Sunday, September 30, 2012

Loo With a View

 Well, what I have for you this weekend is not your typical tourist fare.  I would like to humbly present you with....LOO WITH A VIEW:
This is the bathroom of the bar at the top of the Blue Sky (alternate title for this post: Blue Sky - Smiling At Me).  You're looking at the end of the sink, and the view of Peace Avenue heading west out the window.  Even more impressive is the fact that you've got another one of these windows for a wall of one of the stalls.  You might have to worry about being caught with your pants down if this weren't the second highest floor of the tallest building for - as a colleague of mine was very emphatic about impressing upon us - THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS OF MILES IN ANY DIRECTION!
Someone took one for the team and sold their soul to the owner of our school with the end result that we got a nice happy hour for us at said bar.  It's not a cheap place and apparently they decided they wouldn't give us drink specials, so it wasn't a very long happy hour, but it WAS pretty enjoyable.  If you didn't know, it might surprise you to learn that after a long week of being righteous role models for impressionable young minds, teachers can cut loose with the best of them.  Especially when they work internationally (cause that's where all us black sheep go).
That's me (on the right, if you are a new reader) and my mad scientist buddy, who was inducted into the grub club this week (you can see her chopsticks in one of the photos on my last post).  She's a hoot.  I'm not too bad myself, after I get a couple of cokes in me.
And there's the view of UB to the east.  It's not a very tall town, in an even less tall country, and if you were impressed by the fact that it's the tallest building for THOUSANDS AND THOUSANDS OF MILES, well, you shouldn't be.  It's only 24 stories high.  I've had friends who lived in apartments higher than that.  However, it does make that menacing, shark-fin shape.  Someone described it as looking like a sailboat when I got here, which I sincerely hope is not what the architect had in mind, because a.) it doesn't make any sense in a landlocked country, and b.) that would make it just another Burj al Arab rip off.  And I would hate that, because I kind of like it.  But I can neither confirm nor deny this based on the short amount of research I just did.  At any rate, this is what it looks like on the outside:

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Grub Club: Yang Ju Gol

So blogspot went and did something stupid.  They just couldn't leave well enough alone, nevermind the fact that I was completely okay with the old format.  I get really tired of technologies like this changing on me, and as we all know, my opinion is what really counts.  Right?  Right????
Anyways, now that I've gotten my rant out of the way, I decided this Sunday past while sipping herbal tea at a friendly neighborhood wine tasting (yes, I do like to be a rebel...does it make it any better that it was a black currant tea and was just about the same color as the wine???) that since a group of us were going out for dinner every week, anyways, that I would start writing midweek about these dinner excursions.  This week we decided to go out for Korean - one of us actually IS Korean, and two of us have lived there, and we started talking about the food during the wine tasting and decided to go.  This may come as a shock, but I've only eaten Korean once since I got here, at Fire King, my kyobo predecessor's favorite; "and it was good."  However, a couple of us had errands to run near the circus, so we decided to eat at one of the Korean restaurants on Seoul Street, Yang Ju Gol (our music teacher mentioned it to me earlier this week).  We all decided the food wasn't bad - I had the kimchi jjigae, which was a little thicker than I like mine, but pretty tasty, and Bart said the kimbap was the best he's found here.  They also serve barley tea with the meal, rather than just plain water (or nothing at all), so that was nice.
The thing that really made me happy, though, was the dubu (tofu).  Pictured above is the dubu kimchi, which was okay but a little more sour than it should have been.  But the real treat was the fried, marinated dubu that was one of the pancheon (bottomless side dishes) they were serving last night.  It's my favorite, and we had them refill it about four times.  The others were pretty good too; only the eggplant didn't get devoured.  It was not a bad restaurant, but a little lacking in ambience (the bare lightbulbs and incessant drilling noise kinda killed the mood).  And I found it to be a little on the pricey side - Bart's kimbap was 4000 tugrugs (about $2.85) and my kimchi jjigae was twice that.  Of course, compared to a lot of the meals I eat out here, this is not all that bad, but it makes me cringe to consider how much those cost back in Korea.  All in all, I might eat there again, but I can't come up with a scenario when I might do so - there are other restaurants I prefer in that area and if I want Korean, I'd more likely go to Fire King, or Bart's fave, Gung.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Buddhism - DEBUNKED!

Buddhism. A nice peaceful world religion; not set on dominating other cultures and converting them or damning them to an eternity of hell, right? Think again:
Okay, now let me be honest with you. I have no idea what the disemboweled, tormented figures were all about (probably I should have paid more time reading the labels and less taking photos that were supposed to be forbidden...my bad), and as far as I can tell, Buddhism is just about the most peaceful religion on the planet, but the gory images do make an outsider wonder.
Yesterday I went to the Choijin Lama Temple in central UB on the way to the countryside for some volunteer work - and I do mean central. As in, that glassy building in the background is the Blue Sky Tower, which is smack dab in the middle. It's 5000 tugrugs to get in (and another 25000 if you're going to pay for the privilege of taking photos...note to museum big shots: if you're going to charge for taking photos, you might want to set the tariff at something people will actually pay). It's a nice little ramshackle temple from the outside, but inside the buildings it gets impressive.
One of the things I love about the aesthetics of Buddhist temples is the overwhelming amount of detail. There's just SO MUCH STUFF to look at (pity that you're not supposed to take pictures). You can see some more tormented guys hanging from the ceiling - I took heart in the proportional disparities in the figures, since they most likely meant that these figures were not drawn from life...or rather, death.
Violence is not the only thing one doesn't expect to find in a Buddhist temple - there was also the matter of the red-haired demons getting it on. Actually, one of the buildings in the temple complex was dedicated to the - what, head monk? I'm not sure of the right title - head monk's tantric meditations.
But my tongue-in-cheeky commentary aside, it was an incredibly nice place to visit on a Saturday morning, and not without it's peaceful moments. I recommend it highly.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A Mongolian Month

