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London with a brief foray to Dublin

We flew from Antalya to London, dirt cheap as previously mentioned, and were picked up in the middle of the night by our good friends, Michael and EJ.
I took few pictures because the weather for most of the week was dismal, rainy and cold. It was, if anything, worse than Albany weather, which usually starts to improve by the beginning of May.

Left to Right: Michael, Jon, EJ, Nanette (In front of their house).

Their street in Primrose Hill

At any rate, we managed to have a great time walking around the city, going to pubs, etc. We were constantly wined and dined by our extraordinarily generous friends, and it was fun meeting Michael's divorced (but still friends) parents, who are our age. A visit to the Tate Modern, and a performance of a Cuban ballet/modern dance troop that had us leaping out of our seats, completed the visit.

From there we went off to Dublin for one night, largely to save on the airport taxes out of London. It just so happened that Katya, the young German woman we hiked with in Morocco, was in town for a new orientation with Oracle. We had dinner with her and a friend, and then home.


Trinity College

For all my loyal readers. I am posting this from chaing rai Thailand. We are embarked another trip to southeast asia. We arrive home on April 2 and I look forward to blogging about this new journey. Hope all is well and as our former monk friend., now in chaing mai, would say, may you all be happy and healthy.


Posted by jonshapiro 02:34 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged people postcards air_travel Comments (2)


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

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.


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.


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



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.



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

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.




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.


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)


We arrived yesterday after an easy flight from Basel, and the bad weather seems to have followed us. We are staying in Sultanamet, the old city, which is full of tourists from all over the world, and feels very cosmopolitan, a bit like New York, but with tiny alleys and winding streets that help keep the traffic down. Many of the city's most famous sites are within easy walking distance. We have already been to the Hagia Sofia, which more than lived up to billing.




As did the Blue Mosque.




Tulips, which are native to Turkey, not Holland, are blooming everywhere, and the streets are full of kebap and crepe vendors, both cheap and good, though the restaurants in this area are somewhat pricey. We spent part of the afternoon sitting in one of the ubiquitous tea houses, or rather just outside of one, in a kerosene heated area covered with clear plastic which more or less kept us dry. We preferred that to sitting inside, because of the smoke from so many people toking up on nargileh, filled with sweet Turkish tobacco. We sat next to, and then chatted with a young Turkish couple, after we overheard the woman giving her boyfriend an English lesson. They were a delight to talk to, like many of the Turks we have met thus far, quite out going and jokey. For example, earlier we were buying some Turkish pastry, and the owner was joking with another foreigner that his sweets were better than Viagra for increasing energy and sex. I can see why. It was, just possibly, the best piece of pastry I have ever had, filo dough, pistachios, and honey. Nanette and I battled it out to see who would get the last bite.

After apple tea, we were off to the Grand Bazaar. Hectic, but it was more pleasant than in Marrakesh because no traffic is allowed within the crowded shopping district. Although there are touts in Istanbul, especially in the touristy sections, they are less pushy than in the big cities of Morocco.

We have been to the archeological museum, which was a little like the Egyptian section of the Met, but on a much larger scale. It was hard to take it all in, though we spent several hours there, with Greek, Roman, Trojan and Hittite objects, some more than 5000 years old. One particularly impressive sarcophagus, named Alexander and dating from 500BC, had very intricate battle and hunting scenes carved on its marble exterior. The piece de la resistance,as it were.

Detail from Alexander Sarcophgus

Park Scenes in Sultanamet Near the Museum

Just now, I am sitting in the breakfast room of our rather funky Tulip Guesthouse, gazing over the Bosphorus toward the Asian side of the city. The sun is out, and the tankers moving through the straights at a steady clip reflect the light of the late afternoon sun, as do the buildings on the opposite shore. There are hills, and even low mountains in the distance. Closer in, a section of the old wall of the city is visible, and a white lighthouse, long and thin, like the minarets of the mosques, sits adjacent to the straight. The jumble of buildings immediately in front, comes towards me from all angles and colors. There is the mustard yellow of the Metropolis Hostel, with its black spiral staircase running up to the roof deck, and the salmon, brown, and light grey of the pointy stucco building to the left. Seagulls careen and squawk over its ramshackle metal roof.


As a double exclamation point, two bright red tankers steam up toward the Sea of Marmara.


