Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Verb question


cars drive,
people walk,
planes fly,


what do trains do?

Turkish Toilet Story

Ok, ok, ok... every time I've spoken to someone since my return to the States, that person has wanted to hear the Turkish Toilet Story that I have hyped and promised to tell at some future point. I've actually told the story to a couple of people and gotten a less than enthusiastic response, so it may be that my story is not actually as funny as it was to me when it was happening. Be that as it may, I suppose I will try to tell it on my blog and hope that the written version is more amusing than the spoken version.

First, I suppose I should explain what a Turkish Toilet it. It is, quite simply, a hole in the ground. There are usually two places to put your feet, but the principle is simple: you squat. Now, before you all get freaked out about this, there are compelling arguments that the Turkish toilet, or squat toilet, is superior to its more Western cousin. A squatting position is supposedly better for evacuating bowels, and, quite frankly, squatting over a hole is much more sanitary than placing a bare ass on a surface that some other bare ass has recently vacated.

I first encountered the dreaded Turkish toilet several years ago, when I was in France. I was visiting the Bastille in Grenoble (not The Bastille--the Bastille in Grenoble). I needed to use the facilities, but after locating them, I decided that I could probably hold it. It wasn't so much the Turkish toilet part of things that bothered me; it was the complete lack of doors on the stalls--or even a door to the bathroom. There was also the lack of lights and the smell and the general level of filth (the toilets were actually the cleanest part of the bathroom). With all that, the toilet was the least of my worries.

Anyway, time has passed and I have become comfortable with the Turkish toilet, even preferring it to Western toilets in public restrooms. In short, the Turkish toilet had become old hat--a non-issue--and I didn't really think that there was anything about it that could phase me.

Now, before we continue our little story, I think I ought to mention my love for street food. I love street food. I really feel that eating street food is a fantastic way to get a feel for a new city (it is also usually dirt cheap). Unfortunately, as I get older, my body becomes less and less pleased with the amount of street food I try to feed it, and it occasionally rebels. By occasionally, I mean pretty much every other time I eat street food. And by rebel, I mean... well, you know. My stomach has turned into quite the prima donna.

So, my last day in Greece, I grabbed a Gyros from a dodgy kebab shop (but really, is there any other kind?). It wasn't particularly good, but I forced myself to eat it all because I didn't really know when I'd get a chance to eat again. I spent the day trudging through Thessaloniki in the rain (as a side note, I have absolutely no pictures of Thessaloniki--not because I forgot my camera, but because I forgot to put my recently recharged battery in my camera. Yes, I was so exhausted that I packed both my recharger and my one lithium battery in the bottom of my backpack).

That evening, I wound up sharing a room with a very nice Greek lady. It was a tiny room and I had the top bunk. We were both tired, so we agreed to turn out the lights early. As I was laying in bed, however, I felt--and then heard--that ominous stomach rumbling that no traveler ever wants to hear. "Please, please, please let me make it through the night without having to get up," I thought. Unfortunately, about ten minutes later, I knew the worst was about to come. I crawled out of bed, opened the door, which caused the glaring light from the hallway to fall right on the nice Greek woman's face and wake her up (sorry, sorry), and trudged down the hallway, clutching my stomach.

At the end of the hallway, I turned right and opened the door leading to the bathroom. And there it was. The Turkish toilet.

Did I mention that I was on a train currently speeding to Istanbul?

Now might be a good time to talk about European train bathrooms. They are usually tiny rooms with wet floors (I don't even want to know), no toilet paper (I have learned to travel with my own), incredibly foul smells (you have no idea), and a sign in several languages warning you not to use the toilet while the train is stopped (and why do you think this is? Well, where do you think the waste actually goes?). I have met fellow travelers who make a point of starving and dehydrating themselves just so they don't have to use these bathrooms.

So, here I was, standing in the doorway of a (I'm going to have to go with lurching over swaying) train, staring through the hole in the floor of the train at the train tracks blurring past. Then, with one last churn of my stomach, I huddled over that hole, trying to grab on to the sink, the (empty) toilet paper holder, the windowsill--anything to hold myself steady--feeling puffs of air on my bare ass as the train sped towards Turkey.

