KKâ€™s Travel Kicks & Pics
Hadrianâ€™s Villa, Rome
KK’s Travel Kicks & Pics 1 Hosed in France, A Spa Experience 7 “Américaine cherche des amis ...” Beyond Immersion in the Languedoc 13 ‘Good Deal’ Ordeal; A Quick Getaway to Mallorca 17 Running Away to Switzerland Finding Peace in Off-Season Travel 21 Three Women, A Beast, and a Chicken Go to Prague ... 29 4 Days in Kiev; Overcoming Old Biases 37 Flying High (and Sinking Low); A Weekend in Cappadocia with Zorba the Turk 53 Snap Shots of Turkey; Beyond Package Tour Highlights 63 (Not) Just Another Day in Ankara 69 Bonjour! Maroc! 71 Beware the Children ... A Look Behind the Tourism Brochures in Morocco 73 Taken (in?) by Marrakech 79 W(h)ining and Dining Cruising the Med with the K-Crew
© Stories and photographs by Karen Kindler
Hosed in France A Spa Experience
“ nspirez, serrez, soufflez,” she insisted as she • Île-de-Ré pointed the pressure hose at my gut. I stared up at her, my somewhat bloated, buck-naked form swimming before my eyes (and hers) in the saltwater-filled Jacuzzi tub. The room, dripping moisture, was dimly lit, tiled from floor to ceiling in clinical green with all the charm of an early 19th century sanitarium (rent the 1994 movie, “Road to Wellville,” to see what I mean). I blinked, struggled to move past “bonjour,” and finally tightened my gut as she sprayed little circles on my wellfed belly. It was day one of a week of thalassotherapy in Ars-en-Ré, France.
hat a great deal, I’d raved when I locked in the timeshare on this pretty island off the Atlantic Coast of France. There was one little hitch – one person in the room had to sign up for the spa treatments: four per day for five days at a cost of about 460 euros. Hmmm, I mused, imagining massages, facials, manicures, and other pampering with a French twist ...
... and jumped on it, dragging my favorite guy, Vince, along for the ride. I researched the thalassotherapy concept briefly, but available details were vague. It was described as a traditional ‘cure’ based on sea water for skin problems, stress, arthritis, and several other complaints we in the over 40 crowd occasionally confess to.
And I like new things – adventure, I reminded myself as I looked up into the deep brown eyes willing me to understand her words. “Votre ami ne comprend rien …” she laughed and babbled on in a string of French I lost amid bubbles and salt spray that stung my eyes. No, he wouldn’t understand a thing. She was right. I turned onto my side as directed and found that having my butt and legs powersprayed by a chubby young brunette was not that bad. Maybe Vince would find a little kick in the process, too. The personal attention was over in ten minutes and she left me to lie back and relax in the steamy bubbles for the next 20 minutes. I sighed contentedly, my eyes closing against the salt and my mind relaxing from the French cramp squeezing my temples. I met Vince again in the corridor outside the treatment rooms, clad in a plush white bathrobe and blue rubber flops like all guests at the spa. His eyes were wide, the smile a bit rigid. I imagined him like this emerging from that first night deployed in Iraq – a mixture of shock, confusion and satisfaction at having survived freezing the masculine lines of his face into place.
She described the algae ‘cure’ she had just escaped in the room my friend had just entered. He’ll be fine, I willed silently, and marched off to my next treatment: Gymnastique Marine cure. Water aerobics (with a bathing cap) – got it. No worries – just do what the others do. Which would have worked … if the others had ever participated in an exercise class in their lives. The French didn’t know what they were supposed to be doing any more than the two English speakers in the class. But we laughed. And tried. And exasperated the young man trying to coax coordinated effort from the little group of eight. I followed a gentleman up the ladder to my waiting bathrobe, amused that a bathing cap would be needed on a balding man when his back hair was more profuse than that on many a head. Again I passed my guy briefly in the corridor. This time the look he shot me was more relaxed – rather like the one he wears after a few glasses of whiskey. Having fun or reaching the limits of his sanity?, I wondered briefly as I moved on to my algae cure. An American woman – a native French speaker – seemed to have him in hand. He would be fine. Just fine.
“Did you strip?” “Was I supposed to?” “Monsieur V …” another young woman beckoned my friend into another dim chamber. He rose and followed, his eyes still a touch wider than usual as he cast a final glimpse back. A South African lady sat down beside me. “Makes me feel so stupid …” she began. Her French was challenged as well, I realized with relief. “… and then they wrapped me up like a mummy ... I managed to inch my arms out …”
I entered another cool, tiled room and stood next to what reminded me of an operating room table draped in a plastic sheet. I don’t recall what she said, but it was clear. Strip down – again – and get on the table. A little smirk touched my lips as I imagined an average American woman used to American-style massages where no personal body parts are ever exposed to view suddenly walking in here and being told to strip under the eyes of a woman in a huge green rubber apron and galoshes, a bucket of green slime tucked under one strong arm. She glopped it on with an industrial paint brush – my back,
my arms and legs and belly (curiously avoiding breasts – modesty? at this stage? odd, I decided, but didn’t ask). I laid back and she folded the plastic sheet and heat blanket around me. “Vous n’êtes pas claustrophobe?” Nope, and yes, music would be nice and yes, you may dim the lights. I was understanding fine and rather enjoying this part. Another 20 minutes of relaxation followed. No mummy complex, no worries (though my bare feet felt unappreciated as they dangled off the end of the table, chilled and unadorned by green goop). She returned to find me in a blissful meditative haze. I struggled up, and then came to abruptly as she announced, “Je fais le dos … I’ll do your back” motioning me toward the shower. I would wait for 40 minutes until the next (and last) treatment of the afternoon, and so chose to spend the time in the wading pool – good for the circulation, they said. Damn cold, I thought, but eased into the water that hit hip level and began a slow march around the oval track, splashing water onto the adjacent seating area. I was soon joined by another lady – the one who had attached herself to Vince before the water aerobics class, and we chatted of her life, how she had
immigrated to the states as a young woman and fallen in love – with a man and a country. Modelage sous DAF cure. I entered another green cubicle and looked at another OR table, a one foot wide by six foot long shower head dribbling a constant stream of steamy water onto the floor next to it. I briefly flashed to imagined scenarios of torture and interrogation: screaming, pleading, and succumbing … then stripped … again … and laid face down as instructed. The shower was moved over my body and the warm salt rain began to play on my skin. Warm hands, slick with oil, began moving from ankles to shoulders, kneading gently under the salt rain. French? Who cares about language at a time like this!? I relaxed into her hands and the rain, and drifted off. She left after a while, but the warm rain continued and I lay there … yeah, this was good. This was better than what I’d imagined! I confess! I confess … just do it some more. That evening, over a huge bucket of steaming mussels at the little restaurant on the medieval stone-paved village square a twenty minute walk from the hotel, Vince and I laughed over our day. I taught him some French: “avec” means with, “sans” without. Just grab your shorts, and raise your eyebrows, I told him. That should work out the main issue. The rest they would just have to pantomime. We laughed
some more, slurped at the mingled white wine and mussel juices running down chins and fingers, and ordered another round The sun shone late into the evening. The cool wind rustled in the pine trees as we fell asleep, content. Birdsong greeted us in the morning. We were set for the day two treatments – a traditional massage, another water gymnastics class, and two more mysterious cures. I felt like a seasoned veteran, relaxed and confident as I tossed out a couple of ‘bonjours’ to my fellow spa-goers that morning. Then they called my name and I entered a new room … and froze. It was a long narrow, chilly room with hand holds attached to the end wall. The plump brunette of my first treatment stood at the opposite end, a fire hose securely draped around her sturdy waist, ready to administer the douche à jet cure. “Une autre torture …?” I asked, tongue in cheek (I hope she believed). She pointed to the wall and said (I think), “Hang on!” The water came on and I was powermassaged from 20 feet away.
“Inspirez, serrez, soufflez …” Got it. Turn. Hold on. Hands over your breasts (yeah, I could see why). Face the wall. Arms down, hands open. The woman had an excellent aim. On your toes. Turn. And it felt very nice, except that the salt stung my eyes and lingering allergies liberally contributed to the salt streaming down my face. And I did get to keep my suit on. “Merci, … à plus tard (till the next torture),” I smiled at her at the end. And she returned the smile. The next cure, “boues marines,” a mud pack, involved another warm, mummified rest break, this time aiming to ease arthritic joints (so hands and feet got more attention). Afterward, no offer came to rinse my back, which Vince noticed shortly thereafter as he joined me in the water aerobics class. “You’re still muddy,” he told me, and rubbed at the brown clumps glued to my spine. At least we had a class together for a change. And we enjoyed it (except when he got stuck in some kind of whirlpool that left him kicking in place while the rest of us paddled across the pool).
“Damn jets,” he mumbled. Some private time in the sauna followed, and another walk around the wading pool – he and I together this time. Then we split up for the final massages of the day – real (oily, not wet) massages with the yoga music and the absence of chatter (in French or English). Nice. Real nice. Wednesday and Friday’s schedule would repeat Monday’s, and Thursday’s would repeat Tuesday’s. Beach-walking, mussel-eating, sight-seeing, and snoozing through naps to the sounds of wind and birds followed. We did play hooky Friday, instead visiting the resort city of La Rochelle across the causeway from the island. I’m not sure our little aches and pains improved as a result of all that
salt water, but we were definitely relaxed. And though the ‘deal’ wasn’t inexpensive at all – not for two anyway, it was a new experience to toss in the growing pile of our joint adventures – one more memory to smile about in coming years. My recommendation? Rent one of the many little cottages on the Île-de-Ré Enjoy the mussels, the views, the weather. And invest the 460 euros in eight or nine real – traditional – massages. Oh, and get naked with your guy, not a bunch of women in rubber aprons with fire hoses.
To read more about thalassotherapy and this resort, the Thalacap d’Arsen-Ré Hotel and Spa, check out: france.spa.re-island.thalasso-line.com/
A variation of this article was published in the Stars and Stripes newspaper, www.stripes.com/military-life/travel/vacation-club-deal-leads-to-french-spa-weekend-1.82691
© Story and photographs by Karen Kindler
“Américaine cherche des amis ...” Beyond Immersion in the Languedoc
Being a tourist can be superficial and
unsatisfying – rather like a one-night stand. You see some pretty things, drink more than usual, and sleep in a strange bed. There may be a souvenir or two in it – hopefully, nothing that requires drugs to get rid of – but in the end all you’ve really gotten out of it is a couple of kicks and a vague feeling a few days later that maybe it didn’t really happen at all. In the case of the trip, of course, you know it did – at least when the credit card bill comes due.
Southwestern France Carcassonne
Scenes from Perpignan
hate quickie travel. I’d much rather hang out in the same spot for a while, meet some local people, and get an idea of how they live and think. That means a DIY approach that doesn’t include the usual hotels and bus tours. The best strategy I’ve come up with (so far) has three basic parts: rent an apartment, sign up for language immersion classes, and register with a local on-line dating service.
I went on-line, found a little studio apartment in the old town of Perpignan, scheduled French classes (two afternoons a week), and, a couple of months out, signed up with an on-line dating site. I was an instant heartthrob! Those French guys must really like Americans, I thought. Or do we have a certain reputation? Who cares! This was all in the name of education and international relations. Off I went!
This winter’s foray took me to the Languedoc region on the Mediterranean coast of France near the Spanish border, an area which boasts over 300 days of sunshine a year. I’d seen the pictures: gold light on rocky shores, vines heavy with deep purple grapes, ancient stone villages nestled in rugged mountain valleys, and fabulous fresh food with an emphasis on wine and cheese.
And I was completely seduced – by the region though, not by its men. The little coastal communities near the Spanish border with their wide, sandy beaches between rocky promontories topped by fortress ruins were just like the postcards promised. I loved the acres of vineyards nestled among tiny medieval hill towns, and the castle ruins on remote cliffs. The proximity of Spain with its fabulous olives, chocolate and gazpacho was a bonus, too.
Perfect! Sign me up!
And the cheese – I really loved that cheese! It went great with the wine. Of course, it wasn’t all about great wine, cheese, and happy snaps. I learned a lot from the experience – the first was about living in one of the quaint medieval alleys I love to photograph. “Many French people live in smaller places,” my Aussie landlord had shrugged.
“The shutters are great, if you want to sleep in.”
sun never touches the alley I’d chosen. Ever. It went from dim grey in the morning to dim yellow when the street lights popped on at night. I had to lean out the open window to check the weather. On the other hand, I did have WIFI, could park nearby for free, and walk to all the interesting parts of the old city.
Well, yes they were. It was easy to achieve pitch blackness, but far harder to entice a little daylight in. In winter, the
French. Thanks to the internet, everyone speaks English, right? And in touristoriented businesses, that was true. But it
“It should do fine,” I replied, mentally calculating it to be about 250 square feet. For a month, yes, it would do … barely.
The sun sets beyond Argèles-Plage. 10
pretty well stopped there. My attempt to buy a French SIM card for my German cell phone and, later, trying to track down a book revealed the truth. Being able to parle a little français was really useful. The kids might get plenty of English at school, but like any subject kids cram for, it dissipates quickly afterward. So signing up for French classes had been an excellent plan. Besides, my contacts at school gave me people to hang out with, insider information on what to see and do, and how to manage during the inevitable strikes. Men. There are thousands on-line looking for women in the region. Some are young and attractive; others are pushing the limit of their warranties. And still
others are married (and this being France, completely okay with listing that fact in their on-line announcement). I test-drove a couple of hook-ups, amused myself (no, no one-night stands), and made a friend (with a house on the beach and a pool and dogs that need a sitter when he goes on vacation). I didn’t find the love of my life, but, hey – no pressure – I wasn’t looking.
I left the Languedoc area with a laptop full of happy snaps, a few new e-mail addresses, a trunk full of great cheese, wine, and Spanish olives, and some wonderful memories. I could live there, I decided … one day. But, first, there are a few more places I want to have relationships with.
the Author, Immersed
1. I picked my apartment from this Web site — www. vrbo.com/vacation-rentals/ europe — and was very satisfied with the experience. Deposit was easy with PayPal and my Australian landlord was a very friendly and helpful guy.
3. Want to try the French online dating service? It’s fun, but you do need a minimum of French language ability. Check out meetic.fr/.
2. The Web site, www. alfmed.com/uk/index. php, offers lots of language immersion programs to choose from, and the staff was terrific (and happy to switch to English as needed). The Web site includes a self-test in Carcassonne Babysitting French to help determine your level.
A variation of this article was published in the Stars and Stripes newspaper:
Narbonne © Story and photographs by Karen Kindler 12
‘Good Deal’ Ordeal A Quick Getaway to Mallorca
Europeans love Mallorca. German TV regularly features
bikini-clad babes and beer-guzzling boys at beachfront bars, and zaftig middle-aged couples lolling under rented umbrellas with pitchers of chilled sangria at their sides.
ommercialized, I’d sneer, too crowded, too German and too Brit. And so, after nearly a decade in Europe, I’d never gotten around to taking a look for myself. But there are hiking trails through untouched hills and valleys, German friends swore. You can get away from mass tourism if you choose carefully, my favorite Brit General promised. The guidebooks suggested they were right, but I was skeptical.
Then, a good friend was called up for a year of military duty in Iraq and I had a six-day window to plan a quick joint getaway. The one affordable deal I could find on short notice was to Mallorca. At 250 euros per person for the flight, a waterfront hotel, and two buffet meals a day for five nights I couldn’t pass it up. It wasn’t spring break and European schools were not yet out for the summer so it might be a good time to take a chance on the ‘party’ island.
Dragonera Island 13
Early a few mornings later, we jumped a direct flight on Air Berlin from Stuttgart to Palma de Mallorca and picked up a rental car for the short drive to the Hotel D’Or in Santa Ponca, a modern white-washed complex which sat on a sandstone cliff alongside a bay. The first impression was fine. The huge hotel pool and wide red-tiled terrace stretched from gleaming stucco and stone to a precipitous drop into the sea. A 200-meter long sandy beach lay about a 30-minute walk downhill. Less pleasant, but acceptable were the densely packed hotels, condos, food and junk shops, and throngs of tourists that lined the way. Then we were led to the room. They all had balconies, the hotel’s web site declared. Not all … not ours. There was air conditioning, the ad read. Yes, it was certainly audible, though failed to drop the room temperature more than a few degrees. A daily payment was required to watch the TV, but we could certainly skip that. On the plus side, when we slipped into the breakfast buffet, we found the array of American-style hot options and European cold cuts and breads to be substantial and quite good.