Our amiable and chatty host, Martine, who is often to be found in this room, is a Kurd from northeast Anatolia. He grew up on a sheep farm, and then was the first in his family to get educated. He now manages three hostels in town, including Tulip. We have also met his younger brother, a college student, of whom he is fiercely protective. His relationship with his parents, on the other hand, seems rather distant. He has a Turkish girlfriend, who is getting a Phd in economics. She wants to be a professor, but although he has not yet told her, he wants her to stay at home and have babies.

He indicates things have changed for the better under Erdogen's rule, though there is still a lot of prejudice against Kurds. This is exacerbated by the separatist PKK, whose members periodically commit terrorist acts. He has nothing good to say about Ataturk, whom he says, murdered thousands of Kurds.
We have spent a number of pleasant hours talking to him, as he has traveled widely and is knowledgable about history, though he is obviously quite traditional in certain ways.

We have spent the past few days exploring the city and enjoying the people, including a visit to Istanbul Modern, a relatively new museum, which reflects the thriving art scene here. We also took the ferry to Uskudar, on the Asian side, from the Eminonu pier, a 20 minute ride across the Bosphorus. From there, we walked to a hillside park, full of tulips and pansies of all colors. At the top, there was a teahouse and restaurant with expansive views of one of the bridges across the straight, and the buildings on both shores.


After a nice respite with time to admire the view, we continued back down to the waterfront until we came to a non-touristy neighborhood, with small cafes, several ice cream shops, and a quite wonderful art gallery.


We also noticed an old synagogue, though it was boarded up and unused for many years. Stopping for ice cream, we talked to Fatima and Fozimet, two sisters of indeterminate age, who spoke fluent English. Their father had owned a barge and delivered water to other ships. For many years they had both worked in the family business, but eventually, after he died, they sold the barge and opened the shop. Both are avid tennis players, and hope to visit New York in order to go to the Open to see the tennis championships.

We returned on the same ferry, and dined in a rather upscale place in the old city, not far from our hostel. The restaurant was located over a series of subterranean rooms, built by the Roman emperor, Justinian, about 300 AD. We were shown an entrance in the back, and spent a few minutes exploring after dinner. Many parts of Sultanamet are built on even older walls and ruins.

The sense of history here is almost breathtaking in its scope. Greek, Roman, European, Ottoman, Arabic, and even Asian influences and objects can be found, and of course the city, at different periods of time, has been home to both Christians and Moslems, even some Jews.

Yesterday, we took a long walk along a different stretch of waterfront to another ferry dock, where we picked up our tickets for the ferry that crosses the Sea of Marmara. We will later make our way to the small Aegean town of Ayvalik. On the way back it started raining hard again, and we got soaked, but we made it to a crowded teahouse near the Grand Bazaar. There, we ran into Ahmed, who we had briefly met at our guest guest house. A most interesting man in his 60's, originally from Peshawar Pakistan, he spent ten years teaching physics in various colleges around Boston. He has also lived in many places in the Middle East, including, Sudan, Saudia Arabia, Oman, always teaching physics in English. He said he never got a permanent position in the states because there were issues with his green card, although he now has a US passport. After spending two years in Oman, separated from his wife and son who stayed in the US, she divorced him,despite the fact that he was supporting them. He ended up in Crete where he met his present girlfriend, and they now own a house in, you guessed it, Ayvalik. He encouraged us to look her up when we arrived. He was on his way to Boston to visit friends, and then see his son in New York. He told us all of this, while explaining some of the finer points of quantum mechanics in a way that we could actually understand it.

Today started out dark and dreary, but we took the tram and the new underground funicular to the top of Beyo─člu, in a now fashionable part of town. We did not ascend the Galata Tower, built in the late 15th century, but continued back down a wide shopping street near the old funicular tracks. Blissfully, there was no vehicular traffic amidst the Turkish eateries, and many US clothing stores. We then walked across the bridge to Eminonu, which by now was full of its daily quota of fishermen casting off into into the wicked currents of the straight. The bridge is a multistoried affair, one level of which has many fish restaurants and sandwich shops, some of which are quite a bargain. They all compete for your business as you stroll past. The trick seems to be not to make up your mind too quickly so you can see who offers the best price.

Eminonu Bridge with Galata Tower in Background

Another Beautiful Mosque near Bridge

The high point of the day was a two hour cruise up the Bosphorus, past Uskudar, and three major bridges, weaving in between the tankers. The sun came
out for a while, and we could see both shorelines lined with impressive houses, old and new. Some were renovated, others dilapidated, and old cemeteries clung to the steeply wooded hills behind them. Castles were also to be seen here and there. Like so many things in this ancient city, it was a hodgepodge of of styles and character.


