Friday, May 22, 2009

The World is My Candy Store

Or so I've been told. I was talking to a friend online recently about my woes of career deciding-uponness, and she said the following, which has really made me think. "
This is the cool thing that i think you're missing-you can do just about anything you'd like. The world is kind of a candy store for you, becuase you have the intelligence and bravery and motivation it takes to really do what you want to do."

I am inclined to agree with her. However, that doesn't solve my probably biggest problem, one that I've wrestled with often in my life when I have big decisions looming before me. I know that God is there, and that he cares for me, but whenever I ask Him for direction in my life, usually all I get is the smallest of nudges, and mostly a lot of feelings of "I love you, and you're doing well, and I trust you." So, pretty much, God gives me a big thumbs up. Not that a thumbs up from God isn't nice, it's just sometimes I would prefer more of a point in the right direction.

There is seriously so much that I could do, and I have no idea what I really want for my life. There are many things I find interesting, but eac
h of them also has unsolvable problems associated with it, as in things I couldn't deal with if I were to choose such a profession. For example, a spy: I love the thinking and strategy that goes into that, and have a lot of talent with that kind of reasoning, but I am, I think, a bit too anti-imperialistic for that role. Then there's a Foreign Service Officer: good salary, something worthwhile, and I would get to travel, however, the government likes to lock its employees in for years, and I hate being locked in to anything. I just don't think I could handle doing the same kind of thing indefinitely. Finally, perhaps a journalist: it jives more with how I see the world, and with how I feel the public deserves to know what's really happening, but I think the kinds of things I would delve into would likely get me exiled or worse. And, yah, that would kind of preclude me from having a family, which is something I want pretty much more than anything else. (PS: The picture is cause it's pretty, and otherwise this would look very text-heavy... :-)

To make a long story short, anything I consider, there is always a major block that comes up that I just can't get around. Maybe I just am not supposed to get a career yet. Maybe I'm supposed to go to grad school first for...something. Once again, I don't think I could focus on a limited discipline for long stretches at a time. There's just nothing I'm that passionate about, and I wante to be passionate about my studies and career. So, at the moment, I am just doing what I can, studying Arabic, writing my novel (just broke 200 pages this past week), and preparing for the Foreign Service Officer Exam in June. (I like tests, the subject is fun to study, and, hey, it's free, so what can I lose??)

Also recently started to listening to music again, something
I tend to do when I am listless or down. Linkin' Park and Evanescence are my favorites, though they are hardpressed by various movie soundtracks, like Transformers, and Pirates of the Caribbean. I listen to soundtracks during my half-hour break from class each morning, just to kinda blow off steam and relax.

As far as life here lately, I really like my new apartment and Andy is a great roomie. He's eas
y-going, and has lots of interesting ideas and stories, plus the fact that we are both pretty close to tri-lingual, and in the same languages! (Chinese, Arabic, and English, of course...) This past week, he hosted a friend from the states, and at the moment they're touring Lebanon and Syria together.

I have had some cool experiences recently, though, like going to a Coptic engagement party. There were seriously like 70 people crammed into this tiny apartment, with 2 banks of speakers going all the way up to the cieling (The music was so loud that the vibrations shook the chandelier from the ceiling and it almost fell on the bride and groom to be...) And I danced, and made a fool of myself, as usual, and all the Egyptians thought it was great and wanted pictures with me... Haha. Reminds me of China. And, I have decided, Egyptian women can be pretty attractive. Too bad the church is still suppressed here. Haha.

And, I Love my new Arabic teacher, Khaled. Even though I am signed up for a group class, I am the only one there, so am only paying $250 instead of $400 for a private tutor. I'm using a new book, which is more structured, and the excercises really
help me to learn the vocabulary, so I'm progressing a lot faster than before. And, we just have a lot of fun conversations. I find that I can finally express my sense of humor in Arabic, and it makes it so much better! :-) Now, if only I could do it in Egyptian colloquial.

Speaking of which, I have a weekly la
nguage exchange with a girl named Nariman who teaches Arabic to embassy people, but I get the training for free because I'm helping her prepare to take the GRE. She's actually roommates with one of the members of the ward here that I know. It was really fun to see all the interesting words she was having to learn, and even MORE fun trying to explain them in simple terms. We were both really tired after that. Perhaps we'll do Arabic first next time, although it was pretty good this time too.

