Friday, November 14, 2008

Weekend Trip to Andalucia

So after much fretting (and false alarms), I've latched onto my fellow student Justin's plans to explore the south of Spain this weekend. It's a four-day weekend in Morocco to celebrate its independence from France in the 1950s, so naturally traveling to Europe makes total sense. Right? Anyway, I definitely plan to take pictures of Granada, Malaga and/or anywhere else we end up this weekend. Expect more news on Tuesday or Wednesday (inshaa' Allah).

Interested in seeing what Morocco looks like so far? Check the new Flickr set.

Friday, November 7, 2008


I think I have found the Moroccan counterpart to the Japanese ramen subculture. It's called besara (بسرة), a simple greenish soup made from fava beans and served with half a round of flatbread and a steaming cup of mint tea. It's cheap, typically only 5 or 6 dirhams, and is enjoyed by all classes of Moroccan working men during the day. A visit to a besara shop is usually a grungy affair, and upon visiting one will notice that the clientele is strictly 100% male. The shop owner greets you and sits you down across from a stranger, and by the time you've grunted something along the lines of "salaamuh lekm" (enunciation is a no-no here), he's brought you your soup, bread and steaming hot sweet mint tea. The bread, of course, being your primary utensil, is placed directly on the table for you to tear apart at your leisure. A single shaker of hot pepper is shared among the customers, who stay rather silent while they watch the people walking by in their business suits and Jedi robes, sipping tea and contemplating. As you tear off pieces of bread and run them through the thick soup, you try to avoid eye contact with neighboring besara shop owners, who might shoot you a glare for not trying their nearly identical shop next door. The soup itself tastes something like pea soup, and to be honest I'm not quite sure what's in it. When the bowl is empty and you've sipped the last of your mint tea, it's time to get up and walk to the plainclothed man seated near the door next to a wooden box full of money. The price of the soup is negotiable, and it somewhat dependent on how much bread you eat and how stubborn you are with bargaining.

So how is this similar to the ramen shops of Tokyo?
  • They are a dime a dozen in the city, although quality may vary dramatically. Often whole blocks are lined with them side by side.
  • They are among the cheapest lunches in the city, appealing to working men on the move
  • Communication in the shops is minimal, often reduced to grunted abbreviations of greetings and customs
  • Pepper is provided to make it as spicy as you want
  • Tea is an appropriate (and often complimentary) beverage
  • Nonstandard utensils are used to consume the soups
Overall, I find the similarities of this "working man's soup culture" striking, given the numerous other cultural differences between Morocco and Japan. Besara shops attract men of all ages and classes, from poor old men in traditional Islamic robes to young, upbeat entrepreneurs in sharp business suits. In Japan the divide is more clear, with the businessmen clearly the clients of the poorer, sweatier, bandana'd ramen chefs. I wonder if things like this exist in other cultures as well. It would be quite an interesting anthropological study.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Finally, Some Photos!

You probably thought I wouldn't update this anymore, but until today, I didn't have much to report. Before today, I hadn't thought much of Fez. It just seemed like kind of a grungy city that was, apart from the noticeable differences in culture, not that interesting. But this weekend, I finally made my way over to the Fez medina, the old medieval walled city. Fez was once the capital of medieval Morocco, and is still known today as the intellectual, religious and spiritual (if not de jure) capital of the country. Its walled city is held by many to be second to none, and today I finally got to see it for myself. What an interesting experience. Time seems to have crawled at a slow pace here, only reaching into the future to grasp what it absolutely needs. It's quite odd to see a pack mule lumbering through the narrow, winding streets with several plastic crates of Coca-Cola, or to see cell phone shops peeking out of 900-year-old buildings. Or even to walk by what I know to be the oldest operating university in the world. Even now as I type this, I can still smell the dyes of the leather tanneries, where there has been little technological innovation in the last few centuries. Much of the main street resembles a chaotic bazaar, with deserted nooks and crannies inviting you to explore its secrets. Some of our companions sought out carpets, traditional bath soaps, or centuries-old copies of the Qur'an. I was just looking for experiences (and photo opportunities). I didn't get much of the latter, but what I did get will be posted on Flickr in due time.

In the meantime, let me mention what I actually came here to say, which was that I posted another set of Turkey photos on my Flickr account, this time of the ancient ruins of Ephesus. Enjoy.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


So you thought Turkey was cheap? This morning for breakfast I stopped at a café and ordered a petit déjeuner marocaine, which included:
  • Omelette au fromage
  • A small salad
  • Fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • Café au lait
  • A full basket of bread
All this for 22 Moroccan dirhams. I dare you to see how cheap that is.

At the cafe I was also exposed to Arabic pop music videos, albeit without sound. And, well, anyone who thought that Arab culture was conservative should watch some videos and think again. Nevertheless, I generally like the sound of Arabic pop music better than most other foreign pop music (*cough* Japan).

