May 302016
 

Whore Fires IstanbulOh Istanbul, my Istanbul.  You have been oh so naughty, yes you have…

It’s daylight now; though I’ve been up since the early calls to prayer have filled the city like a cacophony of screeching cats before dawns break.

As I walk onto the balcony to take in the morning light, my nostrils fill with that distinctive smell of burning trash, stinging whiffs of plastic and rubber and all that should not be burned.

I later learn that this is from the fires of the midnight whores, burning all night long to keep their goods nice and warm.  The whores themselves range from the exotically beautiful to the middle-aged man dressed as a female; they wait for the taxi drivers to take a break for food and more.

I pass the whores working the tail-end of the night shift as I make my way to the main shopping street; it is 9 in the morning.

Walking down this most populated of streets I am harassed by multiple men trying to scam me in one way or another.  At one point, two men walk next to me, pushing me to answer the most basic of questions, those which inevitably lead to a seemingly friendly conversation, false sense of security, and physical or monetary detriment to myself.  Once they realize the futility of their efforts, I am free to make my way to the beautiful parts of Istanbul.

Walking down a hill so steep I could not imagine a city built upon it, I notice how, though this street is quite lovely, only meters away from it appear to be squalor the likes of which I have not before experienced.

As I make it to the most visited, and, as such, beautiful part of the city, I am constantly reminded of one thing, terrorism.

The streets surrounding the main sites are practically empty; there are more camera crews than tourists and all with rented vans, which can mean only that they came to this city for the carnage.  Walking closer to the most famous of mosques, the Blue Mosque, I see where a man exploded his suicide vest next to a group of German tourists just one day ago.

The feelings of fear, combined with anger and confusion lead to a sense of numbness.

Approaching the sights, I cautiously avoid all crowds, crossing streets, never standing near an entrance to anything, walking instead of taking public transportation.

I resolve that I will see this city, will experience it, for better or worse.  Statistically speaking, I will be safe, but that’s a tough sell for the brain.

Though I manage to visit many major and wonderful sites this day, I am constantly plagued with disappointment.  Maybe I have seen too many wonderful things up to this point in my travels; maybe it is the gloomy cloud of terrorism that hugs the day like fog in a mountain valley; maybe it is that Muslim architecture is inherently less ornate than that of the Christians; maybe it is all of the above.

But, I am here. I will visit, explore, experience, and live in this city.  I will see what it has to offer.  Though, every moment I spend here, I feel more and more that the golden city that was promised to me simply does not exist.

Apr 202016
 

A story about the two best con artists I have ever met, and, of course, it was in Paris.

Enjoy! 🙂

Feb 252015
 
Date

Date

Here, I’ll talk about how I ended up not knowing that I was going on a date until it was too late, after I had come back from living in Germany for a year.

It’s funny how Europe often seems to be so similar to the U.S. on the surface, albeit with a literally different surface full of crazy old buildings and boring new ones, but the real differences, the real contrasts, are really in the small details.

Continue reading »

Feb 032015
 
Valencia Park at Night

Valencia Park at Night

Part 7 of 7 of my night in Valencia.  Here is Part 6.

It’s time to go back to the park to let the people in the group who would like to consume what was just purchased do their thing.  We head to the park that used to be the bottom of a river; yea Valencia is cool like that!

At this point, it is just 5 of us: me, 2 Dutch guys, and 2 Kiwi girls.  Can you guess who bought the drugs?  You’d be wrong if you thought it was the Dutch guys. Continue reading »

Jan 242015
 
Valencia Square at Night

Valencia Square at Night

Part 6 of 7 of my night in Valencia.  Here is Part 5.

You didn’t think the night was over, did you?

After the pub, we head to the main pedestrian square in Valencia.  Along the way, we buy some street-beers.  The Spanish call them Paki-beers and this is because they are beers sold by Pakistani people that roam the streets.  The beers themselves are cheap and ice-cold!  Though, that’s because they refrigerate them in the sewer systems, yea.

Continue reading »

Aug 302014
 
Valencia Wine Jug Drinking

Valencia Wine Jug Drinking

Part 5 of 7.  A Moment in Valencia – The Night is part 4.

By this point in my travels I am quite bored with the generic questions of “Where are you from?” and “What are you doing in Europe?” and am much more interested in the information that can be classified as an outlier.  I want something that is actually interesting, something that is different from the thousands of people that I have met before you.  (Actually getting this however is more difficult than I thought because, as it turns out, most of us are incredibly similar, following similar patterns, and making similar decisions for similar reasons – but that’s for another article)

As such, I now ask people to tell me something that they wouldn’t tell someone they would have to again see or encounter.  This is such a fun question and yields quite interesting answers.

