Thursday, June 24, 2010

Istanbul to Goreme to Antalya to Olympos (Turkey)

Hey Everybody,

First just wanted to say a massive thank you for all of your comments to posts and emails to me at Whenever I am waiting for a late bus, or trying to fall asleep in an overheated hostel, or caught in the rain in my only pair of clean shorts, it means a lot to me that you're all "with me" in some way.

I'm now in Olympos, Turkey, on the western Mediterranean coast. It's a bit of a hippie/party beach town, but it's got cool old ruins and a nice beach and is in a gorgeous valley and very near Chimaera, a cliff that naturally lights on fire, and has been for the past few thousand years. I'll be here for the next couple days, though I may move over a kilometer to Cirali, which is a bit quieter, especially on a Friday night, tomorrow. Over the past three nights I've been on overnight buses for two, so I'm pretty tired from all of the collective non-sleep. The one night in between buses I stayed up late watching a world cup game and was woken up at 4:30 by the call to prayer from the mosque a block away, so this chiller area feels quite good right now.

But let me back up a bit. On Monday night I boarded a bus in Istanbul for Goreme, Cappadocia. I had a woman's ticket, meaning I had to sit next to a woman on the bus, and I thought I might have gotten a seat to myself but about an hour into the ride a rather large woman filled up the seat next to me. And then her kid-not an infant, I might add-got on top of her lap. It was one of those things where you just realize that it could, possibly, be worse somehow, so you don't want to jinx it by feeling too sorry for yourself. Sure enough, they played a world cup game VERY loudly for several hours, but when all was quiet I managed to stay asleep, on and off, for a decent period of time. When it got light we were amidst fairy chimneys in Cappadocia. If you don't know what they are, google them, I honestly cannot explain the science of it even after going on a tour with an expert, visiting a museum, and reading about them in my guidebook. They stopped in Nevsehir, and tried to get us Goreme-bound backpackers to board a minibus, but I had been warned not to do this because they almost always try to charge you extra for the ride. It all worked out and I found myself at Rock Valley Pension in Goreme. I didn't get a chance to see other hostels, but I would HIGHLY recommend Rock Valley. For about $10 US per night, you get breakfast (real breakfast with eggs, bread, jam, veggies, olives, cheese, etc) and a perfectly cool swimming pool, which is amazing when it's hot during the day. I arrived right in time for breakfast, which was perfect because I got to meet all the guests. There were three Canadian guys who had just finished university and two girls from Liverpool who went to college in Newcastle and London. Despite the bus ride, I rallied and spent the day with the girls, Jess and Beth (who were awesome! if they're reading this, hi!). We bought a picnic for about $1.50 each, visited the Open-Air Museum with lots of ruins of old carved churches and buildings- it was cool but a bit repetitive- then got on a local bus to a neighboring town where we hoped to hike to some fairy chimneys. We ended up hiking through a ghost town, which was cool during the day but would have been super creepy at night. The old towns are carved into the rock of the cliff, so they're essentially elaborate abandoned caves. Anyways, we got to the top of the hill and saw fairy chimneys for miles and miles in the distance. It was quite hot so we finished out hike there and had our picnic. That afternoon we hung out by the pool and I researched the end of my trip and then we went out to dinner. Cappadocia has these sealed-clay-pot dishes, so Jess and Beth split that and I got vegetable borek, kind of like cheesy veggie spring rolls. It was a fairly expensive restaurant but it had an amazing few of the sunset and the whole town, which was good because the Canadian boys had rented scooters and were supposed to be back, but Beth and Jess were worried because we hadn't seen them. It turned out they were fine, because after dinner we found them at Fat Boys, a local bar/cafe, where they were watching a world cup game. They were with this really nice Mexican man whose wife had planned a whole trip through Turkey for him since she herself couldn't make it. It's really cool meeting all these people!

