Saturday, February 13, 2016

PICTURES

It's a windy, grey afternoon here in Molyvos on the island of Lesvos, Greece. I walked into town this morning to sit in the sun by the sea and then buy some groceries as I was down to a handful of dried figs and some walnuts. The oranges I bought had leaves still attached (the citrus trees all over the island are heavy with fruit) and the bottle of organic olive oil from Mytilene was crazy cheap at less than $3. My small apartment sits in the midst of an olive grove with a view of both the Aegean Sea and the Mithymna Castle. At night, the Byzantine era castle sitting atop an adjacent hill is lit like an eerie nightlight. The winds have been fierce and relentless - I actually wore earplugs to bed last night to block out the howling - and when I returned from town this afternoon my hair resembled Phyllis Diller's. Go on...google her...
I thought I would post some pics from Turkey before inundating this site with pics of Greece.
This woman was harvesting sea urchins by my hotel in Ayvalik. She had this nifty little scoop and in about 30 minutes had about 3/4's of a bucketful. They are small, but plentiful. I saw them on the coast here in Greece, too. I'd love to harvest some...yum - uni on toast!
It was Market Day my last day in Ayvalik and town was buzzing. Many Greeks take the ferry over to Turkey in the morning, shop all day and return to Greece in the late afternoon. When I arrived at the market I was a bit disappointed as I found a few vendors selling antiques from little carts, but mostly it was booth after booth of clothes. Whole blocks with nothing but Adidas jackets, Nike sneakers and tables overflowing with bras and panties with a table of housewares here and there to break up the monotony. I was about to give up when I turned a corner and my heart did a happy dance! Everywhere were artistic displays of fruits and vegetables, olives and cheeses, nuts and dried fruits, breads and beans. It was magnificent and chaotic and noisy and I couldn't help walking around with a big smile on my face. I bought a half pound of dried figs and stood watching a man standing behind a huge wheel of white cheese. He peeled a paper thin layer off the top...PHYLLO! I was pretty certain this was the type of phyllo used to make the savory cheese pastry I had tucked in my bag for lunch.
A cart of antiques
Grape leaves
Lots of beautiful veggies
Jonquils
That's all for now. 
Next post will be about wild and windy Greece!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ayvalik, Turkey

A lovely little town on the Aegean Sea, Ayvalik is my gateway to the Greek island of Lesvos. I had planned on being here 2 nights and then hop the ferry for the 90 minute ride to the island, but I was unaware the ferries cut back their schedules in the winter. So tonight, instead of being in my sweet tiny apartment in Molyvos, Greece, I am still in my sweet tiny hotel room in Ayvalik. It has been a relaxing winter visit in a town I am certain explodes with tourists in the summer months. I am on the 3rd floor and my terrace overlooks the sea 50 feet away.

The breakfast room sits over the water and has glass walls on 2 sides, so as I'm eating breakfast I'm watching ducks swim up inches away and can see Cunda Island across the water. It is a glorious way to start the day. Thank goodness for off season rates as I never could've stayed here in the summer and maintained my budget of $50 a day (which, by the way, I've kept to $30 a day thus far. Somehow I think that will change in about 3 weeks). I have used this time to read and write and walk through town. The main street is busy and follows the sea. Every now and then a horse drawn cart will pass by loaded with firewood or big plastic bags of goods. Along with small shops and cafes, there are the ubiquitous street vendors set up every block or so. They usually have fruit or vegetables, but today I saw a small table filled with bouquets of jonquils and my heart soared - Spring is on its way. I wandered down to the marina, passing lots of fishing boats, some selling fish out of styrofoam coolers right on the seawall, the fish scales shimmering in the sun. There were probably a dozen cats waiting for treats and some dogs sprawled on the warm concrete. I've noticed that all the stray dogs in town (and there are many) have a small plastic tab on their ear. The only dog I saw without one had large, swollen teats that led me to believe the dogs with tabs had been fixed (maybe?).
A block off Main Street is like another world. Mostly foot traffic and scooters on cobblestone streets. The stores are mostly tiny one room storefronts selling homemade goods. The buildings are different, too - not as spiffy as Main Street, but far more interesting.
As I was walking down an alley towards Main Street, I noticed an old woman walking towards me carrying a large grocery bag.  She seemed to be struggling a bit on the cobblestones. I smiled and stepped closer to her and she grasped my hand. We held hands and walked slowly up the alley and crossed the street where she let go and pointed to a nearby doorway. I asked (pantomimed) to take her picture and she looked up and smiled.
                                      The highlight of my day. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Goodbye to Istanbul