Today marks a full month (rather than just 4 weeks) that I've been in Mongolia. I'm still alive...although I came down with my first cold on Friday, which led me to go on a coke bender over the weekend (I was down to about one bottle a day til then). What's it like here? A little lonely, honestly - I make friends slowly (as you, my six loyal readers, know from experience), and I often feel kind of isolated. My classroom, while actually INSIDE the main building, is kind of in no-man's land, and most of the time when anyone comes to my room it's to take construction paper, rather than to see me. But I don't want to bitch - I generally like the people I work with and I REALLY like the students, I don't have to be to work til 8:15, I will have some disposable income (when we finally get paid in nine days), Mongolia is a gorgeous country, and hey - I finally made it to the Khan Uul ward, even if the meetinghouse locator was wrong on a second count (that of the time they meet).
This weekend our principal organized a city tour for us, and took us to Gandan Monastery, BD's Mongolian Barbecue (for lunch), and the National Museum. Gandan was our first stop. It was not as big as I was expecting; apparently it was bigger until communism came to town and waged a drug war against the opium of the people. It was a show monastery for foreign visitors for years, and after communism fell here it was reopened for real.
While Mongolians worshipped the "eternal blue sky" many, many moons ago (and I can understand why, because the skies have been ridiculously, eye-wateringly blue for most of the past week), these days they have more in common with Tibetan Buddhists. Check the prayer flags, yo. I'm sure this doesn't help their animosity towards China any.
Food has been an issue for me since I've been here. Well, issue might be too strong a word. I don't particularly like to cook (for myself, at any rate), but I ate WAY too many big fatty meals in Shanghai, so (as I've said, ad nauseum) this is GOOD for me. However, I was delighted with our lunch at BD's. I've never had Mongolian food back home (although I did a couple of times in Shanghers), but if this is what it's like (and I have it on good authority that it is) then I can't blame Americans for liking it. BD's is 20,900 tugrugs for all you can eat goodness, and maybe a block down Seoul Street past California's (which is also supposed to be good).
Finally, the National Museum of Mongolia (sorry, their camera fee was 10,000 tugs so this picture is all you get). It was a nice, well-curated museum, and my Dark Lord and Master would LOVE the section on Chinggis and his horde, but I confused the museum we went to with the Natural Natural History Museum, so I was a little disappointed that there were no dinosaurs. Hell, I didn't even realize until recently (thank you, Lonely Planet) that so many fossils had been found here, but I was looking forward to seeing them. I fully intend to go out to the Flaming Cliffs at some point in the next two years; til then, I will have to be happy with a trip to the Natural History Museum, and that will give me something to do another weekend (thank goodness we didn't make it to the Winter Palace, as we'd planned...there are only so many things to do in UB...)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Back in Greece! (4 Oct 2008)

I used to keep a blog on MySpace (back in the day when people who weren't in the music industry used it), and it occurs to me that I would like to transfer the old blogs over here (some of them, at any rate). So this is the first one. I'm adding pictures to make it more interesting for everybody involved. Bear with me...

So I'm back out in the rest of the world, and it's fabulous! This is day two...well, technically day three. I left Korea on Wednesday, but my layover in Moscow was 17 hours, so I just got to Athens yesterday. By the way, the trip was not as bad as I'd initially feared...after my all night vigil packing and cleaning I was able to sleep most of the plane trip and the layover...unfortunately the Russian athlete I - during my waking moments - checked out in Incheon and on the flight to Moscow, left the airport.
Anyways, I made it to Bronte's apartment, which is such a cute place, and you can see the port from BOTH her balconies. I've already eaten myself sick off her cooking once, and had souvlaki for lunch yesterday and today (so much for the idea of losing weight on vacation!) - today at a portside taverna under an umbrella along the water - and now I'm sitting on her couch teasing Vasilis. Life is good!

su-su-Sunio (4 Oct 2008)

Darn computer. I just lost what I wrote. So here's the cliffnotes version.
Went to Sunio today to see the ruins of the temple of Poseidon (god of the sea). The Greeks know how to pick a location. I got sunburnt. We stopped at a seaside taverna on the way home and ordered way too much food (and it was delicious - four years later I remember that vividly!) Now I'm eating a dessert called Mother-in-Law's tongue, and apparently Greek mothers-in-law are way sweeter than American ones. I think Bronte and Vasilis are trying to make me obese. Going to learn how to make moussaka tonight and get my butt kicked at Risk. The end.

Beach Scene With Sheep (6 Oct 2008)

I can't believe it happened again. I hate this computer. We went to the beach today. The end. (Aish!!!!!!!!)

Greek Food - Blessing or Curse??? (7 Oct 2008)

I'm not sure how I lived as long as I did without trying foods from other cultures. In the years since I first came to Korea, my palate has been edumacated, and as happy as I am with so many different flavors, I know that soon I will return to the midwest, where they will be hard to come by.

In an attempt to fight against the blandness that awaits me in my homestates, I've been learning to cook. My friendship with Bronte was, largely, founded on the day I asked her where I could learn to cook Korean food. Her answer? "I'll teach you!" During our time together at GDA she taught me to make sundubu, pajeon, spicy taeji gogi, and a host of other amazing dishes. She also taught me, after meeting Vasilis and in my final incarnation at GDA, how to make tzatziki, Greek salads, and what she refers to as "dirty Greek pork," because that is just how talented she is. I begged her to teach me how to make moussaka, but we both lacked ovens and I had yet to refine my rice cooker-oven theory in those days. Well, yesterday the time finally came and it was AMAZING! If you've never had moussaka, you're missing out. Big time. And Bronte's is so succulent and flavorlicious...there just aren't words to describe it, so I'm not even going to try. The moral of the story is, now I know how to make it. Mwahahahaha. Between the three of us we ate the entire pan last night, and I woke up feeling a little worse for wear this morning. Ugh. This is the downside of Greek food - it's so incredibly good, you just want to keep eating it...if I weren't leaving on the 11th, I'd say I had real problems. I've already developed an addiction to souvlaki, and don't even get me talking about tzatziki. But if its a choice between the downside and not eating Greek, I'll find a way to cope.
Took the train into Monastiraki this afternoon and wandered around in the shadow of the Acropolis. It's amazing to think that it's been a whole year and a half since I went there, amazing that I'm back, and it seems hardly changed. I never thought I'd find myself back there, and it gave me a satisfied, peaceful feeling to wander those streets again.