Back to the bar – When most of the group goes to the toilet, I pose the aforementioned question to one of the remaining girls.  She pauses for a moment, looks down, then starts to play with a lock of her hair as she finally makes eye-contact with me and reveals her secret.  She is a lesbian and has a crush on her travel partner, who is also a girl and who is apparently straight.  In fact, ever since they got really drunk together and hooked-up, which I took to mean kissing and perhaps groping, this girl has wanted her travel companion in a more serious way.

I can’t believe what I am hearing.  This girl has a secret lesbian crush on her travel partner and no one knows about it, except me!

Now it’s time for round two.  The first ‘toilet group’ starts to come back as the second one, including lusting-lesbian-travel-partner, heads off to the toilet.  Her travel companion sits down next to me and I ask her the same question: “Can you tell me something that you wouldn’t tell someone that you ever had to see again?”  There is no way that I am going to hear something as interesting as what I just heard, but I feel that there is still no better question to ask a fellow traveler.

She looks around to make sure that no one but me can hear what she is about to say and then she tells me that she is worried that her friend likes her and wants to get with her; she says that this is the reason that she never drinks too much around her travel partner.  She is worried that if she gets too drunk around her that the girl will try to hook up with her.  The manner in which she says this, with a bit of hesitation and trepidation in her voice, makes it seem as though this has been looming over their entire trip.

At this point, I am freaking out.  I can’t believe that these girls, separate from each other, both commented on the same thing, this thing that could ruin their friendship forever and which hangs over their travels and their relationship as a sort of ominous shadow no more than a few feet behind them as they backpack through Europe together.

The lusting-lesbian-travel-partner has no idea that her straight friend is nervous that she might engage her sexually during their travels.  The straight friend has no idea that her suspicions about her travel partner are actually true.

So, here I am, sitting down in this bar, with the entire group now back together, and I can barely contain myself.  Both friends are sitting right next to each other, neither knowing about the other’s desires or fears, and I am the only one at the table that knows about it.  It is the craziest feeling in the world and I am just bursting at the seams with excitement.  I am trying as hard as is humanly possible not to show anything on my face as I look back and forth between these two girls to see if they have magically found out what the other said through some sort of female-to-female sixth sense osmosis based communication system.

It takes a minute, but I am able to calm down a bit after a few more drinks from the jug of white wine.

At this point, the tour guides who brought us to the pub decide to go home.  We are now left to our own devices…

 A Moment in Valencia – Robbery – Part 6 of 7

Aug 252014
 
Drinking in the Park

Drinking in the Park

This is part 4 of 7.  A Moment in Valencia – The Next Day is part 3.

After the day, I am glowing with happiness.  I could not think of a better way to spend a day and, by this point, I am a bit exhausted and just ready for bed.  But, as I walk towards my room, two beautiful girls ask me out for drinks.  Damn.  So, I can go to bed or I can hang out with two seemingly fun girls and drink – hmmmm.

This really is the ‘problem’ with staying in a hostel.  There are always fun people around that want to go out and have a good time and it can be really difficult to say “No.”

It takes about a second for me to say “Yes” and I start to get ready for the night.  Before we go out to drink, we make a pit-stop at the local Pakistani run shop, since there they sell alcohol after the legally allowed time.  Once we acquire Gin for me and mixers for the girls, we head to a cool kind of river-park thing.  As we start to sip on the gin, we lay back and look up at the stars.  It is a crazy feeling to know that we are sitting at the bottom of what was a river for hundreds of years.

At this point, we are generally harassing each other for our differing English accents (American versus Kiwi) and having an all-around fun time.  A few hours pass this way and then we decide to head back to the hostel to see what’s up.

River Park at Night

River Park at Night

Arriving back at the hostel, we realize that it is Sunday, as a traveler you often do not know what day it is, and that the pub-crawl has failed to run because there was no one that wanted to go on it.  However, the people that were managing the pub-crawl that night decide to take my group and some other people who were sitting in the common room to one cool pub before they leave for the night.

And this is how the night really picked-up.

By this point I was quite tipsy, maybe more than that, and, apparently, on the way to the pub, I have the most amazing conversation with the female pub-crawl guide; at least that’s what I am told.  All I can think about is her amazing smile.

