Monthly Archives: October 2007

The end of the beginning…

I actually started writing this three weeks ago, not long after I’d arrived in Istanbul. While I was excited to be in such a diverse and active place I noticed that my sense of awe and enthusiasm were not where they should have been. I found I spent more and more time in the hostel or the nearby restaurant reading or talking to people I’d met. My drive to go walk for six to eight hours a day was gone. I was only six blocks from the Blue Mosque and Hava Sophia and it took me three days before I bothered to go check them out. I was awash in an amazing culture and I was, I can’t say bored, I was tired.

Back at the very beginning of this trip I talked to my friend Candice, who was very excited for my trip and the route I was taking. She had done a year around the world with someone and gave me some sage advice. “From one traveler to another, don’t drink the water, use hand sanitizer a lot, and don’t be afraid to stop if you get tired.”

In Sofia I met a man from Hong Kong named Kerry Pan. Kerry was on an overland journey from Hong Kong to the Middle East. He’d spent the last few years traveling all over the world. South America, Asia, Japan, etc… He would always return home to regroup after a period of time.

In Istanbul I met a German man named Johan (I think I’m spelling that correctly). He had been traveling regularly for 20+ years, all on his motorcycle. He has logged nearly 1,000,000 kilometers and was presently on a journey from Germany to South Africa. We talked about my concerns and lack of enthusiasm and he told me that his limit was six months. He’d taken longer trips but hadn’t enjoyed them as much. He found that after six months for him it just became living. “What pub am I going to hang out in?” “Where am I going to eat?” that kind of thing. The thrill started to wane.

I’d planned the trip, saved enough to get me through a year or more, studied the routes, bought the gear, sold my car, and put my life on hold. It wasn’t until I’d spent months on the road that I realized I might have an upper limit on my attention span for this kind of thing. You can’t know unless you try. No matter what, I know that I tried, and that I’m not done.

I’m glad I had these conversations, and many others, with fellow travelers. When I first started to feel it, I was concerned, and it was nice to have others with a long term trip under their belt let me know they’d felt the same way.

I know there will be some that are disappointed in my decision to stop early. For them, know that it was not an easy decision. I spent several weeks, and countless hours, weighing everything. Was I wasting this opportunity I’d created? Was I stopping too easily? Could I just push past it? In the end I knew that this wasn’t the end, just the end of the beginning. Anyone who thought this trip would “get it out of my system” or “settle me down” doesn’t know me very well. This trip, as long as it lasted, has only opened the door for bigger, more difficult, travel and challenges. So as to not become jaded to future adventures it’s better I stop now and regroup.

Maybe it would be different if I didn’t have my future wife waiting patiently for me at home. She has never pressured me into any decisions about this trip. Still, being away from Summer has been the single most challenging aspect of this whole adventure. Thanks to technology and the availability of the Internet I’ve been able to talk with her often but it’s not the same. I’m sure you can ask anyone posted overseas or in another city about that. There’s also the “Damn, I wish she could see this” factor.

I’ve learned a great deal about myself and the world over the past six months. You can’t not with this kind of experience. You learn what you can and can’t live without, there are more extreme lessons in the world I’m sure, but this has been mine. You learn what is important to you. You learn about the insignificance of so many things you worry about every day. Similar I think to when you age, you realize how to be comfortable in your own skin, and how all that self-conscious crap while you were young, was crap. You realize how everyone is just a person like you. Loves the same, needs the same, lives the same, just differently.

So, with all that said, sorry for the seemingly abrupt end to the adventure. It really isn’t the end. I will spend the rest of my life reaching this goal. I’m more interested in enjoying the ride than unenthusiastically accomplishing a task. Life is too short.

Pacific Northwesterners! I’m back! and unemployed! anybody want to buy me a drink?


Filed under Adventure, Personal, Round The World, Travel

Cappadocia, Turkey

I booked a 2 day tour package to Cappadocia in Central Turkey. It’s the first “package” tour option I’ve booked since I began this trip and it was worth every penny. Cappadocia is so old and remote that without a tour I fear I would have missed the vast majority of what I’ve experienced without it.

I found a travel agent on the main street next to my hostel. There is no shortage of travel agents so the way I fount this one was totally out of convenience. It was on the corner and hand a friendly looking guy staffing the office 17 hours a day. The people in the shops, restaurants, and hostels in Istanbul work hard for your money.

So it was an overnight bus to get to Cappadocia, actually Urgup, and actually it was four busses. This was my first bus travel during the trip and I’ve never done any kind of long distance bus travel in the US before so this was a new experience. I’ll say I much prefer train travel. You can get up, move around, and take a bathroom break when the need arises. These options are not available on the bus, or the Turkish busses at any rate. I met up with a group of Canadians that would make the long travel more interesting. Two nurses living in Switzerland, an artist from Vancouver and a student from Montreal. We banded together to form an English (and French) speaking team to attempt to decipher the Turkish bus system.