On another language exchange, went with Ahmed to Al Alhazar park, a really popular hang out for foreigners, as it offers amazing views of the city. I had a good time, but I wonder how well this exchange is for me, cause it's so unstructured. I really need almost a classroom environment to effectively learn a language, especially at first. And, Ahmed use to call me all the time, but I think he understands now that I can only spare a few hours a week. We'll see how things go.

Also have started tutoring English. I only have one group of students, who are Egyptian and don't pay much at all, but I took them on cause I had nothing else. Next week, I will have about as many as I can handle, and at about $20 an hour for 7 hours a week. (That's my rent, in less than a week...) Jae Hee and Aden are leaving for the Summer, and I'm taking their Korean students till they get back in the Fall.

Speaking of which, I'm considering staying till October, but there are so many things happening in the states. Everything seems to happen while I'm away. Erin's having a baby, Ammon's considering marriage, and my grandpa may be dying. Yah... My life is... Really odd...

I'm enjoying my church calling of teaching the youth Sunday School lessons, as it lets me really delve into the scriptures as I prepare, and I really feel the Spirit strongly. The past two weeks, I ended up teaching combined classes (today it was with the adults...haha, I was so not expecting that one... :-) But it worked out OK. I have also started reading the Book of Mormon out loud in Chinese, and it is SO much more powerful that way. It just
helps me to feel the love that God has for all people, everywhere, and how he speaks to each of them in their own language. Speaking of which, recent research proves that Mandarin is more difficult to learn than English, as Mandarin speakers use both parts of their brain when speaking and decoding, while English speakers use only one... :-).
Oh, and on gospel topics, had a really nice discussion with David, a guy who was visiting Cairo for a few days and came to a dinner party we had at Lindsey's the other night. He was really interested about Mormonism, and we discussed everything from the Spirit World, to Three Degrees of Glory, to the Book of Mormon and praying and knowing the truth by the Spirit. It was good to be able to share again, as I don't get many chances here in Egypt.

So, that is pretty much what's been happening lately. Nothing too exciting, but I'm sure there will be more interesting experiences forthcoming. (As well as pictures, which are seriously lacking in this entry...sorry... :-(

Friday, May 15, 2009

Of Mummies, and Temples, and Trilinguility

Ah, yes. It's Friday again, which means that I have a few minutes to update my blog. This is week, it's the only day off I have, as I missed a day of class earlier on due to my teacher, Khaled's, family emergency. So I get to make it up on Saturday.

A lot has happened since Turkey. In fact, though I only posted the entry last Friday, over two weeks have passed since I returned. And, of course, in that time a lot has happened. I better get started.
Came back to spend a few days in my apartment in Maadi, and to arrange for my next battery of Arabic classes. (The picture at left is the statue in the center of Tahrir square. The large text on the base says, helpfully, "Statue") Turns out that my new roommate, Andy, who's American Chinese and has lived in DC for a number of years, as well as speaks Mandarin (woot!), is studying at the Fajr Center in Doqqi, which is closer to where I live now. So, I took a day and went down to the center there to arrange for classes. I had planned to take private tutoring for Ammeyya, or Egyptian Colloquial Arabic, but Andy advised against it, saying it was a waste of money and could better be served by doing frequent language exchanges with locals. So, I signed up for the next level of Fusha, or Standard Arabic. The classes didn't start for about another week.

In the mean time, I wanted to get out of my apartment in Maadi by the first of the month, as I was a little leary of the rent jump this past month and afraid of further unforeseen charges. So what did I do? Decided to move my stuff into my new apartment, and then skip to Luxor for a few days! :-)

The last day in my Maadi apartment, I invited my roomie, Ahmed, to have drinks at a local coffee shop. ("Having drinks" here does not imply alcohol usually, due to the stringent Muslim dietary laws.) We had a really nice talk for about an hour, during which I got the further lowdown on what the situation really is in regard to our apartment becoming the "Love Shack" twice a week. (Pic: Ahmed and his employees in The Tree, his veggie shop. Ahmed is in the grey shirt.)

As it turns out, Ahmed's older brother invested about 100,000 Egyptian Pounds in his store, which it was agreed Ahmed would pay back in installments. Well, low and behold, his brother decides to extort the situation by "asking" for the current arrangment, so he can have a place to meet secretly with his girlfriend, which no one knows about. So, sounds like there's some sort of Romeo and Juliet thing going on. Whenever Ahmed brings up the inconvenience of the arrangement, his brother replies with a curt, "Where's my money?" So he's in a bad situation. He is so annoyed that he's considering getting a loan to pay off the debt, or even finding a friend to pretend to be his wife so his brother goes away. Wow... I really hope things work out for him. If nothing else, he should have the debt paid off in a few months and then the leverage will be gone and he can have his apartment back.