Clothing Optional Beach
The hotel will have to do, we thought resignedly, as the swollen door to
our room half shrieked and half groaned across the marble floor. It would not, I decided the following morning. Serenaded by the pounding of the nightly floor show just a few doors down, the shrieking/groaning of neighbors’ doors at all hours, and the added annoyance of regular clouds of cigarette smoke, which crept in through the wide gaps in the door frame, the chances for sound sleep were close to nil. And the hotel was full – a plea to change rooms only brought a polite “I’m sorry.” Put up and shut up or pay a little more? Plan B (and a credit card) kicked in. I checked my map and picked out the town of Sant Elm (permanent population 500) another 30 minute drive up the coast at the end of a small winding road. It was too small and hard to reach to appeal to the mass market, I hoped. And my guidebook mentioned a four-hour hike to an old monastery just outside town.
Palma de Mallorca Cathedral 14
watch tower and the Sa Trapa monastery ruins. We chose the three-star Aquamarin Hotel and were offered a waterfront room (with balcony and breakfast) for 62 euros a night. Though not air conditioned, the rooms had ceiling fans and shutters over balcony doors. Evenings in late June with the balcony doors left wide open were cool and the rhythm of the waves made sleep easier than at home. The buffet breakfasts were excellent and the staff terrific.
We informed the Hotel D’Or staff that we would leave the room for them to resell as they chose, but they could expect us back for the buffet dinners we had paid for, which were really quite good with a changing selection of paella, grilled seafood, roast beef, tons of salads and creamy, icy desserts. And off we went. Bingo! Sant Elm was charming, nestled tightly at the base of the mountains as they fell into the sea. There were only two waterfront hotels in town and a stretch of sandy beach lined half of the little cove. Uninhabited Dragonera Island, a nature preserve with a lighthouse at its tip, rose up from the blue horizon. And, nearer in, kayaks and the sailboats of the wealthy bobbed on the gentle waves. A ten-minute stroll along a cobblestone lane took us past outdoor restaurants, a handful of shops, and pretty pasteltoned vacation cottages, then disappeared into wooded trails, which led to a medieval coastal
We found the hiking and solitude we sought – lots of it – across dry, rocky, pine-covered landscapes with vistas of the sea and the occasional goat. The few other hikers we encountered (yes, they were German) quickly drifted past. Drives along narrow mountain lanes through villages and past rocky inlets, some excellent seaside meals, and, yes, a pitcher or three of sangria filled our last days together. The quick, cheap, last minute package was finally a nice – if not quite so cheap – vacation, and the Mallorca we found did, after all, become a cozy, romantic idyll.
Travel Tips and Links www.centauro.net for car rental on Mallorca. Daily car rental prices locally are three times what you pay for advance reservations. A car is a MUST for Sant Elm. www.mallorcaweb.com/reports/villages/sant-elm/1/ for a comprehensive description of Sant Elm. Hotel Aquamarin: www.discover-majorca.com/hotel_aquamarin.htm
Aquamarin Hotel and View Sant Elm, Mallorca
A variation of this article was published in the Stars and Stripes newspaper:
www.stripes.com/military-life/travel/majorca-the-right-hotel-makes-all-the-difference-in-island-getaway-1.73049 ÂŠ Story and photographs by Karen Kindler
Running Away to Switzerland Finding Peace in Off-Season Travel
I had to get away.
NOW. My psycho housemate – a temporary arrangement that destroyed a perfectly good, if frequently challenging relationship – was making me crazy, too. And my guy, my refuge, was in the Mideast, probably getting shot at. I jumped in the car and headed south to Switzerland.*
couple of days later, alone and at peace, I sat in the corner of an ancient stone veranda, warmed by the late September sun. A jay hopped along the remains of the village parapet a few feet from my table, the Alps rising from the late morning mist just beyond. Gruyères castle, solid and silent,
straddled the rise at the far end of the medieval village center. “Bon appetit!” My fondue was served; the pot of melted local cheeses, fresh crusty chunks of bread and new boiled potatoes needed only the right glass of Swiss Fendant wine to complete my moment of perfect bliss. The summer crowds were gone, the skiers not yet here. Leaves were just starting to hint at the colors to come. A splash of white outlined the highest of the Alps. I’d found a studio apartment in the ski resort of Leysin (40 minutes south of Montreux) on the internet, filled my car with food and drink basics to save on costs (thanks to my access to US military facilities in Germany), set my GPS to
17 *I was living in Stuttgart, Germany at the time.
Gruyères Montreux ◉
Yvoire Martigny ◉
avoid Zurich, and set off on a leisurely drive through sunny country lanes. The stress melted away. In the mornings, songbirds awakened me as I snuggled under a soft down comforter, the brisk air from the open balcony door a welcome change from the recent summer’s heat. After a light breakfast, soak in the tub, and quick internet fix, I was off to discover what lay beyond the still green ski slopes of Leysin.
Chillon Castle, Montreux
The first day, I spent hours in the Pierre Gianadda Foundation Museum in Martigny to the south. Impressionist paintings on loan from Moscow’s Pushkin Museum shared the complex with Roman era archaeological finds, models of Da Vinci’s war machines, shiny working models of early 1900s automobiles, and a sculpture garden laid out among the foundations of ancient Roman baths.
Another day, I toured Chillon castle by Montreux and imagined Lord Byron’s famous prisoner chained for four years to the stone column rising from the jagged rocks of the island below the level of the glassy lake. Later, I grabbed a grilled panino of aged ham and gruyères cheese and boarded a rack railway that climbed the mountains to the Rochers de Naye, where the afternoon clouds building up from the lake had begun to swallow the land.
I followed the coastal road south of Lake Geneva into nearby France through Evian-les-Bains, where I strolled along the waterfront among retirees and mothers pushing babies against the backdrop of the casino and ornate hotels that had hosted the well-to-do of a century ago. I continued on to the medieval village of Yvoire, just short of Geneva, and savored a simple goat cheese crêpe and herbal tea. Then, I wandered off to explore the castle gardens, which were laid out in the form of a maze with sections dedicated to each of the senses, including a central enclosure filled with songbirds.
Chamonix and Mont Blanc rounded out my explorations. After a breathtaking drive, first up among vineyards hugging the steep mountainside where the harvest was just beginning, through a high Alpine valley set among granite outcrops so sharp the French call them needles (aiguilles), and finally into the ski resort villages leading to the slopes of Mont Blanc. I boarded a cable car set in operation the year I was born (and still working just fine, thank you) to climb to the Aiguille du Midi at about 12,000 feet. Paragliders, mountain climbers, skiers, and gawkers like me swayed up over the glacier, cracked and riddled with gaping ice caves. Fresh snow covered the upper levels, offering precarious footing to the sports enthusiasts carefully making their way down from the look-out terraces. No hint of the mists from the lake obscured the jagged vistas here. I finally retreated to a warm window
seat in the snack bar where I enjoyed a tartiflette with layers of potatoes, grilled onions and bits of ham swimming in raclette cheese and cream. A glass of white wine deflected a bit of altitude dizziness as I watched the young scale the rocks or jump off them, their paragliders gently easing them past granite and ice. The off-season in this part of the Alps, I mused as I sipped the wine, was so similar to where I found myself in life at the moment: some services are limited, a few not offered at all, but what is left is beautiful and peaceful and accessible. And there is so very much of it. Refreshed and re-energized (though hardly slimmer) after a weekâ€™s wanderings through mountain and museum, I felt ready to face the annoyances of reality again. My guy would return soon. We would move. I would make peace. Or not.
Views from Mont Blanc
Travel Tips and Links 1. Swiss Autobahn Vignettes: Required for Swiss highway travel; good for 14 months; cost: 40 Swiss Francs. Order on-line at www.swisstravelsystem.com or buy at major border crossings. Note when paying in Euros at the border, the exchange rate will NOT be favorable. If crossing at small rural border points, no signs remind you to get the vignette. 2. Swiss Rail Pass: If you’re not driving (the most economical transport choice with fuel prices about 30% under German or French economy prices), do consider a Rail Pass. Individual rail tickets are expensive. A pass also includes free museum/castle entries and reduced cable car prices. www.swiss-pass.ch 3. Castel Club Leysin Parc (an RCI Resort): Comfortable, attractive facility with friendly staff and grocery/restaurants/train station/hikes all within easy reach. 4. DO check in with the local Swiss tourist information office. Brochures/information available are among the best I’ve found anywhere in Europe. 5. La Fleur de Lys Hotel and Restaurant, Rue du Bourg 14, Gruyères: www.hotelfleurdelys.ch 6. Pierre Gianadda Foundation Museum, Martigny: www.gianadda.ch/wq_pages/en/expositions/index.php 7. Chillon Castle: www.chillon.ch/en/ 8. Chamonix/Mont Blanc cable car info: www.compagniedumontblanc.fr/pages/telepherique_aiguille_midi_ete_gb.html
© Story and photographs by Karen Kindler 20
Three Women, A Beast, and a Chicken go to Prague ... Haviyah* …we had one this month: three
fiftyish women and a guy friend sharing an apartment for a week in Prague. Prague Castle ◉
three ‘girls’ were best buds 40 years ago – middle class suburban kids in Kentucky of parents with ties to Germany. Since that time, we’ve traveled on very divergent paths. Ann moved to Israel where she underwent the challenging conversion process to Judaism and became a strictly kosher mom of three over-achievers, while charging through endless courses, jobs and projects in the medical field. Wars, worries, and diplomatic tap dances with her Afghan in-laws wound her tight. Karin, the only one of us to stay in our home town of Lexington, covered all the bases. Married with two sons, she financed her high class fashion style with Toyota assembly line wages. Her passions are tango and yoga and ultra-modern furnishings. Her Swedish good looks, dancer’s form, and somewhat outlandish
clothing turn heads wherever she goes. As for me, I’m neither driven like Ann nor high maintenance like Karin. I eased myself out of a traditional marriage, made a career of the Air Force, and retired as a colonel. Today, I’m happily aimless in my wanderings across the globe (with my guy friend, affectionately known as “the beast,” in tow). In March 2009, our schedules and budgets coincided and we rendez-voused for a week’s adventure driving from Munich to Prague: an extended girls night out with the beast on hand for luggage, driving, and personal services (just for me, that is). Haviyah … it started at the airport in Munich. We had a heck of a time finding Terminal F for ELAL. We drove to Terminal E, then walked … and walked … back to A and across a wide link to another building, finally arriving at F
*Haviyah, Hebrew, referring to an experience not to be missed. 22
with its added security, and linking up with Ann … and her chicken. Her kosher chicken. You have to cut their throats just so, she explained, for them to qualify. There were pots in her luggage, too, and pasta and rice mixes and tuna and peanut butter. She was serious about keeping kosher, we realized. She also told us she carried a flashlight and a rubber mouth guard used to separate her mouth from a victim’s in the event of CPR/resuscitation. A chicken, a flashlight, and a mouth guard … odd choices for a girls’ jaunt out, I thought.
No S-Bahn or car rides on the Sabbath either. “Can we hijack you?” I wondered. Not that there was a need; I’d chosen the hotel for its nearness to the center of the city. No buying meals either. We, her friends, can buy though (or make a deal ahead of time) … as long as it’s our idea and she’s not making us ‘work’. Trust me, Ann, not eating is far more work than paying for the stuff! My middle-age derriere is not used to caloric sacrifice! It all worked out fine, of course. The sun even shone. We wandered the center of Munich for hours – even wearing out Karin and her fine-tuned yoga instructor’s body. We chatted; Karin shopped; we snapped pics of surfers (yes, in central Munich); we sat on the banks of the Isar and salivated over a box of Turkish baklava; we chatted some more. Saturday night, freed from the restrictions
It was Friday morning. The Sabbath was looming. She would turn into a Jewish pumpkin that night for 24 hours (no disrespect intended, Ann). Good thing she and Karin were sharing a room, I thought. Technically, she wouldn’t be allowed to operate light switches – that’s ‘work’ according to the rules.
“Can you flush?” I asked. “Yes.” Good.
of the Sabbath, we rode the S-Bahn and found food to satisfy all of us. It was a good day – even for the chicken, which found a temporary home in the hotel bar’s fridge. The next morning we were off to Prague and the apartment I’d picked off the internet. It drizzled, we drove a bit further than we should have before buying the mandatory vignette to
‘home’ while the last rays of sunlight flashed across the spires of St. Vitus Cathedral in the Prague Castle complex a few hundred yards downhill. All but the beast, that is.
allow us to drive on Czech highways, but we got to the apartment fine (how did we survive before GPS?!), and the place was great (except for the four flights of stairs ... good we had a beast of burden along!). Andrea, our landlady, spoke excellent English with a liberal sprinkling of “bullsh..” in her phrases, suggesting close relations with Americans (or our movies) in the past. She warned us of money changers and tram ticket checkers, recommended a kosher restaurant, and dropped an armload of boxes in the beast’s lap, shrugging helplessly about the complexity of connecting cables and internet boxes in this apartment she had just bought. The beast pounced on the project and disappeared while we all got settled. We had stopped enroute and stocked up on snacks and liquor, and so were quite content to ease into the evening at
Growling from the effort of deciphering Czech instructions and disentangling a half dozen cables, the beast needed distraction. And I needed exercise. The two of us went for a little walk, which became a major walk when I realized my memory of the lay-out of old Prague and Czech signs for landmarks were no longer fresh in my memory after three years since the last time I’d visited. There was a tram to rescue us, but no ticket machines
Tyn Church, Prague Old Town 24
in sight. Too risky to chance a free ride, so .... three hours later we finally showed up at the apartment again, treading carefully after the long final climb up the stairs so as to not awaken Ann and Karin … who hadn’t stopped chatting the entire time and were still at it when I slid into the beast’s arms for the night. What do we bring to wear in spring, my friends had asked me. Plan for temps in the 50s and 60s during the day, I suggested. The German winter had been very mild. My pollen allergies had kicked off in mid-February; daffodils were popping up everywhere. Winter was over, right? Wrong! It snowed. A good bit. Better than rain, Ann said. That’s what I expected, Karin added. Damn, I thought. Haviyah, again. Things fell into place nicely after we got over the first few blips. The cables finally offered up access to internet (and a bottle of the local schnapps – Becherovka, compliments of a grateful landlady). We got used to the stairs. “My butt looks tighter,” the beast noted at the end. The snow WAS better than rain, and we kept
tram tickets in hand at all times to escape the weather as needed. A decade of issues and worries and gossip and politics and more gossip were worked out of our systems. The chicken was properly prepared and consumed. And we did Prague, beautiful Prague:
wandering the old Jewish quarter and learning a bit more of Jewish tradition and customs; meandering across the Charles bridge - rubbing the appropriate spot on the appropriate statue for good luck; hanging out in a smoky little bar where Karin could strut her tango stuff with the local aficionados; shopping the crystal and
souvenir boutiques, and snapping lots of pics: of Irish tourists on St Pattyâ€™s Day, snow-topped rooflines from our penthouse perch, art and architecture. And each other, of course ... three mid-life women acting like the kids weâ€™d once been, a beast, and a chicken; all of us (except maybe the chicken) pretty darn content. Haviyah.
Prague Astronomical Clock 26
Charles Bridge, Prague
Travel Tips For the Czech Republic: 1. You need a vignette for the car if driving in the Czech Republic. Buy it on either side of the border. Valid for a week, a month, or a year. 2. Borders are wide open these days. 3. ATMs get you the best exchange rate for the Czech Koruna. Fees on travelers checks are high in Prague and exchange rates poor at the tourist exchange offices. 27
4. Buy tram tickets in tobacco shops as soon as you see one. Invariably there is no ticket dispensing machine in sight when you want it and public transit ticket checkers are known to bee-line it to tourists to collect the hefty fines enforced when tram riders lack the right ticket. Be sure to validate tickets with a date/time stamp on entering the trams (yellow boxes inside the tram cars).
ÂŠ Story and photographs by Karen Kindler
Saint Andrewâ€™s Church 29
Days in Kiev
Overcoming Old Biases
Kiev Monastery of the Caves
As a Cold War warrior and retired intelligence
officer, I half expected to enter a bleak 1960s era documentary (punctuated by the occasional golden dome) when I stepped off the plane in Kiev. I was nervous more so than I had been on my first trip to Turkey on the eve of the Iraq War.
hat I found instead was a vibrant, colorful city of friendly people; acres of green space filled with sculpture and broad Dnieper River vistas; and many remnants of a turbulent, but fascinating history.
I chose a small family-run hotel, the Oselya, where my research (through tripadvisor.com) assured me I could rely on arranged airport pick-up and personalized guided tours. It lay in a quiet suburb within Oselya Hotel View easy reach of public
transport (in case I dared to step solo into what a part of me still classified as an outpost of ‘the evil empire’). The Oselya was also close to a recommended restaurant featuring Ukrainian cuisine (they have their own cuisine?!, I wondered), and offered free wifi access (my addiction of choice). My 2005 guidebook offered several cautions. Beware the traffic, it warned, and yes, I found Ukrainians could compete with Neapolitans as some of Europe’s most aggressive drivers (though they do stop for red lights, and pedestrians have the option of using any of a large number of under- and overpasses). Watch out for petty street crime, the book advised, so I emptied my purse of all but a few essentials and clung tightly to it, unsure if a peek at my Nikon would start a stampede in my direction. Then I noticed I was one of quite a few camera-toting gawkers (many of them with newer cameras than mine), snapping away at mini-skirts and street art. ‘The local people can pick out a foreigner at a hundred yards,’ the guidebook read. Not these days, I quickly decided. Jeans and sneakers were as popular in Kiev as anywhere else in Europe (though, quite a few of those jeans appeared to be painted on the svelte derrieres of Kiev’s lovely ladies).