The mosque woke me up quite early the next morning, and I had expected the girls to wake me up at 5 so we could climb up the hill to watch all the hot air balloons float through Goreme in the morning, but they decided not to so I slept in a bit. That day I went on the Green Tour, visiting rock-cut churches, a gorgeous valley, an old monastery carved into the rock that was kind of like a playground with all the climbing and jumping and scrambling we did, and a seven-story underground city, complete with tiny passageways and rock doors and a huge winery (of course-what else would you do if you lived underground all the time?). On the tour was a university student from Spain who had managed to study in Spain, Germany, France, Switzerland and Australia. I talked to him a lot and we had the idea to rent a car in Antalya with the English girls and do a bit of a coastal road trip. We got dinner when we got back and the girls weren't sure about the road trip, so we met up with them after that night's overnight bus, in the Antalya Otogar (bus station). We researched cars and found that gas was almost as expensive as the actual cost of the rental, so we backed out of that idea and the idea of visiting some local waterfalls with it. Andres, the Spanish guy, and I got breakfast for free at the hostel (White Garden, I believe it was called) that Jess and Beth were staying at in Antalya, which was awesome! We wandered around old Antalya, which is quite touristy but still pretty and nice, then got lunch. Andres and I headed out to the bus station again. We had both been headed toward Olympos, where I am now, but Andres changed his mind at the last minute and went to Fethiye or Kas, not sure which, so he could hike part of the Lycian Way, which I would actually have loved to do if I didn't have to go back to Boston in a few days!

I'll update you all on the rest of the trip soon, but for now, I'm going to get some dinner! Keep the comments and emails coming!


Monday, June 21, 2010

Istanbul, Turkey


The last week has been a whirlwind of mezze, baklava, roasted chestnuts, the biggest stuffed baked potato I have ever seen, and some kickass lemonade. For five days Willie and I discovered some of Istanbul's finest offerings, focusing on food but also exploring a few sites, bazaars, and side-streets. Some highlights:

Roasted Chestnuts: Street vendors sell food all over the place here, from mussels with lemon, to sesame pretzels, to bananas, to corn on the cob, to arabic ice cream, to fresh cherries, to turkish delight, to fish sandwiches and to roasted chestnuts. My favorite has been the roasted chestnuts. They, along with market vendors, restaurant advertisers, and pretty much anybody selling anything, has been unfortunately misinformed that the correct way to solicit customers is to say "yes, please," as in "yes, please would you like some chestnuts?" often followed by an address of "lady," as in, "hey lady, get out of my way." Willie and I started saying "no, thank you" in reply, just for symmetry's sake.

Baklava: Compared to baklava I have tried elsewhere, this baklava is pure heaven. It's crunchy, it's nutty, and it's completely soaked in honey, but without being sticky- somehow it's just juicy. There are lots of types of sweet pastries, but my favorite was the walnut baklava. I also tried chocolate-coconut baklava, which was interesting, but not quite as good as the real stuff. My favorite store to get it from was Koska, which is actually a chain of baklavalaris here in Istanbul.

Turkish Delight: It took me a while to try Turkish Delights. I have never really liked it, but finally, Koska was giving them out for free and I found that I quite liked it, especially the varieties with nuts and coconut shavings. The vendors always want you to buy by the kilo or at least half kilo, and get exasperated when I request just a few squares.

Mezze: Willie and I had mezze for practically every dinner while we were here. My favorites: dill/parsley hummus, okra with tomatoes, eggplant with tomatoes, yoghurt with garlic and parsley, and walnut/tomato paste. We realized after a few nights of getting ridiculously full that we were each eating at least a full breadbasket each.

Stuffed Baked Potato: One day Willie got lunch at the Istanbul Modern art museum's cafe, but after all of our eating escapades I wasn't yet ready for another big meal. So, I waited until later that afternoon for lunch, and ended up eating a massive stuffed baked potato. They carve out the potato and mix it up with butter and then put the potato back in the shell. You can choose seven toppings out of about twenty, and I had, among other things, cheese, mushrooms, ketchup, spicy corn, mixed vegetables, and a few other unidentifiable items. It was the most disgusting and yet simultaneously light foods I had eaten. A baked potato, light? I guess all of the toppings helped even out the load.

Lemonade: Our search for lemonade and other refreshing beverages of the like took us to cafes and restaurants across the city. We had ginger-mint-lemonade with delicious apple cookies on the side which was especially refreshing, fresh mint limeade, and your everyday average lemonade. A couple times we ended up at Starbucks, partially for the familiarity of the drinks and decor, but also because it has some of the comfiest armchairs and undeniably the best air conditioning in this city. God knows how hot it was midday.

