Loved Thailand!

Sandra left a day early, so we I parted ways at the Hong Kong Central Station, where I boarded the metro for our (my) hostel, the Oi Suen Guesthouse. Luckily, I’d perused their instructions on Facebook, because everything was in Chinese. The 8th floor concrete hallway was dreary at best, and I followed it past a few hostels until I found the Oi Suen sign. A young Chinese man welcomed me but spoke no English. Sigh… We figured everything out, and he showed me to my cell. In its defense, it was clean. It was taller than it was long or wide—a light-green-tiled compartment, I’d call it. He pulled the dingy sheet off Sandra’s cot and flipped it up so I had a wooden platform for my stuff. No extra space. No window. There was an air conditioner and a fan, and a tiny green tile bathroom.

My “cell” at Oi Suen

I coped, thanks to earplugs and my computer. I wandered the streets and enjoyed a sweet & sour pork dinner with shrimp wontons–about the only Chinese food I’ve liked.
Whew!
Next stop: Bangkok. Curt—the saintly husband of my friend Beth’s sister, Kathleen—waited in the endless arrival hall holding a sign with my name on it. He guided me across the city on public transport while Kathleen finished her day teaching at the Bangkok Christian College, a boys’ school. Curt gallantly carried my 35-pound suitcase up and down more stairs than I could count, and we finally landed at their classy apartment complex. Curt had just started working weekends for Habitat, refurbishing schools and building houses for flood victims. What a guy.

We shared a scrumptious Thai dinner, and the next morning Kathleen and I rendezvoused for breakfast with my good friend Leah.

Kathleen and I at breakfast

 

The five of us (Leah had two guests from the U.S.) took a boat upriver (an adventure in itself) to visit Bangkok’s Grand Palace–think Anna and the King of Siam.

 Leah and I on the boat to the Grand Palace

Big hotels provide these river shuttles

The palace was stunning in spite of the repeated showers that deluged us.

Love the rooftop decor on the Wat (temples)

A smiling monk welcomes visitors to the palace grounds

This lion guards the entrance to the Jade Buddha

I often saw these five-headed serpents guarding stairway entrances:

Even live guards prevent encroachments in the palace.

We also visited the 150-foot-long Reclining Buddha (gold) in the Wat Pho Temple.

This reclining Buddha’s head had to be  five feet from chin to eyebrow.

Temples abound in Bangkok, and if that’s not enough, most buildings have an ornate Spirit House at one corner, designed to please the spirits (both good and evil) that might otherwise create mischief for the residents. Saturday morning we passed a spirit house where people had left flowers, eggs, fruit, and a roast duck. I hope these are later shared with the poor (if the spirits don’t devour them, of course).

A typical spirit house in Thailand


After a few nights with Leah, I flew to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. I was picked up at the airport by a young man who led me to what I thought was a pickup truck with a topper. Not so. It was a songthaew, or two-bench bus, a typical form of transport in Thailand. The covered bed of the truck has two facing benches, and the back is open, so it’s important to hang on to the ceiling rod. No seat belts. I sat alone in the back, although the passenger seat in front was vacant. Oh, well.

This  songtheaw waits to load outside a school

It took a half hour to get to the Secret Garden, an exquisite little bungalow resort 12 kilometers from the city. The air resounds with gentle music, bird songs, and the splash of a fountain near the thatched dining room. It’s absolutely lovely, rated second of over 300 Chaing Mai hotels (Trip Advisor). I’m staying in the Hibiscus, a spacious and well-appointed bungalow with a mini-kitchen, sitting areas indoors and out, and mosquito netting over the bed. Totally charming. I know I use that word a lot, but nothing else really works.

The Hyacinth, my home in Chiang Mai

a little fountain just outside the dining area

 The trickling fountain cools the atmosphere at the Secret Garden

Tuesday I visited the Elephant Nature Park, a preserve that rescues handicapped and mistreated elephants. Lek Chailerk, the founder, has dedicated her life not only to saving elephants, but also to educating both the public and mahouts (elephant trainers) of the need to treat the animals humanely. There used to be about 25,000 elephants working in Thailand, mostly in the logging trade, but since logging was abolished in 1989, many have been destroyed while others have been enlisted into begging, tourism, and various other uses.

Elephants roam free at the Elephant Nature Park

Some elephants are tame enough to be touched by anyone:


One of Lek’s elephants was blinded by her mahout when she refused to work after her baby died in a fall from the mountain. Another was maimed when she stepped on a land mine. After watching an educational video on our way to the park, we helped feed the 35 elephants (who eat 10% of their body weight each day), we climbed in the river to help them bathe, and we watched them cavort in the mud.

Tons of bananas, pineapples, sweet potatoes, and squash are delivered daily.

One very tired elephant waits for lunch

Visitors and volunteers help feed the 35 pachyderms

We helped the more tame ones enjoy a daily bath

A mud bath is an afternoon treat

A few performed tricks for us (former circus elephants), and one has developed her own method of kissing people on the cheek. Let me tell you, that’s some SMACK! The end of their trunks are huge and slobbery.

The KISS!

Each of the elephants has a mahout who sticks with it most of the day, and the loving bond between  them is almost tangible. Some of them are naughtier than others, and we watched the active and positive management of their mahouts.

This mahout stayed close to his elephant all day long.

And a final farewell to elephants!

Here’s a video of logging elephants at work in 1925 (Thailand was then called Siam) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iKjaiW6gHPQ
Wednesday I caught a ride to the highway, where I climbed into a public songthaew for a 45¢ ride to the old city. I toured a number of temples (wats), then visited a museum, caught a very spicy lunch, and indulged in a Thai foot massage by a blind person. One hour for $4.50. Amazing.

A dichotomy at Wat Bupparam



Wat Bupparam rooftop:

Chiang Mai’s famous Wat Phra Singh graces the old town:

Wat Phra Singh Buddha

Wat Phra Singh back of the temple

 

Wat Phra Singh monk walks through park surrounding the Wat

On my last day in Chiang Mai I visited an umbrella factory where they make handmade bamboo umbrellas covered with handmade paper.
A worker ties supports to the umbrella ribs

Another worker pounds a top onto the umbrella frame

painted umbrellas dry in the sun

The umbrella and fan painters are also eager to paint your clothes, cell phones, and bags for a very reasonable price—between $1.50 and $5. These artisans worked like lightning and were great fun to watch. In addition to a few other embellishments on shirts and pants, I got an elephant butt painted on my camera lens. Why not?

An artist paints a design onto a tourist’s pants ($1.50)

I brought in a shirt to be painted, which cost me double ($3)

I’m now back in sweltering Bangkok, and tomorrow I head back to Istanbul to pick up Libby, then Monday I head back home to chilly Minnesota.
Actually, I can’t wait.

Our Continuing Saga of Far East Adventures

Sandra and I topped off our Taipei stay by basking in a mountain spa,

The hot-springs stream just above our spa hotel:

The hotel rooftop spa–can’t see the mountains in the fog:

 

then took the high speed train to stay with with Linda, Les, and Linda’s sister Chris in Koahsiung (Gow-SHUNG), where Linda teaches at the American School.

We biked everywhere in Kaohsiung—you can rent from bike racks on the street, and if you just use them an hour, there’s no charge. A full day of biking cost about $5.

Sandra pulling a bike from the rental rack:

I had just a little trouble raising my seat:

Linda and Les live near the Love River, which is lined with parkland and a well-kept bike trail.
The first day we biked to Linda’s school

The Kaohsiung American School—and Linda:

then Lotus Pond, where Chinese New Year festivities were in full swing. A Massive tiger and dragon regurgitated Chinese revelers from pavilions at one end of the lake.

The dragon and tiger spew revelers through open jaws:

We parked our bikes amid a thousand scooters, then elbowed our way through the street, occasionally pausing to indulge in street foods and bargains. The Purchase of the Day was a watch for $1.50 (still running a week later).

This Foo Dog guards a lakeside temple:

Street food anyone? Skewered grilled squid at the ready:



Sandra purchases a bag of cheap watches:

Lotus grace pools beside the lake:

 

Another Kaohsiung highlight was a lantern festival along the river. Schoolchildren spend months creating elaborate lanterns for this competition each year, and since 2012 is the year of the dragon, that was the predominate theme. My favorites were lanterns obviously done by the students (some looked WAY too professional), particularly those crafted with recycled materials. One dragon was made of bubble-wrap and soft-drink lids,

The bubble-wrap and drink-lid dragon:

another of sticks gathered along the river, and many were fashioned with recycled pop bottles. We wandered past scores of lantern displays, marveling at the creativity and effort put into each display. We also chatted with a few of their proud creators.

This princess was a part of a more professional lantern scene:

This dragon was recycled from bottles and cans:

Schoolchildren proud of their artistic creation:

We also trekked to the Foguangshan Monastery one day—an extensive edifice with myriad monks, numerous temples, and a massive retreat center. The air reverberated with musical chanting by worshipers in the main temple, and we were twice entertained by a small parade, surely a part of the new year’s festivities. We opted not to lunch in their total-silence dining hall and bought street food from booths outside the monastery—vegetarian options only.

I loved the eves of all the monastery buildings:

Monks seeking donations from the New Year’s crowd:

Devout Taiwan citizens chant and pray in a temple lined with thousands of Buddha statues:

A close-up of the niches covering the walls of this temple:

A laughing Buddha in the parade draws many donations:

High on the hill, a 118-foot golden Buddha gestures to all of Taiwan:

Our last day in Kaohsiung was another bike trek (hooray!) to   Qijin Island, a ferry ride across
the harbor. Crowded with revelers, it offered endless street foods and souvenirs, an entire indoor bazaar of dried fish stands, a black sand beach, and a hike up to the lighthouse. I splurged on a pair of flip-flops ($3). All in all, a good day.

Sandra and Linda crossing the street to the ferry boat to the island


This was one of hundreds of dried fish booths in the bazaar. The tassels twirl on a fan to keep the flies away:

For some reason, ice cream in a toilet-shaped container just didn’t appeal:

A view of Kaohsiung from the island lighthouse:


Sandra and I flew to Hong Kong, explored the art museum and surrounding city, then headed to the airport for our greatly-anticipated beach vacation in Hainan. Sadly, the web sites informing us we didn’t need a visa were mistaken. A speedy visa would cost $320 each, and we’d lose two nights on Hainan. We gave up our trip. Sigh…
After two hours on line searching for another destination that evening, we gave up and spent $200 for a room at the airport hotel. What do you do? Of course, the exclusive hotel included neither free wireless nor breakfast. I’ve never understood why exclusive hotels offer the least free amenities.
We finally found a little beach hotel on Lamma Island, a ferry ride from Hong Kong. We dragged our suitcases about a half hour up and down concrete paths through Yung Shue Wan village and through the forest to the Concerto Hotel on Hung Shing Yeh Beach. Our room is small but bright, and our balcony overlooks a sweet sand beach.

This is the beach view from our balcony:

Our sweet accommodations—not quite Hainan, but just fine for now:


Yung Shue Wan is a hippie-haven type place with more ex-pats than we’ve seen on our entire trip. Our activities here include relaxing, hiking, eating and napping, not necessarily in that order. So—in spite of a visa debacle, we’re content.

On The Road to Taiwan

I’ve been in Taiwan nearly a week. My friend Sandra and I left Istanbul at midnight Friday, arriving in Hong Kong about 9 hours later. We were impressed by their lavish Chinese New Year decorations—mostly gold and red.

Decorations at the Hong Kong airport:

After posing with the brilliant displays, we tried to cash in our “refund” for the departure tax, which we’d learned was refundable for people arriving and departing Hong Kong on the same day. That would be us. I’d jotted 7th level, row D, but of course the desk wasn’t there. In spite of the New Year’s crowds, we forged on, asking people until we found it. The lady at the desk said we didn’t have the right papers, and to go to the ticketing desk for a new receipt. Thanks to Sandra’s perseverance, we found that desk (no line, thank goodness), had her print up new receipts for us, and trekked back to the first desk. The woman nodded when she saw us, made multiple copies of our receipts, our passports, and our boarding passes for both flights, highlighted important information, and filled out yet another form. Really! It took her well over ten minutes, but in the end we each got 120 Hong Kong Dollars (about $15). It must have cost the airport authorities far more to process it, but the Starbuck’s frappucino tasted GREAT!

Even Starbuck’s had Chinese New Year decorations:

We arrived at our hotel in Taipei around midnight Saturday night (after 18 hours traveling), and amazingly found our way on public transport to our hotel. We collapsed into our lush room at the Hansome (Han-She) Hotel. and barely woke in time to catch breakfast, which was pretty Chinese (lots of indescribable dishes). We managed scrambled eggs, peanuts, sesame-covered dried/sweetened carrots, and who-knows-what-else. Thankfully, they had an espresso machine.

Pretty nice digs at the Hansome Business Hotel:

We headed off with Linda Kuiken (our friend teaching in Taiwan) for the National Palace Museum. Between the first and second world wars, many of China’s finest treasures were removed from the Forbidden City Palace (Beijing) and brought to Taiwan for safekeeping, and now nearly a third of China’s great art and artifacts are housed in this museum. It also got us out of the drizzle. Actually, there has never been a palace in Taiwan, so the name is a misnomer.

National Palace Museum, Taipei:

Sandra, Les, Linda, Chris (Linda’s sister) and me in front of the Museum steps:

Next we headed for the harbor, but the rain drove us into a Starbuck’s (only Western businesses were open—everything was closed for the Chinese New Year). We ended up wandering a bit and discovered a few temples and shrines, then strolled down a narrow street where vendors sold street food. My favorite was the cooked quail egg shish-ka-bob slathered with soy sauce. We also watched people burn fake money in little buckets to honor their ancestors.

Ah, Chinese street food:

Quail eggs, cooked in the ’round’ and stacked on a skewer:


Chinese fake bills, folded and made into lanterns~money to burn:

On the way back to our hotel we came to the frightening realization that the restaurants were all closed. We wandered the deserted, rainy streets hoping to find something edible and ended up dining at KFC. “I travel 1200 miles to Taiwan for the Chinese New Year, and I end up eating KFC chicken, for cripes sakes!” Sandra moaned. Well, it was food, and we were starved.

 Neither Sandra nor our new friend Joe was too excited about KFC:

The highlight of our first day in Taipei was the lantern festival at Longshan Temple. Although it was still drizzling, hundreds of people gathered to pray, chant, sing, and honor their ancestors at this ancient temple, probably the most famous in Taipei. As we snapped photo after photo, people lit candles and incense, nodding and praying as a monk led their worship.

The Longshan Temple, Chinese New Year’s Eve:

Lighting incense from candles in the temple:

A Buddhist praying at the temple, a dragon behind her:

The temple was not only filled with people, but also with offerings of food and flowers—everywhere. As we watched in fascination, a huge fireworks display was set off just outside the front gate of the temple. It was all amazing. Then afterwards officials paraded through displays of lit-up models of the animals that represent each of the 12 years of the Chinese zodiac. The largest, of course, was the dragon, as 2012 is the Year of the Dragon.

Fireworks through the window at the Longshan Temple:


On Monday we gathered early to trek to Taipei 101, the world’s second tallest building. Luckily, it was one of the few things open, since it was the actual Chinese New Year’s Day. We rode the fastest elevator in the world up 89 floors, as the observation deck was closed due to weather. It took 37 seconds. The elevator can go over 1000 meters per minute, and it’s a smooth ride—a real ear-popper, though. We could only see in one direction, as much of the city was blanketed in fog. Sigh… It was fun anyway.