Bronte's Birthday and Train Trauma (9 Oct 2008)

Ommmmmmmm. Ommmmmm. That is the third time my blog has magically disappeared TODAY, so before I head out to the train station, I'm going to try one last time, and if I don't get this message up to tell you I'm still alive and in Greece, well, you'll just have to hope that I am. Maybe later I'll retype what I said twice already this morning, after my trip into Athens in search of a train ticket and the lunch Vasilis' mommy is making us, using the Belinda Webster method, but I ain't making no promises, especially since I'm not even sure this message will go through. Let's try it! 7:18 PM Okay, so I’ve caved. I’m doing this in the manner that first Belinda, then Bronte suggested. I think Bronte may be tired of listening to me swear at her computer. So this is what I typed this morning, several times:
Bronte’s birthday – it was Tuesday. Vasilis outdid himself by sneaking the partygoers into the flat, while I stalled/distracted Bronte (which I’m pretty much inept at…I told her to change her shoes and fix her hair, both of which she ignored…if it weren’t for the fact that her dress suddenly got a hole that she had to stitch up, I don’t know what I would have done). When she came down the stairs, everyone was waiting to wish her a happy birthday, including one Mimis (actual name: Michos), a pretty dang good looking 6’3” Greek man that I enjoyed looking at and even talked to for a while (I don’t think he was too impressed, though, by the lack of spirits in my glass, nor by my moral inability to gamble…oh well, such is life). (The above photo is hers - I don't have permission to use it but I've got my fingers crossed she won't sue).

Train trauma – and this continued on into today…it turns out you can’t buy tickets for the train to Istanbul (via Thessaloniki) online, and you can’t buy them in Piraeus Station (I’m not sure you can do anything in Piraeus Station, it sort of looked like it had been abandoned a year ago), and when Vasilis tried to call for me yesterday, they didn’t answer the phone, a fact which made a lot more sense when I got to Larissa Station in Athens and discovered the railway and Metro lines were on strike. So I went back this morning, early because V’s mommy was cooking lunch for us this afternoon, and realized I hadn’t noticed the opening hours for the international ticket office last night…they didn’t open til ..1:40... However, it turns out that at Panepistimio there is another ticket office, and they opened at 8, so I buzzed over there and FINALLY got my ticket to Istanbul – I’ll depart Athens at 9 Saturday morning, get to Thessaloniki 3-ish, have three hours to explore a bit before taking the 6-ish train, which is a sleeper train, to Istanbul, where I will arrive just after 8 on Sunday morning. As Bronte says, “Ye-Ay!!!"

Last Night In Greece (11 Oct 2008)

So, it’s my last night in Greece (for now – I’ll be here a couple of days between Egypt and Korea next month), and while I sit here, stuffed on the dolmades and saganaki and stuffed tomatoes – oh my! – that Bronte taught me to make this afternoon, regarding the fake wedding ring I bought to give myself some degree of legitimacy in the Middle East…Belinda doesn’t have this problem…and trying to finish Jitterbug Perfume so I can borrow something else from Bronte’s library, I feel content with this leg of my vacation. It’s been a completely different sort of trip from what I’m used to. I’m living more like a local, not caught up in the frantic “go-and-see” pace that is my tripping trademark. It’s been nice.
HOWEVER...I am definitely ready for the wonders of Istanbul (or Constantinople, as they still call it in Greece...apparently, They Might Be Giants fans, it’s somebody’s business besides the Turks). Tomorrow I’ll get on the train around 9 a.m, and 23 hours later, arrive at Sirkeci station in Sultanahmet. I will be incommunicado until sometime Sunday, but I’ll get online as soon as possible to describe my adventures on the rails (think Hercule Poirot on the Orient Express...and I will deliver, even if I have to make stuff up).

On the Midnight Train... (13 Oct 2008)

When I first posted these blogs four years ago (wow - time flies!) I was traveling alone...however, my mom didn't know that. In all these posts from the time I left Greece til when I arrived in Cairo, whenever I mention Belynda, I'm lying. A Vomitous Mess... is actually the first blog she was actually there for. You can tell because after she gets to Cairo I start referring to her piccolo computer, and we butt heads a little from time to time. Anywho, thought you should know.

You know that train that rushes by in the night, blowing its whistle to warn the unwary, disturbing the sleep of the vicinity. I was on that train. I watched the landscape slide by in a blur from the light emanating from the next cabin. It was sorta spooky.
The train ended up being about two hours late getting in (to Istanbul...the shorter one to Thessaloniki was smack dab on the dot on time). It was SO much better than I was expecting. I met two older Australian couples in Thessaloniki that were going to be on my train, and that made me feel a little less sketched, and then it turned out that I had my cabin all to myself. So it was a pretty comfortable ride. I kinda enjoyed seeing things flicker by outside the window out in the moonlight, and I didn't even mind (much) the immigration process, at 3:30 a.m. on the Greek side, and 5 on the Turkish (the Greeks took an hour to finish, adaxi, adaxi...)

