Pernik, Bulgaria – A Brisk winter Walk – #saturdayslideshow

Pernik BulgariaTravel to the places that don’t make it into most magazines or guidebooks is usually much more interesting and exciting than reading about Bali or Boracay from yet another person who has ‘discovered it’. Certainly I didn’t discover Pernik, but it was a pleasure to get to see it in this way.

We woke up bright and early to go up into the forest with my friend Borislav’s grandfather. He was much more bright eyed than either of us, but one thing I figured out quickly is that Balkan people can drink all day and all night and seem to not suffer from it at all. And they usually seem to start the day with a shot of schnapps.

As for me, I usually suffer if I drink the night before. The sidewalk was icy and it was C-O-L-D but that didn’t stop this 80+ year old man from being the first one down the street, the first one up the hill, and the first one to wherever he was leading us. To be fair though, usually the one doing the leading should go first.

He led us past the nuclear reactors and over the river and then past this amazing testosterone driven machine where the testosterone apparently gave out with a flat tire. Then we crossed the road and went up among the gypsy houses and gypsy dogs.

Now, let me be honest here. These were very kind, simple, and humble people. Their apartment was anything but luxurious but filled their needs. That’s why when we got to the massive house they live in during the summer, I was so surprised. It was gorgeous. Decorated like a boutique hotel, each room different with a different flavor. In the basement, the canned preserves, the still, and the big vats of wine just sitting and waiting to be poured into old coke bottles.

The weather was turning worse, we took a winding path through trees and down icy trails and no one fell but if they had I would have remembered Katya telling me that the funniest thing in the world is the confused look on people’s face when they realized they are no longer standing up. Even if it was me.

Finally, our historic guide decided to go back home where it was warm and asked Borislav to complete the tour by showing me the various monuments and statues in the town of Pernik. In fact, we did see those but given the blue faces we had, we deemed it best to duck into a cafe and grab some coffee.

We did manage to see the old church, the statue of the town protector, the old mining building, and some other statues and monuments that the cold weather made impossible for me to remember.

After that we went back to his grandparents for lunch with his aunt and while there was some rakia, I avoided getting so much of the hospitality of these wonderful people this time that my head would feel like it might explode.

 

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Pernik Bulgaria

Doing Rome on the Cheap and on the Fly

Doing Rome on the Cheap and on the Fly

Rome on the CheapAfter visiting Paris in 2 days, Amsterdam in 1 day, Washington DC in a weekend, I’ve now seen Rome in 3 days. And I’ve learned some new lessons about traveling. You can do Rome on the cheap. First, when you take a quick 3-day vacation to see a city, you should have three goals.

1. See as much as you can.

2. Don’t break the bank. Nothing replenishes your stress faster than being broke.

3. Don’t get exhausted. Remember, this is a vacation. You don’t want to be so tired you need to go on another siesta when you get back to work.

Also, you need to have enough money to get home from the airport when you return. Here are some tips to help you enjoy experiencing Rome, Italy no matter how small your wallet or how tight your time frame.

Forego Hostels in Rome:For lodging, you want cleanliness and security so you don’t have to carry and worry about your valuables all throughout the day. You get more than that from La Casa per Ferie Preziossisimo Sangue. Each room (Single, double, triple or quadruple) has its own bathroom, and the card key locks are the electronic sort. The place is run with the attention to detail of a hotel, complete with bed turndown, housekeeping, little shampoos, towels, soap and climate control in each room. There is a continental breakfast in the morning. The nuns are friendly and genuinely interested in why different travelers sojourn to Rome. Their religious spirituality appears to fuel their passion to provide a place of true respite each person’s journey. I have to say, this is one of the nicest hotel experiences I have ever had. The shower (Complete with hot water and great water pressure) was better than mine at home. There is Wifi and a television as well. There is a curfew of 12am, but after walking around Rome all day, you’ll be more than glad to retire here! Prices range from 35 Euros to 52 Euros per night, depending on the “High” or “Low” tourist season.

Food: When it comes to food and drink in Rome, resist the urge to hunt down the “Best (Insert food item here)”. Instead, make Borgo Pio, a side street close to the Vatican Museum, the main stop in your dining experience. Yes, the restaurants are for tourists, but they’re for Italian tourists and a quality 10 Euro authentic Italian meal is easily available until 11pm. The warm air, the Italian cappuccino, the quintessential romantic Italian waiter, yes it’s all worth it!