When I was done... well, I knew I wasn't completely done, so I decided to hang in the hallway for a while before the next round. After about an hour (and a couple more trips back to the hole), I decided that it was safe to return to my room. And of course all the doors to all the compartments in the wagon looked completely the same, so I had to try a few before I figured out which one was mine. I, once again, woke up my nice, Greek roommate when I opened the door (sorry, sorry), and, completely exhausted, I crawled up into my bunk and was eventually lulled to sleep by the gentle lurching of the train.

Of course, this is not the end of my story. The next morning, I woke up and had to pee. I again walked down the hallway to the bathroom, but it was occupied. Well, no problem, there was another bathroom at the other end of the wagon. I walked to that one, opened the door, and there it was, shining like a shit-stained beacon of civilization: a Western toilet.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Sarajevo, Bosnia

I hadn't been planning on going to Sarajevo while I was in the Balkans, but at the last minute I decided to swing down for a visit. I'm really glad I did. I would have liked to have had a bit more time there--there were some other places in Bosnia that I would have liked to see--but I guess that will have to wait for next time.

The really cool thing about Sarajevo was that it was very different from the rest of Eastern Europe (with the exception of Skopje, Macedonia... but Sarajevo was much nicer. Which is really bad for Skopje, if a city that was under siege a little over ten years ago is much nicer than a city which wasn't...)

I imagine that everyone remembers that there was some sort of crazyness that went down in Bosnia in the 1990s. I also imagine that most everyone was pretty confused about what actually happened and why it was happening. I'd tell you, but I only have a slightly less murky understanding of it all than I did before I went over there. Basically, Sarajevo was under siege for four years by the Bosnian Serb Army. Although this was over ten years ago, the city still bears that scars of the siege. Buildings are pock-marked with holes made by shells, the streets have indentations of exploded shells known as Sarajevo roses, and the hills surrounding Sarajevo are still filled with land mines.

This is the Turkish Quarter of Sarajevo. In this small quarter, there are mosques, a synagogue, and both catholic and orthodox churches. According to my guide book, the only other place in the world where so many religious buildings exist in such close proximity is Jerusalem.

During the siege, the people of Sarajevo built an 800 meter tunnel under the NATO-controlled airport to smuggle guns and food into the city. This is the building where the tunnel ended outside of the city.

I went on a tour as part of my trip to Sarajevo. Our guide, who was 12 when the siege started and who had stayed in Sarajevo for the length of it, took us up to where the Winter Olympics had been held less than ten years before the siege. This mountain, which had housed the headquarters for the Olympics, also housed the command center of the Bosnian Serb Army. As you can see, Sarajevo is set in a valley. The Serbian tanks were stationed on the mountains surrounding the city, so they could see and fire upon anything in the entire city.

As I was walking through the city, I saw this random helicopter. It was in a park, next to two burnt-out tanks. There was no fence around it, and no plaque saying what it was or why it was there. Just left over from the war, I suppose.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


Well, I've started unpacking. One might think that it would not be a particularly daunting task, given that I only took a backpack--and didn't even fill that all the way. The problem is that I never really got a chance to unpack from Prague before I went to Jersey, I never got a chance to unpack from Jersey before I went to the Midwest, and I never got a chance to unpack from the Midwest before I went to the Balkans. So now I have, let me see, four trips to unpack from. But I've made some headway. For example, today I refilled my travel shampoo and conditioner bottles. Ahh, progress.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Zagreb, Croatia

Lake Bled, Slovnia

Here are some shots of Lake Bled, Slovenia. Amazing place with a church on an island in the middle of a lake and Slovenia's oldest castle perched atop a cliff.

Ljubljana, Slovenia

So, here are some pics of Ljubljana, Slovenia. This was my first stop. It was really nice. Slovenia used to be part of Yugoslavia, but it peeled off to become the most prosperous former Yugoslav Republic. It was the perfect place to kick off my Tour de Balkans.