So. I'm here. I ate breakfast at McDonald's outside Sirkeci station, and I may never have eaten anything so delicious in my life. Literally. It tasted a lot better and less processed than in Korea (sorry, I don't have much experience with Mickey D's brekke back home...I used to be a strictly Burger King girl). I'm staying at the lovely Side Pension in Sultanahmet, and it's literally right in the middle of everything, and it's really cute. For now, let that suffice. I'm off to explore. I'm meeting up with Belinda later on.

Constantinople's got the WORKS! (13 Oct 2008)

I just found out how I erased my blog last night. This computer's mouse has buttons on the sides that allow you to go forward and backwards (because, apparently, moving the mouse up and clicking on the back button is FAR too much effort). I found this out because I just accidentally did the same thing again. Fortunately I hadn't gotten too far this time. Okay, so yeah, the works, including an El Torito, Jane. Yeah, that's right I had Mexican for lunch, so sue me.
Yesterday we went to Aya Sofya and the Basilica Cistern. Aya Sofya is a beautiful, grandiose, spacious building (church? mosque? details, details...), everything I had hoped for based on the tomes that have been written about it. In fact, I can hardly hope to do it better justice than previous authors, so I'm not even going to try.
The Basilica Cistern, on the other hand, I had never heard of until I started combing through Belinda's Lonely Planet, and I've got to say that it is now one of my top five favorite places in the whole world (okay, the truth is, without thinking about it really hard, I apparently only have two favorite places...Fushimi-Inari-Taisha in Kyoto is number 1...but still). Here's what it is - in the year 500-something (really, I can't be bothered to remember the exact time of my flights, what makes you think I'm going to remember dates in ancient history? It's one of the reasons I didn't do very well in art history classes), Emperor Justinian (one of them or another) decided the vicinity of Topkapi Palace needed a convenient water source. So he made this huge underground cavern, and supported it with rows and rows and rows of columns, which supported the vaults holding up the ground.
But that's just part of the story...after years and years, people were hardly aware of its existence, they just new that they could lower buckets into the holes in their basements, and bring up water (or sometimes fish...and hey, if they needed a place to hide an inconvenient corpse, well, done and done!) Later on, some dude investigated these claims and discovered the extent of the cistern, and even later (in 1987...take that, Geraldine Fowle!) the cistern was open to the public. They set up walkways that allow access from one end of the cavern to the other, and put up atmospheric orange and red lighting on selected pillars, really giving you a sense of the vastness and spookiness of the place. Fish (some of them quite fat, probably from years and years of feeding on bloated corpses until they became invincible!), flicker through the shadows, and water drips down from the ceiling onto your head. It's just cooler than you can even imagine. I stayed for a cup of hot chocolate in the cafe at one end of the cavern to prolong the experience.
Today we hit the Grand Bazaar. Wow. That was some kind of place. I was on a mission to find a metal belly dance bra, and after much disappointment as we went from one belly dance shop to another whose main fare seemed to be what we in the business call the "Turkish Airport Special" (don't ask), we stumbled into a silver shop that had some pieces that looked sort of like what I wanted. As I talked to the shopkeeper, he asked me to draw him a picture of what I was looking for, so I did...and he was like, "Oh, yeah, we have that," and he sent his little helper off to fetch it for me. I got really excited then, and having made my purchase, we started to wander the bazaar in earnest. That place is freaking HUGE! The whole thing is inside, but the arches covering the walks are so high up as to give you a sense of space. Some of the shop windows are filled with so much gold, I felt like I needed to put my sunglasses back on, just to protect my eyes. It took us a good three and a half hours before we felt like leaving, and that was only because we were REALLY exhausted.
Stay tuned for next time - I may be taking a Turkish bath, will definitely be touring the Blue Mosque, and at some point tomorrow, board a bus to Canukkale, from thence to visit TROY. Yee-AY!

The Bathhouse Experience, Part 3 (14 Oct 2008)

If you look through my blogs (including the ones that are no longer open to the public, you may think to yourself that there IS no 'Bathhouse Experience' Part 1 or 2. That's because they happened before I started writing blogs, in Korea (where I got naked in semi-public regularly) and in Japan. Korean and Japanese bathhouses are quite similiar, and I'm not going to go into the particulars of them right now, because that's not what this blog is about. This blog is about the Turkish bath, where I went on my own because Belinda doesn't believe in public bathing.

By bath, they mean shower, and by shower, they mean you sit next to the sink that the water flows into and splash yourself with water you gather in a pan. A little misleading. However, what with the pretty faucets and pans, and beautiful architecture (dating back to 1500-something), you can pretty much overlook that.
We went to the Blue Mosque this morning, and found it to be very cool. We didn't even have to wrap our heads, which is weird, for a mosque. In half an hour the bus that takes us to the bus for Canukkale gets here, and I'm pretty excited about that. Peace out.

Fragments of Istanbul (17 Oct 2008)

I've been in the whirlwind today, trying to fit in as much of Istanbul as I can before I leave (do I wish I'd been a little more energetic the first several days? You bet your sweet bippy.) It's rounding up on 9 pm and it's been about 11 hours since I left the hotel this morning. This is what I did.
1. Go to Topkapi Palace. Wow. I'll tell you what, those sultans knew how to build a palace. And keep building, and building, and building (everytime one of them did something "neat" with the military, they built a pavilion to commemorate it).

