Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Syria - psyche! Lebanon - hmmmmmm....

We traveled across the whole country of Turkey – North to South - by bus with the plan of crossing into Syria on our way to Lebanon to see an amazing, ancient, misunderstood country.. We heard great things about Syrian people, we read raving reviews about Damascus and Krak des Chevaliers (a fairytale castle).. middle east’s little gem. Most importantly, we read and heard from several sources that we could obtain a visa at the border – no problem. At most we’d have to wait a few hours. SO! We set out – adventure on the horizon and optimism in our eyes – believing Syria would be an unexpected great experience for us. BUT! Soon enough optimism took a quick downward spiral as we arrived at the border. Stamped out of Turkey, standing in no mans land – we were flat out denied a Syrian visa.. No payment, no friendly smile, no plea, nothing was getting us into this country. Apparently, just a month ago, the rules changed for American citizens.. our governments do not get along and the people are penalized. . Americans simply can not get a visa at the border.. Our glimmer of hope was slightly revived when we were told all we had to do was take an hour taxi to another 4 hour bus to the town of Antep and go to the Syrian embassy and get our visa there. OK! So that’s what we did. Tired from 387346 hours of bus travel, deflated from our almost crushed dreams of Syrian travel, thin patience, and low blood sugar… we were hitting our trip low. After spending more time and money and ending up in some random southern Turkish town, our Syrian dreams were finally put to rest when we found out it would take a least a few weeks to get a visa, if at all. Not much else to do but get out of Turkey and move onto Lebanon!

(countryside of east Lebanon, used to be Syria)

With so many highs of the trip we knew we had to have a low somewhere… and the silver lining was 2 days of ultimate rest in an air conditioned room with a nice bed. WE NEEDED IT!

We flew from Antep to Istanbul to Beirut with a layover in Cairo.. putting us in 4 airports in 3 countries in one day.

I’m not sure from where or why we had high expectations for Lebanon. We heard great reviews about Beirut, we were looking forward to a modern, “happening” city, with charm and lot’s of options.. Maybe it was us; arriving without a place to stay nor a person we knew, maybe we missed something, but we found Beirut to be extremely annoying, with limited options of places to stay, eat, etc for a cheap/moderate price.. we found no bang for our buck and felt we were getting ripped off at every corner.. not cheap! After spending $100 on 4 beers, a plate of hummus and a tabouleh salad (sore subject) we needed to get the hell out of Beirut quick. We headed north the next morning to Byblos where there are some ruins right on the coast.. kinda cool.. kinda whatever.. again, with no options we ended up staying at a “4 star” hotel with no hot water, no helpful service, and expensive internet laundry service (two things we needed very badly at the time).. The saving grace was a great bed and english movie channels. We gathered a lovely spread of produce from the market across the street and had one of our classic “bed picnics” as we drank beer, lounged in the AC, and laughed our way to sleep watching stupid English humor. (at the Byblos ruins)

Again, feeling the need to get out of where we were, we got a taxi to drive us over the mountains heading east to Baalbek through a countryside and area that used to be Syria. Beautiful mountain scenery and a feeling of finally experiencing a bit of ease and excitement in Lebanon, we weaved our way around and up and down, past herds of sheep and goats, tent villages and 3 military check points, finally ending up in Baalbek. Baalbek is the home to some of the most impressive Roman ruins (these romans were EVRYWHERE! creating little “rome” everywhere they went) as well as the birthplace of the Hezbollah party.

(Baalbek ruins)

What an interesting and amazing dynamic/vibe. Military on every corner – a bit unnerving -, the Hezbollah museum – fucking creepy – all nesteled in amongst the powerful dignified stature of the largest roman columns built in the world.. We happened to be there at the same time as a festival at the ruins and got tickets to a jazz show in the middle of “Jupitors Temple”. EPIC

(Jazz show, stage)

So in 4 days we did Lebanon, leaving with a bit of “hmmmmm” about the whole country.. taking into account that they only got out of war in 2006.. the country definitely screams war torn with its lack of tourist infrastructure let alone it’s own infrastructure, and dilapidated buildings still scarred with bullet holes.. This scene doesn’t quite match up with the hoards of brand-new supped up cars and very well dressed youth on their way to bars and clubs that cost at least $200 just to sit down. The repeating dichotomous image we saw in Beirut pretty much sums it up.. Large, shiny billboards of Gucci, armani, etc.. directly in front of – if not there to cover – the skeleton of a building covered in dust that once was, or was never... We did find the Lebanese people to be really lovely. Everyone we met (besides the few hotel and restaurant workers who we felt ripped off by) was extremely nice, helpful, and good-looking! Oh yeah and the FOOD!

