Sunday, February 9, 2014

Writing roommates

Taking a break to blog about something other than traveling. 

As I've mentioned before, Kate and I are both writers.  We met because we were writers and we regularly give each other challenges with the stakes being gelato in Milan or making her watch a game of the World Series.

Most of the time, this is a very delightful thing.  In November, a friend of ours asked her for "writing inspiration" and she and I responded by coming up with 54 writing prompts that Kate made into a deck of cards.  We recently broke out that deck for a girls' night in and Kate had to write a job recommendation for a fictional character, which led to me having a fanfic written for my work for the first time ever!  It was a huge deal for me.  I got the "make your villain a victim" and "retell the fairy tale from the perspective of the parents" cards and wrote the affidavit of Rapunzel's adopted mother.

Kate is also the one who asked one night if Aislin ever got stranded without clothes at sunset and you will someday see that this is where the Prologue of Wingspan comes from.

On Friday, we were hanging out on the couch and watching the Sochi 2014 opening ceremonies.  We're both musicians as well--she plays violin and I play, well, a variety of instruments, ranging from viola to organ--so we were critiquing the music.  I whistled Shostakovich's 9th Symphony over the unsatisfactory music used for the World War II overview of Russian history.  She recognized Stravinsky's Firebird before I did.  During the "dove of peace," where dancers wearing what looked alternately like jellyfish and wings formed a gigantic dove, they played music from Swan Lake. 

And then Kate turned to me and said, "I still say you should do a Wicked treatment of Odile."  I froze in mid-thought and started shouting, "NO, NO, NO, YOU'RE NOT ALLOWED TO DO THAT, NO, NO, BAD KATE!"  Two days later, I'm still trying to decide the particulars of the plot.  I have told her that if she helps me work out characterization, I will stop hating her for giving me plot bunny #35.  She just laughed.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

I'm still writing about my not-so-summer vacation!

Back after only a couple of weeks this time.  It's now been just under two months since I got back, which is surreal.  It also means that it's high time I started wrapping this up.  The problem is that there is still so much to tell.

Things I wish I could have dragged Kate to in Greece:
1)  Delphi (too far away)
2)  Mpenaki Museum in Athens
3) Some of the other islands
4)  Ancient Tastes, the restaurant I went to in Athens with a historically-based menu.  As in Herodatus-based.

The list could go on and on for a while.  We bid farewell reluctantly to Greece after a long, lovely day in Athens where I got another mythology-based t-shirt, a coin purse for my friend's 9-year-old daughter and spinakopita from a cafe on our way back to the ship.  (Souvlaki is awesome, but spinakopita is to die for when done right.  I only have one real regret and that is having left Greece without having eaten baklava.)  With this departure, we also left behind any pretense I had of being able to navigate the languages of the countries we were visiting.  I spoke passable Italian and could get by in Greek, but nothing about Turkish was familiar to me.  That was part of why going to Turkey was such a selling point for me.  I love things that are completely unfamiliar.


With that in mind, Izmir started out very well.  Everything was unfamiliar, from the Turkish language to the currency to the loudspeakers blaring the call to prayer throughout the day.
 The port of Izmir, which used to be known as Smyrna for any of you Ticket to Ride fans.

 My first sight of a Turkish flag.  It was very exciting this early into the trip.
Here we go.  A picture of our Maltese friends, John and What's-her-name from our first night on the ship.  The story behind this picture is fun.  As soon as we got off the ship, we discovered how aggressive the Turkish cabbies can be.  We were offered "good deal nice girl" about ten times to get us to Ephesus, to various sites, yada yada yada.  No, no, we didn't want to pay only 50 lira to avoid a ten-minute walk.  Also, I had been to Ephesus on my trip to through the Peleponnesian Islands in 2000 and Kate wasn't very interested in it, so we decided to tour Izmir instead.

So we got to the sign where they were advertising 10-lira open-air bus tours of the city.  Kate and I were very interested in this, since it would let us hop on and hop off where we liked and ran every half hour throughout the day.  We were discussing this when I heard, "Good deal, good deal..."  I turned to shout that I didn't want a "Good deal nice girl" and discovered that the speaker was John.  I did not chew him out.  He was looking for the good deal on the bus tour, too.

We got onto the bus and set our headphones to English, listening to Pachelbel's Canon in D about 10 times before the bus actually got under way.   Our fare included a free rain poncho, which we didn't need because it wasn't actually raining.  I tucked mine away in my handy green travel bag and sat back to enjoy the tour.

We had a few stops picked out on the tour, most notably the bazaar, but I loved finding things like this bridal salon overlooking a square.  I just wanted to go up and try everything on, feeling on top of the Turkish world.

The name Ataturk was everywhere, which is sort of like finding things named for George Washington in America...
 (You can also see the free poncho on the random lady on the right.)