We saw the usual sites- Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sofia, Blue Mosque, Grand Bazaar, Spice Bazaar, etc. but also took the time to go to a few of Istanbul's less-visited locales. This brought us to a franchise of Boston-based The Upper Crust, apparently a massive success here in Istanbul and possibly the only non-Boston location of the chain. We had several public transport adventures, and once stood on a bus for twice as long as it took walking. The subway system uses tokens, not tickets, and they're usually bright red, plastic, and look like toy money. One day we spent hours in the Istanbul Modern, possibly the best modern art museum I have visited, ever. The quality of the art was outstanding, as was the design of the museum, but I think what made it so good was the art's simultaneous relevance to Turkish culture and history and its independence from any collective stereotypes. I tried going back today, but it was closed Mondays.

A very "Turkish" experience, I guess, had to do with pants. Yesterday morning Willie departed to return home to Boston after five months of being abroad (!) and for the first time I was on my own in Istanbul. It was so hot that I had been wearing shorts and skirts during the day and at night, so when I got on the subway to buy a bus ticket to Cappadocia, I thought nothing of the shorts and tshirt I had on- nearly exactly the same outfit I had worn with Willie a few days earlier. I got a lot of weird stares, but I couldn't figure out if this was because I was a woman alone, a Westerner in a predominantly local area of town, or something else. It became pretty clear when a random middle-aged guy came up to me and started yelling in Turkish, gesturing at my legs. Apparently, while it's okay for a tourist woman to wear shorts when accompanied by a guy, that is not the case when you're traveling alone here. The only pants I had were black skinny jeans- not ideal for soaring temperatures- so that evening I set out to find pants. Naturally, my height made this difficult- I have never bought a pair of pants that fit me without having to cut the legs shorter. So after finding pants, I attempted to find a tailor. I went into a suit shop and a chain clothing store, and nobody knew where I could find one. I finally went into the United Colors of Benetton, where a very nice man from the store walked me around the corner to a tailor, helped me negotiate a price and pinned the pants for me. He may have received a referral commission, but I was grateful nonetheless.

It was interesting that the man who yelled at me was not the only person to attempt to communicate with me in Turkish- a woman today had a whole conversation with me in Turkish, and all I did was grunt and nod and smile as I did not want to embarass her by admitting that I had no idea what she was rambling on about. Later that night I changed into pants, and my ambiguous foreign?/local? identity became further ambiguous.

I'm finally off to Cappadocia- Goreme- tonight after a failed attempt at the journey yesterday. In Turkey, apparently, there are men's and women's sides of buses, and all of the women's seats were sold out yesterday. Hopefully more pictures soon, but until then...


Friday, June 18, 2010

Budapest, Hungary


From Saturday evening through Tuesday morning I was in Budapest with wonderful Willie Levitt! Willie was coming off a semester in Bologna, Italy, where he ate a ton of gelato, learned enough Italian to eavesdrop effectively on all the Italian tourists we ran into in Hungarian restaurants, and spoiled his appetite for anything below the standards of Italian food... which is, you know, everything else.

Despite the nearly unbearable heatwave that made us stop at least five times a day for juice, cocktails, coffee, water, ice cream, and pretty much anything cold and edible, Willie and I enjoyed visiting a city with such an interesting combination of old and new, east and west (and north and south) cultural influences. Our first day we trekked across the Danube up Castle Hill, where, of course, we spent way too much money on unfortunate food for our first meal. The views were cool, and the architecture reminded us of Disneyland. We had another bad dinner at a bar, but later that night we found one of the best desserts I have ever eaten, a strawberry/rice pudding sundae at Gerbeaud, one of Budapest's famed coffeehouses. The waiters in Budapest were strange- they never seemed particularly interested in waiting on you, and seemed irritated when you asked them for something like a bottle of water, or, you know, a meal.