English might be a problem (an issue I anticipated), and it was a challenge, but a word or two (”metro?”) got me pointed in the right direction every time (with a smile and a second lingering look to make sure I was actually heading the right way). Little remained of my college Russian: ‘Я не понимаю/Ya ne ponimaio’ was useful (‘I don’t understand’); ‘Осел на колесаx/ asyol na kaliosoch’ (‘jackass on wheels’) was not. Reading Cyrillic letters was worth the effort since, like in Germany, many English expressions were used on signs and notices (‘business lunch’ for example was advertised transliterated into the Cyrillic alphabet). Attempts by businesses to re-transliterate from the Cyrillic version into English sometimes resulted in odd spelling (‘kish’ for ‘quiche’ as an example), which an understanding of Cyrillic cleared up for me. People were really, even unusually, friendly. Nowhere did I encounter the dour, indifferent communist era behavior I still expected. A teen gave up his seat on the metro for a mother and child (I never saw that in Germany where the surly, self-focused kids notice none but their own kind). A bus driver waited while a passenger ran to catch up (unlike Athens, where it seems bus drivers are entertained by slipping away from frantic latecomers). A car stopped on a six-lane road for a trio of stray dogs. A brilliant smile rewarded me for a rather meager tip. Brides and kids met my camera lens with good humor. Old ladies guarding museum rooms flipped on light switches for me and tried to explain the exhibits. Bargaining for crafts in open air stalls was friendly; and when one taxi driver rejected my bottom line, another stepped in to accept it. Thanks to my guide, Oksana, a university history major (her services at 12 Euros
an hour were a super deal), I learned that Norsemen founded the city, arriving via the Dnieper that forms part of the water link between Scandinavia and the Black Sea. She told me about Byzantine Orthodox Christianity winning out over other monotheistic contenders in what is rumored to have been a sort of competition (“What?! No alcohol?! Islam’s out!”); and about the Mongol invasion and destruction of the oldest of the city’s wood structures. The last hold-out was the then main cathedral (of which only a few floor mosaics remain) where believers took refuge on the roof as well as inside … until their weight caused it to collapse and fire finished the job. She talked of the rise of the Cossacks (whose dress and weapons differed little from the Mongols they fought against), and Ukraine’s central role in a tug-of-war between Poland and Russia. Oksana made me see Ukraine in a different light – no longer just a wheat-filled satellite of the Soviet Union, I finally understood it as a colorful and unique nation with a varied and – at least intermittently - independent history.
On my own wanderings, I was struck by the serenity of the saints’ images on Orthodox
Cossack chief Bogdan Khmelnitsky temporarily rid Ukraine of Polish domination when he invited the Russians to help Cossack bands oust the Poles. His statue sits in the square outside the St. Sophia’s Cathedral Museum.
Kiev guide Oksana poses in one of the quirky tile sculptures at Landscape Park near the original Kiev fortress foundations. church walls (and the complete absence of the hellfire theme that troubles me in Catholic cathedrals), perhaps offering a clue as to why Protestantism never arose in the region. I admired intricately crafted gold jewelry from Scythian tombs dating to the 4th century BC. I read English placards in the historical museum and was
amazed to discover Cossack colonels were elected (something our own military could learn from). I found the statue of a gaunt little girl on a hillside dedicated to a famine manufactured by Stalin to impose his will on an agricultural lifestyle reluctant to accept collectivization. How many thousands died then – needlessly – and we in the west had no idea? I read of the Ukraine national soccer team, many of whom, after beating the NAZI German team, were murdered (alongside thousands of Jews and others) during some very ugly years; the site of the biggest mass grave in Kiev becoming the foundation for ugly Soviet high rise apartments in later years.
Costs varied dramatically: - The equivalent of a US quarter takes you anywhere in the city on the metro system (which has the deepest tunnels – and the fastest escalators to them – of anywhere I had ever been). - About $3.50 bought me a one hour sightseeing cruise on the Dnieper River to a point below the famous ‘Caves Monastery’ which Oksana would later walk me through. (The actual caves with the cloth enshrouded mummies of medieval monks in glass caskets were less impressive than the river view, though true believers’ interaction with individual mummies, their candles casting a yellow stain on the milky glass, touched me and made me feel an intruder (my Disneyland – their faith)).
- Cab fares were excellent when ordered/prenegotiated by the hotel, but two to three times the fee on the return trip when hailed in the street (unless one’s bargaining skills were competent … and a public transit alternative was close by). - Food in tourist or midincome class restaurants cost about the same as in Germany, and servers seemed not to expect tips (lighting up like a Christmas tree when one was offered). - Hotels spanned a broad range in a youget-what-you-pay-for arrangement. My readings suggested renting an apartment
was an economical alternative, but I was very happy with the attention and help from the Hotel Oselya crew, and feel I would have missed a lot had I gone solo (to include inspecting at first hand some of the men shopping for eastern brides … poor guys … poor, poor girls). - Entrance fees were very reasonable and the same for foreigners as for (decidedly less wealthy) locals. - Crafts and art for sale in the street could be bargained for, though the bottom line was nowhere near cheap (understandable, given the work and skill that went into many of the products).
A stroll along the crest of Kreschatiy Park reveals a sweeping view of the Dnieper River. The older part of Kiev, filled with restaurants and art shops, lies to the left. The island to the right with its acres of sandy beaches separates old Kiev from the newest part of the city. 34
Overall, I found that Kiev gave excellent value for money spent and was more affordable (and interesting to a jaded traveler like me) than many western European capitals. I won’t offer detailed descriptions of the museums, cathedrals, parks, and shops I poked around in. You can pick up a (recent!) guidebook for that, or better yet, hook up with Oksana and let her show you. Nor will I talk about the local food, except to say I loved it (and if I hadn’t, there were a huge range of international cuisine choices available as well).
Andriyivskyy (Andrew’s) Descent and Saint Andrew’s Church
For me, the trip was about overcoming the biases and fears of the past, and I did that. Kiev did that. Completely.
Kreschatiy Park Area A variation of this article was published in the Stars and Stripes newspaper: www.stripes.com/military-life/kiev-ukrainian-capital-exudes-fun-and-friendliness-1.138715
St. Michael’s Cathedral
Museum of Ukrainian Folk Architecture, Rural Life and Folk Art
Brides and grooms trailed by photographers can be seen on sunny days all over the city. This couple is heading into the cathedral within the KievPecherska Lavra complex.
ÂŠ Story and photographs by Karen Kindler 36
Flying High (and Sinking Low)
A Weekend in Cappadocia with Zorba the Turk
eeply bronzed, calloused fingers held the freshly shelled pistachio to within a breath of my lips. Too surprised to refuse politely, I accepted the offer and smiled at the adoring brown eyes of Zorba the Turk, my aging suitor and the tour group’s driver. The young Turkish guide opposite us stopped mid-sentence, lost her train of thought, and flushed, her mouth frozen ajar.
◉ Ankara Kayseri ◉
y weekend tour of Cappadocia in Anatolia metamorphosed quickly from an anonymous by-the-numbers bus ride, snapshot, tourist gewgaws, face-stuffing, essentially lonely and disconnected package deal into a unique insight into life in central Turkey. I arrived in the town of Urgup late on a Friday night after a painful five hour bus ride from Ankara. No one had spoken English on that trip. The steward (they have stewards/stewardesses on their longdistance buses … but no toilets) made frequent rounds up the aisle, offering chai, a plastic-wrapped sweet, and water.
Plus, to clean hands there was a generous squirt of a lemony-smelling liquid, which was like the “wet wipes” I’m familiar with, but without the benefit of the wipe. Observing my fellow passengers’ frantic attempts to catch all the liquid spurting toward their laps, I skipped this opportunity for hygiene. Since I didn’t understand the Turkish announcements, I didn’t realize the only rest stop (toilet!) was already one hour into the trip (good that I turned down most of the water). I also didn’t catch that I would have to change buses late in the evening – at a
point when I thought I should have arrived in Urgup. Luckily, clueless foreigners were not so very rare in the region and so, thankfully, I was directed along to the appropriate bus with one word grunts, body language, and the occasional smile. Once in Urgup, I was to be met at the bus by a tour company representative and taken to my room at the “Cappadocia Palace” hotel. Of course, I was also supposed to have gotten my pre-paid ticket at the Ankara bus station by presenting the note in Turkish, which I – brilliantly – requested from my tour organizer via internet. No luck; the ticket seller’s computer didn’t list me. I paid. Again. As a result, throughout that bouncing, seemingly endless bus ride I wondered if I’d made a serious mistake arranging the weekend through a website selected at random. I imagined myself arriving in the dark in small town central Turkey armed with three words of Turkish, no hotel, and no contacts (and a full bladder).
No need to worry! In Urgup, a 12-yearold, his creased forehead communicating his inability to communicate, waved at me when I stepped into the dusty darkened street in the small plaza that serves as the central bus station. Follow me, he gestured and began crossing the street up the hill without once looking back. Had he turned, he would have seen me struggle with my heavy bag and wondered at my momentary look of panic as I peered up the dark street to gage traffic. In Ankara drivers are crazier than in Naples or Palermo! Jay-walking did not seem a great idea in Urgup either. I struggled up the hill past a small group of men sipping tea on the narrow, crumbling sidewalk, and wondered where the “Palace” might be. Finally, after what was really only a five minute stroll, I saw the sign: a small wood arrow pointing up a series of stairs behind the shuttered storefronts lining what I was later to learn was the main street. I was concerned. But it worked out well. Really well. It was a nice (little) place. They had my reservation. The room was paid for. The room was great – a cave suite carved from solid rock (which the area is known for) just as I’d requested. My
young guide was not quite as lucky ... as he soon realized when he failed to get the tip he seemed to feel he deserved. (Carry the lady’s bag next time, kid ...) In my little cave room, I lay down on the single bed and gazed at the cool, raw tufa walls surrounding me. Thin, faded blue curtains barely filtered the faint light, which trickled from the courtyard through windows cut into two foot thick handsmoothed walls. I felt self-conscious briefly. I had seen no other women in this town. Could I be such a rarity that I’d draw barely reformed Saracens to peek through my window with nefarious deeds on their minds as I settled in for the night? Noooo .... I shook off the feeling, relaxed, breathed in the peculiar dry scent of stone, and drifted to sleep, thankful that I had water left in a bottle I brought along. Brushing my teeth with tap water here – despite
the seemingly modern plumbing – was probably a bad idea (and a case of the runs on that long bus ride back …. just too horrible to consider).
A crisp blue sky, cool breeze, and warm, colorful courtyard met me as I emerged from my cave in the morning. Low seating areas were carved from the stone lining the courtyard, Turkish carpets generously piled on them. A few empty beer bottles on one low wood table suggested there had been others there, too (though probably not peeping Saracens). The breakfast buffet served in the barrelceilinged stone hall next to the reception desk was, I assume, to Turkish tastes: olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, oddly colored meats, salty cheese, packets of honey and (thank you!) a big stack of
Cappadocia Palace Hotel, Urgup Urgup ‘Castle’ www.turkeytravelplanner.com/go/CentralAnatolia/Cappadocia/urgup/
fresh “French” bread. Chai, hot water and instant coffee rounded out the choices. I sat alone savoring my bread, honey and chai, watching and listening to the conversations of my fellow travelers. There was a foursome of middle-aged, generously rounded white South Africans; a tall, young Canadian who had clearly been here a while (he brought his own food to the buffet); a road and sun-worn English-speaking couple fresh from being ejected from Saudi Arabia (they said); a pair of belly-baring teenage sisters from the States on a mega bus-ride-across-thecontinents adventure; and a Swiss-Spanish couple in their early 20s (she, dressed for a German beach, not a Muslim country). The young guide arrived as we gathered in the lobby. In jeans and a tight sweater, her curly brown hair forming a cloud across her shoulders, she introduced herself and the crusty old bus driver in passable English. I felt reassured. We descended the stone stairs through the alleyway separating the “Palace” from the inner town of Urgup, a 300-foot high crumbling pile of rock locally referred to as a “castle” looming in the distance, and climbed aboard a modern mini-bus. The weekend would be a rather normal tourist experience after all, I decided.
Abandonned Cave Dwellings
“You sit here,” the driver insisted as he patted the seat next to him. There were three seats in the front of the bus. I took the far one, only to be squeezed toward the middle when the guide climbed in next to me. Thigh to thigh, stick shift to knee, my relationship with “Zorba the Turk” got off to a hesitant start (not his real name; he looked like Anthony Quinn’s Zorba: well-weathered, and animated.) As we started off to tour the wind and water-carved landscape of Cappadocia, Zorba and I got better acquainted. He began his driving career at 14, had been at it now for 37 years. (According to my math, that made him a year older than me … though I’d swear he could have been my father’s age). Always single, with mother and various relations at home, Zorba worked – drove – 350 days a year for the tour company. He had driven VIPs in Paris, transports across Europe, and buses in Turkey. This, however, was the best job he’d ever had. As the day passed, I began to understand why. The countryside was breathtaking – part southern Utah Canyonlands, part African plains anthills with ancient, mostly abandoned habitations cut into rock, their entrances at 10 to 30 feet up the rock columns. Stemming from Hittite and later medieval Christian times, most
Pretty Trinkets for Sale
were abandoned just 60 years ago when the Turkish government decided that preserving the novelty of cave dwellings was more important than housing their occupants. People were simply forced from their ancestral family homes – moved from cool interiors, which could be expanded and modified at will, to hot little apartment blocks they suddenly had to pay for.
and more isolated cavities, which had been blocked up for pigeons. Apparently, other than tourism, maintaining pigeons is still the prime use for these caves; pigeon shit has value here. (The guide repeatedly referred to pigeon “menus,” which I finally understood to be a misplaced accent on manure vice our probable lunch.)
Unfortunately (and Our little tour group predictably), every stop stopped regularly for included an array of gift pictures, walks, and shops, which marred refreshments; we climbed the scenery somewhat. among the giant phallic Zorba, my increasingly columns of volcanic tufa attentive admirer, plied and into cave churches me with various sweets with fading decorations and dried fruit at the very and saints’ faces chipped first stop. “Just taste …” off by unknown vandals. I bought some to The going was steep and encourage his retreat slippery. I imagined … at prices not unlike average Americans what I’d expect to pay flabbergasted by the in upscale groceries nerve of a guide who Goreme Religious Art back home (was there a would suggest the kind kickback in it for him, I wondered). His of physical effort this young woman attachment to me grew when I succumbed expected from us. to a beautiful ($300) hand-painted ceramic One complex, the ancient city of Goreme, plate at an underground pottery factory. From then on, Zorba was at my side contained countless hives of habitations constantly (when I wasn’t trekking off carved from the tufa: a multi-level nunnery, a monastery, several churches, into the hinterlands; a natural trekker he
Access to Upper Levels
Avanos Ceramics Factory
www.gurayseramik.com.tr/en/index.html was not). He treated me to tea, water, and ice cream. At every stop, he insisted I share another refreshment with him at his expense. I felt uncomfortable at first – not because of his attention, but because I supposed he couldn’t really afford to be buying me these things. Then I came to understand that guides and drivers get this stuff free anyway – I was just freeloading on his freeloading. My guilt was gone. In the late afternoon, after yet another pull-over, take-pictures, check-out-thejunk-shops and have-some-tea stop, Zorba offered to take me to the best sunset in the area. “But don’t tell the others. It’s our secret.” It was tempting. Even in the bright sunlight, the striations of color in the rock were apparent. Being dumped to
fend for myself at my little hotel at 5 p.m. seemed a rather sad way to end the evening. But – despite his age – a little alarm went off in my head and I thought it might be better to pass. Then I had a brilliant idea. The route we took in and out of Urgup passed the local winery (local wines are quite good, but too expensive to compete abroad, so are not exported). I insisted I be let off to check out the winery on the way to the hotel. I could walk back. No problem.
