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Bergama

We arrived here, at the Odyssey Guesthouse in Bergama, in a downpour which continued for most of the day. We did laundry, and more or less hung out, reading the copy of the Odyssey that was in every room. We did make a brief foray to see the old Roman Basilica nearby,and stopped in a carpet and gift shop and chatted with the owner, a handicapped man of about 60, whose English was quite good. He told us about his children in North Carolina, and said how lucky we were to be born in America. Quite true, despite the crazy politics of our country today. He was quick to add that Turkey is much better off now than it was just a few years ago, something which echoed Martine's comments in Istanbul.


Back Streets of Bergama near Guesthouse
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Today however, is truely glorious, with blue skies and bright sun. We hiked up the back way to the old acropolis, clamoring over stone walls and ascending herd paths up the steep green hills. By going this way we managed to avoid the tour groups until we got to the very top, and by then most of them were going in the opposite direction.



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The ruins, often overlooked by many on their way to Ephesus, are impressive. It was one of my favorite sites in this country of ruins. Many Corinthian and Ionian columns still standing tall, glistened white in the sun. Some of the original details of the temple friezes are still present.




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There is an enormous 10,000 seat amphitheater carved into the hillside, a homage to Zeus, but apparently the site of political speeches.






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The ancient city, which dates to 400-500 BC, was successively occupied by Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and then Turks. Home to over 200,000 people in its heyday, it was known as Pergamum.







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On the way down, we skirted the teleferique and climbed back over the stone walls to the narrow alleys of upper Bergama.







View of the City with Basilica
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We then walked to the other set of ruins on the opposite side of town, known as the Asklepieion. It dates to about 300BC, but which was at its height in 100 AD, as a vast medical center. It also had complete mental institution with a dream interpretation center, and hot and cold herbal treatments, for those with psychological ailments. Freud had nothing on the Greeks. Though somewhat less impressive than the stadium on the hill, there was a smaller amphitheater of 2-3000, perhaps where Galen and others performed surgeries. Death was officially forbidden to enter, but it seems as though gravely ill patients, those who were clearly dying and/or pregnant, were not allowed in the first place. I guess the doctors felt they had to stack the deck in their favor.

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Back at the Odyssey Guesthouse terrace, I gaze out at the crumbling brick walls of the Basilica (100 AD), old tile roofs in the foreground, and green hills beyond. I can make out some of the older ruins dotting the hills leading up to the acropolis on my left.




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This is a very friendly town. All of the kids we meet are eager to practice their English, and people go out of their way to show you where things are if you need help. While bigger than Ayvalik, it feels more relaxed because it is not a resort.

In a little while, we will have tea or coffee with Alex, who we met in a locanta yesterday. Though Turkish, he lived in Astoria, Queens for many years and has recently returned to his country for a different job, and to help take care of his family. When we arrived at the cafe, he was already there with another Turkish friend who spoke no English. He said he brought his friend because he didn't know the city very well, having just moved here less than two months ago. This friend called yet another friend who had a car, and we proceeded out of town, first to an outdoor place that was not really open, and then to another restaurant in a small indoor mall. They ordered for us, a large mezze plate, pizza, a bulgar dish, salad, and mixed kabobs for all, even though we tried to tell them we weren't hungry, as we were expecting only a light snack. The friend with a car, Osman, teaches comparative religion in the local high school, where it is compulsory. He spent several years living in Syria, where he attended university and worked as a journalist.

And so we began asking questions, translated by Alex, about Syria, Iran, and the Middle East in general. Osman felt that Turkey used to get along well with its neighbors, but no longer, in part because of the situation with Israel and the United States. He said he thought that Iran will gradually liberalize, but is unsure what will happen with Assad. About Israel and Palestine, he seemed to agree that Israel should give up the settlements and the occupied territories, and that there needed to be a two state solution.

