Archive for February, 2008

Istanbul, Turkey

Karie on Feb 14th 2008 01:25 pm

Our time in Istanbul was split into two parts. We spent a full day there on our way to Cappadocia, and a few more days on the back end. They say that Istanbul is “where the east meets the west” – both literally & figuratively, and that couldn’t be more true.

We found that most people spoke English in the city, and in many ways it was not too different from other major cities we’ve visited. Turkey is currently working very hard to join the European Union, so it makes me curious if the larger cities are embracing the “ways of the west” more than they might have several years ago? Maybe, maybe not. At any rate, there was still a feeling unlike anything else we had experienced in Europe. We definitely observed some cultural differences, despite the western influence.

Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country, and while probably not as “extreme” as many other eastern countries, you do notice some differences, such as there being fewer women and children out and about. It is also customary to hear the “call to prayer” 5 times per day. The call is broadcast from speakers on the minarets of the many mosques, and can be heard everywhere, including in our hotel room at 5:00am. Some shops briefly close while the owners head to the nearest mosque or prayer room, while others go about their business but respectfully turn down music or anything else to distract from the time of prayer.

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Eagle Creek Story - “Love on the Road”

Karie on Feb 13th 2008 10:04 am

Just wanted to share something kind of fun…

Eagle Creek (the makers of the backpacks and some other travel gear that we use), asked us to submit a story about “Love on the Road”, and they selected our story to be featured in their Valentine’s Day enewsletter!

Here’s a picture of the email that went out to their subscribers, and you can Click Here to read our story on Eagle Creek’s website.

Eagle Creek E-Newsletter

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Cappadocia, Turkey

Karie on Feb 11th 2008 03:50 pm

Cappadocia was one of the most interesting, actually surreal, places we have ever been. The story begins with the tale of our first overnight bus. We have done overnight planes and trains before, so we pretty much knew what we were in for. However, what we didn’t count on was being smushed into the very last row of a bus that was 100% full, and felt about 100 degrees.

Scott had the very center seat, meaning there was nothing in front of him except the aisle way (at least until 2am, when more people got on the bus than off, so a little boy had to sit on the floor in front of Scott’s feet). Then there was one couple on Scott’s right, me to his left, and another lucky person shoved into the corner on the other side of me. We were all feeling a little cramped, and to make matters worse, Scott’s seat would not recline, so we were in for a long night.

I got a little sleep in-between the frequent stops, in which I always got out to use the bathroom because I never knew when my next chance would be. (ok, a quick note about that… we were now on the Asian side of Turkey, and the bathrooms were a clear reflection that this was more “foreign” than any place we had yet visited. A hole in the ground, a bucket, a water spout, no toilet paper, no paper towels. Yet they charged you .50 YTL (about .40 cents) to use it.)

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Crete, Greece

Karie on Feb 7th 2008 08:56 pm

It was another early day heading from Santorini to Heraklion, Crete. In the summer it would be nice to take a ferry, but they are unreliable (or nonexistent) at this time of year, so we took a short flight. We only had one day in Heraklion before heading across the island it Chania, so we hit the ground running… straight to the gyro stand, through the open air market, around several churches, to the end of the harbor and back.

The main attraction of the area is the Palace of Knossos, or what’s left of it. The palace belonged to the Minoans who once inhabited the island, but were wiped out by earthquakes caused by the eruption of the volcano on Santorini. We weren’t able to visit the site of the palace, as it’s a bit too far away considering our time limitations; however, we did visit the archaeological museum which houses some of the artifacts recovered from the ruins.

Today’s Heraklion, as Scott put it, seems to be struggling to find its identity. It’s a large city, so there’s a mix of old, new, charming, and ugly. It’s the capitol of the best known island in Greece, yet it lacks that island charm that exists in the most of the other villages. However, I do have to give them credit for the fact that they put fries in their gyros, and for their fabulous cafés.

The Greek’s seem to think that Nescafé is coffee. In fact they advertise on menus like they expect the foreigners to be excited about it. Luckily, the cafés in Heraklion aren’t really as much about coffee as they are about sitting in plush chairs lining the sidewalks, basking in the sunshine, chatting with friends, or people watching… all of which happen to be among my favorite activities.

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Santorini, Greece

Karie on Feb 4th 2008 05:28 pm

Thanks to that 5:55am flight from Athens, we made it to Santorini before the sun.  Luckily our hotel let us check in early, so we were able to take a morning nap before heading out for the day.

We knew that February was not the best time of year to visit Santorini, and we were expecting some things to be closed.  March or April certainly would’ve been the ideal time for this trip, as it still beats the high season, but you’re likely to have a little more life on the island.  However, with the amount of traveling we want to do in the next 8 months, something had to come first, and we figured Greek Islands in February would be better than Poland in February!

So there we were.  I know there were other people in our hotel, but I don’t know who they are or where they went during the day, because we underestimated how much would be closed.  I had actually asked a few questions of the hotel before we booked this trip, but certainly not wanting to discourage any amount of tourism in their low season, I think some details were not fully disclosed.

Apparently a lot of Santorini’s business owners don’t actually live on the island, so they go home for the winters & return during peak season.  And while it’s true that there is a bus stop just a few meters from the hotel, upon arrival we learned that those buses are few and far between at this time of year.

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Athens, Greece

Karie on Feb 1st 2008 05:26 pm

We had heard mixed reviews of Athens, many saying that the city is dirty & overrated.  Apparently there was a lot of truth to that (and probably still is in some parts of the city), but the 2004 Olympics gave Athens a rebirth.  Like any big city, it has both good and bad, but what I liked about Athens is that you didn’t have to venture too far to see all the major sights, so it made a city of 3.7 million feel quite small and charming.

Our friends Thomas & Kaitlin Gertz, who are currently on a 15-month trip around the world, visited Greece just a few months ago.  We have no shame in following someone else’s proven plan.  So before I go any further, thank you Thomas & Kaitlin for the referral to the gyros for 2 Euros!  Between the two of us we ate 7 in 2 days.  That had to be the best tzatziki sauce I’ve ever had.  God bless Sabbas on 86 Metropoleos.

The 2nd great recommendation from Thomas & Kaitlin was our hotel.  No frills on the inside, but a great price in a great location, including a view of the Acropolis from our balcony.  What made this location even more desirable, for this week in particular, was that it gave us a chance to witness a very important part of Greek life and history.

Upon arrival to our hotel, we learned that the Archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Church had died the previous day.  The church was literally across the street from our hotel, with an unobstructed view from the balcony in our room.  Thousands of people were waiting in 4-5 hour lines to enter the church and pay their final respects.  The line did not diminish all day and throughout the night.

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