July 2007


We arrived this morning in Veliko Tarnovo, just in time for celebrations marking the 130th anniversary of Bulgaria tossing out the Turks. That we came directly from Istanbul seemed to be a source of amusement for our host at Nomads Hostel. He took us around to see some traditional music and dance, and tonight we were treated to a terrific sound-and-light show at the Tsarevets Fortress, capped by unexpected fireworks. Excellent. Bulgaria is shaping up to be a memorable chapter. The biggest surprise so far: It’s been easy to find good — no, great — vegetarian food. Of course VT is a college town. We might stay an extra day or two.

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Folkdancers, fortresses and fireworks.

Late note: We’ve just been informed that Bulgarian Independence Day is officially March 3.

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If you’ve never heard the sound of a pair of male rhinoceroses in rut in the jungle 100 meters away, have no fear – you’ll recognize it instantly.

Either you’ll instinctively know that the sharp wock that suddenly pricks your ears isn’t in fact a giant lumberjack cutting down a kapok tree, or or an elephant knocking down a sal tree — or your guide, a small man who until that point displayed a laconic manner, will frantically motion for you and the eight Swiss septuagenarians behind you to “Run! Run NOW!”

Most disconcerting of all, he’ll then pass you as you attempt a sluggish U-turn on the narrow trail.

You can’t really blame him, though. After 15 years as a guide in Royal Chitwan National Park in southern Nepal, he was never attacked by one of the 400 or so rhinos in the park – never, that is, until 18 months ago when one of the brawny beasts, interrupted during the delicate period of rutting upon which you too have stumbled, tossed him 20 feet into the air.

http://www.gather.com/viewArticle.jsp?articleId=281474977044162

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Yep, we’ve been jet-setting around Europe, living it up. The good life. Except we stay in roach-infested hostels or sleep on the landing outside apartments when our relatives fail to show up with the key. But it’s all good.

Ninety percent of this blog’s readership was with us in Crete or has since played poker with those who were, so there’s not much to say about our week on that appendix-shaped island, just a few nautical miles north of America’s new best oil-producing buddy, Libya. One notable adventure was our hike through Samaria Gorge, Europe’s longest, which spills out of southwestern Crete onto rocky beaches that bake in the sun hard by the Libyan Sea. The water there is oh-so-blue.

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Samaria was lovely. The day started rainy and cold but quickly evolved into sunny and breezy, just breezy enough to dry the sweat that comes from descending 1,250 meters in 10 miles. The fact that buses drop hikers off at the top and they need do nothing more strenuous than work their way down accounts for the popularity of the gorge: a ridiculous number of fellow-hikers joined us that week-day.

No matter. Only a few of them were French. The hike itself begins as a steep drop on worn stone steps but levels out into a (mostly) gradual and easygoing tramp. Samaria is garlanded in oleander and salvia and various chasmophytes, crawling with kri-kri goats, and in places rises as high in a nearly straight line as 500 meters. It is as wide a 100 meters and, in a place known as the Iron Gates, as narrow as 3.

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The gorge is spectacular and, because Lisa’s joke is still sort of hanging out there, refusing to be ignored, “gorge-ous.” Ugh.

Anyway, the rest of Crete was dedicated to not doing so much. I’m proud to announce we accomplished our mission. We’ll never forget “Cooking with Capn’ Graham.” There was a strenuous trip to the beach, and I seem to remember something about a heavy metal bar in Chania, but the details are fuzzy. It may all have been a dream – or a nightmare, depending on your gender and/or musical tastes.

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Leaving Crete for Athens, we had a big final poker tournament on the overnight ferry. I won – me! I don’t remember playing poker on any other occasion during our friends’ stay in Europe.

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Bye Crete!

In Athens we saw the Acropolis. It was great.

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Soon it was time to say goodbye to ancient Athens and head to bullet-ridden Berlin.

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What? Do I have something on my face?

We spent a week in Berlin, admiring the liveliness and modernity of the city. We became a little obsessed with spotting bullet holes. The whole town is covered in them. With my mom, Uncle Paul and Andrew we saw all the requisite sites: the Brandenburg Tor, the Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie, and Angela Merkel. Yes, we spotted angelic Angela and her diplomatic entourage outside some government offices and Lisa snapped this picture. Our first head of state!

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We also went to the Wall. I enjoyed the experience. I think by that point we were all a little comfortably numb.

Finally we went to the Berlin Zoo with my mom and saw Knut. Though we felt an overwhelming urge to kill him, we enjoyed watching the little feller play around and slobber on his handler.

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After a week of being wowed by cute polar bears and half-destroyed churches it was time for Prague. Here there are no polar bears but the churches are wholly intact despite the War and successive revolutions against Soviet oppression.

You can’t go to Prague without a visit to the Castle. We went twice. Why? Because the second day was sunnier and we wanted better light for photos. Who says we’re not serious about this blog?

Can you tell the difference?

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Prague’s Charles Bridge is quite a span. Czech it out, ha ha.

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Prague has a couple nice beer gardens and some terrific bars. They sure do love their statuary. Lisa will be mad at me if I fail to mention the Mucha Museum. Our friend Damian showed us around one night and we nearly got lost in one subterranean watering hole. The smoke was disorienting. Here also we saw some of the best anti-American graffiti: none of that lame “Yankee go home” stuff. We both liked this one:

“America: Thanks for the music and movies”

Very clever. And hey, honest. After all we pretty much set the bar for cultural exports – to which I would add, unfortunately, fashion. Whose idea was it to bring back bubble skirts?

marc-at-blue-mosque.jpgWe left Prague in a whirlwind, taking the train back to Berlin then catching a flight to Athens, all in a day. The next morning we took a boat to the noisy little island of Chios, where we spent two days before catching another boat to Asia Minor, also known as Turkey. Where, in fact, we find ourselves today. But more on that later.

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