2. Walk along the trolley route, stopping at Cafe Home Made for Iskander Kebab in a pretty groovy setting.

3. Continue to walk along the trolley route, eventually veering off to head toward the spice market, where I had my first tastes of Turkish delight. Now that's some good stuff! The smell of the spice market temporarily blocked the less than Turkish delightful smell that every toilet here seems to have (even the ones that aren't squatters...I've spent more of my disinfectant wipes on toilet seats than I have on my hands).
4. Walk across Galata bridge. Once in Beyoglu (on the other side of the Golden Horn), I hiked up the hill to gaze up at Galata Tower, although I really had no inclination to go up it, then tried to make my way to Istiklal Caddesi, but headed downhill instead of up, and had to reorient myself when I found myself next to the Bosphorus, climbing back UPhill to get to the shopping district, where I wandered around a bit.
5. Went back down the hill, and got on a ferry at Karakoy to take me across the Bosphorus to Kadikoy, where I set foot on Asian soil again for the first time in 2 weeks, then wandered for about a half hour before getting on the ferry to cross back over to Eminonu, which is in Sultanahmet, next to the train station.
6. Made a short jaunt up the hill, stopping at Han Restaurant for dinner, because they have musicians. Those musicians failed to stop at my table (I was really hoping they would, because I wanted to get up and dance), but I tipped them 5 lira, anyways.

Speaking of dance, I haven't seen any in Istanbul. I feel kind of lame about it, but every "show" that involves belly dance is over 50 Euro, and I can't bring myself to pay that much for a mediocre dinner and a variety show, most of which isn't belly dancing, just to watch a dancer that may not even be as good as me. Maybe this is pessimistic of me. I almost signed up for the Bosphorus night cruise (heading up the strait toward the Black Sea), since for around $90 it involved the cruise, the dinner, and the show, but I just decided that if I want to be able to go and do and see in Egypt, I better not overextend myself here. Belinda and I both feel pretty good about that decision.
P.S. Troy yesterday was pretty cool (as long as you don't have the attitude of "seen one set of ruins, seen them all."), but dang, what a pain in the butt to get to!

Hoofin' It Around (but never in!) the Promised Land (19 Oct 2008)

I'm just going to start by telling you, straight up, there is no way for me to talk about today without getting religious. If that's okay (and for most of you, I imagine it is), read on...
Today I took the tour of Bethany-Beyond-the-Jordan, the Dead Sea, Mt. Nebo, and Madaba. I'm pretty much wiped out right now, because I didn't sleep so hot last night, but it was totally worth it. We started off by going to Bethany-Beyond-the-Jordan, which is - and they have gone through a rigorous process of determining its authenticity - where Jesus Christ was baptized. There's not much to describe - we walked through reed-lined paths to the River Jordan, then a little further to the actual baptism site, where the guide explained how they had determined it's placement, we saw the ruins of the 3 churches that had been built at the site, and finally went to a Greek Orthodox chapel just across the Jordan from Israel (really, it was right there...I could have splashed in and swam across in, like, 10 seconds).
But what I was thinking about during this experience was what kind of people Jesus and John must have been. Or, more specifically, John (we know what kind of person Jesus must have been - ie, perfect...not trying to be flip, just trying to keep it concise). So here's John, and his second cousin, Jesus...who he, being a holy man, knows to be the son of God and Savior of mankind...wants him to baptize him. Let me put it to you another way...let's say you're an amateur painter, and Michaelangelo comes to you and wants you to do his portrait. You'd know you were totally out of your league. The thing that impressed me was that John realized this, and told Jesus so, but when Jesus told him that it had to be that way, John baptized him. I'm not sure this is translating into words exactly as I was feeling it at the time. Suffice it to say that it was, as Diana's mommy often said, "Neat!"
Also neat was the Dead Sea. When Dougie-Poo described it to me as, "bobbing like a cork," I thought he was being poetic, using similies and all that stuff. Nope. You get in the water, and literally bob like a cork. I went out to where the water was deep enough, and tried floating straight up and down, and it was harder than you might think, and the lowest my body would go was to my chest. When you shift the weight of your body, even just slightly, the buoyancy of the water makes you turn. Even without getting into the water, you could tell how salty it was, because you could feel that the water had a different viscosity than ocean water, and when you looked at the water filtering through the light, you could see the little vectors within the fluid. But I think the coolest part was swishing my hand down into the water to create bubbles, then watching their shadows on my submerged hands, because they looked like stars.
A shower and a pepsi later (they had no coke, and I was desperately hoping it would fend off my headache), and we were off to Mt. Nebo. This is the place that Moses was sent to look at the promised land, before he died. That's right, all you non-bible-scholars, Moses never set foot in ancient Israel. He gathered the Israelites together, marched them off across the Red Sea to Sinai (where I will visit in another week), and then around the desert for 40 years (due to a lack of faith on the part of some of their spies), but never got there himself. Kinda sucks, eh? That's what I was thinking about today. But Moses, he was a prophet, and I imagine he was a really humble guy, and the impression I got today was not that he was bitter about the fact that he never got to rest in the land of milk and honey, but that he was grateful to have been able to serve the Lord, and grateful that he lived to at least see the Promised Land (side note for my mom...he was 120 years old when he made the hike up to the top of Mt. Nebo - and it would have been quite the hike, I was glad to be riding in a car - and if he was anything like you, that was probably what finished him off ). From there we went to Madaba, which was kind of anticlimatic, I enjoyed the mosaics, but compared to the rest of the tour, it wasn't much to write home about, so I won't. Hopefully tomorrow we're going to Jerash, but it depends on if there's a full group interested, so we'll see.

