Misha

musings, travel blog & musings, Uncategorized

I’ve just lost my kitty friend, my little boy, my Misha.

He was born in May 1996.

He lived with me in 9 different homes. This ninth, where I’m living for my ninth year, was his last.

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He greeted me when I came home every single time.

He was there every time I needed a furry shoulder to cry on.

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He met a lot of people over the years, he licked their head, he made himself comfortable on their laps, he somehow managed to manipulate people into scratching him with BOTH OF YOUR HANDS PLEASE, peed in their shoes, stuck his paws in their drink or in their chipotle. He had way of winning people over despite his bad habits (mostly).

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And now he’s not here, and I have absolutely no idea what to do with myself. I sit  here in my apartment empty, hurting, seeing the joyful sunlight streaming in through the windows to hit the couch where Misha should be sitting & enjoying his time in the sun. I think I see him, I even say “Hi little boy,” but he’s not there. The only thing I can think to do right now (other than the mindless practicality of the laundry from his past two days of decline) is to pour out my heart to this page in writing while scrolling through pictures. And remembering. Hoping he enjoyed his life and didn’t take TOO much offense when I worked too late into the night or the weekend on this very same machine, working instead of paying attention to him. And I’m even regretting the time I spent scrolling through social media on my phone while he stared balefully at me. While sitting right next to me or on me. Or maybe it was accusingly… he was really good at laying on the guilt. But that smart phone also captured some important and beautiful moments.

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So please forgive the ramblings of a grieving heart while I remember:

That summer  before my senior year of college when mom came home and said “Hey, the neighbors down the street have two kittens- want one?”

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That time all of senior year when his kittenhood antics were, oh, overexuberant. I know people who will corroborate.

That time when I woke up from having an odd dream about something grabbing my head from under the bed and found Misha curled around the top of my head.

That time when he howled for three hours during the drive north when I was moving to Minneapolis. When as a tiny kitten he used to sit up on my shoulder in the car.

Those times I couldn’t bear to let him on our second floor balcony because his short stopping & balance just weren’t that great.

That time we came home and found that Misha along with his cohort Foznick had completely taken over roommate Marie’s bed and laundry basket and arranged it all to their liking.

That time he weighed 14 pounds for years. Not fat, just a big little boy.

All of those times he could sense I wasn’t feeling to grand so curled right up next to me, purring. That morning I was to go in for ankle surgery and woke up to find him actually draped, laying, sleeping on that specific ankle (and subsequently the first thing he did when my boot was off was step directly on the bandaged healing incision.)

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The long greetings of alternating neediness and aloofness when returning from a long trip.

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All those times he got crabby with me because I wouldn’t let him eat plastic bags. And the zeal with which he chewed on plastic bags accidentally overlooked, then hastily hidden.

That time he had bilateral ear infections on a New Year’s Day that led to his diagnosis of hyperthyroidism.

The furniture he ruined. Goodbye gold chair. (He didn’t just sleep in this chair!)

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That time he turned a stove burner on to high when I wasn’t home.

The time I noticed all of his pacing and meowing was because he could no longer jump up on the cabinets.

That time he decided the fleece cardinals blanket was his favorite.

That time I realized he was starting to show and feel his age.

That time I found a white whisker on in his otherwise always gray face.

That time he appreciated some of my book cover designs.

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The time he really wanted my miel.

The time he really wanted my hummus.

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Those times he just really wanted all the attention.

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All of those mornings I woke to find him curled next to me, purring.

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That time he longed to be outside, seemingly.

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That time he stole a friend’s iphone. And wallet.

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That time he really wanted the flowers on the counter.

That time he decided the Crate & Barrel box in the corner was his favorite. Where just now I thought I heard him, so went to see his cute head and feet poking out of the box.

That time (er, times) he really insisted there was something in the corner and wouldn’t stop with the meowing already.

That time he stalked the ballerina.img_4169

That time he turned 20 years old.

That routine he had built up around my morning shower. How long will I absentmindedly rinse the tub with exactly two cups of water and wait for him to jump in the tub after, stuck in a routine that no longer exists?

That time he turned 20.25 years old.

That first emergency trip to the vet in late August.

The relief that I would get more time with him. More Saturday mornings lounging with cat, coffee, and cooking shows.

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That second emergency trip to the vet two weeks later. And again relief as he bounced back.

Learning how to inject subcutaneous fluids, to keep him comfortably mobile and hydrated while the inevitable happens.

That time he turned 20.5 years old, weighed 6.3 pounds, and returned to acting like he was a mere 18. Wanting ALL THE FOOD and ALL OF THE CUDDLES.

That time he gained a pound in one week, all from fluids in a swollen abdomen, that brought his remaining time into clearer focus. But he wasn’t in pain.

That time he lost interest in his food and water.

That last Saturday morning with coffee and cat and cooking shows.

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Celebrating that last Saturday evening by lounging in all the soft places and trying to take selfies with a cat who has always been distrustful of a phone in his face.

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That Sunday, November 20th, when I knew he was giving up.

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That last night when I brought him up on the bed to sleep for the night and he hadn’t the strength to get down, if he had wanted.

When he tried to get comfortable, and only seemed as such when I was rubbing his belly or touching his paws. Or scratching his ears.

That mostly sleepless night of wondering if I’d have to take him in to the vet in the morning so he wouldn’t suffer.

Waking up after a fitful couple hours of sleep to find him laying sleeping peacefully with his head cradled in my left hand.

His soft gray fur, his soft gray nose, his slightly wild green eyes, his prowling walk, his tail straight up in the air.

That November 21st, him waking up, trying to be alert, me wondering against all hope in the dim light if he was actually perking up. Turning on the light to find no, no he was not. He was trying, but I believe out of cat fear of what was happening to him. It was quick from that point. I sat with him as he drew his last breath. He went out in his own way, not wanting to wait for the vet appointment. He has his pride, after all.

That time I sobbed “is that IT???,” to a quiet early morning apartment.

That time he broke my heart.

I don’t really know how to live without a pet. There were only brief times in college when I did not have some type of animal to take care of and love. And after 20 years and 6 months of Misha, this cat is more ingrained in my life than I’m sure I even realize. What rituals did we have that I didn’t even know were rituals, made so because cats are creatures of habit. And how long will I be finding his hairballs everywhere. I don’t know any of this, but I’ll have to find out. I grieve today, and will tomorrow, and I hope it’ll get easier after that. I’ll be thankful at Thanksgiving of all of the time we had together playing, sleeping, eating, both wanting to be on the keyboard at the same time… I am thankful he was my cat, that he spent his 20.5 years with me, put up with my crazy human habits. Thankful he was such a personality. Thankful I had him as a friend. Thankful I had him at all, long enough, healthy enough, that it took him so very long to break my heart.

Goodbye my little Misha boy, I’ll miss you.

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Maui part 2: Unfinished Business

musings, travel blog & musings

I went back to Maui. 6 months after the first trip. Twice in Maui in a year, after a lifetime of not wanting to visit ever. (Well, about 28 years of that lifetime. Ever since tired of the tiresome forced banal prevalence of ‘hawaiian’ themed parties because of tackiness of decor and costume, coconuts & the intended humorous uses of, and the explosion of the phrase ‘get lei’d’ followed by a ha ha wink wink nudge nudge.) (I know, you’re thinking that’s a lot of adjectives—tiresome, forced, banal, tacky—yes it is. And that’s how I felt. Still do, actually, but only about those kinds of weird cultural appropriation party themes that I hope saw their heydey in the 90’s and have since fallen by the wayside. By now I realize plastic carnation-y looking things aren’t a good example of Hawaiian culture. The real leis are gorgeous.)

