Pros : Ultra-hip,
uber-thin, trend-setting Beautiful People in fashionably-tied scarves
and skin-tight jeans.
June 16th, 2004
High on jet-fuel-strength Turkish coffee and probably legally intoxicated
from the sugar overdose of 2 pounds of Turkish delight, we devised
a whirlwind travel plan for the two weeks left before meeting my
younger sister in Barcelona. Libby, who is tall, gorgeous, and brilliant
(and, sorry, single guys, she´s practically married to Alan
who is also tall, gorgeous, and brilliant), is finishing her University
of Michigan Spanish degree in, of all places, SPAIN! Since we are
on the phone almost every day at home, this year has been extremely
damaging to our quota of sister-to-sister talking time (equally
so with my older sister, who stubbornly refuses to visit us on our
travels, using her two kids and full time school schedule as EXTREMELY
WEAK EXCUSES! in my opinion); I am looking forward to spending a
solid week talking to her about all the things I can´t talk
to Phil about, namely Phil, and shopping. After one more day in
Istanbul, we took the train to Pammukale (I highly recommend the
train; Lonely Planet´s tepid description is undeserving, and
it´s cheaper than the bus), saw the calcium pools (which look
like they are made of water-sculpted ice, but, like the rest of
Turkey in June, are really bloody hot; sigh), and caught the bus
to Marmaris. Now that is a resort-y town. If you have a deep, unfulfilled
craving to shop in a store wholly devoted to Gucci beachwear, this
is the place for you. Amongst the mass of high-rise luxury hotels,
we found an amazing place, the Maltepe Hotel, with an attached bathroom,
a huge balcony complete with clothes drying line (!!!), a kitchen
for self-catering, and A FRIDGE IN THE ROOM! all for less than the
cost of a dorm bed at the Lonely Planet-recommended Interyouth hostel.
The proprietor quizzed us seriously before showing us the room to
make sure we didn´t harbor a secret desire to go to the other
hostel; he has a slight issue with the unfair number of backpackers
who go there instead of to his place. Once his short anti-Interyouth
tirade was over, he was a very gracious host, and it was the best
hotel we´ve had, maybe on the whole trip.
We stayed a few days in Marmaris, cooking elaborate, enormous meals
for cheap; in fact, since we aren´t beach-people, our days
pretty much centered around planning, shopping, and preparing our
meals. I´m enormous. Unfortunately, though, we had to leave
this gastronomical splendor to head towards Spain, and ended up
doing this by the least direct route possible: Rhodos (Greece) to
Athens (Greece), then up to Berlin before heading back south to
Barcelona. This was actually cheaper than to go directly to Barcelona.
I will never understand the intricacies of flight logic.
The ferry to Rhodes is ridiculously expensive for an hour-long ride,
but since I wasn´t quite ready to swim it, we booked the tickets.
At the dock in Rhodes we were met by a guesthouse owner who showed
us to his place, the Nassos Hostel. The dorms weren´t exactly
spacious or aesthetically pleasing, or even especially grime-free,
but it was cheap and had a kitchen we could use. There was also
a life-traveller Swede with the memory of an idiot savant and a
tolerance to ouzo that gained the respect of even from the dedicated
Greek drinkers; he provided a great deal of local color as well
as the names of all chess champions since the beginning of world-wide
competition. We spent a few days exploring the moat and narrow streets
of walled old city, walked around the deliriously expensive tourist
shops, and counted about 25 katrillion cruise shippers who docked
to spend feverishly before re-boarding and eating themselves into
food comas. I overheard one woman say, "Hey Darrell, who owns
this island anyway?" This gave me a smug little feeling of
traveller superiority; at least by dragging my dirty road-weary
self across borders (flights being normally out of our meagre budget),
I´ve always known what country I was in. That petulant thought
helped to ease the sharp feelings of jealousy as I watched them
head back to their funk-free bathrooms and laden buffet tables.
Moving onward: I had memories of sleeping on the floor of the ferry
from Crete to Athens when my mom took me to Greece 14 years ago,
so I was braced to spend the night bared to the elements on the
open-air deck. Prepared for the worst, the captain´s chairs
and big-screen TVs on the Rhodes to Athens ferry were an incredibly
welcome surprise. Once we moved away from the chain-smoking family
who had set up camp next to us, we were more comfortable than in
the Nassos dorm room.
