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Picture time - Trip Part 1 [Jul. 21st, 2007|03:04 pm]
[Current Location |couch, again.]
[music |John B - Mercury Skies]

Below are some pictures from the first part of my trip, Salonica, Crete and Santorini. I picked 4-5 pictures that I thought best summarized what I was up to / seeing there. This is only a selection of the 3.4 gigs of pictures I have.


The symbol of the city, the White Tower (built by the Ottomans in the 16th century)
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The waterfront of Salonica.
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Atatürk's birth house (part of the Turkish consulate)
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Yeni Camii (New Mosque) - designed by an Italian architect in the early 20th century. (sorry for the bad angle, I had to lean around a tree and stick my hands and the camera through a fence to get this picture... after a 50 minute walk to find it.
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Heraklion, Crete

Old Harbour in Heraklion with old Venetian fortress.
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Hallway inside Venetian fortress.
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Water infront of downtown Heraklion.
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The famous Minoan "throne room" at Knossos
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Ferry to Santorini. I felt like the Irish on the Titanic.
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Classic shot of Santorini's white washed bulidings.
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Out of this world sunset from a café.
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Greek Donkey.
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Me on the volcano's caldera.
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Cappadocia - Tomonori, Ho, Jin and me. [Jul. 19th, 2007|10:56 am]
[Current Location |internet cafe in Goreme]
[mood |relaxedrelaxed]

Wow. This place is amazing. Wow. This place is filled with South Korean and Japanese tourists! On the general tour I took yesterday I was the only non-Asian member, pretty surprising considering I haven't seen any noticable group of asian tourists before coming to Cappadocia. On the bus ride from site to site I got talking with the people around me, Tomonori, a 34 year old japanese man who is travelling from Calcutta to London overland. Ho and Jin, a couple from Pusan South Korea on summer vacation. We got along really well and have taken some great pictures together. We even met again on the second full day of my time here to visit a museum and go for lunch. I asked them both, why asian tourists flock to this place and none of the could give me a real direct answer... they couldn't explain it either but they all said everyone knows about Cappadocia in Japan and South Korea. Who would have guessed it.

This is easily the most relaxing and comfortable part of my whole trip. Everyone here is friendly and no store owner is grabbing your arm and saying "come my friend, special price for you" like elsewhere. A random street vendor asked me where I was from and we talked for 10 minutes about Canada, he was just curious and when we were done he put out his hand and I shook it. That, has never happend before here. Small town charm.

So yeah, I must get out and get my last day of my vacation started, tomorrow at this time I'll be back in Istanbul but today I'll be mountain biking and maybe making a quick little trip to another nearby city. Yesterday I rode a camel so my life is basically complete.
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Hippyville / Montreal stuff [Jul. 16th, 2007|07:12 pm]
[Current Location |cave!]
[mood |relaxedrelaxed]

Wow. I'm in Goreme, Cappdocia. This place is so different than any other place in Turkey, the people are actually friendly and normal and relaxed. I should have realized it when I read in the Lonely Planet that the hostels / hotels in the whole city have formed a co-op to make it easier on tourists. Turkish hippies. Of course it was not too long until I bumped into two Montreal hippies on the main street. Of course. Anyway yeah this place is definately going to give Santorini a run for it's money in terms of highlight of the trip. Everyone is sooo cool here. And here they really seem to appreciate that I can speak to them in their language... apparently I'm paying winter prices for my room cuz I hit it off so well with the owner of the place, Kemal... 25 turkish lira a night for my own room with shower.
On the way here on the bus we stopped at a rest stop to eat lunch, the waiter / owner of the restaurant was an older man and upon seeing the maple leaf on my bag he starred like he was shocked. He looked at me and said "I"m from Montreal, Henri-Bourassa" my response "no." But yeah, he actually was, what a small world. He played soccer for the Montreal-Impacte back in the 80s apparently and of course, his kid goes to McGill.
The other highlight of the day so far is that rolling into town I saw the camel I've been waiting all year to ride. It was there, sitting, waiting for me. I am soooooo excited for that you have no idea.
Tomorrow I'm doing the general day trip of the region hitting all the big sites, lunch / guide / buses included. The following day who knows, camel ride, horse ride, mountain bikes, hikes, whatever. I feel really good here and glad to be the hell out of Ankara.
Well, those are my first impressions of the place, I've only been here a few hours. To give an example of the relaxed atmostphere right now, the office of the hotel doesn't even have doors, cuz it's a cave. And I'm sitting behind the main desk right now on the computer (in a cave). The owner, Kemal, was just like 'don't go to an internet cafe, use this one'. This is basically the most friendliest and cheapest place in Turkey. Awesome.
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From Marmaris to Ankara [Jul. 15th, 2007|02:01 pm]
[Current Location |near the corner of Ataturk Bulvari and Gazi Mustafa Kemal C.]
[mood |hungryhungry]
[music |REM - Shiny Happy People (!)]

