San Marino and finally, home

My traveling partner has returned to Oregon and I’m now back home in Alba Adriatica, Italy after yet another adventure of a lifetime. Last year we did Italy, Austria, Germany, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland and Russia. This year we did Sicily, Israel, Turkey, Slovenia, Croatia, northern Italy and San Marino. Continue reading

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ZAGREB, CROATIA and TRIESTE, ITALY, so sick, so sorry

Well, the first day in Zagreb didn’t turn out the way I expected. I woke up with no voice, aching joints and virtually no energy whatsoever. I could barely drag myself out of bed to brush my teeth. My companion wound up touring the city on his own while I stayed in bed. I was frustrated, but with 97 degree weather and 75% humidity, I knew I would be a mush ball outside. I reasoned that I needed a day to recoup and re-gain my strength. Continue reading

Days 7 and 8–LJUBLJANA, SLOVENIA

Our flight out of Istanbul was through Ataturk Airport, on the European side of the city. Since the flight was at 3:35 pm., we had plenty of time for a leisurely breakfast at Stone House. Esan and Vefa were not there as they live on the Asian side of Istanbul, across the Bosphorus. They usually arrive in the afternoon/evening for work. We said goodbye to them the night before. Vefa made sure to tell his brother, Sefa, to cook us the best breakfast and use the best ingredients.

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The breakfast was simple–a cheese and mushroom omelette for Barry and a cheese omelette for me. Fresh-squeezed orange juice, coffee, vegetables and pita bread rounded out our meal. Before leaving, I took a photo of Stefa and his helper, heartily shook Stefa’s hand and told him how much we appreciated their hospitality and wonderful food. I was kind of sad to leave because I felt I had made friends.

STONE HOUSE

Stone House Restaurant. Stefa, brother of Vefa and Esan, is on the right.

Our taxi driver got us to Ataturk airport quickly. Along the way we once again saw skyscrapers and hotels, apartment complexes and beautifully landscaped boulevards. I truly felt like I was back in Orange County. We drove along the Bosphorus and I realized how close the water had been to our hotel. The Bosphorus was packed with freighters, showcasing the importance of Istanbul as a port city.

The flight to Ljubljana on Turkish Airlines was pleasant and only lasted about two hours. We were surprised to be given a very nice, very tasty lunch on such a short flight. Compared to what American airlines are offering nowadays, we felt spoiled.

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Boat cruise on the Ljubljanica River.

The Ljubljana airport was quite small. I knew that Slovenia and Ljubljana were both sparsely populated. This airport seemed smaller than the airport in Eugene, Oregon, near my hometown. A half hour shuttle to our hotel was only nine euros per person. The drive into Ljubljana was reminiscent of a drive through Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The land was obviously fertile with farms everywhere. Trees abounded and small towns dotted the landscape. I felt like I was home.

We arrived at our hotel, Galeria River, perched right on the banks of the Ljubljanica River, a meandering waterway flowing through the town. The building hearkened back to Soviet times. The outside is beautifully maintained, the inside somewhat spartan. Our room, however, was completely remodeled with a safe and a huge bathroom. Our room looked out on the promenade and the river, albeit without air conditioning.

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The weather was very warm–upper nineties–and quite humid. After checking in, we started walking along the promenade. Ljubljana, with a population of 272,000 is smaller than the Salem Metropolitan Area, my former hometown. Restaurants and bars lined the slow-moving river. The atmosphere was probably the most laid back of any city I’ve ever experienced.

We walked along the river and found ourselves relaxing with every step. No one was hurrying, there was no traffic. People strolled along both sides of the river and enjoyed their meals and drinks at a leisurely pace. The architecture, something I enjoy immensely, was beautiful. We found a pub and ordered two Salisbury steak burgers platters and two beers and savored the atmosphere of this lovely city.

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After dinner, we continued walking. Pastry shops called my name, but I held back. Willow trees wept over the banks of the river. Musicians played jazz. Outdoor restaurants offered easily accessible waterfront seating with no waiting. It was obvious to me that Ljubljana is an undiscovered jewel in Europe.

The city dos not have a huge offering of things to do. There are the requisite cathedrals that exist in every European capital. There’s Slovenian cuisine. Ljubljana Castle offers a summer film series called “Under the Stars” that we attended. The film offered was “The Immitation Game”, an Oscar contender. Outside, in the courtyard of an ancient castle, watching the film swept me away.

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The next day we got up and had breakfast along the river walk. Ljubljana reminded me of a smaller version of Prague with its intact architecture everywhere.

Since we were only scheduled for one day, we had to run and pick up our train tickets for Zagreb, Croatia. We spent the day strolling and sitting, drinking and nibbling. I had not had a chance to sample Slovenian delicacies so I walked into a restaurant and ordered four of them to eat–as our lunch. My traveling companion’s eyes fairly popped out of his head when the waitress brought the plates to our table–mango and passion fruit, sponge cake with hazelnut crust, a passion fruit and raspberry tart, a chocolate and cherry ganache topped with almonds and another chocolate and raspberry concoction.