Speaking of the long stretches of homelessness, I used the last opportunity to visit the Egyptian Museum here. I saw all the things I wanted to see, including all of the opulent golden stuff taken out of King Tut's tomb. I was even able to read some, due to my study of heiroglyphics, and, when I met a group of Chinese girls who worked for Emirates Air, I became their impromptue guide. It was a lot of fun. And, while I was looking at things, my mom called from China, and so we talked while I sat amidst hundreds of sarcophogi. Quite a singular experience.

Anyway, the day after my drink with Ahmed, I dropped my stuff off at Andy's and headed to the bus station. The bus was overnight, but I actually slept pretty well, all things considered, and arrived pretty well rested for the events of the next day. And it's a good thing too, as it was hot, and I had a LOT of walking to do. Checked in to the hostel which Lindsey and Daphne had suggested, and spent about an hour getting acquainted with Regi, the manager, who is also in the midst of an archaeology Ph. D. He told me the best places to see and the best ways of doing them.

Then headed down to Karnak, about a 2.5 kilometer walk by the Nile, where I was accosted by a boat owner to read a non-existant English letter. Really, he just wanted me to pay for a ride, but I was in a hurry and didn't want to spend the money at the moment.

Was so pleased and happy to be there that when I first saw the huge main entrance I almost started crying. Manly, I know. I'm a sucker for history, and it's a place I've wanted to go since I first heard about it umpteen years ago. It's quite an amazing building, and must have been spectacular in its prime. There are about 7 (I can't remember the exact number) sections, each built by a different pharoah, sometimes at the expense of existing structures. Included in the complex are rooms for washing, rooms for contemplation, rooms dedicated to the immortality of various pharoahs, including Hatshepsut, (whose image and cartouche was excised completely from the walls by order of her nephew Tuthmosis III, furious at her usurpation of his throne. see image at right), and, of course, rooms for the pantheon of gods, although in Karnak it is limited to the "Theban Trinity" of Amen, Isis, and their son...I forget his name... There is also a "Holy of Holies" in the central room, which has depictions of various rituals on the walls, many defaced by Coptic Christians when they used the ruins as a church during 3-500s AD.

My favorite part was the immense pillared hall which houses over 130 pillars over 15 meters high. The central two files are crowned by capitals in the form of opened papyrus flowers, while on the remaining, shorter pillars, the buds are closed. It is meant to symbolize the primeval swamp from which Amen was born, in fact, there is still the vestiges of the holy lake in the center of the compound, which was believed to be the remnant of this great antedeluvian marsh. Anciently, it was likely the site of many rituals of rebirth. Now, it is filled with nasty algae and floating plastic bottles, a far cry from the original splendour.

Another interesting aspect of this hall is that many of the original colors have survived, protected beneath the lintels spanning the columns. Most of the colored texts are cartouches and the epithets which attend them, the grand majority belonging to Ramses the Great, who commissioned the most lavish expansions to the temple. Also present outside are two obelisks, one erected by Hatshepsut. The surrounding walls are covered with accounts of battles and accomplishments of the various kings. I wish I knew more heiroglyphics...

I also took the opportunity to sit and chat with some of the Egyptians who caretake at the ruins. I was surprised that I could actually have a decent 5 minute conversation with one of them and understand what he was saying. More remarkable, he understood me! Perhaps I'm starting to get this Arabic stuff after all!

Then headed to Luxor temple, and walked through once before, and once after sundown. It's a completely different feeling, seeing the ruins lit in haunting lights, throwing the epics carved into the walls into sharp relief behind the statues and sphinxes. I wandered about till most of the tourists had left to see the very cheesy and overpriced lightshow at Karnak, stopping to help a woman from Holland who was trying to get one of the caretakers to leave her alone. After he left, I made sure she got a taxi safely back to her hotel.

