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Oktoberfest in Munich

Yesterday was my very first real Oktoberfest. I had been to an awesome celebration at a hotel in Bahrain, but the Middle East take on these kinds of things is never quite right.
I was too cheap to buy a dirdil (the beer wench dress) because you could get 10 beers for the same 100 euros. Next year I’m going to cave in and buy one – it’s so fun to see halls full of strapping Germans, young and hold, in their Dirdils and lederhosen. And my friend Doug says that it really is different if you’re wearing the right outfit.
We made it to several tents. Each one is run by a different brewery, and they all have their own feel. We started with Spaten, which is known for being for the older crowd. They roast an entire ox and cut off of it as you order food, and the foodies in all of us couldn’t resist. Other great food of the night: German potato salad (a personal favorite), huge gingerbread cookies worn as necklaces until you get the munches, roasted chicken, a cheesy pasta with ham, and yummy pretzels.
We also hit up the Augustininan and Paulaner tent, which are known for serving the best beer and a rocking crowd. The beer was amazing! It comes in 1 liter glass steins, some of which actually break if you toast too hard or too often. If you’re really having a good time, you jump up on your bench to sing along and toast and revel. But if you’re having such a good time that you’ve just gotta jump up on the table and dance, you’ll be kindly escorted from the tent. So be as careful as you can after so many liters!
At every table we met with other Germans and travelers from all over the world, all of which quickly became our bestest of friends. As you walk into the Oktoberfest area, you first hear the hum of merrymaking, which gets more intense as the evening wears on, which means the band plays louder and louder, the people sing louder, and craziness ensues. The whole thing is incredibly festive and joyous – my face is a little sore from smiling so much. Amazingly my arm is not sore from so many lifts of the stein – which puts me on fine form to go back!








My first Turkish wedding

Last night I went to my very first Turkish wedding.  As I posted on Facebook, it was crazy!  In some ways, it was like the weddings I had been to: a couple gets married, family and friends come to celebrate, kids run all over the place.  For me it was similar to so many other of my experiences in Turkey: order through chaos, crowded, and full of surprises.

The bride is one of my Turkish teachers, Seda, a modern Turkish lady with lots of spunk.  She had told us about the contentious exchanges with her future mother-in-law about her dress.  In order to show off the Chucks she personally decorated for the big night, she insisted on a short dress.  At every fitting the MIL insisted the hemline be longer by adding a new kind of trim, Seda agreed, then with the help of a willing tailor just raised the skirt at the waist.  Each time the MIL saw all the trim and thought it was the right length, and in the end the bride got to rock her crafty footwear.  A win-win, if you’re rooting for the bride.

At the wedding I met up with some other students, and as a group of Americans, Russians, and Uzbeks we comprised the entire international guest list and got lots of friendly and welcoming attention from the families and other guests.   I felt so lucky to be invited to the wedding, and Seda and her groom, Hakan, kept telling us how honored they were that we came.  It was a mutual lovefest.

There was no desire to conceal the bridge from the groom before the ceremony.  As we entered the site, Seda and Hakan were standing together in a tiny room on the side receiving guests, so we stopped by and said hello/good luck and received the first of many thanks and air kisses from the happy couple.

The official wedding opened with the bride and groom dancing through the room then finishing their first dance in the center of the crowd.  We were confused.  Did they  already get married, and we had only been invited to reception?  Or was this just a different take on the normal wedding sequence?  We kept asking other Turks around us, but judging by their head shaking, either our Turkish sucked or they were just as confused.

After the couple’s first dance, we joined them for some Turkish-style dancing, which is your standard body-shaking, but with your arms held slightly bent at shoulder height and cycling through different hand motions, like snapping or gypsy circles.  Dancing to slow songs was the same as everywhere else.  Even though the wedding was super-crowded, out of maybe 400 people there was a core group of about 30 that actually danced at all.  Everyone else sat at their tables and watched this small group’s merrymaking with seriously dour faces – I’m not sure what that was all about.