I had to go back, because unfinished business called. There were things I wanted to do or needed to finish. I had a really annoying need to go back as soon as I could to finish these nagging loose ends. Seriously, I could think of barely anything else outside of work for the six months it took me to get back. Is it love at first sight, Hawaii? Will this sudden love stand the test of time? Not sure. That was also part of unfinished business. Here, now, is what I accomplished the second time around:

 

Unfinished Business 1: Hike the Pali trail, to the windmills on top

I didn’t finish this last time as it was not actually on my list to do. It was in my head after returning from a side jaunt to Kauai to do the 11-mile crater hike in Haleakala with a guide. Then at the last minute I came to my senses and realized I reaaaallly didn’t need to spend the approximate $500 for a friend for a day (aka trail and safety educated certified of some sort trail guide). She understood, then gave me the heads up about the Pali trail. Which I could only hike on the day of my departure, since I was already up exploring Haleakala National Park (other than the long hike) for this day. So the next day with HOURS to waste before my flight left I headed over to the west side of Maui to the Pali trail, right in the sweet spot of mid-day sun and heat. The day before on the volcano with sun exposure at 10,000 feet had left me painfully sunburned, which left me feeling anxious as there is no shade on the trail and I didn’t have much water with me and I didn’t have a place to clean up before the flight home and and and and etc… so, I made it about ten minutes up the trail, saw a nice view, and went back down. It was a pretty 10 minutes, but I felt like a complete hiking failure.

This trip I would get to the windmills.

The Pali trail goes up one side of the hill and down the other. You can start at either side and do the entire thing, but to do so you’ll need a car at both trailheads, need to hike up then down and then back, hike around the big hill on the road to your car at the other trailhead, or hitchhike back to your car. I was on my own so two options I wasn’t comfortable with or couldn’t manage, and the other just seemed like an extra ton of walking in the sun I didn’t want to do. So, I hiked up and down the same Lahaina side of the trail, about 5 miles total, reapplying sunscreen a few times and at points hiking with my shawl/scarf over my head. (Lightweight shawls are helpful for many reasons. Always travel with one.) To the windmills I made it! All in all, a good and moderately strenuous few hours on sometimes tricky footing. I did not get much of a sunburn, instead I ended up with a very noticeable sock/shoe tanline and a sense of accomplishment. Unfinished business, finished.

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Secondary unfinished business bit: bad attitude pose in Hawaii. I did do this, on top of the hill, but did not get a picture. My lack of being able to use the timer on my camera is astonishing. Also, the battery door latch is broken so it’s taped shut and doesn’t always want to stay connected for more than a second or two, so camera wouldn’t have made it through a timer cycle anyways.

 

Unfinished Business 2: Hike the rim to rim crater trail in Haleakala National Park

As mentioned, I did not do the 11 mile hike in May. So I was going to do the whole thing upon my return, I swore. However. I’m still timid to hike 11 miles in unfamiliar terrain on my own, when in powerful sun at an elevation I am not acclimated to with very few people around are factored in. I looked into a few guided tours, they either did not do the entire trail and were over $100 or did do the whole trail and cost $250 or up. No meal included. Which is a lot to pay for a friend for a day and whoever else will be in the group you may or may not like but have to put up with for hours. I just didn’t want to spend that money. Also, here’s another place where you’d either need two cars, on at each trailhead, or can hitchhike back to where your car is after finishing. Hitchhiking is widely accepted for hikers and others on Maui, but still, can’t make myself do that. Therefor I opted to start at the top of the trail and just see how far I got before turning around and coming back out.

The park rangers (park rangers are awesome) gave me a few  landmarks along the way to gauge distance by—they always go by the rule of It Takes Twice As Long To Hike Up As It Does To Hike Down, So Keep That In Mind. Which is generally a good rule to keep in mind, dependent on your fitness level. I wanted 3-4 hours worth of time in the crater, figuring the scenery would be a little repetitive after a while, so started down the switchback trail. At about 50 minutes, where the trail passes through two large boulders and the trail going forward looks much the same as the trail behind me, I paused for a break and then started my return. After applying more sunscreen. Getting out of the crater, from where I was about 2.25 miles and 1217 feet down, took about 65 minutes. I must have been in better hiking shape than thought. I’ll have to do more next time, but from the other side of the trail. This unfinished business part I’m calling Good Enough For Now I Suppose, More To Come Sometime Later.

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Unfinished Business 3: See some of how locals actually live

This trip I stayed in a studio condo in a golf course resort type area in Wailea, an upscale part of the island geared towards tourism. Instead of a resort with activities and onsite restaurants. The Waldorf Astoria and Hyatt and Four Seasons resorts were nearby, to give you an idea. There is an outdoor shopping area close with a Prada and other stores, that is easiest driven to, not walked. This was not where locals lived—rather where they came to work retail or service jobs, or where they drove through on the way to Makena & further south. The condo was a lovely condo for an ok price, but was more separate from town life than I wanted.

Wailea is south of the main Kihei area, which was much more of what I was looking for in this trip. Local shops, cafes, condo areas lined the streets, with beaches or more apartment/condo residences across the street. Guide books tell me these are some of the favorite beaches for locals. Which seemed true—as I wandered people seemed to have their beach/ocean routines set, done, then they head off to the next thing that they do everyday. It’s not always the big display we mainlanders make it to be, with all the gear and the lead up to it. Several families were having parties in the parks—big family groups, people of all ages and sizes coming together to celebrate a birthday. To jump in the bounce house for a bit, then go cool off in the ocean for a few minutes, then go play a game, then go visit with family under the tent while watching the little kids chase each other around with handfulls of frosting that inevitably end up smeared all over opposing force’s faces. Family fun in the park, set to the music of the large portable stereo someone hooked up.

Wailuku First Friday is a monthly party put on by the town of Wailuku. The town blocks off main street, puts up a stage on one end for the more well-known bands, while a park on the other end of the street serves as a smaller performance venue. The street in between and park area are filled with vendor booths for the town’s shops, restaurants, and bakeries. I heard about these friday town parties when leaving Maui the first time and hoped to visit Wailuku’s upon my return. So I did, not sure what the city turn out would be. Turns out that this is an event the town actually shows up for! With their friends, or with their family groups. (Though have to say I didn’t see that many groups of teens. Teens are too cool for a town party, I’m sure. Or maybe they showed up after I had gone for the evening. Either way, normal teenage behavior.) Many times I overheard “Hey, brah!” as greeting to friends or colleagues spotting each other in the crowd. There were vendors that were definite favorites among the locals, judging by the lines—most of those vendors had something to do with pork. I did not wait in those lines. I did have some delightful fish tacos and baked good of some sort stuffed with pumpkin. Skinny white guy with dreads was there hawking kombucha. I watched the middle shool band perform in the park venue, with the band leader named Benny who was so encouraging of his students. The band was all ukulele, of course. And amongst all of the friendly community gathering was one small dark spot, a group demonstration. A small group with their highly conservatively charged religious orator and their “Homosexuality Is a Sin” and “Got AIDs?” signs showing proudly their brand of hate or intolerance. And right next to them, several Wailuku town representatives, silently holding their own sign with the words “These Views are Not those of Wailuku Town,” who would stay the entire night, as long as the demonstration group was there. Thank you, Wailuku town.

