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What Happens When The Moon Discards Her Veil…

by on Jun.21, 2009, under Uncategorized

Two weeks ago, I attended the world famous Full Moon Party on Haad Rin beach on the island of Koh Phangan in Thailand. I didn’t know what to expect. I’d been to a pre-party several nights previously and been disappointed. Lousy music, boring people, seemed like everyone was just there to get drunk. A frat party, essentially. I hoped the main event would be better.

It was.

Imagine a mile-long crescent-shaped stretch of beach, ending in a cliff face on either side, with a palm-laced town behind. Every 50 yards, a huge building or tent complex houses a booming sound system, each DJ playing a different flavor of music. Full of people. Tens of thousands of partygoers, clothed in shorts and ripped t-shirts, skirts, bikinis, painted haphazardly with fluorescent paint. Many locals, some of them just there for the party, many others there to make money, whores and drug dealers, sellers of glowsticks and plastic things with flashing LEDs. Lots of stands selling buckets and other booze. Fire spinners and dancers. A giant 40-foot flaming jump rope. Back behind the beach, the town of Haad Rin seems focused exclusively on this event. It’s made entirely of hotels, bars, convenience stores, and souvenir shops.

On the night of the party, the entire street facing the beach is sealed off except for a couple of entrances, through which it costs 100 baht ($3 US) to pass, and for which you get a colorful wristband. The money goes to beach cleanup, which I assure you is worth every penny after seeing the beach at the end of the night.

I navigated down the winding streets, turning down offers for “fucking cheap bucket”. The main drink in Koh Phangan, and other party places in Thailand, is a bucket: literally a plastic beach bucket filled with two cans of soda and a flask of liquor. the people at the stands mix them on the spot and they end up being very tasty and impossible to finish without getting completely trashed. Even Aussies, with their superhuman alcohol tolerance levels, get messed up on these things. I’d purchased a bucket a few days before at the pre-party, in the hopes that it would make the party more interesting. It didn’t. I’d ended up discarding the thing when it was half empty. Nonetheless, and despite drinking lots of water afterwards, I’d paid for it the following morning. So the night of the FMP I decided to stay well away from the evil things.

I stepped out onto Sunrise Beach.

The beach itself, made of fine white sand, is lined with large dance clubs. On either end, the clubs continue up onto the cliff faces. The night of the party, countless Thai-style longboats were anchored along one section of beach, hoping to find passengers to taxi around the island.

The beach was packed with people. More interesting people than the other night, it appeared. I walked the length of the beach, sampling the music from each club. Some of it was crap, the kind of techno that’s just the same beat looped over and over for hours. Some was pop music, club music. There were two stages playing really good music. One was drum’n'bass, which I absolutely love to dance to. The beat’s so fast you just let the energy enter your body and your feet start flying. The other was Psy-Trance, my favorite style of techno because of its use of experimental, surreal sounds and high-energy beats.

During my wanderings I encountered several people I knew from the hotel and from my trek. The great thing about FMP is everybody is there, it’s like the whole island focuses into that one spot.

How can I put that night’s wanderings into chronological order? I had a Chang beer at a bar called the FuBar. Then it was back down to the beach for more dancing. I was feeling in a great, balanced place. I decided it was time to enhance the night a bit. The cliff face on the left side of the beach is known as Mellow Mountain, and is full of bars with blacklight velvet paintings of mushrooms. I climbed up to the topmost bar, and walked to the back, and ordered a “special shake”. It tasted of strawberries, with only the faintest hint of the secret ingredient. (The secret ingredient is LOVE of course! :-) That and mushrooms…)

So back down the beach. I spend some time at the psy-trance place. Soon I can feel primal energy rising through my feet, a line of it flowing like condensed joy up my chakras. I see the sand shift slightly. The music takes on an added significance. And I dance.