The second day, we visited Budapest's main indoor food market, a massive complex selling every type of meat and fish, sausage, cheese, pickle, vegetable, fruit, prepared Hungarian dish, imported specialties from Asia, pastries, bread, cookies, fresh juice, touristy knick-knacks and, of course, paprika. We sampled donut-hole style potato pastries (addictive), then I got a massive profiterole with pudding-cream and Kool-whip and confectioner's sugar- spectacular. We also bought the wrong cherries, but in doing so we discovered what cherries in pies and maraschinos must be made from. We went to the City Park, which would have been pretty if it had not been under construction and an extremely hot sun. Willie and I split off then, and I went to the public baths. At first it was a little disconcerting, being in a big, lukewarm, sulfurous, shallow pool with a bunch of elderly strangers, but after a while I slowed down and unwound in the water. It wasn't until thirty minutes before I was supposed to meet up with Willie that I found the massive outdoor pool in a beautiful old courtyard. Too bad, but I enjoyed the experience all the same. The courtyard was painted, the street signs, construction cranes, many houses and apartment buildings and metro lines, a macaroni-and-cheese color of yellow/orange.

Then I met up with Willie at a really cool cafe-bookstore. The bookstore was modern and reminiscent of a Border's or Barnes and Noble, but the cafe, a high-ceilinged dining room in the back, was more ornate than many of the sites we had been seeing. The food was also some of the best we found in Budapest, and the air-conditioning was a god-send. Called Alexandra Books & Wine, a major section of the ground floor was dedicated to selling wine. It was sad to leave this cool (in both senses of the word) haven, but less than a block later we found ourselves sipping tomatillo-garnished pina coladas at a cafe across from the opera house, so not too sad.

That night we ate at a semi-vegetarian organic restaurant that, for Hungarian food, was quite good, but now that we're in Istanbul, seems a bit lacklustre. We had reserved tickets for a night-time boat-ride along the river, but we had a bit of extra time so we sat in the lobby of a Marriott and thought up excuses for why we were sitting in some random hotel's lobby. It's fun and kind of thrilling to do this. Crashing nice hotels became a bit of a pastime for us. Afterwards we went on a night cruise of the Danube, and saw the sites lit up. It was cool, but the distances were much more manageable than I had expected, so it probably would have been just as cool to walk up and down the river on foot. We planned on going back to Gerbeaud for another sundae, but by the time we got back to land it was closed. Despite the heat of the past few days, by our last night we both wished we had brought sweaters.

Overall we found Budapest to be a bit bewildering, a bit confusing. It was certainly beautiful at times, but it was also dirty and undeveloped in other areas- and these two components were often right next door to each other, literally. Our hostel staff and waiters at restaurants were generally well-intentioned and kind, but also generally had no idea how to do their jobs. Our hostel staff once called a friend to get (faulty, as it turned out) directions to the airport, and they could not point us in the direction of good, cheap Hungarian food, which seems like something you would know if you worked at a hostel in Hungary.

The last morning we got more pastries and fruit from the market before heading to the airport by metro and bus. The airport is two entirely separate locations, so you really have to know your terminal. We flew away from Hungary and headed over to Turkey, hoping for better food and looking forward to air-conditioning at the next place we were staying.

When I looked at the map of Europe in the in-flight magazine, I realized how far I had come, by bus and train. Athens to Budapest is no small journey! It gave me a nice taste of overland travel, and I'm looking forward to future overland travel, some of which I'll be doing in the coming weeks through Turkey.

More later on the availability of roasted chestnuts, how to select toppings for massive baked potatos, why buying six pieces of baklava at once is not necessarily the best decision, and other food misdemeanors with Willie in Istanbul...


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Dubrovnik to Zagreb to Budapest


Last week I made the near-24-hour journey from Dubrovnik to Budapest. Originally I had planned on stopping in Sarajevo for a night, but it turns out that this is logistically a mess. It's an overnight bus from Dubrovnik to Zagreb, Croatia's capital, then a 7.5 hour train ride (when all goes well) over the border to Budapest, Hungary. Here are some pictures.

This is Zagreb's train station, where I spent most of my four-hour stay in the city.

This is the park I walked around in to pass time before my train left. Zagreb reminded me of Switzerland- very clean, very organized, an old city but very modern. It was an early Saturday morning but people were out and about, playing frisbee in the park and having a coffee out on the plaza.

In the plaza I found a few dozen vendors setting up their stalls for the day. This farmer's market of sorts would not have been unusual, except that every last stall sold the same thing: strawberries. I decided strawberries would make a very good breakfast.

One strawberry, however, turned out to be a shiny black beetle- not the most appetizing garnish- so I put it down on the ground. A few moments later a drunk guy stumbled over and tried talking to me in Croatian, gesturing wildly. I left him on that bench, and when I turned around I saw that he had picked up the beetle, considering its pros and cons as a breakfast food for himself.

