most men wore western style clothes, jeans are less popular here than in the Yugoslavian peninsula.  Men often greeted each other by fake kissing each other on both cheeks.  And it wasn’t unusual to see two men or two women walking arm in arm.  Most pairs were same sex.  No husband-wife or boyfriend-girlfriend together. Street sanitation is not a big priority.  However preservation of historical stuff is a high priority, because that is what draws a huge tourist trade to Turkey.

 

Mr. Fahtid, our driver recommended by Mr. Ahmed, was paid one hundred American dollars, an exorbitant amount I would later learn.  I had agreed to that price earlier (and I was not aware yet of my imprudent behavior), so I gave him an extra twenty-dollar tip.  Audaciously, he asked for another ten dollars US for parking fees.  I paid with no protest.  We enjoyed his company and he took special care that Marcy was never overexerting the bad foot.  That alone was worth a great deal to me. 

                                                                                   

Tuesday April 30th, 2002      Istanbul, Turkey

 

Today I must decide between the program developed by Mr. Ahmet or Mr. Levant, a fellow from another travel agency which was located along our short walk along the main street in Sultanahmet. I had told Mr. Levant the same itinerary that was divulged to Mr Ahmet so I could compare two programs.  For Marcy’s comfort I wanted a private guide with a timetable we can establish.  Both Mr. Ahmet and Mr. Levant worked out the way they thought we could see the important sites that we chose before coming here. We used travel books and the Internet to decide what we wanted to see.

 

Although Mr. Ahmet worked out a program that might work, he was very casual, too casual about things not being exactly as he had promised, and his written program didn’t quite do what we had hoped.  After a second meeting with Mr. Ahmet I told him we’ll use the other program from Mr. Levant, not his.  He was disappointed but gracious.  He chided me that we would be very rushed to try to do all of the things proposed in the other program.  He asked for, and I consented to, twenty dollars for his phone calls and “effort.” His audacity amazed me, but I applauded his unabashed willingness to ask.

 

Marcy’s foot seemed to have enough rest after yesterday, so today we will spend in the Grand Bazaar and the Egyptian Spice Market.  Marcy bought twenty purses and I bought a wallet.  When we return I want to get a big water pipe just before we head back home. There were a few other items we bought but spent less than two hundred dollars during a major spending spree.

 

Purses (9) $140

Bag & Wallet $30

Another Purse $20

Vest and Belt  $18

Taxi                            $4

Lunch $3

Halvah $5

Tour Package $2865

 

We walked toward the Spice Market, which was supposed to be a ten-minute walk.  Instead it took over an hour because the rough uneven pavement was such a physical challenge for Marcy.  At the spice market we bought a brown paper bag filled with fresh, sweet, but small strawberries.  2lbs. cost 50 cents, shelled walnuts ½ lb. for 80 cents, a half kilo (a little more than a pound) of dried apricots cost the equivalent to one dollar.

 

We ate two kebaps of lamb. Marcy waited at the table till I brought the purchases back to our room. I had another conversation with Mr. Ahmet, then decided to have the tour with Mr. Levant, a wiry man of forty, who spoke fluent English because it was necessary when he served as a fighter pilot for Turkey ten years ago. After a bad accident he looked for another line of work.  I choose not to ask him about the accident, figuring that he was intuitive enough to realize I had a willing ear to hear his story.  I might be seen as “too nosy” if I inquired at all, instead I smiled benignly while he spoke.  Mr. Levant work out a detailed itinerary that incorporated the cultural and historic highlights of Turkey we were seeking. He wanted $2650 for eleven days.  Mr. Ahmet had revised and adjusted his price down to $1980 but there were extras that would have put the price far above Mr Levant’s.  Much more was included in the schedule itinerary designed by Mr. Levant. Levant made flight reservations for the 1½ hour flight of about 920 kilometers to Kayseri. That is ninety kilometers away from Cappadocia.

 

Everything was repacked that night since the bags had to be prepared for when we get up early.   Our flight leaves from Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport at 7:30 a.m. so we must be there before 6:30 a.m. because of heightened security.  We fell asleep around 9 p.m.  I showered, shaved, etc. at night so I could pop up like a fireman, put on my clothes and go.  Marcy was too tired, and she was committed to waking up even earlier in order to have time for a shower and such things that women do.

The drive from the center of town to the airport is about forty kilometers.  Taxis will charge twenty U.S. dollars to get into town, but going the other way, into the airport, there are cheaper taxis, or “taksi” as it is called here.  All legitimate taxis must be metered, but just like traffic laws, they are frequently disobeyed. There are many ways around this regulation. Most common excuse I heard is  My meterrrrr is brrrrroke.” (Note: the rolling r’s are needed for the sound of authenticity.)   It was so common an English phrase spoken that you must know what is a fair price beforehand, or find a dolmus, which is a shared taxi, usually painted yellow, going to a common area.  When exiting a dolmus just watch to see what the other passengers are paying.

 

Wednesday   May 1st, 2002                Istanbul to Cappadocia, Turkey

 

Although we didn’t know it yet, just like each of the preceding days, this day would be more fun, fantastic and wonderful than the last. The future held a surprise of what would be the best yet. 

 

The driver was right on time.  This was a pleasant surprise in a country whose citizens usually are more relaxed about issues of time.  He took our luggage to the car and we settled the bill at the hotel, having made two local phone calls, once about replacing the stolen travelers’ checks, and once to Mr. Levant, the travel agent whose program I selected.   There was also a charge for one dollar for a small pint bottle of water from the mini-bar. The hotel room cost seventy dollars daily.

 

I have a little knowledge of the German language.  I lived in Nuremberg, Germany thirty years ago.  The Turks have been close friends with the Germans since the early 1900s.  Germans enjoy Turkey “too much” according to our driver Fahtid of two days ago.  Although several Turks have expressed a dislike of Germans, it is not easily visible. German tourists are notorious for never bargaining when purchasing goods.  Discussing a trade is an intricate part of Turkish business etiquette.

 

German is the second most common foreign language behind English. English is mandatory and is taught in all schools.  Germany has left its mark here (the double entendre was purposeful).  There are monuments to the relationship maintained, including an alliance during World War Two for which Turkey suffered some consequence of having “bet” on the wrong team. Groups of old German tourists clog narrow streets when disgorged from a “Pasha” tourist bus.  They are either unmindful or disdainful of ordinary traffic.  I believe that they follow the Turkish group leader exactly as he says.

 

The driver sped away from the hotel.  The early morning brings very light traffic now.  I asked the driver for our travel papers.  In German, he said that he didn’t have the documents.  He thought that I was supposed to have them.  He made a call to the hotel after stopping the car on the street.  Because there are so many one-way streets he ran back to pick the papers up.  A bellboy stood outside the hotel on the front steps to hand them to him quickly.  Our driver was back in the car in less than five minutes.  We were off to the airport, still with plenty of time. At 7:10 a.m. the city streets were hardly busy so we zipped along.  We saved more time by occasionally not stopping at a quickly changing traffic light here and there, even brazenly skirting through a lifeless, but lit by a red light, intersection.  We sat quietly in the back seat, trusting in the unshaven, wild-eyed Turkish driver.

 

Turkey spans Europe and Asia.  It possesses cultural attitudes from both worlds.  What lay ahead would reveal a deeper meaning to this country than I had ever imagined. 

 

Airport traffic was light.  We took care of all necessary tasks with ease, then waited to board the plane.  Security measures were efficient, and they x-rayed everything.

 

This flight carried the maximum number of passengers today, but it was mercifully brief.  The stewardesses rolled their stainless steel cart down the narrow aisles and offered passengers coffee, tea, milk, apple juice, or cherry juice.  A young man followed the cart to present to the occupier of each seat a small hard roll with a slice of Swiss cheese and a slice of green pickle.  Each such serving was tightly wrapped in clear plastic wrap.

 

We landed.  Musti, a young man who would serve as our interpreter and guide, and Hussein, an older man, maybe virile sixty, very Semitic in appearance but  he has adapted to western-style clothes; he was our very able driver. They waited in the Kayseri Airport for us.  By appearance Musti picked us out of the crowd and asked me for my name. I had asked for an opportunity to inspect rugs in this city, famous for it’s style of rug-making. They dismissed my inquiry by saying we’ll be going to a rug making store later.

They brought us the forty kilometers to Kayadam Cave Hotel in Ürgüp. What a wonderful place! The inn, and all of the rooms were carved from the stone.  We had to walk up three short flights of stairs also hewn from the monolithic rock.  The climb was not easy for Marcy but we were rewarded with a bizarre cave-room dug out of the soft porous stone.   The rock hardens when exposed to air for a long time.  This “five-star” lodge would have been enough to satisfy us for the day, but fortunately it was only the beginning.

 

After thirty minutes to “freshen up” we were off to see the “fairy chimneys.”  These spires were cut into the valley by millions of years of brutal erosion.  The weird geologic formations could have been backdrops for demented sci-fi movies.  We parked and I hiked a trail with Musti.  We had a panoramic view of the valley and the shadow capped mountain, second highest in Turkey.

Text Box:    Signs of a Good Restaurant

 
I.	Lots of cars in the Parking lot
	
II.	The bread is fresh and good.
	
III.	Many fat people means that the eatery has good value.
                                   

While Marcy and I prefer small restaurants to big ones, my dad taught me, many years ago, certain signs of a good restaurant to look for when I am in a new area. If there are a lot of cars in the parking lot that’s good.  Here there were many tour buses in the parking lot, a bad sign I would guess. After we maneuvered the downhill climb, we saw and smelled the food, it seemed to be a great choice, we ate chicken kebab, korma, grape leaves, spices, braising meats and herbs sent their aromas wafting through the cavernous sitting room with very long tables. Marcy enjoyed the eggplant, but we both enjoyed the orange couscous, halvah, what a wonderful spread!  There were busloads of older German tourists being carted here and there.  The experience wasn’t too tarnished by hungry Germans greedily hoarding certain foods. Luckily, my first impression was wrong!