I walk off on a quest for some water. There is a chain of stores in Haad Rin, designed to look almost exactly like 7-11s (in the same way that a harmless creature will evolve the same skin pattern as a predator) called 0-7. 0-7 sell very cheap things, mostly booze. But they have bottled water. I get one and drink it.

As I pass through the gyrating crowds, I consider this night as a celebration of the Moon. I am surrounded by Dionysian chaos. People puking, passed out, dancing wildly, groping each other and making out. I look up. The moon has hid herself behind a shroud of clouds. Is she ashamed of us? Is she embarrassed at our behavior? No. She is being coy! Soon, she tosses off her veil, and lets it drift off over the ocean like a discarded nightgown. She’s beaming at us, laughing, joining us, encouraging our wild celebration. Entranced, I walk to the edge of the beach and sit, and watch the clouds float away towards the horizon for a long while. It’s absolutely beautiful and incredible. I sit for who knows how long. I become aware that other people are sitting near me, taking in the same scene. Eventually the clouds disappear completely, leaving just the reflections of the neon lights on the water, the sand, the cliffs, and the naked cloudless sky.

Now the water has run its course through my body and is pressing on my kidneys. There are several bathrooms up in town, all of which cost 10 baht to use. But many guys (and the occasional girl) are simply using the ocean. I decide to go that route, and find a relatively empty stretch of beach, near the Mellow Mountain end. I wade out into the water up to my knees and unzip. Before I start I briefly wonder if I’m somehow profaning the ocean. Just then I’m startled by loud yelling right behind me. Some sort of gibberish. I hastily zip back up and whirl around. There stands a wild-haired wild-eyed young lady, wearing bangles and brown rags. She continues to gabble and dance and laugh at me in no language I’ve ever heard. Then she dashes back up the beach to join three other similarly clad ladies, cavorting and leering at me. Another approaches and babbles in a similar dialect. I reply laughingly “.. what? I can’t understand…” she gabbles something more, then shouts “WHY SO NICE!??” and goes “BLEAAH” and sticks her tongue out at me. So I go “BLEAAAH” and stick my tongue back out at her. Then they all dash back up the beach and I turn and walk off in the other direction.

Did I really experience that? That was odd, even for this party. I turn around and walk back to investigate, but the ladies have all vanished completely.

I walk into town and use a pay toilet.

And so it continues through the night. Piles of sand resolve themselves into worn-out partiers, passed out or sleeping on the beach. One couple lie together in the most beautiful pose, hands clasped, heads together almost kissing, arms and legs splayed out in different directions.

Some locals carefully hang a sign made of rope onto a scaffold out in the ocean, and light it with a torch until the burning words spell out “FULL MOON PARTY HAAD RIN BEACH THAILAND” forty feet high.

I watch the pile of passed-out bodies accumulate under the tarp next to the medical tent, a sort of human lost-and-found.

I watch a 10-year-old Thai boy spin a flaming staff like a pro, to the shouts of encouragement from the older fire spinners, and the cheers of the watching crowd.

The ocean gradually recedes and makes room for the ever increasing press of people. How lucky, I think, until I realize that the tides must always be timed like this, being determined by the moon’s phase.

I’m hungry, and slightly queasy. Nothing fried or meaty will do now. I wander through town until I find the perfect thing- roasted corn on the cob. I munch on this. Delightful. I reflect that it’s the first time I’ve eaten corn since I left the US. Since nearly everything in the US is made of corn, I’ve been staying away from it to try and clear the stuff out of my system. Now it tastes sooo good.

There are so many pictures I would have taken of this night if I’d had my camera with me. People splayed on the sand in odd poses, the reflections of the flames and neon on the waves, the moon over the palms. The amazing tesselated pattern of light and shadow formed by half a million overlapping footprints across a moonlit beach.

I didn’t bring my camera because I was advised not to bring anything valuable, breakable or likely to be stolen. My wallet and passport were also safely locked in my room. It’s good I didn’t bring my camera. It would’ve been ruined by the salt water from wading into the ocean, or the many water fights. If nothing else, it would’ve gotten smashed when some random guy runs up out of the waves and tackles me from the side, knocking both of us down onto the beach, snapping my mind back to the present. He stands up and wanders off, laughing. After a moment so do I.