Transportation: For city-wide travel, don’t waste time learning a new Subway system. Instead, pay E17 for a 2-day See Rome bus tour. The bus runs a circuit around 9 tourist destinations in Rome every 20 minutes, so you don’t have to tire yourself out by walking in the heat. Spend as much time as you want at each general locale with no annoying tour guide to drag you everywhere. Stops include the Pantheon, St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, the Coliseum and Rome Termini train station. If you do want a little more information about the places you see, the bus offers headphones and a tour recording in a number of languages. Take pictures from the open-air rooftop seats and enjoy the breeze as you watch pedestrians swelter!

For snacks in the heat, never pay over 2 Euros for gelato, or over 1 Euro for bottled water. Walk 2 blocks from any tourist attraction and the price of both immediately goes down. Or go native, and fill your water bottle up at the freshwater fountains.

Sightseeing for Free: If you don’t want to pay the entry fee, instead of seeing the Coliseum from the inside (a time-consuming 2 hour hike through old ruins to the site), behold its majesty on the outside. You can still touch it, snap pictures of it and walk around the entire edifice. However, you can do it in 45 minutes, and the bus drops you off at the immediate location. No long treks, and plenty of time to enjoy a drink.

Instead of paying to see the Sistine Chapel (Which has pretty much lost its “Sacred” appeal thanks to the throngs of tourists), try St. Peter’s Square at night. The soft glow of lights from the Vatican create a beautiful picture, and in the center of Rome it is safe to let the atmosphere enchant you during an evening walk.

You can’t take pictures in the Sistine Chapel, but you can take photographs in St. Peter’s Basilica. The church in St. Peter’s Square is filled with breathtaking paintings to rival even – yes, the Sistine Chapel. It is free to enter, and you have to be respectful of the religious setting, but if you arrive at 9am, you miss the crushing crowds.

Rome doesn’t need to break your bank or your back. It will definitely break your heart to leave.

Northern Italy Sky

Northern Italy Sky

Northern Italy Sky

I’ve been many places but there are few that have the same kind of sky as Northern Italy. There is something truly magnificent and magic about the color and the texture of the sky there. My photo can’t describe it but if you’ve seen it, you know exactly what I mean.

Off the Beaten Track in Paris – Get your Baton in Gear!

Paris off the beaten track
…Eiffel Tower…Louvre...Champs-Elysées; been there, done that – it was fun, but there’s more to Paris than this. The City of Light is full of wonderful hidden gems; you just need to know where to find them. Join me on a little tour, away from drunk English, moody French and bossy Germans, and discover off the beaten track in Paris.

Sewers of Paris
Paris has one of the most remarkable sewer networks in the world and you can now see it with your own eyes! Take a tour down under to learn more about the history of this huge sewer system. Definitely a different view of the city.

Goutte d’Or
Take metro line 4 and hop off at Chateau Rouge. The nearby Goutte d’Or district has a lot of inhabitants of African origin. These people know good food, so whilst wandering around, make sure to check out one (or more) of the many restaurants. Also not to miss is the street market at Rue Dejean, which is held every day but Monday.

Paris off the beaten trackThe Great Mosque of Paris
The beautiful Mosque of Paris was inaugurated in 1926 to honor the North African countries that had helped France during World War I. You’re most welcome to visit the Mosque and join a tour of the building, the courtyard, the Moorish garden and the marble Turkish baths whilst enjoying a cup of mint tea.

Le Marais
Le Marais owes its beautiful buildings of historic and architectural importance to its former inhabitants, the Parisian aristocracy. When they moved to a different district, Le Marais became home of Paris’ main Jewish community. Nowadays, Le Marais is one of Paris’ most popular districts, housing art galleries, fashion houses and uber trendy restaurants.

Sainte Chapelle
Everyone knows Notre Dame and Sacré Coeur, but Paris has a lot more beautiful churches that are well worth a visit. Sainte Chapelle is one of them. Located at Île de la Cité, this stunning structure is a prime example of ‘rayonnant’ Gothic architecture. Both interior and exterior will blow your mind, but the real show-stealers are without a doubt the huge stained glass windows.