Unlike American weddings, there wasn’t much focus on food and drink and the night was alcohol-free.  To drink, water, Coke and orange soda bottles were placed on all the tables.  Occasionally waiters would come around with some basic finger food, but it was such a mob scene that I only barely managed to grab a bottle of water.

Panning the room, I saw wedding guests wearing everything from blue jeans and sneakers to full glitz prom get-ups.  I’d say the majority of the women were covered in turbans.  But some of the covered women were dancing; wearing a turban doesn’t prohibit one from public fun.  I’m still trying to figure out if the various styles of female dress really influence behavior at all.  I guess, like in everything, you really can’t generalize.

the actual wedding ceremony

Twenty minutes or so into the dancing, Seda and Hakan sat down at the head table.  A hush fell through the crowd as if something was going to happen, but it took about twenty minutes for the officiant and the witnesses to get to the main table, and then a few more for the crowd in the front to get out of the cameramen’s shots.  The formal ceremony took about two minutes, and instead of saying “I do” they each had their own, comical versions of “Yes.”  Then they were married, we all cheered, and the whole dancing thing was repeated.

nearing the end of the presentation of the gifts

Next was the lengthy presentation of the gifts. All of the wedding guests line up in front of the head table with their offering then one by one they present it to the new couple, and an M.C. announces the giver, their relationship to the couple, and then how much they’re giving.  Occasionally he announces a tally, both in money and gold, and we all applaud.  The traditional gifts are cash and gold, either in the form of coins or jewelry.  The bride puts on all the jewelry she receives – her wrists get jingly-jangly fast.  The gift amount ranged from 20 TL (about $11) to gold jewelry sets that had to be worth thousands of dollars.   After a couple of hours, the couple was very, very rich.

And then, of course, we danced again.   I tried to join in when the style progressed to village dances, but I was clueless and have always been a pretty clumsy dancer anyway, so that was it for me.  We left after a few hours – I’ve heard these things go well into the morning, and then everybody goes to work on Monday morning as usual.

Shipwrecks and castles and forts at Bodrum

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To celebrate International Talk Like a Pirate Day (yesterday) I checked out the Bodrum Underwater Archaeology Museum.  After my experience with all the tire shops in Bodrum, I wasn’t really in love with the town, but I’m glad I went back and found its charm.

The entire town was once Halicarnassus – sound familiar? I feel certain that I studied it at one time, or at least it was mentioned a time or two in Herodotus’ Histories, since he was born here.  The city was initially founded as a Greek settlement around 1000 B.C. and went back and forth between the Persians and Greeks for several centuries with a few years of autonomy here and there before it fell to the Ottomans.

In 1402 the Knights of Hospitaller, or Knights of St. John, built the castle and dedicated it to St. Peter.

The museum is absolutely spectacular with every turn leading to remains of some hodgepodge of history.  First of all, it’s a crusader fort, so all the standard fort stuff is there: towers for all the different nationalities of knights, a chapel, gates, walls, lookout perches, and a dungeon.

A couple of rooms house relics found in the area from pagan cults, like the worship or Zeus or Artemis.  There’s even a Carian princess’s sarcophagus, complete with her skeleton and burial cache.

The castle is built on the ruins of Mausolus’s grave, which is where we get the name for a mausoleum!  The mausoleum was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, but it’s widely thought that its stones were used to build the fort on the same location.  There are no certain remains yet, but they’re still digging.