What was striking to us, is that Alex did not feel free to express his opinions to his friends because, as he later put it, he is Turkish, and yet he is not Turkish. He is Muslim, and yet he is not. A man caught between two cultures, he nevertheless insisted on paying for everyone. When we asked about his family, that is when we found out that his father recently died unexpectedly during routine back surgery, and Alex, as the oldest son felt responsible. He initially came to the US in his early 20's, after getting a very good job with Alitalia, the Italian airline. He said he had many problems because he was so young, and the office politics were complicated. It was apparently a high pressure job, but after therapy, (how typically New York), he decided that he had to leave, and ended up going to Bolivia to study Spanish in 2006. It was almost the total opposite life from what he had been living before. As it turns out, he was also married to a psychologist, though now he is divorced. We didn't get the whole story of what happend after Bolivia, but now that he is back in Turkey, he feels it is his responsibility to take care of all the problems in his family, something he didn't feel living in the United States. We exchanged emails and offered each other a standing invitation to come and visit. A most interesting man, and a fascinating evening talking politics with people whose views we would never get to hear.

A reminder once again of why I travel. It is because of chance encounters like this one, unrepeatable and unique to the moment.

Posted by jonshapiro 14:47 Archived in Turkey Tagged people tourist_sites buildings_postcards Comments (3)

At The Farm in Wangen

The weather here is much like early Spring in upstate New York. We have only had glimpses of the snowy high mountains in the distance, because many days have been cloudy, chilly, and rainy. We have been helping out with the renovation work, such as grouting and painting, which is fine, particularly given the damp weather.


Joachim and his brother in our yet to be finished bathroom.
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Most nights we ate dinner with Peter and his family, as well as Antonette and Joachim in the farmhouse next door. Peter is hoping that the barn will be ready enough for them to move in a few weeks, as they have to vacate the farmhouse so the new owners can move in. It will take much longer for Joachim and Antonette as they are doing most of the work by themselves.

Peter is a kind of larger than life character, a bit like Falstaff, always eating, drinking and laughing. It is a bit dangerous to ask for food and drink in his house, as he will always bring six times the amount you need. In fact you don't even have to ask.



From Left to Right: Peter, Lissie, Max, Joachim, Antonette, Nanette's Arm
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A much better picture of Max
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Peter was a kind of ne'er do well in his youth,quite rebellious and always challenging authority. As a teenager, he moved to Lindau in nearby Bavaria, because the school system there was somewhat looser and more tolerant. He now owns a successful architectural firm in Wangen with several employees. Joachim was also a rebel as a kid, and his parents sent him off to boarding school from age 11-16, not so different from yours truely. It seems that the three of us have a fair amount in common, though both of them are more than ten years younger than I.

One cloudy day, he took us on a tour of Lindau, which is on an island in Lake Constance. Now it is a charming resort town with many old buildings. We went on to cross the Austrian border, no passports needed, and walked around a different side of the very large lake, similar to Lake George.



Lindau harbor and old building. You can see why they call it the Bodensee.
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Not to be outdone Wangen too, has its charms.





Wangen on market day.
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When we came back, we helped Antonette make spatzle, a local cheese, egg, and noodle concoction, very much a group project. Antonette and then Joachim's daughter, managed to drop the batter on the floor two times because of the lack of counter space, but, no matter, we ate it any way.





Antonette is putting the spatzle back in the pot after it fell on the floor
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Yesterday, I went with Antonette, Joachim, Lissie, her son Max, and a friend, for a hike in the Icetobel. It is called that because it is a deep gorge with a series of water falls, and tends to hold onto ice and snow late into the year. It did not disappoint on this day. We hiked for about 1 and 1/2 hours in a cold rain that turned to snow at the end. Glad to get back to the car, we hunted for a restaurant that was open in the late afternoon. I had a typical sausage, noodle, and lentil dish, good, but heavy, as is a lot of the food here.

Today we awoke to about three inches of snow. I guess the Shapiro's have brought their weather with them. Our plan was to go walking in the high mountains, but that was put on hold. Instead we went to a nearby castle and then for some heavenly pastry. A good time was had by all.