Paris off the beaten trackButtes Chaumont
If you feel like getting out of the city crowd, why not head to a lovely public garden? With all its attractions, Parc des Buttes Chaumont is more than just a park. There are several cliffs and bridges, a huge waterfall, a lake and several beautiful gardens. An absolute must-see is the belvedere of Sybil, a Corinthian style monument, situated at the top of a 30 meter high rock.

Lapin Agile
If you’re looking for some entertainment and queuing for Moulin Rouge is not your idea of fun, a visit to the Lapin Agile might be just the thing for you. The Montmartre cabaret owes its fame to renowned artists like Picasso and Apollinaire. Sit down at a wooden table and enjoy a range of French songs, some dating back decades.

Buddhist Temple
Do you like surprises? Take a metro to Paris’ Chinatown! At the Avenue d’Ivry you’ll find the Buddhist temple L’Amicale des Teochews de France. Just around the corner is the beautiful decorated pagoda of the Temple de l’Association des Résidents d’Origine Indochinoise, which is hidden in an underground passage that looks like a parking garage entrance. The best things are found where you don’t expect them!

Catacombs
Deep down beneath the beautiful streets of the city, you can check out the remains of 6 million people in Paris’ catacombs. Based in the underground tunnels of what once were Paris’ stone mines, this unique museum is more than worth a visit, if you can deal with some smell and cold. Visits aren’t recommended for young children.

Paris off the beaten trackThe Passer-Through-Walls
In the Montmartre district, at Place Marcel Aymé, you’ll find a famous statue called Le Passe-Muraille (or The Passer-Through-Walls). The sculpture is based a short story of French novelist and cross-genre writer Marcel Aymé, about a man who discovers he can walk through walls. Definitely a must-see if you’re in the neighborhood.

Do yourself a favor on your next trip to Paris: leave the flocking to the sheep, and you’re bound to enjoy a different perspective of the city…you’re also less likely to get fleeced. One more thing – if you happen to pass boulangerie Paul on Rue Buci give a little wave – chances are I’ll be sitting outside sipping a frappe and trying to guess your nationality.

Pooping in the Christmas Manger – A Catalan Tradition

This was the first Christmas blog I ever posted – waaaaaay back in 2005….things were different then, this was a different blog, but it’s still a fun bit of Christmas!

Pooping in the Christmas mangerPooping in the manger. Okay…this is a Christmas tradition I can get behind. I love this. Here is an explanation for this strange Spanish Christmas custom from Wikipedia.

The Story Behind Pooping in the Manger

A Caganer is a little statue unique to Catalonia, and neighbouring areas with Catalan culture such as Andorra.

In Catalonia, as in most of Italy, South France and Spain, the traditional Christmas decoration is a large model of the city of Bethlehem, similar to American Nativity scenes that encompasses the entire city rather than just the typical manger scene. The Catalans have added an extra character that is not found in the manger scenes of any other culture. In addition to Mary, Joseph, Jesus, the Shepherds and company, Catalans have the character known as the Caganer. This extra little character is often tucked away in some corner of the model, typically nowhere near the manger scene, where he is not easily noticed. There is a good reason for his obscure position in the display, for “caganer” translates from Catalan to English as “defecator”, and that is exactly what this little statue is doing — defecating.

The reasons for placing a man who is in the act of excreting solid waste from his posterior in a scene which is widely considered holy are as follows:

  1. Just tradition.
  2. Scatological humor.
  3. Finding the Caganer is a fun game, especially for children.
  4. The Caganer, by creating feces, is fertilizing the Earth. However, this is probably an a posteriori explanation, and nobody would say they put the Caganer on the Nativity scene for this reason.
  5. The Caganer represents the equality of all people e.g. regardless of status, race, gender everyone defecates.

Pooping in the Christmas mangerThe exact origin of the Caganer is lost, but the tradition has existed since the 18th century. Originally, the Caganer was portrayed as a Catalan peasant wearing a traditional hat called a barretina — a red stocking hat with a black band.

The Catalans have modified this tradition somewhat since the 1940s. In addition to the traditional caganer design, you can easily find other characters assuming the caganer position, such as nuns, devils, Santa Claus, celebrities, athletes, historical figures, politicians, Spanish royalty, and other famous people past and present, including Pope John Paul II, Salvador Dalí, prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Princess Letizia and even Osama bin Laden.