Saturday, July 10, 2010


(Aya Spohia, Istanbul)
The 2010 edition of Middle East Lonely Planet describes Turkey as a perfect bridge between two continents giving it a European modernism and sophistication and an Asian culture and tradition. How true it is! There is enough exoticism and “foreignness” to keep your senses hyper stimulated but you can rely on punctual buses and comfy beds (two things we have grown to appreciate!).

We arrived in Istanbul with no place to stay for the first night and ended up at the “Chill-out” hostel (that’s one word for it…!) .. thinking the only way we would make it through the night with the creepy 80’s posters, a Homer Simpson bed sheet hanging over the window, and the feeling that we could either be robbed or murdered (in a light hearted – joking kind of way), we headed out for mojitos – several of them – and got our first taste (well, my second – I was here in 2007 for work) of the chaotic flow of Turkish nightlife. It felt good to be back in Istanbul, excitingly fresh yet comforting and familiar and it was nice to have some sort of orientation upon arrival. Luckily, we survived the “chill-out” and for the rest of our time in Istanbul we stayed at my good friend Rani’s flat – she is a traveling soul like myself and recently quit her job and left the states to travel for a year! (GO RANI!).. So, while she was off in southern Turkey for a wedding, Adam and I enjoyed her 6th floor apartment right off of the main drag of Taksim Square (for those of you who know Istanbul) in a cute neighborhood which happened to house the MOST arrogant, horrific, noisy pigeons, seagulls and cats EVER. Earplugs and a sense of humor were a must!

After treating ourselves to a little pampering – Adam got a Turkish haircut and came out slicked back and smelling like a Aramis cologne ad, while I opted for the pedicure that took us all around the city to find and came out with only mild satisfaction (no one compares to my Chinese ladies in DC!!) – we threw ourselves into the chaos of the city. Seas of people down the Istiklal (main shopping drag) shopping and eating, music shops galore, fresh squeezed OJ on every corner followed by a doner kabab or honey oozing baklava, we made our way across the Golden Horn (inlet from the Bosphorus river) where fisherman lined both sides of the bridge and pedestrians only stopped to take a look at the breathtaking views.. We maneuvered the old spice market and indulged ourselves in $20 worth of Turkish delight and a few Turkish scarves. And while Adam was referred to as “Michael Jordan!”, “Rambo!” and “business man!”, I was, for the first time in my life, referred to as “girlfriend!” or “wife!”, which was actually quite appealing compared to the things I have been called and hollered at in my past travels when I was alone or with other women.
(spice Market, Istanbul)

We explored the old city- Sultanahmet, the Blue mosque and the Grand baazar but spent most of our time in the Aya Sophia which is just spectacular inside and still shows the unity of it first being a church and then a mosque. Where else in the world can you find a structure with mosaics of Jesus next to the mihrab?? amazing.. After that amazing day of Turkish history, getting lost in the grand bazaar, and dodging and weaving herds of tourists, we found a great little pub and watched US lose to Ghana in overtime of the World Cup. That was enough for one day.

(Inside the Aya Sophia)

Making our way south, we stopped in a little town called Selcuk which is minutes away from one of the great ancient ruins of the world – Ephesus – an old Roman city which was at one point a major political, cultural and religious center of the middle east (aren’t they all!?!). Due to the fact that we had a bus to catch at 10:30am and the ruins open at 8 – we were the first people through the gate and had the whole place to ourselves for about an hour (besides the workers and dogs). What a treat!! Brilliant lighting, no crowds and an unparalleled silence as we climbed and trekked and soaked in the mystery of this amazing place. As the busses started to come and the tourists started to pour, we tried to imagine we were in the hustle and bustle of the city in its thriving times – that didn’t last long – we had to get out!