The 2nd annual Made in Maui County Festival was happening at the Arts & Cultural center, so I stopped in. It’s like any arts festival. Jammed parking lots, lots of people, booths of local artisans. Many very talented, many environmentally focused in one way or another. A stage for product demonstrations. A food court. All outdoors. I wandered around, bought my daily dose of tuna poke from a food truck (delicious), and left. Even in Hawaii, this scene was much to similar to the arts street fairs here to be of interest. Too many people crowding a small space. This is one reason I wanted to be away from the city for a while.

Unfinished business of seeing how locals actually live: partially finished. I could do better.

 

Unfinished Business 4: Coffee at Ho’okipa overlook, honu up close, plus tour guide sighting

I missed out on this last time. Seeing/photographing the honu from the Ho’okipa overlook (forgot my memory card), then heading down to the beach to see them up close. This trip I wanted to survey the surf scene at the overlook in the morning standing in the breeze while drinking coffee purchased at a coffee shop in Paia on a ‘best coffee on maui’ list or two I’d seen, because that’s what I do, then wander down to the beach to get up close but a safe distance from the honu that use this particular beach as a resting spot. This happens to dovetail nicely with another secondary unfinished business bit: getting a picture with our tour guide for a day on the Road to Hana tour in May. Both Carrie and I realized this oversight almost immediately upon returning. I vowed to rectify this if I ended up in the same place at the same time with said guide, however awkward it may be. Ho’okipa overlook was one of the stops on the tour, and as I was there in the morning to drinking coffee while surveying honu and surfing, there was a chance the tour buses would be stopping at the same time I was there. So. Coffee at Ho’okipa, yes. Watching surfers, yes. Honu on the shore below, yes. Up close with the honu, yes. Was there even a rainbow? Yes. Was there a tour guide? Yes, many, from several companies. But not the one we knew. This was always an outside shot, so I shall call this unfinished business #4 finished nevertheless.

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Unfinished Business 5: Bring back a Maui sea monster for my home

I purchased one for a friend in May and have had whiny voice saying “but I want one toooooo” in my head since then. Now I have one. And so does my mother. Happy Birthday to her.

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Unfinished Business 6: Ali’i Kula Lavendar

Not really sure the impetus for having this on my list, but there it is. I stopped on the way down from Haleakala for a quick bite to eat and a beverage, and am glad I did. Lavender is not in season but the lovely gardens are still open to wander, there is a selection of great-smelling lavender products for sale in a no-pressure environment, and there’s a purple tree painted on the wall. So of course I loved it here. The woman taking care of the shop that day was one of the  most friendly people I have ever met. We chatted a bit while waiting for her iphone to charge so she could ring up my lavender soap purchases. Turns out she does sometimes miss the more varied seasonal weather of other climates, though it does occasionally snow up on the mountain and trees kind of change color in the higher parts of upcountry. She mentioned being in Minnesota once, for a wedding in the winter. At a resort on a lake somewhere she didn’t remember where. She asked me if there was place like that in Minnesota, where there is a resort on a lake? I smiled and said yes, we do have a few resorts on lakes in Minnesota.

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And now, Unfinished Business 7: Finding out if my sudden love for this place called Hawaii still exists

Based on Maui, yes. It’s a little more real to me now, instead of just resort life. But I think I’ll still have to go back sometime to reassess.

 

Travel, Design, Tidying

graphic design blog, musings, travel blog & musings

These three things are all related right now, in my world.

I’m off of work for 10 days. And, I’m at home. That’s right, 10 days at home not traveling. And being a publishing professional I thought it would be a great time to read some books! A couple of YA titles, a couple of adult (but not THAT kind of adult) titles. The Hired Girl, done. Oblivion, started. The Best American Travel Writing 2015 and The Family Romanov are up next. But right now I’m focused on the life-changing magic of tidying up.

This book makes me want to get rid of half of my belongings and find joy everywhere! It’s that easy! I’ll get rid of everything if it brings joy! Just leave my Icelandic wool sweater because I love it so, and my old cat for the same reason, and I’ll be happy. And so uncluttered I can spin around my tiny apartment and not bump into anything, while recognizing clearly the source of everything and the fix for everything everywhere, on account of lack of clutter in the way, physically and mentally. This is how it will work right?

Nope. I mean,  I started with clearing my closets and drawers to purge unnecessary clothing, and discovered that I can’t just get rid of all of those Hard Rock t-shirts so diligently collected during travels in the ’90s, can I? There’s even one from the original in London, bought during a trip that took place at the height of mad cow disease in the UK. And, that t-shirt from New York Bagels in Budapest? Nope. No matter how yellow that white shirt is now, how can I get rid of it? After a fraught few hours of indecision, I came to a solution: put the shirts back in their underbed plastic boxes until the Mementos category. To sort them then. The rest of my wardrobe was easy to get through after that-a good third of what used to be in my closet is ready to go to the closest Goodwill.

I’m now about 10 pages away from the Mementos category. I just have to finish going through accessories and stuff in bathroom first. Avoidance, you say? Nah…

Which brings me to the main point: stuff in bathroom. Turns out there are bits from my travels everywhere in my apartment. In the bathroom there are little seashells from various places, a cheap plastic ‘snow globe’ of sorts from Capri in 1996 that has just the tiniest bit of liquid left in the bottom. That I have to keep till it’s dry. And also, in my medicine cabinet, was this:

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(Now on my desk instead of in the medicine cabinet. And that mug you see in the background, that’s from a Viennese Christmas market from probably the same Europe trip.)

I don’t even remember when this jaunt to Europe was, it’s been in my medicine cabinet(s) for that long. The product is a serum made with witch hazel to help clear your complexion. I didn’t find it particularly helpful at the time, and STILL kept the bottle in its box in my medicine cabinet (s) for years. Every day when I open the cabinet to get my deodorant, I saw this box as well. Why have I kept this, you wonder? As far as I can discern, two reasons:

One, for the memory of being in Florence and the experience of the place. Being able to tell we were close to the farmacia just by the perfume in the air wafting down the street. Of walking into the beautifully appointed Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella building that has been around for hundreds of years, listening to the sales person in delightfully heavily accented English explain products. I imagined she had the description of everything in the building memorized in English, by sound, but didn’t actually know what the words all meant. She would finish a description and then look at me, nodding, helpful.

Two, for the packaging. The design of it. Not groundbreaking, but just feels like Florence. Like Italy. Like a company that has been around for 400 to 800 years and knows who they are, where they are, what they represent. The gold foil, the emboss, the prominence of the seal that technically is their logo but has so much more prominence with the weight of history. And the paper—if only you could feel the paper!

So yes, I’ve kept this for years. And now thanks to KonMari and ten days at home to devote to decluttering, I know this is one thing that could go. The serum itself no longer is useful. I decided this afternoon taking a picture and posting here as a form of archive, to revisit as many times as long as this blog is up, will make the object easy to let go of. Will it be enough though—if the joy of this pieces is in the handling, the interaction with the physical product, will I get rid of the actual thing now that it lives here digitally? Or will it find a new life on my little desk shelf next to my Hagia Sophia snow globe and Hawaiian coral.

