Sunday, April 29, 2007

Les Miserables, or should I say: Le Miserable

Last night I was reminiscing about my first trip to Turkey a few years back. The trip was not planned well. I hadn’t even booked a hotel. All I had was a guidebook; I believe it was let’s go turkey. I boarded my connecting flight at JFK. I had one of those midsection seats. There was this rather obese guy, 'D,' seating in an aisle seat close to the left window; I snickered when he requested an extension to his seat belt.

Later on, as we are getting ready to deplane, I happen to stand behind ‘D’ and he starts a conversation. His tone gave him away as being gay [ not that there is anyhting wrong with that ], but then again I have met other guys who sound gay, but are straight. But I digress. He asks me where am I staying. I tell him that I don’t have a place yet, and that I will use my guidebook to find a hotel. He says, oh – you should try the hotel where I am staying. I say – sure, why not. So we share a cab. That year, the Turkish Lira had just been devalued and everything was ridiculously cheap. The ride from the IST to town was $8 and I offered D $4. He would not take them.

We arrive at the hotel and he talks the attendant to give ME the same rate he was getting: $20 for a single room. He takes me to the roof of the hotel where breakfast is served daily and I marvel at the spectacular view of the blue Mosque. D tells me that he has to take a shower and that if I want to visit the Grand Bazzar, and I say sure. We are within walking distance so we walk. He greets almost every vendor we encounter. Everyone seems to know D. We then make our way to Taksim where we ride this seemingly ancient ‘subway.’ Earlier, D had given me a small bottle of Dakkar cologne. All along he is buying me snacks, and I am thinking: oh sh*t, I think this guy is hitting on me. So I find a way to let him know that I am straight, or as Ted Danson in his Sam character would say: “I like babes and babes like me.” [not in those words] He looked disappointed but he took it well.

D tells me that he is meeting a local friend that night and that if I am interested in tagging along. I say sure, why not. His friend arrives with his girlfriend in a brand new Jetta, and takes us to this café overlooking the Bosphorus. We had tea (cay). Then he takes us to this really fancy Turkish restaurant [I tried finding it the second time I found myself in Istanbul with no luck]. As I mentioned before, the prices due to the recent devaluation were ridiculously low. I had a great time with D. He would leave the next morning.

I spent two more days in Istanbul where I visited the standard touristy places. Then I had planned on making my way south to Selçuk. I took a boat ride into the Asian part of Turkey. There I took a one-hour bus ride into what my guidebook described as a nice place to spend a day or two, Bursa. I did not find anything worthwhile there; I wish I had skipped it and just continued my trip south.

The following day I take a bus to Selçuk with a planned stop in Izmir. It is worth noting that Turkish buses are quite comfortable. They serve you soda and a liquid to sanitize your hands. It’s quite an enjoyable experience.

The bus arrives in Selçuk and I look for a hostal in the near vicinity. I find the “All Blacks Hostal." I thought it was rather racist to give a hostal that ‘name’ but little did I know that the owner had spent significant time in New Zealand and was an avid fan of its national rugby team which wear all-black uniforms. The owner even had a ‘kiwi’ accent. He was very nice. Charged me $6 for a room.

A whole bunch of backpackers arrived a few moments later. Most of them where from Canada and had made it there from Greece. They had spent close to 24 hours in a ferry. Ouch. I remember having a conversation with this really attractive girl about what else but running. We agreed to go out the next morning for a run. Sadly, I did not have the heart to wake her up and did not run.

That night the owner asked us if we were interested in going to this typical restaurant a couple of miles from his place. We all said yes. There we had pides (pizza-like snacks), flavored tobacco in one of them water pipes, and beer. We all pitched in and it came out to $5.

The next day, I was given a ride to the Ephesus ruins, still considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was beautiful; it was magnificent. As I finished crossing the ‘park’ I decide I want to go visit a house where the Virgin Mary and Saint John are purported to have lived. It was a paved road and it took me well over an hour. It was rather interesting.

Then it was time for me to go to Bodrum, which is supposed to be the party capital of Turkey. However, I did not take into account that I was going in the WINTER, hello there. Suffice it to say that the town was empty. I did get to run about four miles, my one and only run in the past three months. It would not have been a big deal if I had not signed up to run the Paris Marathon in a couple of weeks. It is a nice town nonetheless.

I then flew to Ankara for a day. Alas, there was not much to see in Ankara. Luckily, I was only there for a day.

The following day I took a bus to Goreme, in the Cappadocia region. I should note that not too many people speak English and it was quite difficult communicating with people. Without the guidebook I would have been lost.

Goreme was fabulous. The caves, the formations, the open air museum, the underground cities, they were all amazing.

I then went back to Ankara for I had to fly to Vienna on my way to Prague.

In Prague, I almost had a nervous breakdown. For whatever reason I choose not to book a hotel at the airport, costly mistake. Another mistake was that I did not have a Prague guidebook with me. While waiting for the bus to take me to the subway, I strike a conversation with this teenager. I ask him if it would be possible to spend the night at his parent’s house. He looked at me as if I was deranged. And I don’t blame him. Who in his right mind would ask such a request? Not too many I am sure. So as the bus motors away, I have this incredible urge to cry. Me? Cry? For what? A few minutes later I recovered and while looking at the subway map I remember one of the exits led to a hostal recommended in the guidebook I had purchased but failed to carry with me [and the reason was that the trip to Prague was a last-minute decision on my part; I bought my plane ticket in Istanbul]. As luck would have it I found the hostal, 20 Euro a night. I had a wonderful time the three days I spent in Prague. Beer is actually cheaper than soda.

Again, I made another unplanned change to my trip when I found out it would cost me more to ride the express train to Paris, than if I purchased a ticket with KLM stopping in Amsterdam and then CDG, returning to Prague. Of course I had no intention to fly back to Prague for I had a flight to catch from CDG to the States a day after the 'thon.

Having been in Amsterdam a couple of times before helped tremendously as I did not need a guidebook. I booked the Tulip Inn hotel at this last-minute reservations place; the hotel offred probably the best full breakfast I have ever had. While there, I went to the Anne Frank House Museum. Revisited the Van Gogh Museum, walked the channels, had a brownie, or two, or three :o) strolled past the red light district. I also had probably the best Falafel I have ever had, go figure.

Then it was time for me to go to one my favorite cities in the world: Paris. I had signed up to run its marathon but failed to train. I knew I was in for a long day but I felt I could still run it under four hours. The two days before the 'thon I went to Musee Picasso [First time I had seen an exhibition byHockney], Musee Rodin, Musee D'orsay, Musee Pompidue [ Fell in love with Rothko and modern art in general] and of course the Louvre.

The day was perfect for a marathon, the course was not technically difficult, but it was probably one of the worst marathons I have ever ‘run.’ Aside from the lack of training, knee pain hit me early in the race, at roughly two miles. I ran, more like hobbled, manipulated my stride, stretched, skipped, to no avail. I crossed the finish line in 4:08 and visibly in pain. I was one miserable dude. But as Forrest would say: stupid is as stupid does.

If you made it this far, my hat goes off to you.


No comments: