Monday, December 11, 2006


Ok, the sad news is that I am also back home now, suffering through the rain of a Vancouver winter. On the flight home I was lucky enough to have a 7hr layover in Amsterdam. I had never been to Amsterdam and it was a sunny morning so I jumped on the train for the 15 minute ride into the centre. I spent about 4 and a half hours wandering around. Wow, it is quite a beautiful city. I remember wondering when I had left Europe because it was obvious that I was back in it. The style is very much different from Eastern Europe and the numerous canals flowing through town make it so pretty. I just wandered aimlessly taking lots of photos. In a way it reminded me more of Stockholm than anywhere else. Most be all the water.....
I don't know what the population is but I do know that on a saturday morning in December there is nobody out on the streets and you can feel like you own the whole city. I also haven't seen that many bicycles since China. There are tons of them and everyone, young and old seem to be riding. I think it's great, but like Vancouver, I think the weather can't be any fun to ride in most of the time. The stones on the sidewalks are covered in a thin green layer, meaning they get way too much rain. I had no information with me so I have no idea what there is to do in Amsterdam apart from all the art museums and the red light district. Maybe that is it. As it is, most of the people I talk to that have been there were too stoned to care. The red light district is super famous of course and I was surprised to find that it wasn't labelled on any city maps. It took me a while to find it actually and when I got there there wasn't much going on. 10am on a saturday is a time best avoided. The one or two "girls" on display were not of the best quality and I am now traumatized. It is a really strange place, with all the shops and the like because it is obviously a legit place of business for them but at the same time it is such a famous tourist attraction that there are old couples and families walking around inside the area. Just seems like an odd mix.
As I said before, I am now in Vancouver again. Can't say I missed the city or the weather. Don't worry, I will be back travelling again at the end of the month so keep checking in, this story is far from over.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Pickle Juice

Izmir was not terribly interesting for me. My hosts were, again, university students and mostly busy. Izmir is the 3rd largest city in Turkey and once ancient Smyrna, birthplace of Homer and all sorts of ancient history. Despite all that, there is almost nothing to see or do there. There are no ruins or anything. I walked around a bit, guided by my host and another guest from Spain. I have found the best drink for my family. Pickle juice. There was actually a guy on the street selling it. It is just the juice from a jar of pickles in a glass with lemon juice added. Add a few pickle slices, pickled cabbage and carrot and there you go. It is pretty hard to just down a glass but I managed somehow.... The most exciting thing was the HC meeting that night where I ran into Dave and Malika again. They were the hitchhikers I met in Istanbul that convinced me to hitch through North Cyprus. We were both headed the same way and we met up again the next day in Ephesus. Ephesus is the most famous and important Roman ruins in Turkey and some of the best preserved in the world. The city itself was the capital of Asia minor at one point and home to the Temple of Artemis, one of the original wonders of the world. All that remains of that temple is the base and one pillar though the rest of the ruins are very nice. Tons of columns and well preserved streets. Personally I prefer Pompeii.
As with all things, I was corrupted into hitching again but as three people it isn't easy. We ended up splitting up with me in front a ways so that Dave and Malika could tell the driver to stop and pick me up after they were already in. Pretty good scam. Did I mention that the buses here are really expensive? The train is half the price or less so we took the train to Denizli and stayed with a doctor host and his family. I think we intimidated him or something because he was nice the first night but the next morning we were forced to move on by his wife. From there we hitched to Pamukkale, a popular tourist destination just down the road. I ended up getting picked up almost instantly so I lost the other two and never found them again. Such is the way I guess. It was fun while it lasted. Pamukkale has more ruins and huge white rock terraces that form bathing pools on the side of a hill. Interesting but I thing you really have to be here in summer to appreciate it. It is far too cold for swimming and the town is empty.
Tonight I will take an overnight train back to Istanbul and then get on my plane home. Just a quick stop in Amsterdam left to go. I guess I'll see some of you soon.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Northern Cyprus

Now that I am on my own, I am able to get away with doing a few things that I just couldn't do with the girls around. No, not that! I am talking about hitchhiking. With a small group or being solo the rules of the game change completely and you can do and experience different things. Now I have to go out and meet people and can be hosted by others that couldn't take on such a large group.
Anyway, seeing as it was a good deal for flights, I booked a flight to north Cyprus (aka KKTC aka Turkish controlled Cyprus). As someone pointed out to me, I flew from the only city on two continents to the only city in two countries. Not bad. What I didn't realize at the time was that the airport was a ways out of the city and there is no public transport between the two. No problem, I heard from some backpackers in Istanbul that Cyprus is one of the easiest places to hitchhike. Turns out that is true, even for a sketchy looking guy like me on the side of the highway in the middle of the night. In fact, I hitched my way around the whole island and never had to wait more than 5 minutes for a ride. If only it were like that everywhere......
I don't know where to begin with Cyprus. It is a divided island, 3rd biggest in the Mediterranean but actually quite small still as the distances between cities is only an hour or two. The population is really small (~250,000 in the north) and the north is really quiet. If you talk to the Turks here they will tell you it is a little too quiet and they hate it. The local Cypriots generally hate it too and see it as a dead end place, so unless you want to retire stay away. I like it actually and find it very relaxing. There are very few tourists here but it is a very nice 20C during the day and chilly at night. The whole look climatically is very Mediterranean like southern Italy or France. Dry, little mountains and the vegetation that goes with it (shrubs and orange trees).
Because of its strategic importance, Cyprus has been ruled by just about everyone in its history, but most recently by the British, which means that they drive on the left.
I was hosted by a couple university students in Lefkosa/Nicosia. Every city has 3 names, Turkish, Greek and English. They spend all their time betting on football games. Northern Cyprus is actually a huge gambling area. Turks and Greek Cypriots go specifically to gamble, while the tourists go in the summer for the beaches. I also went to Girne/Kyrenia and Famagusta. All are small towns and don't offer a whole lot to see other that well preserved city walls and usually some sort of fortress. Because Turkey is the only country recognizing North Cyprus as being independent, it spends a fortune maintaining the place. The North gets tons of money and it looks much nicer than a lot of Turkey does. The eastern Turks and Kurds are especially bitter because they get ignored more than North Cyprus does. And a lot of the money is just wasted by corrupt officials and gambled away. Of course.
Famagusta was the most interesting. During the war between the Greeks and Turks in 1974 (when the green line dividing the country was established) most of the city was abandoned. Today there is a huge dead city on one side. It is the original and is bigger than the section lived in. It is controlled by the military and you can't go in there but it is clearly visible. Huge abandoned banks, waterfront hotels, streets and homes. They won't tear it down and they won't repair it. It's really weird. The young guy that I was staying with in Famagusta is a bit of a political rebel and we decided that we'd try to cross the line. In the last couple of years it has become possible but there are some strange rules still in force. There are only 3 crossing points and because I entered Northern Cyprus first (which is recognized only by Turkey) I have entered Cyprus illegally and have an illegal stamp in my passport. Because of this stamp I am not allowed to enter South Cyprus or Greece anymore. If I want to go there I will have to wait for a new passport. At the Famagusta crossing they let us across though because it crosses directly into the British controlled area and they don't care. So I did get across, did my jiggy jiggy dance for 5 minutes, picked some mandarin oranges off the trees and walk back across. There was nothing there to do or see. I tried again in Nicosia the next day and they flat out refused to deal with me at the checkpoint there.
Relations are getting better slowly as a result of EU pressure (Cyprus is a member) to sort it out. North Cypriots have an unclear status within the EU and I never really could figure out what they could and couldn't do. Most of them have a couple passports to get around it.
There are also lots of mountains along the northern coast and in the middle of the country. Over the course of history a series of fortresses were built along the mountains and the coastal towns in such a way that there could always be contact. On a clear day you can see pretty much the entire island from the top of the northern mountains as well as Turkey and Syria. But under worse weather conditions they would communicate in a line, Lord of the Rings style. I was lucky enough to be driven up to the top of Katara castle, the most important fort in the north. Beautiful. I was only in Cyprus for 5 days then had to hitchhike back to the airport to fly to Izmir in western Turkey. Unfortunately I just don't have the time to tell all the stories on here so you'll have to ask me later. I have been really busy and moving a lot since I have been on my own. The pace has been killing me and my cold just won't go away.