Monthly Archives: August 2011

Italy to Croatia by sea

Next I flew back to San Francisco where I spent a short week organizing myself and my stuff for my next adventure. I grabbed up my car from Lake Tahoe, zoomed down the Pacific Coast Highway latched on my Trillium and made the jaunt up past San Jose and Napa Valley to Clear Lake. After a short but sweet visit I entrusted my travel vehicles to my new friends to look after for a while until I could return. Next I flew over to London.

In London I was able to reunite with a long lost friend from Argentina. Ed (aka Max) was a large part of my past and I was curious to see how we would be with one another.. In some ways, nothing had changed. And yet in others, everything was different. We departed on a whirlwind trip around the Mediterranean. First we flew to Italy where we learned that the tower was indeed still leaning, pizza was still scrumptious and those Italians sure do know how to put on a good party. We had a blast at Carnival in ViaReggio where the floats and costumes are larger than life…truly a sight to behold.

Next we zipped over to a rainy Florence just for a night where we had decent food but terrible service. Early in the morning we made our way to Venice where we had just enough time to purchase some authentic masquerade gear before jumping on a cruiseship.

We sailed from Italy to Greece to Turkey to Croatia where we finally disembarked early. Truth be told, I couldn’t wait to get off the ship. Worst cruise I have ever been on. MSC. Don’t do it. You couldn’t PAY me to get on another on of their ships. After more than 30 cruises, I have finally experienced the worst of the worst. I guess it had to happen sometime. Ed and I got along pretty well which made the week go by relatively quickly. We stayed one night in Dubrovnik before we said our goodbyes and he flew back to London to work.

Grateful for masks.

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The Sweetest Sweetness

I puttered around lovely Croatia for the next few weeks absolutely loving every minute of it. I rented a small but very modern and comfortable flat right in the old town.

********Ok so here is a sweet (and I mean literally) story:

I am chillin’ in my lush rented apartment in old town Dubrovnik enjoying my very peaceful space when pandemonium erupted in the courtyard below my second story window. I peek out my wooden shutters to see a pack of 20 young boys creating a ruckus like no other. Slightly annoyed, I do my best to tune out their screams, hoots and hollars. Unfortunately, that became harder when the mob of hooligans invaded my building came barreling up the stairwell right past my door and upstairs. Not just upstairs, but into the room directly above me. That was 7 hours ago.

This is an old building made of stone way back when and though the architecture it is unbelievable to look at transporting one right back into a medieval time, it is by no means soundproof. Every stomp, thump, and squeal magnified 100 times echoing through my now quite shaken soul. I decided that I would go out for a while in hopes that maybe the swarm would dissipate when the sun went down. Surely these kids have parents who would be wanting them home for dinner, right? After all, I was 10 once. Never did I ever shatter anyone’s eardrums but hey, boys will be boys.

I wandered out with my camera and iPod snapping up inspirational shots here there and everywhere. It is pretty much impossible to be photographically challenged here with the stunning angles, magnificent designs, and blissful lighting. Not to mention the locals who almost seem to be placed perfectly for every single shot. I was feeling quite smug with my artistic achievement which for once, captured the moment perfectly. I noticed several people filing into the church and decided I should take a look inside too. A service was just about to start so I sat down and absorbed the stillness. I lasted about 15 minutes before boredom overtook me so I quietly slipped out leaving the priest bellowing his sermon behind me. I am sure if I understood what he was preaching in Croatian, I would have left much sooner.

I decided enough time had passed and I would likely be safe to venture back into my sacred space. But on the way home, just for insurance, I stopped by the grocery store to pick up some goods. Of course I spent another half hour in there, studying the wares, trying to determine if the package with the cartoon cow on it was cheese, butter, milk, or yogurt. I was proud of myself for remembering how to use the digital scale to measure and price my apples. Last time the storekeeper hastily did it for me as I watched and learned, slightly self-conscious for my ignorance.

I swung my bags cheerfully and looked up at the darkening night sky as I rounded the corner to my building. Just as my foot hit the first step on the stoop, I was reminded of the reason I had left in the first place. The decibel level had now risen ten fold and I decided that someone who really hates me must have fed these little buggers sugar. I clambered up the spiral marble staircase and let myself into my now practically vibrating apartment. I sat on my bed and stared up at the ceiling with distain. It was as if a herd of elephants, no make that two herds of elephants were playing dodge ball right above my head. I seriously began to worry that they were going to bust right through onto my bed.