The Triple Bridge in Ljubljana.

Detail of the Dragon Bridge in Ljubljana.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Back in the USA

So, I made it back to the States. I am currently in Virginia, hanging out with my Canadian Mommie, Hil.

The trip back was pretty nuts. I could feel myself getting sick when I was in Brasov (everyone in the hostel was sick and it was freezing outside--there was actually a bit of snow on the ground). Monday morning I got up and took the train down to Bucharest with some other folks. We spent the day wandering Bucharest, then in the evening I grabbed my bag and headed to the airport to stay the night there (my flight was at 6:15 in the morning on a budget airline. If you don't get there early, you can be denied a seat. Since public transportation didn't actually being until 5:30am, I figured I'd just spend the evening in the airport). This being Romania, I didn't actually want to SLEEP in the airport, so I just sat there, staring at the other folks who had had the same exact idea I had had. After a shoving match at the airport counter, a shoving match through immigration, a shoving match at the boarding gate, a shoving match to get on the bus to take us to the plane, a shoving match off the bus, and a shoving match on to the plane, I got a little bit of sleep (never more than about 20 minutes at a time). Then, I was in Luton airport in London, where I had to take a bus to Heathrow airport. Did that (London morning rush hour traffic), got on the plane, and spent the entire time talking to the person sitting next to me (another language teacher), so I didn't get any sleep. In Ottawa, I met up with B&B, and we visited a bit (mainly, the kinda pushed me from place to place because I was pretty out of it at this point). Then, the flight to Washington DC, where again I got a bit of sleep in 10 to 15 minute chunks. My Canadian Mommie and her hubby met me there, and drove me to their home, where I took a shower (my previous shower having been some time on Saturday. I think.) and passed out. All in all, I figure I was awake (with the exception of my quickie naps) for 46 hours total.

Now that I've eaten and let people know that I'm alive, I think I'm going to go take a nap.

Saturday, October 13, 2007


Still alive. Freezing my rear in Romania. In Brasov right now. Gonna head to Bucharest Monday morning. Might as well sleep in the airport what with my 6:15 flight Tuesday morning.


Monday, October 08, 2007


Original Post: October 8, Monday

Well, made ıt to Istanbul. And I am now the proud owner of a Turkısh Toılet story... one that ıs sure to leave you all rollıng on the floor, clutchıng your stomachs wıth laughter.

Wıll post ıt later on--promıse. But now I ha ve a whole new cıty to explore and a whole new country to offend wıth my travel smells.

Edited Post: October 9, Tuesday

So, there are two i(s) in TUrkish. There is the i and the ı. The ı is where the i should be. Mom mentioned that she was having some problems reading one of my e-mails because the i (İ had used ı) had been replaced by symbols. Just in case that has happened on everyone,s computers, here is the corrected version of my above post (well, the important bits).

Basically, İ wanted to let you all know that İ made it to İstanbul and that İ had a super excellent Turkish toilet story to share with you all. For those of you who donit know what a Turkish toilet is--look it up and enjoy imagining the possibilities for mishap. İ don,t think anyone can encounter a Turkish toilet and not come away with a Turkish toilet story.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Went to Aegina today (think I spelled that right, but I can't make any promises). It is the closest island to Athens. I really needed a break from the city but I wasn't quite ready to continue on to Delphi yet (involves and early morning and a taxi ride to the bus station).

The island was nice. It wasn't one of the famous, spectacular Greek islands (Santorini), but it was a nice break from the city. I had some wonderful fried fish with garlic (and garlic and garlic and garlic), so that should mask the smell of my feet tonight.

I really haven't been wearing my black shoes all that often. The brown ones are better for lots of walking and they provide a bit more cushioning and traction. The black shoes are good for travel days (when I spend several hours on my rear).