Me, Sandra, Chris, and Jana in a “stolen” photo at Taipei 101:


The elevator had a video showing our progress and speed as we whizzed up the building:

The most attractive of our Thai meals: Curried Shrimp:

After a delicious Thai lunch (we still hadn’t had a Taiwanese meal) we headed off to take a gondola to see the city from a mountaintop. The wait was only a half hour because the weather was so bad (and clouds would hamper the views). The ride was gorgeous, though, and we could see fingers of the city poking between the mountains.

We found a very traditional tea house for our obligatory cup of tea, and the waitress gestured for us to walk across a little pond, hopping from stone to stone, to enter the eating area. She showed us into a small, ornately-furnished room with a low table and silk cushions. We settled in with as little bone-creaking as possible, then puzzled over what to do next. Oops! Shoes… We snuck them off and set them on the steps leading into our room. The waitress returned with a wooden tray of snacks (probably expensive), and told us there was a surcharge of $150 each (about $4.50 American), which we assumed was for the cushions. Tea would cost an additional $350 for the five of us, and we chose Oolong.

The accoutrements for tea brewing at our tea house:

None of us really knew just how to brew the tea, but we figured that we should put loose tea into the pot, then pour water over it. I remembered that Mayu taught me to pour off the first water, so we did that. Then Janna poured water over the tea and we let it steep a while as we chatted and enjoyed the stunning mountaintop view. We strained the tea into a pitcher, then poured it into the taller of the two cups we were each given. From there we poured it into a small cup and took a sip. It tasted like silage. Wet silage. Hysterics abounded.

Jana poured water over a over-full teapot of Oolong:



“Maybe we used too much tea,” Chris suggested. “How about if we water it down a bit?”
We did.
“Better,” I said after a tentative sip. “At least palatable.”
We each choked down a few cups of the tea, agreeing that it was all about the experience more than the taste. We brought our leftover Oolong back for Sandra, who didn’t make it to the top of the mountain.
Tuesday we basked in hot springs, then hopped the evening high-speed train to Kaohsiung, where Linda and Les live at the south end of Taiwan. Oh, such larks!

 

Antalya and the -çi’s

Antalya does not disappoint. This sunny city on Turkey’s southern Mediterranean coast is picturesque, its denizens are friendly, and the food is delicious. This is my fourth trip here, Libby’s second, and my friend Jerry’s first.

A sculpted hand reaches to heaven beside the Mediterranean and the Taurus Mountains.


After landing on Christmas Eve day, we settled into the Atıcı Pension and headed straight out to explore. A few blocks down the old city’s narrow, cobbled streets we peeked into a charming little bar, where we couldn’t resist stopping for a beer in their sunlit courtyard—sheer heaven after Istanbul’s morning’s snow flurries.

We indulge in a first Antalya brew at the Simpre Temple Pub

From there our explorations included carpet shops (Jerry finally indulged—surprise), shoe shines, and various culinary delights.

You haven’t lived until you’ve enjoyed a bubbling shrimp güveç–shrimp casserole.

Our Christmas Day treat was a boat ride along the Mediterranean shore. Jerry and I reveled at the sights while Libby flirted with a little Turkish boy who plied her with corn chips. They both loved it.

Libby poses with her new young friend and his mother on the boat deck.


After a few nights in the Atıcı, we moved to a more central (and more charming) hotel. The Abad Hotel belongs to Işmail (as in “Call me Ishmael”), the carpet merchant Jerry succumbed to. He gave us a great rate and has treated us like royalty. When he learned Jerry wasn’t feeling well, he had his staff brew a special tea for stomach ailments, adaçay—sage tea. We have a spacious room on the third floor with a view of the Kesik Minaret (Truncated Minaret) ruin up the street.

Jerry and I pose outside the Abad Hotel with the Truncated Minaret behind us.


My favorite find here, though, has been a ceramic artist, Sadrettin Savaş. We passed his shop on Saturday afternoon, then on Monday we visited the Suna İnan Kiraç Museum, which featured his clay caricatures of Ottoman street peddlers. The museum also had a stunning display of typical Ottoman scenes with life-like mannikins in Ottoman dress.

Ottoman women in the harem at the Suna Kiraç Museum:

 


Anyway, I visited Sadrettin’s shop Tuesday morning and was thoroughly taken with this delightful artist—and musician. He plays the kanun, a Turkish instrument similar to an autoharp. Though my Turkish is sadly limited, we were able to communicate enough for me to understand that although Sadri considers himself an amateur artist, he’s been doing clay sculptures and caricatures for 35 years.

Sadrettin relaxes in the showroom off his studio.

He was born in Eskişehir, a city south-east of Istanbul, about a third of the way to Antalya. Sadri’s storefront is his workshop, its main room dominated by a vast, high table where he works on about ten sculptures simultaneously. These ten-or-more sculptures are in various stages of completion, each ready for the next painstakingly molded “next piece” to be added. I watched as Sadri molded a base for cart pedestals for one character, a scarf for a second character, and a cap for a third. Though I don’t know all the Turkish names for his characters, I found them all enchanting.

Sadrettin at work on his sculptures

The ones I know best are the simitçi (the man who sells simits—round bagel-like breads),

the boyaci (who shines shoes),

the bakırcı (coppersmith),

the fotografci (photographer),

and the hamal (porter or carrier).

Oh–there’s also the kuyumcu, the jeweler.

In Turkish, the suffix -cı indicates “one who sells or makes” something. (or -çi, -çu, or -cu, depending on the vowels in the base word–never mind!)

To see a short video of Sadrettin’s sweet sculptures, go to http://www.nelervar.com/G%C3%BCzel%20Sanatlar-ANTALYA!1-8-66-3!

There are lots of -ci’s selling things here in Antalya, and we’ve certainly done our part to support them (though we’ve refused far more). My sidekick Libby has made her mark also— as a “kediçi” who deals in cats (kedi). Chasing them. One young kitten jumped about five feet when Libby surprised her. It would have been sad if it hadn’t been so hilarious.

Slovenia and then…

No one told me that Slovenia was one of the most picturesque countries in Europe. I’d heard that Ljubljana was lovely, so I was quick to sign on to chaperone a debate trip there. Debate coach Janet Schaefer shared the supervision of six tenth-grade debaters (all girls).

Janet at the Ataturk Airport, with a UNICEF star–an Istanbul  fund-raiser

The debate was in Ljutomer (the ‘j’ is pronounced like a ‘y’), a small city in the NE corner of this tiny country, about 200 kilometers from Ljubljana. In case you don’t know, Slovenia is bordered by Italy on the west, Austria (and the Alps) on the north, Hungary on the northeast, and Croatia and the Adriatic Sea on the south. Views were stunning as we meandered through mountain villages, each with its Bavarian-looking onion-domed cathedral.

The Ljutomer Cathedral, both exterior and interior views:

 


We stayed on the Frank-Ozmek farm, where were welcomed by hosts Vili and his mother Vida, both charming.


The foggy Frank-Ozmec Farm (and horse)

One of their welcoming recycled wine barrels

The fabulous cook, Vida–unassuming and gracious:


Vida didn’t speak English, but she made up for it by preparing sumptuous meals. We devoured homemade breads and soups (Oh, her savory potato mushroom soup!), salads gleaming with their own pressed pumpkin oil, homemade sauerkraut, stuffed pork loins, schnitzel, potatoes to die for—I could go on and on.

Typical Slovenian fare, photo from a roadside stop–lots of potatoes and meat

A little high on fat and sparse on vegetables, but what the heck. When in Rome… (and diet when you get home) We even tried duck eggs, and there was a generous supply of homemade wines—though not for the girls. Vida said they’d bottled 12,000 liters of wine last season.