As the effects of the shake begin to fade, leaving me feeling clear and beautiful, I return to the drum’n'bass place and just let loose for a while. I consider getting another beer, or even a bucket, but I’m totally content to continue as I am. Some people’s good time is to get completely smashed and crazy and not remember any of it the next day. I find I prefer to just observe and absorb, accepting the beauty of the party as a sort of meditation. Diving into it when it takes me, and standing apart to appreciate when it lets me go again, like waves of the ocean.

Once again I’m hungry. I locate a pad thai stand I noticed earlier, and order some, which is served to me by a friendly transvestite. The pad thai is delicious, although not as good as the stuff in Bangkok. I get lost in the food for a while. Then it’s back to the beach.

Soon the big digital clock at the psy-trance place reads 5:15 AM, and the sun begins to rise. The tide is at its lowest now. The moon and sun are in opposition, both pulling the ocean in opposite directions away from the beach. I join many others in standing way out among the lapping waves to watch the slow brightening of the eastern sky.

Soon the harsh light of day floods over the beach and sops up the last vestiges of moonlight. The once shadowy beach is exposed and the ruins of the night are fully revealed, as happens so often after a night of drunken revelry.

It’s almost 6 AM, when the last van will leave for my hotel. There’s time to dance to just one more song, which ends up being Baby Got Back by Sir Mixalot.

Still grinning, I walk away from Sunrise Beach. I’ll definitely be back.

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Mischievous Monkeys and Other Adventures

by on Jun.13, 2009, under Uncategorized

This past weekend I flew south to the island of Koh Phangan, for the world-famous Full Moon Party. While I was there I figured I’d get a taste of the islands, so I signed up for day-long trek. That morning at 9 AM a truck picked me up from the hotel along with all the other tour-goers. First stop was an elephant ride. We climbed up into this tower while the guides brought over an elephant for each of us. Well, it was two to an elephant actually. Here’s me with Neil, a Scottish guy doing a similar round-the-world trip to mine:

As you can see I’ve buzzed my head in an attempt to keep somewhat cooler in the Thai heat. Matches the elephant’s, don’t you think?

The trek was just up one hill and back, but that was OK. Riding an elephant is fun, but not really an efficient way to get around. For every step she took, the whole seat did this sort of wobbling rotation, tipping a different way as each leg moved. Lots of fun!

The elephants were very friendly, and we got to commune with them a bit after the ride.

After that, we chilled at the tour’s base camp and had tea and watermelon. And got to meet their resident monkey. Her name was one syllabic and monkey-ish. Sook, I think. Neil seems to have a way with animals.

We fed her pieces of watermelon. Isn’t she adorable?

Of course after she’d eaten, she got mischevious and started trying to steal whatever she could get her hands on – reaching into pockets, grabbing at hats. Monkeys are awesome. But naughty. Finally she grabbed somebody’s day bag and made off with it. Being closest, I dashed over and attempted to retrieve the bag. Her prize threatened, she screeched and jumped into my face! It was just a warning, though, she didn’t draw blood. I was able to snatch the bag back after that. But how cool is that? I got attacked by a monkey! Monkeys are awesome.

Next, we boarded a boat and motored around the island to a secluded coral reef. They passed out snorkels and we swam around. This is something I’ve always wanted to do – I’ve seen so many photos and videos of coral reefs but never actually visited one before. I floated above the amazing fractaline patterns and watched brightly-colored fish dash in and out and swim by. It was amazing.

Our next stop was a sand beach for lunch and swimming. The meal was curry, noodles and rice, typical Thai fare. It was scrumptious! The beach was lovely. Being a New Englander, I’m used to ocean water being super cold, even in summer. It was such an experience to swim in an entire bay the temperature of bath water :-)

Here you can see the boat that took us around the island. Here our guides are pulling it into shore so we can board.