At this point, I pulled out all stops. I tried to practice my Vipassana meditation (especially useful in situations such as this) technique but I don’t think that Goenka himself could have withstood this level of crazy. Next I dug deep, and I mean REALLY deep to find some compassion for these little brats that were now like mosquitoes on my soul. Finally I had enough. I decided that I would talk to them, reason with them, and if need be, beg them to please keep it down. Maybe  I could even send them away if they were infact just some stray gang using some random empty room for a sports center. No sane adult would allow these delinquents such free reign, so I was sure they were unsupervised.

Determined to create some order from the chaos, I made my way up the staircase. Only as my fist banged on the door for the third time to try and overcome the din, did I realize that they probably didn’t speak English. How was I going to communicate with them? Finally when the little monsters opened the door, it turned out that no, they didn’t speak or understand anything I was saying. Shushhing them with some basic gestures, I indicated that they should pipe down, for goodness sake. One confused boy motioned for me to wait and blasted past me up the stairs to the next floor.

A minute later, a exhausted looking woman carrying a chubby toddler in her arms informed me with perfect English that the boys were infact celebrating a birthday. She shrugged tiredly reassuring me flatly they would only be there another hour or so and that there was really nothing she could do about it. All I could do was apologize profusely that I didn’t know and that it was no problem. I felt like such a schmuck. The ultimate party pooper and grumpy old lady. Who did  I think I was coming into their country and telling these little kids to stop being kids, having fun, celebrating their friends birthday? I was so embarrassed and ashamed of my impatience and intolerance. I felt ugly.

It only took me a few minutes to realize what needed to be done. I dashed out back to the supermarket and bought a giant package of cookies as a peace offering. I delivered a plate of sweet vanilla cream filled biscuits with a gentle smile and sheepishly mumbled Happy Birthday. As I turned to head back downstairs, I was surprised to hear the boy respond with a very clear “Thank You”. I felt really good after that and knew I had done the right thing. How many times before had I felt an urge to do something like this, but didn’t out of laziness, fear, or self doubt? All those times that I had robbed myself of this very pure form of happiness that I was currently experiencing. I smiled gratefully at the still loud but no longer annoying thrashing that was going on upstairs.

I silently blessed these unknowing young lads for providing me an opportunity to grow. What a valuable lesson they had taught me. I was still feeling high from the interaction when there was a knock at the door. I assumed they had devoured the cookies and were returning the plate. To my surprise and shock, here was the mother, no longer looking tired but much more energized. She beamed me a huge smile and thanked me warmly for being so understanding. Before I could respond she handed me a big bag of fruit from her garden and returned my plate which was now full posh desserts surrounding a giant slice of birthday cake. I just stood there stunned trying to find the words that would match her kindness and generosity. Here is a classic example of you get what you give. Though I will admit, I felt a shade inadequate when I compared my simple cookie offering to her bountiful and elegant present. I reminded myself that it’s the thought that counts and that it was the pure intention of my gesture that this woman was responding to…not the two dollar plate of cookies.

So today I am grateful for the wondrous, loving and clever ways the universe works to teach us our lessons. I am grateful for swallowing my pride and doing the right thing. I am grateful for the courage to make things right. I am grateful for patience. I am grateful for the process. I am grateful for the opportunity to practice compassion. And I am grateful for boys being boys. ******

I met some lovely friends including Dejana who was an absolute delight to my soul. She graciously took me around and shared so much of herself with me, it wasn’t just the sky that was overcast when she bid me adieu at the airport. I knew I had made myself a very special friend who I would know for years to come.

Grateful for connectors.

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Tremendous Turkey

Now its just about April and I head back to London where I do some more visiting before heading down to Turkey. Now just for the record, I could probably write an entire book about Turkey. I really loved it there. But for the sake of brevity and to keep myself on point, I will give you a summary. But do know that this is one place I highly recommend.

The first few weeks I spent traveling with Melanie, a young lady from New Jersey I had met a few years ago on a cruiseship. We wandered around Istanbul for the first week eating a lot of Ficcin (yummiest restaurant paired with amazing staff at unheardof prices), ogling the architecture (mosques), going to the markets and spas (hammam) then stuffing our faces with baklava. We then jumped on a train to Cappadocia where the fairy chimneys are. This very unique landscape had me captivated from the moment I stepped off the bus.