A warm welcome from the Ljutomer High School:


The girls won about half their debates, and they were quite a hit at cultural night when they taught everyone to dance the halay, a popular Turkish folk dance. It was Damla’s sixteenth birthday that night, so we treated everyone to a splendiferous chocolate cake with orange marmalade filling.

Our girls demonstrating the halay–soon to be joined by a long line of participants

(Ege, Lara, Damla, Ece, Cansu, and Pelin)


Sunday morning we arranged a private morning tour of Ljubljana. The sun, hidden behind a dense fog for three days, finally broke through for us. We rode the funicular up to tour the Ljubljana Castle,

A view of the castle and city from the Tower ramparts:

Pelin, Cansu, Damla, and Lara atop the tower:

And their descent back down the spiral stairs–

 then our driver/guide Marco brought us into the old city, where we wandered through a Christmas market that meandered along the river through the Medeival Old City.

Me posing on one of the city’s ancient bridges over the Ljubljana River:

We finished our tour by touching the tail of the dragon that guards the bridge, a reminder that Jason and the Argonauts slayed a dragon there in ages past. Well, he might have…

Dragon bids us a final farewell.



Our flight was late coming home, and we were exhausted. Maybe that’s why it happened. I grabbed a taxi from campus to pick up Libby and drive us home, but when I got to my front door—no key! No backpack!!! ARAUGHH!!!!!! I screamed for the taxi to wait, but no pack. I must have left it in the service bus from the airport.

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Libby had a sore paw, so I carried her the half-mile to campus to retrieve my hidden key, falling flat on my face when I tripped on the speed bump. I was WIPED—but luckily, not badly hurt. I got into the apartment and took stock. The pack had my computer, my camera, my cell phone (as well as the school’s), gifts for people who had subbed for me, student projects, and about 800 Euros. I was pooched. I tried to convince myself that it was only “things”, but the reality was that if it wasn’t found, I’d be out about $4000. What a dope.
When I couldn’t sleep, I made myself a hot cup of salep, only to spill it all over the quilt and the bedroom floor. Cleaning up the mess woke me up even more, but I treated myself to yet another cup–more carefully.

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The next morning (after oversleeping nearly two hours) I went to the Gursel service bus office at school, where Murat kindly searched out the phone number of our driver, called him, and learned that he had checked the bus and found nothing.

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TOTAL PANIC! I turned next to the headmaster’s secretary, who contacted the guards, the local taxis, and began her own investigation, while I climbed up to my office and tried to settle down and do some schoolwork. Right. By then I was a basket case, shaking from the inside out.

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At 10:00 I got a call from Murat. They had located my pack. RELIEF! “I’m sorry, but I can’t pick it up until tomorrow. You will have it at the end of the day. Is that O.K.?”

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“No problem!” I exclaimed. “I’m just thrilled you found it. How can I thank you?”

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“This is my job,” he said. “I’m happy to help you.”

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The next afternoon I went down to Murat’s office, and there it was, waiting patiently for me. He had me check to see that everything was there, and it was, down to the last euro. Amazing.

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“Is there someone I can reward for this?” I asked.

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“Of course not,” he replied. “What we always say is that Gürsel is your home. We are happy to help you.”
What can I say?

Cappadocia, Ataturk, and Iskender

Oh, my—it’s been an interesting few weeks! My friends Norma and Arvid just left for Minneapolis after a full schedule in Istanbul. During the Kurban Bayramı we trekked to Cappadocia, one of my favorite spots in Turkey. It has amazing geological formations (fairy chimneys), warm people, and my favorite hotel, The Kelebek.

Ah, beautiful Cappadocia!

The lovely Kelebek Hotel in Göreme

The first day we explored Göreme and its fascinating Open Air Museum of ancient churches carved into the rock.

Me with the Open Air Museum behind me–no photos allowed inside the churches.

Part of a carved stone church with the walls broken away.

My friend Arvid atop a camel–Ride ’em Cowboy!

The next day we took a fascinating tour of more hidden churches, an archeological dig, and the underground city (with a delicious Turkish repast at noon). Sadly, neither Norma nor I was successful at managing the claustrophobic underground tunnels, but Arvid braved his emotional storm and made it eight stories down. Kudos to Arvid!

A carved stone church along our hike, this one with a dome–hence, it’s called the Domed Church.

An interior wall of one of the churches we visited.

The underground city–photo by Arvid, the only successful descender (of the three of us).

A woman we spotted along our hike, kneading or mixing something outside her home.

I have a little update on the Kurban Bayram. Although people are expected to use experienced butchers for the sacrifice, many attempt to slaughter animals on their own. My office compatriots informed me Thursday morning that several people had died during the sacrifice. One man was sacrificing a cow on a platform, and the platform collapsed , crushing him under the animal. Two more men suffered heart attacks while trying to control animals they were intending to sacrifice. Apparently 1000 people across the country were injured in the first two days of the bayram while trying to slaughter animals. Over 500 in Istanbul sought medical attention after either cutting themselves or being injured by their unruly victims. Apparently this is the darker side of the celebration.
Thursday (November 10) was Ataturk Day, the anniversary of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s death in 1938. It’s a big deal here in Istanbul, as he is the greatly revered founder of their country. At 9:05 everything stopped for a moment of silence in his memory. I was in class at the time, and as soon as we heard the sirens, we stopped what we were doing and everyone stood at silent attention until the sirens ended a few minutes later. Apparently it’s even more impressive in the streets. All traffic stops and people step out of their cars to stand at silent attention. I discovered a short video of that moment on an Istanbul street–check it out:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LvlDsHwSAFM

I have to admit, watching it brought tears to my eyes, probably because of how strongly it evidences this country’s reverence for the father of their country, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. I wonder if we Americans could ever come up with that kind of collective devotion to our country or its heroes. Doubtful. Maybe to the almighty dollar, though.
The only other thing I’m going to share today is the incredible dinner Arvid, Norma, and I shared on Friday evening. It was a cold, rainy day, but we still met at Eminönü to ferry across to Kadiköy for the original Iskender, a favorite dish in Turkey. It’s delightfully decadent.

Arvid and I eagerly anticipate a delicious platter of Iskender.

Start with crusty pide bread cut into bite-sized pieces and spread on a platter. Cover that with a generous few layers of thinly-sliced döner, spiced layers of lamb roasted on a vertical spit. It’s like the Greek version used in gyro sandwiches, but the Turks insist it’s far better (like comparing steak to hamburger, according to Arvid’s Turkish friend Harun). That layer is slathered with a spicy tomato sauce and surrounded with sliced tomatoes, grilled peppers, and a hearty dollop of yogurt. It’s brought to the table on a hot platter, then  a waiter drizzles the entire plate with butter from a sizzling frying pan. Oh, my goodness! It’s the pinnacle of delicious.

Norma cheerfully dives in. (She couldn’t finish it all, but I had no problem.)

See the butter swimming under the bread and meat? Oh, yum!

Though Norma and Arvid had experienced a wide variety of delectable Turkish cuisine, this was by far their favorite. By the way, Iskender is named after Alexander the Great, who conquered Turkey for the Macedonian Empire around 300 BC. What a tribute, huh?
Thus ends yet another chapter of sharing Turkey—with my friends and with you. I have a quiet week ahead, but I’ll think of something to write about. I promise. I’m having my fourteen resident students for dinner this week. That will be an adventure in itself.

Ethiopia-Hosanna

I’ve been here a week and a half now, and I’m settling into a routine, though never without adventure. The food here is sensational (though I’ve had one intestinal blip—fresh tomatoes in a potato salad, I think), but other than that I’m happy and healthy.