The final leg of our journey took us to another beach, this one for a hike up into the hills to see a waterfall. The hike was fun, not much of a path, we had to climb a lot of rocks and cross the river several times. It wasn’t the usual spot the guides took people to (choppy waves on the other side of the island had changed the itinerary somewhat) so they made some mistakes, and sent people the wrong way a couple times. At one point the group got split up and half the people had to wade waist-deep across the water to get to the path again :-)

The waterfall was nice, but not a patch on some of the ones in Vermont. When we arrived one of the guides said “Who wants to jump from rock?” And he pointed to a cliff to one side of the waterfall – you can see it to the left in the photo above. Well, jumping off cliffs into swimming holes is practically a regional sport in VT, so of course I volunteered. The guide showed me where to climb around to the top of the cliff, and passed me a knotted rope to climb out and down to the jumping place. Then he dove off, and I followed a moment later. It was fun, but the jump was only about 15 feet up, after all that. Bah. I’m used to 40 foot jumps :-)

Still, the place was just beautiful. There’s a cave in the cliff wall where the water from the falls emerge. So you can swim up into the cave and be surrounded by falling water on all sides.

We all swam around the pool for a while. I floated onto my back and gazed up. The sky above was filled with dragonflies.

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This grips me more than would a…

by on Jun.13, 2009, under Uncategorized

There wasn’t a world championship chess match in town, so I had the following choice:

I went to see the Reclining Buddha. I saw the muddy old river (the Chaophraya river, by the way) later.

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The Street of Shrink-Wrapped Buddhas

by on Jun.09, 2009, under Uncategorized

Here in Bangkok, just south of the backpacker hub of Khao San Road, and just north of the big tourist attractions like Wat Pho and the Palace, there is a street, several streets actually, full of stores. Stores selling nothing but shrink-wrapped Buddhas.


(To give you a sense of scale, the big Buddha in the above picture is about 6 feet tall!)

This is just a sampling. There have to be at least 50 of these stores all in this one block. It boggles my mind that, even in a country that loves its gold Buddhas, there could be such a demand as this. And I’ve seen at least two pickup trucks driving away from these stores, completely full of Buddhas.

Of course, it all relates back to one of the essential teachings of Buddhism, the Four Noble Truths:

1.Life is suffering.
2.The cause of suffering is being covered in shrink-wrap.
3.This suffering can be alleviated.
4.To remove suffering, remove shrink-wrap.

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The Erawan Museum

by on Jun.05, 2009, under Uncategorized

I found this place when looking for a modern art museum to visit. As it turns out this is technically a “Modern Art Museum” only in the sense that it is a museum of antiquities which is itself modern art. See, a few years ago, an eccentric billionaire Thai businessman named Lek Viriyapant commissioned the construction of a museum in the shape of a giant three-headed elephant on a pink pedestal, containing a rich collection of Thai antiquities and artifacts. Well, I had to check that out. I’m very glad I did. I was one of the only foreign tourists among a sea of local visitors. It felt great to be off the beaten path a bit. Besides, the energy of the place was so good, so joyful and peaceful. It is a shrine as well as a museum (Thais are fond of turning all sorts of places into shrines), and it really felt very holy there.

Erawan, by the way, is the Thai name for Airvata, an elephant in Hindu mythology who carries Lord Indra.

There are three levels to the building – one is the basement, which contains the most ancient artifacts, mostly pots and ceramics, but there’s one exhibit of jade which is breathtaking. Then there’s the interior of the pedestal – the architecture of this space completely overshadows the relics on exhibit here. Here’s a view of the domed ceiling:

There are two staircases leading up towards the legs of the elephant. They wind like elephant trunks.