The practice is tolerated by the local Catholic church. Caganers are easiest to find before Pooping in the Christmas mangerChristmas in holiday markets, like the one in front of the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia, which has tables and tables of caganers. Caganers have even been featured in art exhibits.

The caganer is not the only defecating character in the Catalan Christmas tradition—another is the Tió de Nadal, which also makes extensive use of the image of human waste production. Other mentions of feces and defecation are common in Catalan folklore. One popular Catalan phrase before eating says “menja bé, caga fort!” (Eat well, shit strong!).

How Not To Enjoy World Travel – Part 2

world travel tipsThis is the second part in an ongoing series about how to have the worst time possible during your world travels. Here is the link to part 1.

http://www.vagobond.com/how-not-to-enjoy-world-travel-part-1/

4. Don’t Read
To me, reading is an essential part of travel. As far as I’m concerned, if you are one of those people who ‘doesn’t like to read’ than you are one of those people who should stay home and not travel.

Don’t read anything about the country of place you are going to. That way you won’t understand the culture, the traditions, the history, the climate, or anything else. You will be able to have a completely one dimensional experience. If you should read, for example, about how it is rude to point the bottoms of your feet at someone in Thailand, then you’ll miss out on the ass kicking that results when the kick-boxer tells you to stop pointing your feet at him and you continue to do it. You wouldn’t want to miss that.

Or if you read, you might feel compelled to go fifteen kilometers out of your way on the way between Seattle, Washingon and Vancouver, British Columbia and visit the remote and gorgeous Scenic Hot Springs. Wouldn’t that suck?

Don’t read on your trip. Don’t discover that Mark Twain stayed in the same hotel you are visiting in Honolulu (The Moana Surfrider) or that the lovely looking picnic spot in Cebu, Philippines is where Lapu Lapu ate a famous explorer. Who needs to know details like that?

Don’t read when you are stuck at the airport. It’s much better to just sit and get angry at the workers or eat overpriced food. Don’t read at the beach because it’s much better to sit there wondering what to do now that you are done swimming.

Yes, if you don’t want to enjoy world travel, it is essential that you not read.

world travel tips5) Don’t talk to anyone unless you have to

If you want to have horrible and meaningless travels, don’t talk to anyone unless you have to. Don’t talk to the man next to you on the airplane or bus, he might be a Chinese businessman who would invite you to visit his home and stay with his family.

Don’t talk to the guy who works at the hotel unless you need towels or directions. If he thinks “Hey, this is a nice person” he might actually tell you someplace that he doesn’t recommend to every other rude tourist. You might end up going to a tiny temple in Penang, Malaysia instead of going to the big one that has eighteen tourist buses outside it.

Don’t talk to people in the street. They might try to sell you something. They might want to practice English with you. They might want to share a bit of their culture or learn something about yours. Wow, wouldn’t it be a bummer if that Indonesian guy learned that the USA is not just like Bay Watch and Jerry Springer? Don’t talk to him.

If you want to NOT enjoy your travels, do not talk unless you need something.

world travel tips6) Don’t learn any of the local language

Finally, if you want to be absolutely certain that you don’t enjoy your world travel, pretend your a British Colonist and refuse to speak the local language.

Don’t say Tarima Kasih in Indonesia, don’t ask where to get the gonggongcheecha in China, don’t say Yvet in Turkey, don’t show the grocer in Barcelona you can understand the uno, dos, tres, don’t speak French in Paris (I found Parisians to be very gracious about my bad French), don’t say shukran in Morocco, kapcun kap in Thailand, daijobu in Japan, bollacks in England, dude in California, wienerschnitzel in Germany, or Mahalo in Hawaii.

Speaking the language encourages people to learn about you, to teach about their culture, to make friends, to have relationships, to even fall in love. There is nothing miserable about any of that. So if you want to Not enjoy the world of travel…don’t speak the local language.
Got more tips about how to NOT enjoy world travel, why not leave a comment below or send your tips to me using the contact form.