 

As Musti predicted, around 5 p.m. the weather turned cold quickly.  A light rain made climbing rock steps dangerously slippery, but we did it.  The frescoes that decorated the interior of the rock cave churches that had been created by early Christians were often defaced by Muslim conquerors as they swept through this valley hundreds of years ago.  There are no permanent residents who are anything but Muslim now.

 

We next went to a carpet dealer.  Marcy and I started with a budget of $500, but he was showing us carpets for $2000-$5000.  We looked at all of them.  Before seeing this he took us on a tour of how they get the silk.  The unfortunate worms that were not selected for the breeding program get boiled and the silk, which is what their cocoon is made from, is scratched and stretched to yield about 25 yards of a single strand.  They are boxed and wound on a spool then turned into silk thread of various thicknesses.  Each cocoon is about an inch long.  The threads were often dyed. Seldom are natural colors selected because of a narrow number of colors available.

Well, we looked at a bunch of them and decided to spring for a burgundy and blue carpet about 4x8 feet this place asks not to bargain because it offers very low prices.  I countered an offer of a “discounted price” of $1962 (plus some small fees) with $1400 total no fees, we settled on $1530 total, no fees.  I could kick my self for not offering an opening price of much less. We paid more than three times it’s true value.  We just shouldn’t have bought anything here. Marcy insisted that I should not bargain here.  She said it would insult our guide.  Stamp my forehead with “Sucker.”   The carpet workers packed the rug tightly in a bag and off we were.

 

Marcy and I visited many churches, and enjoyed the mystical views of the spires.  It started to get very cold.  I didn’t bring a jacket since it had been so warm earlier.  Now a light shower of cold rain made the rocks glisten as the red sun disappeared in the cold shroud of misty fog.  While I enjoyed seeing the amazing churches, the cold rain made my visit less pleasurable because there was lots of climbing rocks, ladders, and dirt paths. Marcy decided to watch from the interior of the warm car. Afterwards I was cold, wet and tired. Marcy was unhappy that I’d spent an hour here, but I could have spent more since there was much to see.

 

Thursday May 2nd, 2002      Ürgüp, Central Turkey

 

We woke in time to eat a light breakfast of coffee, cheese and bread, then we met driver Hussein and guide Musti at 7:45 a.m. at the underground city, where the early Christians lived underground because of their fear of attack.  Christians were ultimately either converted or slain, as was the custom of the Muslims when they conquered new territory. The earliest settlers came here to escape persecution, and they were hunted once the Muslims conquered the area.  They could hide for long periods of time underground in a labyrinth of tunnels. In an effort to bring these perceived infidels above ground, their wells were poisoned, causing many deaths.

 

We were shown how a local red clay was used to make pottery.  We bought nothing there, nor did we buy anything at a jewelry and handicraft shop.  I liked the bowls and vases, which varied in color from white to green. Marcy said they remind her (in a negative way) of Mexico, specifically Tijuana.  She saw a piece of jewelry that she liked, but they wanted $60, which was their “discounted price.”  I offered $20. So begins the money dance.  I went up, he goes down, till he stopped at $40 and I stopped at $30. He would come no lower, so no deal was struck. Marcy said she didn’t really “love” the necklace and was glad to get out from the “smarmy” salesman. She didn’t want me to go back and offer any more. The rain started again.

 

Musti and I had hiked along a canyon, created from a small, but not navigable river that cut through the canyon.  The walls had caves dug out, and several were worship centers.  They were decorated with primitive paintings and designs of the sixth through tenth centuries.  So many of the caves were identified as churches that I suspect the caves may often have been the homes decorated with paintings.  These frescoes were noticeably absent from most rooms of the underground city we visited.  Several neighboring communities had flourished below ground.

 

We drove back to the cave hotel in the Goreme region, in the small town of Ürgüp. Goreme National Park has some of the most beautiful natural phenomenon. We watched as a ten-year old boy taunted a young small camel on the dirt shoulder of the narrow asphalt street.  Quickly the young animal became enraged and trounced the boy, stepping on him as the beast briefly attacked then retreated.  At the first moment of opportunity the tattily gowned Arabic boy got up from the dusty ground and ran away.  He dusted himself off once he was behind the security of a large wooden table. He watched, with large expectant, black eyes, to see what the camel might do next.

The four of us met for lunch after I hiked four hilly kilometers with Musti along a river.  It was a pleasant refuge from the rain. With me came a hundred people. The local trout, spicy beef or chicken kebabs were the simple, and popular choices. A small bowl of lentil broth, followed by a chopped lettuce, tomato, and cucumber salad, and then they served a portion of rice with Italian parsley, which was unique with a special flavor to it.

 

 

We were back at the tiny six-room hotel in a few minutes.  Marcy was asleep by 7:30 p.m., but before she fell asleep we talked about how great this adventure was and how much we liked the hotel room.  There were several other cave hotels, but they were generally located in the town center.  Ürgüp was well set up to handle expanding tourism, and even if we had no hotel reservation I am sure we could have found lodging here. 

 

Friday May 2nd, 2002 Ürgüp

At 8 a.m. driver and guide meet us after a light breakfast of yogurt, honeycomb honey, and apricot jam, which were mixed in the yogurt.  We both thanked the woman who ran the small hotel.  She spoke little English, saying that she speak Turkish and French.  We told her what a wonderful time we had in the hotel.

We drove through Goreme National Park.  I wanted to stop to capture a few more memories on film. It is just too incredible, but my memory is less than perfect and I forget some details that I want to be able to remember.  We had purchased five one-liter bottles of water earlier.  We can be comfortable for long hours without almost anything but water.  Marcy and I each had our own bench in the van.   The dry air and dusty wind did affect me in several expected ways.  I tried to use the time to lay down and shut my tired eyes for a few minutes.  Only my eyes needed relief.

 

Four hours of driving through a mountain range on well-maintained asphalt roads brought the four of us to the city of Konya.  This is the city where the whirling dervishes still continue their dizzying dance into a trance-like mental state to prepare for prayer. At the mosque that they pray, we discovered that there is a strict social hierarchy.  Each societal level dictates the costume, so that they can clearly see status of other men. We walked through the mosque after paying an entrance fee.  We found ourselves in a sea of French and German tourists. The mosque and its walled garden were overrun by the busloads of tourists brought by the busload from Pasha Tours.

 

We walked through the mosque, seeing the tombs of important village people that stood as monuments. The dervishes used this area for their important dance of prayer.  Musti said this city is well known as an ultra conservative bastion of Islamic culture. At the noon prayer call, businesses by the score closed.

 

We sat at a restaurant that was a block away from the mosque.  Marcy had what looked to be pounded and highly seasoned beef molded to form a bar of meat about the size of a chocolate bar. Then it was grilled.   Marcy had what is called, the “mixed grill.” I ate the locally caught trout, which was grilled with some butter.

 

Hussein knew tons of people everywhere.  People waived to him throughout the many neighborhoods.  While at the restaurant several friends, including his niece, stopped by.  She was married a week ago and quickly gathered her groom from around the street corner.  The young couple was happy to see him.  A familial greeting is to kiss both cheeks. She is twenty, he is twenty-two.  When they finish their studies in Konya they intend to leave this town because it is too conservative.  She continues to say that this small city is too stifling for those who are trying to be more intellectual.  They have no specific plans as to where they want to move, just out of here.   Konya is a fairly large city population, which looks to be 250 thousand.  Hussein seems to bump into more friends and relatives at every turn, and we are astounded. As the young couple leave, Hussein presses ten million Turkish lira into her hand.  The young bride politely protests, ultimately relents and expresses her gratitude.  The groom pretends not to see the gift.

Up the street, Musti was informed, is the most well known vendor of Dervish hats. It is where the Dervishes buy their uniform.  The old, bent proprietor opened his shop on the dusty street with a big old-fashioned door key after he finished his afternoon prayers.  Musti explained to him what I wanted.  The white-haired man demanded fifty million lira.  I offered ten.  After a little customary bargaining I pay thirty million Turkish Lira, which is about twenty-five dollars.

 

At 1 p.m. we begin the longest driving leg of this journey by auto.  Coming from Los Angeles, I measure travel in time, not miles. Here, driving is often difficult and the roads may have treacherous potholes.  In the less traveled regions of Turkey, roads are often laid directly over rock-hard soil, or exposed bedrock.  The layers of soil make a greater obstacle when paving roads because each layer is composed of different rock or soil and can separate easily in any kind of earth movement, like an earthquake.  Musti said that there have been no earthquakes here since 1870.  I don’t think all his facts are correct.  He may guess sometimes and present it as fact.

 

We arrive in Antolya at 8 p.m. Sunlight cast long crisp shadows while we searched for Dedeman Hotel.  It turned out that we had passed it twice during our search. Not surprisingly, it was near Dedeman Aqua Park.  The hotel had a bronze plaque that was posted at eye-level just outside the main door.  It proclaimed the hotel as being rated by Michelin with 41/2 stars.  Service was quick, and always prompt.  They accepted no tips when a service was performed under the watchful eye of management.  We had our room reserved, however the clerk offered a room with an ocean view for fifteen dollars more per night.  We paid it.  It was a nice room with three single beds.  The balcony overlooked the Mediterranean Sea, and from our room, number 518, we had a wonderful view of the ocean and the waterline.  I saw no beach because of the eroded edge of land that crumbled into the sea. Anatalya’s bay was a mile wide with mountains that conformed to the “C” shaped coastline.

