Traveling Alone

Traveling alone is always interesting.  It's daunting, liberating, lonely, peaceful, and introspective.  One of my favorite things about it though is the people you meet.  When you travel with a companion, you more often than not end up using them as a crutch in awkward situations, which often leads to avoiding interaction with others and being more critical of the culture you're in.  It's an easy trap to fall into.  However, when alone, you are forced to confront every situation on your own.  I can last usually about four solid days on my own with little interaction with others...more as an observer. My eight days in Istanbul was the perfect balance of alone and shared time.  I met the best people.

My colleagues had put me in contact with their friends who:
  1. Zuhat took me out to lunch at the most beautiful terrace cafe I've ever been to;
  2. Alperen took me to Prince's Island where we met up with his friends, played football, climbed to the top of a mini mountain (ok, it was a large hill) and watched the sun set over the Sea of Marmara, ate ice cream, and talked about love on the banks of the Bosphorus.  
Does it get much better than that?  Fuck.

I met a very kind Brazilian who shared a room with me at the hostel.  He was traveling t to 15 heavy metal festivals around the world.  We had nothing in common, but the love of travel.  And we spent a great day wandering around Dohmbace Palace and talking the badass factor of being a sultan.  I don't remember his name now; but we shared a good day.

That same night the two of us invited our third roommate out to dinner.  Stefan Scheiderbauer was an engineer from Koln, Germany.  He's also an amazing photographer.  We stayed up until five in the morning that night, just the two of us, talking about art and war and personal expectations.

I woke up the next morning hung over only to find out my flight to Athens had been delayed because of the riots.  So, the two of us paid about $1.50 for a three-hour ferry ride up the Bosphorus, bought socks together, and drank two beers on the steps to some parking lot while we watched Africans sell shit from suitcases (more to come on that in another post).  It was a pleasant day spent with a like-minded person.  Though we didn't do anything in particular, it was one of the more stand-out days of my trip.

A few days later Stefan sent me some of the photos he took our last days in Instanbul (see below) with the following message:

"The guy with the gun passed my way a few minutes after you left and guess what: HE WAS SELLING SHIT!! :-)

Was great fun hanging out with you in Istanbul.  Good to know that there are girls left who are drinking beer in public.  If one of your journeys leads you to Germany one day - let me know."

I guess traveling alone doesn't necessarily mean exactly that.  And this is why I love to travel "alone".


Ups and Downs of Ukraine

I went back to Ukraine this summer to do research for my master's thesis.  I won some grant to do this (it was all a big guise to get a free trip back to see some of my friends).

Over the past two and a half years my heart had became weak for Ukraine.  Nostalgia had made me forget about all the things I hate about the country--the smells, the corruption, the clothes, the trains, the dirty looks I get, the Russian pop music, etc.  With all this suppressed deep down in my memory, I was really, really looking forward to going back, eating some sunflowers seeds, shooting the shit over a couple liters of vodka, and doing some research in the field (yeah, I'm a nerd).

However, all this excitement quickly faded before I even got to Ukraine...before I even left the airport in Thessaloniki.  I'm sure it doesn't come as a big surprise that not many people go to Ukraine, and few Ukrainians actually are able to get visas out of the country.  

Here's how Ukraine quickly let me down while we were about to go up and brought me back up again as we were going down.

Series of annoyances:
  1. They are the ONLY ones to cut in the customs/passport lines; and you can always identify them because they are wearing the most blinged-out white jeans, and "Dollcce & Gabana" shirts.
  2. The twenty or so that waited with me to board the flight were getting wasted on the duty-free liquor they had just bought.  Who else does this?  Who shoots cognac?
  3. They are the only ones to not sit in their assigned seat on an airplane.  This behavior is supported by the flight attendants (Ukrainian airline), which then creates complete chaos as people board because some INSIST on sitting in their assigned seat, while those in this person's assigned seat refuses to move (most people are already drunk at this point adding to the madness).  It's insanity.
  4. My flight was direct to Kyiv...or so I thought.  My plane actually became an air marshrutka.  Because the plane was not filled (due to few Ukrainians leaving, and few wanting to go to Ukraine), this "direct" plane made a stop in Sofia, Bulgaria and Bucharest, Romania.  This in turn put my arrival 6 hours behind schedule.
Yet I still love the country, it's like your first love--despite everything, you'll always have a soft spot for the fucker.

Though my excitement faded before I touched ground, it was redeemed when just before landing everyone started yelling, "давай, давай, давай" (which roughly translates to: fucking please, come on and land, come on, come on) and upon landing...as the wheels of the plane touched ground, the Ukrainians started cheering and clapping (to me, we still were not in the clear because the plane was still jumping all over the runway).  However, their excitement made me excited again.