Last weekend Matt and I explored the city—miles of it—on foot. We took a mini-bus to Mexico (a central square) for about 12 cents, then hoofed it. Our first stop was for macchiato (see photo) for about 35 cents each, then we hiked about an hour to another spot where we stopped for lunch of injera, which is a huge thin pancake (about 18 inches across) made from tef, a highly nutritious grain grown only in Ethiopia. It’s spread on a large tray and dolloped with different dishes and sauces. You rip off a bit of injera with your right hand, then scoop a bit of a dish or two into it, then enjoy it. My favorites are the vegetable dishes, but there are some mighty delicious meat stews and lentil dishes that I’ve tasted as well.

macchiato

The 12¢ macchiato.

Ethiopian injera.JPG

A delectable meal of injera with numerous toppings. YUM!

Many Ethiopians eat injera for every meal, but unfortunately many of them survive on one meager meal a day (if that). The poverty here continues to affect me deeply.

At any rate, our lunch of injera, beer, and a machiatto cost us a whopping $2 each (or was it $3?) We spent the rest of the day touring some fascinating churches and exploring new areas of the city, finally landing at the Addis Ababa Restaurant, where we indulged in a meal of injera with tej (the local honey wine—tasted a little musty to me, but we choked it down, stalwart drinkers that we are).

Matt and I were joined by two women on Saturday—Bea, a pediatrician from Madison, and Beth, a public health nurse from Minneapolis. They’ve both been very involved with international adoptions, and Bea has volunteered here in the past, so she’s been a great Addis guide. She’s introduced us to some fine restaurants and other sites. Today she’s taking us shopping before she and Beth return home escorting a baby for someone in Iowa. We’ll miss them.

Our past few days have been an incredible adventure. We took a Children’s Home Society bus to Hosanna to visit the their orphanage and school in that very poor city. Hosanna has a population of 100,000, most of whom are incredibly poor. The drive down was beautiful, and it gave us a true picture of Africa. Most of the traffic we encountered was foot traffic—both people and animals.

highway traffic.JPG

Though most of the street traffic was human, we saw the occasional herd of four-footed creatures.

Hosanna main street traffic.JPG

A city street in Hosanna—foot traffic predominates everywhere, as there is 1 car per 1000 people in Ethiopia.

We left at 6 A.M., and along the way we saw hundreds of school children walking to school, many barefoot with dirty ragged clothes, but all dressed in a colored vest or sweater, their school uniform. Many walk miles to school each day, so tardiness is overlooked. Just getting there is a huge accomplishment. Statistically, only 33% of boys and less than 20% of the girls in Ethiopia attend school, one of the lowest rates of enrollment in the world. When I saw what they go through to attend, I can understand why. Many are kept home to work.

We stopped often along the way for numerous cows, goats, burrows and sheep on the road, many being driven to market or traveling to find water, a scarce commodity in the area. We saw a few trickling, muddy rivers, and I assume there were occasional wells. Water has to be transported long distances to the orphanage and school in Hosanna.

Boy transporting water by wagon

Though carts were a rare sight, this one carried numerous water jugs, managed only by a small boy.

Most of the homes we passed were mud huts built with eucalyptus poles. We saw a number of “lumber yards” along our route, but none had lumber—just piles of eucalyptus poles. Many of the mud huts were rectangular (averaging about 12 X 16 feet) with corrugated metal roofs, but we saw hundreds of more traditional round huts with thatched roofs. In the city, most of the homes were square huts with corrugated roofs.

African mud hut

A country house–rather nice, mud over eucalyptus poles (you can see them on the outside)

mud hut-2

A city house–mud over eucalyptus poles, with the orphanage up the road.

After checking into our hotel (the nicest one in Hosanna—quite new and very clean for $11 a night), we headed to the orphanage. While the doctors and social workers did check-ups and met with the staff about water and nutrition issues, I stepped into the room for 6 month to 18-month-olds. There were eight beautiful babies in there with two very loving nannies who welcomed me with broad smiles. Each baby has his/her own little wooden bed sitting on the floor, except for the oldest (about 15 months, I think), who was toddling around and slept in a crib with high sides.

Lemma International Hotel

The exclusive Lemma International Hotel in Hosanna–$11 a night

Hosanna street scene

The view across the street from the hotel—note the man on the left gesturing to me not to take photos.

Most of the babies were very responsive and enjoyed being played with and loved. These children are well cared for, let me tell you. Oh, how I wished I could take photos, but it was not to be. 10-month-old Bereket laughed and laughed yesterday as I pulled her to her feet, and she cried her little heart out when I left her. Oh, my goodness. I learned all of their names, and watched as one little girl took some of her first steps. These are some lucky children.

Mussi Children's Home--Hosanna-2

The new Mussi Children’s Home Orphanage in Hosanna, for babies up to 18 months.

This morning I met the parents of one little girl I’d played with. Unfortunately, They’ll only get to meet her and go to court to be interviewed, then they go back to LA to wait until all the paperwork is done. At that point (probably six months from now), they’ll return to bring her home. She’ll be walking by then, I’m sure.

Nearly all of these orphans are developmentally delayed, as they’ve come from incredibly difficult circumstances. Most arrive malnourished, and many have been neglected. Their stories are harsh—I’m editing their background reports as a part of my work here in Addis, and it’s not pretty. The good news is that they’re now cared for and loved.

Hossana children.JPG

These children asked me to take their photo. I wondered if the little girl attended school with the baby on her back, though she isn’t wearing the red sweater/uniform, so probably doesn’t attend school.

In the afternoon we visited the “sister” orphanage for children from 18 months up, and that was a little more chaotic. I managed to organize “Ring Around the Rosie” with them, did activities like “hands up, hands down,” etc, and a few more songs, but mostly they wanted to hang on me, turn on my indiglo watch, and hold my hands. They had lots of toys, but I could see they were a real handful for their three nannies—I think there were probably 20+ children there, and more supervision would have been great for them. Of course, I think I made things more chaotic just by being there. I tend to do that. Someone has been teaching them gymnastics, because many of them called out “Mama!” so I would watch them as they performed somersaults, handstands, headstands, and cartwheels. One younger girl went to the wall and walked her feet up the wall with her hands on the floor—too sweet. I was there about an hour, and by the time I was done, I was BUSHED!

Hosanna laundry ladies.JPG

No photos of the children, but these happily-employed ladies were hanging the children’s laundry in the yard of the orphanage.

The second day I visited the Hosanna School, which is funded by adoptive parents from the U.S. It is a tuition-free school exclusively for children from food-insecure homes (one meal a day or less), many of whom are orphans living with relatives or at the orphanage. It’s a lovely little school in the outskirts of Hosanna, and presently 215 children ages 4-15 constitute 7 classes. They’re divided by academic skills rather than age, so there can be a 5-year range in one classroom. Each year they’ll add another class of students.

grade 4, Hosanna School-6

Teacher! I know the answer!—the Hosanna School for children of food-insecure families

grade 3, Hosanna schoolA young boy quite pleased with his exam score

The behavior of the students was impeccable, and each class stood when I entered to welcome me. “Welcome to our school, Guest. We are happy to meet you.” I interacted with them a little, then just observed and took photos. The bright classrooms and caring teachers were truly impressive. The students tend a huge vegetable garden that supplements their daily lunch with fresh produce.

Hosanna school after greeting me.JPG

One of the younger classes just after greeting me. The little girl on the left had a sore on her neck and wanted to hide it.

library, Hosanna School

The Hosanna School is proud of this library, which is in dire need of books.

Lunchroom poster.JPG

This precious lunchroom poster says it all. These children get two meals each day as well as an education.