 

The last straws of light would soon dance away to the night.  We were the only people to sit outside to enjoy two pint-sized, screw-topped bottles of wine.  Marcy asked for Merlot, what was provided was red.  That’s what they had.  We enjoyed a leisure evening and we did not notice time slipping by.  Now it is after 10 p.m., and it is too late for the regular restaurant.  We considered room service (which is reasonably priced), but opted instead for the gourmet restaurant on the “R” floor (that was the thirteenth floor). The menu looked good but we were very casually dressed. This seems like a more formal event, but because there were few patrons we got full attention.  We were seated with a window view looking out to sea. I ordered a braised fish and some sort of very tasty artichoke appetizer.  I was surprised that Marcy asked for the “mixed grill” again.  I suspect that she doesn’t know what THEY mean when they say “mixed grill.”  It means (to them) that various meats are ground and mixed to create a hand-shaped meat bar.  Was she thinking that there would be various pieces of meat on her plate? Maybe so. I was so exhausted from the long drive earlier that I fell asleep in a minute.  Marcy was even quicker. 

 

Saturday May 4th, 2002

 

This was a casual morning.  We woke unhurriedly and prepared to leave the hotel because we expected a new driver to get us and our growing number of baggage at 9:30 a.m.  Usually the drivers are very punctual, not a normal attribute of Turks.  All of the luggage was brought to the lobby where we settled the bill, and went to breakfast. 

 

Breakfast was a pleasant affair, a huge spread with endless choices. Not being one who prefers many breakfast foods, I looked beyond the omelettes cooked with ingredients of one’s choice.  I looked beyond the waffles, breads and cereals.  I discovered a hot entre that few people were clamoring for.  I eyed it closely, somewhat suspiciously, then took a plate and spooned two scoops of chicken pieces that simmered with brown mushrooms and green peppers.  I grabbed an apple from the fresh fruit bar and sat down on the outside patio to wait for Marcy to join me.  There was still plenty of time left before our meeting time in the adjacent hotel lobby. The coffee was a pleasant finish to the meal.  It was rich and good, but not Turkish coffee, which is when hot water is poured over finely ground coffee at the bottom of the cup.

 

We waited for the driver and guide to appear.  Mr. Hussein, a new and different one, with no relation to our last driver, showed up almost immediately after we found comfortable chairs to watch for him.  Hussein took a liking to Marcy and throughout the day was very partial to her comfort and interests.  I appreciated his concern.  Mr. Hussein drove a small white Fiat sedan with the tour company emblem posted in large letters on one side.  He handed us a packet of papers, which showed a change of itinerary.  Marcy sought another day in the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul, so we had to cut out Pamukale, which is not far from Istanbul and can be arranged in a future visit.  I was willing to make any adjustments she wanted in our plan and allowed her a free hand. So when the revised plan was given to us Marcy called Mr. Levant in Istanbul to advise him of more changes.  Levant has been wonderful, he has attended to all details and gave us a well designed plan. 

 

Our first stop after the office visit was a waterfall that, unsurprisingly, comes from the mountains thirty miles away and takes a final sixty foot plunge into the sea.  Marcy had some trouble navigating the rocky path to the cliff edge but managed it with constant attention from Mr. Hussein.  We drove to a fantastic Roman ruin called Per. The remnants of the once great city were unique.  The streets were tiled with fancy mosaics along both sides of the street. The mosaics were for pedestrian traffic. Merchant stalls were well marked by two-foot high walls that still stood beyond the black and white tiles on either side of the street.

 

The bathhouse was a central part of city dwellers lives.  It was a complex system of hot water and hot air that could be managed to control the bathhouse environment.  While all citizens were permitted to use it, the evenings were reserved for royalty and officials.  The public toilets were a social event, too.  While sheltered, people of both sexes sat and talked while using the toilet.  The city was the best-preserved ruin I have seen.  It was conserved by the national government under Ataturk the early part of the twentieth century.

 

We passed Hadrian’s Gate as we went out of town, deciding the water park was a waste of time.  For lunch Marcy had the reconstructed beef bar again, and I had trout.  Next we visited an oceanside village that had roman ruins of great importance, unfortunately I cannot recall its name.

 

We walked to a three-pillared arch of Apollo.  The fifteen foot tall statue was high on the cliff just outside of the ancient city where the temple of Diana once stood.  Large sections of expertly carved marble was scattered across the weed-filled land.  It must be reconstructed to save the value of these ruins.  Most large pieces have been numbered for reassembly. The huge open library was a standout feature of this very touristy town.  The library had several large, intricately carved marble cornices that still stood exactly where they were built to stay.

 

According to Hussein, the search of the ruins only yielded one parchment, which was the last will of the princess Diana, whom people loved. Marcy sat while we looked at the vast ruins more closely.  She drank half a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice.  I finished it for her.  Hussein’s legend didn’t sway either of us.

 

The local cafes are especially popular with young Russians.  There are at least a hundred young Russians along this cobblestone street, now populated with kitschy cafes, with signs identifying the tiny kitchens with french names, and a menu in U.S. dollars.   Hussein resents the young Russians because they take advantage of Turkey.  They come because Turkey is cheap.  They drink vodka and have sex, then leave. According to Hussein, they have no appreciation of the country.

 

Hussein had been telling us about his favorite ice cream maker who makes his delicacy one small batch at a time.   Hussein said that the ice cream is so thick and rich that you must eat it with a knife and fork.  He seems to be very proud of knowing the ice cream maker of this shop.  We stopped at the fabled ice cream confectionery and we were greeted by the ice cream maker who was hard at work, stirring a new batch of the cold, white treat.  We were seated in a tiny room with open walls.  Behind the rear wall and concealed from our eyes, but not my nose, came the wafting fragrance of honeyed buns baking... baklava.  It smelled deliciously sweet.   The ice cream was served.  A thick ribbon was twisted in a flourish to fit on the baked clay plate. The vanilla ice cream was topped with a generous dusting of green pistachio meat. A honey drenched coconut pastry accompanied this confection.  I found it impossible to eat the pastry, although it smelled wonderful.  The amount of sugar I would have consumed would have sent a shock through my system.   I have never had thicker or richer vanilla ice cream, but the vanilla flavor wasn’t snapping through the congealment like it would in Italy.  This place had numerous photos of visiting dignitaries posted on the walls conspicuously.  The proprietor was proud to pose for a picture with his ice cream wound around a wooden paddle.  I took a few snapshots to remember this moment.  

 

Later we traveled back to the town center where Marcy was able to reconstruct our travel plans at the travel agency.  It was there we said “good-bye” to Hussein #2 and “hello” to Dennis, a young, energetic, constantly busy, thirty year old Turk.  He may marry in a year, evidenced by the wedding ring on his right hand. He used to be a pilot, and a parachutist, before becoming a guide. He speaks frequently and fondly of his engagement to a Turkish woman, who is studying computers.  We overhear some angry words exchanged in the travel office.  The new team is, just temporarily, Dennis and Hussein #3.  Hussein #3 teaches at a local high school but to supplement his income, acts as a tour guide.  He has a relative in Dallas, but wonders if he can afford to live in the United States.  He is 39 and wants to visit or live there.  I think he hopes we know a way.  He said he wants to leave his wife of 8 years, because she is too strictly tied to traditional ways and he is much more progressive.  Hussein leaves the car after we’ve toured the town. Now it’s only Dennis and us.

Text Box:  Patterns  Observed
“Hussein”  is a very popular boy’s name.
Turks easily talk about details of their life.

Dennis drove and drove.  This was supposed be a five-hour drive along the coast.  We saw very little of the coast, we ended up driving over a range of mountains that overlook the coast.  Many small farm communities had a small outpost where several farmers met and sold their produce to locals and to those driving along this long sparsely populated road.

 

We are whizzing along at the fastest speed that Dennis, the driver, feels is safe.  Maybe even a little beyond that.  Centrifugal and other natural forces cause Marcy and me to push, pull, and slide this way and that on the smooth plastic bench seats of the van whenever this vehicle would try to circumnavigate to a point beyond another of the many hairpin bends in the narrow, but well maintained, road. 

 

Each small town had a restaurant lit, both eerily and dimly, by a vertically hung neon light that would indicate whether the restaurant was open.  Marcy feigned sleep as she lay across the rear bench, gripping the seams of the seat to avoid being catastrophically flung to the floorboard. I tried to help keep Dennis fully attentive to his driving.  He wanted to smoke.  Although I granted permission (because I was willing to do anything that would keep him fully awake), he chose to smoke only when he was refueling the van at a highly flammable gas station.  There were big, conspicuous red and black signs posted that prohibited smoking, but that did little to hinder Dennis or any of the other patrons.  Ground out cigarettes littered the pavement, I am sure that one of them wasn’t entirely snuffed out.  There must be at least one.  I noticed this station looked fairly new...was it built over the cinders of the last gas station here?  I wondered. Petrol was 1302 liras for one liter of gas, which translates to over $3 a gallon, more than twice the price in the U.S.

 

After five hours of uncomfortable driving, we reached our destination.  It was getting dark now, after 9:30 p.m.  We looked for the right boat.  Dennis didn’t see it so he walked around to find it.  The three of us agreed to a plan, we’d meet at the car in five minutes after we looked around for the boat.  We sat at a small open-air café and drank some coffee as we watched for Dennis, but we didn’t see him.  What we did see was that the town of Marmora was one big party. Mark and Angie or Carol and Mile would enjoy it since it was a hard drinking young people party town.  We didn’t totally fit in. 

