Monday, July 9, 2012

Taking Advantage of Quantum Mechanics

You and I are going to take advantage of the lovely Quantum Time Machine. Don't worry, this won't hurt a bit and the chances of you running into yourself are slim because we are going to move through both time and space to lovely Turkey in late April. 

I, on the other hand, will be going undercover as Sasha in case I run into Michel, Monique or myself.  That way, they won't recognize me and we won't have to worry about distorting the time/space continuum.

I will set the scene for you.  We are going to exotic Istanbul. The year is 2012 and it is spring.  Three crazy youngsters (ok, I know that is pushing it) have had a night of touristic debauchery with some locals and we catch up with them the day after much touristing (new word for Websters) and drinking.

April 30
Well, you would think with being a little hung over and sleeping in late would mean that the intrepd trio had a quiet day but nnnnnoooooooooo!

Spidey had no sympathy for our pain and
laughed at us!

After a little extra sleep, we headed back to the Sultanamet to go to the Spice Bazaar and to walk the streets.  The Bazaar was lots of fun and it turned out that there was a movie being filmed around the outside of it.  It was the new Bond film (or so we were told) but Daniel Craig was not sighted.

After wandering around the Bazaar looking for spice mills for Monique, we headed down some side streets and just let our senses lead us.  Tons of people and many turns later, we were lost but having a great time just taking in the atmosphere.

The streets were a little packed!
We ended up at the Denzili House hotel as we had to make a booking for the following night.  The great apartment had only been booked to May 1 and alternative accommodation was needed.

After dinner on a rooftop, it was home for an early night to catch up on our beauty sleep.

Monique made friends with the spice
merchants! Actually, this guy had pics  of  himself
with a whole bunch of female clients - strange!

I hope everyone is glad that this is not
what I brought back as gifts.
Spices everywhere!

Just to give you an idea of what some of
those burka wearing women wear when they are
not around men!

May 1
We moved in the morning and Veve settled in as his stomach was not playing nice.  Monique and I went for a walk along the boardwalk that borders the Bosphorus and it was a welcome reprieve from the overstimulation of the rest of the city.  We just walked and talked and enjoyed the view.


Then it was off to the Sifa Hammam for Monique and I.  It was my second and Monique's first.  However, this one was not like the first one I went to.  At this one, you got naked and wrapped a towel around yourself. Then you are led to the lovely room below (Monique's picture) where we laid on the marble bed which was heated by a fire below it.  We were the only two and so we assumed it was a time that was "women only" as this is common in hammams.

Main room of Sifa Hammam
It smells of wood smoke - very relaxing.

The attendant came to get me and she was in a towel too.  Off we went to a private room where I laid on a different marble slab and she dropped her towel and in nothing but her gitch, bathed me like I was a little kid.  Well.....almost.  You don't scrub little kids that hard!  She even washed my hair and face.  I have never felt so clean and exfoliated!

When I went back to the main room, Monique had just finished rinsing herself with some cool water and had lost her towel - why not, it's women only!

Off she went to get her bath and I laid back down on the marble slab.  Not 5 minutes later, in walks a man in a towel!!!!  He seemed as surprised as I was and all I could think was "Thank God he didn't come 7 minutes earlier or we might have had an international incident on our hands!"  He also seemed uncomfortable (as did I) because when he laid down on the slab, I think he was hanging off the other side so as to put as much space as possible between us.

You should have seen Monique's face when she came back in!  (Giggle)

After we were done, we checked on Veve (stomach still revolting but no uprising yet! - tee hee tee hee) and were off to the Spice Market again to pick up something Monique had seen the day before and some sunglasses (more on this later).  She bartered with a merchant in Turkish (she was our translator) and because she tried so hard, he gave us some
Turkish Delight.  It doesn't take much to make us happy - just sugar!

In the process of making our way back to the hotel, we found the elusive Grand Bazaar.  It is not really all that elusive.......if you have a map........and you use it.  But we were adventurers, so we didn't which made it an amazing discovery!

Inside the Grand Bazaar

By the time we got home, Michel was feeling better and we decided to go to a seafood restaurant that Monique and I had found on our walk by the Bosphorus.