The busses stop about every 3-5 hours for a bathroom and snack break. I’d brought a 1.5 liter bottle of water and some crackers to get me through the night. After finding out about the stop schedule, which was more like “some time in 3-5 hours we’ll stop” I decided not to hydrate too liberally.

We arrived in Urgup about 8:30am after changing busses around 7am. The others shuffled off to their respective hotels and I to mine. They all had tours starting immediately at 9am whereas I had the day off to sleep and walk around the town. I was staying in the hotel owned by the family of the travel agent that booked my tour. For a little while I thought I was the only one staying at the hotel but later I would see proof of other life. On all the brochures they heavily featured the pool in the pictures. Unfortunately, due to the time of year I would be visiting, the pool was off limits except for the Polar Bear Club.

I got situated and took a nap to try and build on the sleep I’d managed on the bus. I wouldn’t call what happened “sleeping” and might have been better off without it. I eventually got up and ventured into town to see what there was to see.

The whole region of Cappadocia is wonderful. Cappadocia was settled some 4000 years ago by the Hittites. They used the soft pumice stone that defines the region to build cave housing. Some 2200 years later (250-ish AD) Christians in the region would use this same tactic to build houses, churches, and even underground cities. During the 8th century ,when the Muslims would dominate the area, the Christians would create massive underground cities supporting up to 5000 people. I’ve been in the largest of these cities and it is truly amazing what they accomplished. We could only go five levels deep, there are 12. The bottom few are currently underwater. Imagine a giant human ant colony. Tunnels and rooms shot off in every direction. Some of the level-to-level tunnels were so tight my knees were touching my chin. Apparently it wasn’t designed for Iowan corn-and-beef fed humans.

Day one of the tour I was introduced to our tour leader. A woman whose name in Arabic means “Thank You”. Her mother had given birth to five boys and when she was born she was named as a gesture of gratitude. She led us though the myriad shelter houses and Fairy Chimneys in the region close to Urgup. They are called Fairy Chimneys because, prior to the advent of geological knowledge, they were thought to have been built, and inhabited, by Fairies. To give you an idea what it looks like watch Star Wars Episode I. It was largely filmed in this area.

We went to a ceramic shop and saw demonstrations about how the products were made and how to tell the difference between a hand made piece and a factory made piece (Hint: price is a big tip-off)

We visited the open air museum, which is actually an old Christian cave city in various states of preservation. From a distance everything looks like little bird holes in the rock. These are actually shelter homes built in the second century. However, there really are a huge number of bird holes in the houses themselves. The Christians would use pigeons as messengers to communicate between these rock cities. I’m thinking they ate the pigeons as well, possibly as a form of evolutionary training. If the pigeon came back with the original message, obviously it wasn’t very good at its job, maybe it would be better at being soup?

Like I said the entire landscape is littered with these cave houses and all the present day cities that surround the area have leveraged the soft stone to build hotels, bars, restaurants, and shops in the same fashion as these ancient settlers. It’s a pretty cool tourism trick as well. I originally wanted to stay in a cave room but was convinced that the Ottoman style room would be warmer as Cappadocia was quite cold this time of year. Unfortunately the heat in my Ottoman style room was out so I got to experience the cave room temp without the actual cave room.

Then there was “Turkish Night” I met up with team-Canada and we all boarded a bus out to a cave restaurant somewhere about 20 miles outside of town. Turkish Night is a for-tourists exposition of traditional dances, whirling dervishes, belly dancers, and the like. All the food is included and all the beer/wine/raki as well. Raki ( is medicinal tasting liquor made from musk pomice (grape juice, skins, stems, seeds, etc…) It also may have been a leading factor in my willingness to accept the belly dancer’s request that I join her and several other men grabbed from the crowd to make her dancing skills look that much better.

Once I was out on the floor with the other men we realized the gravity of our situation. This was no American ethnic restaurant evening entertainment. We were instructed to take off our shirts. I went from terrified to “What the hell, I’ll never see you people again” pretty quickly and tried to make a good effort. After the fact I would be complimented on that effort by several people when I was exiting the restaurant and later the bus. Either I actually had done ok, or they understood, and were coming to the aid of a man who had just taken his shirt off and wiggled about in front of 300 people. Either way, it’s a good story.


Filed under Round The World, Travel, Turkey

Pictures: Istanbul

Here are the pictures from Istanbul. More Turkey pictures coming soon! Such an amazing place.