At the top of the balcony inside the pedestal, a spiral staircase travels upwards through one of the elephant’s legs. It’s covered with paintings of mermaid-like creatures and water lillies. It was too dark in here to get a good photo, though. Entering the stair brings a welcome blast of super-cold AC — the interior of this holy elephant is air-conditioned.

Arriving at the top of the stairs, I stepped out into the inside of the elephant. An oddly shaped room because it is in the shape of an elephant’s belly, this temple is dimly lit by a glowing night sky scene. And it is filled with Buddhas.

Just as breathtaking as the interior of the elephant are the surrounding gardens.

The reason, so I understand, that this museum is also a shrine, or perhaps just the reason it’s such a popular one with locals, is that a thai girl won the lottery shortly after visiting here. Now people believe the elephant is very lucky and come to pray and meditate and ask Erawan for boons. There is a specific process you can follow to do this. First you light a bundle of incense and kneel before the outside shrine, in front of the elephant. Then, you take a lotus blossom and float it on a pond that encircles the elephant. Finally, you can take a piece of gold leaf and press it onto a smaller statue of Erawan that sits in front of the shrine. I felt moved to perform this ritual myself. I lit the incense and knelt and meditated for a while. Then I took a lotus blossom to float onto the pool. The lotus blossoms were being given out at a nearby stand, included with each ticket to the museum. Each was floating in a bowl of water. I took one of the bowls and walked over to the pool.

I experienced a rather wonderful revelation while doing this. Since part of the ritual is to make a wish, I pondered what I should wish for. I realized that I was in a state of tranquility, accepting things that came to me, and quite free of need – at least in that particular moment. I felt so centered that to make a wish at that point would actually have been to re-introduce need and desire, and imbalance myself. So I decided not to wish for anything in particular. I felt perfectly happy just to clear my mind and focus on sending positive energy out into the world, and to those around me. I knelt by the pool and meditated for a couple minutes. Then I dipped my bowl reverently into the pool, watched the water of the pool merge with that of the bowl, and gently carry the lotus off along the current.

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Turkey Part II – The Turkening

by on May.31, 2009, under Uncategorized

On my final day in Istanbul, I met up with my friend Caglayan, a puppeteer who lived for a long time in Brattleboro (my home town in VT) before he moved back to Turkey in 2005. He lives outside of Istanbul on the coast, but happened to be in town that week because of a puppetry festival and was staying with his girlfriend Nur.

So I boarded a ferry across the Bosphorus (Nur’s apartment being on the Asian side of Istanbul). All of the touristy stuff (as mentioned in my previous post) plus most of the business and night life, is on the European side of Istanbul, so I hadn’t even made it to the Asian side at all yet. That was a wonderful journey – I got to see some of the shipping port, which is massive, and filled with container ships and other oceanbound traffic. It was very cool to see the more regular day-to-day side of the town. Caglayan met me at the dock, and on the way to Nur’s place we stopped to pick up something for lunch – a sort of egg pastry pie (similar to a quiche, although I gather it is boiled rather than baked). Then we arrived at the apartment and I was introduced to Nur, a charming lady who spoke very little English (although far more than I spoke of Turkish!) Together they prepared and served an elaborate lunch, which involved all sorts of veggies and meats and cheeses in addition to the egg pie. It was delicious!

Meanwhile Caglayan and I caught up on old times, with him pausing frequently to translate for Nur, and to translate her questions for me. I learned that he had just started doing puppetry again after several years of other obligations (first he had to help fix up his parents’ house in the islands of Turkey, then he had to serve his time in the army). I was glad to hear he was finally getting back to his art.

He’s an exceptional puppeteer — he truly brings his puppets to life, so you forget that he’s even there, and start believing the puppets are their own creatures. He showed me a video of his latest performance, a beautiful piece he’d performed several times in Brattleboro where a rock man walks around on a pile of rocks, stopping to listen to each one. Then all the rocks float up into the air, and so does the man, and the terrain they were in is revealed to be a giant ear. It’s quite magical to watch.