But back to pirates.  Were there any Turkish pirates?  I still haven’t figured that out yet, but I do know from my time at sea that there’s a reason for the good order and discipline so favored by modern navies and most other seagoing vessels.  The museum houses a lot of discoveries from shipwrecks around the area, although it really looks like they were all involved in a more honest sort of trade.  The most impressive is from a 12th century B.C. shipwreck.  I don’t have pictures of all the wares, except tons and tons of amphoras (vessels for carrying food goods, like olive oil), which are all over the museum.  Lifted from the seabed, most are covered with sea creatures – kind of like an historic version of turning over your oyster shells for a hint of their seabed origin.  Other treasures include some of the oldest glass found in the world as well as the oldest coins (although I’ve now seen this claim at several places – I’ll have to start paying more attention to dates).  For me the most impressive thing was a golden seal of Nefertiti, which they think was probably sold to a trader simply for the weight of gold because the rest of the objects date to after she was out of power, and the Egyptian tradition when a queen was losing her grasp was simply to erase her name from everything, making it so much harder for historians later on.

After I left the museum, I spent a few hours getting lost in Bodrum’s bazaar.  In that sense it was a very characteristic bazaar, with street hawkers and tea guys and doner kebab stands all over the twisty winding streets.  The stuff for sale, however, was all pretty modern.  Turkey makes some amazing fake luxury bags, though, if anyone is in the market.

Circumcision Party!!!

Since I didn’t get past replacing a spare tire and studying today, here’s a gem from this weekend in Selcuk, the town next to Ephesus. I love random spontaneous street parties, and although this ceremonial parade wasn’t exactly either, it was a pleasant surprise for me a I walked to a museum.

Its unlikely that this kid got circumcised that day – a fellow onlooker told me they probably did it years ago and now are celebrating when he can remember.

I was glad to see this, because those baby ottoman paşa costumes are all over so many bridal store windows, and I was never sure if they are part of weddings, like the ring bearer’s outfit, or something else.

Bodrum Cottage Stay

view from my cottage

I decided to sequester myself for a week of bookish Turkish study to try and get ahead on the vocabulary and sentence structure of academic/political Turkish, so I’m staying outside of Bodrum in a tiny cottage for a week. The view is beautiful, and the cottage is kind of isolated on a hill with olive groves and a vineyard. There’s no internet down there, so I walk up to the main house everyday to check on the world and make sure I didn’t get any last-minute tasking from all of my various administrative bosses.

the patio in front of my cottage – perfect for hanging out all day.

Of course, my first day in, yesterday, I had to go shopping for food and figured that while I was out, I might as well check out the area. I saw a sign for a hillside gravesite that looked like it was in the direction of the beach, so for some sightseeing and a coastal drive I turned off onto a gravel road.

the sea from a town near Bodrum

I didn’t find the gravesite until a loose rock shredded a tire, I found out my jack was broken, and turned back down this same now significantly less scenic road on a flat. It seemed like the first service station was miles away, and I was really worried about how to explain my problem. Luckily, driving into a service station with a flat pretty much speaks for itself, and by the grace of the language gods, the word for rubber, lastik, which I did know, is the same word for tire! So I was actually able to talk to the guy and find out where to go to get a new tire. But I was so frustrated and tired and annoyed with the world (nothing like getting a flat to tear down your optimism) that I just headed back to my cottage and hit the books. The great thing about my rental is that if I’m not feeling the urge to study, I can just look out at the sea.
Today it was pretty cloudy, so I managed to review an awful lot of Turkish. There are ruins everywhere in Turkey, and Bodrum is no exception, so tomorrow if my mood and the weather is good, I’ll go check some more marvels of the ancient world.



Before I had even heard of the concept of a bucket list, Ephesus definitely would have been on it.  Years of going to mass and listening to the readings of St. Paul to the Ephesians installed the name into my gray matter, but it wasn’t until I started traveling to these ancient areas that biblical locations became significant to me.  Ephesus is considered the fourth major city of the Roman civilization, after Rome, Alexandria, and Constantinople.  Efes, in Turkish, is also the name of the national beer, making it twice as awesome!