Problem. He must have encountered this ploy before. He insisted – chivalrously, I guess – that he escort me, first dropping the others and then taking me back personally. Sigh. Okay. (I didn’t want to create an
international incident). Once in the wine shop, he arranged “a deal” for me. I had selected a bottle of wine for a friend and he “helped” me into a higher price with the salesman (I can read pricelists!). I accepted my wine box while he excused himself briefly to step around the back, where I noted another bottle was handed to him. “I have a surprise for you,” he beamed as he returned. I assumed at that point he intended to take me to the hotel where, he must have thought, I wouldn’t budge for fear of the alien environment outside my door until he was ready to pick me up for the sunset. Wrong. I insisted on walking back to the hotel – alone. He had the tour company bus and couldn’t very well abandon it. He did, however, extract a promise from me that I would meet him at 8 p.m. for the sunset. Hmmm, how tough could it be to resist the amorous advances of an octogenarian, I thought (well, okay, he wasn’t that old, but he looked it). I walked back the mile or two very contentedly, popping into alleys to take pictures of abandoned rock dwellings and
wishing I had the courage to photograph the colorfully clothed tribal women squatting in front of their stoops chatting in groups, washing laundry in buckets or weaving. A carpet shop halted my progress halfway into town. I confess; I am an addict. I can’t resist Turkish kilims. I didn’t. One kilim rug and two pillow cases (or donkey saddlebags, not sure which) later, I finally escaped the friendly young man with the excellent English and the piles and piles of woven art. With ATM machines everywhere, “no money” was no excuse. I noted the next day his shop was closed (unlike many others). I guess my sale made his weekend (or week?) Zorba showed up at the hotel in his personal little junk-mobile just as the sun sank behind the “castle” in Urgup. I was seriously annoyed. This was about sunset shots, not dillydallying with an old guy. “It’s ok,” he insisted. “This is a valley.” Sure enough as we rose up past the winery, the sun reappeared low on the horizon. He drove like a madman to get to the “special place.” It really did exist. There was even a guard shack with a fellow demanding an entry charge. “I’m a driver! I don’t pay!” I’m sure Zorba demanded angrily in colorful Turkish. He didn’t pay. We finally joined the other buses and cars at the overlook and I took
my shots. It was fabulous (if brief). “Are you hungry?” came the inevitable question. Sigh. Here we go. The dance doesn’t change (much). I figured I did pay for that second bottle of wine. I might as well help him drink it. We drove to the (relatively) more modern tourist town of Goreme, stopping in a half-empty restaurant where he knew every soul. He wanted to sit at an outside table where we could be alone, but it was getting chilly (the air, not him) and I demanded a warmer seat inside. We practically sat in the kitchen. He kept the waiters hopping. First, he handed one his car keys and instructed him to retrieve his wine, open it and serve it. The waiter did as he was told, poured me a bit to taste, then, when I approved, filled the glass the rest of the way and moved it in front of Zorba with a wink, pouring me a fresh one. The meal was light and tasty and the conversation flowed rather well (in very simple English). For dessert, Zorba decided on a plate of mixed nuts and fruits …. again from his car. Again the keys were handed to the waiter, who rifled through various compartments in the car before calling over a fellow waiter to assist in the search. The treat was eventually produced and presented on a little clay dish. At the end of the meal, Zorba stood and settled the bill at the counter. I wondered if those poor waiters got a single extra Turkish Lira out of the evening’s effort since Zorba was – is – “the driver.” They seemed upbeat nonetheless and invited me back again (I assume next time without him and with money). We drove back
toward Urgup passing the same ancient Goreme from the morning’s tour. It’s a dramatic site at night as well: mounds and mounds of pockmarked rock are set in a river valley along the steeply winding road. The moon – a Turkish sickle – hung high above in the clear black sky. The curb beckoned (him, not me). Okay. I’m a big girl. We got out and admired the view. He grabbed my waist (damn, there was a bit of strength in those scrawny arms … driving must be more exercise than I thought). He pulled me toward him; I turned my cheek. He kissed it, then offered me his. Briefly grateful for his apparent acceptance, I offered his cheek a chaste kiss as well. I was slow. He turned his face abruptly and planted a kiss on my strategically misplaced lips. I laughed (that usually slows ‘em down) and called him a “bad man.” “Thank you,” he replied with all sincerity. That seemed to be enough for him. He took me home, making one more effort to kiss me in the darkened street in front of the hotel. This time, as I looked up, his face neared mine, eyes closed, lips parted wide. I laughed, pushed back his chest, repeated the compliment (“bad man”) and bade him good night.
It was a short night. A wedding party was in full swing. By the time the noise stilled, it was two hours from my 3 a.m. wake-up call. I worried I’d miss it. I had paid a lot for the next morning’s hot air balloon ride. I was determined to be in the lobby on time. I didn’t sleep. At all.
4:20 a.m. The Cappadocia Palace lobby was lit by a single desk lamp casting a warm yellow glow on raw stone and Turkish weavings. I was alone. A van
was to come get me in 10 minutes. The hotel entry door was still locked. I took a seat on the carpet-covered bench, stared at the clock cursing silently, and at the poster showing the Kapadokya Balloon I would be boarding this morning. Soon, a disheveled young man emerged from the black cavern that would serve as the breakfast room in a few hours, mumbled a greeting (his eyes didn’t look much better than mine) and opened the front door, then disappeared again. I waited. The van arrived at 4:40 a.m. I joined a young Japanese woman in the back and we were off to pick-up passengers in three different towns. An American foursome joined us next. The New England matron, not at her best this early (and I thought I had make-up challenges!), grumbled to her wide-eyed husband, who, like a child, overflowed with the excitement of the coming adventure. “When else could you have this opportunity?!” he insisted, oblivious to her complaints. The sun was just starting to warm the horizon as we pulled into the big Goreme parking lot crowded with several other vans, balloon trailers, and dozens of people. They milled about, talking among themselves, some surprisingly animated for 5:30 a.m. Germans, Brits, Italians, French, Japanese, Americans, and Turks crowded the bare stone room, squeezing in toward the canister of hot water, bowls of tea bags and instant coffee packets. “A light breakfast is included,” read the advertisement on-line. A small plate of graham crackers for 50 people was indeed my definition of light. Check-in. I was surprised to have gotten away relatively cheaply (and that my tour company had gotten this piece right, too). I paid $260 as part of my package deal for this morning’s hour and a half adventure;
others – if they paid cash – were being charged $285, more with credit cards. Initially, I had booked with another company – at $100 and 30 minutes less. My contacts at the Ankara embassy, however, convinced me that I should rethink my choice. The newer companies were inexperienced, used old and unsafe equipment; pilots were quitting. The source of this intelligence? Kapadokya Balloons, of course. Questionable reliability? Well yes, but safety was a real concern. The image of dropping from the sky, crashing onto an 80 foot rock phallus, my broken limbs sprawled in Turkish sand would not be a pretty end to my weekend. I decided I could afford to pay more. And besides, “breakfast was included” … At 6:30, the next phase began. Kaile, a 40-something balloonist from New Zealand, began calling off names in half a dozen languages, trying to organize seating in the five or six vans loading up for departure. People were (wisely) still making a last pit stop; others had preboarded; others simply appeared to have vanished. She and fellow Kapodokya Balloons owner (and husband), Lars, go through this drill every day, 7 days a week, all year round, with only a handful of days off (in inclement weather) and always at this hour (when the winds are light and steady). A small faded sign was taped to the window at the entry to the office, half folded, fully ignored. “Please keep quiet, we are sleeping upstairs.” I imagined the neighbors as I sipped my cup of Lipton and awaited my turn. Did they move out? Rent the place to unsuspecting tourists? Invest in ear plugs? Jump? “Socialize … get to know each other,” Kaile commanded cheerfully as she climbed into my van. I wasn’t the only
Göreme Valley Open-Air Museum whc.unesco.org/en/list/357 46
one to ignore her. Too damn early. A 45-minute ride on bumpy side roads to the launch site later, we pulled over on a wildflower strewn plateau to the south of Goreme, the sun already streaking the scattered clouds with gold and pink from behind the distant remnants of ancient volcanoes. I wandered off, camera in hand, searching for flowers, angles, plays of light to capture as the crew prepped the three balloons my group would board (the rest of the morning’s crowd had veered off to another location to begin a shorter, cheaper adventure). A blast of flame caught my attention. It shot out horizontally into the belly of what would be my balloon, the fragile nylon straining to keep its distance from the fire. Slowly, the balloons were filling, rising; people moved toward the baskets, started to climb aboard. I made my way back across the rutted field, quickly now. How long
could a two-man crew restrain a 50 foot balloon from rising? I wanted to be in the basket before I found out. A young Japanese family with two girls under eight and a middle-aged Turk preceded me into the basket. The girls were given blankets against the early morning cold (I was happy to have dressed in layers). Lars, our pilot, was a Brit with 29 years’ experience in ballooning, a wry sense of humor, and a genuine love for the country. We couldn’t have done better. Another blast of flame shot up and off we went, leaving two balloons in various stages of inflation on the ground below us. After the first few moments of flight, the girls sank lower and lower underneath the blanket tent they created on the floor of the basket, at first peeking out the 3 by 5 inch foothold gap in the side and, finally, simply huddling quietly together on the floor. We rose, we dropped (gently), we bounced off the tops of trees (“they’re very soft up this high”), we followed canyons surprising dozing horses and a dancing camel (or pacing …. reminded
me of a wait at the end of a long line at a ladies room). We watched our shadow drift along tufa formations so close we could safely have jumped out to disturb pigeons still sleeping or seeing to the business of morning contributions to the local manure business. We drifted through “love valley” (“Don’t know why they call it that,” Lars joked) with its half dozen stone columns peculiarly topped with rounded, darkened caps of a denser stone. We played chase and hide-and-seek with the other balloonists struggling to find the same air currents that would bring them along a parallel course.
quickly. The sun shown bright now, pink rocks bleached white, giant penile shadows shortening. We finally began our descent to the farmland where the vehicles were waiting with amazing precision. “As you near the landing site, face away
“Shall we go up now?” Lars asked as we inched toward yet another pile of stone, an entry hole cut into its side at eye level. “Over or under the power lines?” The chase vehicles with the balloon trailers in tow raced across the plain in the distance, following Lars’ radio directions to likely landing sites, backed up once or twice, raced on, spewing waves of dust off the rural tracks. An hour and a half passed
Soaring over â€œLove Valleyâ€? See www.kapadokyaballoons.com/en for current rates (and note that the breakfast included these days - at least per their ad photos - has improved significantly!)
from the direction of travel, lower your body against the cushioned sides of the baskets, and hang on.” Kaile did say that …. at dawn … I think. Only a few yards from touch-down, I hung out over the side of the basket, camera held in front of me, focused on the two company workers dirt-skiing through the plowed field at the end of the rope that would stop us. It didn’t. The van did. We crashed right into it. Oblivious, I flew into the surprised lap of the Turk beside me. Poor guy …. but he was smiling. And I did get my shot. Champagne and cake later (more of that light breakfast!), the souvenirs came out …. Caps, videos, shirts …. At first, I thought, “how nice, they’re throwing in a little free gift.” Never mind. These were for sale. Small talk, final photos, back to the
vans, back to the hotels, back to a “real” breakfast, back to the beginning of the day, the tour, and Zorba. My fatigue started to kick in quickly once I climbed into the van.
“She’s black.” Zorba wrinkled his nose as the newcomer to Sunday’s tour group was ushered from the little hotel at the end of the steep winding trail through piles of still inhabited rock. I stared at him, confused. “A few too many hours in the sun,” I agreed, failing to mention the sun had had the exact same effect on his skin. “No, she’s black.” Zorba insisted. The Indian lady was from Britain, a doctor of philosophy and professional travel writer. She was petite and fragile, friendly
and talkative. It completely baffled me to think a Turkish bus driver would deem an educated Indian to be an inferior being. I was already feeling cool toward my suitorwannabe after the previous evening’s antics. Now, I chilled completely (though I hardly think he noticed). No more free teas; I walked through ruins and rocks instead. No more front seat; I slipped into the row behind him in the van. No more kissy-kissy games when he dropped me at the bus plaza at the end of the day, slipping a little envelope with his address and a few trinkets into my palm. “Don’t open it till later. Come back and stay with me. We’ll take two weeks and drive to the east.”
On the bus. On the road. Crowded … again. Only one stop …. Again. An extra hour on the road this time – six total with the toilets located at the 4 ½ hour point. Late night arrival in Ankara. Taxi. Bed. Work. Bed.
I returned to Cappadocia a year later. This time I had my own guy in tow, flew into nearby Kayseri, rented a car, and chose a cave hotel highly recommended by a friend. No fatigue, lots of (intentional) kisses, gorgeous scenery, long, romantic hikes, great food, and warm memories. No balloon ride though. Maybe next time.
I don’t think so. And there will be a next time!
addition to Goreme, do check out one of the three dozen underground city complexes in Cappadocia. I visited Kaymakli: eight levels of man-dug caverns where hundreds of people would hide from marauding armies throughout the centuries since the Hittites. They took care of day-to-day living in cramped, reeking quarters, shushing children to keep the enemy from discovering their location, and cooking in a single confined space for the entire population, the smoke largely trapped inside. After some time had elapsed, a man would ascend a ventilation shaft, climbing vertical walls not two feet wide to reconnoiter the land outside. If he failed to return, another month would pass before the next scout would make the attempt (rough time to be an intell officer, I thought). www.cappadociaturkey.net/kaymakli_underground_city.htm
A variation of this article was published in the Stars and Stripes newspaper:
© Story and photographs by Karen Kindler 52
Snap Shots of Turkey Beyond Package Tour Highlights
Annoyance. Entry at museums and cultural and historical sites for foreigners is three times that as for locals. We pay 10 new Turkish Lira (about $7 at this writing); they pay only 3. “It’s wrong,” the disgruntled young American griped. The carpet takes three women three months to complete, one hand-tied knot after another for days and weeks and months. It’s a government program. They’re taken care of; the tradition can continue … though fewer and fewer are drawn to it, the carpet school/ factory manager tells me. “One day it will die.” $450 a month she gets. One woman’s salary. For tying knots. All day, every day. We haggle for that carpet. “Is it worth it?” we wonder.
Kybele Hotel, Istanbul www.kybelehotel.com/
police, the attempt to find the place, failure … or was the He wasn’t happy. It’s a scam interior changed overnight? the local people have fallen Three others into as well. A lot of tourists at the station do … lone male tourists. A … same friendly Turk chatted him up complaint. – a New York-based Japanese A shame. man, a scruffier version of a He’s tired young Yul Brynner. He’d never of Turkey, been in Istanbul before. Sure, anxious why not, let this friendly local to get to show him what’s to be seen. Greece, assumes it’s different He took him to the “new” … it couldn’t happen there. town, bought him a sandwich Another Turk befriended him … a cheap one … then … later. This one was married suggested a café. to a Japanese woman. Dinner Yul imagined Turkish coffee at his home, an overnight stay. … sludge with a kick. They No cost. “It’s just because he’s entered, sat, were joined by married to a Japanese,” Yul two Russian ladies. Beer. assumes. The bill. Too late. The mafiarun establishment expects payment. Later, a visit to the
$600 for 4 beers.
“Special cheese! Don’t tell anyone.” His eyes glistened with mischievous pleasure as he ducked into the kitchen to fill my plate with extra morsels. He’d been behind the hotel desk all night. A two-hour commute, four hours sleep, back tonight. He’s youth and energy and smiles with a hint of flirtation.
He would love to go to Germany, he tells me. But they won’t let him. He’s sure. No family to hold him in Turkey. Even when the EU accepts Turkey, the restrictions on Turkish visitors and workers to Germany … to Europe … will remain. “They’re afraid of us … and they’re probably right.” The first night I arrived, he showed me a scrap of paper with an English sentence. What did it mean?, he asked me. “Hay is for horses. Aren’t you glad you’re a mule?” His English was excellent, but the phrases baffled him. “An American saying?” “Not where I come from,” I answered. He had sought amusement … the joke he was missing. I wish I could have offered one. 56
“If I don’t make money this year, I’ll apply for a visa to the states. And if I don’t get it, I’ll go to Alaska.” I smile. A little sadly. He won’t … and won’t … and won’t. The energy. The dreams. They’re in his eyes, too, my tour guide to Ephesus and Pergamon. After 911, business died in the tourism industry in Izmir. So did a number of those working in it. Suicides. Muslims. “Come with us!” he insists … no trace of insincerity in his voice. “Hah! Not likely!” I laugh. The adventure he describes appeals … very much. A motorcycle trip through Syria and Jordan. He wants to retrace St. Paul’s footsteps … to specialize in biblical tours. I applaud his drive and determination to find the niche that will get him ahead. He had owned a travel company before 911, is now employed by a former competitor. 57
He’d gone to the Iraq border, worked for the Americans as an interpreter before the war started. Awkward times. The bombs had started to fall. He couldn’t bear that. He, a Kurd. Many of the victims, too. He left. Tried something new. Will keep trying. Erdogan, the Turkish President, is a religiously conservative Muslim. He’s done well for his people, I’m told again and again. “A good Muslim can’t lie,” my guide, the motorcycle enthusiast, insists. “Politics” comes from the Greek, he tells me. It means “many faces” … lies. I’m saddened by the truth of that … and the misconceptions … on all sides.