Sleeping with Ghosts – London’s Georgian House Hotel

Back in 2012, I was in London, England for the World Travel Market. At the time I was fortunate to be doing a lot of international travel to places like Egypt, Spain, and the Balkans. I determined that I wasn’t going to stay anywhere that wasn’t extraordinary in some way. I found some incredible places – a houseboat on the Thames, an incredibly luxurious hotel with a 007 theme, and a Victorian era house converted into a hotel that is reliably reported as being haunted. For that one, I have to give credit to my friend Matthew, who made the recommendation for me. I’ve heard that since that time, Georgian House has turned into a Harry Potter themed hotel! I may have to go back.

I’m very happy to re-share the story of the Georgian House Hotel.

Haunted Hospitality at an incredibly good price!

Georgian HouseThe building that houses the Georgian House Hotel dates back to the mid 19th century and has a certain elegant and timeless feel to it. I would imagine it was haunted even if I didn’t know it only because all of old London feels like a scary old horror film to me. Don’t misunderstand me though – it’s lovely and well maintained.

Since I was there at one of the busier times of the year, most hotels were charging a minimum of a few hundred GBP per night for a room, but I was extremely surprised to find that I could stay at Georgian House for just 69 GBP per night for a room that didn’t have a toilet ensuite. It had a sink, coffee service, TV, internet, and a very comfy bed, but the toilet and shower were two steps out the door across the hallway.  Incredibly convenient even if I had to open my door and the price – magnificent.

My favorite part of the Georgian House Hotel? The breakfast. While there is a buffet, the breakfast menu is cooked to order. Eggs Benedict, salmon and cream cheese bagel – yeah – that’s my kind of place.

Georgian HouseI was lucky to come back after an open house and got to drink champagne with the staff and owner, Serena one night. They told stories about the ghosts and I got to learn that the building had been in Serena’s family for a long time.

As for the ghosts…the house  is haunted by several ghosts, including that of an unknown man who has been seen in one the basement staff rooms.  Serena said that the staffer woke with the man sitting on the end of her bed but then he got up and walked out. The staffer came down asking who had come in her room the night before but found out that she had the only key and the door was locked.

Whether or not this is the same ghostly figure that has been seen in the kitchen and one of the top floor bedrooms (#11 if you dare) is unknown.

Georgian HouseSuffice it to say he, or they, are harmless spirits who are more than content to appear for a few fleeting moments and then be gone as they go about  their business. Serena has no idea who they might be since the houses were formerly apartments and they no longer have the records for who lived there.

The ghosts of two children have also been seen flitting about the upper floors. They first appeared when a guest on the next floor down came to reception to complain about the noisy children playing above him. On that night, there were no guests on the top floor!  On another occasion Serena says that she spoke to them when they appeared and assured them that they were welcome to visit on the upper floors only. Sadly, they didn’t show while I was there.  I would have liked to have seen them.

This is a lovely old hotel in central London, not too far from Queen Charlotte Station and a nice walk away from many of the major sites. In addition to the basic rooms on the top floor, there doubles with ensuite, and apartments for families. I highly recommend this lovely old hotel – ghosts and all.

To book a room, you can visit http://www.georgianhousehotel.co.uk/. Tell them Vago sent you to see the ghosts.

Arriving in Rome – Scaring the Indians

Colleseuem in RomeI arrived around 10 pm and as usual, I had no idea where I was going to stay, but I figured Rome would be pretty easy to find a place to stay in. I had met an Argentine backpacker named Josephina on the plane and she asked if I was heading to the center called Termini. That was actually all that I had planned. She spoke no English and my Spanish is terrible, but we somehow found the cheap bus to Termini and she indicated she was going to a hostel and I should check it out. I agreed. The Rome Airport Shuttle took us to Termini for 15 Euro each.

Once at Termini we used the maps and addresses she had printed out to wander around the dark streets of Rome around midnight looking for a hostel. Finally, after asking a half dozen very friendly Romans who spoke neither Spanish or English, we found it. Josephina was in, but as for me and the Indian guys who had been leaving when we arrived, there was no room for us. After a few minutes, the clerk told me “I’m sorry, we have no room, but follow those Indian guys that left a few minutes ago, I sent them to our other hostel, just go out and go right and follow them.”