Likewise he was curious about my video art, especially as he’d been trying to explain it to Nur and had been unable to (it’s quite difficult to explain without being able to see it :-) ) Luckily I had videos of some of my more recent work up on Youtube, which I played for them. (If you’re interested, see here and here, and here are a bunch more. )

After that, they took me on a tour by car around the East side of Istanbul, and out into the suburbs, stopping frequently at aquariums. You see, Nur has a tank full of various types of pet fish, and apparently often has two or three fish funerals in a day, so she’s always on the lookout for new ones. Only one fish funeral occurred the day I was there, and she didn’t end up buying any new ones, but it made for some interesting side-journeys.

It was great to see a local perspective on the place, something it’s very hard to do usually as a visitor. During our meanderings, we also acquired a large board to be crafted into a table for a room they were converting into a workshop.

After driving all over the place and exchanging a few more stories, we went back to the apartment. Nur began preparing an epic fish dinner while Caglayan and I began construction of the workbench. Soon dinner was on, and it was even better than lunch – roast salmon, delectably seasoned, and a spicy cheese and seafood dish that was just incredible.

As we ate we watched Eurovision, a yearly event where every country in Europe submits a musical act to compete against each other, and people from every country call in to vote on their favorites. You’re not allowed to vote for your own country, to prevent bias, but of course a lot of countries end up voting for their neighbors anyway. Apparently it’s a huge deal over there, although I’d never heard of it before. It was quite entertaining, and it was fun to see how the various countries’ acts differed, and how they kept some elements of their native culture, while other elements were ceded to the Monoculture (most of the songs were mostly in English, for example).

It was quite fun to watch, especially hearing the Turkish take on the whole thing from Nur and Caglayan. In the end the Norwegian guy won hands down, which was justified, as his was the most catchy song, and the only that had a fiddle in it.

The next morning I bid a fond farewell to Caglayan, regretting that I didn’t have more time to spend visiting. I’ll return to Turkey sometime, there’s so much left to see — I only saw Istanbul, didn’t see any of the countryside or the islands.

The next day was my flight to Bangkok. It felt like a very long day, but it was the shortest night I’ve ever experienced, lasting only about 4 hours. Then I landed in Bangkok – more on that in the next post. I’m finally catching up here… :-)

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Even Old New York Was Once New Amsterdam…

by on May.27, 2009, under Uncategorized

It’s been way too long since I posted last — I’ve got a lot of catching up to do! My next destination after Santorini was… Istanbul (not Constantinople), Turkey!

Istanbul is an amazing city, huge and sprawling, filled with a plethora of aromas, from roasting nuts and meat to cloth smells and other undefinable odors. Also, it just simply has style. In the same way that Chicago has style. Everything there is elegantly designed, from the buildings to the furniture to the bathroom fixtures. The difference is Chicago’s style is all Art Deco Jazz-Era Industrial, whereas Istanbul’s style is ancient, stretching back thousands of years, feeling wise and polished with age – it’s all about stained carved wood, brass, and of course Persian rugs.

I spent most of the week doing touristy things, starting with the famous Blue Mosque and even more famous Hagia Sofia. Of the two I found the Blue Mosque the most beautiful. Most reckon the Hagia Sofia to be better, but I found it to be kind of a mishmash, not surprising since it has been rebuilt and reconfigured several times, as the prevailing religion changed. Here are some shots of the Blue Mosque. From the nearby fountain:

I wish I had a better one of inside, but it was hard to capture a steady enough shot in the dim light.

I can’t say exactly what it was about the inside of the mosque that so impressed me. Perhaps it’s because the overall proportions and color scheme of the Blue Mosque were so harmonious and unified. Also, the intricate patterning on all the walls and ceiling was very beautiful.

Here’s a shot from inside the Hagia Sofia. Like I said, I wasn’t terribly impressed with it, although it’s cool to learn its history.

The most interesting place I visited was the Basilica Cistern, a large underground cavern filled with columns that rise from a vast pool of water that continually drips from the ceiling.