Well, I don't really have the patience for a full update right now so it will have to wait, but yeah I'm in Ankara.

The boat right from Rhodes to Marmaris was cool, highlighted by Bryan Adams' greatest hits soundtrack and a bunch of drunk, backpacking Australian Turks and their big drunk Maori friend, shirtless, tattoed making fools of themselves and scaring everyone on board.

Marmaris was cool, actually it was really humid but seemed like a very non-Istanbul / Ankara type place. Mountains and blue water in a nice protected bay. I've never seen so many Turks just walking around in bathing suits. (In Istanbul it's jeans even in 40 degree weather).

The bus ride from Marmaris to Ankara was actually enjoyable. I was glued to the window. So much to see, herds of sheeep, massive mountains, salt flats (huge!) From Marmaris to about half way the mountains pine forests were really incredible, could be used in a drier version of Lord of the Rings. It was neat to see signs for forest fires because it showed something I had never really seen before in Turkey: a concern for the environment. I'd say every 500m on the highway there was a sign saying watch out for forest fires and the number to call. Jamie is smiling right now. All of those signs didn't stop our bus driver from throwing his cigarette butt in the bushes at a rest stop. Amazing.

So yeah it was 10.5 hours. Long but wasn't bad. I'll talk about it more later. My hotel in Ankara is a bit of a dump, I was not happy at all with it when I went to bed but I'm feeling better about it. Classic cigarette burns through the sheets and un-vaccuumed carpets. Great. Atleast there is a/c and television. And yeah getting out of there as soon as I can tomorrow morning.

Tomorrow I'm off to the backpackers mecca of Turkey, Cappadocia, more specifically Goreme. That's where I'll spend the last leg of my trip, hiking, caving and camelling (yes). THere will be tons of backpackers there too so it will be a good social environment. Here in Ankara I feel isolated and the only non tourist. So yeah a 4 hour bus ride tomorrow and then I'll be hopefully sleeping in a cave tomorrow night!

I'm off to the "Museum of Anatolian Civilizations" now, after a quick lunch.

Oh and a final note, when I said I was running out of money what I really meant was that the euros that I had originally gotten before leaving were running out, and I was trying to avoid going to a bank. I have a chunk of turkish lira here that won't even come close to being spent. So what I really mean to say earlier was that the Euro is damn strong and stuff in Greece like lunch and dinner can really wear on your pocket. Now, back in Turkey I can go back to 5 bucks for a full meal.

I guess I did feel like writing a full entry afterall. Tomorrow, Fairy Chimneys.
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back to Turkey [Jul. 12th, 2007|08:54 pm]
[Current Location |Rhodes]
[mood |anxiousanxious]
[music |Mims - This is why I'm hot]

So tomorrow I will be re-entering in the port of Marmaris at 6pm. Not exactly ideal at all. It was supposed to be 8am but that boat was sold out. And I was unhappy. I really really just want to get to Cappadocia, I'm thinking right now of pulling an all night mega bus ride right there. Who knows, 14 hours over night? We'll see. I might chicken out and only get half way. Anyway the things I really wanna do are Cappadocia and Ankara (museum day) and then call it a trip. probably 3-4 full days in Cappadocia for sure. Gonna get all I can out of that one. Anyway I'm off back to the hote now, I have all day to work out my plans, lots of sitting and waiting for the boat. You'll hear from me in a couple days probably, from central Anatolia if all goes well.
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Santorini / Rhodes [Jul. 10th, 2007|07:06 pm]
[Current Location |Mango Bar, Old Town, Rhodes]
[mood |tiredtired]
[music |radio stuff]


