Thursday, September 25, 2008


I don't think I could have found a more perfect opposite to Dubai if I had tried. Everybody warned me that Delhi would be an overwhelming array of sights and particularly smells: poverty, garbage, pollution. It's true that the city has all that, but even so I'm really enjoying it here. I'm finding the chaos and busyness energizing, with so much to stimulate and challenge you here. And the people are beautiful - very open and willing to engage with you.
The city has such an old soul, and even with all of the modenization happening, you can still feel it everywhere. Cows roam freely here even in busy streets, eating garbage and slop buckets that people put out for them. The traffic is unpredictable, with bikes, bicycle rickshaws, and autorickshaws competing with pediatrians and cars for space on the road. Lanes are a much more fluid concept over here, with a typical two lane road turning into three or more real lanes. Honking is "compulsory", as my taxi driver told me - a friendly reminder that you are behind or next to someone. Nice houses sit next to falling down tenaments and piles of rubble.

I'm meeting 12 other people here, including my friend Gina, who is going to lead us on a three week spiritual tour in northen India. Most of the others are coming in from Seattle late tonight, but I met up with the other early guy, Thomas, and we did a little sightseeing. New Delhi has a new Metro which made getting around pretty painless for us. I think things would have been much more difficult before.

We went to see the Red Fort, which is an old 1600s Moghul palace in Old Delhi. The trip there, including walking down a crammed, busy main street, was as interesting as the fort. The slices of life here are amazing - the sheer mass of people and storefronts (some no bigger than cubbyholes): sari shops, shoe repair, flowers, street food, welding, auto parts, just about everything. Hard to describe how vibrant and intense the scene was. This was on the main road to a major tourist attraction and it felt totally authentic and focused on Indians.

We discovered a famous food stand on the way that made Bhalla, a spicy bread covered in sweet yogurt and tamerind sauce. The strong spice and sweet created a combination of flavors I've never encountered before - delicious! And our hotel makes surprisingly good dinners for about $6 - dangerous when I love Indian food so much...
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Fun in Dubai

Fun in Dubai seems to be mostly around shopping and going out, and with Ramadan that second option is pretty limited. Not feeling very in sync with the glitzy lifestyle anyway, I had a pretty mellow time here. I did go to see the world's biggest (only?) indoor ski area, Ski Dubai (inside the Mall of the Emirates), but didn't buy a ticket 'cuz it looked cheesey.

The downtown area called Deira does have some charm. It's bustling at night with lots of neon-lit shops selling everything and some great hole-in-the-wall restaurants. I had an amazing Persian meal at a place that looks like a Dunkin' Donuts.

The heat is crazy here - you really don't want to be outside walking around from noon to about 5pm. Spent a lot of time at the pool, though even there it's uncomfortable before about 3pm. I totally understand the whole mall thing now and have a new appreciation for A/C. Some of my fondest memories of Dubai have been: getting a smoothie at the mall, going to the internet cafe at the mall, and "Tropical Thunder".
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Dubai #1!

The scale of building here truly is awe-inspiring. The entire city appears to be under construction all at once. I kept running into different pockets that on their own looked like the urban core of a major city. The towers shown above are in Dubai Marina, which is a completely new development away from the original downtown area. My hotel is on Sheikh Zayed Road, which is a highway lined with an unbelievable number of cool looking towers. Looming in the distance is the Burj Dubai (Dubai Tower) which is already the world's tallest building and isn't even done yet. The Burj won't reveal its final height until the last minute so other buildings can't scoop it. It makes a pretty good symbol for all of Dubai - obsessed with being #1 (and still under construction).

Dubai's planning a bunch of coming soon #1s including: the world's biggest mall, airport, theme park, manmade island and camel race track (okay not sure if that last one is the biggest but they do have one). And the world's first underwater 5-star hotel. 5-star hotels are like Starbucks over here - they are everywhere. And of course they have the world's only 7-star hotel, the Burj Al-Arab, the famous sail-shaped building. You've gotta wonder if there is any capacity planning going on here or if things are going to end up wildly overbuilt.
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Dubai impressions

Ah, Dubai! From all I'd heard, I thought it was going to be a cross between Las Vegas and a small Middle Eastern country, but it's more like a cross between Bellevue and a small Middle Eastern country. It's all about the shopping here. There are over 30 shopping malls, and the two major annual festivals revolve around shopping. Also a little bit of LA in the DNA - it's so spread out you can't walk anywhere and there's no good mass transit system (yet - coming next year). I guess that makes sense for a country that has some of the cheapest cars (no tax) and gas (water is more expensive) on the planet. I took the Big Bus Tour to get an overview of the areas and about half of the stops were malls.

