Saturday, June 25, 2011

Planes, Train, and Donkeys?

For me, traveling is all about culminating experiences not just coming home with the perfect photograph. Although, don't get me wrong, I love being able to show off my snaps when I return. Like I mentioned at the end of my last post, the trip begins as soon as you leave your house and the transportation you take becomes as much a part of the fun as the destination. My most recent vacation to Turkey and Greece included an impressive assemblage of transportation methods.

Of course it all began with an airplane. But not just any airplane...the largest passenger airplane ever built. I flew from Montreal to Paris via Air France on this boehemeth:

Now I do not know much about planes so I cannot begin to recite the specs of this monster, however I can tell you it has 2 full levels and first class looked fabulous (as I noticed while I was being quickly herded towards steerage). The seats are 10 across with two aisles and each seat has a tv. Now when you look at the huge plane you would think there would be a decent amount of leg room... alas no. This was my only complaint:

This image is somewhat deceiving making it look like I had more room than I actually did. Anyway... what I enjoyed most about this plane was that during take off and landing your personal tv screen switched to a video feed filming from the tail of the plane. Actually seeing myself take off and land was new to me and I loved every second of it. Now the macabre side of me wondered how horrific it would be to see yourself crash... but I won't dwell on that.

After arriving in Istanbul we enjoyed the charms of local transportation including taxis that could rival New York City drivers in the terror department, subway, tram, and bus. All of these methods, taxi excluded, were reliable, easy to use, and very affordable.

My favorite way to travel in Istanbul is by the local commuter ferry. Now, Istanbul exists on two continents (Europe and Asia) and tour companies love to sell you expensive tickets on their vessels just to make the very quick 5-10 minute jump across the Bosphorus to either side. The alternative is the commuter ferry which costs only 1.75 Turkish Lira (read: very cheap). You get to enjoy the friendly locals on their way to work or on a family outing. I had the joy of watching a young turkish boy chowing down on a sesame bun and then feeding it to the seagulls while laughing hysterically meanwhile I'm thinking to myself that I would see the exact thing at home on the Halifax-Dartmouth ferry. The only drawback to this is that you miss out on commentary during your sail (grab a pamphlet in the ferry terminal). You can even indulge in some Turkish apple tea as you board the ferry in a lovely little tea glass.

My final means of transportation in Turkey was the cruise ship. This was a small ship compared to what I was used to seeing in my own home town harbour, however the cozy size made sure that the staff was recognizable and I would see the same faces wherever I went. This ship boasted 3 dining rooms a very large lounge, casino, pool, shop, and many other amenities. It was a great way to travel the Aegean.

While touring Greece, my main mode of movement was by tour bus. These cushy air conditioned world wonders require no further explanation. The highlight of my entire trip was likely as I made my way to the acropolis in a town called Lindos. This lovely town is made up of very narrow winding streets that you could easily find yourself lost in. A church broadcasts mass through loud speakers which can be heard throughout the town and if you do not keep your eyes on the ground you will likely find yourself stepping in donkey droppings. There are two ways to the top of the Lindos acropolis, by foot up approximately 350 very steep steps with no railing, or by donkey. Originally I was going to pass on the donkey because I was nervous, no...scared. I faced my teeny fear and paid my 5 euro and got on the donkey because I just could not pass up a potentially good story. My donkey's name was Lazy and the herder did everything but push him up the hill to make him move. I loved it! I loved it so much that I paid another 5 euro to take the donkey down the hill... this new donkey was not my old friend Lazy and got me to the bottom very very quickly... I decided I may want to forget archaeology altogether and become a donkey herder. I am a natural.

The moral of THIS story is, if you are noticing a trend on your travels, go with it! You very well might end up with a pretty interesting story to show for it. I noticed that I was using a variety of fun ways to get around and because of that I just could not pass up a donkey ride which turned out to be one of the highlights of all my travels.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

It's a Greekalicious Turkish Delight

I graduated from university this year for the 2nd time. This time was special, I studied something I loved and that made all the difference in the world to my level of commitment. As a congratulatory gift, my parents and I decided to take a trip. The destination was my choice. Can you imagine.... "Where do you want to go?" hmmm... ok let's try and narrow THAT down. Well the first step was to grab a book of potential tours. Long story short, I found my self drawn towards Greece. I suppose my background in archaeology added to the appeal knowing I would be seeing ruins and archaeological sites thousands of years old. I imagined the columns just vibrated with history and life. However, I did not want to see JUST Greece. There were so many options and I couldn't choose just one, so I decided on a combined trip of Turkey and Greece which included a mediterranean cruise... how quaint.

In preparation for my trip I decided, like most travel junkies, to do some pre-trip reading. Naturally I found myself a fantastic map of Athens complete with the metro routes. This was entertaining... for a while. It did not take me long to memorize the underground and location of the Plaka. The next step was to buy a cheap guidebook to Greece. I found out all of the best and expensive places to stay as well as all the famous landmarks you just HAVE to purchase a souvenir from. What I needed was something a little more inspiring that would really make me appreciate the culture and give me some context. I started with a book I'd had on my shelf for ages, "The Good Tourist: An Ethical Traveller's Guide" by Lucy Popescu. Popescu breaks the book down by country and highlights the human rights, environmental, and ethical concerns of various global locations. Since I already knew quite about about Greece and Greek traditions, I focused on Turkey for my reading pleasure. From Popescu's book I was able to travel to the land of carpets and mosques with an appreciation of what the people in this incredible country face each and every day. The best part about this book is a section at the end of each chapter which highlights recommended reading before, during and after your trip. From this list, I made my next selection, "The Bastard of Istanbul" by Elif Shafak. This novel features a group of woman from different backgrounds, Turkish and Arminian. What these woman value most is their family and bringing them together around a table of good food and good company. Reading about the different generations of these women and discovering how their values surrounding religion, women's rights, and men have changed was eye opening. Finally, I found this selection at my local library, "Istanbul:The Collected Traveler" by Barrie Kerper. Kerper has collected articles and musing from lovers of Istanbul which provide a colourful backdrop of this amazing city. The best part of this book is the A-Z of Istanbul in the back. Under "T" you will find the words Turkish Toilet, an essential topic to investigate before departing from your comfy loo at home. This book kept me very good company along my adventure, in particular a day I spent in my hotel room under the weather.

My point is, before your trip do some research to find out what sites you MUST see, as well as catch a glimpse into the lives of the people who reside there every day. Choose a lover's guide to take with you which will help you find the beauty in simple experiences like finding the perfect cup of Turkish coffee, you will remember these experiences much more than standing in line to see a museum. Also, become acquainted with the ethical concerns of the nation not only for your own safety but to appreciate the struggles locals face and become a more ethical tourist when choosing what to see and spend your precious pennies on.

After my little bit of research I was ready to embark on my fabulous vacation...which begins as soon as you leave for the airport. Sometimes getting there is half the fun.