(Ephesus theater, your basic sibling Greek tragedy)

The Mediterranean Coast! Through the wonderful world of Facebook we figured out that some friends of the boomerang community were living in Marmaris- a coastal town in Southern Turkey – and we decided to pay them a visit! They have been living in the Marmaris Marina parking lot on their 43 ft sailboat while they fix it up and prep to sail it back to Seattle. Marmaris itself is a pretty touristy town full of overweight British men walking around in their Speedos, and a strip of nightclubs and bars each trying to play their techno music louder than the next – Lucky for us we escaped all of this thanks to Mike and Serena! We slept on their boat and experienced life inside a marina parking lot. Surreal... huge ships living on top of stilts only reachable by ladder, awaiting their time to be put in the water, not quite alive, but very present. The four of us got along beautifully and I love my new friends! We spent an amazing day on a boat (not theirs) and sailed all around the coast of the Med.. exploring coves and caves, Islands and inlets.. we swam, snorkeled, sunbathed, listened to music, drank beer, chatted, ate barbeque, fresh fruit, and swam some more.. WHAT A LIFE! Being out on the water like that feels timeless and grounding.. I could do that for a while.. and with each day on a boat or exploring ruins or wandering mountain sides, my hair gets blonder, my skin bronzer, my heart bigger and my soul stronger.. Holding onto this feeling/time/place and recognizing the moment is a gift I will take with me forever.
(Boats at Marmaris, Turkey)

We went to one more cute coastal town to visit Rani after she was finished with her wedding events. A little town called Kas. Cute and laid back we literally spent less than 24 hours there, but had a lovely time eating fish and drinking wine in the evening and in the morning we took a water taxi to a nearby beach where we sent a few hours in the sun and BLUE water. The Mediterranean Coast of Turkey is the bluest, clearest water EVER. Because there is not much eb and flow of water from the Atlantic, there aren’t many fish, plankton, seaweed, sea creatures etc.. hence CLEAR BLUE… and the rugged white rock cliffs that meet the water make for an extra special effect for the senses.
Leaving the coastal scenery and hopping on a 16 hour bus ride to Cappadocia Turkey (central) – where we met up with Mike and Serena again - was a bit taxing except what we arrived into made us forget it all. Eyes still crusted, we stepped off the bus at 7am into the small town of Goreme. Lighting perfect, we took in for the first time a place that’s like Star Wars meets Flinnstones meets the Grand Canyon meets fairyland meets nothing I’ve ever seen before! Valleys and Canyons of rose and gray and brown colored stones, protruding rock formations 100s of feet high – where stores, homes, hotels and restaurants where built right into them….Other protruding rock formations looking like huge penis’s invading the sky next to delicate rolling, folding rock formations looking very vaginal, very Georgia O’Keefe (this specific valley was called “LOVE VALLEY” – DUH!)

(Love Valley, Cappadocia Turkey)

The highlight of the Cappadocia experience was a balloon ride at sunrise over the whole valley/canyon. The sun just peaking over the mountains we watched the balloon come to life as fire breathed air into the giant bulbous head. We jumped into the basket and lift off! Floating slow, steady, peaceful, dipping in and out of valleys just low enough to pick plums from a tree and high enough to see the world below. Dozens of other balloons took flight and for a while we all hovered watching each other and soaking up the incredible, simple mode of flying. The sensation of balloon flying is calming – not scary and the air was soooo fresh! After about 1.45 hours we landed gracefully in a field of wild flowers where a table of mimosas awaited us to celebrate a safe, clear, beautiful morning flight. AMAZING!

(Hot air balloon, Cappadocia Turkey)

By the end of our Turkey time, we became accustom to sipping Efes (Turkish beer) and Raki (Turkish liquor) and cuy (Turkish tea) ,toking the occasional sheesha (hookah), playing backgammon, soaking in the soothing melodic tones of the call to prayer, and genuinely enjoying the lovely Turkish people. Adam especially had an affinity for the Turkish language and was talking jive with the boys like a pro :)

Friday, July 2, 2010

We plan 24, 12 , 2 hours in advance, taking our adventures one step at a time…We eat when we’re hungry, we sleep when we’re tired, we absorb the stimulation and the newness, we navigate and maneuver our way, feel the flow, trust ourselves, trust each other.. we are synced up and tuned in.. Oh the ease of sibling travel!
We've been staying connected to the world (besides facebook, email, and phone) through the current universal language of the world cup! catching games or scores or glimpses during dinner, over coffee, through store windows . A great conversation starter in any city, small town, bus stop..