Interesting things about Istanbul:

  1. During the day and night, there are impromptu shooting galleries set up along the boardwalk.  There are balloons strung on strings and glass bottles set up on stones by the water.  You pay to shoot at them with a pellet gun that looks like a hand gun or rifle. (I think the RCMP would have a problem with this in Canada)
  2. At night, makeshift bars are set up all along the boardwalk.  A couple of small tables and plastic chairs, some liquor and badda bing! You have a bar!  Monique and I thought that Calgary should let people do this along the Bow!  Shall we start a petition?
  Dinner was great!  Monique picked the appy - topshan.  This is a small conch. The maitre'd had suggested it to us earlier in the day when we talked with him.  Now..........I have eaten conch before.  However, in Haiti, it generally comes all cut up and in a sauce.  Ours came boiled in the shell! And none of us knew what to do with it.

We are casual people but this was a bit of an upscale restaurant and so the maitre'd and our waiter were pretty formal.  When we indicated that we didn't know how to get the meat out, our waiter was kind enough to do it for us. I did, however, get the feeling that he was going "OMG! Freak'n tourists! Ordering something they don't even know how to eat!" in his head because he came across as if that was what was going on in his mind. Once he took the meat out of all 4 of our topshan, it looked like a spiral of mostly white meat with some dark meat at the tip.

As we were about to start eating it, we asked if there was a sauce for it.  Boiled conch is not all that tasty - it is kinda rubbery.  The waiter apologized and whipped off to the kitchen to get our sauce.  Score one for the Freak'n Tourists!!

While he was away, we tasted some of it.  I started at the smallest part of the spiral where it was dark and it did not taste good at all!!!!

That is when our waiter came back with the sauce and we asked if we were suppose to eat the entire thing.  He indicated (cause his English was not all that good) that we were suppose to cut off the foot and the dark part of the meat.  So, one of us clarified by touching the pointy dark bit and saying "No eat". 

At this point, he loses his formalness and makes a face like he has just eaten poop and says "NO!" so Michel indicates that I have done just that.  First, he gets this horrified look on his face for a milli-second and then, he completely loses all self control and just starts howling with laughter!  We all join in on the hilarity because what we come to realize is............we (cause it wasn't only me who ate it) have just eaten the sphincter and bile of the blessed beast! 

From then on, the waiter and the maitre'd (because of course, the waiter had to share the story) are our best friends and we had a great evening with them.  The rest of the meal was great.

If you are ever out with one of us and we are asked how our meal will now understand what we mean when we say "Definitely better than Topshan Ass!".

Topshan Ass Restaurant
We didn't even know the waiter was in the picture
until after it had been taken!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Return to the Empire

With the help of some awesome friends (big huge kudos to Chris, Liz, Gerald, Grant, Dave, Liz's Mom and Toby), we finally made it back into our house with all our belongings on June 30.  Because of their hard work, we were done the move in about 2.5 hours............just in time for lunch on us! And then everyone had the rest of the Saturday on the long weekend to do with what they wanted......................while Michel and I had a 3 hour nap!  Life is grand.

Things are starting to settle down and I am still working on drafts of the rest of Turkey for the blog and things that happened after that so please be patient as I am also looking for work, doing taxes and, and, and.  Now, this is no excuse and as I write this, I have decided that the blog needs to take presedence.  I promise to post something else before the end of the weekend and it will be about Turkey.

The reason I blog now though is to purge my soul about what a bad, bad parent I am. 

With the help of Liz, I picked up Ophelia and Salome on July 2.  They never left the bedroom I deposited them into when I dropped them off at the foster parent's house. What I had hoped would be a good situation for them turned out not to be so and I was upset a bit at first.  However, in retrospect, it was still better than putting them down which was the only other option.

But this is not why I am a bad kitty parent.  Here's the explanation.

Ophelia gained 5 or 10 pounds!  What a chunky monkey! I am having trouble picking her up so with aplumb I say "Let the diet begin!"

As a result of her girth, she could not clean herself so her fur was oily and large portions of it was matted and felted together. To deal with this, I had her shaved this morning to get the matts out.  I didn't laugh........I am not that bad!!!!!! 

But I do actually kinda like her shaved!  Look, she matches the color of our sleeping bags. What a great accessory! (And that thought is why I am a bad parent).

However, she is lovely and soft and it is also apparently good for her skin.  I might do it again.

But not because she matches the sleeping bags!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Another Loss

Unfortunately, we got some bad news just over a week ago that I have not shared with everyone......until now.

Michel's Dad passed away unexpectedly on July 22nd.  It came as a real shock to everyone but they seem to be holding up well. 