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My companion overdosed on sugar halfway through our “meal”. I, however, plowed along until every last bit was gone. If I could have licked the plates clean without looking gauche, I would have.

After our decadent afternoon, we left for the train station for the two hour trip to Zagreb. The train was very modern and comfortable. However, it had absolutely no air conditioning. Everyone in our car was noticeably silent. I calculated it was due to the communal suffering we were all experiencing in 93 degree weather with 75% humidity. Sweat was dripping down my neck and into my eyes.

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Ljubljana street scene

When we finally reached Zagreb, our clothes were wet with perspiration. We walked to our hotel down seemingly deserted streets. This was, after all, Saturday. Yet I expected more people to be out and about.

Checking in to our hotel, we flopped onto our beds and attempted to get our bodies to solidify from the liquid state we had been in for the past several hours. I was feeling lousy, coughing my brains out and totally void of energy. The next day we would hit Zagreb.

 

Days 5 and 6–ISTANBUL

It is official–I have fallen in love with Istanbul.

This is a city that entices from all angles. From the pulsing street vibe to the hospitality of its citizens to its wonderful cuisine and perfect gardens, Istanbul has captured my heart. And I will come back. Soon, I hope, because so much more beckons. There is so much more to see.

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Gardens in Gulhane Park

We’ve been fortunate enough to check out the Grand Bazaar and many side streets with small businesses offering everything imaginable. The Grand Bazaar was definitely–GRAND. Its tentacles reach into every direction. There appeared, to me, to be sections for jewelry and leather and glassware, etc.

Of course, these items are interspersed throughout the Bazaar. But, some sections seemed to focus on certain offerings.

We found the bazaar to be fascinating, but we bought nothing there. It came across as a tourist trap. While it was enticing and a definite experience, we were able to make purchases in kiosks near the Blue Mosque that catered to our wants–and to make good deals, too.

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Grand Bazaar

I purchased a bronze Turkish coffee pot along with matching coffee cups and a tray for $40. The price on the items were nearly $100. The manager of our little hotel encouraged us to visit this particular shop. Called IstanBlue, our manager obviously got a kickback for sending us there. We handed the proprietor of the shop our manager’s card and he immediately started slashing the prices on marked items that interested us. My traveling companion bought two scarves. We were both happy with our purchases.

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Inside the Grand Bazaar

I had no problem patronizing a shop that our hotelier referred us to. I felt it was better than taking our chances with relative strangers. Since we had booked our hotel through Booking.com, I felt comfortable because the proprietors knew that a bad experience would result in a bad review that would be visible for the entire world to see.

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We spent the rest of the day sauntering through neighborhoods and observing life. Walking back through Gulhane Park, we went for another round of tea and enjoyed the serenity of the opulent gardens full of impatiens and geraniums. Occasionally, the plaintive Muslim call to worship could be heard which superimposed over our experience a surreal quality.

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Silk market in Grand Bazaar

Storekeepers in Istanbul were less aggressive than those in Marrakech. To be sure, in the Grand Mosque, there were those who would pounce the second you looked in their direction or glanced at an item. Along the streets, shop owners were more relaxed, allowing potential patrons to gaze and browse. It made the shopping experience less intrusive.

The restaurant and cafe culture in Istanbul was impressive. As with so many cities in Europe, eateries abounded. Cafes were everywhere and the candy shops were a sight to behold. Pistachios and hazelnuts were featured in practically every type of candy offered. Pomegranate, orange, strawberry and raspberry candies beckoned in each shop.

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View of minarets from the Bosphorus

Various teas and spices were everywhere. I I had been returning directly back to America, I would have purchased a suitcase full of delicacies. As it was, I just bought a box of candies that I knew would serve as a sinful dinner upon my return to Italy.

We bought tickets for a two hour cruise on the Bosporus. The cruise boat was mostly full and took us up the waterway as an announcer described points of interest on the mainland. Military buildings, mosques, mansions and many other sites were visible along the shore. As dusk hit, the lights of the city shone brightly.

BOSPHORUS ISTANBUL SKYLINE

Istanbul skyline from Bosphorus cruise

After our cruise, we went back to our hotel, unloaded our stuff (backpack, cameras, phones) and walked across the street to Stone House Restaurant, which had become our hangout. Vefa and Esan had captivated us and the food kept us coming back. During the day, we would eat lunch at a restaurant somewhere else in town as we were out and about, but at night we could come back “home” to Stone House.

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Enjoying Stone House Restaurant food

Vefa and Esan and their crew were always there to welcome us and provide us with a delicious, hearty Kurdish meal. I had taken to cornering anyone who stopped to look at the menu to encourage them to eat there. Vefa commented that I was great for his business. Barry and I would stay until midnight and then crash in our hotel room.

The next day we slept in late. I was determined that I would hit a Turkish bath. With our trusty map, we trudged around, trying to figure out the street grid. Eventually, we found Geditpasa Hamami, a bath house dating back to 1475.

Upon entering, one walks down an outside corridor and through the entry into a two story courtyard ringed with changing rooms. A towel is offered. After disrobing and locking the changing room, one enters a marbled room with bathing sections and a large marble slab in the middle of the room. Off to the side is the steam room, the sauna and the cooling pool.