Again, I have to finish by saying that I’m incredibly impressed with the service of the Children’s Home Society in Ethiopia. They’ve impacted thousands of children and created hundreds of jobs for Ethiopians. I’ve been told by many that they are the best adoption/service organization operating in Ethiopia. Unfortunately, because the government is clamping down on adoptions and because of the state of the economy, their income flow is greatly compromised, so they’re forced to make some cuts. We all hope more volunteers and more donations will help them through this crisis.

boy minding the herd
This little boy doesn’t get to attend school—too much work to do. Note his oversized boots.

An apology and an introduction

I’ve been slacking on this blog since I got home (last July), thinking there was little reason to continue it. Little did I know I could also use it as a platform for making contacts for my new memoir (yet to be finished) about my years in Turkey.

I just attended a Writer’s Digest Convention in New York last weekend, and I learned that if I want to interest an agent in this project, I have to build a huge “platform” of many thousands of contacts I can use to promote the book when it comes out–followers, so to speak. In spite of the fact that I’m scared shitless of Twitter, I’ve just joined and I already have eleven followers. Now I just need to figure out what to post. I don’t really use a cell phone, so it’s going to be just computer messaging. In due time…

As for the memoir, I’ve written just over 40,000 words, so I’m about half done. I think what I’ll do is start posting excerpts here on my blog in hopes that some of my friends will start following me again. So—for your information and edification, here’s a bit of the introduction to my book. If you have suggestions, please share them with me.

So—

Ta-Da!!!

THE BIG DECISION~ Introductory ramblings

by Ann Marie Mershon

Ann Marie over Istanbul

“Why Turkey?” my son said with a tone of doubtful concern. His reaction reflected that of many friends and family when informed of my move.

“Oh, I’m jealous! Turkey is my favorite place in the entire world,” was another reaction—this from people who had been there.

So—Why Turkey?

One of the silver linings of my divorce after 32 years of marriage was the freedom to teach abroad. I’d long dreamed of teaching in another country, but my husband was unable—read unwilling—to make that shift. My tight finances as a single also meant at least three extra years of teaching, so I decided to treat myself to a grand finale. I would teach overseas—a reward for 30 years of dedication to thousands of adolescents and their fluctuating devotion to literature and writing.

In the spring of 2003 I attended a session on international teaching at an English teachers’ convention. My heart pounded as I scribbled copious notes. Moderators Bob and Carol Strandquist had taught in both England and Norway, and after tantalizing us with fascinating tales, they shared information about websites, fellowships, and recruiting fairs. I was a bit jealous of them. Why hadn’t I married a teacher interested in overseas teaching? At the same time, I was eager for my own adventure. The next day I registered with TIE Online and the University of Northern Iowa, the cheapest and most accessible recruiting tools available. I paid their fees and posted my resumé on both sites.

Then I waited.

I set my sights on Spain, since I wanted to improve on my paltry knowledge of Spanish. Barcelona sounded exciting, so I sent them a resume. In the spring of 2004 my district was in the midst of disheartening contract negotiations, and my heart fluttered when TIE Online posted a drama opening at a mountain chateau school in the Alps. Unfortunately, I’m responsible. I was committed to another year in Grand Marais, so I swallowed my excitement and stayed put.

I puttered around online regularly, soon receiving queries from overseas school directors.

Enter John Chandler, the director of the Koç School in Istanbul, Turkey. (Pronounced Coach) He sent an e-mail encouraging me to consider a position at his school. Koç? Weird name. Istanbul? Pretty exotic. I wasn’t even quite sure where it was, much less whether I wanted to go there. I searched it out in my National Geographic Atlas, then visited the school’s website. Hmmm…nice apartments, good pay… Maybe I’d consider it. I envisioned dark-mustachioed Bedoins galumphing across the desert on camels. Probably not.

Mr. Chandler courted me online, showing far more interest than any other school director. I’m good at responding to emails, but he was better. I had an encouraging reply within minutes of every message I sent. Koç looked intriguing. I pored through the information he sent, wondering whether I was willing to give up my dream of teaching in Barcelona, Salzburg, or Paris. Barcelona with its captivating Gaudi buildings, Salzburg with its Blue Danube and snow-capped Alps, or Paris’s cobbled streets with the Musé d’Dorsay and street cafes. I had a love affair with Europe, but this guy seemed to think I was perfect for his school. I read his interest as genuine and heartfelt. I think it was. Chandler is an intuitive reader of people, and he knows what he wants.

Finally in February of 2005 I was flying through a snowstorm to the University of Northern Iowa International Recruiting Fair in Waterloo, Iowa. Waterloo is far from picturesque, especially in a February freeze, but the conference was incredible. Over 600 teachers and 160 school directors filled the convention center on that first day. As I perused  my information (reams of school descriptions) and sifted through the latest openings, my mind raced. What did I want? Would I get a job? What if I didn’t? Every teacher had a folder filled with notes from school directors, invitations for interviews, etc. I decided to pass on the Koç position because of a reference to rote learning; I wouldn’t compromise my teaching philosophy with drills and memorization. Not for two whole years. And why would I want to live in a country that bordered Iraq? Like it or not, America was at war there. And then there was the Islam thing. I sure didn’t want to wear a scarf. Yup, I’d avoid the Mid-east. It would be good old Western Europe for me! Barcelona or Paris would be just fine, thank you.

I found John Chandler on the arena floor at his school’s table. He was distinguished—white-haired and thin-lipped. I introduced myself and apologetically cancelled my interview. He nodded and smiled knowingly. “Can I ask why?”

“It’s the rote learning,” I said. “I’m a hands-on teacher; I prefer active learning and inquiry in my classroom.” (I wasn’t going to mention the Islamic thing—probably politically incorrect.)

“That’s exactly why we’re interested in you,” he said. “You must have misunderstood. We frown on rote learning. That information was about the dersani classes the seniors attend after school and weekends. Our system is dedicated to stimulating and involving them. You might want to reconsider. Why not take a look at Koç?”

Well, I did. I took a good look, and I liked what I saw. After two interviews with John Chandler and incoming director, Tony Paulus, I was offered a position. I was also offered three other positions.

I chatted with experienced international teachers about my options. “You can’t pass up an opportunity to teach in Istanbul,” one said. “It’s a cultural mecca,” said another. “If I could get a job in Istanbul, I’d go yesterday,” one man told me. Another teacher was familiar with the Koc School and spoke highly of it. Hmmm…

I called Luana Brandt, a former teaching compatriot who had traveled throughout Europe and Asia. I thought she might lend another perspective. When I shared my four options, she responded immediately. “Istanbul. No question.” That clinched it. Everyone had pointed the way, and I would be a fool not to follow.

Turkey it would be.

Old Fogies kayak the Apostles

The sixth annual Old Fogies Lake Superior Kayak Trip challenged us—at least a bit. We had a few handicaps this year: I was just over a month beyond foot surgery, Dick has a bum hip, and Annie has temperamental elbows and shoulders (due to an oversized kayak). Jini and Mike seemed to be in pretty good shape, but there’s always the spectre of arthritis haunting us. Could we actually BE Old Fogies? We range from 59 to 69. Hmmm…
Because we couldn’t get out until September, we decided to return to the relatively protected area of the Apostles, hoping to visit the islands we’d missed on our first trip. The weather had been stellar for weeks before our trip, so we had high hopes it would continue.

It didn’t.

Sigh…

Maggie'sMe and Mike and Maggie’s flamingoes
Late Thursday afternoon (after a DELICIOUS lunch in Bayfield at Maggie’s Restaurant–decorated to the hilt with flamingoes) we pulled into the Little Sand Bay, our destination. We hauled our kayaks down to the beach and loaded untold amounts of gear into them, a process called “staging.” According to Mike, we finished in record time. As we cast off from shore, we wondered about the six men who’d loaded their kayaks up on the lawn near their cars. Though it’s a chore to haul gear down to the beach, it’s FAR more difficult to carry 150+ pound loaded kayaks. To each his own.

staging


My kayak and the gear that will go into it.

We donned our rain gear, and a mist began to fall as we paddled the six+ miles to our campsite. The guys pushed on ahead while Annie, Jini, and I took our time crossing, ecstatic with the glee of a new adventure. The mist abated as we approached Sand Island, where we were rewarded with shoreline sea caves. It’s virtually impossible to pass a sea cave without exploring; we took our sweet time enjoying the echoes, splooshes, and challenges of paddling through them.

caves


Sea caves along Sand Island

Our first trial was paddling around the northerly point of the island into the wind, where crosswinds created a jumble of multi-directional waves, peaking erratically. Challenging, but VERY fun! We had to focus on the waves, so we could only steal quick glances at the picturesque Sand Island Lighthouse perched high on the point.

Sand lighthouse

Sand Island Lighthouse


FINALLY! We reached our campsite before dark, well aware that it might be our home for the next few nights. We’d been warned of high winds to come and expected to be windbound. Luckily, both Mike and Dick have weather radios, and we did daily checks on weather and small-craft warnings. Our campsite was in a protected cove where we couldn’t really see the waves, but we were later told that ten-foot waves were reported on Friday.



Needless to say, we spent two nights on Sand Island. To fill our non-paddling days, we hiked. Down the beach, over to the lighthouse, and around the island (at least the others did—my foot wasn’t up to more than a few kilometers of hiking at a stretch, so I only walked the beach and to the lighthouse).

wlking Sand beach
Walking Sand Island beach

Saturday the sun was high and the waves were, too. We were disappointed, but our radio informed us that the waves would abate later in the afternoon. We decided to enjoy the sunshine and then pack up our gear. We would have our big evening meal at noon, then be ready to cast off when things looked safe. I think we launched about 2:00 for a 14-mile paddle to Rocky Island. The good news is that the wind was with us, though we felt a bit more like surfers than kayakers.

Mike sunning-SandMike reads on a rock as we wait for the waves to calm down


We were totally exhausted when we rounded the sandy point to our destination (leeward, thank goodness) on Rocky. Lo and behold, there were no less than 12 sailboats moored just down from the first campsite.

Rocky sunsetSunset from our campsite on Rocky Island

We had no reservation there, but we assumed that since it was 6:00 p.m. we could take any available campsite. The first site was located just off the beach, it was close, and it had great tent sites. We heaved a great sigh of relief, hauled our food to the bear box, unloaded our lunch packs, and dove in. YUM! After imbibing in both food and drink, we got the tents up just before the sun set.

Imagine our surprise when two shadows emerged from the dark just offshore, paddling our way. OOPS!!! They had, indeed, reserved this campsite, but they kindly offered to camp on the beach nearby. “Don’t worry. We’ll just wait for the ranger to leave. We prefer the beach anyway.” This considerate pair of brothers from Chicago refused our offer to join us in our site and waited until the ranger’s boat left the cove. Whew! Were we lucky! They could have made a real stink about us taking the site, but they WERE really late.

Rocky siteOur lovely Rocky Island campsite—after breakfast


The morning brought calm waters. Hooray! We indulged in a big breakfast of bran muffin/pancakes, then walked the beach, watching the birds and exploring the island. Mike took off on a 20-mile trek to North Twin and Outer Island, while the rest of us lollygagged before heading out on the short 6-mile paddle to Cat Island.

lone cedar-South Twin

A fascinating lone cedar along the shore of South Twin, imagine two nearby eagles shrilling to each other…

Our campsite on Cat had a beautiful sand beach, but the cooking area and tent sites were high up on the hill in the woods. No picnic table—bummer. We had to fix food on top of the rusty old bear box. Halfway up the hill was a moldering toilet–our joke for the day. It was our first real latrine—a system of composting where we’d toss in a handful of “forest duff” after each use. The base of it was open, though screened from insects and bears, and believe it or not, it didn’t stink. Good thing.

moldering toilet

The Deluxe Moldering Toilet, complete with instructions

Just as we were wondering how late Mike would be, he pulled up on the beach. He’d said he’d be back by 6:00, and it was 6:05. Of course, we gave him grief for being late. Why not? We were joined by a few sailboats moored off the beach (It was Labor Day weekend), and they made a point of visiting the famous toilet. Three of the boats were peopled by Single Christians who were there for some serious socializing. They couldn’t outdo us, though—in fact, one of them walked over to ask what we’d been laughing about so hysterically. “Inside joke,” Dick explained. We felt it a bit too ribald for single Christians (something about Dick’s little orange hot-dog tent). Actually, we dissolve into hysterical laughter at least daily. This trip it was often over the Dick and Mike Show: two drunks at a Wisconsin bar. Guffaw.
Dick and I sat up with the trip’s first campfire until late that night–nearly 9:30 (we were usually in our tents around 8:00).

campfireAh, FINALLY—a camfire!

Dick roused us all at 6:30 with a report that we needed to race through breakfast and get on the water, as the waves were going to increase to 4-6 feet by afternoon. ARAUGHHH!!! Man, did we MOVE! Cold breakfast (thanks, Jini), pack up, and off we flew. The wind was behind us, and the waves were already 2-3 feet high, amazing after the calm of the previous day.
We tried to stay together, but it wasn’t easy, especially since Jini and I decided to break the trip up with a short stop to investigate a STELLAR campsite on the south tip of Ironwood Island. The waves grew, and once we were closer to each other, we would lose sight of everything but heads–big waves. Mike was busy surfing them, smart-alec. He set a plan of action for landing in the high waves at our Oak Island campsite. He would go in first, then each of us in turn would ride a wave onto the sand, hop quickly out of the kayak, and those on the beach would pull it up before the next wave crashed. Annie made the mistake of standing up IN her kayak and was thrown off balance when they yanked her kayak up. Oops! No injuries–just laughter.

M&A cooking

Annie and Mike prepare a delectable Breakfast for us.

It was a nice campsite, except for the wind, which pounded us head-on. I now understand how women on the prairie would go crazy from the wind. We got rid of our wet clothes, bundled up, then sat in the sun to enjoy a late lunch. Once again, we were totally exhausted. According to Dick’s GPS, we had done 8 miles in two hours with a top speed of over six miles an hour. Thank-you, Wind!

tarp silouhetteBehind the tarps on Oak Island
Jini and I pitched our tent in a quiet clearing back near the loo (wind blew away any odors), and by the second night, Annie and Mike joined us back there. We set up a rain tarp and a wind tarp, and there was a small area behind them where the wind was just tolerable. It was better to be back in the woods. We all headed up to the Overlook during the afternoon, marveling at the unique forest of hemlocks, maples, and birch.

Hemlock

“THIS is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks,
Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight,
Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic,
Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms”

-from Evangeline, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Mushrooms abounded as well–it was gorgeous. Later we did our share of reading and napping in hammocks and tents. Even back in the woods, though, the chilling wind shortened our hammock sojourns.

coral mushroomA coral mushroom, growing on a downed tree


fungiFlowery-looking fungus on a downed tree

We knew we’d be windbound another night, so we took our time with cocktail hour and meals—always with the added treat of the Dick and Mike show. What a pair!
We’d hoped the wind would die down during the night on Wednesday, but the gales were still blasting us. The waves were manageable, though, and we were tired of hanging out at Oak. We packed up and headed off for Raspberry Island, hoping to be rewarded with a wind-free beach. It was a rough paddle into the wind, but we finally made it. And it was perfect. Annie and I washed our hair, letting it dry in the windless sunshine. HOORAY!!! We relaxed over lunch, napped, and read on the beach, then hiked through the woods to the lighthouse on the north end of the island. Dick and Mike enjoyed a rollicking game of croquet while Jini and I listened to the tales of our young ranger guide. He finally explained, too, that the lush Canadian yew on the island was due to the dearth of deer on Raspberry. It had been mere ground cover on Sand Island, where there’s a big deer herd. Apparently it’s pretty delicious. I’ll pass.

croquetCroquet on the Raspberry Island Lighthouse lawn

Raspberry lighthouse kitchenRaspberry Lighthouse Kitchen, circa 1920
We tore ourselves away from the island around 2:00, and it took us a few more hours to paddle the five additional miles to our landing. The wind gradually abated, and we were able to chat and explore the shoreline as we approached our final destination on Little Sand Bay. Whew!

paddling inLate afternoon, paddling back to Little Sand Bay
As we drove home, the sun set over a glass-smooth Lake Superior. Now how did THAT happen? We later learned that a kayaker had drowned near Sand Island the next day. I’m glad we’re cautious. Old Fogies are.

groupHappy Old Fogies: Jini, Dick, Me, Annie, & Mike.

Bavaria with My Buddies

This missive marks the last of my “Istanbul Blogs” though it’s not really about Istanbul at all. My final week overseas was spent with my sister Laura and her family exploring Bavaria—Munich and Innsbruck. I’m sure it was an adventure for them to travel with this “disabled auntie”, and they were all more than accommodating of my needs. We’d happily celebrated Jana and Olaf’s marriage in Hamburg and looked forward eagerly to our flight to Munich. We weren’t exactly thrilled to stand in line with a rowdy group of “fussball” revelers. They said they’d been down for a combined football and stag party. One even offered to sign Matthew’s Twins cap. Pretty drunk.

Hamburg revelers

Hamburg “foosball” revelers~checking in at the airport

One of the advantages of traveling with a wheelchair is that the entire party is whisked through expedited security. Erin and Matthew loved it. Libby was, as usual, hesitant to go through the scanner without me, but the guard dragged her through, and she waited for me nervously.

A wheelchair awaited me in Munich, and Erin pushed me while Matt pushed the luggage cart. Lucky thing, as Matt rammed into a barrier in the parking area. No loss for our luggage, but it might have been painful for me. (He couldn’t see over our mountain of luggage.)


After lengthy negotiations for a larger vehicle (a monster Mercedes van), we headed off for Dachau, about a half hour outside Munich. We had a quick lunch and did some major reconnoitering, and Rob finally found the entrance to the site. It was late afternoon, so the documentary film was over, but we walked (me on crutches) to the main site. Himmler built Dachau, which housed over 200,000 prisoners: Jews, homosexuals, gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses, clergymen, and POW’s. 32,000 of them died there. The gate into the compound still has the original saying, “ARBEIT MACHT FRIE”—Work brings freedom.

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“Work Brings Freedom”—entrance to Dachau Concentration Camp

Dachau

Erin perusing the information, Libby’s case in tow

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The Wheelchair Wonder—high-fashion matching sandals

We drove up into the mountains to our hotel, the Schwangauer Hof, a country hotel near the two castles we planned to visit. Laura had booked a package called “King Ludwig’s Summer Tour,” and it was fantastic. We enjoyed lavish breakfasts at the hotel, two fabulous 5-course dinners in a deluxe restaurant (even Libby was welcome), and a private evening castle tour and carriage ride (with schnapps at the horse barns). It was definitely a tour designed for families. The highlight of our first dinner was the “Half Lobster Schwanstein”, morsels of lobster in the shell, swimming in butter and hollandaise sauce. Oh, my!

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Half lobster Schwanstein—YUM!!!

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Matt and Erin cavort after dinner with the lit castle in the background

On Monday everyone else toured Neuschwanstein Castle, the Disney-looking castle that you often see on posters. Because it was a long uphill hike and hundreds of stairs, I decided to forego that tour. I planted myself in an outdoor restaurant with my knitting and an i-pod audio book. (Love that i-pod!) Rob reported that they were a part of a 100-person tour and that there were many more hundreds touring the three stories of the castle. Apparently 1.3 million tourists visit it each year, an average of 3500 a day. I must admit, I’m not sorry to have missed it.

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Neuschwanstein—lived in less than one year

That evening we arrived early for our private castle tour, only to learn that it, too, required an uphill climb. We had lots of time, and I managed all the hills and stairs slowly but comfortably.

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The Gillunds pose outside the castle before our tour

Not only did we have a private tour of the stunning Hohenschwanstein Castle, but we were the only ones there. (Sadly, no indoor photos allowed.)

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Erin welcomes us to the castle—NO TOURISTS! (except us)

Our tour guide closed things up as he showed us around, regaling us with fascinating stories about King Ludwig and answering all our questions. I’ve never enjoyed a castle tour more than this one. King Ludwig wasn’t totally crazy—just different. Our guide suggested that he was declared insane for political reasons, which most likely precipitated his death (suicide?) at age 40.

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Hohenschwangau Castle, exterior

After the tour we clambered into a horse carriage and were treated to a tour through the valley, including a stop at a pristine horse stable for a glass of schnapps and a look at the horses. A cleaner stable I’ll never see, and the owner and our driver were both congenial hosts.

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Our horse cart tour included many homes like this one…very Bavarian!

Yet another stunning meal (how lucky can we get?) topped off our last night near Swan Lake (hence the “schwan” in the castle names).

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This swan graces the top of the castle, named for the nearby Swan Lake

Tuesday morning we climbed into our luxurious van for the drive to Innsbruck, Austria, where we hoped to spend some time hiking in the mountains. Well, except for me… We checked into a very charming alpine hotel (The Tyrolis) and decided to head out for a tour of the Alpine Zoo. Libby and I were turned away at the gate (no dogs), so we hung out again with knitting and an audio book. Sigh…

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Knitting outside the zoo…

After the zoo episode we found our way to the city center, which brought back memories of an earlier trip there with my sister-in-law Dodie (1982). We stopped to watch two buskers, one a silver-plated Bo-Peep character with a little dog (no lamb), and the other was a man with a crystal orb for juggling and magic tricks.

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A silver-plated Bo-Peep and company in Innsbruck

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My favorite Bavarian Singers, Matt and Erin

We sauntered the ancient streets (at my very slow crutcherly pace) and just enjoyed people-watching and browsing among the shops. I continue to be fascinated with medieval cities, and Innsbruck is a charming example. Of course, we enjoyed a heffe weissen, my beer of choice in Germany. YUM!

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Tipping a brew to Bavaria, Rob, Laura, and me

On our last lovely day in Austria we took a cable car up the mountain, where I settled myself to knit (again) as the rest of the family trekked into the mountains. They came across a very friendly herd of sheep, probably expecting snacks. Libby was a bit confused, not quite sure how to interact with them.

Gillunds with sheepThe Gillunds (and Libby) being accosted by Alpine sheep

They hiked up higher, then returned to the chalet for lunch. Then we decided to go to the Swarovski Crystal Museum, expecting a demonstration of how the famous crystals are mined and manufactured.

Swarovski museum entranceSwarovski museum entrance

It was far from that, but it was a pretty fascinating art museum with pieces based on the crystal concept—works ranging from a huge honeycomb-domed room of triangular mirrors to an avant-garde theatrical piece, an entire room of animated mannequins and costumes. Weird, but fun. The kids loved each new and unique experience. The museum’s exit was a huge Swarovski Crystal store. Surprise. (Yawn.)

The Key Dude

Matthew the Key Dude

Our last night in Germany was spent back in Hamburg with Jana, Olaf, and little Max. We dined on a delicious pasta dinner on their charming patio (landscaped, of course, by Olaf). A tiny fountain and fish pond gurgled as we ate, chatting and marveling at the miracle of little Max, who seemed to have grown in less than a week.

baby bath MaxPost-bath Froggie Baby–Maximillian Sequoya

What a lovely way to finish our time in Germany, with people we love. Lucky me…lucky we!