The next day, I toured the Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens (Where, oddly enough, I t
alked to my mom again...she has a knack for catching me at interesting places...), Hatshepsut's Temple, and the Colossi of Memnon. For once in my life, I went on an organized tour. Usually I avoid them like the plague, as the grand majority are overpriced and rushed, but this one was pretty good, and I made some new friends among the other tourists. Met Lauren, a girl from Australia, and it happened to be her birthday, so we "celebrated" by wandering around the ruins in 100+ degree weather. It really knocked out most of the group, who seemed to be more content to sit in the shade than see the sites. I was still ready for more!

In the Valley of Kings, saw the tombs of 2 Ramseses...or is it Ramsesi? Anyway, 2 guys named Ramses, who may or may not have been remotely related. Also, Lauren and I ran (yes, ran) all the way to the back of the valley so we could see the tomb of Tuthmosis III, much to the consternation and chagrin of our guide. We'd heard about this tomb in particular, as its walls contain most of the Book of the Dead. It was pretty cool, especially because it went way down into the rock before opening up into the tomb. In other tombs, we saw Coptic graffiti (if you don't want to be found, hide underground in a blisteringly hot desert. That usually does the trick) and what apeared to be some kind of chart describing characteristics of various stars, in the tomb of Ramses IV or IX. Star gate. It must be true after all.

Hatshepsuts Temple was awesome, though, once again, stupid Tuthmosis had defaced much of it, including the account of the trading expedition to Nubia, the crowning achievement of Hatshepsuts reign. Originally, the temple also included the story of Hatshepsut's birth, wherin she is shown to be the direct child of Re, and therefore has the right to rule over her nephew's claims to the throne. In spite of this, the best original paintings can be found in the bottom right of the complex, in full color. They include several "Mut" birds (Mut is a goddess, not a mangy dog, people) and a depiction of offerings given to the soul of the King (or queen...she tried to do everything like a man, even wearing false beards and mustaches. However, in the sculptures of her, the features of the face, if of nothing else, are decidedly feminine.)

To finish of the day, after resting a spell at the hostel, went on a sailboat ride on the Nile to Banana Island, aptly named due to its overabundance of tropical fruits, which range from papaya, to lemons, to, of course, bananas. Two Koreans from my earlier tour were on the same boat, with their McDonalds, and we had a great time. Also met two women from Croatia, one of whom is a freelance translator. We had some cool conversations.

The sun was setting as we sailed home, and made for some amazing views of the Nile. We also drank hibiscus tea, while listening to, of all things, old recordings of Bob Marley. He seems to be all the rage here in Egypt, and more especially in Luksor. Well, look at that, I spelled it as a direct transliteration from Arabic...haha.

Regi had gotten me a ticket on an Egyptian train going back to Cairo. Usually, foreigners are required to ride a special, and according to authorities, safer, but most importantly, EXPENSIVE train, which is why I took the bus on the way down. However, there is the convenient loophole that an Egyptian can buy the tickets. As long as they don't mention who they're for, there's no problem. Once you have the tickets, nobody seems to care. Nobody even looked at me twice.

I sat next to Ann, a girl from Malaysia who was traveling here to visit friends. Helped her get her next train ticket when she got to Cairo, and then headed to my new apartment for some much needed sleep.

Alas, it was not to be, as my phone rang, informing me that I had class at 8 AM, and wondering where I was. So, right from the subway, I got back on the train and went to class. Thankfully, I made it through the day.

Thus ends my adventure to Luxor, (man I really have to fight to spell it like that...) and thus begins my stay in downtown Cairo. More on that in the next entry.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Ila Turkea--Part II

OK, so where did we leave off...

Ahh yes...Stop 5: Konya
I had been feeling a cold coming on for a few days, and then decided to take the overnight bus to Konya and tour the next day, getting almost no sleep as a result. Not a good idea, and I really don't recommend it to anyone. Most of the day I was just trying to put one foot in front of the other, and hoping that I would get something out of all the sights. After all, Konya is the birthplace of Sufism, and the original home of the whirling dervishes. (We didn't see any real ones, but took a picture with the gilded golden dervish statue in the center of town.) We visited a few museums, on of which included the tombs of the most famous dervishes. It seems like the taller the turban on the tomb, the more important the dervish was. Oh, and they had dervishes for everything. Even a special dervish to go to the bazaar and buy stuff for the rest of the dervishes. And they had special circular dancing boards, with a nail in the middle, so that they could practice "whirling." On the tram back to the bus station, after sleeping on the grass near the main road and getting yelled at in Turkish (in all fairness I think he was telling me to guard my things) we met a nice Turkish student studying English and she made sure we got off at the right stop. And then it was on to