I loved everything about this place…how it looked, how it felt, and the people. Another must see. We were lucky enough to have some locals show us around educating us all the while. I really didn’t expect to be that interested in the whole history and story behind this very unique place but I couldn’t help but get completely fascinated by the elaborate underground cities, the caves that these people lived in for years while in hiding from persecution, and the endearing nature of these humble people. Loved it. I was crawling into holes and exploring tunnels that I don’t think I was supposed to but I just couldn’t help my curiosity.

After we left Cappadocia, Melanie and I headed down to Antalya which is in the southern coast of Turkey. I met up with some friends I was referred to by some other friends I had been referred to in Istanbul by some Turkish guys I had met in Croatia. Well that is really how it is with the Turks. Everyone seems to know someone in the place you are heading and is more than happy to arrange a meeting. It really is one of, if not the, most hospitable country I have visited thus far. I kept getting passed from family to family and they really couldn’t do enough for me feeding me, showing me around, giving me language and history lessons, and generally treating me like one of their own.

Melanie and I ended up heading to Fethiye to see Emre’s (our host in Antalya) sweet mom and then chilled out on the beach for a few days until we were to part ways. She flew back to New York and I was able to get back into my groove. I reset myself by staying put at this heavenly hotel I had discovered which had not only the most peaceful and serene environment but the kindest owners. Again, treating me like one of their own. I felt so comfortable and happy here, I decided to attempt a ten day water fast. It was a detox/cleanse I had been considering for sometime and this just seemed like the right place and time.

It was hard. Seriously. I didn’t do much of anything but I sure did appreciate the unfettered nature that surrounded me and the support of the family who ran the place. It was probably the only reason I made it through. At the end of the fast I gradually began refeeding on their homemade organic fare prepared fresh everyday and man, food had never tasted so good. I loved Yonka Lodge and plan to go back there in the future, perhaps to take someone special. It’s that kind of place. When I was leaving I couldn’t thank them enough. I remarked how amazing it felt to be treated so genuinely like family. Out came the best reply: You make it easy.

Next I visited a lovely woman called Belgin a short bus ride north and we bonded for a few days in her new flat. Then I gradually made my way back down the coast to Olympos where I would discover my true Turkish family waited for me. I can’t really even describe how lovely my  time was with them. I really felt at home and it was one of the only times I cried when I have had to leave a place. Cengiz made me feel right at home and his daughter Ezgi and I bonded instantly. As a family, we played with the new born kittens, swam in the ocean, explored the ruins, broke bread together, and enjoyed sharing our souls into the early hours of the morning in front of the fire.

When it was finally time for me to leave Olympos, I couldn’t hold back the tears. I really felt like I belonged here. I knew I would miss them but this was pretty strange for me to get so attached so quickly. In any case, I knew that I would return. Turkey had quickly taken its place in my top three countries. And the best part? It didn’t even have to try.

I hitchhiked back up to Antalya again to stay with a fellow couch surfer Turker who treated me to a yummy Turkish style ravioli and my favorite coconut popsicles. Finally he delivered me to the airport shuttle where I proceeded to catch my middle of the night flight. On the other side of the one hour jaunt, Burak was waiting for me to host me for my remaining two days in Istanbul. We spent the next day doing everything I wanted to do, going where I wanted and it was generally a very successful Carmella Day. I was somewhat surprised how easily this came to my new friend…had  he heard of this unique holiday before? He was so unbelievably generous that I had to do something to bring some balance. I ended up buying him some pretty red flowers from one of the gypsy vendors on the side of the street. He seemed very surprised and shocked (once he actually let me perform the act of kindness) and I realized no one had ever bought him flowers before. I guess there are lots of guys out there who have never received flowers…sadly.

Early the next morning I was delivered to the airport shuttle not before having my last stuffing of savory Turkish breakfast pastries. Honestly, I have gained 20 plus pounds in the time I spent in Turkey  and I know that I will pay for that once I get back to Canada for the summer. There is no way I will fit into my shorts if I don’t make a serious change in my habits. So the plan is to head back home, get my eating under control and hit the gym.

But first a couple more stops including Aberdeen Scotland where I visited a fellow Canadian friend. Then down to see Sonya and her kidlettes one last time before jetting back to Canada. It was good to wind down my trip with a hug from good friends. I can honestly say I am pretty ready to go home for a while.

Grateful for extreme hospitality.

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