His brother made a
mistake. I knew him – both of them - from three years ago. That brother had grasped my hand tightly then, looked me in the eye, just inches from my face, and willed me to raise my offer for the kilim, my first. I hadn’t. He’d been a more determined carpet salesman than any other I have dealt with (and there have been a few since then).
small shop again. Enough to survive. “Is good.” Kerem nods. “Before was too much money. Good now.” No extras for gambling or drinking. “Is good.”
Last year, he lost everything – his entire stock. He had speculated after 911. Bought out smaller carpet sellers. Planned to make a killing. Then came the terrorist bomb at the British embassy in Istanbul. An earthquake. War in Iraq. Fears. The inevitable lag in tourism. There was no killing ... no money. The extended family came together. Helped him … and each other. He has a 58
“What you like on man?” my charming escort asks me, his chocolate eyes warming my face. I’m used to his broken phrases. Correct him rarely. “How he carries himself,” I tell him. “Shoulders back,
head up, arms swinging free. And eyes.” I detect doubt in the tilt of his head. Did he expect something cruder? “How he moves tells me what he thinks of himself,” I explain. “And his eyes tell me what he thinks of me.” His smile, his eyes answer. He turns the little Turkish coffee cups upright, the remnants of the sludge now solidified in the saucers, our future foretold in the bumps and lumps. “They are same,” he nods, examining the saucers. “Means you think me and I think you.”
choosing Turkish fare over the Chinese, Italian, and American options: bites of meat in yogurt sauce, cinnamonflavored rice, and marinated eggplant. We’d passed by Starbucks without a second glance. The mall was crammed with people, though few carried packages. Prices were not unlike the States … though I discovered in one store that a sour face could bring a “discount.”
The six-story Istanbul
shopping mall – the second largest in Europe, I’m told – had miles of glossy pink fabric draping every meter of the hand rails and balconies. Christmas trees, lights, all the trappings, adorned the mall. We’d seen the movie King Kong (in English with Turkish subtitles) and eaten off shared dishes in the food court …
Airport style metal detectors and conveyors for packages controlled access to this temple to consumerism. Security was particularly thick in one boutique … Matrix clones, clearly armed, stood alert to would-be, unwanted shoppers. An unknown VIP – a member of the “rich people” he’d referred to again and again – had exclusive access to the store that night. 60
We stepped into the icy
section, my escort explained. Property values were adjusting wind; the snow had stopped accordingly. We had walked earlier in the day. there, too … where homes “I’ll pay for the taxi,” I pleaded. were more village hovel than apartment building. Stone and brick and wood and mud. No … I had to see the new A puppy rooting in the dirt, a subway. chicken pen, graying lace over Not many like to use it, he tells cracked windows, smoke rising through a rusted vent … me. Earthquakes. People are afraid. I think of that on the long way down the three levels People lived there. People who were unlikely ever to spend of escalators. 3 new Turkish lira to enter a museum. The scientists say the safest place in Istanbul is in the poor
We surfaced in
mud-covered walking zone between designer boutiques amid throngs of shoppers, then climbed to a tea shop overlooking the street.
Taksim … the “new city” in Istanbul … where my Japanese acquaintance had paid for mafia-controlled companionship.
Dim yellow lighting warmed the 19th century architectural details of the bustling tearoom.
Police stood six deep in riot gear with shields held in front of them as we crossed the street from the metro stop. They’re always there, he assured me. I was not assured. I did not stop to take their picture.
We talked and laughed ... me and my friend of the chocolate eyes. No bombs, no radicals, no earthquakes, no politics, no Russian ladies or beers. Just us.
I took his arm … to keep my footing in the slush and find security in his confidence.
A few moments in our lives.
We passed through the newly marble-paved, partially
© Story and photographs by Karen Kindler 62
Castle Hill, Ankara
(Not) Just Another Day in Ankara
The usual glossy travel mag regularly runs
articles aimed at tourists spending a day – and only a day – in a city. These articles give almost no insight to the life pulsing around the ‘must-sees’. Here is my experience – while on a temporary duty assignment at the US Embassy – of a not so typical day in Ankara. One Saturday in February 2007
Mullah’s back. I’m up. Plan for today: rendezvous with amorous carpet salesman from Istanbul at 9:00 a.m.. Brush teeth with mineral water (have successfully avoided Ataturk’s revenge … so far).
Awakened – as usual – by local mullah’s morning call to prayer. My Raki-distorted mind briefly ponders the possibility of offering a week’s wages for singing lessons. Guzzle OJ; return to bed. Should try the local ‘cure’ for Raki hangovers – tripe soup. Or not.
6:45 a.m. Phone rings. Kerem’s bus arrived early (driver with girlfriend in town?) He’s waiting. Now.
7:30 a.m. Walk carefully across buckled concrete and brick sidewalks to taxi stand. Gaze at multi-story concrete apartment blocks. Hope a better concrete mix was used … for when the next earthquake strikes. Pass young man with morning bread rolls piled high on a board balanced on his head. Wince at his sing-song calls for customers. Must be related to the mullah.
7:40 a.m. Arrive at taxi stand. Wake driver. Point at rendezvous location on map and repeat
early customers with eight variations of baklava, and boutique hotels with brightly lit breakfast rooms. But find … nothing. Silence. Castle hill seems abandoned.
8:40 a.m. Walk with Kerem through gardens below the castle walls. Point out Ankara landmarks on the horizon: Ataturk’s mausoleum, the big mosque, the tower with revolving restaurant above the Atakule shopping mall, embassy row. Kerem points out the adjacent hillside; ramshackle cottages tumbled among the rocks. They remind him of his old village in the east, he says.
A View of Old Town Ankara from Castle Hill
8:50 a.m. Find bench. Smooch. Watch lone Japanese tourist on overlook watch us.
Marriott Renaissance Hotel (www. marriott.com/hotels/travel/esbjw-jwmarriott-hotel-ankara/) four times. Give up. Call Kerem on cell phone and pass phone to driver.
8:15 a.m. Pick up Kerem and continue to Ankara castle hill for breakfast. Expect lively scene with girls in native dress hawking beaded trinkets, boys kicking soccer balls through tiny squares, pastry shops serving
Wander down hill in general direction of Roman ruins. Pass group of 20plus men – day labor – waiting for jobs. They have their own tools – including a couple of huge jack hammers. Happy to hold Kerem’s hand … not a place I’d want to walk alone.
9:30 a.m. Find excellent pastry shop in back alley. Great to be with someone who can ask directions (and order food). Drink Nescafe; eat fabulous meat and cheesefilled Turkish variant of breakfast burritos. Kerem is impressed, too.
1:00 p.m. Stroll through modern Kizilay shopping district. We stop in a local variation of Kmart. I choose a few inexpensive Indian blouses, hand-signal a woman in a bright headscarf my desire to try them on. She hand-signals back to indicate only pants may be tried on. Return blouses to rack.
Tired of walking. Stop at movie theater. See latest Mission Impossible film. Happy that few American movies in Turkey are dubbed. Kerem’s hands wander.
Find ruins of Roman Baths. Huge complex of ancient weed-filled foundations on bare hillside amid the bustle of Ankara traffic. High-rise hotels ca. 1975 break up the view between 4th century AD Rome and the 17th century Ottoman fortress on the hill in the distance. Only one other archaeology enthusiast on site. Kerem’s hands wander.
11:00 a.m. Pass Ankara Opera House. (https:// secure.dobgm.gov.tr/opera2009/ devopera.asp) Modern dance performance advertised for tonight. Posters indicate the performance is free of charge (Kerem reads that, not me). Local people aren’t interested, he tells me; so the state supports free performances. We get tickets.
11:30 a.m. Visit Museums of Ethnography (facebook. com/pages/Ethnography-Museum-ofAnkara/143714845644508 )and Art in faded 19th century mansions. Nice, small collections. “This way, please!” American tour group is herded in; they look at the series of steps with annoyance.
4:30 p.m. Find traditional Turkish restaurant – Haji Arif Bey (www.haciarifbey.com.tr/) – in Tunali shopping street. No alcohol on menu. Choose ayran (liquid yogurt), a local favorite. Happy with the menu – lots of pictures. Waiter asks where I’m from, returns later with thin, crispy pita over a foot long, “Florida” spelled out in black sesame seeds across its face.
5:30 p.m. Engage in difference of opinion on sleeping arrangements.
6:30 p.m. Put Kerem on metro to bus station.
6:40 p.m. Third cab in ten minutes honks his horn at me (am amazed at a city where cabbies hunt down customers). Acquiesce. Show cabbie my movie brochure for the mall near home; use hand signals as we approach the right street. Cabbie is amused. Repeats hand signals and complies.
7:30 p.m. Consider, then shrug off free dance performance tickets. Walk to Amarillo Grill (www.amarillogrill.net/). A friend will sing with the band tonight. “Ankara is part of global world” a local reviewer writes of the place. No raki tonight, I tell myself. Order raki.
9:30 p.m. Mullah serenades my walk home. Kerem calls. When will I be in Istanbul again, he asks.
Modern Shopping Mall, Ankara
Travel Tips and Links Ankara is not a regular tourist destination and information is a little limited. But it’s exactly because it’s not on the usual tourist track that I found it interesting – and for handicraft shopping, a good bit less expensive – than Istanbul and the coastal resorts. Check out these links for a little more info:
Turkish Cultural Affairs Tourist Information www.kultur.gov.tr/EN/belge/2-20908/ankara.html Ankara City Guide www.ankaracityguide.com/
US Embassy Ankara US Citizen Information turkey.usembassy.gov/service.html Then just go, make a friend or two, and come up with your own fun day of sightseeing. (Smooching optional).
Roman Stone in Medieval Wall 66
Scenes and People on Castle Hill, Ankara
ÂŠ Story and photographs by Karen Kindler
few words of the local language can transform people in foreign lands from moving scenery and photo ops to human beings and friends.
squeezed out to look for whatever office had the required forms.
he short line to the outbound Moroccan passport control booth stalled as I arrived. An official pointed a balding German with raised voice and arms to the outside of the security barrier. Case closed. Go. The tourist went. “Was ist los?” What’s up? I asked the couple in front of me. No immigration form. Immigration form?! You need one leaving?! I glanced back toward the security point and the rapidly growing line where the exasperated German
I stayed put. They can’t mean me. Then it was my turn. They meant me.
I raised my eyebrows – not my voice – in helplessness. He raised his arm; his head began to drop in dismissal. “Mais, vous n’avez pas de …?” I asked, pointing to a stack of cards on the edge of his desk. He blinked, huffed, then shuffled through the stack I pointed to …
Ait Benhaddou Zagora ◉
and found a blank form. “Which flight are you on?” he asked in French. Then came another grunt, a raised finger, and instructions to complete the form where I stood, then break back in line when I was finished. Now, I’m not a cute little girl with ample bronzed cleavage nor someone with a name and position. Middle-aged, rumpled after days on a cross-country bus, and puffy with desert dust allergies, it wasn’t my physical charm that got me by. It was a smattering of French 101 that caught his attention. “Je suis américaine …” I had frequently confessed to questions during the weeklong tour of the back roads of Morocco, at first unsure of the reception that revelation would bring in a Moslem country. “Los Angeles!” or “Chicago!” greeted me.
“Mais non … Florida,” I responded. Smiles, chitchat, invitations followed. I spoke my simple French a hundred times that week. It got me directions and e-mail addresses, and allowed for unique glimpses into the lives of local people. It warmed them to me. I could feel it. There is power in cleavage and money – shortlived and perhaps insincere (though I have neither in ample supply to really be able to judge) – but, a common language offered with a smile (even a puffy one) creates a bond beyond sex and profit – at least the opportunity for one. It can overcome religious, cultural, and political differences, and, even – sometimes – an overworked bureaucrat’s first impulse to send a hapless foreigner to the back of the line. Cool! N’est-ce pas?!
© Story and photographs by Karen Kindler 70
The little girl, curly
brown locks scattered across a doll’s perfect face, stands close to her mother alongside the rushing mountain stream. Clothing in a profusion of color is stretched out over sandstone boulders. It’s laundry day in the High Atlas Mountains of Morocco.
e tourists tramp along the pavement on the other side of the river, cameras aimed at the village ladies bent over their baskets, squatting by the water. Most turn their backs or shield their faces from the cameras. The little girl’s young mother smiles shyly, and bends to whisper to the girl. A tiny brown hand is raised in greeting. The cameras snap furiously. The little hand drops, turns upright. Give me … it says. Give me ... At every stop on the road winding through southern Morocco it happens. Children explode from mud brick hovels and rock strewn wastes to converge on the bus. Some have trinkets or dates for sale. Many have nothing – just long faces and out-stretched hands. Women trudge by, their donkeys laden
with brush. They shield their faces behind veils and scarves. Sometimes they smile and accept a photographer’s polite request to take a portrait. Often the hand comes out. Give me … Boys follow us; they speak English, French, and German. They try to sell something or make a connection to the outside world. “What will you do?” I ask one young man who attaches himself to me during a tour of a date grove. “Marrakech?” I ask. “No,” he answers. “You pay for housing there. And food. It’s too much. You can’t make enough money. I want to go to United States.”
Beware the Children ...
A Look Behind the Tourism Brochures in Morocco 71
I smile. “Life is expensive there, too.” I buy his box of dates. I give him much more than he asked for. I wonder what will become of him and the many other boys and young men who follow us.
night. I buy a pair – all leather, soft and warm, made by young hands in a dark corner on a late winter morning. I pay less than $10. Two more pairs are sold to my fellow travelers. We leave.
“Ah, but they are content.” Habib, the tour We visit affluent towns, guide, tells us. Moments too: tourist havens with later, he points to a wide roads lined with remote mansion nestled modern apartments, the paint crisp and on a rocky outcrop, silent like the others. clean, the doors solid and brightly colored, “Moroccans, some of them,” he grumbles, the shutters firmly sealed. They are ghost “They all want more … more money … towns. The Moroccans who own them more …” live and work elsewhere – in the big cities, in Europe, in America. They maintain Content? I think of the children, the many their little palaces back home and return children … the rocks and desert … the for Ramadan, a wedding or a funeral. women by the stream … the boys handing Their neighbors, the ones who didn’t hotmail addresses to foreign women … escape, make shoes or crafts for tourists the self-satisfied tourist with his bagful in tiny windowless dirt-packed rooms that of penny candy and his thousand dollar open onto the streets in the shadow of the camera. I think of the wide expanse of shuttered mansions. this country and the many others to the south and the many more children and A hammer pounds all night. The tourists hovels. And I worry. And understand. A will want shoes in the morning, the old little. About envy and hate and the roots man says. His sons will work through the of terrorism. And I’m sad.