The best thing for me about the cistern was the air – if you know me well you probably know what a fan I am of negative ions – an excess of electrons in air that is caused by large bodies of moving water such as waterfalls, thunderstorms or the ocean. These ions both clean the air and give it a natural euphoric quality – which is why people often get excited and giddy during hurricaines, and enjoy the ocean so much (one of the reasons :-) ) Anyway, this chamber was just brimming with negative ions, from the constant dripping from the barrel-vaulted ceilings. After I’d toured the place I didn’t want to leave! The odd thing about the columns here is that they are all different – apparently they were brought to this place from many old temples and other ruins. One of the more striking columns is known as the Column of Tears because of the patterning on its sides (again I apologize for blurriness, it was quite dark):

The most intriguing place in the Cistern is the Medusas. Two giant sculptural heads of Medusas serve as bases for columns in the northwest corner of the cistern. Of course, as soon as I saw the sign “this way to Medusa” I knew to be on my guard. I didn’t have a shiny shield like Perseus did to use as a mirror, but I did have my digital camera – so the entire time I was near the Medusas, I was careful to view everything through that. Many other visitors, whether by luck or forethought, were equally clever. A couple people in the group, as you can see, did not plan ahead:

Here’s head itself, which should be safe to view over the web:

I don’t know why the builders of the cistern decided to place the head upside down (the second head is on its side). I belive it’s a mystery to this day.

Some other things: I’m not sure what mosque this is, but it is rather large and impressive. I quite like the modern-vs-ancient interplay caused by the scaffolding that rises around several of the towers.

Also, I was amused by this signage, which appears on the tram in Istanbul:

I believe it means “Reserved for Pregnant Women, Woman with Infants, Radioactive Snake Charmers, and Steampunk Dirigible Pilots.”

That is all. My final day in Istanbul I spent hanging out with my good friend Caglayan from my hometown in Brattleboro — a post on that soon!

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Santorini

by on May.06, 2009, under Uncategorized

ia-evening

Sorry, Venice, there is a town more beautiful than you and it is the village of Ia on the island of Santorini in Greece.

Santorini overall is just an incredibly breathtaking place. I arrived by ferry on Saturday.


The ferry door opening upon landing on Santorini. Every hotel on the island offers pickup service from the port, and I soon found out why.


The port is at the bottom of a pretty much sheer cliff with about 7 switchbacks in the narrow road to get to the top. I snapped this photo from the van – you can see the port far below. And this wasn’t even quite the top of the cliff! The Blue Star Ferry, still in port, is the one I arrived on.

Sunday I rented an ATV and rode all around the island, oohing and aahing the whole way and taking literally hundreds of pictures. Here are the best ones:

Santorini is famous in part for its beaches of different colors. Most of the beaches are dark grey volcanic sand. But then there’s red beach:

Here’s how a handful of the sand looks:

Santorini is the home of actual troglodytes! Countless cliff faces have a cave or two dug into them, and many of them are still being used, for storage or dwellings. This one struck me as particularly daring and dramatic, as the cave is dug out right above a sheer 500-foot cliff overlooking the ocean. Not sure I’d want to live there, despite the amazing view:

Not only was it amazingly sunny on Sunday (don’t worry Mom + Dad, I wore sunscreen :-) ) but the water of the Mediterranean was almost glass-like. You can see that below, where the wake of the motorboat shown in the above picture is still visible curving around the lighthouse point.

As I crossed the peak of the island, I stopped for lunch and for this amazing baklava, the first I’ve had in its authentic location. It was quite good:

Here’s another cave I found. This one had a donkey stabled in it. To the right you can see my ATV.

Here is a black beach, whose actual name I forget, near Amoudi Bay, just under the city of Ia. You can see how black the sand is.