I'm here during Ramadan, and the difference between here and Turkey could not be more striking. In Turkey you wouldn't really notice Ramadan, at least in the more touristy towns where I was. All of the restaurants were open and there was no preceptable change in behavior.

In Dubai, restaurants are closed from sunrise to sunset, outside of hotels and a few restaurants in a high end malls. In those malls, Starbucks remained closed but scrappy Seattle's Best Coffee kept their door discretely half open. There are expectations to be more modest and unassuming at all times. It's recommended to wear more conservative clothing, not to sing or dance in public (all of the clubs are closed for the month), not to chew gum or spit, etc. Then at sunset (Iftar) there are many big celebration feasts to break your fast, or if you are like me you can find the nearest possible Indian restaurant the moment the sun dips.

The Indian population here is quite large as they are drawn here for work opportunities. Dubai in some ways feels like a melting pot of Middle Eastern, Asian, and African people, resulting in some great authentic restaurants and shops. Though of course culturally things are kept strictly Islamic and Arab, combined with a heavy emphasis on Western luxury brands and Disney-like attractions.

Westerners tend to keep to themselves. Wandering around town it felt like I was the only Westener in the city. Until I'd go into a hotel, where they all seem to hang out around the pool and in the bars and restaurants.
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Sunday, September 21, 2008


(I hope the photos come out -my access to Flickr is denied in Dubai!)

My last few days in Olympos were very relaxing and mellow. I continued to meet great people at my pension, including Egor, a Dutch journalist who had covered Beirut and had just been to the Kurdish part of Iraq, and Ursula, also Dutch, who sold everything she owned two years ago and travelled the world teaching diving. I hiked around and swam a lot (had an hour plus swim looking for an elusive water cave). Also went up to see the Chimera, which are mysterious eternal flames up on a mountain. Today they look like a bunch of built-in gas grills, but you can imagine how magical they must have been 2000 years ago.

After some downtime in Olympos, my last hours in Turkey were a bit of a sprint to the finish line. I took a bus on Thursday to Selcuk, got up early in the morning, toured Ephesus for a few hours, and then took a flight to Istanbul in the afternoon followed by one to Dubai at night. Whew! It was the only way to fit Ephesus in, which was definitely worth it.

Ephesus: the capitol of Roman Asia, most complete Roman ruins in the eastern Mediterranean, and freakin' huge! It's an experience to be actually surrounded by ruins like this, instead of just viewing a few isolated examples. The theater and the library are the highlights, though I was surprised to learn that the library entrance (the iconic image of Ephesus) was reconstructed and basically had a wall of concrete behind it. I guess that makes sense if you look at it - it's just sitting there with no apparent support, kinda like Ralph Nader.

I knew coming in that 9 days in Turkey was pretty quick, and this trip has only whetted my appetite to come back and see more of the country. I would have loved to have seen Cappadocia, with its fairy chimneys and underground cities, as well as a lot more of the Mediterranean coast and eastern Turkey. But I'm really happy with what I was able to see in my time here.

One of the highlights has been the food here: kebaps, koftes (meatballs), mezes (little dishes like tapas but usually delicious things you can spread on bread), the billion and one ways they prepare eggplant, and the traditional breakfast of tomatoes, cucumbers, eggs, meat, olives, bread, cheese, jam, and butter. Along with small tulip-shaped glasses of tea (chai) at every possible moment. It was so good I couldn't get enough of it and found myself trying to find one last Turkish meal (instead of a turkey sandwich) at the airport before my plane flew out.
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Olympos ruinsTreehouse camp ın Olympos

OlymposOlympos beach
I think I only scratched the surface of Istanbul but after 4 days I headed out to the southern coast for a little bit of relaxation. I took the overnight bus from Istanbul to Antalya, whıch took about 13 hours all told. Turkish buses lived up to their reputation of being super deluxe and comfortable, includıng beverage and snack service on the bus. The landscape down here is rugged and beautiful, wıth pine trees and scrub on striking rock formations. I'm staying at this unexpected backpacker camp rıght next to the ruıns of the cıty of Olympos and lovely beach. The big thing here are treehouses where you can stay off the ground, and there are literally hundreds of them ın camps spread around the valley down here. Luckily it's not peak season so things are pretty mellow right now. Met some great fellow travellers and ended up havıng a mıdnıght swım and rock dıve in the Mediterranean under a full moon. It was so brıght and warm that we hung out sıttıng in the water for over an hour. The night ended up with our German buddy Tino folk dancıng to traditional Turkısh songs at a bar set up between two rocky cliffs. A bit of a different side of Turkey from Istanbul!