A variation of this article was published in the Stars and Stripes newspaper: www.stripes.com/military-life/travel/a-look-beyond-the-tourism-brochures-in-morocco-1.88600
© Story and photographs by Karen Kindler 72
Taken (in?) by Marrakech Men. My impressions of a week in Morocco center around its men: some warm and welcoming, some lonely and unhappy, some nearly desperate, and others just plain oily.
he first Moroccan I met was of the oily variety. Mustafa, a seasoned tourist-nabbing barracuda working the environs of the Marrakech medina, looked well past the 44 years of age he claimed to share with the king. Bald, nut-brown, with a blue-tinted bulge under his left eye that suggested more than one unpleasant encounter with a fist,
Mustafa spoke broken English and fair French to match my own. I would offer you a photo, but he was careful to avoid the aim of my lens. He sidled up alongside me as I walked to the medina and asked the usual questions: where are you from? How long are you staying? Where are you going? Small
talk – first English, then French. I was about to turn the wrong way, he warned helpfully. The medina entry is further along that street. I read maps well, but thought, fine, maybe I’m mistaken and turned as directed. There’s a special opportunity today, he told me. This is the one day in the week the Tuareg are in town, peddling their wares. More authentic crafts, cheaper prices. This way. And the mosque is open today to non-Muslims, too. Because of the Tuareg. This way … After much winding through narrow passages, we arrived in an open square – the mosque, he said. It did appear to be adjacent to a minaret and the Arabic inscription he had me place my hand on to make a wish (“It will come true, I promise!”) was, I’m quite sure, a
phrase from the Koran, but a mosque is an interior space, not a square. And this square included laundry drying and cartoon graffiti – not the stuff I usually associate with religious sites, but fine, thanks to my wish, at least there will be world peace. It will come true. He promised. Next the special Tuareg market …. or rather, as it turned out, a shop away from the central souks with a basement full of carpets. Carpets … sigh … my greatest weakness. I would buy one; I knew that already. Why not just get it out of the way on day one, I decided. Out came the tea – mint, heavy on the sugar. Then the carpets: kilims (my favorite) – some woven in simple patterns of brilliant color, others with intricate designs embroidered on top of the
weaving – much of it of silk. It doesn’t burn, the salesman insisted as he held his lighter to a sample piece. I picked one out in a red, black and white geometric pattern – silk embroidery on wool – 20 inches wide by 10 feet long. How much? There is a process, Mustafa had explained. The salesman writes his name and the customer’s on a bit of paper (or his palm), then enters his first offer. The customer then offers half, Mustafa said, by writing the figure under his name. The written haggling continues until the third offer made by the tourist – presumably at about 75 percent of the original asking price and the deal is either made or is off. No worries, no hard feelings. Good day, ma’am! So how much? He eyed me carefully, glanced at Mustafa, and wrote 19,000 dirham under his name. I squeezed the number through my fatigued brain, finally realizing that the approximately 250 USD I’d guessed the conversion to be initially was off by one zero … so it was 2,500 USD he wanted. No. I smiled and got up … and was gently urged back. “What’s your offer?” “Ah yes, the game must be played,”
I smiled. “It’s not a game,” he cried, clearly insulted. “Of course not,” I lied. “But, I’m sorry. It’s just too much, and I don’t want to insult you.” “No insult! Just write. If I don’t agree, no problem. We part with a smile.” “Ok.” 200 USD I wrote … about 2,300 USD less than his asking price. He blinked at that. Not an insult maybe, but clearly a chilly slap across his handsome, bronzed face. 12,000 dirham. 250 USD. 700 USD. 300 USD. Wait a minute. What happened to three times and it’s over!? I got up again to leave. And was gently pushed back again. “You’re no American. You’re no European. You are mountain people. You want quality, but you don’t want to pay! 500 USD,” he conceded in exasperation,
making his final grandstand offer. “350 USD.” “Give me 500 USD.” No, sorry. Mustafa to the rescue. “Give it to her for 450 USD.” We settled. I did love the carpet. It was beautiful, and it didn’t light up when touched to flame and I’d bought carpets before, and thought it a reasonable price. I paid in cash after an escorted walk to an ATM. If I had paid more, maybe Mustafa would have left me alone at that point. His cut would have checked his tourist fleecing block for the day. I guess it didn’t. He needed to invest more time in me. I was hungry, he decided. Not really, I said. Of course you are, he insisted. Well, I suppose I could eat a little something.
He deposited me at a sidewalk eatery filled with locals (men only), convinced a clearly reluctant sun-dried habitué in a striped djellabah to give up his seat in the shade for me, and ordered me a tajine, then excused himself to go for his motor bike. The meal was delicious – chicken, potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, and olives, well peppered in a large earthenware bowl with a liberal stack of fresh-baked bread alongside. The price … unexpected. 160 dirhams the proprietor wrote, glancing up at me as if to see whether I would balk. I didn’t. And I tipped, too. Mistake, I guess. But I wouldn’t learn until the next day that the price was about three times the norm. “I show you the gardens,” Mustafa smiled and nodded to the back of his new moped. I climbed on, my backpack in one arm, my carpet in the other, my fingers grasping Mustafa’s waist. And we launched into the traffic: cars, donkey-drawn carts, bicycles, pedestrians … narrow walkways, multi-lane roads, busy squares. Amazing! How anyone could make sense of the
traffic patterns and make forward progress without incident! We did stop once – nose to nose with another motorbike, two Euro tourists smiling sheepishly on its back. No harm done. Off we zipped again. The gardens. Weren’t. There were some palms dotting a vast dirt-paved enclosed space, a few sheep, four camels taking tourists on short rides, and a seating area/ snack bar. We sipped tea in the shade and chatted. You only live once! Mustafa cried. You must do it! The camel ride, of course. I sighed. Sure, why not. I would. I did. I had my picture taken. It was uncomfortable and poor Fatima, the camel, stumbled a couple of times, nearly tossing me onto my nose. “You pay the man,” my camel driver told me, “but you tip me too. Ok?” Sure. Tradition, I figured. I climbed off, my nether regions numb in a bad bicycle seat sort of way. How much? 300 dirhams. A bit steep, I thought, at just over $30 for a 20 minute ride, but then it was my own fault for not asking first and haggling. I suppose I was still feeling
high after my carpet triumph. I handed the camel driver a 20 dirham note ($2.50). Clearly not the chunk of change he’d expected, I guessed on seeing his expression. Back on the bike. One more stop. A spice/perfume shop. I’m not interested, I told Mustafa. It’s interesting and educational, he insisted. I couldn’t disagree, but didn’t buy either. “Come out with me tonight.” The next phase in the Mustafa give-it-to-the tourist operation began. “I can’t … the tour group …” Maybe Mustafa’s flattering remarks worked with some lonely females – at least in Mustafa’s youth – but I wasn’t going to be one of them. I was far too used to the overtures of 30ish Turks with handsome faces to now suddenly accept this sleazy, sun-aged boxing ring reject.
“No charge!” he added generously. No comment, I thought, not as generously. He was clearly disappointed, but whether because he missed out on my feminine charms or whether there was more financial fleecing in the picture, I wasn’t sure. “You pay me now. My time. My gasoline. You pay me.” Yeah, I saw it coming and had figured on a 200 dirham tip – basically all the cash I still had on me. “What!? You insult me!” OK, this is where I should continue my tale with how I put Mustafa in his place. Unfortunately, I was his captive on the back of the motorbike with both arms full and not at all certain as to where I was and how far it was to the hotel. He stopped at an ATM. He expected roughly $100 for his ‘trouble.’ I suppose at this point I just wanted to be free of him. I should have gotten off the bike and started walking. I didn’t. I paid. He took me home.
It was not the best introduction to the Moroccan people. But that moped ride through Marrakech traffic was worth it. Every cent. What a great way to get up close and personal with the pulsing life of North Africa! And I did get a really nice carpet out of the deal too. And that expensive tajine – it proved to be the tastiest meal of my entire trip. The next evening I met Abdouh, an adjutant in the Gendarmerie Royale. He didn’t fleece me. He led me to the internet point I sought, paid for it, and wished me farewell when I turned down his offer for a drink. I’m invited to stay with him and his family next time I’m in town. My mother, too. And my brothers. Anytime. We are his guests. He is Moroccan, too. I met more of him than I did of Mustafa. Thank goodness. I’m still waiting for world peace.
© Story and photographs by Karen Kindler 78
W(h)ining and Dining
Cruising the Med with the K-Crew
Rent a big van and just go … to snow-
capped mountains, medieval villages, rugged sea coasts, wherever the mood and weather takes us. That was my idea for a family vacation in Europe this summer, the first we would take in several years. It would be an adventure, one to remember for years to come, and I was thrilled when the Kindler family – my mom, two brothers and their wives – accepted the destination. 79
◉Livorno ◉ Rome ◉
nfortunately, the van (and my leadership?) offered too many unknowns. Instead, they decided on a cruise: seven nights leaving Barcelona with stops in Messina, Naples, Civitavecchia (Rome), Livorno (Florence), and Villefranche (Nice). Since I had spent several weeks in all those spots, I felt qualified to lead the family - the K-crew - on DIY jaunts to save a bit of cash on overpriced, overcrowded cruise-organized bus trips. Sighing (not so) quietly to myself (Rome in eight hours!?), I signed on to this modified adventure. I would have my van in a few ports of call and they would have their (reasonably) safe predictability. Cheap – one of the prime requirements for half the K-crew – the cruise was not. But
that's a whole different article, one heavily colored by my attitude toward cruises in general. To me, they’re like a baloney sandwich, the kind in the plastic triangles you can buy at a gas station. Not tasty, not nourishing, not worth the extra little plumping of cellulite. After cost came physical ease for the K-crew. My usual traveling style – climbing every hill and bell tower and hiking miles to find just the right angle for a snapshot – was out of the question. Bonnie, my sister-in-law, and Ralph, both in their 40s, had knee and back issues. Stairs, hills, walking more than a few hundred yards were challenging, often painful. Brother George had had a stroke a year ago. Though 80 percent back to normal, his balance was still impaired and he tired easily. His wife,
Brenda, was worried any exercise that raised his blood pressure could cause another leak, maybe fatal this time. So neither he nor she exercised. Ever. My mom, 74, the hardiest of the bunch (I thought), had recently suffered some sort of temporary vision impairment – “It’s like seeing through a gauzy veil dotted with stars,” she explained. And she didn’t do stairs well either. There aren’t any in the retirement home she shares with her cat. And then there was me – already dubbed “the tour guide from hell” (only half in jest) – with 50 staring me in the face a few days after the cruise and a hip that periodically argued with my best intentions to climb yet another hill for a scenic overlook. I considered “The Kindler Family Special Olympics Tour” as an apt title for what would unfold during this week. I got to work on the moving parts of the plan with car and post-cruise hotel reservations, train and bus schedules, and detailed maps. I scanned other DIY cruisers’ suggestions on-line. I had guide books and road maps, spoke the languages of the ports of call, was confident in my ability to drive with the wildest of Neapolitans, and had a list of favorite spots and foods and experiences I wanted to share with the K-crew. I was ready. I would wow them with the Italy and French Riviera I loved – free of the package tours our fellow passengers were doomed to pay through the nose for. Launch was a success. The K-crew made the rendez-vous in Barcelona from three separate international flights without a hitch. Taxis to the ship, cruise in-processing, cabins, weather – all went smoothly. The mood was upbeat (after the jet lag inspired naps). We fell easily
Messina Port View to Calabria 81
into the friendly banter of the old days, ate well, and set sail that evening into a beautiful gold and rose sunset.
Day 1 in port – Messina, Sicily. It was a cool, bright morning as we docked; the rugged Sicilian hills were crisply outlined behind the small harbor. Deep blue water sparkled across the strait to Calabria. I had a nine-passenger van reserved (was pleased to have found an Irish car rental intermediary on-line that offered the same vehicle for one-third the cost the local company would have charged for direct reservations). I left the ship early, dutifully rubbing the hand sanitizer into my hands as directed by ship’s personnel at the exit (who would later x-ray my bags seeking bombs and wine, not necessarily in that order). I walked several blocks to where I thought the office would be per my map, didn’t
find it, and finally asked directions of a gathering of young police officers. They argued, shrugged, then pointed in the direction I had come; I found it 30 minutes later, a mere five minute walk from where I’d started. The van was a monster – a battered and aging Renault, the driver’s seat nearly as high as a semi-truck’s. The seating was spacious, if basic; it could have been cleaner. I was worried. What would the K-crew think? I carefully backed it out from the curb with the guidance of a clearly concerned car rental office employee. I drove to the dock, signaled to turn into the spaces now occupied by tour buses and cabbies, looking into the eye of the guard at the gate, willing him to believe I belonged among the others, and drove in as he raised the barrier. The K-crew was thrilled with the van. It was ugly enough to be cute! Great. Now the traffic. With Brenda beside me as my very competent navigator, we slid into the morning commuter stream. It was an awakening for them. They come from the Midwest US, where cars remain firmly centered between widely spaced traffic lanes, to the south of Italy, where lanes and traffic signals were mere recommendations.
We successfully evaded the morning’s whining motorini, bicycles, pedestrians, and tricycle trucks, and squeezed in among cars as likely to back up in traffic as move forward. Everything seemed to fascinate them – store displays, American business names (“Look, a KFC!”), the clothing people wore (“check the thong …. Where’s the butt spackle?”), and, of course, the road (Mom: “There are no lines painted on this road. How can you tell where to go?” As if lines did really matter). We made it out of town without problems. Taormina and Mount Etna – my tourist goals for the day, still out of sight to the south – beckoned. The narrow winding road up the mountain to Taormina offered the next moment of communal excitement. The changing coastal scenery along the autostrada with mountains dipping straight into the sea, stone villages perched on craggy crests, seaside villas in yellow and pink half-hidden by groves of bougainvillea – these drew an occasional “nice.” The ride up the mountain to the medieval stone town of Taormina stopped hearts. (“Can we make that turn? Will this thing climb that grade? What if there’s someone coming down?”) “No problem,” I assured them. “Italian drivers work it out.” Usually, I thought. The opportunity to prove that came later as we climbed another winding road to the Etna volcano and two tour buses approached – one in my lane, swinging wide to make the turn, the second in his, preparing to follow the first. The group intake of breath behind me in the van reminded me that I was chauffering Italian road virgins. And it was so simple – pass the first oncoming bus (which was angling wide in my lane), swing around behind
Taormina as seen from Naxos Beach 82
him – in front of the second bus – and back again into the proper lane. A hand signal and head nod were all it took to understand how it would be arranged among us. Magic – to the K-crew.
Taormina. I’d spent five weeks in an Italian immersion course there, absolutely loved it with its sea views past the town of Giardini di Naxos far below. There were sun-baked piazzas with sidewalk cafes and artists’ stands; medieval churches; the remnants of a Roman aqueduct; a Saracen fortress crowning the peakabove town; and the crumbling Greek theater framing Etna's cloud-covered peak, still steaming after its last eruption several years ago. These all seemed mildly interesting to the K-crew. The beribboned dogs in shop doorways drew more of their attention as did t-shirts and funny hats in window displays. A poster
showing the Greek theater – breathtaking in its sea and mountain backdrop – checked one tourist block. (Bonnie: “Yup. Good. Seen it.”) It would have taken an effort to walk there, I agreed (and actually advised against it). Snapshots were taken; postcards bought, then stamps in a long, non-air conditioned wait in the town’s one post office (a dose of local reality in this fairy tale town). Mom radiated wariness from the moment she stepped into the light from the parking garage. I had the impression there was an expectation, a readiness to rebel if I pushed too hard. It was true, there had been some elevation change in the walk; the stone pavement was occasionally uneven; and the day was warming quickly. I simplified my plans as we walked. We couldn’t do it all. Time started to run out. To eat or see Etna? We headed to a grocery store and stocked up
on bread, wine, water, local cheeses and salami. A volcano-top picnic would serve. I’d packed a knife and corkscrew (having briefly considered the ship security screening … nah, that was for alcohol). A brief rest and a few slices of take-out pizza and Italian weenies in pastry eased the wait and re-energized the K-crew for the steps leading back into the parking garage. The top of Etna, unfortunately, was chilly and cloudy that afternoon; the cable cars – mostly empty – disappeared into the gray and charcoal of its slopes. There was no time for that anyway. Trinket shacks peddling lava in various forms kept the K-crew’s interest. No troubles wandering about there. A wagonload of mountain honey and creamy almond and pistachio pastes drew us all, its owner pushing spoonful after spoonful of sugar-laden samples at us. We licked and bought and licked some more. The clock was ticking; the ship would not wait – as Mom was quick to point out at regular intervals.
Etna Base Station
Lunch. It was too brisk and sad to eat on the mountaintop after the golden piazzas of Taormina. A roadside stop in a lava field halfway down the mountain served our purpose. The K-crew was happy to stay in the van (for a quicker getaway, I imagined Mom thinking) and scarf up the cheeses, salami and crusty, buttered olive bread, washing it down with a bottle of Chianti Classico (no cups – the K-crew swigged contentedly from the bottle). It dawned on me as I felt their enthusiasm, their pure delight in fabulous flavors and textures no processed food from back home could ever provide: the K-crew was happy, exuberant. Taormina and Etna were “nice” … the food ... “wow!” Time to go. More winding roads, narrow lanes, autostrada toll booths and city traffic (by now accepted as nearly “normal” by some) compounded to fray Mom’s nerves, but failed to crash through the food coma that had settled in the van. Her Prussian blood demanded punctuality and precision. The adventure that missing the boat would have entailed might have seduced me, but it panicked her. I expect the rest of the K-crew chose simply not to think about that eventuality. We made it back to the ship with 30 minutes to spare.