 

Dennis found the boat; it was right in front of us!  We moved our stuff from the car to the boat.  While waiting for Dennis, Marcy had bought a cup of coffee from a small open-air patisserie so she hurriedly finished the hot drink then we walked along the boardwalk, looking in the windows of a number of shops that were closed, but lit, on the way to the boarding ramp of the boat. All told, it is forty feet from stem to stern with six cabins for passengers.  Our cabin measured three feet wide by six feet long plus a tiny bathroom. There was a shower, sink and a toilet crammed together so tightly that two people could never be in there at one time. We tried to put everything away so that we’d have a little room to breathe, and the closets accepted enough of our luggage that we could get comfortable here.  We brought everything except for what we left in Istanbul.

 

The stores, restaurants and shops of Marmora, whichever ones had remained open for the party-goers, closed promptly at midnight.  Only a very few remained open to provide last-minute supplies at exorbitantly high prices to those that were setting off in the morning by boat, like us.  Next we walked around then Marcy bravely crossed a broad metal bridge from the dock to the deck of the boat.  It swung right and left as water currents dictated, even though it was attached to the boat by wires and ropes.  With arms outstretched like a man on a tightrope, she swiftly recovered her full balance when her foot reached beyond the boat’s edge and she felt the success of the moment.  Marcy bravely marched forward to the middle of the polished, wooden boat deck, still not fully confident of her sea legs.  She needed a few minutes to arrange our luggage from how I had it. The narrow bed served its function; we were asleep before 1 a.m.  The very slight swag of the boat was very relaxing. Zzzzzz!!!!

 

Sunday May 5th, 2002

 

6:00 a.m. was wake up time.  I talked with the chef who said the boat does not leave until 9 a.m. today.  There are more visitors expected, and it will be a full ship.  Marcy and I could take no shower while in port.  Marcy had a couple of cups of coffee.  I didn’t because I fear I’ll have a problem keeping my food with me. I am not good with long boat travel.  Since we had enough time, we went to a few shops that did open early to buy several bottles of water, a couple of towels, and a sun hat for Marcy.  I mentally readjusted for the movement of the sea just before we boarded the vessel.

 

Three couples had to resolve serious issues they had with their travel agent before we could pull out of port.  We left the dock at 10 a.m. and traveled an hour to a nearby island that could be inhabited.  It looks too big to have no animals living on it.  It was close to Marmora, so several other boats moored here, too.

 

I swam a bit in the nippy ocean water for an hour, and then came aboard for a vegetarian lunch.  I ate what we had, onions, tomatoes, spinach, and pine nuts mixed and served over spaghetti.

 

I have a seldom need to use sunscreen, but the sun was hot, and air temperature must be approaching 90 F. I figured I had enough sun when my nipples were sensitive to touch.  I noticed that I burnt them when I put on a cotton tee shirt.  They stood up like two golf tees.  I hope this condition heals soon.  I really don’t like sitting around with a new group of people and having guys staring at my chest.  Marcy had sun screen with protection level 35, I think highest possible is 40.  She thought she might have burned, too, but thankfully, not like me.

 

We had a very pleasant afternoon and evening where we did little but lounge around.  Marcy did show some color, and I always tan up well and quickly.  The water was no warmer than 65F.  Most people didn’t go in.  I had two short swims.  One was entirely for the benefit of the camera.  I wanted some photos of me so I had to give Marcy some brief direction on how she should do it.  Coming out of the cool water to the heat of the afternoon sun warmed me quickly.

 

Olga and George from Russia spoke English well. Jay and his wife are a young couple from Australia.  Weid and his wife are from Holland, and we all got along very well.  We had some political discussions that I found of interest.

 

A dinner of quartered chicken and rice was served with a light salad. We ate at 8:30 p.m., but few of us looked at out watches.  The sun slowly sank into the sea while we ate.  Several people elected to take the small boat into a nearby port, but not Marcy and me.  We are anchored at a small harbor by another resort town much smaller than Marmora. The lights and sounds coming over the water reach our eyes and ears, but we were not attracted it.  Outside our cabin window came the sounds of music loudly blaring from monstrously large speakers aimed out over the waters at our boat.  The music continued until 2 a.m. when it ended abruptly. The quiet peacefulness of the boat was very comfortable as we rocked gently, listening to tiny waves lapping at the sides of this yacht.  The city looked like very few tourists were there right now, but they expect a party tonight.  That’s just the feeling I got.  Like an old, lonely, cosmetic-caked whore fluffing the pillows and spraying perfume in the air of her purple-lit room in pregnant, but oft unsatisfied, expectation of commerce.

 

It wasn’t enough to attract us (meaning Marcy and me), nor any of the other six passengers.  All of us stayed shipboard, but when the sun had gone Marcy and I climbed down the narrow steps to stay in our cabin until the morning.  We were able to shower because the boat was not moored in a port.

 

Monday May 6th, 2002            Sea of Marmora, Turkey

 

We had stayed moored for the night.  It was a peaceful night with little waves lapping at the waterline.  I woke just before daybreak to watch the first beams of light whisper over distant mountains, then twinkle-dance across the surface of the water.  The sun was bursting back into life, lifting the coolness of a damp morning.  Soon we were off to Ko, another roman city now in ruins.  Immediately its special quality became apparent to me. This city, although under protection by the Turkish government was as it was, without restoration, a product of the elements since its abandonment in the ninth century.  The intent of the Turks is to keep this structure as it is, that is, no reconstruction, no restoration.  I could see archways of large stone blocks spreading apart with only a few hundred years left before they fall.  I could see now the need to preserve and, more significantly, embark on the restoration for future generations.

 

The value of numbered blocks of stone on the ground and a drawing identified as an “artist’s concept” of how it “may have looked” seldom keeps the interest of people long enough for them to say “thumbs up” to spending of taxes for this one ancient monument or another.  Without the support of the people the money to maintain the ruins would be more difficult to find.  Fortunately, the treasures of Turkey attract the interest of preservation groups from many affluent countries, so the money does pour in.

 

Marcy could only walk to the edge of the ruins, but she was at a vantage point to look around and see portions of the city.  I followed a well-marked path and was led by the best remains.  A castle protected the city like fortress perched high on a hill.  I wasn’t going to climb the hill to examine the fortress, but I would guess that it had been partially reassembled.  There were several desert tortoises that had congregated on grassy area.  Black snakes had slithered to the tops of the blocks.  There were many of them.  Heated in the sunlight, a large, horned lizard crawled out of a crevice in a rock to watch us from a safe distance.  After seeing what I could, I met Marcy back at the water’s edge at a small rickety dock.  She sat in the little powerboat that would carry us four miles to the main boat, moored safely in much deeper water.  The water is full of reefs, and gets dangerously shallow in several places. The small white boat had a blue canvas awning and could hold twenty people if they did not mind having someone’s elbow shoved into their back.  Today there would only be the young Holland couple of Weid and wife, George and Olga, and Marcy and I.

 

Marcy was waiting at the boat.  Soon everyone returned and we headed further up the river.  To the west I could see huge carving in the flat rock side of the mountain, reminiscent of Petra, Jordan.  The building fronts carved out of the stone were beautiful, but we didn’t leave the boat, since they were thirty meters away.  Our small craft meandered up the shallow river through forests of cane and bamboo.  The boat motored slowly past a motley collection of riverside pensions and small hotels, most of them crowded around a short, but wide-open bend in the river.

 

The navigable waters became too shallow to continue further up as it broke into several small, reed-clogged tributaries. The water fanned out quickly over a broad area just beyond the wooden dock. I held Marcy’s hand to help balance her exit from the boat.  We walked a short distance over a rocky path until we could smell sulfur.  One hundred feet along the rocky pathway, around a two-story high rock, we saw white and yellowish vaporous clouds float away into the air and dissipate. White crusty rings stained the rocks, which lined the steamy pond.  This pool was the source for where the gaseous fumes emanated. The rotten egg-like sulfuric odor wafted over a broad flat plain bordered, on all sides by low-lying hills lying in the distance.  Adjacent to the pool, but not touching it, was a pond of very muddy water. The shallow area had steps into going down into the water.  The steps were covered in slimy mud, making the trip down into the pool a treacherous, and very cautious event for everyone who dared. We successfully were able to settle in somewhere toward the center of the 20’ x 20’ lake.

 

 

The mud adhered to our clothes and bodies with epoxy-like strength.  It was the mud bath one should take first, as we did.  After covering all parts of our body we exited carefully, and then waited in the warm afternoon sun to let the mud bake on our skin.  It changed from a dark gray to light gray as it hardened.  I rubbed some off and walked with Marcy to the communal sulfur pool after we rinsed off our muddy bodies under an unheated cold shower. Then we soaked in the thermal pools for thirty minutes before slowly walking into the cold shower again, despite the cool windy breeze.  A cold shower wakes the senses and partially cleared mud and sulfur from the skin pores. That stuff can hide in so many folds and crevices in my fifty year old skin that a much more thorough and warm shower will be necessary to really complete the cleansing.  This has been proclaimed to be a very healthy experience, based on all of the posted writings about this place.  I certainly could not understand how such an ardent attack of uncleanliness could benefit me and am still bewildered at my very own lack of resistance to do so.