If just an old box of fancy pimple cream is this hard for me to get rid of, wait till I get to my piles of books and press sheets of covers I’ve designed through the years. And the rest of my travel mementos that aren’t now disappeared chocolate or pictures yet to be printed. And oh, my CD’s. How I love actual printed liner notes…

Istanbul, part 5– the People

travel blog & musings

Alright, FINALLY. Part five of the Istanbul trip. Finished now more so I can be done with the thing rather than to keep the post timely. I can check this off of the mental to-do list. Have a small moment of accomplishment. This trip was almost three years ago now, and I said I’d finish this much more than a year ago. So, yay me! To recap, the other parts are #1 mostly Hagia Sophia related, #2 places and buildings, #3 cats and patterns and textures, and #4 food and drink.

This one has been the hardest to put together for a couple of reasons:

One, because all too often travel writings or shows end with the phrase “but what I’ll remember most about *insert place here* is the people” and goes on to form some sort of idealistic generalized version of a People. Generally yes, humans are nice and want you, the visitor, to like their culture–so of course they’ll be welcoming. But travel experiences can vary widely based on any variety of human difference: gender, race, economic status, religious beliefs included. It’s an incomplete picture of the area to generalize an entire population based on the few people that you interacted with. So I’ll just share some images with a few words. All that said, I do need to mention that the group of girls in a cafe one night who shared their birthday cake with us, two American strangers at the table next to them, were indeed a friendly and welcoming group!

Two, because it deals with humans living their lives. Not buildings or teacups or native foods that you can write about without added complexity & emotion on the other side. The people in these images have their own daily routines, joys, troubles, none (or very little of which) can be caught in fraction of a second it took for the shutter of my camera to open & close. Their experiences can change daily too–just a few months after we were there, the 2013 protests erupted, in the square we visited for an evening as a wide open and friendly gathering place.

Are Turkish traditions different than mine? Sure. Are customs at a dinner table or around prayer different than other places? Sure. Will I respect these people & try to understand their differences? Absolutely. Was I ok with the friendly cafe owner deciding he wanted to ask me out, but asking my brother if it was ok instead of asking me? Well… not really. I can speak for myself on these matters. But he was being respectful to me and my family as he knew how. A culturally different moment for me, and a new perspective on daily life.

With that, I give you images of the people of Istanbul, living as they know how in their city:

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Top: women sold food for pigeons outside of the spice market. Buy a plate of seed, throw it to the birds. Also, the man in white was Seekins-esque, so I had to get this picture. Minneapolitans will understand.

Middle: actually in the village of Anadolu Kavağı, not Istanbul. Cooks at the fried mussels & calamari counter station outside of a cafe. Fried mussels are a snack staple, I enjoyed them.

Bottom left: inside the bustling crowded spice market, plus brother and salep. Salep is delicious.

Bottom right: a few of the fishermen lining the Galata bridge. The bridge was this full of fishermen (I did not see any women) every day we were there, the entire day. Some trying to catch a meal, some trying to find a bit of extra income. When we walked by I did not see a lot of fish caught.

 

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Top: men washing before prayer, outside of the New Mosque.

Middle: this is after 10:00 pm on a Tuesday night, folks. İstiklal street. And New Year’s day even, after the crowds of partiers the night before. There are many many people in lively Istanbul.

Bottom left: whirling dervish whirling during a New Year’s Eve show at an outdoor cafe. We were enjoying backgammon and waterpipe while observing, as were many others.

Not pictured: an image I wish I had captured, but did not. A business man with several phones and a laptop out one night in a cafe, conducting business meetings remotely while smoking a water pipe. A built-in reason for taking a deep breath during a business meeting–sounds relaxing, doesn’t it?

Bottom right: me & the friendly cafe owner who wanted to ask me out. He was really proud of the view from his cafe’s terrace, so had to show me. He was sweet, and this is a really nice view, but I did not go out with him that night. I had to pack for my flight home leaving in a mere 5 hours.

Istanbul, you were beautiful! Until next time…

 

travel :: belonging

musings, travel blog & musings

Brace yourselves, travel introspection ahead. Does everyone who goes to Hawaii come back and feel the need to write something in this vein?  Here’s Bourdain on Hawaii too, much more succinct than me. 

Often, my trips are colored by something very early on that sets the tone for how the entire visit will go. My last trip to Vienna was foggy from the moment I stepped off the plane: I was cold the entire time regardless of temperature. Southern Illinois roadtrip: started out hot & uncomfortable and stayed that way, on various levels. Beijing: first time my ankles ever swelled on a flight. The rest of the trip was in some way involving uncomfortable feet–downpours of rain resulting in sodden shoes, unexpectedly long treks to transportation, and a more difficult hike on the Great Wall than imagined (which I was delighted about). And so, this trip to Hawaii. What would it be? Here’s how it started:

Flew out of Minneapolis in the midst of one of the most beautiful spring mornings in memory.

There was NO line at airport security.

A fellow traveller at my gate was wearing a May the 4th Be With You t-shirt. Meaningful, because I was headed to Hawaii to help celebrate friend Carrie’s birthday on May the 4th.

My mom sent pictures of her new little barn kittens right before I boarded.

I had an exit row to myself on the flight to LAX.

I stepped off the plane in Maui & realized I was walking three times faster than everyone else in the airport–a reminder to just slow down already.

The drive to the hotel north of Lahaina had no heavy traffic.

A valet at the hotel actually yelled at one driver in the drop off area who was impatiently honking his horn “Dude, chill!”

The hotel had penguins. Penguins.

penguins

Molting penguin is looking at you!

By the time I had been on Maui for a couple of hours, I wondered if this was it–if this charmed beginning would follow me through my entire 8 days in Hawaii. Ease, a relaxed pace, penguins, no deeper thoughts or decisions necessary. Work had already fled my brain. Would work stay out or remain on the periphery, crowding enjoyment?

I slept fitfully that first night. Jetlag and the unaccustomed sounds of waves crashing on the beach were my distraction to sleep. At 4:30am I was awake for good, and not even cranky. If you’ve ever been around me when I wake up in the morning, you know this is out of the norm. I made  coffee, stepped to the lanai, and took in my first daylight views of this place called Hawaii that so many people rave about. People rave about it so much, in fact, it annoyed me to the point of specifically not wanting to visit. I’m not prone to visiting anywhere tropical. I have never enjoyed sitting on a beach in a swimsuit. Tropical locales are too hot, there is too much coconut, sunburns are not fun, and I get really tired of people talking about beaches as the best thing that could possibly ever be ever ever. Instead, more oft I venture to places of snowy mountains or really old cities. Places with thousand-year-old paintings I can read history in. I came to Hawaii this time because I wanted to be far away from what I knew, but not have to work to figure out communication between languages. And not do much if any planning. I didn’t know what to expect, but figured I could always just head to a hillside trailhead if all the people on beaches with shave ice were making me twitchy. But here, gazing at the West Maui Mountains and the Pacific Ocean in one sweeping glance, in an acceptably warm but not hot temperature, Hawaii was almost instantly winning me over.

mountaintoocean

We bided time until the day’s adventure was to start, eventually wandering out to find the pick up location for the Road to Hana tour booked for the day. Somewhere around 6:50 am the 12-person tour van pulled up to the hotel, the driver stepped off the bus and first words out of his mouth to check in the crew for the day was my name, loud and pronounced correctly. Now, my name is not hard to pronounce. It’s said just like it is spelled. But still, this correct & confident pronunciation never happens. There is always hesitation, switching up of syllables, a raised tone at the end signifying the person had no idea if that pronunciation is correct, or worse, a lot of “Daniel” instead of “Danielle.” This time though, it was my name spoken aloud correctly, and by a local. Again with the ease of this place. This day, this person, is what would lay the tone for this trip to Hawaii.