Saturday, September 13, 2008


Blue MosqueBlue Mosque

Landed in Istanbul on Wednesday afternoon and checked into my hotel in Sultanahmet, which is basically ground zero for all of the World Heritage sites. Right out of my window is the Blue Mosque, (lovely but they have 5am prayer chants over a loudspeaker). Once I figured out to close my windows at night I grew to like it a lot more. The mosque is gorgeous inside and out, and the calls to prayer on the loudspeaker during normal waking hours are hypnotic and transporting. The Hippodrome next to it is a bustling street fair and park area with tons of kebap vendors and grilled corn (very big over here).

Aya SofyaAya Sofya
Aya SofyaAya Sofya

Also next door is Aya Sofya, whose history mirrors Istanbul's. It started off as a Christian church built by Emperor Justinian in 537AD (the largest, most important one for hundreds of years) and for over 1000 years was the largest enclosed space building in the world. When Istanbul fell in 1453 to the Ottomans, it was converted into a mosque, and remained so until 1935 when it was turned into a museum. Pretty much the definition of awe-inspiring when you go inside.

Topkapi PalaceTopkapi Palace

Finally right next to that there's Topkapi Palace where the Sultan and his harem used to live. This place is more open air than Aya Sofya but ginormous as well. As the treasury of the Ottoman Empire, it holds a huge amount of priceless objects, including crazy jewel-encrusted daggers, diamonds as big as your eyeball, and some of the most holy relics in the world. I saw Mohammed's footprint, his tooth, locks of his beard, a couple of his swords, and St. John the Baptist's arm and skull. Or so they say - I have to admit I got a little skeptical at Moses' walking stick.

Topkapi Palace  Harem ChambersTopkapi Palace  Harem Chambers

The harem area was beautiful as well: wall-to-wall tile and gilted domed ceilings for the ladies in waiting (who evidently wielded great political power as sultans started out pretty young). Fun fact: if you were in the harem and bore a son for the sultan, you got upgraded to a room with a nice view of the city.

Istikal walking street

One of my favorite things so far has been walking along the huge pedestrian street
Istikal Cad over in the more modern part of town near Taxim Square. It seems the whole city shows up to show off around 4PM or so. Excellent people watching and cafes.

With so many sights right out of my front door, I've turned into a turbo tourist for a few days. At night I've tried to find a few gay bars with mixed success (first night: one bar, closed). The medieval streets in the city are so windy and partially unnamed that even taxi drivers don't seem to know where a lot of addresses are.

Friday night I tried again and had much better luck. Met this very fun couple from Milan, Luigi and his boyfriend, who were celebrating his birthday. They whisked me away from the rather tragic bar I was at and took me to a great dance club, "Love". Luigi is a kinda comic dancer (would be a good match for Brian C. on the soccer team in dance chicken) and he either impressed or scared the locals with his moves (hard to tell). Fun and late night.

The people here are extremely warm and friendly. My hotel receptionist spent a long time explaining to me how everything around the hotel was over-priced (not exactly selling the area to me). Taxi drivers have gone way beyond the call of duty to help me find (possibly non-existent) bars or streets. But they can be too friendly as well when it comes to business - every shopkeeper or restauranteur strikes up a conversation ("My friend! Where you from?"). For some reason everyone thinks I'm French, which is weird. Though at least the Biblical references have gone down...

Friday, September 12, 2008

Last days in London

I've had a very mellow last few days which was just what I needed but made me into a lazy blogger. After Cornwall I spent a few more days with Mark and Lee. The weather was pretty wet, so I stayed close to home and caught up on laundry etc. Lee made another delicious dinner and I was able to sample that last Cornish taste that I'd somehow overlooked on the roadtrip: Scrumpy Jack (a traditional hard cider-not bad!).

On Monday, Lee took me on a great walking tour of some areas of East London (Shoreditch and Clerkenwell). I really love those parts - a bit more laid back and edgier at the same time, with tons of little hipster cafes and galleries. Plus the pub where most of Jack the Ripper's victims were last seen.