My heart goes out to everyone in Michel's family. Tony was not always an easy man to love but he was their husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend. And because he was all these things, I am the luckiest person in the world cause I have a great mother-in-law, awesome siblings-in-law and wonderful nieces and nephews. Let me not forget, I also have the best, most amazing husband.

I hope that Tony can now find the peace that he could not find in life.

Michel got on a flight this morning to head to Montreal.  They are interring his Dad's ashes sometime this week and then Michel will be home next week.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Sasha Returns or.......I Almost Feel Famous or.....Making New Friends

Holy Cow! Someone posted a comment on my blog the other day.  Someone I don't know!  Someone from Brisbane, Australia! WOW!  Unfortunately, they didn't leave their name.

It feels kinda strange.  When I draft my blogs I always imagine that I am talking to a family member or a friend.   To me, it is like a small part of a bigger conversation. So, I try to keep it casual and funny because my peeps (what Veve calls his "people") know my sense of humuor and can imagine my voice saying these things.

But, now, there is A Stranger Among Us (cue cop movie music)............and I am Melanie Griffith (aka: Sasha Grabinski), a tough, New York cop (Sasha had a career change - all that spying experience looked great on the resume) and I will go undercover to solve the case.

It shouldn't be hard though because the nice person left a link to their blog/website.  I am going to share it with everyone because they make amazing furniture and it is just too bad that they are in Australia because I know that Regine (Veve's sister/interior designer) is gonna love his stuff and that's a long way to ship stuff.

Everyone, I would like you to meet Marxcraft.

Marxcraft, meet my family and friends.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Let the recounting of Turkey begin

After a short flight, we landed in Turkey.  Istanbul is a buzzing metropolis of 16 million people and you can feel it starting from the moment you land. It is as foreign and exotic as Jordan but feels much more modern and cosmopolitan and I could feel myself noticabley relax - I guess I am truely an urban girl. 

In doing research for accommodation here, I found this great website called AirBnB.  It is rooms and apartments that people let out to make some revenue.  We went this route because hostels were in the $30-40 Cdn range per person per night - expensive by hostel standards.  We also wanted to have a private room for Monique's first night as she was scheduled to arrive just after midnight and would be suffering from jetlag.  I found this very cute apartment owned by Onur (click on link to see pics of the apartment) for a comparable price to the hostels and it was great.  There was even a small reading nook made up inside the middle arch of the living room windows.  Anyway, if you like using BnBs then you are going to love this website.

After we had checked in, we went for a stroll along Isktlal Street which is a huge pedestrian shopping street where thousands of people congregate.  As we had arrived the day before Monique was due to arrive, it was a nice way to just chill out.

April 28
The next day, Veve wanted to do some more relaxing so I left him at the apartment and went to the Pera Museum and saw an exhibit of Goya prints and paintings.  The exhibit was mostly of his prints (link to pictures of his prints) - my understanding is that he used his prints to make commentaries on politics, religion and society.  They were very dark and disturbing. He tended to add animal features to the people and I found many of the prints to have a sadistic feel to them.

Later that day, we went to the airport to pick up Monique.  Yay!!!  A little piece of home for us!

April 29
Three or four days is just not enough time to see the sights of Istanbul.  You could spend a very active month in Istanbul and probably see quite a bit of it but with only a short few days, we needed to hit some of the high lights. 

We had intended to see the 3 major sights (Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace) on our first day but when we got off the metro, a nice man offered to show us the way to the Blue Mosque.  Monique took him up on his offer.  Now, Veve and I had become jaded by our interactions with "salesmen' in Jordan and if he had only pointed us in the right direction, we would have been fine but he walked us the 2-3 blocks to the mosque and it only took me about 15 seconds into the interaction to realize this guy was some kind of salesman.  When we got to the mosque, the line up was several hundred people deep and there was a prayer time coming up (it is a working mosque and tourists are not allowed in during services).  So, that is when our helpful Turk tells us the best times to come to the mosque and that his family had a carpet shop around the corner and we should come for a cup of tea.  Now, you need to know that having tea is an integral part of the carpet buying process - we were hooped!!!!

The Blue Mosque
Tourists everywhere!!!!
Being good Canadians, we felt the need to at least look at the shop since the guy had made the effort to help us - this is what you need to avoid in the Middle East and Turkey as they know this about westerners and exploit this trait against us.