I am once again back in the breakfast room with a view. The brick red Arcadia Hellas, steams toward the Black Sea. I hope tomorrow will prove a fair day because we make our crossing of the Sea of Marmara, and we are both prone to seasickness.

Yours Truly, with The Founder of Modern Turkey

Posted by jonshapiro 09:16 Archived in Turkey Tagged bridges buildings people cities_postcards Comments (2)

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.

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

A much better picture of Max

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.

Not to be outdone Wangen too, has its charms.

Wangen on market day.

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

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

The grand pastry and teahouse

Posted by jonshapiro 09:35 Archived in Germany Tagged people food buildings_postcards Comments (1)

Sidi Ifni

With Abdel's help, we rented a car for a reasonable 250Dh a day and headed off to to Sidi Ifni, an atmospheric town on the Atlantic that belonged to Spain until 1969. The first night we spent at L'Auberge Sable D'or, aka Faulty Towers, on Legzira beach, about 10 miles north. It was a spectacular coast of cliffs, crashing surf and mist, much like California, but we the next day we found a much more comfortable and reasonable place to stay in town. (The Safa Hotel.)



Sidi Infi is a relaxing place, at least off season. No touts or other street vendors hassling you, it is a delight to stroll through the blue and white art deco buildings that comprised the old Spanish town. Our daughter Mia and her boyfriend Dan, on break from residency training, were able to find us at the hotel, and we all relished a cold beer at a bar overlooking the foggy sea.



Today we took a long hour ride into the middle of nowhere, to a set of hot springs in the dry and dusty mountains to the East. Men and women had separate pools, relatively clean, and not too hot, which was a good thing since the desert air was toasty, in contrast to the misty cool of Sidi.


When we returned, we ate a tasty fish tagine at Chez Mustapha, on the main square.


Then we wandered around the large central fish market taking pics of the gaping, though dead, monsters of the sea, large and small. Taking pictures of the locals was more difficult as most were not keen on it, and it was hard to do on the sly.



Mia tried on a full length tie dyed sari, which seem to be all the rage here in Sidi, where the fountain outside of our hotel has a hidden speaker that plays Bob Dylan and other 60's music. It required considerable help from the shopkeeper, similarly attired, for Mia to tie it properly, and so of couse we had to buy it for her. She got some strange looks, an Asian looking woman dressed in Muslim digs, accompanied by a white guy, Dan. It was quite a clash of cultures, but then Sidi Infi seems all about that. We were hoping to use our Spanish, but few people still spoke it.



There are a good number of retirees, mostly French, who park their RV's not far from our hotel, near the beach They spend the winter here after taking the ferry over from Spain near Algiceras.

This is a place where one can spend some time. Nothing is really going on, but it is easy and comfortable, without the frantic medina action of the larger cities.

At the cafe with the Bob Dylan fountain, we met a couple of Brits in their 40's, Tina and Rich. They were on the road for a year, mostly in Eastern Europe and Turkey, on leave from their teaching jobs. They rented an apartment behind our hotel for a couple of weeks. We have enjoyed some good conversation with fellow English speakers, and went with them and our children back to Legzira. The sun came out and the wind died down, and we were able to walk through two enormous stone arches, and then lie on the sand soaking up some rays.


On our return, we couldn't resist another great fish meal at Chez Mustapha. Mia and Dan went off for a walk, and we returned to Tina and Rich's apartment for coffee and Moroccan pastry. It was not quite on a par with Abdel's mother's sweets, but quite tasty nonetheless. We spent the rest of the afternoon Sari shopping in town, and returned to meet Mia and Dan at a seaside bar by their hotel. We polished off a few cold ones, and then drank the bottle of wine Mia had bought for us for our anniversary. It was nice that Sidi was not a dry town, despite the Muslim prohibition on alcohol. Perhaps it was the Spanish influence. Sitting on the outside terrace, we could see the waves rolling in as the sun set. After dark, shadows of grey-white mist rose from the beach, dimly illuminated by nearby street lights. I gazed up at the crescent moon and at an incredibly bright planet, Venus, shining next to it.


After three days, Sidi Ifni will be hard to leave, but we depart tomorrow for Tafaroute, about a four hour drive through the mountains.

Posted by jonshapiro 17:09 Archived in Morocco Tagged people Comments (3)

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