Wow, the ENTER button just got stuck, and I wound up with a very large space below the previous text. Had to pry it up and delete for ages. Ha--you can tell that my brain is still pretty fried. That's about all that I have the brain power to type. I'm really not getting much sleep at this hostel. I'm in that room with eight beds, and there is only one key. That means that we need to keep the door open until the last person gets in in the evening--usually after 1am. The room is on the first floor, right next to reception, so we hear everyone coming and going (there is a buzzer on the door). The room is also right next to some stairs which lead to--you guessed it--the bar. Sooooo... I got here on a sleep deficit which I have yet to fix. When I stay in Kalambaka, it will be pretty expensive, but at least I will be able to make up on some lost sleep (I hope). I don't like to do it, but I'm going to Kalambaka without a reservation. I called a place (bought a Greek phone card), and they were like, "if we have a place, you can stay here. If not, we can help you find a place." I just hope that any place they find me is not too too expensive. Greek is not exactly cheap. Will be nice to get to Romania (I hear that Istanbul is not exactly cheap either. Need to get back to Eastern Europe!).

Well, gotta shower and pack. And then lie in bed and feel sorry for myself because I can't get any sleep.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Things to burn

So, here is my list of things that I will need to burn when I get back because they smell so bad:

my socks
my shoes
my flip-flops
my feet

I might need to throw in a couple of tee-shirts, but it the feet that are really rank at this point. I'm staying in an 8-bed dorm right now, and when I got back and took off my shoes, I swear the rank of my feet filled the entire space. To be fair, it is a pretty small space, but still...

Anyway, I am going to go visit one of the islands tomorrow (not Santorini. That will have to wait for he next trip), then on Friday I head up to Delphi and Kalambaka. If you don't hear from me from Friday to Monday, don't worry. Those will be some pretty intense travel days and I probably won't have access to e-mail. If you really need to get in touch with me, my cell phone apparently accepts incoming calls (and possibly texts).

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Longer update (maybe)

So, it is 7:50, and I am ready to fall over dead in my bed. I can't remember what I wrote this morning--probably not much. I just wanted to let folks know that I arrived in Athens okay (after only a day and a night of travel which, trust me, is not much).

It does seem like i have been spending a significant amount of time traveling. The worst was when I had to get from Budva (in Montenegro) to Lake Ohrid. Instead of taking the bus (which would have been, what, maybe 8 or 12 hours), I decided to use my shiny, expensive rail pass. So I took a bus from Budva to Podgradice, in Montenegro, to catch the train to Nis (Serbia). When I got to the train station, it was pitch black (as in, there was no sun, but also as in there were no lights at the train station). I went to the ticket counter, shower my rail pass, and attempted to ask about the train to Nis, and the woman was just like, "uhhhh..." So, I waited. And waited. And waited. By now it was past 11pm, I was in a pitch black train station, and I was getting a little anxious. Finally, a train came through. I asked where it was going, and the conductor said "Beograd" (Belgrade, in Serbia). I made a split second decision. The train to Nis might be late, or I might have gotten a hold of completely incorrect information. There might be another train that evening, or this train to Beograd might be it. I knew I could get to Skopje from Beograd (it would just add several hours to my trip), but here was a sure thing. So I hopped on the train.

Okay, I'm too tired to continue my story. I can barely type. My mind is thinking one thing, and my fingers are typing something completely different (as in, completely different words with completely different letters). So I will have to continue my story later. Don't worry, though--it all worked out in the end. I figure that when I get back to the States, I will post some of my stories with pictures. (I don't happen to have a picture of the pitch black Nis train station... you will have to use your imagination for that. Just close your eyes.)


Blogging in Greek

Blogger is in Greek. It's pretty cool, as long as I can figure out how to post.

Anyway, as you've probably figured out by now, I have arrived in Greece. My train from Skopje to Thessaloníki was only about an hour late, and the train to Athens was an hour late leaving Thessaloniki, so it all worked out.

Anyway, I have just paid 8 Euros (eek!) to have a load of laundry done, but I am on my absolute last outfit (as in, the outfit that didn't smell as bad as the others). It involves a haphazard mixture of brown and black, but I don't really care.

The hostel has more than one computer and internet access is free, so I will be able to post some stuff over the next couple of days. In the meantime, though--Athens awaits! (After breakfast, that is).