I said goodbye to Josphina and ran out the door. The Indian guys were already well down the street and so I ran to catch up. Not wanting to scare them, I began to shout as I got closer and had exactly the opposite effect since after all it was 1 am in the rough streets around Termini station and a madman they didn’t know was running at them and shouting “Hey, are you the Indian guys? Do you speak English?”

The two of them split apart and began to run in opposite directions!!!! Stuck between the desire to feel bad for scaring them and the desire to laugh as they reacted just as the lovable guys in Bollywood films would have, I stopped and shouted “The guy from the hostel told me to follow you, he has no more room.”

They both stopped and we trudged down the streets and into the darkness together, a strange trio looking for a place to sleep. Eventually, we found a room for the three of us to share, we went out for a late night beer and some pizza, and we all became friends.

The important part was that I had arrived in Rome. The funny part was that I was sharing a room with two Indian guys I scared the crap out of by chasing them down the streets at 1 am. Here is a fun little slideshow of a few things I saw in Rome over the next few days…

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My Welcome to the Blogville House in Bologna, Italy

Bologna, Italy - BlogvilleWhen I came to Bologna, I had no idea that I was the first Blogville guest – when I say the first, I mean the first ever! As a result, I was met by the organizers and welcomed to the house with a lot of enthusiasm and some delicious treats. Actually, the house is filled with delicious products from the region, but I was fortunate to get a detailed introduction to not only the house and the organizers (Nicholas, Andrea, Emmanuelle, and Giovani) but also to some of the delicious products and treats.

Living Room, BlogvilleThe house is a beautiful apartment (3000 Euro per month!!!) set in the center of Bologna, easy walking to all the major museums and furnished with comfortable chic furniture (of course, because it’s Italy). Each of us if given a remote wifi router, a Blogville card which grants us access to all the major museums, a free trip or two, and much more (including info, friends and suggestions and help).

Wine and cheese in bolognaSalame Felino – named for a small town in the green Baganza Valley where herds of pigs were raised in the past – this was a very sweet and very ‘wet’ (25-30% pork fat + white wine) salami. Perhaps too wet for me but the CEO of loved it. Interestingly, the word salami comes from the Latin root for salt ‘als’ which became ‘sal’ – the art of Sami making goes back quite a long while with the first bas-relief associated with the astrological sign aquarius going back to the 12th century. This particular salami is raw, not cooked – which I don’t exactly know how to feel about.

More enjoyable was the Piadina de  Romagna (pita?)which comes from the Sillaro River region. To put it in American terms, this is a delicious flour tortilla. The thickness varies, but in general – it was flour tortillas heated up – which I quite like.

Finally and most enjoyable was Pignoletto Wine which comes from the south and west hills of Bologna. Monte San Pietro is the place where the grapes are said to be the best. Consorzio Vini Colli Bolognesi which was founded in 1971 (just like I was) oversees and promotes the wines.

Blogville BolognaPignoletto is a very distinctive grape which began with Pliny the Elder who said in the 1st century “Pino Leto, not sweet enough to be good” but actually, he was wrong – it is good. This was a light, refreshing and sparkling white wine which was actually very good.  Pignoletto Frizzante of 2011 from Gaggioli.

Wine and cheese in BolognaAfterwards, the fellas taught me how to make an Italian Espresso using a mocha (like we use in Morocco, actually) and Segafredo coffee which is also a product of the region. Then before bed, I had a glass of the Sangiovese di Romagna which according to legend comes from when the Capuchin Fathers of the Santarcangelo convent served some of their wine to a distinguished guest – when he asked the name, they didn’t have one – so one of the monks said it was ‘Blood of Jupitor’ since it was Red and the convent was on Jupitor Hill which in time became ‘Sangiovese’. This was a delicious dark ruby red wine with mild tannins and a dry aftertaste that was ever so slightly (and enjoyably) bitter. Very nice indeed.

If you want to check out the whole region, blogville, and more check out the following links.  By the way…one of the cool aspects of this project is that they’ve said – you don’t have to do anything, promote or do what you want….it’s up to you! Literally, here is a bit from the terms and conditions…

It’s up to you! We are happy to give you bloggers complete freedom and trust. We are sure that you are going to do a great job and we want you to write about what really cares for you and your readers!
Official hashtag is #blogville and mentions on twitter can be made @BlogVilleEmRom. The official site to include in the posts for information about the Emilia Romagna iswww.emiliaromagnaturismo.com

By the way, here are my first impressions recorded by the Blogville gang…rumour has it that we are going to be interviewed by Cosmopolitan – yes, that Cosmo.