Eventually, I actually got on the train, though not before annoying the bathroom attendant by spending over twenty minutes brushing my teeth, washing my face, putting on sunscreen, etc etc at the public sinks. I also was an extra as a team was filming a scene in the station around me- I signed a consent form and everything.

It was challenging finding the train to Budapest: it seemed that nobody actually knew which train went where, including uniformed station officials. I met up with several backpackers from Spain, England, and Mexico, and together we established the identity of a train car, headed to Budapest, though I don't think any of us really felt sure we were on the right train until we arrived in Budapest's station. The train had Harry-Potter-style compartments. They were decrepit and crumbling, and it was blazing hot all day, but I just read and looked out the window. I sat with a young woman from Mexico studying business abroad in Germany, and a Hungarian guy coming home from a "cultural exchange" which, from what I could tell, was pretty much a school-sponsored, multi-cultural orgy.

I arrived in Budapest late that afternoon, after nearly 24 hours of travel- between two neighboring countries! I have officially established that I prefer buses over trains.

More later!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Dubrovnik, Croatia

First of all, I would like to thank Seka, Tia, Mato, Uri, Evo, Rina, Nika, Mato, Juro, Katica, Luce… probably forgetting somebody… for making my time in Dubrovnik so special! All of these people are family members of Julia Hanlon, my friend from school, and all of them welcomed me into their homes graciously and generously helped me with everything I needed- vegetarian meals, laundry, rides to the buses, ice cream (which is definitely necessary), etc. etc.

I won’t go through a play-by-play of my time in Dubrovnik, but I would love to share some highlights and pictures.

This is what the water looks like- it starts clear, gets turquoise and then turns this teal, dark-blue green color. I went swimming every day I was in Dubrovnik, sometimes twice a day, and sometimes even when I did not have a bathing suit available- I just went in my clothes. This was Nika’s last two weeks of schools, so she was very jealous that I was swimming all day while she was in school.

I walked along the city walls, and got views like this! Dubrovnik is truly a beautiful city, both the old and the new. And the views from all around the walls were all different. On several people’s recommendations I went in the late afternoon, managing to avoid crowds and stay cool.

This is my only picture of Nishta, the vegetarian restaurant I frequented three times while in Dubrovnik. It’s a poem written on the wall inside, though I usually ate outside. In Croatian “nishta” means nothing because that’s all the locals could imagine a vegetarian restaurant could serve. I got tempeh burritos there, as well as veggie spring rolls, a salad bar salad, and iced tea. The food was really good! And the lady gave me a free veggie hummus plate when I left for good. I also often got gelato, especially chocolate-raspberry swirl “rock star” ice cream and coconut ice cream, at Dolce Vita in the old town.

This is the spot where I dipped into the water on Lokrum, an island just a quick ferry ride away from the city. Lokrum is a tamed-but-still-wild island, with forested areas, a little café by the dock, a saltwater pond and undomesticated peacocks! It was a rocky area so this swim was brief, but I usually swam laps on the beach below:

It was free to swim on but showers and changing cost a bit extra- a small price to pay for cooling off in the middle of the day!

After a three night visit in Dubrovnik I headed out. At one point I had hoped to visit Sarajevo on the way to Budapest, where I would meet Willie, but the logistics of the buses made this more trouble than it was worth. I’ll just have to come back!


Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Athens to Tirana to Berat to Tirana to Shkodra to Ulcinj to Budva to Dubrovnik


Sorry it’s been a while since I last posted, I have been on a total of seven long distance buses in the past 4 days. I’ve been in a different place (usually country) every night. The route was Athens → Tirana, Albania → Berat, Albania → Tirana, Albania → Shkodra, Albania → Ulcinj, Montenegro → Budva, Montenegro → Dubrovnik, Croatia. Here are some highlights:

I decided to leave Athens a night early, even though I still had to pay for the hostel bed I had booked a few weeks back. It turns out this was a very, very good idea, as I only barely made it to Dubrovnik in time to meet up with Julia Hanlon’s wonderful family, who I expect to meet in about half an hour!