So, once our friend showed us the showroom and the stunning view from the rooftop patio, he disappeared (to go hook more potential buyers) and his "uncle" took over the uncle says "Since you are here for tea, you might as well look at some carpets while you relax".  And so the rugs started coming out.  You need to understand that all the rugs are rolled up around the edge of the showroom and the buyer sits comfortably sipping tea while the seller and his helpers start throwing the rugs down. 

He started with large rugs and it took me about 30 minutes to work him down to small rugs.  I learnt to say "yoke" (Turkish for no) very fast (big thanks for Monique taking the time to learn basic Turkish and teaching me some of it!).  When you say Yoke to a carpet, the helpers just pull them off the floor and start a Yoke pile.

I had read that you should visit at least 3 shops and look at carpets before deciding to buy but the uncle kept bringing out carpets. I started to feel bad for uncle.  Monique and Veve made fun of me because my Yoke pile was apparently quite large and I didn't know how to bring it to an end without buying something. I only saw the Yoke pile after many carpets had been re-roled and it was still quite big.

So, in the end, Veve and I became the proud owners of two small kilims (carpets with no pile) and Monique owned one of her own.

We probably paid much too much for the carpets but I am going to choose to believe that some of the money went to pay for the great memory of the experience.

Me, Veve, Monique and Uncle
After the sale

With our precious but heavy purchases in their carrying bags, off we went to try and see the Blue Mosque........again. However, we made a rule that Monique was not to talk to any salesmen.

All the line ups were long so, being frustrated, we decided to has worked for me most of my life so why change my coping strategies now!

During lunch, Veve had a nice chat with the restaurant manager where in he tried to sell both Monique and I to the manager in exchange for 12 cats (there are cats everwhere in Turkey). The guy thought the price was too steep to pay, so Veve was stuck with us.

At the restaurant where Monique and I were
almost bartered away for 12 cats.

We decided to try and see Topkapi Palace after lunch.  The line up was long but we decided to endure it as we felt we needed to see at least one sight in the day.  It was worth it.  It is a beautiful example of ottoman architecture and decorating.

Beautiful tiles, tiles and more tiles - they
really liked tiles

Do you think Frank Lloyd Wright
may have gotten inspiration from the Ottomans?

It gets cold in Turkey so they needed big
fireplaces to heat the big rooms!

Three great friends!
But mirror, mirror on the wall,
who is the fairest of the three?

In our wanderings after the palace, we came across a restaurant that also had a show scheduled for that night of Whirling Dervishes. We had a good time chatting with one of the employees, Adem. In the end, we bought tickets for dinner and a show later that night.

When we got back the the restaurant, we had more fun talking with Adem and learnt that at some time in his past, he had learnt to dance while standing on wine glasses. At first we gawaffed at this but he said that if he could prove it, we would owe him a drink. Well.........he took Veve and Monique to the back office and showed them pictures..........and this is how we ended up owing him a drink. He told us he was not allowed to drink in the workplace, so we would have to take him out after the show was over.

The show itself was not as inspiring as I had hoped. Whirling Dervishes do just that, whirl......and not all that fast, at least from my perspective. It also felt just a tad uncomforable to be watching someone undertake a religious ceremony. Now, I have gone to several church ceremonies and witnessed religious ceremonies but I was never eating my dinner during them. I felt it was a tad disrespectful. The fact that these people perform this show several times a week in this manner, I believe, diminished the sanctity of such a ceremony. I hope the performers were not actually worshippers but just that........performers.  Otherwise, I think they are cheapening their religion in some way.

There was also a belly dancer who performed but I felt like she was more of an exotic dancer wearing a belly dancer's outfit.  Her dancing made me a little bit uncomfortable. (When did I become a prude?!?!?!?!?)

After all this, it was off for drinks with Adem.  He took us via cab to another part of Istanbul called Komkapi to a street lined with restaurants with lots of locals and wandering bands.  Turkish people definitely know how to have a good time and a large wedding party at another resaurant had a small girl (around 6 or 8 years old) that danced on the table most of the night. They were having a fabulous time! Adem got one of the wandering bands to come over and play some songs from the area of Turkey where he grew up.  He sang along on many of the songs - he had a nice voice.