Why?

Because: this man, our driver, Keoni, is a native of Maui. 46 year old single father of four kids 13-26, and has never left the islands. Not only has he never left, he mentioned to friend Carrie (the girl with the airplane around the world tattoo on her shoulder) that he did not fully understand the desire to travel. This may seem narrow-minded, but I don’t think narrow-mindedness factored in to Keoni’s view of travel or of the world. It’s entirely possible he’s never had a chance to leave the islands or even think about traveling–single parenting in this expensive locale must be very hard to take a vacation from. And why, when you’re already in this beautiful, relaxed place.

I don’t understand not wanting to travel, just as he does not understand the desire to. So I ponder, during this day long jaunt and beyond.

Keoni told us tales of life in Hawaii as he drove, tales I want to believe. Tales that also seemed a little crazy. Not a surprise, as amongst other tattoos, a prominent one on his neck ready “Krazy.” Sure, he had our 12 lives in his hands for that day on a narrow winding road with precarious drop offs, but you know you’re safe with a person who spells crazy with a “k.” It’s the ones who spell it with a “c” you have to watch out for. (Side note. There is no C in the Hawaiian alphabet, so this rule may not apply. Too late to worry about now though.) His tales were of surfing every morning. Tales of being the troublemaker in class as a youngster, pulling flowers off of trees and squirting the liquid inside at the teacher. Tales of racing on Maui’s curvy roads at night, roads he knew every inch of having grown up on this island. Tales of boar hunting. Tales of saving tourists from dangerous  waves crashing on sharp lava rocks. Tales of swimming and fishing and feeding sharks the fish out of his fishing bag, knowing the sharks just want the fish and would not hurt him. He also knew everyone we drove past–the hang loose sign was flashed at about every local we passed the entire day. The conclusion I came to is this: Keoni is a part of the island, the island is a part of him. He belongs here. To this land, this air, this water. If you have a sense of belonging to a place so completely, why would you ever need to leave that place? If you left, you’d be lost. There, you know who you are.

Hanatour

Top left picture by Carrie. Me headed down a hill, Keoni watching another one of our crew, Matthew, scramble down same hill. Top right, sharp lava rocks & waves. Bottom, part of the Hana Highway. Forgive the photo quality please, I brilliantly forgot my better camera’s memory card at home.

Where I live currently and have for 15 years is 10,000 lakes lovely. I have a good life, interesting job, great friends & colleagues, but I’m not rooted to anything in the history or landscape. I was born in Montana, have lived in Nebraska, Iowa, Italy (technically) and Minnesota. My family is in various places elsewhere. Travel has always for me been a chance to see how other people in this world live. To explore & understand more about different cultures. To widen perspectives. To build compassion. To learn. To see the history, and yes also to see pretty things and take pictures and strike a pose to eat lots of food and to escape from everyday life at home. And tell stories of later. Some places I want to go back to constantly, some places I’m perfectly happy not to set foot in again. But always am glad I had the opportunity to see.

Maybe I’ve been missing a part though. Maybe the desire to travel is also a person searching for belonging. Wandering the world until they happen upon the place they feel rooted. My view of the world changes in bits all the time–but the part that stays the same is seeing that everywhere, we’re all just humans, trying to get along and navigate life with what we have. Some rural, some urban, some poor, some privileged, educated or not, but we all get up at the start of our day, do some kind of work, sleep, and do it all over again the next day. We’re all just  trying to make a life. We just need to find the place where we make sense, where we belong.

I was in Hawaii for 8 days. I stepped off the plane & felt calmer. The landscape is more than just beaches–it’s mountains and rainforest and volcano and more. Sitting in the backseat of a van on winding roads wasn’t so great for motion sickness, but worth the scenery. Scrambling down rocks and slipping into a pool was worth it. The arid windy back backside of Haleakala was stunning, as was the lush rocky east side. The coffee was great. At one point I may have even high-fived someone, a bit out of character. The rattle of bamboo sounded like a midwestern fall, a taste of more varied seasons in Hawaii’s own spectacular way. Waterfalls are beautiful. The cliff divers were fearless, I wanted to join them… well, maybe that’s an adventure I can work up to. But the thing is it seems plausible, not out of reach. I took to this island lifestyle pretty well for being initially uninterested. Even confronting a fear (not a huge fear mind you, but a fear nonetheless) of the ocean. I greeted other runners on two morning jogs, like any runners do anywhere. I talked to all the animals. I was amazed at how sparkly the stars were. I drove winding roads. I hiked. I scrambled up a muddy hillside, further than anyone else on the trail that day who turned back before me, the Kauai mud becoming one with my shoes and socks and legs. I surfed. My contacts were swept away in Hanalei Bay–a piece of me left there. I ate the fish tacos, I slurped the fresh fruit smoothies. I took no lava rocks. I cringed at the price of dairy products.

beautifulness

Windswept Kaupo, the expanse of Haleakala crater above the clouds, a partial view of Mt. Waialeale through drizzle, halfway up the breezy Pali trail.

I waked through towns and visitor locales, watching people interacting with this place. Some loved it, and some were just going through the motions, looking for the next golf course. I had conversations with locals, new transplants, and old transplants. Several locals or longtime residents told me I looked really familiar. Some told tales of why they moved to this place. Reasons of needing change were most prevalent, followed by “it was my dream.” Some people thrive, some people don’t. Everyone I talked to also told me to come back. One woman told me this is her paradise, but perhaps in the most sobering thing I had heard since landing, she also told me “there are jerks everywhere,” as a reminder that nowhere is perfect. There is homelessness. There is unemployment. There is alcoholism.

homelessness

A touch of reality in the banyan tree.

I spent a couple of days on Kauai. I stayed in Princeville because I could use a timeshare for free. I did no planning for this island. The timeshare had a concierge on duty, so I stopped in a couple of times to find help making plans for the day. Enter Kai–one of the concierges, and a Kauai native. She has lived all over the world; a gymnast, contortionist, equestrian, botanist, but keeps returning to her beloved Kauai. She lives an adventure lifestyle when not sitting behind a desk as a concierge to pay the bills, helping people like me navigate their way through her island. The stories she tells of surfing with whales & handstands on rocky ledges…I’ll group her into the ranks of “krazy.” She travels, but always returns to Kauai without question.

HanaleiBay

Hope you’re enjoying my contacts, Hanalei Bay.

Here in Hawaii I felt good. I felt healthy. I felt happy. I felt decent, comfortable in my own skin. All things that had been noticeably missing in degrees for months preceding this trip. This could be explained away by saying it was from the remaining high of training for & running a 5K a week before travel. You hear it all the time & it’s true, exercise is the worst enemy of anxiety. Or, it could be simply and most logically be because I was actually on vacation after a long stretch of insanely busy time at work and after a gray midwest winter. This happens on vacation–you’re happy & everyone around you is happy, just by the fact that you’re away from real life pressures. There is time to relax and re-engage in relationships with actual humans instead of computer screens and emails. Is this place possibly real life or just suspended happiness, a bubble to reach on vacation, soon to burst. In a tourist economy, people’s jobs are to give tourists the best time they can where they are, and get good tips doing so. The trick is to separate a temporary high from reality of being.