 

Back in the boat, we slowly motored past the same route, going the same route we used to get here, just in reverse.  Weather shifted slightly to a cooler breeze.  A stop at a local town allowed our Russian friends, George, Olga, Marcy and I to buy some supplies at a local market.

 

A kilogram of fresh high-season oranges cost 850.000, bananas were 3.250.000 for a kilo.  Real coffee, some wine, a small chocolate bar, two large squares of sticky baklava and some long green peppers finished our shopping.  We walked to the waiting boat, we because we were the last to return, we quickly got in, and off we went.

 

Almost immediately the cold wind became the predominant subject of conversation.  Each couple, in their own way, sought refuge from the cold.  Some used a pillow, one couple used a too small white towel unsuccessfully, but I used an old thick carpet on the floor.  Dirty as it was it was, and dusty to the extreme, but nonetheless it prevented a good amount of the cold headwind.  Marcy resisted at first, but eventually surrendered to the practicality of it all.  It wasn’t clean, but it was warmer behind it.  George and Olga said that they’d prefer the brisk chill of the damp wind to some measure of warmth behind the thick carpet.  The small craft had to cut across the water of the jagged shores to reach the yacht; bouncing over one foot high waves, then slapping down on the water after we cut through the wave.  After an hour we reached the boat.

 

We boarded and each of us headed immediately to our rooms to find a toilet and a jacket.  To warm our bodies and eat hot food were the main issues that all passengers considered. Dinner was served moments after our return.  While no gourmet meal because it was very simple, but the fact that it was hot was enough to please us all.

 

Tuesday May 7th, 2002

 

The engines of this vessel were cranked on while the night was still black, and the loud whirring of the motor woke us up.  I looked at my watch.  4:20 a.m.  We fell back into sleep, for me it was only momentary because I wanted to see the sun rise. I dressed and climbed on deck.

 

 The black night was lifting quickly.  Once one beam of morning light peeps over the mountains, seconds later the entire morning scene is flooded with fresh light.  The morning chill is preserved for an hour more by the frigid deep blue water. This vessel, now with the anchor weighed and under power, sailed to another, yet unseen, shore.   After another hour passed, George came up on deck and joined me for a hot cup of coffee.  He said he couldn’t go back to sleep once the engines had started with a flaccid shudder.  Slowly, rhythmically, other passengers woke and climbed the steps to greet the new day. Marcy came up too, amidst them. We are having a wonderful time. We never thought that we’d enjoy three or four days on a small ship but we are.  All the other passengers are pleasant and we have a bit of cohesive camaraderie.

 

We arrived, after five hours of travel, at a small rocky harbor. No village could be seen and there seemed to be little reason to pick this place, but I had to rely on the good knowledgeable captain. I would have to trust that he knew these waters.  I changed to swimming trunks, the same ones I bought in Marmora, the same one that were dyed from the gray mud of yesterday.  After a dip of less than an hour in chilly water, and sighting very few fish I climbed back aboard and toweled off.  The sun was out so I dried quickly.  We ate a small lunch on board then get off to a new spot three hundred yards out from the dock at Fethaye.  Nobody swam because the water was even colder here. The captain said we’d be here all night.  Weid proposed we all chip in ten million Turkish liras per couple to raise the fifty mill they needed to pay the port tax.  Once the money was in the hand of the captain the engine was fired up, anchor pulled in and we motored the short distance into Fethaye. George and Olga joined Marcy and me. We walked along the dockside street. This town, certainly this area, is built for tourists.  We looked in all the shops and restaurants.  The travel agencies here are trying hustle people who are interested in water activities like the “Blue Cruise,” which is like what we are doing, scuba diving, or island hopping looking for parties, drinking, and excitement.

 

The ship’s cook said dinner would be served on board at 8 p.m. but we saw other restaurants and decided we’d prefer dinner from a restaurant.  Our guidebooks have noted that this island especially is noted for not revealing prices until the final check comes.  I insisted on seeing the menu.  Marcy felt that I was embarrassing her.  I felt that there was something strange about a restaurant where prices are difficult to find, until you are paying the bill.  George and Olga wanted to eat on the island too.  It was a very pleasant evening.  The temperature was a tiny bit too warm and the air was a tiny bit too moist, but very pleasant for us to be out walking.  Marcy had the swordfish.  I had grilled calamari.  I don’t think the food we ate was especially important although this was the best meal of this adventure.  The most wonderful element of this moment was the beautiful friendship and warmth that we felt together.  George, a Georgian, said a custom of his homeland is that a toast be made with each drink.  He made a few, I proposed one or two, and Marcy did too.  One which touched me in a special way was George’s toast to friendships and bonds, it made all of us as emissaries of our countries and so long as we see each other as true people of the earth then this bonds our countries just a little closer.

 

The fact that we were sharing this moment in Turkey on the Mediterranean added an extra pinch of spice that sealed this event in each of our minds.  They told us of their pending formal marriage, how up to now it has only been on a paper with the Russian government, a religious ceremony is necessary to be a monument of their commitment to each other.

 

Olga told of her family and her prior failed marriage.  George mentioned how Olga’s father said it was necessary for her to have a stamp in her passport that she is married or she may have to explain why she is not a virgin.

 

George told how it is the custom to have an official sit at the head of each long table at a marriage.  This official has the duty to frequently propose toasts.  Marcy said Steve should have that job.  We told the story of our wedding.  A highlight was the wonderful gifts that Steve put together, which were invitations to important leaders and people around the world. We all shared personal stories. It was a glorious moment, a rare gem that happens too seldom in a man’s life.

 

Out of the entire cruise, this one moment made all else pale in contrast. We walked back to the boat through the neon lit tourist alleys of luggage and purse knock-offs.  Imitations abounded in each shop.  This town tried to emphasize the historic value of an ancient hamam, or communal bathhouse, but in this country, with millions of great ruins, the bathhouse wasn’t enough to deter people from walking by a row of brightly lit attractive shops. The four of us, one at a time, crossed the narrow metal bridge that extended from the rear section of the boat. I sat down on the boat cushion and waited with George while Olga prepared some coffee to accompany the baklava purchased in a town bakery.

 

Interestingly absent are places to buy a cup of coffee or tea and a pastry or two.  This baklava was made with walnuts, not the customary pistachios. It was a fitting cap to a wonderful evening.  The stars were out and if you looked away from the city, out to sea, they shined brightly against a black velvet sky.  The last thing I saw before falling asleep was a small clock, which told me that the time was later than 2 a.m.

 

 

Wednesday May 8th, 2002

 

We slept aboard the gently rocking boat until 5 a.m. when we woke, almost in unison.  I went up deck after completely repacking.  Marcy appeared soon.  Breakfast was the same boring things, so we only had coffee in expectation of greater meals ahead.

 

We waited while our driver and guide ate breakfast within eyeshot.  They casually got into their car and drove one long block to meet us, forty-five minutes late.  The five-hour drive to Kusadasi was uncomfortable because the guide spoke very little English, and conversations in the car were mainly between Marcy and me, or the driver and guide.  I was successful at interrupting a few times when we needed water or the WC.

 

At the end of the drive was the Andakule Otel.  It was about three miles from town center.  It was infested with busloads of old German tourists. Our room view was wonderful, it overlooked the Aegean Sea.  The two single beds were not up to the five star reputations claimed by the hotel. The television worked, but only Turkish, German, and some French was spoken.  The hotel generally was a nice one with few shortcomings.  We parked most of our stuff in the room, only bringing the bare essentials with us into town, our next objective. Instead of taking a taxi, which was what we thought we’d do, the concierge promised a minibus, which passes by every ten minutes.

 

We walked a few feet up a stony incline to the point we were told the bus would meet us.  Moments before we reached the exact point the bus pulled up.  I ran ahead to advise the driver to wait a moment for my wife.  He did so, and we were soon driven to several points in the town.  The driver knew we wanted town center so we waited for him to say something.  At the appropriate moment he spoke and we disembarked, and I left a small tip of five hundred thousand lira for him.  Few gave him anything.

 

The area was loaded with tourists.  Later I could see why... a cruise ship was docked here. Until its whistle blew to call passengers back aboard, they had control of the town by their sheer mass of numbers.  But happily, it did sound it’s deep bass tone and, as far as I could tell, all passenger wandered back to the cruise ship.  The town exhaled.  Trades-people gave us a second glance.  The merchants were interested in us again.  We lost our anonymity and each merchant tried to lure us into his or her shop. No longer was I the “bum magnet,” now it was Marcy that the vendors hounded.

 

The shop’s hawker stood out front trying to guess your nationality, then say something in a familiar language to entice you inside like “ Hello, what country are you from?”  So the ice would be broken and a dialogue could begin. Any interest in their goods would have the proprietor standing or running over to coax this chance meeting into a sale. However small, there was no effort spared to create a sale out of the smallest interest shown by a passer-by, especially if he looked foreign.  Foreigners are all thought to be wealthy.

 

We made our way through a maze of streets, not really caring about where we wound up because, as long as we had the hotel business card, our return was well guaranteed.  We’d take a “taksi”, if we were too lost.  Thankfully, quite accidentally, we did find our way back to the bus stop.  After a short wait we were aboard the minibus, which headed back to the hotels nearby.

 

They had many interesting items priced well below what I would have expected to pay for such things.  Because we had many miles ahead, we chose not to buy anything, this decision did not last long.  Vendors of watches perched their table inches away from each other.  One cleverly had an English sign posted along the table’s edge. It read “genuine fake watches.” Few merchants were unable to converse in less than three languages. English, German, French and Japanese were the most popular.  I bought two watches at ten dollars apiece before we caught the minibus back. We had eaten a small pizza at a small sidewalk cafe. This was one of those times when we were thankful that the pizza was not larger.  Further up the sidewalk, maybe another hundred feet was an Internet café.  Both of us were issued time slips since we used separate computers.  No DSL here, so we needed a full hour.  Each of us paid the charge of two US dollars.  We were thankful that we had access to see email sent to us from home.