Izmir Sunday in a Friendly Turkish Home

We voyaged to Izmir this Sunday to meet up with a Moroccan friend my wife made on her flight here. Nice to have a different location for this week. Sunday in… Izmir, Turkey.

Hanane’s ability to make new friends will never cease to amaze me. In this case, her new friend is a Moroccan woman married to a Turkish man. Her husband is in Morocco and she and her sister are staying with her in-laws in Izmir. they sat next to each other on the plane and then exchanged facebook and skype info and have been chatting ever since. One evening they even had both of their families join in the conversation!
Turkey loves Moroccans!
We woke up, had a late Sunday breakfast and caught the bus to Izmir which costs just six lira each. The girl, Souad, her sister Wafa, and her father in law picked us up at the bus station and drove us around Izmir. Fishermen in Izmir, TurkeyWe had a nice walk along the water and then went to Souad’s in-laws house where we had a wonderful Turkish lunch/dinner and enjoyed the afternoon in a lovely Turkish home. Souad’s little boy is cute as a bug and her father in law showed me his garden filled with grapes, pomegranites, olives, and hot hot peppers.
I know just how hot because after eating some at dinner, I stupidly reached up and touched my eye! It hurt like hell, but for some reason, that kind of pain, like tattoos, I’ve never really minded. I don’t know quite how to explain that, so I’ll just leave it there.
Dinner was a Turkish soup, followed by beans, followed by kifta (lamb meatballs) with wild rice and yogurt/cucumber sauce. After dinner, a lovely cup of Turkish coffee, followed by nuts, followed by chocolate. Needless to say, I feel like I might explode.Our Friend's Father in Law in Turkey
They were all lovely people and we had a very nice day. It was especially nice for Hanane, I think, because I know how nice it is to connect with your expat community when you are living abroad. Since this is her first time living outside of Morocco, I’m guessing from the smile on her face that this was a very nice Sunday in Izmir. For me too it was nice, though it was somewhat confusing to have to change channels from English to Turkish and back to Moroccan again, but I wasn’t alone. At one point Souad started to explain something to her Turkish mother-in-law, but she was doing it in Darija while the woman smiled in confusion. We all laughed together about it.
Izmir statue of Attaturk
After way too much food, Turkish coffee, nuts, and chocolate they drove us back to the bus station and we headed back home.
I really love Sundays, wherever I am. That’s why I pretty much always make it a condition of any job that I never work on them.At least not for anyone but myself.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t such a good Sunday in Istanbul where two bombs by separatists killed seventeen or more people. While Turkey is generally safe and wonderful, Kurdish separatists have been growing increasingly violent over the past few years. I’m glad to be somewhere that isn’t ‘important’ enough to be a target for them.