In Ephesus there are several major ruins to visit.  The first and possibly most holy is called Maryem Ana Evi, or the Virgin/Mother Mary’s House, and is thought to be the her last home.  ImageAfter the crucifixion as the apostles were being prosecuted, St. John took Mary with him to Asia Minor, his designated area for spreading the gospel.  There are several stories about how it was found, but they all include a nun in Germany who had visions of it’s location on a hill close to the sea and a large city.  It was found at the end of the 1800s.  A very old village, thought to be descended from the original Christians of Ephesus, had been making annual pilgrimages to the ruins every August 14/15, which is generally considered Mary’s Assumption.  This led some credibility to the site.

The only original remains are the foundation of the current house. The rest was built up as a chapel in 1951.  It’s considered a very holy place and many people come to pray, drink the water from the natural springs, and leave prayers on a wishing wall. ImageI didn’t get the same peaceful feeling of other holy places I’ve visited, but it definitely seemed like it was working for others.

The next site I went to was a seriously impressive pile of ruins  – the third city of Ephesus.  In this area, artifacts dating all the way to the late 7th millennium have been found.  I won’t bore you with the the history, but here’s a quick and incomplete list of the civilizations that have lived and fought for this land: Luwian, Hittite, Lydian, Persian, Hellenist, Pergamene, and then finally, Roman and Byzantine for its nearly 14 century heyday.  If you’ve never heard of half of these, you’re not alone.  I’m still learning the very complex history of the region. Image

The city was built up from a harbor that provided easy access to the sea, but during Roman times it was silted over so many times that the city eventually came to front a marsh, rendering it insignificant as a trading hub.  With the loss of the harbor and a series of devastating earthquakes over the years, the city slowly denigrated into a group of settlements and was easily taken over in the mid-13th century A.D. by the Selcuks, who later became the Ottomans.Image

Although the site is huge, only about 17% has been uncovered so far, to include some of the major parts: the Odeon, where the city council met, the Grand Theater, the Celsus library, the Stadium, the Gymnasium, three baths, and the main shopping roads.  With the exception of the theater and stadium, all of these areas were covered by wooden roofs.  Somehow I had never realized this before – I actually imagined everybody just being much more comfortable being exposed to the elements and wandering what everybody did when it rained.


My favorite part was the toilets, which are essentially a bunch of marble slabs with holes carved in them.  It was a custom for rich men to send their slaves in first to warm up their seats, then they’d essentially hang out on their seat for a few hours and catch up with the day’s news and gossip while doing their business.  Nobody is sure what the women did.  Image

I also really like the mosaics in front of some of the shops on the Harbor Road.  It’s just amazing that these still exist!  Think of all the people who have walked on them, and how much weather has attacked. Image The area in the picture was thought to have been homes of the upper middle class with shops below.   The road was actually lit by lanterns at night, and under the stones ran the water and sewage systems.  Some of the marble blocks still have iron hooks in them, which were used to raise the road and check/repair the systems below.

After being overwhelmed at the vastness of Ephesus, I went up the hill to the Church of St. John.  This was planned as a huge church, and although it became a major site of the pilgrimage for new Christians it was never finished.  Instead, the focus shifted to building Hagia Sofia in Constantinople. Image Still, the church focused mostly on welcoming newcomers to the faith and was a major center of baptism.  The baptism chamber is a sunken pool in the shape of the cross, and it’s believed that as you took each step you verbally accepted tenets of the faith until you came out the other side a new person.Image

From the Church, you can see where the temple of Artemis, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, sat, but not much remains.  Scholars think a lot of the pillars and columns were used to build some of the mosques in the current town of Selcuk. Image


The Selcuk Museum has several statues of Artemis so you can get the idea of her cult (she had 19 breasts, shaped like eggs, represent fertility, although like all ancient things, there are several ideas of what these shapes actually were and signified).  The museums also houses some of the world’s original coins. For me the best part of the museum was a collection of statues from the temples and buildings at Ephesus.  Although small, it’s definitely worth checking out to complete the picture of the old city.