Stop 6: Goreme

In the heart of the ancient Roman province of Cappadocia, Goreme is home to some of the most famous scenery in Turkey, as well as some of the most interesting (in my opinion at least) ruins. These consist of several underground cities, which are despite their narrow, dual entrances, engineered to discourage invasion, are immense below ground. The largest includes stables, kitchens, living areas, wells, a church, and an MTC. Yes, you heard that right, a missionary training center.
Cappadocia became a stronghold for Christians during the era of Roman persecution, and the walls of various slot canyons are riddled with cave churches and dwellings that date from the Coptic era and before. Lindsey, Daphne, and I had a great time exploring these churches for a day, and climbing up into places where few people go. We even found a meditation chamber in one church, which had the quality of amplifying your voice when you chanted in just the right place. I sang an old song in Latin that I learned in men's choir at BYUI, and it sounded really cool.

Goreme is also the home of the quirky, or infamous, depending on your point of view, Love Valley, which is full of rock pillars which resemble, strangely, large thalluses. Yes. So that's enough on that.

Also, we found a superlative restaurant in the main shopping district, home to a lively Turkish chef named Mustafa and a man which we know simply as "the Guru" due to his transcendental view of life. We ate dinner with him once, and wanted to get him something, and asked what he wanted. Looking in front of him, he saw what he had already, and said simply, "soup." He is a Sufi musician, and has performed in many places around the world, including Carnegie hall. And he was very good. We enjoyed listening and watching Mustafa dance, especially when he included enthusiastic Japanese tourists.
We stayed in a cave hostel, and my room really was a cave. In fact, everyone took to calling it my "Hobbit Hole," and it quite resembled one.

Goreme was also where we all parted ways. First, Aden and Jae Hee left for Istanbul on the 19th, and Lindsey and Daphne two days later. I stayed another day and visited the Citadel, an immense outcropping of rock which imposingly overlooks the surrounding valley, and is riddled with passages, remnants of an ancient Roman fortress. I swear I almost killed myself several times as I scurried up half eroded stairs at awkward angles, and squeezed through 3 foot doorways. I then hiked back through Pigeon Valley, adding another 2 or 3 suicide attempts to the list, mostly because the trails I was following turned out no to be trails at all, but drainage sluices, and, as you know, water takes the shortest distance down--even if it's over the edge of a cliff. I almost did as well. Haha. Arrived back to the hostel safe and sound, and prepared for the 13 hour bus ride to


Stop 7: Bodrum
A middling tourist town on the Mediterranean coast, Bodrum, known anciently as Halicarnassos, was the home to one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, King Mausolus' Mausoleum (From which the word "mausoleum" comes.) Also, it boasts the largest underwater archaeology museum in the world, which includes such things as Ottoman shipwrecks, collections of amphorae, and the oldest shipwreck ever recovered, over 3000 years old from the Bronze age. They dated it by finding a seal from Queen Nefertiti of Egypt among the merchandise aboard.

And if this weren't enough, Bodrum was also the home of Herodotus, the "father of modern history." I have a special affinity for him as I have read his book, and took an amazing course on it in High School. I took pictures with his, unfortunately, less than well-cared-for statue.
There is also an Alexander the Great battle site which I wandered around, as well as heading to the marina to look around and try to get a fairy to a relaxing beach (at which I failed.) However, I was serendipitously present for the last day of "Tourist Week," which entails much free food, traditional dancing by a local troupe, and INSANE pumpkin carving contests (like the ones you see on TV...) I didn't know what was going on, but noticed people with free food, so just got in line. I also tried Turkish ice cream, which is very gummy, and doesn't fall out of the cone if you hang it upside down. (Like a Blizzard from DQ, except they DO fall out...)

Saw all the ruins and most of what I had come for the first day, so was mostly bored, hot, and tired from fruitlessly wandering about in search of another ruin when I boarded the bus for

Stop 8: Istanbul (take 2)

And arrived the next morning. Had two days, and spent much of the time in the Spice and Grand Bazaars. The Spice Bazaar was my favorite. I took tons of pictures, but there's no way to do it justice, especially because you can't record a smell. I could have sat there and smelled mounds of seasonings all day, especially the saffron. Also looked around in the Grand Bazaar for a gift for my future wife, and ended up settling on a beautiful silver filigreed bracelet. I got it big, and can cut it down if need be.