After about 15 minutes, we arrive at this small hole-in-the-wall local pub where no one speaks English.  The place is split into two levels and the second floor is about 5’5″ high and overlooks the bar below.  There is a giant paper mache dinosaur head on the wall and the atmosphere is a mix of cozy and crazy.

Wine Jug

Wine Jug

Once we sit down, the guides introduce us to the best part about this place, a special wine jug drink that is really cheap and has a fun teapot type spout.  The goal is to pour the wine into your mouth without touching the spout.

The tour guides start the drinking and show us how to make a good pour without spilling anything.  Now, it’s our turn.  Everyone seems to be doing a decent job but they are definitely holding something back.  When you are afraid of being embarrassed you never go full-throttle.

I, however, do not have that problem by this point in the evening.  As I start to pour the wine, I immediately extend my arm all the way out; here is my childhood dinner table shenanigans paying off – told you so mom!  But, just as I get my arm fully extended, the female tour guide blows on the stream, covering me in white wine.  At least no one will mistake me for sober now that I smell of wine.

But the fun was just getting started…

A Moment in Valencia – Stories – Part 5 of 7

 

 

Aug 172014
 

Tapas Tour

Part 3 of 7. A Moment in Valencia – Arrival is part 2.

After a good sleep, it’s time for a free-walking-tour of the city.  I just love these tours because you get to see enough of the city to get a feel for it and its history as well as getting a bearing on your surroundings.

The tour is great and the city of Valencia is just wonderful.  The whole city seems to be straight out of a Spanish fairy-tale.

There are many old cathedrals and there are weddings taking place everywhere complete with fireworks and old Rolls Royce’s.  Every window on every building has a balcony with Spanish tiles for its floor.  The ground in the main squares is covered in red marble with white veins running through it.  There are painted and decorated tiles lining many of the buildings.  There are places for tapas and outdoor cafes around every corner.  There are fountains and orange trees and tiny Spanish beers and paella.  There is even this special drink for Valencia called “Horchata” which is some sort of sweet but kind of disgusting white drink served ice cold and you never really know if you like it or not but you keep drinking it anyway.

I have the biggest smile and I just can’t get it off my face! 🙂

Agua de ValenciaAfter the tour, our guide takes some of us to a small tapas tour of sorts, but it is really more of a social event filled with small local tapas and lots of “Agua de Valencia”, which stands for “Water of Valencia.”  It’s so strong it could kill a horse!

Agua de Valencia is some sort of orange juice mixed with what I can only imagine is tequila and gin all served in a sort of wine glass with lots of ice.  It’s the most refreshing and alcoholic beverage I think I have ever had and, since I have been sweating my back-side off in the sun for the last two hours on the tour, I am easily tipsy at this point.

I have to say though that it makes for a really fun experience when you get to sit down with 10 people you have never previously met and get a little tipsy in an old city in Europe where every brick in the surrounding buildings is older than your own country.

While sitting with my new friends, a few of us decide to go to the beach together later in the day.

The beach is massive, sunny with warm water, and finely cleaned sand.  The water is perfect and the women are topless.  I really couldn’t ask for much more from a beach.

Valencia Beach Malvarrosa

Valencia Beach Malvarrosa

I must say the only awkward part was the couple in front of us.  The beach is filled with families, children, old people, everyone everywhere and these two are fondling each other like they’re out for an adult film shoot.  The man began by teasing his woman’s nipples and then his hand disappeared under her bikini bottom, and it wasn’t to apply sunscreen.  Though, that didn’t faze me so much as it did confuse me given the number of families sitting nearby.  Funny Spanish people.

By the time we got home I was feeling just great.  I had a tour of the city, got tipsy on a local beverage while tasting interesting tapas and meeting new people, went to the beach with some great people, and swam like a fish.

I’m not certain what the night will hold, but I’m ready for it!

A Moment in Valencia – The Night – Part 4 of 7

 

Jul 222014
 
Valencia Plaza Virgen

Valencia Plaza Virgen

Part 2 of 7.  A Moment in Valencia – Traveling There is the first part of this series.

As I step out of the train and into the station in Valencia I feel a sense of freedom and of starting over.  What happened in Barcelona is now in the past.  New city; new people; new experiences. Continue reading »

Jul 192014
 

Spain TrainThis is the first part of a 7 part post describing a day in Valencia, Spain.  I hope you enjoy! 🙂

I’m not sure if I am running from something or simply entertaining my desire to find out what this city is really like.

I always find the train ride that takes me away from one place and toward another to be an almost cathartic experience.  Continue reading »