In the late afternoon, I finally headed back to my hotel and the modern world for a relaxing dip in the pool and an Efes beer celebration.  Although I’m still worried about grad school, I’m happy to report that my Turkish was good enough to play with the innkeeper’s three year-old daughter for a few hours while he prepared an organic dinner from the property’s farm.  Another perfect day in Turkey was finished off with too much raki but great conversation with my new friend Mustafa, the innkeeper.

Road Trip to the West Coast

My day started with a move that took several hours more than scheduled. Here’s a quick picture of what moving into an apartment looks like when the building’s elevator is pretty tiny. Along with the slow, frustrating process, the other holdup was the movers dropping everything to go to Friday prayer. This is pretty standard here – I just have to get used to nobody really caring about punctuality or meeting time estimates.


So, as the hours wore on, I started to reconsider my plan to drive west all day. Google Maps said the trip would take 10 and a half hours. My GPS said 8 hours, and when I finally hit the road at 2:30 I really hoped that for once google maps was wrong.

Driving from Ankara to Kusadasi first reminded me of driving from Phoenix to San Diego. You leave a big, nothing city, hit the desert, pass through the occasional one stoplight town, random industrial centers and irrigation farming areas, go through a few mountain passes and once you’ve driven through the sunset, bam, you’re in Paradise! I went through this track twice before I finally realized that it isn’t like driving in the American West. I’m driving in Turkey and the landscape is uniquely its own. Because I was concerned about finding my hotel in the middle of the night, I didn’t stop to take any pictures but here’s one from the road at sunset.


I arrived in Kusadasi around 10, but then took about a half hour finding my hotel. I always find these hotels in the middle of nowhere, and I was close to regretting my penchant for the boutique and country hotels. I was driving in circles on dirt roads and trying to avoid random animals along the way (horses and dogs) who didn’t seem to have the good sense to get out of the way of an oncoming vehicle. After passing the same sign three times, I finally pulled out my phone to check my location on google maps. This time google won – I was two country roads south of the one I needed. By tracking my position with the phone I finally got to my hotel at about 1030 p.m. I don’t know how I would have done this before cell phones and GPS – I didn’t pass many people to ask for directions along the way.
I was met with a glass of raki and some eggplant meze, my favorite. Then I stayed up late talking politics with the owner, Mustafa, who had also arrived late after driving in from Istanbul.
Today I’m going to check out a place so old it’s in the bible – Ephesus!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Near and Far


This is my entry into the weekly challenge from WordPress.

I love the green growth on the rocks contrasting with the blue blue sky that day, looking out to the cliffs and the sea beyond at Praia de Luz, the Algarve, Portugal

Cell Phone Tax Woes at the Ministry of Frustration

I returned from Portugal with a very disturbing “No Service” message on my cell phone.  No worries, I thought, I’ll just restart the phone again.  I’ve learned a few things about gadgets over the years – Number 1, before getting frustrated, always try the old O-N, O-F-F switch.  In the Navy, we actually spell out the letters when asking somebody if they’ve tried that troubleshooting method yet.

Sadly, my iphone powered back up with the same No Service message.  Then I tried resetting the SIM card, which I’ve learned to do after a few international trips around Europe.  Nope, still no service.

Racking my brain, I remembered a note I received a while back about the requirement to pay a tax to use foreign-purchased cell phones in Turkey.  When I got home, I retrieved this note from my email – yeah, the tax must be paid within 30 days of arrival or the phone would be cut off.  Oops!

Okay, Bahrain friends, Turkey is another territory in “the land of not quite right.”  I have been here for about two and half months now, and foolishly thought that since they hadn’t cut off my service, I was somehow exempt or wouldn’t have to pay up.

No, they were just a little slower to get to my account.  I dug up some more emails about how to register and headed to pay all of my taxes the next morning.