View from the top of the castle
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The grand pastry and teahouse
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Posted by jonshapiro 09:35 Archived in Germany Tagged people food buildings_postcards Comments (1)

On to Wangen, (pronounced V) Germany

We left Tafaroute on a narrow, serpentine track through the mountains with huge drop offs most of the way back to Agadir. There we dropped off our daughter Mia, and boyfriend Dan, in front of a grand taxi stand where they made their way to Casablanca and Fez. We headed back to Taroudant to return the car and spend another night with Abdel. It was nice to get back to a place that seemed slightly familiar, and the maize of alleys did not seem quite as intimidating. We noted how friendly people seemed. Perhaps some of them recognized us from before? We retured to Marrakesh the next day by grand taxi, much shorter than the bus, albeit more expensive because we paid for extra seats to have more room. This time we stayed right in town in a cozy riad, Bleu and D'orange, which was, not surprisingly, French run and owned.

After Nanette enjoyed a massage and pedicure at a nearby, but rather upscale spa, we left the next afternoon for the airport. The plan was to fly to Basel, Switzerland, and spend one night there before taking the train to Friedrichshafen, on the Bodensee (Lake Constance) in southern Germany. There, we would be met by our friends Antonette and Joachim, who we met in China in 2008, and they would bring us to their farm in Wangen.

Ah, the best laid plans. We arrived at the airport more than two hours early, but nothing was posted about our flight and the departure time came and went. No one seemed to know anything about it, though we noticed a number of cancellations, which only increased our anxiety. There was nothing to do but wait. Finally, after another two hours, they posted our gate number and we assumed we would leave shortly, only to be told that we would have to wait yet another hour before being told when our flight would depart. And so we sat down on the floor in the small departure area as all the seats were occupied. We happened to sit next to two Swiss girls, though one was from Ethiopia and the other Montenegro. They spoke English well, and we chatted with them about the flight situation, but they knew little more than we did. Both were office workers on a five day holiday in Marrakesh. Another two hours went by, and we saw people queuing once again. This time we succeeding in boarding and then a long announcement, first in German, and then English and French. Apparently there was an air traffic controllers strike in France, and they were limiting the number of flights that could land and therefore take-off from Morocco. Of course, we weren't headed for France, or so we thought. The captain said we couldn't leave for another 90 minutes because of this, and since the airport in Basel would be closed after our newly scheduled departure time, we would have to go to Lyons in France, and then take a five hour bus ride to get to Basel. I went back to talk to the Swiss girls who confirmed that not only did the Basel airport close at midnight, but so did all the airports in Switzerland. Astonishing.

At any rate we finally landed in Lyons shortly before 2 AM. We were then told the bus would arrive at 3 in order to give us time to go through customs. It didn't arrive until almost 4 AM, supposedly because it had to come from Geneva. Meanwhile, we started to get worried about not making our train at 10:45 because the bus was not due to get to Basel until 10 AM. I went back to talk to the Swiss girls once again, who said that it would take that long because of Swiss rules that said they had to switch drivers after four hours, and then we would stop for breakfast for 1/2 an hour. Not to worry, they said, we would still make our train on time. They would help us get from the airport to the train station. We did stop for breakfast, and since we had no Swiss Francs, one of them insisted on paying. It came to the equivalent of $34 US for three small coffees, croissants, and a yogurt. At these prices, it was a good thing we were just passing through. We arrived slightly early. The girls were headed for the Swiss railway station and we went with them part way, until we had to get off and transfer to another trolley to get to the German railway station. They paid another 8 Francs for our tickets, because for some reason our credit card didn't work. Wonderful people.

We arrived with about 15 minutes to spare, exhausted after no sleep, and Nanette appeared to have caught Dan's cold. The train ride was, thank God, uneventful. When we arrived in Friedrichshafen, after searching around for a bit, we found and recognized Antonette, after four years and knowing each other for all of a week. We drove the 45 minutes to Wangen, stopped to get bread, and then went on to their farm, another 15 mintes away.





Joachim, Nanette and Antonette, in Wangen
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She and Joachim had sold the adjacent old farmhouse, and were engaged, along with their friend Peter and his family, in reconstructing the old cow barn, probably four times the size of our 3000 square foot house. They will make it into into two large apartments. Peter is an architect, and without him the whole project would not have been possible.




The construction site after an early April snowstorm
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We were staying in a nearby outbuilding, which they had partially renovated. The bathroom and toilet were not yet finished, for which they apologized profusely, but we could use the bath in the old farmhouse, where Peter,Lissie, and Max were staying until the new owners moved in.




The farmhouse
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Where were Antonette and Joachim staying?