I know I enjoyed my time in Hawaii and am almost constantly dreaming up schemes to get back there. Some plausible, some not so much. Daydreaming I am very good at. But. Belonging, on these isolated islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean?  With the krazies like and Kai and Keoni? Where my name is pronounced correctly the first time? In Hawaii I felt settled, for the short time I was there. Do I belong there?

Dunno. Maybe I haven’t been to enough places yet.

coffeeandplumeria

Aloha.

Slightly oddball tips for a great travel vacation. (AKA, things I’ve learned by doing or observing or by having common sense.)

travel blog & musings

In no particular order, and not all-encompassing. Accompanied (mostly) by pictures from a recent trip to Maui & Kauai. Also perhaps not all oddball… that could just be me.

Hawaii_1 NIKKOR VR 30-110mm f:3.8-5.6_215

1. Schedule super busy time at work for the 8 months previous to vacation so everything seems magical just by virtue of not working. Or, schedule vacation right after your busy time at work so everything seems magical just by virtue of not working. Or if you’re always busy at work, just go. If there’s never a good time, just go. You need to go. Do NOT say you’re too busy to go. Downtime is essential for being a good human. You can’t have a great vacation if you don’t take one.

2. Just go.

3. Bring an extra pair of contacts if you wear contacts. And your glasses.

4. Monochromatic or all complementary colored non-wrinkly wardrobes makes packing so easy. Especially if you’re throwing things into your bag an hour before you take off to the airport.

5. Consider hiring a driver/guide for a day or schedule a day tour with guide for whatever interests you. Like this one on Maui or these people on Kauai or this guy in Beijing. ONE day. Unless you have an unlimited budget. Seriously. Tours can feel canned if you don’t get the right one (I’ve been pretty lucky with getting the good guides!), but it’s a day when all you have to do is sit back & observe nice-looking things (like the scenery. Or your guide/driver) and not make any decisions or hunt down food or need to pay attention to road safety. After your previous months of super busy work leading up to your trip, this easy day is nice recoup time to gather energy and information for the rest of the trip. And is a day when you won’t need to pay for a rental car, if you’re a rental car type of person. Especially recommended at the beginning of your trip, since it does help you get acquainted with the area to plan activities for further days or give you a chance to pick your guide’s head about awesome things to do. (But know what you’re signing up for. Don’t be expecting to be hiking all day when you sign up for a driving tour. And vice-versa.)

Hawaii_iPhone 5 back camera 4.12mm f:2.4_003

(This is the only picture I have of our tour van & guide on the Hana Highway on Maui. This was a 12-person vehicle. The largest group I would probably ever recommend going anywhere with. Any larger, you spend more time getting on & off the bus than seeing anything off the bus.)

6. Face some sort of fear. Which may include but is not limited to: The ocean. Surfing. Talking to people you don’t know. Sitting in the back of a tour bus on hairpin turn roads. Driving those roads later yourself. Haggling. Meditating. Skiing that black diamond. Spending part of a day on a beach & eating shaved ice.

Hawaii_iPhone 5 back camera 4.12mm f:2.4_058

7. Don’t be afraid to get dirty. Hotels have sinks to rinse mud out of clothes. And shoes are meant to be in dirt.

FeetonKauai

8. Fancy sandals not needed. Leave those at home, bring the walkable sandals instead.

9. Train for a 5k or sporting event of your choosing, as long as it requires self-propelled physical motion, before your trip. Run your race/event 1-2 weeks before vacation so you reap the benefits of the energy this gives you during vacation. And vacation will also seem like vacation away from more than just work–you’re taking a break from work AND training, making your time away doubly magical.

(UNLESS your vacation includes an activity such as climbing Kilimanjaro or running across Liechtenstein–then train for that, of course, up until that part of your trip.)

Side note: who wants to climb Kilimanjaro or run across Liechtenstein with me?

10. Bring a book to read or something to do, but if you don’t get to reading it, not a big deal. You’ll have it there if you want to read it. Point is, don’t feel beholden to preconceived notions of what you HAVE to do on a vacation (things with large monetary deposits excepted). Do what moves you at the time. Don’t over-schedule.

11. Don’t spend your entire time shopping. Memories & experiences are souvenir enough, you don’t need kitsch too (I’m not saying don’t ever shop. Just not ALL THE TIME. If one of your friends is being kind enough to watch your pets while you’re gone, please do get them something.)

12. Talk to the animals you see! (From a safe distance. Beware, they’re not all friendly. Like wild boars and long horn sheep. Not particularly friendly. Cats in Istanbul = friendly.)

KauaiChickens

13. Try the local foods. Try them. There is very little excuse. (except for, ya know, deadly allergies. And belief systems.) You’re in a new place for a reason. Try the local culture.

14. Realize the culture of the place you’re visiting is different than your own & respect that. Even if you don’t agree. Just respect. Be a good human. And if you can’t respect, you don’t need to return on vacation. (If you want to enact social change, that’s a whole different ball of wax. And also not a vacation.)

15. Tell someone you don’t know that you really like their TARDIS phone case, or similar sentiment. And make a friend for a day.

16. Have a thing you do. Mine usually involves dance moves—throwing down waltz steps in Taksim Square, or having bad attitude in various places:
DayThree_20140831_277smaller

(which I completely forgot about in Hawaii. Hence the picture on the Great Wall. Perhaps I’ll just have to go back to Hawaii to remedy this.)

Or sometimes even running in new locales, dependent on what shoes came with me on the trip. This was my view for a couple of morning runs on Maui:

Hawaii_iPhone 5 back camera 4.12mm f:2.4_054

17. Wear a flower tucked behind your ear all day if the opportunity lends itself. If someone gave you the flower for one reason or another or if the smell is lastingly delightful, even better.

18. Coffee, no matter how delicious & no matter how delightful the small farmstand it came from & no matter how jetlag is hitting you, shall not be consumed on an iffy stomach while riding in the back of a small tour van driving roads with many hairpin turns. Ever.

19. Luck out & get an exit row to yourself on the flight there. Since we all have such control of that.

20. Get inordinately excited about something small. Like the coelacanth you just found out was in the museum you’re going to. You will always remember this as a happy moment.

21. Wherever you go, notice & enjoy the light. The light can be amazing.

HawaiiLight

22. Pack light. You hear it all the time. This is not slightly unrealistic–more necessary. And is actually my #1 travel tip. Other than have an open mind. So maybe pack light is #2 after have an open mind? Whichever. Have an open mind & pack light. Enjoy where you are, don’t get caught up in the stuff you have with you or what you don’t have.

23. Figure out if you’re a picture taker or not, and be that. If you ARE a picture taker, for the love of whatever you believe, BRING YOUR MEMORY CARDS. They’re expensive to buy on trips and it’s just really annoying to have to take time to find one.

24. Embrace the idea that you will likely forget one major thing on a trip, and only realize it right after the airline door closes or when you first pull out your camera for pictures and realize your memory cards are at home next to your computer instead of in your camera. You will forget something. And it will be ok. And will give you a fun workaround story later. (Unless it’s your meds or your passport or one of your travel party. Make sure you have those.)