I also had the singular opportunity to visit 3 continents in one day. (Getting lost on two of them.) Asia was the most interesting. I simply went to the ferry port, asked (in Turkish) if the ferry went to Asia, and when I found that it did, got on. I had no idea exactly where in Asia it was going. Thank goodness it wasn't Turkmenistan and was only a half hour ride. Finding my way back to Europe was a little bit more difficult, but, with some good sense of direction (rare for me), some divine help (not so rare), and some nice people who spoke to me in German, I found my way back. Saw a few sights I'd missed, like the Byzantine aqueduct and the park, and then looked for the Grand Bazaar, getting lost (again.) Finally, it was time to leave, so I packed up my bracelet, my turkish delight, and my remaining currency and headed to the airport. On the way, I gave my last few coins to a performing bagpiper, so arrived in Africa (continent number 3) with absolutely no Turkish money, but a much richer life for the experience.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Ila Turkea

So, this will probably be one of the longest blog entries you have ever read. If the fancy strikes, I may just break it into two separate installments for your convenience.

As will be easily noted by the date of posting, it has been some time since I last wrote, about three weeks if I’m not mistaken. In my defense, for two of those weeks I was out of the country. Well, this country…and my country. Spur of the moment, as it were, I decided to go to Turkey with a group of friends from the branch here, much to the dismay of my bank account. However, I realized that were I to stay here, I would really not have much of anything to do, as my next block of classes doesn’t start till May 4th (incidentally I plan to miss the first one, but that’s another story.) So, four days before everyone else left, I decided I might as well, bought a round trip ticket to Istanbul, and was, as they say, “in.”

Now, I was in Turkey for two weeks, and I could go on for pages and pages. In fact, I already did, and if you would like the exhaustive account I would be happy to lend you my journal. However, in the interest of time, both yours and mine (I have a dinner appointment with my hometeachers in about an hour), I will attempt to give you the highlights while still keeping it entertaining, and I think the easiest way to do that is to give you a short synopsis of each of the stops we made along the way.

Stop 1: Istanbul

Arrived around 7 pm on the same flight as the Williamsons, and as we were walking to the hostel we had booked, were met by Lindsey and Daphne, who had arrived that morning, and they informed us that we all had a pending dinner appointment with some random Turks who owned a hotel (a bright blue one, no less). So we dropped our stuff off and rushed over to meet Ali and Mike (See if you can guess which is the Turkish name) who treated us to a traditional dinner of kebap, rice, and vegetables, awed us with Mike’s massive collection of “random stuff fromaround the world,” (most of which was hanging from the ceiling above our heads like the sword of justice), let us dress up in various ethnic costumes, and then invited us to eat breakfast with them the next day.

The morrow was our “Grand Tour of Istanbul Day.” After breakfast with Ali, we saw the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Museum, and the Basilica Cisterns, at a grand total of about $50, cause none of them gave student discounts. *insert angry face here* However, the massive swaths of blooming tulips in the park were free. And I got to visit a Harem. And drink Sahlab. And the Ali took us to a Kofta (Turkish meatball) restaurant that is very popular with the locals, and rightfully so since the food is delicious. It’s been around for, oh, about 200 years, and has the Ottoman business permit of the original owner hanging on the wall to prove it.

Went home and crashed, as the next day we were leaving early for

Stop 2: Cannakale

Which was a six hour and $35 bus ride from Istanbul, including the ferry over the Agean. It was also on the ride that we began to realize that this trip had not been very well planned out. All of the hostels had been reserved in advance, which meant traveling during the day, which meant about half the time to see the sights. This, though annoying, was not fatal, and was easily remedied by simply cancelling some of the reservations.

On our way there, we passed through Gallipoli, site of the famous WWI battle between the Ottomans and the British Empire, which used mostly Australian and New Zealand troops (The origin of ANZAC day.) I found it strange that the day they got the butts handed to them on a platter became a national holiday, but a New Zealander explained it to me. This was the time when they realized their own national identities. They wanted to be in charge of their own men, and not have some other person from thousands of miles away send them to their deaths, even if that someone was Winston Churchill (which, by the way, it was.) So, that piece of information goes in the little box in my head labeled “Oceania,” along with inflatable kangaroos, roodoo, a tribe of Aborigines, some Maoris, and several Foster’s beer commercials.