I reached the end of my journey at the opposite tip of the island, the breathtaking city of Ia, or Oia as it’s spelled in Greek. As you can see there’s a bay town, and then another nearly sheer cliff (with a ton of stairs) and the city proper perched like a flock of birds at the top.

The bay village is stunning in its own right, and full of quite overpriced restaurants.

Finally I made the climb to the top. And discovered another charming thing about Ia -

Ia is a pedestrian town, you park at the edge and then walk (or take a donkey taxi) through the narrow streets that wind up and down and around in three dimensions, among the many levels of bright white buildings. It’s quite Escheresque.

This sign made me laugh. I can’t imagine ever seeing it anywhere else:

This has to be the best hottub location ever. It’s right at the corner of the city, right on the cliff, with a vast panorama of ocean sunset. Sadly, it was part of a spa so I wasn’t able to use it.

Ia is the place to go to see the sunset on Santorini, because it’s in the perfect spot to look out to the west, with a 270 degree panorama of the sea and nearby islands. And if it’s a good sunset, it turns all the white buildings red and purple.

Looking for the best place to watch the sunset (that wasn’t going to charge me 50 Euro for dinner) I found the castle perched at one corner of Ia where a lot of tourists were milling in wait of the spectacular show. I grabbed a promising spot among them to wait.

Soon afterwards, I befriended two Asian travelers who had met on the volcano cruise. One, Yeonsil (hope that’s the right name, I forgot, and I’m going by facebook :-) ), is from Korea. The other, Sharon Li, is from China, pictured below:

We passed the time until sunset talking about our travels and avocations. As sunset finally approached, we were all quite dismayed to see the sun simply dissapear into a thick bank of grey clouds, and everything just got dimmer, not brightly-colored like it’s supposed to. It was a good time though – you can see Yeonsil is quite dissapointed here:

And here’s a shot of her cracking up, unable to maintain her pout.

The night was great in spite of the lack of sunset. We took our ATVs back to Fira, the main town of Santorini and had a delicious Greek dinner.

Here’s a map of the path I took around the island:


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…and Swim the English Channel?

by on Apr.29, 2009, under Uncategorized

That’s right, I’m in Greece!
me-parthenon
I visited the Acropolis, including the Parthenon. It was most tranquil. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to go inside – not sure if you’re ever able to, or if it’s due to the construction. Still very cool to see.

I was especially amazed at the Temple of Athena Nike. I had no idea corporate sponsorship was going on over 2000 years ago.
I have lots more pictures, including a whole bunch of Naples (where I was between Rome and Greece, but didn’t have a good internet connection) and Pompeii (which was amazing), but not a lot of time to post them. I’ll see what I can get up in the future. I’ll probably add a lot of pics and videos to my blog when I get done with the trip, too.

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Pines and Fountains of Rome

by on Apr.24, 2009, under Uncategorized

One thing that’s been great about visiting Italy has been following in the footsteps of my Dad, who came here as a teenager. It’s been fun seeing things I recognize from his stories, and how things have changed since then. One of my favorite stories he tells me from his trip was visiting the Appian Way, probably the most famous of the ancient roads the Romans built. The Romans built their roads to last, and they built them in straight lines. There’s a joke in England for example, that if a road runs straight for more than 100 yards, it was built by the Romans. The Appian Way (or Appia Antica as it’s called in Italian) was the main thoroughfare north and south in Italy at the time, and its stones still remain, cutting a straight path through the Italian woodland to this day.

It’s also included in a piece of music, the Pines and Fountains of Rome by Respighi. Respighi, a native of Rome, wrote eight short pieces each inspired by a location in Rome. Four fountains, and four stands of pine trees. (There’s a third section, Festivals of Rome, which Respighi included, but which isn’t as good or as evocative imho) One of the locations for Pines of Rome is the Appian Way. The music evokes the sound of the ghosts of Roman soldiers as they marched north to Gaul or other parts of the empire.

So during my two weeks in Rome, I set out to visit and photograph each location described in Respighi’s work.

(continue reading…)

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