Monthly Archives: October 2011

A Turkish Delight – Part I

I have been putting this off because it is truly a long tale.  However, it must be told because we came across so many affirmations, in many shapes and forms, that this is an exceptional life we are leading.

It was stifling hot on the bus.  I managed to rally my spirits even with a stuffy nose.  We were finally seeing Turkey.  I was finally going to see a true culture in this country.  Not that Istanbul is a lie but modernization has a way of eradicating tradition.  And to me, tradition is a key element in any place with a rich cultural presence.

I had been craving a trip out of Istanbul for quite some time.  We all were.  Everything with the Russian consulate was in order and we were only waiting for our passports to return with VISAs in them.

There is only so much you can plan on this kind of adventure.  I believe that it is best to keep things open and see what opportunities present themselves.   Not to be too stuck on one thing or else you might miss out on another.  Luckily, my travel companions agree very strongly in this sense.  And so our dynamic is productive and positive.

The bus went onto a ferry that went across the Sea of Marmara.  The air was cold outside but a nice change from the feverish bus.

We stepped off the bus into Ayvalik just as daylight was breaking.  Our friend Cem from Istanbul accompanied us and invited us to stay at his family’s vacation house near the beach.  I breathed in and tasted the sea air.

“What is that?”  I asked, pointing to an island in the distance.

“Lesvos,”  Cem answered.


“Yes.  We can go to Greece if you like!”

I began picturing the white washed buildings with blue accents of doors and rooftops.  The smell of lamb, ouzo, and cold tzatziki.  I sighed with nostalgia and longing for my friends in Athens and Corfu.

“Be happy where you are,”  Todd reminded me.

After a wonderful day of walking….A side note has to include the explanation of when I say “walking” I say it in the most sarcastic tone I can conjur.  Why?  Well, Cem likes to walk.

“When I am walking I am resting!”

This “walking” Cem likes to do is more like hiking or cross-country trekking.  At one time, we took a bus only half way to town because Cem wanted to walk the rest of the way.  All I can say is, after an all night bus ride and little or no sleep, walking was not the most enticing thing to do.  BUT we did.

On our beach hike several stops were made to swim and sleep.

We all slept very well that night and awoke to the sprinkle of rain on the patio.  Our enthusiasm no less than the previous day to continue our journey south to Izmir.

We made our way to the highway, walking through the misty rain.  Jordan had a sign in tow that said BERGAME.  Within 10 minutes a truck pulled over and the four of us jumped in.  We squeezed into the back and had to crane our necks to fit in the back bed.  However, Jordan was pretty happy in the front seat.

A little more than an hour down the road our ride let us out and told us that if we needed a place to stay we were more than welcome in their home.  This genuine offer became a theme of the entire trip.

Cem befriended a man at the dolmuş stop (a kind of shared taxi that run routes all over Turkey) who ended up taking us into Bergame other wise known as Pergamon.  Mehmet, our friendly guide, took us to see several ruins of Pergamon and even treated us to coffee and tea.  Again, this kind of Turkish hospitality was so prevalent during our entire journey it was overwhelming.

We said goodbye to Mehmet as he left us at the bus station where we purchased our tickets for Izmir.  Of course he could not leave without giving us another gift; a huge bag of dried figs.  Delicious.

When we arrived in Izmir Cem had to leave us to return to Istanbul for work.  We said our goodbyes and waited for a CouchSurfing friend/host to meet us.

Our lovely host Gözde came and took us to her friend’s apartment who was out of town.  She gave us the keys and told us that we would meet tomorrow.

The view was quite exceptional even with the fog and rain.  However, this was not an ideal hitchhiking day.  We decided to stay in Izmir another night and I am very happy we did.

Even in the rain Izmir is a very cool town.  And we were so lucky to have such a wonderful host to show us around.  Things were much cheaper compared to Istanbul and like most beach towns the people seemed more relaxed and friendly.