Well, yesterday in Santorini was amazing, I did a tour and did some amazing things including hiking a live volcano, swimming in hot springs, jumping off a boat into crystal clear water, riding a donkey up the steep cliff, of course, swimming to the bottom and petting an urchin. It was so cool! All of which was done with 3 american guys, Matt, Adam and Sanjay which I met up with on the tour. All of them are grad / law students and the same age, we clicked really well. So yeah not only was it cool to do all these things but to have some regular guys to joke and laugh with (and get to take pictures) while doing it made it even better. Santorini, I think, is and will be the highlight of the whole trip. It really is a different place, you feel like you are somewhere else, I can't explain it. Awesome.

Today I flew into Rhodes on a tiny 16 seater plane... so small that seats are aligned male / female in a shitty attempt to balance the weight on the plane. Their theory is... you can't have all the big guys on one side of the plane, or it will make it crash. Interesting.

Rhodes. Different. Not Santorini... The old town is insanely old. You really feel back in time walking down the tiny streets. I got lost a bunch and it was really frustrating. That combined with my sore legs and feet from all the hiking yesterday has made today kinda gruelling. Tonight is a rest night and then tomorrow is museum day, which I'm excited for. The following day will be beach day. (My last full day in Greece).

I've decided to change my route a bit in Turkey, it might actually involve taking another cheap flight. Turns out Turkey is giant and I don't wanna ride a bus for 10 hours with a crazy old man beside me. In one way I don't want to leave Greece, but my wallet says, it's time to leave. Things are like at least 4-5 times more expensive in Greece than Turkey. I'll detail my changed planes sometime soon, still kinda working them out.

Now for some analysis of Greek vs. Turkish society / culture. Basically before coming to Greece I was convinced that the two countries were basically the same, but I've realized they aren't... and I really do think money is the big factor. Greeks are happier and more friendly than what I've experience in Turkey. Their better, easier lives make for happier living, makes sense. Funny enough, all the north americans I've talked to all complain to me about how aggressive and rude Greeks are and how they don't like it. And what do I say to them? Well, basically, that Istanbul is about 10 times worse so I don't really notice anything they do here. In a way I feel bad for Turks, but I guess things are getting better no doubt in time they will appear more 'happy' in the streets. So, that's kinda why I'm not looking forward to going back into Turkey... cuz of all the "come my friend come please" while grabbing at your arm X 1000 or just treating you like an alien. That's my rant for tonight. I'm still working on my analysis, that's what I got so far, I'm still yet to draw a final, scientific conclusion.

Ok, I'm off to grab some food and back to the hotel. I will update tomorrow probably when it's too hot to walk around.
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Santorini [Jul. 8th, 2007|10:22 pm]
[Current Location |Fira, Santorini]
[music |weird atmospheric music that makes you sleepy]

Well, yeah, Santonrini is as good as everyone says it is. Pretty simple. After a delayed 6 hour ferry ride (was supposed to be 3.5), I arrived late afternoon and immediately headed to the beach after checking in at the hotel. Perissa beach... black volcanic sand for a few kilometres. It was amazing, really. The sunset was incredible and made me feel like I was on Venus, it was ridiculous. Anyway the vibe here is totally different than Crete, more touristy than Heraklion but in a good way. Tomorrow I'm doing a tour of the sites offered by my hotel... including a swim in volcanic hot springs on the caldera. Lonely planet says that's the best way to do everything easily yourself, since alot of sites you need a boat. I almost wish I'm staying longer here, but it's expensive, and I'm getting to do all that I want in this short amount of time.