After looking at Catholic cathedrals and Greek Orthodox churches up to this point, I admired the minarets and domed mosques...

Since we're shopaholics at times, we naturally headed for the bazaars.

While in the first one, we were lured upstairs by a guy trying to sell us "cheap" Persian rugs.  We weren't interested in the prices, much less lugging such a huge item through all the airports and train stations between our port in Rome and our doorstep in Provo.  We did, however, find a lovely little stall where scarves were being sold.  I immediately fell in love with a burgundy-and-silver scarf and we found ones for friends as well.  This was fortunate, since we later decided to visit a mosque and needed a head covering.  They had ones that you could borrow hanging on a rack outside the front door, but I felt it was more respectful to have prepared in advance.

After the second bazaar of the day, we had a little bit of a wait for the next bus.  I suggested to Kate that she and I go wandering down the street for a bit, but she was tired and told me to go ahead.  I wandered off and found my home-away-from-home, a huge shoe store.  I had said from the start that I wanted to buy shoes in Turkey and I ended up finding a pair of purple patterned ones that were extremely comfortable.

I was smart enough to get back to the bus stop before the bus showed up and we consulted the map.  I pointed out the Kulturpark and the Museum of Art and History and Kate, poor thing, said she really felt like going back to the ship.  She gave me the same line as before:  "Feel free to go by yourself."  As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I have this mortal fear of either losing track of a traveling companion or being stranded in a foreign country.  (This latter fear is rational, since I nearly got stuck in Belgium when I was 20, thanks to my scatter-brained act of leaving my backpack under a table at an internet cafe in Brussels.)  But I had already survived my solo foray into the shoe store, so when they got to the Kulturpark stop, I said I'd meet her back at the ship and hopped off.

Yes, I stopped and smelled the Turkish roses first...
And I discovered that Greece is not the cat capitol of the world.  Turkey is.

In fact, one of my last stops in Izmir was the lovely and slightly-unvisited-on-that-day Museum of Art and History.  I was literally alone in the building devoted to ancient ceramics and contemplating Corinthian dishes when a streak of black fur came pelting out of the darkness right next to my head.  There had been a tiny black cat hiding up there above the display cases and the shock of it made me scream like a much-littler girl.

But getting back to the stuff before the Museum.  I found interesting horticultural bits like this lovely tree and tree-tunnel...

And the not-so-horticultural art installation...
 This what-is-that?-it-looks-like-a-radio-tower-made-by-Swiss-cheese...
 And a Turkish replica of Roman architecture.
That last one was just beyond the ticket booth to the Museum.  I was wandering around the entrance, despairing because I couldn't find anyone to sell me a ticket and let me in (and thinking of the ways that I could make up things that I'd seen because I was too proud to admit to Kate that I wandered off on my own and found nothing), when two college-age people ran over and apologized that they didn't think anyone was coming today.  No, seriously, that's how empty the museum was.   I'm going to chalk that up to the fact that it was a cold December Sunday, not that the Turkish people don't like cool stuff.  The entrance fee was one lira and well worth it.

The first thing I did when I got into the museum was geek out because they had a beautiful sculpture of a lion entitled "Aslan."  I've been a C.S. Lewis fan since my 8th birthday, when my parents' friend gave me the Narnia books as a present.  Then I remembered that Aslan is the Turkish word for lion.  I gave it a brief bow out of respect for its namesake and moved on to the animal mosaics.

I was very impressed by the range of things they had in there.  A lot of it was Greek in origin, since the borders and political affiliations and such have changed a lot over the years.  Though I obviously did not read any Turkish, they had signs in Greek for people visiting from the next country over.  It was like having a Rosetta Stone, where I could read the Turkish by way of my Ancient Greek classes in high school.  They had a lot of Dionysus and Aphrodite and friezes from excavations.  One of my favorites was this...
It was described as "The Goddess Koure."  I learned in month one of my Ancient History class that a kouros was a sculpture of a young man.  A koure was a sculpture of a young woman.  So they had apparently seen descriptions of koure all over the place and thought that this goddess was one they hadn't heard of.

The next one is another koure, but the one after that is Athena, my favorite goddess,  (After Koure, of course.)

 And here we have Hermes.
 More friezes...

 Ha!  Here we go.  Remember that museum in Katakolon that had instruments we'd only seen in friezes?  This dual-recorder thingy below was one of those instruments!

And now we come to the "I'm going to take pictures of what will make Kate jealous" bit.  She took a ceramics class last year.

All in all, it was a great city for old and new...

And I tried simit, a circular bread with sesame seeds that is like a cross between a bagel and a pretzel, only much better.  It was addictive.

And then I was sneaky.  I bought some Turkish Delight (still in the spirit of Narnia) and snuck it back onto the ship.  No one caught me and I got to enjoy it on my way to Istanbul.


For me, this entire trip was exciting to plan, but the thing that made me decide to sign on in the first place was the fact that we were going to be in Istanbul on two separate days.  One of my favorite books, The Historian, is  set partially in Istanbul and I remember learning about it from John Bellairs' The Trolley to Yesterday.  And, of course, there's the They Might Be Giants song.

We left Izmir on the evening of December 1 and didn't arrive at the port of Istanbul until mid-afternoon of the next day.  I had been waiting for a while to get back at Kate/return the favor of Japanese food on Thanksgiving and I decided to make a reservation for 5 p.m. at La Cucina on the ship.  We had reservations for our one and only guided shore excursion that night.

Bizarre Turkish Delusion #1 was that Kate and I were gullible spendthrifts who would pay any money for anything.  That was mostly exhibited in the cabbies' attempts to rip us off.

Bizarre Turkish Delusion #2 was that I am Asian.  This really does puzzle me.  According to my mother, I have Nelson eyes, which come from my Scandinavian ancestors on her side.  According to a Cherokee, you can tell I have Native American roots by my slanting eyes, which is the one thing that points to me being a freckly redhead in the Citizen Potawatomi Nation.  According to three separate people in Istanbul, I'm Chinese.  When I shouted back at the last one that I'm not, he held up his hands and said, "Okay, okay, JAPANESE!"

As I said, we got to Istanbul in the afternoon of one day and left at sundown the next.  I got off the ship, left the port, and immediately laughed at a sign across the street.  Kate rolled her eyes when I took a picture of it.
There you have it, Turkish Coffee...a la Seattle.  Remember this Starbucks for later.  I wanted to just explore Istanbul, so we went walking in the rain and brought out our scarves for another mosque visit.  There are not as many mosques in Istanbul as there are pubs in Dublin, but it's close.

I loved this door.

 They had head scarves for borrowing here as well, which we didn't need, but I do like that they are so friendly towards visitors that they will let you borrow these things.

While not of the Muslim faith, I do find their places of worship to be peaceful and lovely.

After a bit more wandering, Kate asked where I wanted to go.  If you look at that Starbucks picture, you will see a steep staircase next to it.  There were, in fact, many of these little roads or staircases.  This was my favorite and I was dying to go up one.  I said so.  She gave me another "Have fun.  I'll meet you back at the ship."  I don't mean to make her sound like she is boring or easily satisfied.  Kate doesn't like to wander and explore the same way that I do.  So I learned to just take these things and run with them (or hobble).
 I picked a less lurid one and headed up to see if there were any interesting things up a few levels. 
 I first discovered that it hurts a lot to walk such an incline with an injured ankle and cobblestones under my feet.  I discovered that there were never loos where the WC (water closet) signs indicated.  And while I found that there were a few cafes and closed businesses up that little alley, when I got to the top, I was astounded.

Up a few levels from sea level is the world of pocket universes.  They had bicycle repair shops, sweet shops, souvenir shops, home design shops, cafes, etc.  I went a little shop-crazy because there were so many pretty things and I'm glad I did because when we got to the Grand Bazaar the next day, I found that the prices were triple that of the wares in the pocket universe stores.  I bought myself a glass-and-enamel teacup and saucer, found a fez for my Doctor Who fan friend Andrew, etc. and then headed back down VERY SLOWLY.
I got back to sea level and went to the port entrance, only to find that it was closed off.  At that very moment, I got a text from Kate, saying that the port entrance that I needed to use, did I remember that Starbucks?  She navigated me back to the place where she'd found my tourism funny and I was able to get back to the ship that way.  I had a good laugh at her for that.  I laughed even harder for another one of our shared pictures.

I like architecture and so I took a picture of a lovely building near the mosque...
...Only to decipher the sign and find that it's a police station.  Then I got to the ship and Kate showed me this "Really funny police station."

I also liked finding this little storefront church dedicated to St. Francis of Assissi in Istanbul. 
I got back in plenty of time to change into something for dinner.  We went to La Cucina and enjoyed really rich Italian food.  Kate had lobster.  I mostly remember being in heaven.

And then we met up with our group for the Night Tour of Istanbul.  I'll finish up this post with one final story from that moment.  We were talking to a couple from the States and finding out where they were from.  They were from Brooklyn and I said I loved New York and the boroughs.  I had recently gone to New York on vacation.  They asked where I was from and I said Boston, bracing myself for something to do with the New York Yankees.  The husband looked very serious and said, "Your team deserved to win the World Series after what the city has been through this year and we were so happy for you."  I could have hugged him.

Until next time.  I have many, many pictures of everything from the Hagia Sophia to the homeless man's stash outside the New Mosque to come.