I even got to see friends of a friends from Dallas!  What a small world!!!

Our final morning in Izmir, Gözde’s courteous mother dropped us off at a gas station where we assumed the stance, put out our thumbs, and held up our sign for ANTALYA – where we initially thought we were heading…


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As Luck Would Have It

“Welcome home Flower.”

I have lots of love for many places.  I get excited (sometimes VERY excited) about lots of things.  However, there is something about Italy that is incomparable.  It is not only the beauty from Ancient Rome, the wine, the food, or the Italian way of life but the love that I found here almost two years ago.

As of now I am in Italy visiting Michelle and Claudio Cesaretti.  They run and own La Rocchetta which is one of the farms I WWOOFed on during my first trip through Italy, Greece, and Morocco.  I first came to La Rocchetta in January 2010 and immediately felt at home.  Since then, I have found every way possible to return and be welcomed once again by the lovely Michelle and Claudio.

La Rocchetta sits on top of a hill with a 360 view of several Etruscan hilltop towns.  Directly across is the town of Mugnano.

This view paired with delicious coffee, home made yogurt, muesli, and jovial conversation will make your day an extraordinary one.  An olive grove fills much of the 18 acres of La Rocchetta.  Walking through these ancient trees provides a kind of peace and happiness that is indescribable.  Remember that the olive branch represents “peace” in several stories and cultures around the world.

All the same, it is not only the exquisite surroundings of La Rocchetta but what Claudio and Michelle have created here.  I can only be overwhelmingly grateful that I have acquired the title of “adopted daughter” of these two amazing people.  I will always thank my luck for bringing me here because I am so lucky to know Claudio and Michelle.

I am lucky to hear their incredible stories of being the national fencing champion at 18 years old, chasing Che Guevera for an interview throughout South America, being the main correspondent for the Vatican, becoming an incredibly successful ex-pat, working with Luchino Visconti (the director of The Leopard), and SO MANY MORE!  I am lucky to learn about the world and what is important.  I am lucky to be invited to this beautiful place they have built.  I am lucky to watch Claudio prepare elaborate and heavenly Italian dishes with little or no effort.  It is as though he relies only on muscle memory, chopping this and stirring that.  I am lucky to be able to eat these feasts everyday!

I could continue cataloguing all the reasons I am lucky to know Claudio and Michelle.  Every time I reunite with them a whole new list appears.  However, the most important reason is the love here.  How good it feels to be around the people you love and who love you!

Sometimes it is hard to find this kind of love when traveling.  But if you are open and are grateful for the little things love will find you.

We can all be lucky and sometimes unlucky.  We only have to remember to be aware of the luck and thankful when it comes.

I found a lot of luck and love on our journey through Turkey.  The fact that I am constantly being reminded of this luck and love is giving me an overwhelming sense of gratitude for my lifestyle choices.  It is so good to see the potential we have as human beings.  Kindness, love, and happiness are all out there.  Only when you travel and meet strangers who exhibit these qualities do you believe it.

Ironically, this is an appropriate Turkish Proverb I found,

“A person does not seek luck; luck seeks the person.”

Come back soon for the story of our amazing odyssey through Turkey!

*There are more pictures of La Rocchetta, the people, and the amazing food on my Italy 2010 page.*

**You can even visit La Rocchetta yourself!  Just click HERE for more details.**


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A Collective Consciousness

The past few weeks we have been attending several conferences and parties affiliated with Couch Surfing.  It has been a life saver in this new city and has aided in making this time in Istanbul feel more like a home.

What is Couch Surfing?  It is a database where people can connect from anywhere in the world and experience a cultural exchange.

What kind of cultural exchange?  Through Couch Surfing you can find anyone in any country who is willing and/or able to host you (let you sleep in his/her home.)  Nothing is expected in return besides that when you are able to, you provide a place for traveling Couch Surfers.

Still sounds funny, doesn’t it?