The thirteen hour bus ride from Athens to Tirana was awesome. I got to know the primary bus driver, Edmond, a middle-aged Albanian with family in the United States. He worked as a truck driver out of Wisconsin for twelve years, and could not get over the fact that I was traveling alone, and had absolutely no idea why I was visiting Albania. This tended to be the case with everybody there. I also sat next to Reveka, a 30-year-old originally from Fier, Albania and a long-time resident of Athens. She was pretty much assigned to protect me from the eleven other passengers on the full-length bus (supposedly it is usually more full, but I doubt this is true) by Edmond, and she did an excellent job. Our bus stopped a total of six main times: once to eat a late dinner at a roadside cafeteria, once at the Greek side of the border, once at the Albanian side of the border, once to get gas, once to eat more food around 4am—the bus drivers each got a massive bowl of what turned out to be a special Albanian type of yoghurt, which they made me try and actually tastes like pudding-consistency sour cream—and once to buy watermelons from the side of the road. We also stopped once for nearly every passenger, as in Albania there are not really bus stops, you just ask the bus driver to drop you off wherever you need to go- sometimes, if you live on a main road, this can literally be your front door.

When we got to Tirana, Edmond and the second driver treated me to coffee at Edmond’s favorite bar. It was about 7:30am, and Edmond was drinking something a little stronger than coffee, so when he offered to personally drive me to my hostel, I turned him down. However, he still insisted on paying my cab fair to the hostel.

At my hostel in Tirana, I pulled a move from a trip a few years ago with my dad outside of Barcelona- I registered at the hostel, put my bags in my room, used their bathroom and read the entire Albania section ripped from my Lonely Planet Eastern Europe book, and then proceeded to realize at around 11am that I was not, in fact, interested in staying in Tirana, but would actually prefer to travel to Berat, a UNESCO World Heritage site town with an old, still-inhabited citadel and very few tourists. The hostel owner was very kind and let me off without paying, and even gave me a flyer for the only hostel in Berat, run by an English guy who was just coming off a week-long binge with some of his guests. Once again, on the three-hour bus ride to Berat, a woman sat next to me, this one with even less experience speaking English. We practiced Albanian, English, and German, which, strangely, she spoke quite well. In Berat I walked up the steep hill to the citadel, and was soon followed by a 20-year-old university student named Johan who grew up in Berat but lived now in Tirana, where he was studying to become a soccer team manager. Johan was very nice, but a little too nice, so I carefully avoided telling him where I was staying and said goodbye a good distance away from my hostel. Safe traveling for solo women, 101. That night I took a stroll as part of the town’s nightly giro, in which every single member of the town walks a three-block stretch with a tight group of friends or family, back and forth, for a good hour or so. It was one of the strangest things I have ever seen, mostly because (as Scott, the hostel owner pointed out) nobody stops to talk to people in other groups, probably a practice leftover from Albania’s communist days.

The next day I awoke bright and early to make it to Montenegro at least, hopefully into Croatia. I took a 3 hour bus back to Tirana, a 3 hour bus up to Shkodra, a 1.5 hour bus to Ulcinj, and a 1.5 hour bus to Budva, a beach town on the coast of Montenegro. Though it’s not Western Europe by a long shot, Montenegro has significantly more established infrastructure than Albania did- for example, buses don’t pull over to pick up hitchhikers off the highway, the roads go straight when possible, and don’t curve for absolutely no reason, and it is possible to find buses out of actual bus stations.

By the time I got to Budva, it was dark outside, so I called it quits—the next bus to Croatia was not until the next day. I had not brought the Montenegro section of lonely planet with me, and I had no idea where to stay or what the deal was there, but my new Australian friends, who I had met up with in Shkodra and two of whom had been traveling for sixteen months (16!), lent me theirs and were generally really nice. I have yet to meet anybody my age or even anybody who hasn’t yet completed at least a year of college. Most people are Australians who are travelling for between 6 and 16 months around Europe, and occasionally adding South America, the middle east, or southeast asia to their circuits. It’s actually quite interesting to hear where people are going or have been, because it shows me what’s on and off the beaten path. Nobody I talked to had been to the silk road area or west Africa, two places I’m considering going.