In Wangen, in an upstairs apartment in Joachim's father's house. When we left, they would move into the outbuilding until the big barn was habitable.

We chatted about their sailing adventure. They recently spent three years sailing up the coast of South America, one of which was a year docked off the coast of Argentina. It was the first time either of them had owned a boat. We thought they had a broken mast, but it turned out not to be quite so serious, only a torn main sail. In China, we talked about meeting them in the Caribbean and sailing to Cuba, but it took them a long time, and they only made it as far as Tobago. They sold the boat and moved back to Wangen, a town of about 17,000, near where they both grew up. It is easy to see why they returned. The place has a very bucolic feel, with verdant rolling fields, patches of woods between the old farms, and in the distance, the snowy Alps of Switzerland in one direction, Austria in the other.




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Their new plan, is to finance the place in part through the production of Cidre, hard cider, which they will make from their own apples and pears. It is not unlike our apple cider, but more subtle and bubbly, with the alcohol content of beer. They also plan to distill and sell schnaps, also from their own fruit and berries. This is Joachim's idea. How did he learn to do it? Mostly from reading about the process. He would give Helen and Scott Nearing a run for their money. They also plan to do much of the finish work in the barn by themselves, and then to spend the winters in Thailand or some other warm place.

Posted by jonshapiro 10:51 Archived in Germany Tagged air_travel buildings_postcards Comments (1)

Wat Pho and The Journey Home


View Burma, Indonesia and Laos on jonshapiro's travel map.

On the day before my departure, Elona and I took a short excursion to Wat Pho, an Angkor temple. It is somewhat reminiscent of Angkor Wat,
though on a much smaller scale. What makes the place special is the location up in the hills, next to a vaguely phallic looking mountain that is worhipped as a lingham.

It doesn't Look Very Phallic here.
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The old temple is slowly crumbling, although attempts are being made to prop it up and prevent further damage.



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Looking down into the valley below, the view is expansive.

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As in so many other temples, there are women making offerings to the Buddha which they sell for a few cents to tourists and locals.

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My favorite part however, was this rock.

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It took a while to get down all of the stairs.

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On the way back to Pakse, in response to a question from Elona, I got started talking about how I work as a therapist, the notion of taking charge of your own Self-esteem, as well as my own relationship to my mother, who I felt never gave me much approval. This conversation took place in our taxi, which was a small pick-up truck with benches in the back. As I was discussing all this, rather incongruously given the setting and the heat, our driver suddenly gave me a thumbs up, as if he agreed with what I just said. His English was pretty good, but it seemed unlikely that he had heard and understood the conversation. When we got back to town, I asked him about it, and he said yes, he did understand, and added "very good," indicating his agreement once again. I wondered about his own family but didn't ask. How incredible that he could hear, given the wind in the back of the truck, and that he would actually listen and understand, given our cultural,language, and educational differences. Obviously these differences didn't mean what I had assumed.

The next day when I started the three day journey home, I thought it would be straight forward, despite the Bangkok riots and the ash cloud over Europe. However, the local travel company that sold me a bus ticket to Ubon Ratachani, across the Thai border, had put the wrong date on it. When I showed up at the station, I was told the bus was full and that my ticket was no good. I more or less forced myself on despite being told this, saying I would stand if necessary. I had a flight to catch the next day in Ubon, and this was the last bus out. As I stood in the aisle, there was a major argument between a Thai and a French couple, who refused to give up their apparently double booked seats. The French did a lot of cursing and yelling, and refused to move, despite the fact that stools were placed for them in the aisle. The Thai's were equally intransigent, though they did not lose their cool. There was a stand off for about a half hour, while the driver tried to sort it out. In all the hubbub, my own predicament was ignored. Finally, a different Western couple voluntarily got up and sat in the aisle, and the bus pulled away with me on it. In the end, there was one empty seat near me which I took.

Another take on the issue of cultural differences.

The next day I caught my flight to Bangkok without a problem, and then a taxi to my favorite hotel near the airport, riots notwithstanding. Early the next morning I left for the last 15 hour flight home.

Posted by jonshapiro 10:28 Archived in Laos Tagged buildings_postcards Comments (2)

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