Heading out on a long bus ride to Ayvalik tomorrow where I will stay for a few days before I take the ferry to Lesvos, Greece.
                         A few photos from my stay in Istanbul. 

The Spice Market was enticing. Hundreds of booths with foodstuffs and household goods. As I was walking by a shop an older gentleman called to me, "Hello Lady" and he sweeps his arm towards his booth. "Come see? Say yes!" These vendors are good. I was walking behind a French couple and a vendor called out to them in French -as I walked by he switched to English.
You could spend weeks just visiting mosques. They all have beautiful courtyards with benches where you can sit and people watch. Today I was enjoying the sunshine on a bench watching some young boys run around the fountain playing. On the next bench was an elderly lady. One of the little boys fell and the old woman jumped up and got to him before his mother did. She was seriously spry! As she walked back to her bench she saw me watching her and she smiled shyly. I smiled back and she walked over and proceeded to have a conversation with me although I didn't understand a word. I pantomimed my desire to take a photo of her. She put her hand to her chest and said something I assumed was "Me?". I nodded my head and took her picture. She wanted to see it and laughed when I showed her. She put her had to her cheek, embarrassed. I put my hand to her other cheek. "Beautiful!" I told her. She patted my hand and gave me a big smile before she walked away. I wish she had smiled for the pic as her whole face lit up when she did.
 Every mosque has loud speakers on one of the minarets where the call to prayer gets broadcast. If there are two mosques close together you can sit between them and get stereo singing. It is odd because no two muezzin call exactly the same way. 

Ahmet has given me a hard time about getting lost all the time. Yesterday I walked almost 14 miles looking for the Hamami - a Turkish bath. The one I was looking for was about 2 miles from my hotel. I never found it but got terribly lost and after circling around to the same spot, the second time in the dark, I tried to get a taxi. The first one looked at the address and said No and rolled up his window. The second got me a few blocks away and got flustered and called Ahmet to meet us. I was arguing with the driver -he in Turkish, me in English (you can guess how well that went!) - when Ahmet poked his head in the cab door and rescued me. I had no idea I was so close to "home". We walked back to the hotel half arguing, half laughing. This man is a walking encyclopedia about Istanbul and will bend over backwards to make your stay enjoyable. www.lotushotelistanbul.com
Ahmet the Great

Friday, February 5, 2016

Istanbul. Day One.