25. Don’t rely completely on your smartphone for directions, itineraries, confirmations, etc. Those batteries can die before you realize it. Even if you’re prepared with a backup charger.

26. Just GO.

27. GO, and experience. Don’t impede your own enjoyment.

Istanbul, part 4: food and drink

travel blog & musings

Remember back when I said I’d do this trip write up in 3 or 4 posts? Well, I lied. I meant five. Next up, a collection of moments involving food.

foodofistanbul

First meal: I don’t eat meat. A friend who had been to Istanbul a few weeks before our trip wrote me one day and said “Kebabs everywhere. I’m worried for you!” But it turns out a no-meat diet in Istanbul works out just fine. I do eat seafood though, as evidenced by the first image above. Our first meal in Istanbul in a little cafe full of locals close to our hotel. Meals we had usually come with two types of starch, rice and potatoes or bread. Vegetables were plenty, especially at the more self-service style restaurants. I won’t lie, not eating kebabs did make me a little sad. But brother had plenty for us both. And the seafood was delicious.

Tea in Turkey: ubiquitous, almost a ritual, almost a habit you don’t realize you’ve fallen into until on your fourth cup in an hour. Once you realize that, you switch it up and start drinking the sweet apple tea instead of the regular Turkish tea. Always in these delightfully shaped glasses.

Turkish delight and other treats: It just so happened the cafe with all of these treats was right by the handiest tram stop for us. And so it just happened that we found ourselves here…a few times. What this case of sweets image doesn’t show is the long counter full of baklava varieties to the right, and the gorgeous pastry case a bit further in. Brother was more for the pastries & cakes, I was all about the baklava in its various forms. This cafe is where I tried to answer the ages-old question of “how much baklava is too much?”, a question which still remains unanswered. Here was also the scene of my multiple attempts to drink Turkish coffee—fair to say I am not good at that. Despite my best efforts, despite observing how the locals drank their coffee, and despite my love for really strong coffee.

foodofistanbul2

The fish sandwich off of a boat by the bridge: This is not as shady as it sounds—these are the boats by the Galata Bridge:

fishbreadboat

Note the men at the grill. They are turning through a LOT of fish filets in a SHORT amount of time. My sandwich had a bit of fin still on it (must have been overlooked in the SUPERSPEED of the cooking & serving), but aside from that, the sandwich was fresh & good. Just bread, fish, lettuce, onions, and sauce if you choose to add it. Not fancy, but just what you need for a cheap & replenishing quick lunch.

Vegetable and fruit bins in a small market. Not much to say here, other than I found this mode of produce selling to be much more energy and water efficient than the markets I frequent at home. Which was refreshing.

Ah, the spice market, full of spices and dried fruit and Turkish delight and teas and so many goodies. Mention ‘saffron’ and the vendor’s eyes light up, they take you into their shop to show you the good stuff in a tin from under the counter. And of course, supply you with glasses of tea and little bits of Turkish delight while you negotiate. Outside of the market are more shops, the well known coffee vendor Kurukahveci Mehmet Efendi Mahdumlari is across the street—all you need to do to find this place is follow your nose and the line of people getting their fresh ground coffee for the day. The line can be long but the staff is efficient and the locals know what they’re there to get, have exact change ready, and are in no mood to waste time. So it moves fast.

The not-so-alcohol-free typical beverage is raki, similar to ouzo. I do not have any pictures of moments involving raki, but know that I remember them all, they weren’t too out of place for me, (Really, I’ll throw down some waltz steps in any piazza or square, including Taksim Square, raki influenced or not. Though it may have helped.) and felt fine in the morning.

Our last night in Istanbul was spent at a little cafe with water pipe, where the friendly proprietor kept bringing us tea. Kept Bringing Us Tea. And a plate of fruit, and a little dish of candies, and a popular yogurt/milk drink, and more tea. We spent the evening munching, drinking tea, playing backgammon, and trying to blow smoke rings. Neither of us managed a true smoke ring, but there was a man at the table next to us who was doing so flawlessly. I wonder if he noticed us staring.

Cats. Many of the restaurants had outdoor seating enclosed in tents for the winter, but the cats still wandered in, sitting by tables and pleading with their big eyes for food. They weren’t jumping and no one seemed to mind, so I didn’t either. My momentary dining companion for one mid-day meal outside:

diningcompanion

And then, there was this food moment:

explodingfood

Readers, I don’t know why I look so frightened. It was a clay pot. With meat inside. When the meat is cooked, the server taps the clay pot with a metal rod until it splits in half, then spoons the meal onto a platter. I’d like to say the pot splits with a huge explosion, which would account for my expression, but no. It’s more of a “pop” and then the top just falls off. Brother got lucky with snapping this picture at the right moment I suppose. He also enjoyed his exploding clay pot meat lunch.

 

(This is probably a good time to mention all images on this blog are mine, unless otherwise noted. Or unless I’m in them. In which case, I probably stole the image from my brother.)

 

Istanbul, part 3: cats and patterns and textures

musings, travel blog & musings

A long time ago, I had been led to believe (by my mother), that Rome would be a city full of cats. Cats cats everywhere, especially in the Coliseum. During a quick unplanned day stop in Rome (not enough time) during a return trip from Capri the day after Easter (it was crowded and not a lot was open) I was ready to greet these cats and protect all of my foodstuffs from them. But that was not to be—I ended up highly disappointed that a) the coliseum was closed, b) I could therefor not hang with the multitudes of cats and c) as I saw no cats at all anywhere, my mother had lied to me. But I soldiered on in the face of disappointment since Rome does have a few other sights to offer…but what to do in the space of a couple of hours? We did what any art history/design/painting students would do—first wandered through St. Peters to gaze at the wealth of artworks contained within (including the Bernini sculpture “The Ecstasy of St. Teresa”, much chuckled about in art history class as St. Teresa’s ecstasy does not appear to be of the chaste sort), then we pushed through the multitudes of people on the Spanish Steps, avoided the $8 slices of pizza close to Vatican City, and had a delightful hour of relaxation laying in the grass in Circus Maximus (important before a very crowded train ride back to Florence). But, no cats. Would my desire to see a centuries-old city overrun with cats ever be quenched?

Istanbul. The missing Roman cats were made up for in Istanbul.

Cats were everywhere, perching on benches, lounging on doorstoops with friends, sitting in bright light, wandering nonchalantly in crowds: a seemingly equal part of the city alongside humans. And here’s the part I was most surprised with: the cats I ran into were all well-fed, friendly, and healthy. None of them looked or acted like strays. I even made a friend on a park bench once day.

catsofistanbul(Shorthair cats dominated. The one longhair we saw was actually in the village of Anadolu Kavağı. Did I miss all of the longhaired Istanbul cats?)

Another part of this trip I was looking forward to were the patterns and textures of a different culture. Being a designer and currently non-practicing painter, visiting architectural and art spaces is the best way for me to understand the people & history of the area I’m visiting. Every place has their own distinct artforms formed or in many cases layered from political, religious, economic, and creative tradition (or strife) throughout its history. Here’s a selection:

textureofistanbulfrom top to bottom, left to right:

Outer wall & windows of the harem in Topkapi Palace

Engraving: I’m really sorry I forget where this is

Sarcophagus from the Ottoman Empire in the Museum of Archaeology

Inside the Blue Mosque

Tiles in the Tiled Kiosk, part of the Museum of Archaeology

Lanterns in the Grand Bazaar, also every other bazaar. I have a feeling these were a trendy tourist item at the time along. Anyone know if they’re still everywhere?

Mosaic from the Byzantine era in the Great Palace Mosaic Museum

 

I had grand dreams of coming back to my design job filled with inspiration, incorporating new patterns into everything I was doing. The thing about design though is that any part of a project needs to belong to or have a reason to exist within its purpose. I haven’t found the proper outlet for the patterns and textures of Istanbul yet in my professional life (ALMOST! A steam engine won out over multiple arches in the Hagia Sophia for a book cover today), but these images are all bouncing around in my subconscious (and my photo archives) for when that right project does arrive.

The cat pictures? Well, yes. They’ve been used. In the form of a Cats of Istanbul calendar for myself and few others. Because no one has ever made a calendar about cats before, right? Especially not one with full moons noted, so you will know when cats will be weirder than usual. (Someday I bet I’ll end up making a Cats of Rome calendar. I just have to visit again, properly.)

COI

Istanbul, part 2: places & buildings

travel blog & musings

I mentioned something about the lines in part 1. To expand on that:

We flew Pegasus Airlines from Austria so arrived in Istanbul through the smaller & newer airport on the Asian side, Sabiha Gökçen. That was easy to navigate and with no lines whatsoever it took us all of two minutes to get our visas and head to baggage claim. I can’t say it’s that easy all the time, but definitely worth the much lesser price to get your Turkish visa at the airport of entry rather than at a consulate beforehand.

But I digress: lines. We landed during rush hour on a Friday evening. The drive (we sprung for the hotel to have a driver pick us up at the airport—highly recommended) to our hotel was long and full of our first taste of Istanbul traffic. Bumper to bumper the entire drive, until we crossed into Old Town. The most surprising thing to me about the drive was how large the cars were. I was expecting the tiny cars that you’d find in other really old European cities—but no, most cars were what Americans would consider regular-sized sedans. Mega SUVs were noticeably absent though.

Again, back to lines. On Saturday, lines into attractions were short. The wait to get into the Blue Mosque was a bit longer than expected, but only because everyone takes off their shoes before going in. This is not optional. And yet one more reason why easy on/easy off shoes are a necessity when traveling. You do get a plastic bag to carry your shoes in, which happily can be recycled when you leave through the other side of the mosque.

On Sunday and after, the more typical line length:

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This was the line to take an elevator to the top of the Galata Tower in the new district, the best view in the city. Lines at Topkapi Palace into the various exhibits were (each) longer. Brother and I had plenty of time to laugh & imagine how 3o-odd years ago when our parents visited Istanbul, they probably could have picked up any of the jewels or weapons at at the palace and had a grand time trying them out, with no one around to tell them to stop or holding up any lines. Not the case now—after waiting half an hour to get into an exhibit, security hustled you along for an approximate 2-second walk-by glance at the artifacts. Mostly Common Sense Moral of the Story: if you want to go to museums & sights & spend quality time, visit Istanbul at times other than popular travel holidays.

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The rest of the scenes & buildings of Istanbul above, in order:

Coming back into the city after a day cruise up the Bosphorus and back, the Blue Mosque and Galata bridge with fishermen still at work and fish sandwich vendors beneath glow at dusk.

Basilica Cistern—this underground area used to hold the water supply for the city, now decoratively holds water with koi and occasionally holds concerts.

View of Old Town from atop the Galata Tower. We were lucky enough to be up here when the afternoon call to prayer rang out around the city. Every mosque has their own, so you hear the call repeated and echoing from every direction. The first time you hear this if not used to it, it’s hauntingly beautiful. Here on top of the city, the sun broke out of the clouds above the mosque right when the call to prayer started, and I was speechless. Were I a spiritual person, this would have had to be taken as a sign of some sort.

A small town up the river. Apologies that I forget which one, but this very well could be the end stop of the river cruise before the Black Sea, Anadolu Kavağı. Not part of Istanbul like this post’s title would lead you to believe, but just a boat ride away. A boat ride where vendors are constantly walking the decks & selling hot tea. Delightful to have on a chilly boat ride in January.

The view from the terrace of our hotel, Hotel Sultan Hill. Which in late December/early January was very windy. But still a lovely view. We were also very close to the Sea of Marmara, hence all of the seagulls flying around the mosque.

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I went running early one morning along the path by the Sea of Marmara—judging by the reaction of several men in white vans (who I’m guessing were either delivery men or hired drivers), a woman in form-fitting clothing running alone in the morning was not such a common occurrence. The (adorable) front desk guy at the hotel seemed a bit surprised when I headed out that morning as well. But not dissuaded, the morning jog gave me an opportunity to see typical morning activity I otherwise wouldn’t have: lone fishermen balancing on the rocks, a group of men bathing in the cold water partially (modestly) clothed, and of course the ubiquitous cats & seagulls.

 

better really late than never? the trip to Istanbul, part 1

travel blog & musings

After the trip in the previous set of ‘a week in pictures’ (posted last august…) my brother and I visited a new larger town, a very large town, so large I shall now stop calling it a town. This city is remarkable, very old, and filled with such friendly people. It is also large enough to deserve more than one post, so I’m dividing this part of the trip into 3 or 4 separate posts. To begin…

Ever since 9th grade Odyssey of the Mind, when our team’s problem for the year was to perform a timed skit in which we talk about the seven wonders of the world, I’ve wanted to visit this place. Why the tale of OM days of yore, you ask? Because, also as a part of the skit we needed to name and discuss our own seven wonders. The first thing we named was the Hagia Sophia. So this building has lived in my imagination for a loooong time, for so long I was worried that the actuality of being in the Hagia Sophia wouldn’t live up to my years of imagining it.

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Happy to say that the Hagia Sophia does live up to the hype, and even the 15-20 years of mystique created by living in one’s mind.

The top image was taken on New Years Eve about 30 minutes before midnight. Brother and I wandered there after spending a couple hours sitting in a pleasant covered outdoor cafe partaking in tea, snacks, backgammon, waterpipe, and a whirling dervish performer. Notice the few people milling about the fountain—as the time drew nearer to midnight, more and more people arrived to what eventually amounted to a large and friendly and mostly sober crowd. The roasted corn, chestnut, and salep street vendors regularly in this area were doing quite the steady business. This is tourist central of Istanbul, with the heavily visited sights of the Blue Mosque just on the other side of the fountain and Topkapi Palace closeby, but there were a large number of Turks in the crowd as well. As it turns out, the city sets off fireworks on New Years from each of the seven (if I remember correctly) highest places of the city—this was one of the typical gathering points to watch the fireworks. Munching on roasted chestnuts while watching fireworks right outside of one of my most favorite buildings in the world is really a decent way to spend a New Years Eve.

The rest of the above images I won’t explain more than this: they are pieces of what I saw while looking around in wonder, and can’t compare to actually being there.

We were lucky to visit on this day, a Saturday. On Sunday we walked by on route to Topkapi Palace and noticed the line to get in was at least 4 times longer than what we had stood in a day previous. Whether Sunday is a typically large tourist day for this city or the difference was due to the large number of visitors coming into Istanbul for the New Year (apparently a major destination for Europeans) I do not know. But I was so happy to have had a relatively quiet day to wander around and soak in its long and storied past. Did I get all misty-eyed when walking in? Well…maybe…

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