Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Istanbul, Turkey

This is a city of character. Full of it and them. Character in spades. Also in hearts, clubs and diamonds. As in, I heart backgammon, I want to club the guy down the street and the 84 carat diamond at the Topkapı Palace. The sights in Istanbul are amazing. We were staying right next door to both the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofia, which look like something out of Aladdin. The Grand Bazaar was two blocks away, and the Asian side of Istanbul, with its fresh fish (aka alive) and produce markets was only a fifteen minute ferry ride.

It's difficult to describe Istanbul. I think the best adjectives for this city are its people; foreign and local alike. So, I give you my top five people in Istanbul (not including Kaare). Hopefully they will help you piece together a piece mealed city.

1. Pascal (Aussie)

This guy could tell a story almost as well as Kaare can, and his laugh made you wonder if the world has ever had anything worth crying over, it was that infectious. He couldn't dance worth snot, but when the belly dancer at our hostel called him up...well...we took pictures and he didn't even care! Istanbul and its insincerity can really start to get to a person. You can never tell if someone wants to actually talk to you, or just sell you a carpet. Pascal's laugh was a cornily described "breath of fresh air", and a thankfully received, light-hearted perspective.

2. Becks (Kurdish)

Remember the guy down the street that I wanted to club? This is him. I have never seen a more text book psychopath in my life. Series of events:
a) He invites us into his restaurant for tea and teaches us to play backgammon.
b) He hits on me later that night.
c) I say no.
d) He freaks out.
e) Everyone is afraid of him.
Add a lot more details and what you get is every person in our hostel walking five minutes out of their way, all of the time, just to avoid the street he works on.

3. Amy Heading (Aussie)

Now, don't take this next sentence the wrong way, read the whole section before you judge. The was nothing overtly special about Amy. She had no fantastic story behind her and no crazy personality trait to warrant writing a blog about. Except for the fact that I honestly liked her a whole bunch. This is so rare for me to say about a woman, that I'm surprised at myself. I'm even rearranging some of my Thailand plans to meet up with her in Phuket. She was genuine. And you know, I think that's all I'm going to say about her. Anything else would just be extra adjectives, and I don't want to waste her on them.

4. Jay-Z Rex (Brazilian)

His name was Ken. He Fluently spoke Portuguese, Spanish, English and Japanese. He was conversational in French, Italian and German. His Japanese family moved to Brazil, then gave birth to him. So he was actually Brazilian, but looked Japanese, hence, Japazilian. Well, Kaare decided that "Japazilian" sounded way too much like a dinosaur to not include "Rex" after it. He became Japazilian Rex, later shortened to Jay-Z Rex. Did I mention that his real name is actually Socrates? Who gets to live a life where your name is Socrates and your nickname is Jay-Z Rex? Can life possibly be that sweet?

5. The Kid Who Scammed Kaare (probably Turkish or Kurdish)

Readers Digest Version:
a) Kaare goes to the ATM.
b) Shoe Shine Kid (hence forth referred to as the SS Kid) chats Kaare up Turkish style, which comprises or four important phrases:
i. Yes please, my friend!
ii. Where are you from?
iii. I love (insert country)!/I have a friend from (insert country)!
iv. Can I offer you some tea/sell you a carpet/spend your money/shine your shoes?
c) After Kaare says no, the SS Kid shines his shoes anyways.
d)The SS Kid brushes Kaare's shoes for 2.45 seconds, then demands $45 (perhaps a dollar to 1/10 second ratio? I'm just trying to rationalize here...)
e) Kaare says, "I'm quite sorry young sir, but I do not believe that the service provided was quite adequate enough to warrant $45, especially after I refused said service. Perhaps you should forget about it." Something like that.
f) The SS Kid goes down to $20.
g) see 'e'
h) some random huge guy walks up and offers to pay for Kaare's shoe shine, and then does so after Kaare says no.
i) The SS Kid runs away.
j) Random Huge Guy now tells Kaare to pay him back.
k) Kaare loses $20.

My only personal interaction with this kid was:
a) Listening to him call Kaare "my brother" the day after the scam.
b) Watching him stick out his tongue at Kaare whenever we walked by.

Kaare wants to throw rocks at this kid. I want to take his picture and love him forever.

Quote of the Day:

We were hanging out at our hostel watching women's volleyball, in which, after each point, all the players on the team hug.

Angie: I don't think that I would want to be touching someone that sweaty after all that physical exercise.

Random Dude on the Couch: So you don't like sex?

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Paris, France

So everyone told us that the French were complete assholes. The first day we got there, we learned that this was just not true. While exploring a menu board outside a small cafe, one of the waiters came out, bestowed kisses on all of us, held our hands, and walked us to a table inside.

We then learned that this was due to the fact that the French government had actually done an ad campaign telling the citizens of Paris to be nicer to tourists. They even sent police officers around to enforce this niceness. Interesting way to promote the tourist industry.

Our first stop in France was at Versailles. It was...justifying to say the least. This was where the French Revolution came to a head. After walking around Versailles for an entire day, I completely understand their motives! Kaare and I estimated that if one was to rebuild the palace in this day and age - including the grounds, the architecture, the paintings, the carvings, and the bloody gold - it would definitely be somewhere in the trillions of dollars. No exaggeration. The revolution happened because the people were fed up with the amount of money that Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were spending. Antoinette had her own village on the grounds of Versailles, put aside for those days that she wanted to feel like a "peasant". She actually had an entire village built for her whims. If the revolutionaries were worried about their justifiability, I'm sure that the march through the grounds of Versailles on the way to the palace swept away any and all doubts.