 

The bus let us off at the hotel.  A buffet dinner was included in our tour.  Everything displayed for the buffet was low quality.  Grilled chicken wasn’t grilled long enough.  Coffee was faintly colored water, but the tea was good. Even the wide assortment of desserts all tasted like honey drenched bread, except one of the desserts tasted like honey-drenched toast.  In the area where fresh fruit was displayed, I handled several sad specimens; they were apparently for show, not for eating.

 

All drinks, even water, were extra and cost from a million lira to three million.  We were tired so we went to our room.  I had proposed a drink after dinner but that, I suspect, would be an equal disappointment. We went to sleep in separate beds, a rarity for us.  I looked out the window once more to the see the moonlight on the water.

 

Thursday May 9th, 2002

 

We woke at six.  We got dressed quickly, then walked down to breakfast; it also was included in our program.  It was on par with the meal last night, but because it is warm weather we sat outside by the edge of the balcony looking down on the rocky beach.  At the next table was a Connecticut couple with whom we had much in common.  They were the Epsteins.  Marcy talked with the mother and daughter about Istanbul shopping and how she bought a beautiful leather jacket for $180 that was customized.

 

I talked with Ed, her husband, and discovered he sells insurance with his own agency.  Their daughter is married to an Istanbul importer of medical equipment.  They have one grandson who was there, he was too a cute a kid.  He reminded me of Mateo.  We could have made a couple of friends here but we had to leave in a few minutes.  Too bad.

 

As we walked through the lobby, and headed for our room the taxi driver of yesterday watched for us.  He was sunken into a big brown leather easy chair placed dramatically in the middle of the cavernous room.  We pointed to the luggage that we had piled together so he could get it put into the trunk of the cab.  We were soon off to Ephesis. It was about fifty minutes from our hotel, on the way we picked up a new guide and three liter bottles of water. The water is never an area where I look to save money.  I believe that is why I’ve never been seriously sick throughout my travels.  It might be another hot day. Our guide spoke limited English, really not good at all.  She was a thin, young, dark, Turkish girl, who was pleasant to look at but even when I listened to her very closely, she spoke a stunted British dialect of some sort in soft monotones.  I strained to hear her whisper of the significance of one part or another.  Once our guide had paid the admission price to get us into the ruins I tried to listen to one of the other English-speaking guides with large groups of tourists following them.  The three of us wandered through this large complex of fantastic ruins.  I thought it is amazing how a town could just be abandoned like this.  How could people just walk away?  Large pillars still stood, or were realigned to original purpose and design.  Turkey is actively doing much to restore this and many other world treasures.  No one could understand how the threads of western cultural history intertwine without a visit to this part of the world. 

 

Religious Christians find this former city of special importance because it was the first city that had been entirely converted to Christianity.  I’ve wondered how that could happen, you know, an entire city?  What an amazing coincidence that everybody just figured out that this new deviation from Judaism was the “right” way to believe.   The Roman Emperor Constantine was the first leader of the Romans to convert and then make Christianity the state religion.

 

The level of preservation and restoration make this site important to any student of history.  Naturally, someone had to “conceptualize” how some things were then, but generally it was like putting a huge jig-saw puzzle together, or so I am told.

 

We went to lunch at a place furnished with many long tables and an appropriate number of chairs.  Obviously, they are expecting tour buses to stop here.  Since we’re the only ones right now, we could eat whatever we wanted, and there was no line for us to wait in.  As I mentioned, it was buffet style so we had to search, test by deep inhalation of fragrance.  Then we did a cautious, petite tasting of the suspect entree.  I especially enjoyed “reading” Marcy’s eyes when she put the spoon to her lips and made studied judgment of the subject’s edibility.  I looked for meat, mostly fish or chicken.  No items contained any meat except one dish that Marcy said was very good, Aubergine (eggplant) with shavings of lamb.  I prefer the sacrifice of one animal or another, put on a plate before me.  At this meal my preference was denied.

 

I finished before Marcy so I walked around the restaurant.  I saw some t-shirts, which he wanted six million liras and a white cotton gauze, button down shirt, which he wanted five million. Marcy said the shirt looked bad and you could see my still burnt nipples through it.  The material was just too thin so I didn’t buy it. Our next stop was Virgin Mary’s retirement house.  It is at the crest of a small mountain about thirty miles from Ephisis. We had beaten all the tour buses to this site of religious pilgrimages.  We arrived to find` a huge, empty, asphalt parking lot.

 

Sadly there is no certain evidence that Mary, mother of Jesus, really ever lived here, or for that matter, that anyone actually lived here. There is no definitive archeological proof that anyone occupied this area, even bits of columns were taken from elsewhere.  Actually there was a house here constructed of stone and mortar, but this structure has only stood for fifteen years.  Prior to that, there were only a few pottery shards on the ground and a household tool or two to prove any human existed here before 1950.  That was the year a Greek woman had a dream about this region. She dreamt that Mary lived here, and to this day nobody could disprove it.  Her dream continued, partially entwined with verse from the New Testament, explaining that Paul took her here to live out her final days, twenty miles away from Ephesis.

 

Now nuns operate and control the area. A wall near the “replica” home had several white corkboards fastened to it.  People would fasten their notes to the corkboads.  There were ardent prayers in many different languages were pinned to the cork.  I was astounded to discover no other evidence existed, only one laywoman’s dream was sufficient to mark this as a holy site.  I looked to find a place where there was a gift shop, there were three but none with e-mail, web site or phone number.  Those from Ephesis would have to do.  I recorded my visit, and then we left just as the first tour bus arrived.

 

Our next stop was close to the airport. Izmir is the third largest city in Turkey, and according to what we’ve read, has a history rich with Jewish culture.  Our speeding car climbed over a mountain and we looked down on the seaside city from the window.  The wide road was in good condition so our driver didn’t slow the descent until we were going through angled roads that lead down into the modern city. We specifically asked our guide to show certain points of interest to us, but she either didn’t understand or didn’t know.  She, like most people of Turkey, is Islamic and look at relics of other faiths with interest such as one might examine a Paleolithic tool in a museum.  History, to them, truly began after Mohamed.

 

I think it is important to note a ground swelling of anti-Israeli sentiment.  For many years there has been cooperation and friendship between those two countries, Israel and Turkey.  It is eroding, albeit temporarily, because of inflammation by the press seeking a broader popular support for the Palestinians. They share a common religion and feel a kinship to the Arab world regardless of Ataturk’s reformations early in the twentieth century.  Semitic bonds may prove to be stronger than the industrial-political bonds, which exist at a much higher level.

 

Turkey is progressive, but bewails its lack of acceptance in the European economic union.  The EEU said it couldn’t afford to pay 50 billion euros to bring Turkish conditions on par with the rest of its members.  The EEU said it is incumbent on Turkey to improve itself before serious consideration is given.  A news commentary suggested that Turkish customs might further separate it from its neighbors.  The group, called Reporters Without Borders, said a Turkish general is and has been instrumental in the prevention of free speech in Turkey.  As part of their display of contempt for the general, they placed his picture on the floor of a Paris subway station and danced on it.  The nation of Turkey saw this as a national insult.  The photo, amidst all this furor, was removed. 

 

We didn’t see the Jewish history we sought.  We parked near the seaside boardwalk, got out of the car, and looked at the water held back by the handsome block wall that prevented further erosion of the land.  The look of Izmir reminded me of Santa Monica in California because it is somewhat upscale, has a long pleasant beachfront park, and modern business activity and mixed architecture that is largely modern. We had to catch our flight back to Istanbul from Izmir so we drove to the airport just a few miles away. We had nothing to do in Izmir.  Our only intention was to come here to see any Jewish history.  Our guide was unable to get us on an earlier flight going to Istanbul.  Actually, this guide was deficient in most ways.  I don’t even recall his name but under his guidance nothing went the way we desired.  This was the only guide I gave no tip, primarily because he was anxious to bring us to the airport early so he got paid for more hours than he actually worked.  He was done with us, and we were done with him.  I added our names to a standby list, which resulted in us getting on. Marcy paid fifteen dollars more and flew in business class.  I wasn’t so lucky; I sat in the 3rd of 4 seats in a row.  I spent the entire flight trying to gain a bit of territory on the armrests, quietly battling with the large male passengers on both sides of me. There was constant shifting, letting me gain space, then lose it again.  This went on for the duration of the blessedly short flight.

 

In Istanbul, two hours ahead of the proscribed, time I called Mr. Levant and asked for an early pickup. Although he said “yes,” we didn’t see the driver till 9 p.m., which was the original time, set out.  Our singular objective for dinner was donner kebab, a barbequed shaved meat sandwich of lamb that was impossible to acquire.  We didn’t have enough time.  By the time we were where the vendor’s stand was, all the shops had closed, including his.

 

We were driven close to our hotel “Yesil Ev” hotel, a former Ottoman residence of luxury located a few feet from the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, the Hippodrome, etc. in itself the historic residence was successively owned by a line of important people.  It was well decorated, and the classical music gently playing, and colorful fresh flowers all around made this another wonderful surprise of the travel agent Levant.  Fifty feet from the doorstep of the hotel brought us to Sultanamet, it is the center of the heart of old Istanbul.  The rooms were equally rich with history.  The bathroom was more contemporary in design.