The first confusing part – there are several tax offices in buildings next to each other, and it definitely wasn’t clear to an intermediate Turkish speaker which was the right one to pay my particular tax.  Another life lesson that applied here – Just Ask!  So I started random Turks until somebody pointed me in the right direction.  Of course, as with all ministry buildings, the locals are just as confused as the foreigners, and it took a couple of knowledgeable Turks until one pointed me in the actual right direction.

At cell phone tax counter, I flashed my various identifications and residency permits, all of which are unusual and rarely encountered by anybody but the Immigration Officers at the airport.  The generic Turkish identity card is called a kimlik, and if you have one, that’s all you need.  A long way back, however, somebody decided that for military personnel in Turkey on NATO orders, instead of simply issuing a kimlik card, fourteen other documents would be issued, and all would be required for simple government exchanges, like registering a car or paying taxes.  I am now used to the looks of bewilderment on the poor administrator’s faces and have even learned some of the Turkish words for commands they can enter on their computers to override the kimlik requirement.

This time, though, that wasn’t enough, because as generally happens when you’re trying to get something done, the system shut down.  Then, during the hours it takes to restore the system, the director who needs to override the system in order for it to accept a foreigner’s tax is coming in and out of the office, and we are quickly approaching the witching hour – lunch.  Lunch, when you’re a Turkish bureaucrat, can take 2-3 hours, and they don’t seem to care whether or not people are waiting on you – I started debating whether I needed a phone at all during my stay in Turkey.

Miraculously, the system was restored and the director was there and I started a mental happy dance.  Then they asked me for my phone’s IMEI.  What’s an IMEI?  That’s what she said.  And I couldn’t look at my phone, because I am the one rule-abiding idiot who actually followed the sign on the door and didn’t bring my cellphone into the office – in fact, I left it in my car, back at the Embassy parking lot.   For the record, the IMEI is an International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number.  If you’re curious, you can type *#06# on your phone and find yours too!

So, I schlepped back to my car then found a kebab place – I knew I was now past office hours and would have to wait for the post-lunch reopening.  When I did finally get back to the neighborhood tax office, almost the exact same chain of events occurred.  I went through the spiel about my weird identification status, they had to find the director, the system broke down, it had to be restarted several times, and then…I actually paid my tax!

But of course that didn’t turn my phone back on.  Instead, that provided me with a receipt, which I was then instructed to take back to a Vodafone office, and then they would turn my phone back on.

So I trekked to my usual Vodafone shop, which apparently doesn’t handle tax registrations. They recommended that I go to the office in Kizilay, which is kind of like the Times Square of Ankara (kind of painful to get to and around for a quick errand).  I hopped a bus and got to the second shop, where the person who usually handles this kind of thing left for the day.  They didn’t know if he’d be working over the weekend.  At shop #3, their computer system was down.  Finally, I found a guy at shop #4 who was willing to accept my tax receipt, and then make copies of all of the identifications that I had already shown at the tax office.  Then I had to pay another 5 TL (about $2.75).  I asked how long it would take to reactivate – oh, up to a WEEK he said!  Wow.  The cell carrier had to send all the documentation, and my receipts, to another government ministry (something with Telecom in its name, but I totally forgot it).

For a few days I got really used to not having a phone, or at least one that didn’t work without wifi.  Frankly, it’s pretty nice.  I still had wifi and skype, so if I needed, I could contact other people, but I was free of the leash.  I even considered just going phone-less, although I’m sure the safety people who are always coming up with issues about my housing would also freak out about my being phone-less.

End of story: 2 days after hitting up the right Vodafone shop, my phone once again had service.  Although I’m still not in love with talking on the phone, I’m happy to have data whenever/wherever I want it again.

Why you should all travel!

A lot of people ask me what I learn or how I benefit from all my traveling.  I hope to write my own summary one of these days, but in the meantime, I think Mark Manson at does a great summary:

You may not come to all of the same conclusions, but you will learn a thing or two about yourself, and your own country, by getting out and visiting anywhere else.


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