Disappointed but Valiantly Avoiding Bitterness (20 Oct 2008)

So this was the day we'd chosen to go to Jerash. Unfortunately, the fates didn't align for us. In this case, it means that the Palace Hotel didn't have enough people to put together a tour today. In an attempt to move out of some rather dark dwellings I've been mentally inhabiting for...well, a while now...I'm attempting to look on the bright side of things. (I'm also halfway through my second Tom Robbins book for the vacation, and it may or may not be having an effect on my verbal acrobatics). So I tried to be optimistic about the aborted trip to Jerash. For starters, it's just a bunch of ruins, and I've seen lots of ruins in my day (okay, so they're a particularly well-preserved Roman city, details, details!). Furthermore, there are ruins aplenty right here in Amman that I can access on foot, starting right down the street from my hotel, for less money than some stinking tour, leaving me with liquid funds to buy some cool coins I found in the souqs around my hotel. Alright, done and done.
What I was hoping for, though, really hoping for, was that there would be a full group to go to Petra tomorrow, because that would mean we'd ride in style, and be able to stop along the way at Karak, Wadi Mujib, and the Dana Nature Reserve. Unfortunately, that looks like it's not happening, neither. At this point, it looks like it's the minibus for us. Which, again, will be a significantly smaller price to pay, so yeay for that, and it's not like I really need to see Wadi Mujib, since we'll be staying in Wadi Rum in a couple of days, and as far as nature's wonders go, that's supposed to take the cake in these parts. Karak is one of the crusader castles, and I guess I've seen desert castles before, and maybe I'll be able to hit Dana on my way to Wadi Rum.
But....okay, whining is a hard habit to break...I just really wanted to take the easy way. Is that so bad? Blerg. Well, bad or not, minibus or tour, I'll be in Petra, the rose-red city tomorrow - I haven't decided whether I want to take the cooking class one of the hotels offer tomorrow night or the following - but either way, eat your heart out, and I'll quit my fricking whining, because, really, when you're going to Petra, how bad can it be, right????
Oh, yeah, I forgot to say, um, how lazy are we? This was my thought of the day while I was climbing the stairs in the Roman amphitheater, hearing the really cool acoustics, and considering how many of my nearest and dearest are acrophobic (Belinda, Brucie, my mom, and, unless I'm mistaken, my own Dark Lord and Master even once betrayed a fear of heights...)...birdwalk averted...but seriously, if 1500 years ago people could, without benefit of electricity create a theater that would carry voices to the watching crowds that lasts that long, how retarded and lazy are we? Is there no such thing as craftsmanship anymore? I doubt, even if someone wanted to, we still have the knowledge to create such monuments...we don't have the patience or attention to the right kind of details. And I think that's kind of sad, because if we had to abandon our cities, for one reason or another, how many of our buildings would be left after 1500 years?

Rockin' Out in Petra (21 Oct 2008)

I'm beginning to wonder if those people who go on vacation to relax aren't on to something. Seriously. Yesterday I spent the hours of 10am-5pm walking around, and today, well, I only walked for 3 hours, but a lot of that was uphill (a lot of yesteday was uphill too, but it seemed more strenuous today, considering the uneven ground and the fact that I wandered around uphill all day yesterday).
Anyways, so I'm in Petra today - yeay!!! What can I tell you? "It's fricking awesome," doesn't begin to cover my awestruck state. There were the towering, windswept walls of the Siq, the mixed odor of donkey, camel, and horse "leavings," the colors strewn through the layers of sandstone, and the bright, unbelievable blue of the desert sky. There was bumping into Carol and Phee, two of the ladies we randomly met at a restaurant and ate dinner with on Saturday...we knew they were going to be here, but c'mon, what are the chances of randomly meeting up with the random foreigners you randomly had dinner with in a different city? There was dinner at the Red Cave - a bedouin restaurant that has restored my faith in restaurants here (don't get me started on how much falafel I've eaten in the last three days), although I'm planning on eating there again tomorrow, just to be safe. And now, as I have been sitting here writing this, there is the wasp that was wandering through my hair...that kind of freaked me out, but all in a day's journeying.
Tomorrow I'm continuing to trek through Petra (I stopped around the royal tombs today and came back...but I saw the Treasury, and, as a consequence got the theme music for Indiana Jones stuck in my head) - second verse, same as the first! - and hopefully taking a cooking course, so I probably won't add anything here until I get to Wadi Rum on Wednesday (this is Monday, right???)

The Travel Bug (25 Oct 2008)

So my first full day in Egypt I woke up, ate breakfast with a couple from Austria (actually, she was originally from Zimbabwe, and he now works in Libya, but Austria's the best I can do), while Belinda was still sleeping, and had to leave abruptly because I felt that my posterior might suddenly explode. I tried to go on with my day's business of walking on the beach, but was repeatedly called back to the room by nature's call. I finally gave up and just laid down to rest. I guess I should consider myself to be lucky, because I haven't been sick at all since I came here, but I still wish I were a little more myself.

I've had a problem with mosquitos lately. In Korea, they never bit me. Here they're all over me. I brought Bronte's mosquito lotion with me, and put it on my face, hands, and feet, but I seem to miss spots...noticeably, last night, my eyelid. And lately, my mosquito bites have been swelling a LOT, so when they bit my eyelid last night I declared war. At three in the morning, I woke up and started swatting...I got about two dozen of the little bastards, and there were still a few more, but I finally went back to bed, considering I'd done my best, and slept the rest of the night in peace.

Later I went to the center of town to write my blog. I literally paid, walked out of the internet cafe, and threw up in the street. All I had in my stomach was 7-Up and water, so it didn't make too much of a mess, but it was embarassing, and I grabbed a cab back to Habiba Camp and spent the rest of the night in bed.

Today we took a bus from Nuweiba to Cairo. 7 1/2 long hours. The sun was setting as we got into town. Belinda crashed at the hotel, but I was starving, since I had only eaten a Snickers bar all day, and words can't describe how happy I was to drive past the Golden Arches on the way to the Luna Hotel, where we've got a pretty nice room. So that's where I went. There's really something wonderful about walking into McDonald's and ordering food, and having it taste JUST like it does back home. I probably ate too much, my stomach feels a little woozy again, but I didn't care. Now I'm back at the hotel - any more adventures can wait for tomorrow and daylight.

