Monday, January 09, 2006

From the coast of Turkey...

Fortunately, I have yet to catch avian flu and do not plan to do so anytime soon. One of the "joys" of international travel is that hotels tend to have a single channel in English; in this case, BBC News simply repeats the same story over and over again. If it is not avian flu, it is Sharon's illness. So, for those worried out there, remember that Turkey's population is about 75 million. If I catch avian flu, my first response will be to buy a lottery ticket.

We are about halfway through our jaunt through most of Turkey. I actually wrote a blog entry the second day we were in the country only to lose it because of the internet cafe's lame computer.

So far the trip has been incredibly eye-opening. We started in Istanbul and then headed down the coast. We visited the presumed location of Troy and then moved to Alexander Troas and Assos. Assos was particularly striking as its ruins lie on a high hill overlooking the Aegean with the island of Lesbos looming in the horizon. Simply beautiful. We then visited Pergamum, Ephesus, Priene, Miletus, and Didyma. I am struck repeatedly by the magnitude of these ruins and straining to imagine what they must have looked like in the midst of a bustling ancient city.

A particularly striking event occured on the way to Ephesus when we stopped at the Virgin Mary's House, purported to be the home in which Mary spent the last years of life on earth. When we arrived, we were told that a Korean group of Catholics had received special permission to hold mass in the tiny building but that we could still peak in and get a sense of the place. This was a true blessing in disguise. The service was familiar enough from life in the church to know what was happening, broadly speaking; yet, because everything was uttered in a tongue foreign to my ear, there was a sense of mystery in the air. I complained in a previous blog that tourism can drain the sacrality of a place. It is amazing how the simple presence of devoted people could convert that small place from a touristic opportunity to gawk and take pictures into a sacred space.

More forthcoming in the next few days or so....

Monday, January 02, 2006

Checking the continents off the list....

Alas, no excuses will be forthcoming for my two-month hiatus. Those who knew about Sunday night travails throughout the semester may understand my absence.

However, I am now quite rested and refreshed. This blog emerges from Antwerp, Belgium in my parent's place. These northern European countries have fantastic food, joyful people, beautiful architecture, but just a glimmer of sunlight. Every morning I wake up feeling that dawn is barely breaking, but my mom announces joyfully that we have a sunny day in Belgium. I guess perspective really does matter.

Holley and I spent the holidays with my parents, my sister, and her bf. I think something might be brewing between them, but I digress. We mastered jet lag this time around and enjoyed walking around Belgium for a few days including Brugge and here in Antwerp.

My parents, Holley, and I then headed to Rome. What a city! I remember how struck I was with the majesty and grandeur of Paris, how statues and reliefs seem to transpose a modern city into a living relic of the past. However, I was not ready for the scale and beauty of Rome's traversing of the chronological gap between the ancient and modern worlds. The Colosseum truly earns its names as it rises in the middle of this bustling city; I found that I could almost hear the crowds two thousand years ago reveling in the carnivalesque spectacle its arena hosted. The Forum was particularly striking to me. From the Arch of Titus celebrating the destruction of Jerusalem to the lingering columns of the Temple of Saturn, the Forum is a prime location for taking a step into the past. The opulence of the Vatican was simply breath-taking; unfortunately, the crowds and constant talk zapped much of the sacredness of the place. I think that we often tend to forget that though we are traveling as tourists, the places we visit are not solely venues for our entertainment or for our odd attempts to acquire pictorial proof of our visit. Speaking of which, here are the hundred or so pictures we took! Additional titles and descriptions will be forthcoming.

The rest of our visit was equally dazzling. The food was fantastic and as my sister's bf, David, stated so succinctly, "The wine flowed like wine." Indeed.

I head to Istanbul tomorrow. Somehow, in the last 12 months or so I will have stepped foot on five continents (that is, if you waffle a bit with Costa Rica's continental home). I might need to spend more time at home next year...