I'd also heard that the Louvre was just too big to see in one visit, and that you needed at least three days to see it properly. "Pfft," I thought, "people just don't know how to manage their time!" Having now been there, I can safely say that the Louvre is about the size of Canada. A couple of the paintings there were actually two stories tall. It is one of the most amazing museums I have ever been to, and I would suggest that everyone put it on their list of things to see before they die. Because it would be very easy to get lost and die inside the Louvre.

The traffic in Paris is ridiculous. This one time, we watched seven lanes converge into one without the use of road lines, traffic lights, or street signs. The Arc de Triomphe is encased with a twelve lane roundabout. And pedestrians? You must be joking. Or at least the highways department of Paris must have been joking when they put crosswalks on the road. It's just a way for drivers to hit more people all at once. We call it violence, they call it efficiency.

Finally, to sum up, I saw my first dead person in Paris. Well, at least what we thought was a dead person at the time. She was in fact a drunk in the subway that had somehow managed to pass out head first through the bars of the chairs. But I definitely thought she was dead for a solid ten minutes.

Quote of the Day:

In Kaare's guidebook for the Middle East, there is a section on Iraq. In this section of Iraq, there is a heading that says "Solo Traveling". The advice it gives on solo traveling in Iraq?

You must be mad.

That is all it says.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Brussels, Belgium

Wow...where do I begin? Well, how about by calling myself lots of names because I lied about keeping up with everyone once we got to Belgium. I know you're all getting a good creative work out thinking of all those wonderful things you'd like to be doing to me right now. In fact, one person (who will remain anonymous) threatened to send me anthrax via postcard. Another person (who will remain anonymous...*cough* Aunty Julie *cough*) threatened to don a Ninja Turtles costume and come searching for me. By the way, my coughing back there was a direct result of the afore mentioned anthrax. Thanks to all my fans. Your death threats really touched my heart.

So what can I say about Belgium? Well, some hosebeast on the plane told us that it sucked. Were I able to find her again, I'd punch her for lying. But she was British, so I won't hold it against her.

What she failed to mention was the fact that Brussels is a wonderful city. It just doesn't make any sense.

Item 1: There is no Belgium government right now. Not even kidding. In fact, Belgium has broken it's own record with 200 days of no government. Apparently the French and the Dutch can't agree on anything. Surprised?

Item 2: Although there is no government, there is, apparently, a King. Okay...say it with me: What?

Item 3: One time, we were riding the Metro, and it started going backwards. As in, we stopped, and then the train went back in the direction it had just came from. Yet somehow, we ended up at a different station.

Item 4: They celebrate Saint Nicholas Day on Dec 6th. Now, over hundreds of years, this tradition found its way to the rest of Europe, then to North America, where it got transformed and amalgamated with Christmas, giving us Santa Clause (Saint Nick) on the 25th of December. This in turn worked its way back to Belgium. Belgians now celebrate both Saint Nicholas Day and Christmas Day, without noticing the fact that Saint Nicholas and Santa Claus are the same person.

Item 5: Sometimes, buses just don't come. Other times, the same bus will come three times in a row. And I mean in a row. Lined up, one right after the other.

Item 6: People who are driving straight do not have the right of way. People who are turning right have the right of way. All of the time. So if you were driving down Highway 97, and someone was turning right on to the highway from Pandosy, you would have to stop and let them go first. Even if your light was green and theirs was red.

Item 7: Sultans of Kebab. It just makes no sense how good the Kebabs were at that place. What really doesn't make sense is why Kebabs haven't migrated to Canada yet.

Item 8: The average price for a bottle of wine is about $5. If you spend $10 on a bottle, you're living large. Tequila costs about $15. My Mom really liked the country.

Item 9: Pub Quiz. For those of you who haven't heard about it yet, Pub Quiz takes place at the Irish Bar every Monday night. There are eight rounds, ten questions per round. It happens during happy hour. The three teams with the highest scores win prizes. What about this doesn't make sense? There is no guarantee that the answers they give you are correct. So even if you win, by their count, you've lost. Also, the questions vary from the astoundingly easy (what are the colours of the rainbow?) to the ridiculously hard (Botswana became independent in what month of 1966?).

Item 10: To get to Brussels from the airport, you have to go through one of the dodgiest red light districts I've ever seen. Are they purposely trying to thwart tourism? Maybe the lack of government is going to their heads...

Well folks, apart from all that, I have to say that Belgium was great! Christmas with the family was heart warming, of course, and seeing Mom and Kate again was wonderful. We did a couple side trips from Brussels, but those are different cities, so they get new blog entries! Yay! More for you to read!!! Now please don't send anthrax...

Fun Fact of the Day:
It's about Paris, so you'll have to wait until I write that blog.

Quote of the Day:
Deanna was trying to call her Mom on Christmas, but had misplaced the new phone number. My advice?

Angie: Why don't you try looking her up on canada411.com? Do you know her last name?

Apparently, I'm a genius. It's just a bloody good thing I didn't decide to major in biology or genetics...