From here I'm flying in a tiny little plane (www.skyexpress.com) to Rhodes. It was either that or a 17 hour ferry ride. It's kinda not the usual route so that's why. Anyway things once again flip flop from 'god this sucks' to 'this is the best time of my life.' I guess that's what kinda happens when travelling alone and doing new things. Anyway that's all for now, I'm running on 4 hours of sleep. Nighty night.
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Islands are different [Jul. 6th, 2007|04:32 pm]
[Current Location |random internet cafe in Herklion, Crete]
[mood |relaxedrelaxed]
[music |3 6 Mafia - Two-way Freak]

Just a quick update here. I'm in Heraklio on Crete doing fine. The flights from Salonica and Athens were uneventful but the views were pretty amazing. It was a great way to get a sense of what makes Greece so special... it's crazy geography. Arriving in Heraklio I immedieately realized two things: 1. A nice ocean breeze helps to cool things down and 2. I'm on an island, where things are different.
Indeed, Heraklio, eventhough it's supposed to be the busiest of all cities on Crete, is 100 times more relaxed than Salonica and about 10 000 more than Istanbul. Sure, there is tourists everywhere, and cheezy tourist trap type stores, but everything just seems a bit more relaxed here, slower, and I like it.
Last night when I arrived though, I wasn't happy. After a nighttime walk around the neighbourhood and a dinner that involved lots of waiting and power outages, I decided that I hated Crete and was getting off this damn island as soon as possible. It just seemed really unfriendly. Sure enough, after a good sleep I awoke feeling totally different and excited to get out. I had an amazing crepes with bananas and nutella breakfast which was basically the deal sealer for me to label Crete, 'cool.' Infact, my mood had changed so much from the night before that I was laughing to myself about how silly it all was.
Going back to the more relaxed thing, it was noticeable right from the start... the crazy old man at the reception was talking to me like I've known him for years, and he was calling me Michalis, the Greek version of my name. I've also been told a few times that I look Greek (I'm sure they say that to everyone). Silly Greeks.
So the big downer is that the big museum in town is closed until August. The Archeologial Museum of Crete, with all the stuff from the big site, Knossos. I was disapointed. Anyway I learned that after I had realized that Heraklio was 'cool' so it didn't matter that much. I spent the morning, after my crepes in the Historical Museum of Crete, which covers everything from early Roman rule to the present. Eventhough I was livid at some of the stuff was said about the "Period of Turkish Occuption" (compare that with the "Period of Venetian Rule" on the signs) it did serve to actually fire me up and get into it. In the after noon I took a quick bus ride out to Knossos, the 2000 year old palace site which the Brit Sir Arthur Evans found back in the 19th century. It was great, but, knowing that Evans did some extensive reconstruction on the site (or rather, construction) it made me skeptical of everything I was seeing... was this Evan's or was it the real deal. By the end of the tour, I had basically convinved myself the whole site was not to be trusted. hah.
Tomorrow I'm going to the beach, Malia. I've heard it's a tourist death trap, but I don't care. I stood staring at the water for like 25 minutes today just swearing and saying "I need in there!" It's so close but yet there isn't any beaches right in town, so it's so far. I can see lots of little fishies in the port. Anyway so Malia is a quick 4 euro bus ride East of here, I'll spend the day there, and hopefully find some sponges and octopi.
Well, this was supposed to be a quick update, but I just got going and didn't stop. I will probably update again before I head to Santorini in a couple days, I need to figure out how to get there first. Off to eat some Feta!
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Birthday [Jul. 3rd, 2007|10:12 pm]
[Current Location |internet cafe]
[music |CBC Radio1]