After our arrival at our hostel, we rushed off to Truva, better known as Troy, and arrived in time to see the ruins before they closed. It was fun traipsing about the ancient walls pretending to be Hector, Achilles, and various gods from the Greek pantheon. Actually, we just wandered, or rather, jogged about, after taking some time to shoot photos of ourselves in the Trojan horse. With windows in it. Who woulda thought there would be people in there? Nah. Let’s bring it into our city. Epic Fail… or, more appropriately, the Fail the wrote an Epic about…

And there was an awesome market full of wonderful Turkish people who let us try umpteen kinds of Turkish delight, and cheeses, and fruits, and whatever else we wanted, and whom we rewarded graciously by buying their wares. Twist my arm. That stuff is akin to the ambrosia of the gods.

Stop 3: Selcuk/Efes

Took the overnight bus and arrived early in the morning, after which we went straightway to the ruins of Ephesus. (Efes) I had been hoping to spend Sunday there reading the words of Paul, but after the first day I had really seen all I needed to. The library was especially gorgeous, albeit thronged with hoards of rabid tourists, and we had fun pretending to poo on the Roman toilets. And Aden juggled the girls in the theater.

After that, we wandered around looking for the temple of Artemis, and actually ended up finding the Grotto of the Seven Sleepers first. (strangely enough, the signs that pointed there, led there.) Legend has it that seven Christian youths wandered out of Ephesus one day and stopped to rest in this cave. Upon waking, they returned to the market to buy food, and found themselves hailed as martyrs. They had slept for 200 years. We climbed into the tombs cut into the rocks and took pictures, and then ate these little Turkish ravioli things with yogurt that were oh so delicious. Speaking of which, I don’t think I had any bad Turkish food. In fact, not much of it was even “good.” In large part, it was EXCELLENT, even the mini cakes imparted to us by the stewards on the overnight busses. Yes, they had a beverage and munchies service on the bus. How novel.

The 3rd wonder of the world consisted of…a large pillar. However, the magic of the place must still be fresh after 2000, for I saw no less than three different pairs of animals mating. Or maybe it’s just because it’s Spring. And Aden fell into a 3 hectare puddle of water.

That night, we broke into a castle. Ottoman, late 14th century. Known as “The Citadel,” it stands on a hill overlooking the plains of Selcuk, and has been closed to tourists for around 3 years due to the collapse of a wall. However, Mahmet, who works at the hostel, said he would take us, and he did so. A group of about 9 of us climbed to the castle, and slipped through a hole cut in the fence. It seems the castle is open to anyone who cares to enter, as long as they’re not a tourist, cause a ton of local kids were playing on the ruined battlements. So, we walked the broken walls, took pictures of the cisterns, and climbed to the top of the crumbling minaret of the central mosque, which, though it probably wasn’t safe, was oh so satisfying.

Stop 4: Pammukale

After a three hour bus ride, we all found our hostel and went to visit the famous "Cotton Castle" hotsprings. They're on the side of a cliff and because of the minerals in them, have made an interesting series of troughs and shelves of white gypsum which seem to cascade down the mountainside. In addition, at the top are the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Heirapolis, home of one of the largest Necropolises of the ancient world. Small wonder. Even today the springs claim to be able to heal everything from rheumatism, to asthma, to obesity. (Which explains the largely obese European tourists, most of whom were partial to nasty speedos.) In ancient times, those with ailments due to age or other problems would move here to try the virtues of the springs. Apparently, they can't cure death. With that many old people, there's bound to be lots of tombs. Hence the Northern necropolis, which stretches for several kilometers over the hills Northwest of the city. We spent several hours hiking through the hills, through crumbling Byzantine churches and mausoleums cut into the hillsides, then hurried back to see te sunset over the springs.

The next day we attempted to find the red rock hotsprings, but ended up going in the completely wrong direction, which was good, because after we returned and found them, they were rather unremarkable, and we would have been twiddling our thumbs wondering what to do for the rest of the day. However, as fate would have it, we were picked up in a rickety old car by an old gentleman which we know as Hace (whether that was really his name, only God knows, but he wrote it on a piece of paper.) We tried to explain where we wanted to go, and he was like, yes yes, and drove us down a winding side road. To his house. Which just happens to be next to a 75 foot waterfall. I looked overthe edge and took a picture for my mom, and we all took pics with Hace, too. He showed us a local plant used for toothaches. I ate some. It made my tongue numb.

To be continued...