 

We walked outside searching for kebabs, but knowing that most places stop grilling the meats at 7 p.m.  We regretted the knowledge that our days of kebap-eating were drawing to a close.  Across the street from The Blue House was an open air dining area.  We looked at the posted menu, jockeyed to find the “perfect table” far enough away from kitchen or bathroom, and not too close to the entrance. We slid through the carefully arranged wrought iron chairs to the ideal table, and then we sat.  Since there were very few patrons in here at this time of the day we could hardly escape the eye of the waiter.  With the smallest finger flourish in the air, the waiter quickly came over to take our request.  I ate very little.  Marcy was hungry and asked for a meat dish recommended by one of our guides.  She places her order. It was the reconstituted beef bar again! Marcy was surprisingly disappointed for she had hoped to never see this “meat” again.

 

An evening chill floated in to this open-air patio, which is ten feet lower than street level, and was open to the elements.  We anticipated a cool evening and had light jackets with us. We had some hot apple tea to brace us for the cold night air, paid the bill, then left.

 

We had flashlights to illuminate the uneven cobblestone street. There are beautiful streetlights around this small park.  The wide spacing between the lights and their low intensity would not be adequate to reveal all, or even most, of the hazards of the streets. We struggled back on the tiny hotel.  We were tired from the long day and slept through the night call to prayers and the early morning call to prayers. The morning call happens at approximately 4:30 a.m.

 

Friday May 10th, 2002

 

When we did get up, we joined a few other guests from European countries for a typical Turkish breakfast of coffee, tea, juice, yogurt, bread, fruit and jam.  I would mix fresh fruit and the homemade orange marmalade in the yogurt for a more palatable treat for me.  They served the best coffee of the entire trip.  Marcy soon discovered that you press the button on the coffee dispensing machine only once for each cup of coffee you want poured now.  Although the served beverage took a moment to ejaculate from the machine, more than one pressing of the button would yield more than one cup of joe

 

Our objective today was to explore with more vigor,the Grand Bazaar, and the adjacent Egyptian Spice Market. We gave up seeing Pamukale so that we’d have a full day in Istanbul.  At the days end, we’d be exhausted and Marcy's foot would have suffered greatly from our adventure of buying.  Marcy started with much anticipation when we thought the market would open at 7:30 a.m. but instead, we discovered the access gates were closed until 8:30 a.m.  I was told about a much smaller rear entrance on the other side that vendors use to go to their shops.  She browsed through a couple of silver shops.  In no time, it seemed the bazaar was open and there were large crowds of old French tourists waiting for the doors to open.  Even with Marcy’s foot brace we manipulated our way through the slow moving crowd to begin some kind of quest, a quest that I didn’t really see with the clarity of purpose, but Marcy could.

 

We had agreed that we were not going to get a carpet.  We also agreed that we’d try to spend less that $500, but events would foil all of our agreements.  Instead we were drawn, again, into their lair, falling as easy prey. Without Marcy’s help I would have brought back a walking stick that had a dagger concealed inside of its shaft. Carvings of snakes illustrated the cane’s exterior in bas-relief.  I saw Marcy, stacking a new cache of purses from the same vendor of our earlier visit. This time only six were counted. While she negotiated I walked to a nearby stall and bought a man’s purse for three dollars.  It was slightly marred on the back and had no fake brand name emblazoned on it.  Marcy was, according to our prearranged design, to get to her best deal then turn it over to me.

Marcy did a great job getting the price for all down to 100 million liras. I could only get them down another ten million. Everybody had jackets for sale.  Leather was very popular here.  Marcy said lambskin is the best, and the vendor quickly agreed with her. She had tried on four or five, maybe more.  I lost track of how many, or even what time it was.

 

Marcy asked where we could find “Leather Street,” a section of the interior of the Grand Bazaar where many leather merchants gathered.  With some simple instructions we found it.  She tried on jackets, examining every aspect of the subject from every angle.   She was feeling and touching every part constantly, in order to discover the perfect jacket.  She did more searching in each of the vendor’s tiny, but well stocked store. Since she had lost so much weight she looked much better in clothes, and knew it.  Eventually one of the vendors cajoled her into his shop to offer a beautiful red leather jacket to her.

 

We had nothing to do today. We want to look around, through the remaining unexplored shops, to see if we can’t find a better one.   I promised we would return if we found nothing better at his price of $120 or we’ll buy now at one hundred dollars.  There was a bit of heated debate between the two brothers that ran this leather shop.  The deal was sealed and Marcy had the most beautiful red leather jacket that she had tried on.  After much bargaining, the jacket was sold for a hundred dollars.

 

I bought a water pipe for $20 and a bunch of small items, mainly as gifts. 

 

We sat in an open-air restaurant in the bazaar and bought a cup of coffee for Marcy and a cup of tea for me. Today is a nice warm sunny day. Sitting, relaxing, we decide that this is a pleasant place to order a light snack rather than a big lunch. Marcy accidentally ordered her mixed grill meat bar once more!  I had a lamb kebab.

 

While we sat and talked, we there was a young carpet salesman who sat in front of his basement shop on a discarded kitchen chair.  He was a young man with a wisp of a beard and dark eyes.  He tried to carry a conversation with us to get our interest and fulfill his objective of selling a carpet to us.  I told him that I’d look willingly but we have a strict limit of two hundred dollars.  I added that I would be happier if I could found one at one hundred dollars.  He said he has many at that price. I looked at several, and then invited Marcy to look in his store.  It should come as no surprise that we bought one for four hundred.

 

This one we intend to use in the kitchen.  They rolled it tightly and he had his brother carry it for us to Levant's travel agency.  We thanked him for a well-planned trip and he was extremely happy to get such praise. He was smiling broadly while we told him about the great trip we had.  Marcy tipped the carrier of the rug generously.

 

He asked if he could bring the carpet to our hotel tonight because he lives near Yesil Ev and wouldn’t mind.  I accepted because it meant we could continue our shopping. Taxi service was very inexpensive compared to a big city in the U.S.  This morning it cost only $1.50 to bring us two miles to the bazaar. We strolled to Kostas, our favorite candy store.  Two pounds of Halavah candy left the deliciously scented shop with us.  Marcy bought some fruit filled candy as gifts.  I hailed a cab, and the driver took us back to the hotel.  I thought we were through with the buying craze, but after fifteen minutes in the hotel, while looking at all the stuff we needed to pack, we realized we had missed the spice market.  Time was getting short until our return to the U.S.  Frantically we walked outside to have a taxi take us the two miles to the Egyptian Spice Market.  I bought a kilo of baked corn nuts.  Marcy purchased two pounds of shelled walnuts and one-half kilogram (about 1.1 lbs) of dried, sulfur-preserved apricots.  Adjacent to the spice market were several small bazaars, one selling live birds and aviary goods while the next sold only gardening items.  The largest section, the covered section, had a wide assortment of stuff needed for daily living.  There were few items that would interest a tourist.  We bought nothing large there. I did buy another fake watch for five dollars.

 

Outside the covered bazaar was a large cobblestone courtyard.  In the center of the open area was a large non-working water fountain.  People gathered here because the city streetcars began their journey from this point. There were buses, crowded with people so densely that we could see the flattened bodies of bus passengers pressed firmly against the large glass window panels.  Millions of pigeons flew around a vendor who sold small packets of pigeon food.  It was always frightening to walk around on the ground level of the area that these flying pigs claimed as their own.  City sanitation workers tried to rid this area of many of the birds through poison, but the public outcry made city officials cease two years ago.  Since that time their numbers have increased substantially.  Now they threaten this area with massive amounts of excrement. 

 

I politely asked a taxi driver if he knew of our hotel because we remembered the hotel name, but not the address.  He said he thinks he knows but, sadly, he advised us that he has no working meter so his price is five million to get us there (Even though that’s only four dollars, it just sounds outrageous when you say “five million”). We got out and talked to the next waiting driver in the line.  He was watching the interpreter who flashed ten fingers. This driver said ten million. Marcy was the first to bolt out of the door. We had to get far enough away from the interpreter to find an honest metered cab. We walked sixty feet. I flagged a driver down.  When we got off at our destination, he asked for two million.  I only had one million Turkish liras, so I gave him one million lira and a dollar, which now is worth 1,380,000 lira.  He happily took it and off he went.  We went back to pack for the long and uncomfortable ride home tomorrow.

 

Because it was our last evening (and Marcy’s foot was getting worse from all of the walking), we chose to have a romantic and expensive dinner at our hotel.  I made 9 p.m. reservations.  They had fifteen rooms, but only seven tables for an intimate dining experience, classical music, proper lighting, and well-dressed waiters. We shared a small bottle of red wine. Each of us ordered lamb, I asked for lamb slices, Marcy asked for lamb kebab.  The entree was served in a few minutes after we finished the appetizers of stuffed grape leaves. We had some flaky baklava with fresh coffee for dessert.  I was an, excellent dinner and no walking was involved, except up the old wooden stairs to our room.

 

It was a very pleasant meal.  We went upstairs after a very brief walk in the cool night air, by the garden.  From our room we heard, probably for the last time, evening prayers. 

 

 

Reflections of Cappadocia

 

First, I would recommend the flight form Istanbul to Cappadocia rather than a nineteen-hour drive.  The pleasant flight lasted less than two hours.  Without reviewing my notes I intend to capture, here, in words how long it ‘felt”. 11/2 hours.

Our hotel was a very fond memory.  While we saw about twenty cave hotels ours was outside the town of Goreme, in Ürgüp.