Istanbul Day One does not mean I intend to post everyday. Perhaps I am hoping, it being my first day, I will get a pass for the mess I made of the day. A wonderful mess nonetheless. I can say that now on the other side of it. A few hours ago it did not feel wonderful or even marginally okay.
I headed out after breakfast to get my bus ticket for my trip to Ayvalik on Monday and to see the city. It was chilly-mid 40's - but I was comfortably layered with 2 shirts, a wool sweater and a heavy scarf. I felt warm as I headed up the hill to the Golden Horn, a major waterway and the primary inlet of the Bosphorus. My plan for the day was to walk along the trail that follows the banks to make my way to Eminonu and the Spice Market. Ahmet, the owner of the Lotus Hotel where I am staying, had given me a map and gone over places to see and how to get there. Instead of taking the bulky map with me, I photographed the areas I would walk in. I could zoom in on the pics as needed and get everywhere I wanted to go and back again. As soon as I turned the corner to cross the busy street to the Golden Horn, a blast of cold air hit me. For a moment I was worried, but just pulled my scarf tighter and walked more briskly.  In a few minutes I was comfortable again. I followed the park-like trail, on one side boats bobbing vigorously in the churning water and on the other traffic whizzing by on a major thoroughfare. It was invigorating. Ahmet had said to cross the street at the third bridge and I would see the Spice Market. As I came to the second bridge I noticed a third bridge just beyond it. Funny- on the map they had looked much further apart. I crossed the street at the third bridge and headed into town. At the first block was a sign with an arrow, Grand Bazaar >. I headed that way. It had started to sprinkle and I was glad to see the Market was covered. As I walked in I noticed police a few steps inside wanding people with what I assumed was a hand held metal detector. He looked at me and waved me through, his wand at his side. I was immediately engulfed by the most amazing sights. Grand Bazaar indeed! The food! More varieties of Turkish Delight than I knew existed - the squares colorfully stacked up beside bins of nuts and tea. Rose petal tea, pomegranate flower tea, Ceylon tea. Fat dates stuffed with walnut halves or pine nuts (the latter resembling brown mouths with stubby beige teeth), spices sculpted into tall piles. Stalls of fancy jewelry, beautiful scarves, leather bags. Every now and then I'd catch a whiff of some exquisite incense burning. It was overwhelming! There were stores with housewares - gleaming Turkish coffee pots and shiny long handled spoons. I took no pictures, just walked through amazed. I left the Bazaar and kept walking. I had seen a sign for the Cemberlitas Hamami - Ahmet had mentioned they were the oldest Turkish baths in Istanbul - so I headed that way. I walked block after block and never saw another sign for Cemberlitas, but I managed to get myself very lost. I ended up in eastern Istanbul, in the Sultanahmet area I think, but I never saw the Blue Mosque or the Hagia Sophia which are the crown jewels of that part of Istanbul. At one point I turned onto a street and the city instantly changed. I was in a neighborhood of crumbling buildings, piles of debris in overgrown lots and trash blowing down the street. The air smelled like burning plastic. The streets were practically empty. It didn't feel unsafe, but I didn't want to stick around. I saw a teenaged girl walking determinedly ahead of me and I followed her until she turned down a narrow side street. I continued on a few blocks and came to a cross street where the city came alive again with pedestrians and kebab shops. As I walked toward what I thought/hoped was the Golden Horn and the way back to Lotus Hotel, it began to rain. I walked up streets, climbing higher and higher as Ahmet had told me the water was up the hill, the sights down the hill. I finally found the busy roadway that hugged the banks of the Golden Horn. The rain picked up and the temperature dropped. I followed landmarks familiar from the morning and finally turned away from the waterway and toward the labyrinth of streets between me and my hotel. I walked and turned down a street that I knew wasn't the one I came up on, but it was heading in the right direction. I stepped into a doorway to check my map pic and saw, when I zoomed in, only major roads were labeled - the tangle of back streets I was maneuvering were blank. The loudspeakers began to trumpet the call to prayer. The melodic and mesmerizing voice of the muezzin, the man who calls the Muslims to prayer. I stopped and shut my eyes, using the moment to ask for direction, literally. I stepped out and within seconds, the rain picked up. I was drenched and had no idea if I was blocks or miles from the hotel. I walked and walked, a few times turning around mid step certain I was going the wrong way. I tried to open my small bag to retrieve the hotel business card, but my frozen  fingers couldn't operate the zipper. A lady about my age was walking towards me and I stopped her. I took out my phone to pull up the map as Ahmet had thoughtfully put a star where the hotel was. I pressed the button on my phone. Nothing. I pressed it again. And again. And again. She looked at me, I shrugged my shoulders and she walked on. I turned a corner, walked a block and turned again. Halfway down the block I saw a sign, Lotus Hotel, and at the end of the block the grey curtained front door I'd been searching for. When I walked in Ahmet was sitting in a booth. "You are back early!" he said, watching me make a puddle on the floor. "I thought you'd be gone all day!" I grabbed my key and headed upstairs to get dry and warm and make a pot of tea. My hands were so frozen when I put them under tepid water they felt like they were burning. I rubbed them vigorously on a towel until I regained feeling. I peeled out of my clothes and took the hottest shower I could stand. I wrung out my clothes and hung them over the towel warmer. Then I crawled into bed to write and read and recover. A few hours and five cups of tea later I feel wonderful and revived. And grateful. Tomorrow I'll head out again. Its not supposed to rain in the afternoon and I'll download a better map. This time I'll take pictures. And wear gloves.