We made our way back to mainland Greece from Albania and landed our first stop in the otherworldly place of Meteora – Greek for “suspended rocks” or “In the heavens above”. Insane rock formations house the monasteries of monks from 11 AD who built their homes on top of the rocks to escape the bloodshed of the Ottoman empire. Today monks still live there, as does the thriving tourist scene. So serene, so surreal, so beautiful.
(one of the monastaries at Meteora)
Athens came next. Fortunately we stayed with Dana’s friend from DC who is living and working in Athens and could offer us 2 bedrooms, free Wi-Fi , laundry and great hospitality – what a treat! Although none of us found Athens to be charming, beautiful or even that interesting of a city, the vastness of its sprawl , the history, and of course the Acropolis spoke for themselves – amazing. Making our way to the acropolis in the evening was a great move on our part- less crowds and perfect evening lighting leading to a sunset over the city. I am not much of a history buff and usually don’t retain much historical information, but I will always carry with me the feeling of being in the center of such a city, at the highest point, breathing the intensity of the Parthenon and the other structures, feeling without knowing that history took place here.

(Adam and I at the Parthenon)

Being beach bums and sun worshipers, we had to get back to the islands – Naxos being the first. What a cute island - dry as a bone but still charmng! We lazed on the beach, rented scooters and explored little towns, Mt. Zeus (i am still confused at to what this was.. but I love the name!), and beaches along the coast. Riding scooters has become one of my new favorite things and we try to rent them as often as possible.. Nothing like the freedom of the road - not to mention the "cool" factor.. I just might have to have my own one day.. Keeping the theme of “island hopping”, we left Naxos after 2 days of exploration, great seafood and more soccer and ferried our way to Santorini.
(beach and coast in Naxos)

Santorini is where we parted ways with Dana and started in on the nitty gritty of sibling travel – which has been amazing. We accidentally splurged on one of the most unique places I’ve ever stayed. Nestled in the whitewashed town of Oia, our room was built right into the side of the island, accenting the natural curvature of the rock.. it was seriously like living in an igloo – a posh igloo no less, for we found ourselves wearing our white robes and slippers on our private balcony eating fresh fruit overlooking the Mediterranean feeling the breeze and the sun and utter happiness :) Oia, has quickly climbed my “potential honeymoon” list as it is SUCH a charming and romantic town - I think Adam and I were the only couple not holding hands ... The architecture looks like it is covered in icing - so white, so smooth, so soft.. We decided to stay in our classy, posh themed adventure and rent a convertible Mazda sports car for the day. Wind in our hair, plastered smiles on our faces we zipped around the whole island, explored cliffs, beaches, towns, and constructed photo shoots along the way (see below).. Livin our lives like they’re golden. One epic night, the entire island (or so it seemed) gathered at the tip of the island (which is Oia) to watch the sunset.. what a unifying and electrifying vibe with so many people crammed in every crack with a view of the sun setting over the ocean.. we hollered, and clapped, and one man even proposed in the midst of it all.. It felt very burning man. The epic night ended in the BEST fish dinner I have ever fresh, so tasty, so simple
(Oia at sunset)
Santorini was the end of our 2 weeks in Greece. How we LOVED Greece and it’s tomato-cucumber-feta-olive salads, white wine, amazing history, chillin islands, electric sunsets, crystal blue waters, cobblestoned towns tucked in mountains and valleys, yogurt and honey, inviting atmospheres, lovely people. Greece, I WILL be back.
A friend sent me this amazing piece on the concepts of a pilgrimage and purposeful travel and I will leave on this excerpt from it…….“On pilgrimage it seems everything around us appears richer, fuller and more alive as our awareness expands. Time takes on a different dimension. There is no past or future, only this moment and what is in front of us. We create a new environment energetically and physically each day.” – this pretty much sums it up!!


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Rome to Corfu to Saranda

The motivation and desire to write blogs, update facebook, respond to emails, and even get near a computer in the last 3+ weeks has been a STRUGGLE! Being in the moment has been my only existance and I am LOVING the freedom.

And now I sit on the 8th floor balcony of hostel Hairy Lemon in Saranda, Albania over looking the ocean and the barren lego-like port town sprawling up the sides of the mountains. The whole place seems to be under construction - forever. How did I get here?!? I must go back to where it started in Roma at the end of May, which seems like a million memories ago...