We hit Piraeus, the port to Athens, before the estimated time, and
(after some geographical struggle) found the youth hostel. What
a great deal! 8.60 Euro ($11.20) for a 4-bed dorm with an attached
bathroom, sheets included, and a kitchen that would make the Naked
Chef wet his...um...floor with envy. Spent the day walking around
Athens, rebelliously avoiding any proper sightseeing just to prove
we are "travellers" not that coolness curse word, "tourists".
But we aren´t deeply insurrectionist, and so got a nearly-crack-of-dawn
start the next morning to see the Acropolis, but not early enough
to avoid either the blistering heat or the masses of bus tours.
This resulted in a somewhat hasty viewing of the sights. My favorite
part was the morgue-cold museum, but Phil kept getting yelled at
by the guards because he would casually lean against a wall to read
some sculpture´s descriptive plaque, only the wall was a 2000
year old marble pillar, and apparently not made for touching.
To add some contemporary history-in-the-making to our Athens experience,
we took the metro out to the site of the 2004 Summer Olympics. I
stress "2004" because I am hoping some high-ranking Greek
Olympic official will read my humble travelogue and realize that
they have erroneously been planning to host the 2008 Olympics. We
took the limited allowed look around, and, interested in a building
that right now is little more than a shell of structural supports,
asked the official Olympic worker-bee what the building was going
to be. His answer? "Ummmm, I don´t know yet." Hmmmm.
Perhaps someone should figure that out? I am looking forward to
watching the first track and field events ever to be held in a parking
lot, because at least that IS finished. In contrast, Beijing, the
host of the 2008 Olympics, has several event buildings completed
already. Maybe Athens could swap years with China...
From Athens, we flew to Berlin for three days in the city which
we discovered has been nicknamed "Homopolis". This may
be under some contention from the Dutch, because we were told that
Amsterdam is "the gayest city in Europe" and since this
was from the very lips of an Amsterdammer, we are hard-pressed to
argue Berlin´s case. They may have to duke it out themselves.
Berlin is an extremely cool city: lots of alternative/punk kids
intermingled amongst the ultra-hip, uber-thin, trend-setting Beautiful
People in fashionably-tied scarves and skin-tight jeans. We visited
the Berliner Dom, which has several enjoyable aspects: the ornate
vaulted ceiling and enormous pipe organ in the main chapel, the
stomach-dropping open-air walkway around the top of the roof, and
the extensive and creepy collection of tombs in the basement. We
also saw the Kaiser Wilhelm Church, which was bombed during WWII
and left damaged as a testament to the ravages of war or something
equally moral and serious; after a long day I become more of a descriptive
plaque skimmer than avid reader, I´m afraid. The broken steeples
are really striking, and the religious mosaic murals on the ceiling
are amazingly detailed and mostly intact; in all, a really impressive
place. Also, it´s free.
To complete our Berlin cultural tour, we went to Beate Uhse´s
Erotic Museum; I´m sure the people working there are used
to late-20-somethings snickering embarrassedly as they guiltily
throw sidelong glances at the exhibits as if disapproving nuns were
poised to spring from shelves of pornographic videos. In fact, the
museum is an apparently exhaustive compilation of fertility dolls
from various cultures, with a healthy amount of Victorian-era ripped-bodice
paintings. There is an X-rated video hall and a "novelty"
shop on the first floor, but the museum is meant to be all "educational"
or something. Whatever. More descriptive plaques, blah blah blah.
Our last night in Berlin, we had a wine-drinking extravaganza with
some other people staying in the hostel. I, apparently, had a great
time. Until we got up at 6 am to catch the flight to Barcelona,
when I felt less "great" than, say, the worst parts of
seasickness and death by parachute failure. The last time I had
more than a shared beer was my bachelorette party a year ago; my
liver was, sadly, not up to the challenge of 6 (or 8? maybe, gulp,
10???) glasses of cheap German wine. Sigh. That´s a few thousand
brain cells I will probably be missing acutely within the next forty
years or so.