Round about Cairo (27 Oct 2008)

It's my first full day in Cairo. Let me start by saying that my friend Alane, who once told me that Athens was a "dirty city," has obviously never been to Cairo. Cairo doesn't have the profusion of graffiti that Athens did, and both have, I think, an equal share of crumbling buildings, but the accumulated grime that coats everything is amazing to me. The balcony of our room looks out toward a building that seems brown at first glance, but upon closer inspection, is actually red. And there's enough garbage on the street to put other middle eastern countries that I may have inhabited to shame (no offense to the continuing inhabitants of that country, but they know as well as I do that when instructions on how to get to the cold store involve, "turn right at the garbage pile," and movies previews stress not littering rather than not pirating, you know you've got a problem...just apparently not as much of a problem as Cairo). We thought that the logical place to start was in Khan Al Khalili (the souq or bazaar here), but I have to say, I was a little disappointed. I've visited a number of souqs now, and maybe I was just too early to get the full effect, but actually, the persistence of the shopkeepers at that hour (10-12-ish) was already enough to make me grind my teeth a little.
I figured we were so close to Islamic...oops, apparently Islamic is supposed to be off-putting to foreign tourists so they call it Fatimid now...so close to Fatimid Cairo that we ought to just cross the street and explore. Belinda has misgivings about my ability to navigate, but I feel I acquitted myself pretty well today. Over the footbridge and past several mosques, we came to Bab Al Zuweila, a kind of a gate with two minarets looming upwards, that we were able to climb to get a partial panoramic view of Cairo (turns out it's a pretty fricking big city).
Right after that we came to the tentmaker's market. The kinds of colorful, silkscreened fabrics that Belinda's studio are hung with are on sale there, as well as incredibly beautiful, intricate quilted wall hangings and other goods that have the same kind of arabesque design. This was probably my favorite part of today's wanderings. Then onwards toward the Citadel (which we didn't actually enter), past Cairo's Blue Mosque, which is currently kind of in ruins but UNESCO has it in on it's "To Do" list. And finally back to the hotel.
I wanted for us to go to a belly dance show at Haroun Ar-Rashid tonight, but when I phoned for a reservation, it turns out nobody's performing tonight. However, tomorrow night DINA is there, so we made the reservation, and I am seriously excited about it!!! Dina is one of the best known Egyptian dancers at the moment, and there is just something super cute and sexy about her style. Okay, I'm going to stop gushing like a giddy schoolgirl, but be ready for possibly more gush on Wednesday (eeeeeeeeee!)

The Story of Wadi Rum (29 Oct 2008)