Monday, January 25, 2016

224 Days on the Road



Area of Texas is 268,820 square miles 
Area of Germany is 137,903 square miles
Area of Spain is 194,845
Area of France is 248,573

I am crossing the last items off my list as I get closer to leaving on my long journey. For some reason, when I tell myself I am leaving for 224 days it seems shorter than 7 1/2 months. 
I've left the trip purposely open - very little planning has been done - so I can take advantage of opportunities that arise.  I know I will spend 3 weeks on the island of Lesvos, Greece in the very beginning of the trip and a week at a resort a few hours outside Madrid in mid March teaching English to Spaniards. I will walk the Camino de Santiago - the Portuguese route starting in Lisbon - beginning on my birthday, April 3rd and spend a week on Terceira island in the Azores toward the end of May. I want to spend 1-3 weeks in Morocco - Tangier, Fez, Chefchaouen, Meknes and Marrakech are all calling. I will visit friends in Shropshire, England and throughout Germany. I am carrying only a backpack that I think of as my turtle shell. All my belongings on my back. What freedom!
My self imposed budget is $50 a day - this includes housing, food and transportation. This doesn't include my airfare over (and I searched for months until I snagged a good deal) or my Eurail train/ferry pass for the first 2 months. Needless to say I won't be sampling haute cuisine, but I will be experiencing REAL cuisine - the native foods of every region, mostly foods from local outdoor markets and grocery stores or traditional meals served by my hosts. I am not staying in high end hotels (with the exception of the FREE resort in Spain - more on that later) but family homes that rent rooms and hostels. Some countries are incredibly reasonable (nice private rooms for $25 a night in Morocco) others not so much. I'm not out to see the tourist sights, but to see how people live, work and play in their own countries. 
My home space in Texas is safe and secure with a lovely couple, Elizabeth and Eric (I refer to them as E2) keeping it going. Already they have begun the transformation of making it their own with beautiful plants and pictures and their divine energy. It has been wonderful sharing space with them for the month of January - much like having my own kids home. 
Monday, February 1st I head to San Antonio to spend a few days with my daughter and granddaughter. Wednesday morning the 3rd, my travels begin. 
Ultreya!!!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A New Start

It's been almost two and a half years since I've come anywhere near this blog-except to pull up recipes occasionally. I'm not sure why, but there's some shame associated with this fact, like I have neglected a close friend. For years this blog was my constant companion and ideas for new posts would come to me frequently. My sister and I took an epic trip to Finland and Lithuania in the summer of 2013 and toward the end of the trip I stopped blogging thinking I would finish writing about the vacation upon returning home. I came home the last week of June to more travel for a wedding, then Germany and South Korea for work and then the finality of a divorce. In many ways it stopped me in my tracks. I locked in that winter as I tend to do, but I kinda' forgot to check back in. Probably on purpose. 
So here I am now, about to embark on a wonderful new adventure and knowing this blog will be a big part of the journey.  So please stay tuned-check in every now and then-I am thrilled and terrified both and I could use the company!
Here's a pic from about six weeks ago. My crazy daughter Marta convinced her parents to go skydiving with her! It was exhilarating and wildly scary, but I am so glad I did it!



Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Riga, Latvia

After a day in Riga (sometimes called the Paris of the Baltics), Doreen and I see similarities between Klaipeda (where we visited the Curonian Spit) and Riga. They are both tourists towns and wealthier than Vilnius. But they feel colder and more sterile. Residents seem aloof and bored, like it is all they can do to deal with the very folks who create their livelihood. Vilnius, on the other hand was warm and welcoming. I felt bereft leaving Vilnius,  like I was being forced to vacate a home that was never really mine to begin with. Vilnius captured my imagination...I saw myself living there; baking at a local bakery or providing picnic baskets for the ballooning  companies. Maybe living on the outskirts of the city in an old farmhouse (there are plenty) tending my garden and my chickens, maybe having a cow or a couple goats. A life that would be a small slice of the life I've made for myself in the states. In Vilnius, we walked everywhere, never taking public transportation as we did other places, but confining ourselves to maybe a 25 block area around our apartment. We came to know it pretty well and would go out some days with a mission in mind-a stop at our favorite bakery for coffee and pastries or a visit to a thrift store we had peered in the windows of after hours- and other days simply to wander down back alleyways we hadn't explored before. Everyday, after coffee and toast in the apartment, we would head out, unencumbered by chores that would occupy us were we home. Home in Texas being the middle of nowhere, I walk only for walkings sake or the occasional hike to the mailbox, because anywhere I walk I will still be in the middle of the woods, yet this choice is mine and I don't regret it. 
We have a week left on this trip and for the first time (gasp!) I find myself thinking of home. We have a new baby duck that our mama Pekin hatched out which I look forward to seeing and I have menus to work on for a group coming to the ranch just a few days after I get home. There is more travel for work in the Fall that I can't bear to think about now and a wedding outside Chicago the end of August for which I am supplying the cake...the logistics of it confounds me so I have chosen to not make plans until I am forced to. 
This vacation has been a reconnecting with Doreen for which I am so grateful as she has been an excellent travel companion. It's also been revelatory in ways that this 55 year old woman on the brink of major life changes could never have expected but welcomed all the same. I am going home excited about life and ready to embrace whatever comes my way. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Vilnius

So it IS the iPad that is keeping me from posting the way I usually post. I can write paragraph after paragraph of commentary, but putting pictures up brings the process to a stop. Oh well...I guess the words go here and the pics on Facebook. 

After 2 days in Tallinn we were ready to head to Vilnius. Tallinn, being a port city, is BUSY with a massive amount of alcohol consumption and the subsequent craziness that accompanies that. We took an early morning taxi to the bus station and caught our "luxury bus", which for the most part, was pretty luxurious. Wifi in the entire bus; free coffee, espresso, cappuccino, lattes; news on a screen up front and big windows to watch the Baltic scenery go by. It was a great ride traveling through mostly country roads with one stop in Riga, Latvia (which helped us decide to spend 2 days there on our way back to Finland). When we reached the Lithuania border, we passed an old Soviet era checkpoint. Even empty and lifeless, it seemed ominous. And then Lithuania opened up before our eyes. Small villages and farms, beautiful expanses of rich green fields, wild flowers everywhere. We saw countless stork nests, huge-some more than 3 feet across-balanced precariously on top of electric poles and in the branches of dead trees. We watched a red fox saunter across a grassy hill. We saw an old woman wearing a bubushka with a large stick in her hand guarding her sheep herd, old farmers walking behind a plow and others burning brush. It was an exciting ride to say the least...we were home! 
We got off the bus in Vilnius center and stood outside the bus station, map in hand, knowing our room was 5 minutes from the station, but having no idea which direction. Two women walked out of the bus station, spied us and walked over. "Do you know where you're going?" They asked. "Stepono Apartments" I replied and she said they were going there, too so we walked together. The mother and daughter duo were from Atlanta and were looking for traces of their ancestors also. 
Our apartment here is lovely, spacious with a full kitchen and a washing machine in the bathroom. It is centrally located, 5 minutes from the bus and train stations, Old Town and more thrift stores than I've ever seen in my life. We love it here so much that, after a 3 day trip to the beach (and the Curonian Spit-a UNESCO World Heritage Site) we are coming back for two days before we make our way slowly back up to Tallinn to catch the ferry back to Finland. I found some genealogy sites here in Vilnius where we can talk to actual people who will help us with our search. 
I have finally opened up my empty bag which I've kept folded up and tucked into my suitcase. Linen and amber shopping warranted the need for extra luggage. Oh, and thrift store finds!
More from the beach!!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Tallinn, Estonia and Vilnius, Lithuania

The ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn, Estonia was huge and very crowded. It not only carried hundreds of passengers, but also cars and even a few semis!! There was a lot of drinking aboard and some of the passengers got extremely rowdy! The trip took a bit less than 2 hours and by the time we docked in Tallinn it got rowdier still. Some folks needed help getting off the ship...