Day 2 in port – Naples, Italy. Another beautiful morning. The huge cranes in the commercial port off the starboard side of the Norwegian Jewel were silent and nearly obscured in the low-lying mist; Vesuvius rose into the brilliant blue sky aft. Naples would provide a relaxing interlude before the more ambitious effort required of the K-crew in Rome the next day. Plan A had been to pop over to the isle of Capri – a wish expressed by mom: “That’s all I want to see.” The Capri ferryboat left from the quay just adjacent to where the cruise ship anchored. It would be
Vesuvius behind Naples Harbor easy and fast to arrange. We would wander about a bit, have a bite and return in time for the afternoon bus tour of Herculaneum (which I had convinced my brothers/sisters-in-law was a worthwhile excursion). Mom chose independence for her afternoon – a swim, a nap, some bingo, a break from us and our (working) vacation. The plan was good, but life (and inadequate research) intervened. I had not checked ferry schedules to Capri in advance, had forgotten it was a 45 minute ride one way. The family dragged out late from breakfast (due to much needed recuperation from Taormina and dancing/ gambling/miscellaneous frolicking into the night). That and other morning dawdlings (plus the port facility exit, which involved quite a series of stairs – and a broken elevator) pushed us into an unacceptably tight window of time for the ride. Once we got through a gauntlet of taxi drivers and reached the ferry ticket offices, a ride would only have offered the possibility of an hour on Capri (the time needed for the six of us to order gelato). Scratch that. We looked past the harbor front – the city huge and seemingly indigestible around us – and hesitated … until Mario came
to the rescue. The most enterprising of the cabbies, Mario pounced on our tiny herd … and we succumbed very quickly. He could cram us all in his cab, he said, and offer any variation of the tourist bus tours for us alone for 80 euros (less than what the bus tour would have cost per person). He would bring us back to port, do whatever – whenever – we wanted. The K-crew was ready to accept, though still seemed to look to me for the final okay (“Was he a thief, a murderer, or other assorted criminal? Could a Naples cab driver be trusted with our time constrictions – much less our well-being?" “Did I have a magic solution in my back pocket I hadn’t yet shared?” Ummmm, no.) I looked him in the eye, did my best to convey authority, and agreed to his offer. (What the hell, I thought). Back through
the other cabbies we marched. They were not happy with us. We had eluded them; another had bagged us. “My big sister’s in charge,” George told them. I looked straight ahead, shrugged my shoulders. We piled in to the cab. With knees high, elbows held in, butt to butt, we fit – just – and challenged the vehicle’s tire pressure and gas mileage to the extreme as we began the climb to the first look-out point above the harbor. The ride must have been interesting. There were the famous Naples traffic, narrow streets, intermittent views of seascapes, shop windows, people, etc … but my own experience of it (admittedly 10 days later as I write this) was of knees and elbows and butts and wondering if George (in the front seat at 6’-8” and 260 pounds) would annoy (or frighten) Mario, who would then leave us stranded in some remote suburb, or whether Brenda’s discomfort with sitting in the rear of a car would result in nausea. I was also feeling guilty. Mom had wanted to see Capri. I had promised she would. Fresh air! We piled out at the stops – at overlooks to Vesuvius, waterfront boulevards, and the sprawling city dotted with cathedrals and thousand year old ruins from a distance that disguised the disrepair and rubbish I remembered as being the area’s sad trademark. “See Naples and die” goes the old saying. My experience of it a few years ago was “See Naples and choke in filth.” Images of dead water buffalo washed up among bails of shoes and clothing, and families on a Sunday picnic
in sand thick with cigarette butts and discarded snack packaging on nearby beaches flash back to me as I write. The K-crew missed all that; they were happy to snap a few photos of the grayblue volcano against blue-green water and pale blue sky (and breathe the still cool morning air after the extreme togetherness of the cab), then disappear into shops peddling coral jewelry and hand-carved cameos. The deals were good. No tour bus was in sight to offer competition. The ride continued; more overlooks were photographed. Knees and butts and elbows remained in firm contact. What else did we want, Mario inquired. Time was running short. Food, of course! Naples was known for pizza (and buffalo mozzarella, I added, to the K-crew’s apparent surprise). We should have pizza – pizza margarita – Mario recommended, which included the fresh mozzarella. Two hundred yards from the ship – across from the Piazza del Popolo, Mario dropped us at a take-out pizza place. From outward appearances, it was not a place I’d choose, but Mario insisted this would work for us. He must have had an opportunity to dine at a US Pizza Hut franchise somewhere on the continent and so knew – absolutely – that this place would wow us. It wowed us. The pizza margarita was topped with cherry tomatosize dollops of the moist, white cheese floating in a tomato sauce so chunky and flavorful as to be more salsa than sauce. Oral ecstasy! There is no greater pleasure of the tongue than the embrace of a fresh Neapolitan pizza margarita! Except maybe sorbetto di limone … frutti di bosco gelato … calamari grillati … anyway, it was REALLY good.
The K-crew was happy; my morning’s failure as tour guide was now wiped from their minds through their mouths. The euphoria took us (almost) all the way back to the cruise ship. One hill and crossing multiple lanes of traffic did cut into the morning’s high. George nearly met his end a mere 20 yards from the ship as a car screeched to a halt on the tram tracks in the middle of the lane partitioned off for trams … I guess I hadn’t adequately communicated the local lack of traffic predictability to the K-crew. On the other hand, my big, tall brother may well have left a bigger dent in the small Italian car than the car would have left in him (though I’m just as glad that theory wasn’t put to the test). As we passed the last obstacle to the afternoon’s promise of rest, Mom marched off contentedly to the peace of her cabin; I went to meet a friend from the past (which proved similar to mom’s plan, but harborside with more great food and good conversation). The rest of the group left for the tour bus to gain an appreciation of what the 79AD eruption of Vesuvius had done to one upscale Roman suburb (and of what these overpriced tours with herds of people meandering in a wide, loose formation behind a guide was like.)
Day 3 in port – Rome, Italy. We docked in the shipping port of Civitavecchia. Asphalt, chain-link fencing, and stacks of containers absorbed the early rays of yet another still cool, sunny day. Escape from the port and the trip into Rome would require some effort, but I was confident; Rome is fabulous and I had carefully planned the steps to get there: take the free port bus into town, make the short walk to the train station, pay attention to the train schedules (which I carried), and board a tourist bus for the city sightseeing circuit.
I had a plan B, too – buy a public transport day ticket and DIY. The itinerary we would follow was still open. Rome is huge; I hadn’t really seen everything when I spent seven weeks there late one winter a few years ago. I knew we would hardly touch the surface and had asked for specific interests (three sights, I guessed, would be the limit given time and energy). St Peter’s Square was Ralph and Bonnie’s top priority. They had seen the TV images of thousands crammed into its spaces and wanted to see it for themselves. Can it really be so huge, they wondered. The rest of the K-crew seemed content as long as there was food – great food – involved. Easy, I thought. A walk past the Roman Forum, the Coliseum, maybe the Trevi Fountain, Pantheon and Spanish Steps (from the bottom, that is) would provide a very nice overview. There wasn’t time for (or interest in) standing in ticket lines … it WAS summer; crowds would be far heavier than during my winter stay. Quick looks would work best. It was sunny and cool. Perfect ... but I was nervous. We were in Italy and dependent on transportation I had no control over. There was walking involved (and steps of unknown quantity). The K-crew would likely not be pleased with a late evening train ride to Livorno to chase toiletries and underwear up the coast. There were lots of variables to deal with before the next mediocre overfeeding in the ship’s Tsar’s Palace. It all started well. The free bus was at the ship; a new one arrived every ten minutes. The driver was happy to explain the location of the train station as we piled out. I had a print-out that showed trains from Civitavecchia into Rome running every 30 minutes (about a one-hour trip). We could make the next one, I thought, if we walked briskly.
Ten yards into the walk and Mom’s skepticism began to show. "Where is it?" she asked. I must have seemed less than certain as I marched along the boardwalk, scanning signs and landmarks. Then I saw one – alla ferrovia! Yes! It confirmed the driver’s pointing finger. The train station lay ahead, maybe 200 yards from the bus stop, up a small rise across the street from the water. The K-crew could continue as they were and climb a series of stairs or take the side road up a long slow incline. I directed them up the ramp (smug in my ability to have saved them ten stairs … a smugness I would pay for later). The line at the station’s ticket window was long. We would never get through in time for the next train leaving in five minutes. The automated ticket machines were far less popular; it seemed few had experience with them and hovered around them without quite enough courage to use them. Hah! This I could do – and did. I quickly bought a ticket for six (though I failed to see the instructions for making it roundtrip). We rushed to the train, leaving dozens of our fellow passengers languishing in the ticket line, and climbed on board. Yes! It was all working well, I thought, as I looked at the ticket. And I looked at the ticket again. A cold shiver brought me back to reality as I realized I hadn’t validated the ticket, realizing that no train ticket taker would be swayed by my wide blue eyes and claims of ignorance. No! I knew the validation machines tended to be located inside the station – not out toward the end of the tracks. I think they design it that way so people can’t just jump out and stamp a ticket when they see a ticket taker approaching. I bemoaned my stupidity – and clearly aroused the nerves of fellow American passengers, who I guessed had failed right along with me.
Mom suggested I jump out quickly to take care of it …. I flashed to an image of the train leaving without me, the K-crew now abandoned, white faces plastered to windows, ticketless, and speeding toward the eternal city (with just less than eternal panic). I didn’t jump out. The train left in moments. No conductor came. Maybe they tired of the excuses of tourists fresh off the cruise ships and so stayed in their private cabins, or maybe in the station coffee shop, espresso and smoldering cigarette butts filling the hours. Whew. My map of Rome with the train stops indicated was good. I noted the dome of St Peter’s as we pulled in to the stop a few blocks behind it. We could get on here later, I thought. Fellow passengers asked me when to get off – I told them where we were and when we would arrive. Gees, I was impressed with myself (and, boy, was that replaced with shame just minutes later). After a rather long walk through the station (with only one of the moving sidewalks out of order – my luck was holding there), we followed the bus symbol to the square and quickly saw double-decker tourist buses at a stop. Perfect! There were two when we got there, but the stops advertised didn’t feel quite right. One mentioned only religious sites, the other only Roman antiquity. These weren’t it. I checked my map again. “To the side of the station” my internet print-out indicated. That’s when the Roman tourist bus version of the Neapolitan cabbies attacked. A scraggly, long-haired hippy from a bygone era claimed us for his own. These weren’t the buses we wanted, he insisted, and shoved various brochures under our noses. He was right. One brochure sounded like the right choice, but at 18 euros a person, the price was higher than I expected and Brenda’s
attempt at haggling the price down (we WERE six after all) – which didn’t seem to work – made me want to break it off and move on to plan B. We were standing right by the green M (for metro) sign. We could pop straight down and ride to the Coliseum and take it from there. As I approached the metro entry, I spied city bus 110. My luck was holding! This was the city’s public version of the route I wanted to take (at 12 euros a person). I sped to the bus, asked about tickets and was pointed to a booth – with another LONG line of tourists swaying on their feet behind it. Nope. Plan B it was. One more attempt by the scraggly bus hawker was firmly shaken off and I dashed down the steps to the metro. Oh, oh. Steps. Lots of them. And the metro access wasn’t right there. Dank gray tunnels led in various directions; no ticket machine was in sight. The K-crew, now nearing rebellion, I was sure, trailed behind me. Guilt threatened, but I kept it at bay reasoning that the wait would have been worse (and the price of the quicker option was absurd). It took several minutes to find the machine – just past the turnstiles to the trains. Great. I picked one, bought a day ticket – 4 euros for one person for all the transport we wanted all day long. Now that’s a good deal, I thought.
None of the other machines there were in working order either. If I wanted these tickets, I’d have to backtrack to the station, find a ticket window, stand in another line, and eventually, Plan B should work. Nope. The K-crew intervened. “Forget it,” they insisted. I handed my one 4 Euro all-day ticket to a tourist. I hope she understood and used it. We trudged back through the gray caverns, back up to the buses (it was then that I realized just how many steps I had forced them all down – and now up). We would make do with the 18 Euro bus tickets, it was decided. On street level again, we let ourselves be convinced to follow a white-haired gentleman “just around the corner” to the tourist bus ticket window (he held the same brochures as the earlier guy). This man did agree to drop the price to 15 euros each. Good enough. The scraggly tour bus hawker, too slow to pounce this time, glared at us from several feet away and said something nasty.
Then we walked … and walked … and walked …. several blocks in the now much warmer Roman sun. Clear vibes of concern pummeled me from behind. This old guy was moving fast. I expected the K-crew was ready to hang me. We arrived at the ticket office, paid quickly and were pointed to a bus stop. It would show up in 20 minutes or so, we were told. Not good, The second ticket transaction didn’t work; but better than walking. The tension the coins I dropped in the slot were stuck. around me seemed to lighten. Brenda and Of course. A quick dash to the controllers’ I stopped into a bar, bought water, got the window produced a lovely young woman, key to the bagno, and waited. who proceeded to bang her fist on the machine. When repeated attempts brought When the bus came, I chose topside; the nothing, she offered to have my money others chose the first seats they saw below. mailed to me … four euros … mailed …. Luck returned as half the passengers on “sure” she insisted. “No problem.” the top deck piled out at one of the first stops. I moved up to the three rows under “Thanks. No,” I said. cover at the front of the bus as Brenda
poked her head up the stairs, and we all then managed to get seats together in front of a huge picture window of Rome in the shaded front on the top deck! Wonderful. I blocked out the earlier fiasco; the K-crew seemed happy to stare at the grandeur of the city from the cool shade and I set about planning our stops.
It quickly became clear that the midday mid-week midtown Roman traffic slowed bus progress significantly. I pondered the wisdom of relying on the bus to get us back to the station in the evening. Sure, we could get on and off as we pleased … but we could still miss the train … and the ship. I worried and plotted and traced lines with my finger on the map. We saw St Peter’s Square from high up on the bus – checked that block; no one was ready to abandon our seats for the expanse of marble and concrete ahead of us. I recommended we stop very close to the Trevi Fountain. We could toss the mandatory coin in and wander through picturesque back alleys to where the bus could pick us up again for the ride back. It was about a three block walk from where the bus let us off to the Fountain. About a block into the walk – at the first series of sidewalk cafes we saw – mom’s patience died. “We need to stop. We need rest and food,” she insisted (one block into the walk! And after yet another substantial morning feeding aboard the Jewel.) Nope,
I insisted we would see one sight – just one – before we settled in for a bite (Was I being an jerk? Probably). We reached the fountain, which I had passed many a time in the winter, when the experience was a pleasure. On this day, many dozens of people jammed the stairs, piazzetta and alleys, took their pictures, threw their money, and raised their voices over the gaggle of the crowd. This was NOT fun. Another sense of failure nagged me. Food – that I should be able to deliver, I figured. Unfortunately, all the eateries were jammed – at least the outside seating. So, even eating could prove a problem … especially since choosing a place might have to be a decision by committee … never an easy thing. Hawker to the rescue! We allowed ourselves to be lured around another “corner” – which, fortunately, truly was a corner this time. We sat inside a little Roman ristorante in the residential alley; it was cool and quiet, away from the crowds and stress. Smiles returned to the faces of the K-crew. We all relaxed and ate and drank (pizzas, calamari, insalata caprese, sorbetto). I did warn the group that this would not be an Americanstyle quick bite. Eating is an experience to be savored in Italy, not a biological need to be met with speed and chemical assistance. The choice to sit and eat cancelled out any further touring in Rome, I cautioned, at least with the exception of what we would see as we walked to the next transportation connection. They were a bit disappointed, but readily took to the multi-course offerings and wines. Snap shots of the K-crew here showed happy faces; the next one I would take was far more strained.
We moved on slowly, carefully, with George firmly planted by mom’s side (and I had been worried about him). We got to the Forum, took a family snapshot at the edge (smiles glued to weary faces), and moved on to the Coliseum. One young man painted all white, a human statue – one of the several we saw lining the walkway along the Forum ruins – reached out and grabbed me – firmly – until I bought my freedom. When George ventured in too close, he tried the same strategy on him. George’s eyes betrayed the desire for violence. The statue – thankfully – read the same signs I did. We went on our way.
Roman Coliseum We weren’t far from the Coliseum. We could make it there on foot – after having rested and eaten – and see a bit more of Rome without waiting in lines. It was a good plan – till mom almost passed out. We were walking down a set of stairs (the only set, I think, along that route) after a short distance along a heavily-trafficked road. “We have to stop,” I heard her say again (again!) as we walked down (down!) the stairs (in the shade!). No, I thought … convinced that this was another effort on her part to protect her babies, who (I supposed she believed) failed to appreciate this little meandering through the city. Then her eyes rolled up and she sank into George’s arms. Damn, she’s some actress, I remember thinking. What a lioness won’t do for her cubs! A woman, concern etched on a sundamaged face, offered “una sedia” – a chair and disappeared into her shop to get it. Someone – Bonnie? – bought a postcard there. Mom sat, teetered a bit in the chair. She’d been quite serious. Her tolerance for traffic fumes apparently compounded her other worries and discomforts to really knock her over.
Where were the cats, Bonnie asked. I remembered them around the back from winter days in the past and began moving that way, then realized that with this crowd they were unlikely to be there. The relieved K-crew turned about and headed for the metro that would speed us to the train. The clock was ticking – as mom began to remind us … and remind us … at very regular intervals until we were safely on the boat. I bought the metro tickets at the manned window at the bottom of the (working) escalator across the (nearly traffic-free) street from the Coliseum. The train arrived quickly and had just enough space to squeeze us on board (Ralph noted the distinct scent of local hygiene habits). At the main train station, I got another ticket for six from a ticket machine, validated it correctly (thanks for the reminder, Brenda!) and we found seats together on the train. It would be close, but we would make it just fine.