I had purchased a massage, foam bath and the sauna/steam room, my companion, just the sauna/steam room. We entered the sauna first. It was not as hot as the saunas I’ve frequented in my health clubs in Portland. Nevertheless, we were soaked with sweat. After  the sauna and steam room, my masseuse strongly indicated that the foam bath and massage were next. Barry went on to the pool while I went to one of the side areas for the rest of my treatment.

My Turkish masseuse had me sit on a marble bench. He then doused me head to foot with soothing hot water. Donning a glove, he scrubbed my arms, back, chest and legs. I could feel the dead skin coming off. It was relaxing.

After rinsing me off with more soothing hot water he led me to the huge marble slab in the middle of the room where I lay on my back. From there I felt the softest foam bath I’d ever experienced. Keeping one’s privates covered, the foam bath covered my entire body. After a rinse, my masseuse cracked my back and massaged my legs, chest, arms and back. Turning onto my stomach, the process was repeated.

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Sheik Bob after his authentic Turkish bath

The massage over, we walked back to where we had started and once again I was doused in warm, soapy foam. And, for the first time since my childhood, someone washed my hair. It was exquisite, relaxing. After another soothing drenching of hot water, I was ready to join my companion in the cooling pool.

Standing up, I almost lost my balance. I was so relaxed from the water, soapy foam and massage that my entire body felt like wet angel hair pasta. I walked unsteadily into the pool area. Stepping gingerly into the pool, I floated on my back from one end of the pool to the other with eyes closed. Upon opening them, I realized we were in an underground cave.

After we were finished, we showered, dried off and got dressed. We returned to our hotel room for our requisite old man afternoon nap and I slept like a baby.

Awakening in time for dinner, we went back to Stone House for another scrumptious meal and wonderful conversation with our hosts and patrons from Australia, Italy, Canada and Sweden. We then left for a performance by the Whirling Dervishes. Unfortunately, the performance had been canceled for the night because the dancers had been stranded in a traffic jam somewhere in the metropolis of twenty million. We were thus reduced to returning back to Stone House for the remainder of the evening. Our trip was ending the next morning and we were infused with melancholy. We will definitely return to Istanbul.

Day 4–ISTANBUL

OK, so I didn’t post yesterday.

We flew out of Jerusalem after being delayed for a bit. Pegasus Airlines took us to Istanbul and the line at Passport Control had hundreds of people. Since it was the Sabbath, there were fewer windows staffed. Eventually we got through and purchased shuttle bus tickets to our hotel. Continue reading

Day 3–SEA OF GALILEE, CAPERNAUM, NAZARETH

We started today with grand intentions. After breakfast and a shower, we hopped into the car to drive north to the Sea of Galilee and Nazareth. Our plan was to then head back south to Bethlehem.

We opted to do Bethlehem last because about the only thing there is the birthplace of Christ. I don’t want to sound flippant about that very fact. But, Christ’s birthplace, like many other sites that are so important in Christendom are covered with a church built by the Catholics. It is a way to venerate Christ. Continue reading

Day 2–MASADA, DEAD SEA

Israel doesn’t disappoint.

Barry had wanted to visit Masada. That was Number One on his hit parade. Today was for him.

We decided to break down and actually rent a car. We got a mid-sized Kia for $70/day for two days. I got behind the wheel with a certain amount of trepidation and healthy fear and we took off. Continue reading

Day 1–JERUSALEM

After a very restful sleep, we got up today to hit the sites. Our location at the Victoria Hotel truly is advantageous as we are within walking distance of so many points of interest.

We set out for the Mount of Olives. Walking through Herod’s Gate into the Old City, we were accosted by a mass of humanity. The walking paths were crammed with people and vendors. Many had not started selling their wares. For those that were open, everything seemed available–CDs, fruits and vegetables, breads, candies, pastries, clothing, toys. It was all there. Continue reading

Jerusalem, here we come

The opportunity to travel to Israel is a dream come true for me. Being raised in a devout Evangelical Christian household, Bible stories about Jesus, the Wall of Jericho and Jerusalem were a fixture in my upbringing. The stories and parables were ingrained into my brain from an early age.

My beloved mother, devout in her beliefs, never traveled much, yet she mentioned how much she’d love to visit the Holy Land. Other than visiting a sister-in-law in British Columbia, her purview was limited. Unfortunately, she never got to Israel before her death. My dad’s attitude was that America had everything, why would he want to leave it? Continue reading

“Just floatin’ lazy here on my back”, thanks, Micky Dolenz

I found myself floating lazily on my back in the Adriatic. The sun was intense on my face. Even though the cool water was lapping over my bronzed chest, I could still feel the sun sizzling there, too. The Adriatic was calm with few waves. I gently moved my arms about and floated in a circle. It had been a hectic few days.

My best friend arrived a few days ago from my hometown for a four week visit to Europe. I’ve been anticipating his arrival. He flew into Rome and I met him there. We sat in my hotel room knocking back bottles of beer and glasses of wine as we got caught up. We’ve been friends for forty years and this seven month separation found us talking non-stop as we got caught up. Continue reading