Yeah so today was my birthday. It was good, very different than usual... no St.Hubert, no bowling. This will be quick cuz this internet cafe is really hot and smokey. After breakfast I went to the Jewish Museum of Salonica. Exactly what I expected, full of great information not only about the former Jewish community but also of the Ottoman period as a whole. I picked up a great map of the city that clearly labelled all the Ottoman and Jewish 'sites of interest.' After a quick lunch in a cafe I headed East for like 3 kilometres, in the mid day heat to find one specific building... an Ottoman mosque designed by an Italian architecht in the early 20th century. Once you see the pictures you'll understand, it's really really , different. The pictures will have to wait however until I get back to Istanbul. Anyway it was just as impressive in person as I had imagined it. Giant clocks built into the minarets and all.
After that I went back to the hotel to relax, it gets really really tiring walking around in the heat. I understand why the siesta exists now. After that I want out for dinner, an outdoor place in a square I spotted during the day. It was nice but yeah, again a bit weird to be alone on my birthday. The food was amazing deep-friend zucchini (which they called pumpkin) and tzatziki as a starter. The main dish was a chicken breast baked with fresh red-peppers and helim (halloum) cheese on the inside. MmmmMmmmMm. Yeah, enough said.
After that I hung around by the water watching the sun go down, and the Africans selling their sunglasses and fake gucci bags.
Tomorrow late afternoon I will be going for a hike up the big hill that over looks the city, which is located in the old TUrkish quarter of the city... the only part of the city to survive a massive fire in 1917. That will be quite and undertaking as it's gonna be 35 degrees again. DOn't worry, I'll wear my foam hat. Ok, that's enough for me tonight... everything is good and I'm happy here. It's super relaxed. Thanks for all the birthday emails.
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Salonica day 1 [Jul. 2nd, 2007|08:40 pm]
[Current Location |random internet cafe near the Arch of Galerius]
[mood |tiredtired]

Hi. I'm in Salonca.

Everything is fine here. THe city is just as I expected it to be with one great surprise... it doesn't feel like Turkey. And that one fact makes me feel so much less stressed. The air doesn't smell like diesel fuel, I've have drivers stop for me as a tried to cross streets and the guys don't walk around with the angry macho look as much as they do in Istanbul. The only thing that really accounts for all of these is the obvious... Greece is a richer country than Turkey.

Other than the obvious "I went to museum X and museum X" I want to tell the more things right now before I forget them. First off, this city has a bit more humidty than Istanbul, and combined with the lack of constant dirty diesel small, it almost smells like home, which also adds to the relaxing / feeling good. Today, for lunch I had a fun surprise. Located 20 metres from Salonica's Arch of Galerius, it's oldest and most famous Roman ruin, was a Subway! Hooray! So, yeah I had my usual sub, it was so weird. I really didn't feel like I was in Greece at the point, coulda been in Toronto.
Some fun observations: I can't tell whether some people are prostitutes or just dressed a little over the top. There seems to be alot of these fancy dressers. I dunno, still trying to figure that one out. Of course you got your mandatory Gypsy kids trying to sell stuff infront of churches or begging in the street. On top of that, something I don't see in Istanbul, loads of illegal African workers selling fake Dolce and Gabana sunglasses and Gucci bags late at night right along the water. It all makes for an intersting mix. But really, I feel comfortable here, safe. People seem fairly normal.
OK so now for the stanard stuff. Today I woke up, ate breakfast in the hotel, went for a big walk (25 min, it was fun) along the water, near the port all the way to my first highlight, Salonica's White Tower (built by the same famous Ottoman Architecht that build the massive mosque I saw in Edirne). Unfortunately, it's closed for renovation. :( I don't think I'm missing much on the inside though, just the view from the top. Anyway it was nice to see. After that I walked around, saw some churches, getting oriented. Mondays is apparntly the day when all the museums are either closed or don't open till 1pm so that kinda slowed my day down. When they finally opened I went to the Archeological Museum and the Museum of Byzantine Culture. Both really good. It was so hot today though, everyone walks in the shade and rests under trees. I drank alot of water too. THe other highlight of the day was I stumbled across the Turkish consulate. And remembering that it is also the site of Ataturk's birth house (now a museum) I decided to go in. Needless to say the man who came to greet me at the giant steel door was surprised at my appearance. He was however, really happy and excited and showed me around the museum / house personally. It was fun, I could actually communicate with someone here.
Tomorrow is a big day, my birthday and also some of the main attractions of the trip. I'm going to see all the Jewish sites. These are really some of the few remnants of the Ottoman era. Jewish Museum, Jewish graveyard and mansions and synogoues from the 19th century. These are the things I studied at school so now it's time to see them. Definitely one of the bigget days of the whole trip for me. oK I'm going now. I don't feel like sitting here all night. I'm exhaused from the heat and all the walking today so I'll leave it at that. Stay tuned for more.
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