The train was jam-packed at its origin and became a standing room only affair by the time we reached the St Peter’s stop (whew!! I imagined having successfully maneuvered the K-crew on a death march from St Peter’s Square only for them to then have to stand the next hour in tightly packed quarters … I would have passed out – never mind mom!). While chugging along in the now very warm afternoon sun pouring in my window, I overheard another passenger ask about this train’s arrival time. It was apparent she would miss her cruise ship (unless a ship-sponsored tour bus was held up in traffic and arrived late). Sad, I thought. Glad it wasn’t us. We had lots of time. Then I checked my listings. Oh, oh. We’d jumped on a slow regional train – and one, as it turned out, that was pre-empted at several points by faster trains. It was running late. By the time we arrived in Civitavecchia, we had only 20 minutes to make the last port bus to the ship. Had it taken longer for the walk out that morning? We marched, grim determination etched on every face. Brenda led the K-crew down the waterfront walk (where was that energy coming from? Was it a closer attachment than mine to that underwear now threatening to steam out without us?) There was already quite a crowd at the stop when we arrived. No problem, I figured as the bus drew up. Brenda got on board early. The rest of us didn’t make it at all. One seat left. She wanted her husband. “We’re together” she told the bus driver, but was finally convinced that ceding her seat to a woman and child would do her/them no harm and so, we all waited together for the next bus. It was past 18:30, the time we’d been told we HAD to be on board. Surely, the boat wouldn’t leave us now.
Luckily, we did make it on board. Barely. That was the night Ralph paid for an overpriced bottle of wine at dinner. We all really – really – needed a drink.
Day 4 in port – Livorno, Italy. Hope dawned with the day as I dragged myself out into the morning after a long, hard night's sleep. The sky shone pale gray reflecting the asphalt and steel of the industrial port facilities where the Jewel was docked. Pisa and Florence were the headliners for this stop. Over my dead body, I thought in the weeks before the cruise, not realizing at the time, how very dead I might have been if a Rome-like city adventure awaited the K-crew for a second consecutive day. Mutiny. Florence would have been another full smorgasbord of touristjammed sights and it lay another full hour away by train or bus. Pisa … well, it had one small city block to boast of. Get your photo taken by the leaning tower – either simulating holding it up or pushing it over – and you were essentially done. The K-crew did not seem overly enthusiastic about medieval religious architecture, so the adjacent Duomo and associated museum were unlikely to have been worth the effort of showing up. I had reserved another rental van on this day. We would head to the hills of Tuscany instead. A gentle drive (we were far enough north now that stop signs and traffic lanes would actually be obeyed by locals and tourists alike) and a leisurely stroll through a small village or two, plus food, shopping, and rest should please the K-crew. It was Brenda's birthday, too. Be kind, I reminded myself. No tough goals ... just be. The idea had appealed to all, to Brenda certainly, who envisioned multiple wine tasting stops throughout the day. (Hey, what about the driver!?)
I found the port bus within a few feet of the ship's gangway and interrogated the driver about the rental car office location. "Yes!" His eyes lit up with recognition after a few moments of pondering my reservation sheet. "No problem. I'll stop the bus on the way and show you where to go," he said (in Italian). He arranged the unscheduled intermediate stop with the port transportation overseer, I paid my Euro, and jumped on the bus, maintaining firm eye contact with the driver; he wouldn't forget me, I was determined. I watched every turn the bus made through the sprawling port area and then beyond. I would have to return this way to pick up the K-crew and did not want to be late (and lost). One landmark I noted at a corner halfway through the drive was a dark garage with a small "autonoleggio" – car rental – sign on its soiled and crumbling walls. Too bad, I remember thinking. That would have been too easy. My reservation was through a big name company, not this local hole-in-the-wall operation. The driver signaled me, stopped, pointed, and waved good-bye, a friendly smile on his face. How nice, I do like Italians, I thought as I crossed to the row of warehouses disappearing into the gray and grayer distance. After perhaps a hundred yards of peering into door after industrial garage door, none of which appeared to have any relation to tourism, I asked one of the few workers out this early on a Thursday morning, how much further I had to walk. He knotted his brow, shook his head, and pointed back the way I'd come. Of course. Déjà vu. Back I went. And further, crossing into a little community, which offered more hope than the row of warehouses I had just left. A stop into a small shop put a firm end to my optimism. "No, not here and the address – it's inside
the port," I was told.. Back I walked. It had been a long bus ride, I remembered, much of it on one-way roads. My map was useless. The local people seemed to know nothing of this facility (though they did want to help, I was certain). Again, I stopped – this time at the car rental place the bus had passed half an hour ago. Surely, they would know the location of a competitor. The shop was dark when I got there. Grimy window panes revealed no life inside. I stood there a moment pondering my next move when a station wagon pulled in. The young man acknowledged me with a nod of the head, smiled and proceeded to unlock the doors without another word. Clearly, in his mind, I belonged there, at that time. I couldn't believe it. This was, in fact, where I should have been to begin with. The agency name on my print-out was wrong. The agency address was inside the port somewhere (also wrong). But the price – and my name – were right. I was so relieved that the shop manager's fumbling with antique computers and derelict printers only amused me. I had arrived. It would be ok. I jumped into the clean, new car he led me to (of unknown make … these European cars are all odd, I thought) and pulled out toward the port. At the entry control point, a camper truck was stopped on the left by the office window; the right barrier gate was open. I drove through without another thought, found the ship again (yes!) and found half the K-crew waiting for me. Stepping from the vehicle, I gazed at the shining vehicle with satisfaction – and froze with horror. The vehicle might seat five, I suddenly realized, but certainly not our six, unless someone could be cajoled into the luggage space in back. Of our group, I might fit, I thought, but who would drive?
The K-crew took it in stride. Brenda jumped in with me for the drive back to the rental company. I knew the route quite well by now. Happy Birthday, I smiled at her (I think I managed a smile … I did try.) The young man was pleased to see us, swapped out the vehicles immediately, and we were on our way in a new seven-passenger van. At the port gate, this time, the barriers were down and no other vehicles waited. I pulled up to the window expecting to be ushered through with a smile. I wasn't. The questions started. Who was I? What did I want? Where was I going? I raised my eyebrows in helplessness and tossed out a handful of words in Italian – just fragments. My mind seemed incapable of more at that point. He cocked his head at me, reformulated my words into nice, clean complete sentences, which indicated exactly what I had hoped to communicate, and paused a moment. I waited, a faint smile on my classic "dumb blond" act face. It worked. We were passed through to – finally – begin our Tuscan adventure. The medieval stone village of San Gimignano was my goal. It lay perhaps an hour to the southeast of Livorno, along country lanes winding through rolling hills. I remembered the greens and golds of the bucolic setting; the town's tall, square towers and cobbled piazzas; and the peace I felt after escaping the bustle of Florence a few years ago. It would be a lovely day whether the sun showed its face or not.
We were off. Brenda held the map; the K-crew was comfortably settled in for the ride. We found the autostrada without difficulty. I knew the exit would pop up very soon and asked Brenda at each road sign if we were getting close. "No … can't see that one … or that one … or that one." I realized when I pulled over to check the map myself (a certain smugness held at bay … I can read a map, I thought) that it was my fault. We should not have been on the autostrada after all, but rather on more direct road to the south. The one hour trip took a little over two hours. Then Mom began reminding me of the ship's evening departure time – her job, I know – before we were even halfway there. I remember Brenda's eyes rolling up once or twice in response to these announcements. (Good, I thought. It's not just me!). Finally, San Gimignano came into view; its 14 hundredfoot-plus tall towers
San Gimignano 94
complain, but I sensed pain and resignation in his every step. Bonnie stayed close to him. It was the first time I began to suspect it was he with the greater mobility problem. Bonnie seemed fine (if generally unhappy with elevation changes … walking downhill backwards seemed to help.).
were silhouetted against the still gray sky. The city parking area was located outside the village perimeter and – unfortunately – perhaps 30 feet below the elevation of the town itself. I unloaded the K-crew as high up on the road as I could, parked, and started the climb into town with a clearly already weary family. I had no map of the town with me and so followed signs and instincts to find the corners of the village that would (I hoped) seduce the K-crew from their worries and physical struggles. The first part of town we reached was quaint, but hardly impressive. A small Romanesque church stood on one edge of the steeply sloped piazzetta; private residences and an empty café – no other businesses – encircled the small (and dry) stone fountain at its center. Ralph was dragging, I noted. He didn't
We turned a few more corners and arrived. Finally. Handicraft-filled boutiques, restaurants spilling onto pedestrian-only walkways, picturesque winding alleys (so you couldn't launch a cannonball for a long distance, I remember a local explaining), a grander cathedral, and people – enough to decorate, but not to choke the walkways and shops – welcomed us into the center of San Gimignano. The sun came out. Grey stone turned to tarnished gold. We took photos, ate lunch under sun umbrellas amid greedy little birds, and watched the peaceful, colorful scene around us. The wine was good, the pizzas adequate (they couldn't compete with the Pizza Margarita in Naples). The K-crew wandered about after lunch, peering into shops. I noted at least one stop at a gelateria; Ralph and Bonnie, their heads bowed close together, shared their sweet icy prize. Brenda called her folks and the kids back home from a public phone, wiping a tear from her eyes. Bonnie spoke to her mother, too. Temporarily mesmerized, mom even forgot to remind us of the time for a while. It was a complete success. Everyone loved it. I was happy and relaxed – for a little while. Back in the car right on schedule, I determined to swing through the village of Volterra on the way back. It was another similarly magical place. If they loved San Gimignano, they would
love Volterra, I reasoned, and it was right on the way. That was a mistake. One village was great; two was one too many. And then there was an unfortunate incident: Bonnie was apparently guilty of some unforgivable faux pas. She had entered one of the many shops featuring alabaster carvings, a local specialty. Ralph said there was an audible "clink" as she handled some alabaster eggs. The proprietor's eyes narrowed at that point and her attempt to purchase the goods in question was firmly denied. Unable to understand the string of Italian launched at her, she left the store in confusion. When told of the exchange, I was flabbergasted that a businessman in Italy would turn down business – ever – and offered to go back with her and attempt to ease communication. "Forget it," it was decided. We did … and had another round of gelato to ease Bonnie's shock and the K-crew's general weariness. The drive back went smoothly, though we did take a wrong turn in Livorno, then corrected our heading as I began to recognize the warehouse district I had trudged through that morning. We were back on board with (a little) time to spare. I
believe that was the night that among the many desserts we tried after dinner, one – a rich creamy custard – made at least two appearances on every plate. And then there was the birthday cake (though without the singing, which Brenda did not – definitely – please – not – want).
Day 5 in port – Villefranche, France. The setting was picture perfect - the pastel colors of the Italianate village; a shoreside medieval fortress; the crescent of beach winding around to a wooded peninsula of mansions; sailboats bobbing in the light surf; mountains rising up; and all framed by bright blue water and brilliant blue sky. This would be the last stop before we returned to Barcelona and, I confess, the day's planned adventure was a setup. (Sorry, guys …) George and Brenda were innocents trapped in my (gorgeous) snare. I had announced my intention on the previous day's drive back to the ship: once in Villefranche, I would revisit a village perché – a mountaintop village, I'd hiked to several times in the past. Èze, the ancient stone village straddling the highest point of a rocky crag overlooking the French Riviera, was built at a time when coastal peoples wanted to be well out of range of marauding pirates. It could be reached by bus (the option Ralph, Bonnie, and mom chose), or the "natural" way – on foot from the railway station at the mountain's base, a few feet above sea level. I would walk it – for once, a travel day my way (though my arthritic hip murmured its objections as the idea crystallized in my mind). It was a ploy (yes, George, it was). They could do it, George and Brenda. I was convinced of it. They had held up very well so far and seemed energized by the activity and ready for a little bigger
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challenge. I hadn't suggested they come, just that I would go and, sure enough, they each came to me separately and asked if I minded if they joined me in my little trek. "We used to love doing stuff like that as kids," George enthusiastically reminded me (yeah, 35 years ago …). I warned them it would be a two hour walk
straight up (I hadn't quite realized myself it would be a 1,300-plus-foot elevation change … really, George). No problem, they assured me. Good, I said, satisfied (and pleased). It would be a short day in port. All aboard time was 3:00 p.m. and passengers would have to catch launches to make it back to the ship since the waters off Villefranche, which lies just to the east of Nice, were too shallow to permit the Jewel to dock anywhere. Bus schedule in hand (I had heeded the warnings about the train, which sometimes bypassed the Villefranche stop and went straight to Nice), we marched up the hill from the port where the launch had deposited us and waited for our bus. A 15-minute ride later, at Èze-sur-Mer, we stepped down into a lonely stretch of road along the bougainvilleachoked waterfront, and paused at a small eatery to stock up on water. The young woman behind the counter inspected our shoes, approved, and handed us the water. We were ready for the climb, she declared. It would be an hour. No problem. It was hard walking. The sun shone bright on flushed faces and sweating shoulders. We stopped often to rest, finding a few stunted trees offering their sparse shade. The
narrow trail wound around outcrops, zigging and zagging its way ever upward; the cool blue Mediterranean cradling a handful of sailboats stretched to the horizon below. I was pleased to note we passed a young Frenchman and the two ladies with him early on the trek. Though at least a decade younger and several kilos lighter, we were – yes, George, you and Brenda, too – in better shape than they. They never did catch up with us again. It hurt, that walk. But we made it. All the way. It took an hour and a half. Very decent progress, I thought. "See, you can do this," I said, proud that they did so well despite not walking or exercising at home. Brenda caught on immediately. "Yes, George, you did really well. I guess you can go back to work after all …" There was some hemming and hawing and I suppose it was understood that one hill would not change much in their lives (beyond offering bragging rights).
Our choice of drinking establishments, unfortunately, could have been better; it was part of a five-star hotel complex and we'd stumbled in among a clearly wealthy clientele just rising to enjoy a freshsqueezed orange juice and croissants on the hotel veranda. (I was reminded of the Sesame Street clips: "which of these does not belong?") The waiter approached, eyebrows raised, and asked for our order. I figured it was one of those places where if you had to ask the price, you really couldn't afford it … so, saliva stirring at the thought of a large glass of OJ, I ordered us three small waters. That would buy us time, I reasoned. In France, a single café – hardly bigger than a thimbleful – can rent a ringside seat to the happenings of the haute monde for hours. Here, one hour (at a cost of about $30 for the water) would do nicely. The rest of the day went by in a bit of a blur. The allergy I had developed in Tuscany was quickly proving to be a cold. My (our) feet hurt, and the way down, though easier on hearts and lungs, was still quite a challenge for knees and thighs unused to the strain of the equivalent of a couple of thousand stairs straight down. We returned to the waterfront eatery, knees quivering, and ordered sandwiches. These we wolfed down with more (much cheaper) water, and finally boarded the bus for Villefranche – right on time (you
Once in Èze, we found a café at the edge of the cliff, and threw our sweaty, grimy bodies into the wrought iron stools, all of us – my hip included – refusing to move another inch before resting and drinking and congratulating ourselves on survival.
would have been proud, mom). Back down to the harbor we marched. A huge gelato at harborside rounded out the afternoon. We were back on board just about when my cold announced it would take me down for the next several days. I slept through dinner, but I was content.
Two weeks later, I wrote the above details of the (mis)adventure we had shared, still bemoaning the choice of a cruise, still kicking myself in the rear for a whole slew of mistakes, still pretty much stressed. Then I began editing my photos â€“ smiling
portraits, sun-drenched scenery, silly moments â€“ and I finally woke up. This trip hadn't been about Europe at all or about getting the most out of every port of call for the time and money invested. It wasn't about my successes or failures in leadership, experience or plans. It wasn't about me at all (a lesson I should probably remember more frequently). It was the K-crew get-together that mattered â€“ the family time we hadn't had since Ralph's wedding. How had I missed that part? How had I forgotten my family's sense of humor and easy-going nature? The genuine smiles in the many photos (admittedly, many of them during or
immediately after eating); the affection they so clearly expressed for each other; the jokes and wisecracks (interspersed with a little honest bitching – mostly from mom – it is her job after all); and the stoic (mostly) silence when I did push a bit harder and cut timelines a bit close remind me now that the business of sightseeing was far less important to them than the pleasure of each other’s company, the pure fun they were all capable of.
Postscript: six years later. We're talking about another family cruise now - the Caribbean this time. Not everyone is enthusiastic. “You’re the tour director,” I hear. Noooo ... A cruise is fine, I think, but sightseeing? Take the organized tours. Or don’t.
They didn’t much like walking or being rushed and the historical/cultural aspect of the region did sometimes seem to escape them, but they did – do – like each other (and me too – hellish tour guide or not). I wished I had understood that from the beginning. I’d have worked less hard, worried less, and had more fun myself.
© Story and photographs by Karen Kindler 100
Travel Stories by a Single Woman in Europe, Turkey, and North Africa