One of his friends, Haki, worked at the restaurant and he and Adem wanted to have a drink together so, once again, we moved restaurants.  They must have been regulars cause the restaurant we went to looked like it was closing down and they opened the place up for us.  We were also joined by Gerald, another of their friends.  There was much drinking, munching, singing (at one point Ibrahim, a tabla player joined us - hence the singing).  Haki kept telling us he had 300 girlfriends but we just kept making fun of him because he drank lots of Raki (the national drink of Turkey) so we called him Haki, who likes Raki.  We drank and talked the night away with these locals and had a great time.  Adem made sure we got home safe and sound (I think he may have been a bit sweet on Monique) and we crawled into bed at 4am. 

I think this experience on Monique's first day in Turkey probably helped her overcome her jetlag.  Of course, it could have been the fact that we slept in until almost noon the next day that may have helped her as well.

And that was just her first day.....keep tuned for more adventures!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

A Little Bit More of Jordan

Wow, 3 weeks has just screamed by and I have spent several hours on the computer just prepping pictures so they are web friendly in order to post them.

Let the blogging begin!

Other than being reunited with Spidey, we managed to see some of the sights in Amman, Jordan.

The Citadel was interesting but I won't bore you with more pictures of ruins cause even I am getting tired of them and there will be more coming in future posts about Turkey.

However, as part of the Citadel, there was an archeological museum and some of the pottery within has given me some inspiration for my future pottery attempts.

Nice foot!

Interesting idea - what do you think they used it for?

Who says a bowl's opening has to be at the top

Another interesting foot - mind you this is made of stone not clay
Then it was time to look at modern art.  Amman has a museum dedicated to modern art by Islamic artists.  It was quite a departure from what we were used to seeing (ancient relics) and a welcome reprieve.

Who had to eat all these chocolate bars so
the artist could make the outfit?

Very nice print.

Clay water buffalos - more inspiration for my pottery.
But the most impressive piece was moveable.  Sorry, you are going to have to tilt your head to the right to view this.

Then, on our departure day, I had an small adventure in the front seat of our taxi while Michel was innocently sitting in the back seat.

We met Waleed 2 days prior to our departure and he quoted us a good rate to take us to the airport.  We ran into him the next day and confirmed with him.  When he picked us up, he told me to sit in the front seat.  Now you need to know that the guide books actually suggest that as a woman, you should not sit in the front seat as this can be very uncomfortable for a Muslim man so it seemed odd but I am a good Canadian so, I did what I was told. 

Now, Waleed was very friendly and stressed how we should recommend his services to any of our friends or family and he gave us several of his business cards.  He also offered us some cookies to snack on as it was early in the morning.  Then, he told us he wanted to stop at a coffee shop for 10 minutes to take us for a coffee as we had time.  Then he started to touch my shoulder or my knee as he made a specific point in his speach.  I thought it very forward for a Muslim man but I thought perhaps he was gay and very effusive - no big deal in my world.

I told him I would talk about his services on my blog so he asked me for my email address and phone number - once again, no big deal in my world.  However, when I wrote the information down and gave the piece of paper back to him, he wrote on it and then showed it to me........"My Darling".  OK, Buster, my husband is the back seat and you are freakn' hitting on me?!?!?!?!?!  Really???????

However, now I don't want to make a scene (once again being a good Canadian) as the airport is no more than 20 minutes away and I will never see this man again.

The funny thing was that Michel and I had discussed tipping Waleed prior to getting in the cab because he seemed so friendly and had offered us such a good rate.  So, when we got to the airport, Michel gave Waleed a 5 Dinar tip.  I, on the other hand, heaved a sigh of relief (after having to hug Waleed) that it was over. 

It was only then, that I said something to Michel and he was amazed as he didn't see any of it and was wondering why I hadn't said anything.

Anyway, I may live to regret the taxi ride as Waleed has already called my cel phone once.  I no longer will answer any phone calls from Jordan.

Me, Veve and pervy Waleed


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Turkey - Preview

Because it is so late, I am afraid that I am going to just give you an outline of things to come:

Pera Museum - Goya Exhibit
Topkapi Palace - ooohhh, aaahhhhh
Hammams - scrub a dub dub!
Shy Turkish Men - don't exist!!!!!
Istanbul - 16 million people and just about the same amount of things to do!!!!
Cappadocia - people live in caves - so do Michel, Monique and I - for a short while!
Pamukkale - winter wonderland without the cold and snow
Turkish bus system - I don't ever want to ride in a bus again
Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque - beautiful enough to make you find religion

And much, much more!!!!

Stay tuned!