Monday night I took the train out to my friends Shannon and Richard in Egham, near Windsor. Great to see them and catch up. And to see how much their little girl, Maddie, had grown since I'd been there last! We kicked the ball around in the yard and for an almost-3-year-old, I can tell you Maddie has a mean right foot. Spent my time out at Shannon and Richard's chilling and getting ready for my next destination, Turkey, eating fantastic curry from their local takeout, and watching that crazy Formula 1 race from Belgium. For my first race it was evidently a doosy. I still can't believe they stripped Hamilton of the win.

Anyway, onward to Istanbul! Thanks Mark and Lee and Shannon and Richard for all of the hospitality in England!
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Tintagel and Bath

View from Tintagel CastleMark and me at Tintagel Castle

Finished our tour of Cornwall today with a trip up to Tintagel castle. Supposedly the birthplace of King Arthur (you can imagine the giftshops), there are the ruins of a 13th century castle on a huge rock jutting out over the water. We watched a very "Search for the Holy Grail" introductory video, and basically this castle sounds like it was the summer home for the Earl of Cornwall. Regardless of the Arthur connection, the whole area is unbelievably beautiful, both the ruins and the rugged coastline. It's hard to describe, but there is some power to this place, whether it is simply the stunning views or something else.

We spent the rest of our day making our way back to London, during which I became obsessed with getting the ultimate hedgerow photo.
Hedgerow #3Hedgerow #2
Our last stop of the trip was in Bath, which is pretty, restrained, and beige. The posh restaurant where you can drink a glass of the famous Bath water was closed but Mark sweet-talked his way in and we were both able to have a glass (tasted vaguely of feet but actually not that bad). Also were able to get a glimpse of the Roman baths, which were amazing.
The remains of the Roman baths at BathCathedral in Bath

Back to London, a tasty roast dinner by Lee and my introduction to The Catherine Tate Show (how very dare you!).

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Thursday, September 4, 2008

St. Michael's

Cornwall countrysideTin Mine

Touring around with Mark today and seeing more of the Cornish coast. The countryside is just amazing around here. The grass has an intense vibrant green color, and there are beautiful tin mines dotting the hills, which look like old ruined churches.

Walked through St. Ives, which is a cute village (a bit like a British seaside La Conner), where people used to be very short.
When people were shorter and lived closed to waterMark, St. Ives
Then on to St. Michael's Mount, which is a former medieval monastery on an island (and has since been occupied by the same family since 1647). You can walk to it from the mainland at low tide but have to take a boat back at high tide.
St. Michael's
Also drove through Penzance and saw Land's End (well, from a distance. You evidently can't set foot near without paying an admission fee).

All of the roads here are lined with hedgerows, which means you are driving around in a really pretty maze all the time. I found myself thinking from time to time, "if I could see over the hedgerows, there would be a gorgeous view of the ocean here". Mark said it reminded him of driving through the labyrinth in "The Shining".

Had my first fish and chips with mushy peas of the trip, which was tasty. Mark also convinced me to get some Cornish clotted cream on my ice cream cone which he really talked up but turns out is basically just butter - mmm mmm! I'm still recovering.

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Wednesday, September 3, 2008



Mark and I drove out to Newquay, a coastal town in Cornwall, last night for a couple days quick vacation. The plan was to do surfing lessons but I have a pulled hamstring from the tournament and a bit of a cold, so we are going to do some exploring of the coastline.
It's gorgeous out here and not what you think of when you think of coming to England. The weather is either beautiful and sunny or pouring buckets - the wind moves so fast it seems to change every few minutes. The beaches are pretty, enclosed by rocky cliffs, and huge. Mark took a surfing lesson and promised it wasn't really cold, but I don't believe him.
Mark surfing lesson, Newquay

Evidently rowdy Australians like to stay at our surfer hotel. We had to put down a security deposit and then had to run through a damage checklist for our room like we were renting a U-Haul. "TV, check. Remote, check" etc. "Walls, check" cracked us up. Front desk wasn't amused when we said we were down one...
Our hotel, Newquay
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Tuesday, September 2, 2008



Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Monday, September 1, 2008

Next up

With the tourney done, I'm off to stay with my friends Mark and Lee in Tooting for a few days. We had Sunday lunch at a friend's house and toured around Windsor a bit (the Queen was not in).
Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile

Closing ceremony party

Saturday was the finals and the closing ceremony party. London Stonewall won in the finals with a beautiful game against the Argentinians. Very inspiring to watch! We had a great (and late) night at Area in Vauxhall. Here's Sean with a super witty volunteer from the tournament.

Sent via BlackBerry from T-Mobile