Filed under Photography, Round The World, Travel, Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey

It was 13 hours overnight from Sofia to Istanbul and I had a sleeper car all to myself. I’m getting better at sleeping on trains despite the noise, the shaking, the frequent jerky stops, and the repeated visits by border guards and ticket agents.

Turkey requires a visa for Americans to enter but it can be obtained at the border. The night train from Sofia arrives at the Turkish border around 3am. Unfortunately the knock on my door from the steward did not translate to “Time to get up. Please get off the train and go to the visa window. Pay them for the visa stamp and then get in the second unmarked line to have your passport validated.” So I stayed tucked in my bunk.

About 30 minutes later a border guard opened my door and asked for my passport. I handed it to him and he flipped through it, obviously not finding what he was looking for. “Stamp, Stamp!” he said. Groggy from the couple hours of sleep I’d been able to catch I looked at him probably much like someone on drugs. Sensing this he told me to follow him and rushed me out to the visa window. I presented the passport, paid for the visa sticker, and then he grabbed the passport and walked away calling “Bradley! Quickly!” as he walked. So I followed. He jumped to the front of the second line and handed the passport to the man behind the window. What happened next is kind of a blur. A few one word questions were asked and apparently I provided the right one word answers as he stamped my passport and handed it back to me. I walked back to the train and a very few moments later we were underway. I’m not really sure how close I came to watching my luggage make its way to Istanbul without me.

Rolling into Istanbul at 8am the sun had risen a little. Enough to cast angular morning light on everything below it. I could already tell I wasn’t in “Europe” any more. The minarets from the Mosques stood tall and foreign in the post-dawn and the many domes stood in sharp contrast to the square ugliness of the post-Soviet architecture. Istanbul has some 3000 mosques and nowhere near as many churches. At this point I’m a little churched-out to be honest. I’ve been looking forward to this. Something more “foreign” less “European” for a little while. American culture has borrowed so heavily from Western European cultures and vice versa that, while each country is unique and has its own long heritage, there is some sameness to them after two months. This is something even more apparent by traveling overland. You are able to see the gradual blending of cultures. The architecture and infrastructure make a slow transition from one dominance to another around the borders. You can even hear a slow change in the language as passengers get off and on at the stops around a border. The language, or dialect, as I have no idea what anyone is saying, changes as well. The sounds are different.

Turkey is different. Built on a different set of cultures (Greek/Arab/Persian) and being located more in Asia than Europe it has proved culturally more resistant to choosing a side and has built a unique blend of the two, a wonderfully tolerant and secular blend of the two. Thanks to Ataturk (president from 1923-1938) and his sweeping reforms Turkey has grown into a politically stable, economically viable, better educated state.

I got to my hostel run by a group of Kurdish brothers and dropped off my bags and wandered map-less out into the streets. I walked the narrow cobblestone streets taking no particular route, maybe following foot traffic in hopes they knew where they were going, and found my way to what I thought was a magnificent set of mosques. I would later find out that one of them was actually formerly a Christian church and the other is the famous Blue Mosque. Getting directions to an ATM later I would be told “It’s up by the Blue Mosque” and would have to display my ignorance by asking “Which one is the Blue Mosque?” Here’s why. The Blue Mosque isn’t blue on the outside; it’s blue on the inside!

I did no sight seeing that day other than what I saw on my walk. I just took in the hundreds of shops and cafes and restaurants. All so very different from anywhere I’d been this far. In the restaurants I found something I’d been missing on this travel… SPICE! The majority of European food I’ve sampled thus far has been terribly bland. Here everything is punched up with a healthy dose of spice and sauce and flavor! I’ve sampled a wide variety of Turkish staples and have been pleasantly impressed each time. The shops offered a wonderful variety of crafts. Carpets, ceramics, instruments, clothes, hats, and much more. Of course, with no prices. I’ve bought very few souvenirs on this trip so far and I immediately thought “Turkey is going to be expensive!”

And it would be…

The next day I took more time than I should have getting out of bed. I had a singular goal of the day. Get to the Syrian Consulate and apply for a visa. It was the last day of Ramadan and the next 3 days would be the holiday of Ede meaning there would be no chance for me to apply again if I didn’t make it in time.

Something the taxi driver decided to tell me on the ride to the consulate: Ramadan ends and thus Ede begins, at noon on the last day. Thus it would probably be closed. He was right. All the doors were shut and I’d missed my opportunity to apply until Ede was over 3 days later. He patiently waited for me to come back out of the building and then took me back to nearly where I’d begun. This being my first taxi ride in haggle-land I did a poor job of setting expectations and this round trip ended up costing me about $60.