Had we taken a room in Goreme, there were several restaurants that looked inviting and markets with fresh produce, cheeses and meats.  Also there was an Internet café, which I used briefly. In Ürgüp we had none of those amenities. We had a wonderful view and room. The breakfast was of homemade type foods. I love that.

 

The valley is very rich with history. Several underground cities were created ages ago.  The Turkish are using their beautiful history as a strong card to draw the tourist. Well played.  The country in general is devoting huge resources for the pleasure and interest of those bringing foreign currency with them. Next, the geologic formations are so astoundingly bizarre they certainly have a draw all their own but coupled together it is a place that should be visit. I’d give it 4 ½ stars out of 5.

 

 

Reflections of Konya

 

We traveled to this city in hope of seeing live Dervishes. Dervishes are members of this local sect that is devoutly Muslim.  The unique quality of this group is that they’d spin around in a colorful costume until they were so dizzy they would hallucinate.

 

What we saw was a very conservative Islamic city, which had the Dervish mosque set up for tourists to visit, and it did contain some good Islamic art, but we only saw some wax mannequins dressed as dervishes. That’s it!  There were plenty of Dervish books, videos, and pictures to buy...just not the real live Dervishes.  This place was Dervishless!  A total non-Dervish rip-off event.  The mosque was pleasant, but not enough of a drawing card to induce the knowledgeable traveler to visit it.  I’d say that it deserves a rating of less than one star out of five possible.

 

 

Reflections of Antolya  

 

This city was a surprise to me. I anticipated a modest seaside Muslim city with a few quaint sites, and because we had read travel guides before our visit, roman ruins of modest importance. All preconceived notions were wrong. Yes, Antolya is a Muslim city like all others.  But starting with Hadrian’s Gate and continuing out to Perge, the Turkish people were actively restoring these world treasures and preserving them for future generations.  The sites in this region alone, by themselves were enough reason to visit here.  Anyone with any interest in world history would soon discover there were other important ruins nearby, too, which I found to be beautiful.  There are several large sections of intricately carved marble and granite pillars imported from Italy and Egypt.  Streets lined with colorful mosaics were a rare sight for me.  Then the waterfall and water park, well those wasted a couple of hours of time.  Our guide, Mr. Hussein, brought us to a famous, in Antolya, ice cream parlor, where he introduced us to the proprietor of this small shop.  The fellow pointed to numerous pictures on the wall of many people who ate ice cream in his shop and the people are famous (in Antolya). The ice cream was wonderfully rich and thick. It was maybe the smoothest ice cream I have ever eaten.  In any case it was a pleasant and memorable experience.

 

Reflections of Marmora

 

As I recall this town is a small city made for the comfort of tourists, the beaches seem to be very limited at least from what little we saw, but big on water sports, boating, yachting, skiing.

It was not yet the height of the tourist season but throngs, yes I said throngs, of couples in their 20’s and 30’s from neighboring countries have come for one big party. The warm and very pleasant temperatures induced young women to dress less modestly.  Well, they came for the party. Prices on goods were higher than in other towns. This is a place to drink and do those things that go with drinking loud music, lights, and dancing.  Lots of other young men and women who are here for the same reason you are, nice clothes and money flashed around.  It isn’t my kind of place but I know people who would think this new city, maybe five or six years old, is their favorite. Two stars of 5.


Yugoslav Reflections

 

Zagreb- To exist here is expensive. Make this the very first stop because all trains and buses start from Zagreb.  The city tries to resemble and have the cosmopolitan air of Vienna.  Good food, although not for the diet/health conscious.  While I was there it was bad weather.  Colder climate. Figure out the bus system right away because this city is the hub of Croatian travel.  Plan all trips from here; this is the center of Croatia.  Trains run to most cities from here, just not from one smaller city to another.  For that you must use the bus, which is modern, reliable, and efficient.  Zagreb has become the cultural and business center of Croatia during the Communist era when Field Marshall Tito commanded that the people construct modern roads and lay train track from Zagreb to other cities for the benefit of important dignitaries of the former Soviet Union, now commonly called The Russian Federation.  They demanded comfortable and quick travel to many of the other cities and towns throughout Yugoslavia, of which Croatia was a part.

 

Sarajevo- a fairly large city that sits in the midst of war wreckage everywhere, things still sit as they were when attached over ten years ago. Serbs are excitable and wear their emotions on their sleeve. They are predominantly Muslim, with a visible Catholic and Jewish presence. Slow recovery without much active help from other countries, continues as the people try to just live their lives.  I saw construction underway but seldom is a building demolished, instead a new structure is erected adjacent to the old one on the same parcel of land. Some building material is scavenged and reused from the old building. Sarajevo, and Bosnia in general, desperately need an environmentalist with political clout.  They are destroying the natural countryside and streams.  The highways and streets of the entire country are polluted.  Junked vehicles lay abandoned everywhere. Usually the engine and seats are salvaged, and then the hulk is left for the elements to demolish.  It is a slow process and much damage has already been done. Bosnia is the poor cousin to Croatia.  Tjinalina, the town where Carol’s husband, Mile, is from is quite deep into the backcountry of Bosnia, on forgotten, hardscrabble, farmland turf. Had it been further from Medjugoria it would not, and already it usually does not, appear on maps.  Although I wasn’t invited to stop by their home I wanted to see the village anyway.  It was hardly out of my way, except for a few minutes taken to arrange to be driven there from the bus stop.  It is not a place that often sees tourists.

 

I agree with Lonely Planet’s travel guide on Croatia regarding most things.  Inland, the diet is Viennese-style foods, potatoes and roasted meats.  While on the coast, fish is a predominating ingredient in dinners.  Fresh fruits and vegetables are easy to find and are inexpensive to buy.

 

Split- a beautiful town reminiscent of Venice, in small part.  I spent several pleasant days in warm, coastal Split. One of my favorites. Like the other towns, except Zagreb, the water is clean, the weather and food are good. It is reasonably inexpensive to live, being cheaper by half than Zagreb.  I could enjoy a longer stay here.

 

Dubrovnik - Everyone agrees this is a wonderful place. Great weather, good food, lots of fish.  I had a great meal, probably the best in all of the Yugoslavian provinces, while on the island of Cavtat.  During my second visit to this fair seaside town, I was able to see much more of the city and understand its friendly comfortable character, which is a contrast to most of Croatia sitting away from the coastal waters. Croatia envisions itself as the edge of Western Europe and the protector of Catholicism from eastern Muslim ways.  Dubrovnik is often overrun with tottering aged cruise passengers. They travel in a tight pack, fearful of falling outside the group and become prey to the wiles of the city.  As much as that attitude disgusts and annoys me, it is that very behavior which allows me the anonymity to travel any and all places.

 

Dubrovnik, like other coastal cities, can be relied upon to find wonderful fish/seafood, and very fresh local produce.  Fruits and vegetables frequently are coming from Austria or other areas, and are rare and expensive, except bananas. As with anywhere in the world one might travel, the best tasting and cheapest produce is usually locally grown.  Hazelnuts are cheaper than peanuts, but they are much easier for me to overindulge in.

 

Once more I want to mention the delicious olive oil. I think I will look for the best to find when home. It was everywhere in Dubrovnik. Commonly the oil I tasted was the best in Dubrovnik, but Croatian olive oil is superior to Greek or Roman, and for that matter, any olive oil I have had ever.  If I had not been concerned about breakage or spillage during the remainder of my travels, I would have tried to bring home a gallon of it.

 

Prishtina - I was surprised to find nothing of historical value here. It was a manufactured city, post WWII and built by the communists. The city was big and many big buildings were clean, like maybe L.A. city areas. Life seemed normal, although a mayor battle for independence is brewing; gunfire has already started in an area about 20 km east of the city. Like so many of the fiefdoms of Yugoslavia it wants its own ability to have self-determination.

 

Yugoslavian Peninsula (as a whole) - Fly into Zagreb and take a train to your first destination, then use the very good buses that travel all over Yugoslavia, sometimes stopping at the geopolitical military borders. Most train travel is slower and cheaper than the bus, but more comfortable.  All cities are connected to Zagreb in Croatia.

 

Traveling to other fiefdoms - Although a traveler is advised to get a visa in Zagreb I didn’t, and had no problem crossing into Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Albania or Kosovo. The political environment changes daily.  Get the visa or take your chances.

As far as I see Croatia, closely followed by the other nations of Yugoslavia are rapidly coming of age.  Bickering among each of these tiny countries has netted little for them as a whole, and must have set each of them back economically. From having visited Macedonia (‘94), Albania, Montenegro, Kosovo, Bosnia, Herzegovina, and Croatia, with few exceptions they all blame their neighbors for the problems.  Serbians tend to be more emotional and wear their emotions on their shirtsleeve. Just my impression, but they seem to be the real bad boys.

 

I felt safe in all cities except for Prishtina, but I anticipated action and possible gunplay there. Actually, even in Prishtina, everything seemed “normal.”  It was the outlying areas where disturbances and gunfire would frequently erupt.

 

A word about “normal. Incredibly, the goal of Croatia is to appear to the world, especially Western Europe and more specifically, member countries of the European Economic Community, that they are normal. They scream it too loudly. Personally I have feared little, but I will admit to great apprehension when meeting someone who has to point out to me that they are normal.   Having someone point out that they are “normal” is something of a frightening non sequitur that counts against the on that very issue. That aside, I would suggest that a traveler without an abundance of time, concentrate his travel to the Adriatic coastal cities. Croatia was the most beautiful and advanced of the little countries here.  Outside that, a day trip to seaside towns in Montenegro would fill out the travel ticket, I think, for a traveler of limited means.