What am I doing here? Manisa, Turkey

I live in a small Turkish city called Manisa and while it is an interesting place with lots of interesting stories to tell, I don’t really want to be here all the time.
One thing I’ve learned in years of wandering around is that if you don’t take the time to appreciate and enjoy the time when you don’t really have anything to do, you end up looking back on it with some regret. Sure, I’m bored now, but that could change at any time and so I need to just let myself fall into the zen-like state of slack. I have almost done that. And while I still find myself wishing that my life were more exciting, I’m actually enjoying the sensation of boredom.
the Street in Manisa Turkey
I had kind of expected that I would have friends here that would be willing to show me around, share insider knowledge, and maybe teach me some things about Turkish life, but that hasn’t really happened. The teachers I work with are either busy teaching or just disinterested. The students are busy with work and classes. And the expats, well, as soon as I arrived the one I was going to share a house with split.
So, here I am. In Manisa and my days are fairly simple. I wake up, try to force myself to do some yoga and go running (about 50% successful) and then I head to work. I teach for a few hours and then I have a few hours during the hot part of the day so I come home, make lunch and study a little Turkish, check my email, and perhaps do some online work. Then I go back to work and at around 10:30 I come back home, make some dinner, watch some TV on the computer, and maybe read a bit before going to bed. I usually talk with Hanane a little bit either in the afternoon or before I go to bed and we sometimes play battleship on Skype. That’s my life, six days a week.
Since I haven’t had a camera and since I sort of want to save most of my sight-seeing for when Hanane gets here, I’ve sort of avoided checking out the old mosques or doing the other sight-seeing kind of things.
But, now, since I got my Samsung Star semi-smart phone, I have a camera and today was my one day a week off. Sunday. So, without further ado…I introduce a new feature here at Vagobond. Each Sunday, I will try to do a little exploring or will just document my rather humdrum day. If I go somewhere else it will be Sunday in…wherever but since I am in Manisa, Turkey, here it is.
Sunday in …. Manisa.
My roommate left the house with no gas for hot water and no light bulbs aside from one or two in the room he was in.
I told the school and they told me they would have gas delivered. They didn’t tell me I would have to pay the toothless boy who brought it. In addition, he couldn’t make the gas water heater work and neither could I. I’ve been with nothing but cold showers for my time here, which isn’t awful since it’s warm and Hanane isn’t here.
When the boy arrived, I didn’t have money but luckily the guys who run the little market across the street loaned me 20 lira. Natural gas here is expensive. 54 lira for a canister. This all happened last week. I told the school about my cold showers but nothing happened, so I told them again and they told me that the landlord would come either Sunday or Monday. They didn’t tell me which.
So, I woke up on my day off not knowing if I really could go and do anything at all or whether I had to stay at the house. I called the school and they told me ‘Oh yeah’ the landlord will come on Monday. It didn’t make much difference to me.
Since I had the camera and the day off though, I decided to walk around and take random pictures. This is the little store that loaned me 20 lira.
 Manisa, Turkey
Here is the view up the street.

The other direction are the train tracks. Crossing them, I saw this little ruin and thought it worth a picture.
 Manisa, Turkey
Then I found this beautiful old locomotive. I climbed up in the engineers cabin, but someone had taken a big dump in it, so I didn’t stay.
 Manisa, Turkey
I walked around a big stadium and one of these horse drawn wagons built on an auto chassis that I love in both Turkey and Morocco came down the street. My camera was out too late though to capture the big peasant ladies who were driving it.
 Manisa, Turkey
Back across the tracks, I encountered what I think was a wedding since there were lots of women waving scarves out the window. The wedding procession is led by a big traditional band playing in the back of a flatbed truck. This is the same as the circumcision parade for young boys but since I didn’t see any horse and carriage with little boys dressed up like fairy tale princes, I knew this wasn’t one of those.
 Manisa, Turkey
I walked up to the Manisa museum which is under construction so I couldn’t go in but I did get to see lots of marble columns and architectural pieces that are probably around 2000 years old through this gate.
 Manisa, Turkey
I took a couple of pictures of the mosques. I didn’t go in though. Not today.
 Manisa, Turkey
The statue in the roundabout is Merkez Effendi who was an ancient doctor who created the famous candy/medicine of Manisa which is called Mesir and which I will write about in detail in a future post.
 Manisa, Turkey
From there, I went to Fatih Park and took a few pictures of the Monument of National Sovereignty which was decorated with wreaths today and since I saw a lot of military guys in dress uniforms as I wandered around, I figured it must be a holiday of some sort.
 Manisa, Turkey
The Monument of National Sovereignty was built in 1985 by the sculptur Tankut Oktern. It symbolizes the public, army, and youth working together with the founder of modern Turkey, Kamal Ataturk. To me, it looked like a statue of Daniel Boone in shorts and the world’s tallest man with his normal sized family.
 Manisa, Turkey
In fact though, the Daniel Boone figure and the two warriors are ‘Zeybek’, an ancient Turkish word, meaning a wise person. The zeybek were like the samurai of Turkey.
 Manisa, Turkey
After that I bought some mesir and went to the Hollywood Cinema where I watched “The Expendables” which was in English with Turkish subtitles. It was an incredibly bad film. Bad writing, bad acting, bad everything. Awful. The mesir on the other hand was delicious spicy stickiness.
Then I walked around taking pictures of Tarzan who I will detail tomorrow in Manisa Monday. Yes, I figure one day a week devoted to the town I live in for the next year is a decent amount of time to spend…after all, what else am I going to do with all my time here?

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