The scene at the port was pure chaos, with everyone trying to leave at the same time. Taxis, buses and passenger cars 4 and 5 abreast trying to merge into 3 lanes to head into the city. Doreen and I sat in the back of the taxi wide eyed as our driver weaved in and out of traffic, barely missing a collision with a bus. When we arrived at our guesthouse, we were met by a sweet man who helped manage the guesthouse. He carried our bags in and showed us to our room. We were surprised to say the least. It was described on the Internet as a hundred year old house that was being restored, but we really thought the restoration would be further along than it was. However it was extremely clean and the bed was comfortable so that was all that mattered. It wasn't like we were going to be spending our time in the room anyway. 
After a good nights sleep, we headed into Tallinn to see old town. We had been told by a number of people that Old Town Tallinn was spectacular and they were right! It was extra exciting because we experienced the last day of Old Town Week and the town was in full entertainment mode. There were street performers, flash mobs, puppet shows, live music...every time we turned a corner there was something else to see. We took a time out for coffee and almond porridge at a restaurant and sat and people watched for almost an hour. 
This porridge was whole oat groats cooked in milk and brown sugar. It was delicious and filling! 
We watched a puppet show from behind

Friday, June 7, 2013

Leaving Finland

We have one more hour on the train before we reach Helsinki where we will catch a ferry to Tallinn, Estonia to begin our journey through the Baltic States-Estonia, Latvia and finally, Lithuania, where another piece of our ancestral heritage lies. This one however, will not meet us for a tour of the city. Instead it will be beneath our feet and all around us and we may never discover what it holds. This particular part of our personal history is a mystery-hinging on a great, great grand uncle, Vladislaw Dembskis-who, although trained early on as a priest, eventually turned his back on the church in a particularly vile way and spent the remainder of his life in Lithuania and later America openly criticizing the Catholic Church and her hierarchy. He wrote countless articles, pamphlets and books as a "freethinker" and before I left on this trip I found a copy of his book, Inquisition, online in Google Books-google's attempt to photocopy and make available online books that they deem important. I was duly impressed to find Inquisition there, but my attempt to get a glimpse into the mind of my relative was thwarted by the fact that it was in Lithuanian. My grasp of the Lithuanian language is only marginally better than my grasp of Finnish, which is literally nil (although I have learned how to say "thank you" in Finnish). I can say the word coffee in Lithuanian, but besides that only a few choice swear words which I wouldn't dare utter in public and a few songs taught to us as children. One in particular we were told proclaims, "My girlfriend has fat legs..." So I doubt it will get us any points for eloquence IF that is even the correct translation!!

It was incredibly bittersweet this morning leaving Lomamokkila. I don't know if I have ever enjoyed myself or relaxed as thoroughly as I did there. Not only was the setting phenomenal-the lake, the birch forests, the flower gardens, the animals-but the food was magnificent, a true taste of Finland. And Kalle and Laura, the owners, were spectacular hosts and have created an oasis of calm and comfort. If you ever happen to be in Finland, it is well worth a visit. Very reasonably priced and lots to see in the area IF you ever want to leave the farm. Check it out here:
www.lomamokkila.fi
Doreen and I were talking yesterday about the fact that no matter where we were in Finland, people came up to us to ask us directions, or bus schedules or various other questions, mistaking us for Finns. It was thrilling in a way that we could blend in so seamlessly, travel around so anonymously. We were not perceived to be tourists at all and that made us incredibly happy. We both hope it will be the same in Lithuania!