Travel weary in Europe

I’m tired. I’m worn out. I’ve hit my travel limitations. Is that even possible?

I’ve logged a lot of miles in the past year and the last few months have been overwhelmingly busy as I prepare to leave Paris to live in the Bay Area again. My first year in Paris saw little European travel, so I had to make up for it in the last year. I’ve been capturing them in photographs and can go back in time via Flickr. Here’s a list of cities and areas my poor tired feet have visited
On the train

Iceland and Istanbul were two areas at the top of my list. Fortunately I was able to visit them and they exceeded my expectations.

Iceland

Blue Lagoon in Iceland
I visited Iceland in the middle of January, shortly after the economy took a major dive and the government officials decided to quit. I was a bit worried about what the country would be like, so like a good Parisian I packed some extra cheese and Poilane bread.

Iceland is an amazing country. I remember in elementary school learning about this island with the deceitful name. Oh those tricky vikings who mixed up Greenland and Iceland to keep visitors on their toes…

I didn’t walk around Iceland as much as I fell on my ass and subsequently dragged myself to a pseudo-standing position. I’m a city boy and my idea of snow/ice shoes are not recommended for a country covered in frozen water. Luckily I was able to soak my tired bones and bruised butt in their local swimming pools and the bizarre, yet relaxing Blue Lagoon. Soaking in an outdoor hot springs with cold mud on your face while the outside temperature is -3 degrees Celsius is something you need to experience to understand.

Do yourself a favor and purchase some music by Sigur Ros before heading to Iceland. There’s nothing like flying through the clouds and onto the island while listening to their music. In fact, I listen to Sigur Ros almost every time I fly.

I’d love to visit Iceland again. I will visit Iceland again! Iceland Air offers free layovers when you fly to Europe. This allows you to stop for a day in Reykjavik and visit the Blue Lagoon before heading to Europe and back.

Istanbul

istanbul at nightThere was an exhibition of Turkish artwork at the San Diego Museum of Art while I worked there. I can’t say this is what planted the seed to visit this country. I think it also was the compounding interest from everyone that has spoken about its mysteriousness.

Most of the areas I have visited are primarily Christian, the exception being Bangalore, India. Istanbul was the first Islamic country that I’ve been in and the vibe is definitely different. I am agnostic, so I have no preference for one religion over another. In fact, I’ve probably been in more religious buildings of various faiths than anyone I know (except Philippe). That being said, I had a great interest in learning about the Mosques and Islamic culture of Turkey. I also wanted to see the ancient mosaics within Hagia Sophia.

There are several things that stand out in Istanbul.

The prayer calls that punctuate the day become a rythm that you miss as soon as you leave the country.

The Turkish people are extremely friendly and outgoing. It’s actually a bit unsettling at first, as you may think everyone is out to scam you. At some point you accept the people truly are friendly and go with the flow.

I was perhaps a bit too trusting while in Istanbul, but it led to some great experiences. The first night I was standing near the Hagia Sophia and was approached by a local man who I expected was a scam artist. But I accepted his offer of a quick tour and he showed me around the area, the Blue Mosque, the columns, and Hagia Sophia. Yes, he did end up asking me if I was interested in buying a carpet, but he was ready to accept no as an answer. I enjoyed the tour and followed him to his favorite rug store.

The rug store assigned the art historian to me and we looked at about 50 carpets for well over an hour as we discussed color, history, symbolism, the construction process, and much more. I told them I was not interested in buying but would love to learn about the rugs as a work of art.

Needless to say, I bought a rug that day. It’s truly special and not something I would have ever found outside Istanbul. It’s a nomadic carpet that features the village the weaver grew up in. They say it was made by a single woman for her dowry, whether that is true or not I don’t care. It’s a beautiful rug and I’ll enjoy it for many years. It cost about $3,000.

The next day, after a long afternoon of walking, I met another man who wanted to introduce me to a rug store. I told him I had just bought one and wasn’t interested. I was, however, interested in finding a hamam to experience the true Turkish massage. I’d walked past a couple tourist joints but wanted to visit a place for locals.

He offered to take me to one if I purchased his entry as well. That seemed fair enough so we hopped in his car and headed to a small working-class neighborhood near the river. He told the hamam owner to give me the works and it did not disappoint. At some points I thought the guy was gonna leave permanent damage, but it was all worth it. The massage is given while you are laying on a warm marble slab. He uses soapy water instead of oil or powder. In the end you skin is squeaky clean and your body feels amazingly revitalized. The total cost for both of us was about 100 Euros.
Ted in Istanbul
I also got a tour of the city by one of my former Yahoo! co-workers. We visited Taksim square and toured the vibrant nightlife areas of Istanbul. There’s a great tower that you can visit to see the area. It’s where the first man flew, as he glided from the tower to the riverside below.

Finally, I met one other Turkish man that showed me several parts of the city, including Pierre Loti hill and the important mosque and graveyard at the base. I highly recommend visiting this area and reading the stories by Pierre Loti, a french author that fell in love with the city and its people.

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