Well, the main event for the day (although wandering down the Nile along the corniche was nice, it's not really much to write home about) is still yet to come, so I thought I would concur with a request for more details about my dissatisfaction with my experience in Wadi Rum. I kind of skimmed over it, because I didn't have much of an internet connection (through management's office, and I felt like I was kind of imposing, so I only used it to write a note to the family letting them know where I was and that I was okay). So, we left Petra at 6 a.m. on the 17th, via minibus to Wadi Rum. I mentioned to the driver where I was staying - at Bait Ali, which is actually outside the protected area along the access road - and when we got to the turn off, he let me off the bus, and told me, 'Go down the road, to the right,' and pointed across the train tracks running perpendicular to the access road. I waited for a train to pass, and crossed the tracks rolling my suitcase along behind me. Here's where I ran into my first problem: after the tracks, I had two choices, go straight, which led behind a large rock formation, or go right. Well, duh, I chose the right...that's what he told me to do, and there was a small village not too far off.
So away I go, and at first the unpaved road is okay, but then it gets a little sandy, and my suitcase is now definitely dragging. Soon I reach a dry wash, and from there I'm able to see behind the rock formation, and what I see looks a LOT like what I remember of the pictures on Bait Ali's website. I leave my suitcase behind to take a closer look, and when I do I realize - oopsies! - that I definitely went the wrong way. I'm seeing the humor in it, though, and I figure, what the hey? might as well continue on around the rock formation and come in from the other side. So I get my suitcase and start trekking down the wash, which is actually a little harder packed than the road I was on (most of the time). As I keep going, I see more, and more, and more of the wall that surrounds Bait Ali, and eventually I see where it ends. Right up against the rock face. I believe I actually could have climbed over it, but I thought that entering any sort of Arabic compound - even a camp catering to tourists - by climbing over a wall unannounced, might not be my best idea. However, I can't drag my suitcase back all that way, so I leave it partially concealed behind a boulder, and walk back around, coming in from the direction I should have in the first place. I figure out where to check in, and announce my presence, and explain my little snafu. Mr. Mark (as I later learn he is called) says no problem and asks me to have a seat. So I sit. And sit. And sit. It was about 8:30 when I got there. 9:30 when I decided I should have breakfast. 10 when I decide to explore, and climb the stairs leading up the Bait Ali side of the rock formation, just in time to see a guy set off from the village that I originally thought was my camp, to investigate the mysterious suitcase, ('Is it a joke? Some sort of terrorist threat?' No, sir, just your random moment of stupidity.), which was soon retrieved by the staff. It was around 10:30 when I sat down to read, and then fell asleep, and close to 12 when I woke up from my nap. STILL my room wasn't ready. Yes, I understood that check out wasn't until 11, but I was kind of perturbed because these guys are supposed to be running a business, involving all sorts of cool things - 4WD tours, camel treks, horse treks, wind sailing, just to name a few - and yet nobody asked me what, if anything, I wanted to do that day or the next. I probably should have been more proactive, but I was a little unsure of my footing, considering I didn't even have a room yet. So I just waited. When I finally got my room, I was so tired from my detour and waiting all morning, that I spent most of the afternoon in my chalet...which I shelled out more for than either my room in Amman or in Petra, because I wanted more security than in a tent, yet the lock didn't even work properly. I should have complained about it, but I had already kind of complained about my room not being ready any faster, and kind of felt like anything would have fallen on deaf ears. So I slept with my suitcase propped in front of the door, and kept my passport on me. Anyways, in the chalet (a little two-bed concrete hut), I started reading an Agatha Christie book I traded up for in Istanbul, and when the sun was a little less fierce, I decided I'd go swimming in their pool (another reason I was ready to shell out so much money). I got changed and went to the pool, and when I got in, I swear it was colder than the naeng-tangs at the saunas in Korea. Of course, I guess it doesn't make any sense to heat a pool in the middle of a Jordanian desert, but on the flip side, it makes it awfully hard to swim in when it's NOT summer. I managed to get in as far as my waist, but then I gave up. I sat by the pool, drying and reading for a while, eventually changed, and ate dinner, which was pretty good.
At some point during day 1 I'd talked to someone about taking a camel trek. He didn't really speak English, and I definitely don't speak Arabic, but he kind of understood that I wanted a four hour camel trek, which I amended to 3 hours when he said it was going to cost me 50 dinar...that dropped the price to 35 dinar, which was way more than Lonely Planet quoted, but my Jordan guide was a few years old and many of the prices were wrong, so I just went with it. When we started to leave the compound the next day, he drove off from Bait Ali in the wrong direction for the visitor center. I'm still not entirely sure about what was going on, I saw at least one camel at the camp, and maybe I was supposed to use their camels and trek outside the protected area, but the whole point of going there was to SEE WADI RUM, and we weren't actually in Wadi Rum, so I managed to communicate that I wanted to go to the protected area, that I wanted to see Jebel Rum, and he changed course.
When we got to the visitor center, I paid for my permit and he was talking to some people. While I was waiting for him to figure out whatever it was, I looked at the map, and it listed prices for camel treks, and guess what, rock fans? They were the same as in my Lonely Planet. So I pointed out the discrepancy, and we 'talked' about what I wanted to see, and then set off for Rum village, where he left me in the care of an 11-year old boy, who it seemed was going to lead the camel, on foot, for the next four hours. Except that he stopped by his house in the village for something, and while I was waiting his father came along, and when he heard where we were going, he had some sort of problem with it, I guess that the kid was going to be out too late, or that it was going to get dark, so we went BACK to the enclosure where the camels were kept, I dismounted and got on another camel, and he headed home in a huff. My new guide was a few years older, and the only stop he wanted to make was for cigarettes...and if I'd known that's what he wanted, I don't think I would have given him the dinar he asked for (the other kid got soda and bread from the store, how was I supposed to know?) Anyways, we went off away from civilization, and saw some cool rocks, and I had him head back to the village early because I didn't want him to be out after dark, paid him the originally agreed upon price, and he told me to go ask someone at the Rest House for a ride back to Bait Ali. So I did, and the guy and I agreed on a price of 5 dinar (probably because I said that's all I had), and he said he'd be back with his Pajero in 10 minutes.
Well, he came back, and actually, he had to go out into the desert to help some of his tourists get set up for the night. It was creeping up on 6 now, and I didn't really care - actually, I kind of got to see more of Wadi Rum this way, at sunset no less - but I wanted to be back in time to shower before dinner (I wasn't, but oh well). I got back to Bait Ali alright, and ate dinner, and went to take my shower before an early bedtime, because I was supposed to catch the 7 a.m. bus to Aqaba the next day. Went into the public shower - which I hadn't used yet because, really, I was riding a camel that day, who needs to shower before riding a camel? - and turned on the water, which was just a skoash cooler than lukewarm, and I hadn't even turned on the cold water. I tried all the stalls, with the same result, and determined there was nothing else for it but to take a cold shower. Not particularly pleasant. I repacked my stuff and went to bed after setting my alarm for 6, figuring that would give me more than enough time to get ready, check out, and make my way up to the main access road. I was wrong on that one, too. For my own convenience, I'm more or less cutting and pasting - without consent of the recipient - the scoop on my departure from Bait Ali from an email I wrote to Evil Incarnate. I took for granted that I'd be able to check out in time this morning to catch the 7 a.m. bus down from Wadi Rum, and when the camp staff finally got up and around and checked me out - yes, I should have paid my bill the previous night, but, like I said, I took it for granted SOMEONE would be around - and I huffed and puffed my way up to the main access road, I'd missed it. So I abandoned my suitcase (for the third time in this little misadventure) in the ditch next to the railroad tracks running next to the access road and went back to the camp, got a little snippy with Mr. Mark, because as far as I knew, that was the only bus and a taxi was going to cost me about $35 - $42, had him call it anyways, because I had to be on the ferry, and was waiting for it to arrive when a bus to Aqaba drove up. I've never been so happy in the whole trip (and never felt like such a wench, either - for getting snippy, and for the fact that the taxi that was supposed to pick me up was coming from Aqaba - but I guess life goes on). So I got to Aqaba alright and at a minimum of expenditure, and there was even a dude heading to the ferry who I shared a cab with. Got there, went to buy my ticket, and found out I didn't have enough cash. Alright, so I thought I'd go get some money out of the ATM, since they didn't take credit cards...but it turns out that there IS no ATM at the passenger terminal. I had to go all the way back to Aqaba proper to withdraw money. Today reminded me of WHY I disliked the middle east with such vehemence, and after telling the taxi driver that I didn't want to cross into Egypt via Israel because most other Arab countries wouldn't allow me entry if they could see I'd been through Israel, I found myself wondering if that wouldn't be such a bad thing...might prevent further lapses of judgment. Anyways, once at the dock, once I had my ticket, I bumped into my friend from Petra Kitchen
(did I write about my amazing cooking class experience yet? Oh well, another time...), Isabel (she's the one in the keffiyeh), and it turned out she was in the same tour group as the random foreigners I met in Amman, Phee, Carol, and Carol, and their tour leader, Peter, let me follow their group around like a lost puppy, which did a pretty good job of calming me down and streamlining my entry into Egypt. The End.