How do you know your Couch Surfer or host is trustworthy?  The site provides various features to check on the host or Surfer’s validity.  You can review profiles that provide specific information about the person as well as references left by other members.  Other components like “vouches,” where other members can attest to the character of a host or person, can prove legitimacy.  It is a phenomenal resource for travelers and anyone who likes to meet people from all over the world.

A way I like to think of it is a type of “pay it forward.”

Through the website we have been able to find meetings and parties that the Istanbul Couch Surfing Ambassadors throw.  This has been an amazing resource for meeting people and making friends in this new city.

My first Couch Surfing experience was in July 2010.  My ex and I were in Athens, Greece waiting to begin a job at a B&B we found through Work Away.  The job wasn’t to start for another week and we could not afford to continue to stay in a hostel.  I had heard about Couch Surfing from a friend or acquaintance (I really don’t remember where I first heard about it!) years ago and had signed up but never used it.  The website at the time was very basic and honestly seemed sketchy.  I was nervous to try it out.  However a week before when we were in Crete and met a guy in a coffee shop that was Couch Surfing on the island.  I told him that I was a member but had never tried it. He began to rant and rave about Couch Surfing and I became easily convinced this was the best way to travel and see a city or town.  In Athens, I contacted 4 people (my profile had no references, vouches, or verifications.)  Out of the four I messaged, one was able to host us.  It was serendipitous that this was the first time they used Couch Surfing too!  They were our first hosts and we were their first Surfers!

Stella and Giorgos are some of the coolest people I’ve ever met.  They lived near the Thissio Metro station.  Thissio is one of the hippest neighborhoods in Athens and full of cafes, bars, and restaurants.

We went to Stella and Giorgos apartment and talked for several hours.  We talked about music, New Orleans, food, and the Greek language and literature.  We were getting to know each other and everything about our different cultures.

Stella is an incredible artist and you can find her creations here Stella’s Shop.

It is not an exaggeration to say that I speak with Stella via email or Facebook more than 3xs a month since we first met over a year ago.  She and Giorgos travel a lot and so we are always trading stories and hopes that our paths will cross.  I never really gave Couch Surfing the credit for my friendship with Stella but obviously we never would have met without it.

A distinct question Casey, the creator of Couch Surfing, asked at the conference was, “How can we make a better world?”  I could not help but think, “How DOES Couch Surfing make a better world?”  He continued to explain how the process reminds us that there are people all over the world who share common thoughts, feelings, and beliefs.  The group is for people who WANT to make a better world and who want to connect, meet new people, and learn about different cultures.

I asked myself if Stella and I made a better world with our friendship and thought about how I feel when I make a new friend.  Not just any friend but someone that taught me and showed me hands-on a different way of life.  How do you feel when you learn something new about a person or a culture?  These are easy experiences resulting in higher self-esteem, self-confidence and living a happy life.

So even while Couch Surfing creators work on “changing the world” they still know how to party….

Oh yea.  We were on a boat, going fast and riding up the Bospherous Strait.  There’s nothing like an all night dance party of Couch Surfers starting on a boat and ending in a club.

I suggest that you risk getting to know a stranger.  If you cannot travel, bring the world to you.  Host a Couch Surfer and hear their stories and be inspired.  This idea of hanging out, sharing your home, or staying in some ones home who is a stranger might sound risky to some.  But are we not all strangers?  This is the way life used to be.  We used to trust each other.  That is another strong point Casey made was how Couch Surfers TRUST.  It’s a new way of looking at life, people, and different cultures and I LOVE IT.

“A person needs a little madness, or else they never dare cut the rope and be free.”

-Nikos Kazanzakis (Zorba The Greek)

Jordan, me, Cem, and Todd at CC conference.  Cem, who is from Turkey, met Todd through Couch Surfing in New Orleans.  He has been an incredible ally showing us around the city!

Cem, Casey (creator of Couch Surfing), and Jordan at CC party.

Couch Surfing dance party on boat.



Filed under Turkey