(Third U.S. team - Thrid Eye Tribe - in our finest!)

200+ boomerangers and those associated with boomerangers from 15 or so countries gathered in Rome to battle out the world championships.. in the end, the US won!! for the first time since 2002. It was amazing. Personally, I had a bit of a bizarre experience due to being hit in the head on the first day of competition (by the new world champion of course!), which left me with a split ear, a slight concussion, and a bruised mentality. Non the less, my team did AMAZING (shout out to Third eye Tribe!) and I was estatic to have been a part of the experience and energized by this unique international community that I have grown to love so deeply. In the off moments from throwing, I was able to explore Rome - Colosseum, Pantheon, Vatican at night - and took an overnight trip northeast of Rome driving along rivers, waterfalls and breathtaking countrysides ending up at 14th century monastary turned bed and breakfast nesteled in the mountains. I felt like a princess in a caslte and loved every minute of it.

After the highs of 10 days in the boomerang world, 8 of us set out to explore the Greek island, Corfu. The trip was epic. We took a bus to the trian station in Rome, an over night train to another train landing us in Bari, Italy for a few spectacular hours where we ate the freshest mozerella EVER and shopped for some new Italian swag. The next leg was an overnight ferry that turned out to be prodominantly for Greek truckers. We found a spot on the floor under the "trucker's lounge" sign, set up a barracade, and played drinking games until we passede out - it was the only way. Another ferry and 36 hours from the start, we finally landed in PARADISE. Staying right on the cliffside overlooking the beach, we soaked up the sun, salt, fresh foods, and seaside air that was much needed for all of us. We rented scooters and explored the terrain and beauties of the island. an epic day that we all agreed was in the top ten of our lives..... We slathered our bodies in the natural clay from the cliffsides leaving our skin SO soft - a bootleg version of a mud bath.... We got massaged in the open air by an essentric South African man - very interesting guy - and one of the best massages of my life - i have never been so man-handled! what a time. After 4 glorious days, we all went our seperate ways and Adam (my brother), Dana (my good friend), and I decided since we were only a 1/2 hour ferry from Albania, we'd go to the port town Serenda, and stay a night before we head back to mainland Greece and visit Meteora on our way to Athens.
I am feeling sky high, happy and healthy (one traveler we met in a hostel in Albania told me I was the healthiest looking person he'd seen traveling - ever! ha!).. Next stops mainland Greece and then back to the Greek islands... I hope I find the motivation to update more than every 3 weeks! but i am concentrating on the moment so no promises!

(I tried to upload more pictures but the intenet is NOT being nice to me.. booo... I am posting some on my facebook page)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Life is just outside your comfort zone!


As I embark on a new stage of my life - a fresh 27, happily unemployed, and no place to call home (besides my unconditional home where I grew up, of course), I thought I'd document this unique time, keep my people in the loop, reach outside my comfort zone, and start a blog!

Two months ago, I moved out of DC leaving behind a home of 9 years, an incredible job with incredible people, great friends, and a city that will always be a part of me....... I haven't looked back since. I have decided to take a "year off" to travel, pursue other dreams that don't fit into the boxes of work and school, and see what I get into when left to my own devices. I've got a zillion ideas, activities, adventures, challenges on my list - basically, blazing trails and shootin' guns -and in between I will apply for grad school in hope to start in the Fall of 2011.

This "year off" has started perfectly - 2 spring months in MA, spending quality time with my family, seeing my homegirls, taking weekend trips to NYC, Boston, Vermont and Ohio, eating healthy (thanks mom!), sleeping till noon (every day?!), exercising, doing yard work, making art, purging crap I've stored at my mom's since I was 8, throwing boomerangs, reading, watching American Idol, and generally keeping it cool. This combination has filled me with the right relaxation and rejuvenation needed for the start of my first adventure: 10 weeks traveling with my brother - and some friends along the way. I leave for Rome Monday May 24th, where I will compete on a U.S. team in the Boomerang World Cup. From there we make our way to Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and finally Morocco. WHEW! I hope to keep this blog updated as much as possible and share my stories as well as get feedback and ideas from all of you!

In a recent horoscope (Taurus) I was advised that the answer is not to control myself; it's to observe myself. I take this approach while moving forward with an open heart and clear eyes striving to observe myself, be courageous and keep reaching just outside my comfort zone.
Roma! Qui vengo!