A side note: I love Lonely Planet with a passion, but I have been rather disappointed with their coverage of this region. There are usually tons of hostels and cheap hotels in nearly every town and city, but my guide usually only has two or three, and they aren’t always the best ones. More significantly, Lonely Planet focuses on the journey south, from central or western Europe down all the way to Greece, which is why it was so hard to plan the trek up from Athens to Dubrovnik, and I’ve already realized it’s going to be hard to get to Budapest from here. There’s practically no information about buses heading north, but nearly always information about southward routes.

Today I woke up late after nights or sleeping little or on buses (and therefore not at all). It was a little weird to have my own room (I could not find a hostel, just a cheap hotel), and I felt less safe there than I did in a room full of strangers. It was interesting.

This morning I had yoghurt bought from a supermarket the night before, but no spoon, so I spent about half an hour asking around everybody if they knew where I could find a spoon. Eventually I gave up and went and bought a banana split so I could use the spoon for my yoghurt. Looking back, I could have gotten something a bit less extravagant- like a coffee, say- but it was a bit more fun to have a banana split for brunch.

I then took the bus to where I am now, beautiful Dubrovnik. I’m about to go meet Julia Hanlon’s family, which I am so excited about! It’s more expensive here than Albania and Montenegro, but cheaper than Greece, so I’m happy about that. Even though it’s not yet peak season there are a lot of tourists! I plan on spending time walking around the old city here, and the islands around the city, maybe by kayak. I hurt my back a little somehow—not really surprising given the amount of time I spend sitting on bouncy buses, carrying a heavy pack (and three other bags, usually, as well), and sleeping in strange positions. So hopefully it will feel better in time to kayak here. After this city, I may go to Sarajevo if it’s conveniently on the way to Budapest, where I am meeting Willie Levitt! Yay!


Friday, June 4, 2010

Athens Arrival


It's been less than 24 hours since I left Newton, Massachusetts and I've already eaten excellent olives in a Greek taverna, out in the sun, surrounded by Spanish tourists. I like the feeling of traveling by land better than just getting on a plane and getting off in another world, but you've got to admit it's convenient.

Speaking of air travel, the last time I left out of the gate at Logan that I did yesterday was when I was going to Florence with Katie Koppel, by way of Paris, last March break, and we ran into Sandy and Lucille Stott on the plane! I always like remembering when I was last in a particular terminal or at a certain gate.

I've already broken the law here, bringing in a grocery bag half filled with fresh fruit from the U.S. I had planned on eating it on the plane over, since British Airways is striking and therefore is not giving out vegetarian meals, but I ended up bringing most of it to my hostel here in Athens. It might seem ridiculous to keep old apples and grapes when I'm surrounded by all of these amazing olives and feta cheese and spanakopita, but I'm saving money so I can do things like kayak between islands on Croatia's coast and hang glide or para sail or whatever off cliffs in Turkey. Not that I'm not eating the olives. Obviously, I have to eat the olives.

Another random thing: people told me before I left that because I'm traveling alone, I'll meet way more people than I would if I was with somebody else. But I don't think that is necessarily true, I think that when you're alone you just notice all of your interactions with other people a lot more, like they "count" as something more. When you're with a friend, you can talk with somebody and learn about them, but you can forget about it fairly quickly. I am interested in watching the solo-travel aspect of this trip unfold.

Since it's pretty hot here in the early afternoon, I took the opportunity to write this blog post and do some other logistical stuff, and pretty soon I am going off to find something cool enough to keep me awake despite my jetlag. A shout out to Elizabeth Lamkin: there are NO FOUNTAINS here. Nothing to cool off with. Also, Elizabeth, I did the exact same thing as we did in Madrid the first day, and ordered way too much lunch, spending more money than I will on any meal for the rest of this trip, probably.

Tomorrow I am going to take public transport out to a beach so I can cool off and continue a recent practice of swimming across large-ish bodies of water, like Walden Pond, by attempting to swim across the Mediterranean. Just kidding. Sort of. I also want to walk around the parks here, and visit some ruins and other old stuff. But the thing is, the old stuff is kind of all around you here- I just walked past an above-ground subway track running through an excavation of these carved columns and buildings.

If you've ever been to Athens and have any suggestions for things I should do here, let me know! Comment or email Thanks everybody!

Love from the land of the olives,

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


So this is where I will be updating all of you about my travels... keep checking back for more. My new email is, so find me there. Thanks yall,