I had him drop me off at the Grand Bazaar, handed over my poorly negotiated pound of flesh, and walked into the fray.

The Grand Bazaar is a spectacular bit of chaos. It is the largest covered bazaar in the world and is full to overflowing with shops, products, and people. The Turkish salespeople are incredibly persistent and crafty. They know your language, your country, state, city, weather, and will use all of it to get you into a conversation, once they’ve got you on the hook they use that to ply on your sense of respect, manners, and emotions. Not all mind you, but the vast majority I’ve come into contact with. Carpet salesmen are the most persistent. I’ll admit I’m vulnerable to respect-tactics. “Please, sit with me, drink my apple tea, won’t you be polite?” I didn’t buy anything, but I did get sucked into a long uncomfortable discussion in the back of a carpet shop.

It took only once. Now I lie. I got enough information from that one meeting, and a little internet research later on, to put together a convincing enough set of stories to diffuse most attempts.

“Would you look at my carpets sir?”

“I’ve already got two”

“But you don’t have a , I’m sure!”

“Yes, sorry, I have that and a ”

“Well then you need a leather jacket!” (this is always the fall back position.)

“Sorry, it is against my beliefs to wear leather”

Or avoid the whole transaction by smiling, putting up my hand and ignoring the five or six more “Excuse me” attempts. That does not always work.

I also got burned early on with what I saw as a simple transaction. I wanted to get a beard trimmer to keep the bristles under control so I found a shop outside the bazaar and chose a clipper package, negotiated a price, and made my way back to the hostel only to discover that I had indeed purchased the clippers, but had not received the power adaptor or any of the accessories… and so it grows.

How it is that the marketplace works with this open knowledge that they are going to try and take advantage of you, either on price or quality, is still lost on me. I can only think that you must also come to the table ready to do so, thus creating a level playing field. Honor among thieves and all that… In the end it may actually be more “honest” with this knowledge. Compared to the ubiquitous “sale” signs in western retail shops where they take some percentage off their heavily marked up prices to move product. Here everything is on sale depending on how good you are at the game.

The next few days the weather I’d been running away from caught up with me. I’d seen the trees changing color from the train windows and had some vague notion that autumn was chasing me but I had yet to feel the bite. It rained for 3 days and temperatures dropped to the mid 50’s. Other than a few outings to eat or drink, I stayed close to the hostel and read or played on the Internet.

Monday I was able to try again for my Syrian visa. Everyone from the hostel was wishing me luck as they’d all heard the same things I had. Americans will have a rough time of it.

I arrived at the small room in the Syrian Consulate for visa applications and filled out the English form, got my photo ready, and walked up to the window. The woman behind the counter smiled pleasantly and said hello. I said hello and pushed my completed paperwork through the small hole in the window and smiled. She looked down at the cover of the passport and her smile faded. “Ahh, American…” It was a tone of concern. “I’m very sorry, we cannot issue you a visa from here. You must get it from Washington DC.”

“Really? Is there nothing we can do?” I said, conjuring my best lost-puppy look.

“I could send this to Syria, but it could stay there for a month and still be declined” she offered.

“What about the border? Could I try there?”

“Impossible… sorry”

And do it goes. No Syria for me, and thus no Jordan or Lebanon. While I’m sure it is some slight relief to Summer and my Parents that I won’t be crossing Syria, and I knew this could happen, it’s still a bummer. I’m still investigating other routes, and while they might be off the table for this trip, I will visit this region, for me it’s a necessity.

After the answer from the Syrian Consulate, I moved forward booking the rest of my Turkey tour. I’m headed to the middle of the country to explore the Cappadocian region and then to the South to hang out on the Mediterranean Coast for a week, where I will hopefully be able to hide from winter a little longer.

More on Istanbul and Turkey to come…


Filed under Europe, Round The World, Travel, Turkey

Photos: Sofia, Bulgaria

Thanks for the requests and suggestions. You’ll notice more pictures of people near the end of the set. I prefer to take pictures of people, however I still need to get over the awkwardness of just asking if I can take the picture, or just taking the picture and being unapologetic about it.

As to video, I’ve been working on that as well. I’ve got some short videos that I’ve taken over the course of the journey that I’ll put up. As soon as I can get them converted into something small enough to upload. As for the video blog, I’ll do my best. I’ve been over thinking the whole thing. what shots, what order, what to say, narrative, etc… I’ll try and stop that and see what happens.

For now… Sofia



Filed under Bulgaria, Europe, Photography, Round The World

Photos: Belgrade and Sarajevo

Belgrade, Serbia


Sarajevo, Bosnia


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Filed under Bosnia, Photography, Round The World, Serbia