Answering Questions

Dad: I'm not sure why I'm the only student. My guess is that it's the middle of October and not the summer season when there might be a lot more people. Nevertheless, though, the school's Residence is almost full. We'll see how it goes tomorrow. Morocco's pretty cool, although there is definitely a lot of poverty here (and trash). I was surprised to see how stylish the people in Casablanca were, even the women wearing headscarves.

Tim: Yeah, after our two-week excursion in Turkey, I'm doing a three-week Arabic language study in Fez, Morocco. The class I'm taking is Introduction to the Arabic Newspaper, and it's slightly above the level that I left off at in school, so I'm a little worried. On the way here I had to overnight in Spain, which is why I spent a day wandering around Madrid. I should be back from Morocco by the end of November.

Is there anything else you'd like me to clear up?

Monday, October 27, 2008


I know many of you have been clamoring for photos of our trip to Turkey (and beyond). Well, clamor no more, for I have just set up my very own Flickr account. Gradually I will upload all of my halfway decent pictures to organized sets for your enjoyment. In the meantime, please enjoy the photos we took of the Hagia Sophia and our first days in Istanbul.

And oh yeah. I'm safely in Fez, Morocco, in what will be my room for the next 3-4 weeks. Classes start on Wednesday. And I'm afraid I may be the only student in the class...

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Hello once again, dear readers. Hannah is back in the ol' US of A by now, but I am continuing my journey. I'm writing currently from Madrid, Spain. I woke up at 3:30 this morning in Istanbul to catch a shuttle to the airport, even though my flight wasn't until 6:55. Needless to say, I've been drifting in and out of sleep all day, but I did manage to do some walkaround sightseeing here in Madrid. Of note were the Palacio Real, the Catedral de la Almudena, and the spectacular Basilica de San Francisco el Grande (sorry, no great sites for that one). There is also an abundance of parks full of trendy couples and an interesting array of street performers in every plaza. Tomorrow I sleep in Casablanca, so wish me luck! Hopefully one of these places will have WiFi so I can post some pictures.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


Today is the last full day we have together in Istanbul. I know, you guys probably wish we would have posted more often instead of being out and about, but that's what you do when you get back home!

Our time back in Istanbul has been quite fun. Having already seen most of the main attractions, we decided to go off venturing into the wild city. Last night we went off in search of the world's best baklava shop, and let's just say that it shoots the bar into outer space. After that, we went searching for a ticket office where I might buy tickets to a Turkish football (soccer) game, but after hours of searching and finally finding it, the game was sold out. Alas, but at least we explored a new exciting section of the city. It was the trendy designer-clothes district, quite unlike the housewife-filled market we had explored earlier. Needless to say, there were no veiled women in this happenin' nightlife area. Things like that really underscore the paradox of Turkish society, and show that its mentality as a whole nation is developing even quicker than its modern standards. I'm really going to miss this place.

Later, we'll post some of our favorite pictures from the trip. But before you know it, Hannah will be back with you guys and I'll be continuing my journey to Spain and thence to Morocco.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Photos from Pamukkale

As promised, here are our photos from Pamukkale. This place is stunning. Enjoy! I also posted these on Facebook.

Fun with Turkish Loan Words

While I don't actually know any Turkish, sometimes it's fun to see what words in the Turkish language are borrowed from languages that I do know. English, for instance. It's always a little funny to see a string of unintelligible words, but with one slightly familiar-looking word mixed in. Yes, loan-words they're called, or "cognates" for linguistics nerds. Can you guess the meanings of these Turkish loan-words?













Long awaited new post

Hello all,

Apologies for not posting in a few days. We've been in Selçuk, along the western Anatolian coast, which is famous for being near the ancient ruins of Ephesus. Those ruins are the best-preserved Greco-Roman city in the eastern Mediterranean. While there were a fair amount of tour groups going through, the place isn't really cordoned off, so we could easily escape from the tourists on the main path and go off on our own archaeological expedition. We took tons of pictures, and think it may be about time to sign up for a Flickr account or something. Stay tuned.

Other adventures in the Selçuk area include: a misbegotten scooter rental, a Saturday market and a day trip to the otherworldly Pamukkale.

Here is a video of Matt at the ancient amphitheater.

Yesterday we visited Pamukkale, which we had not heard of before we arrived in Turkey. It's absolutely amazing. Limestone from a hot spring created white formations. It's kind of like being on another planet. This short video really doesn't do it justice. We will post pictures later.

Thursday, October 16, 2008


Turkey is ten hours ahead of Pacific Daylight Time, so just imagine us being about a full night's sleep ahead of you guys.

Also, don't be afraid to leave comments. We fixed it so that you don't need to be registered to make comments.

Blue Mosque video

Here is the promised Blue Mosque video. We made it in iMovie using footage we got with Hannah's Flip video camera. Don't worry, it's only about 1:18 long.

If you guys like it, we might make another video of the Hagia Sophia, which we visited today. I had to pick up my jaw off the floor several times, especially upon seeing the amazing gold mosaics. It's interesting that the iconoclastic Ottoman Turks who sacked the city in 1453 elected not to destroy these beautiful mosaics, instead letting them remain as they converted what was once the world's largest Christian church into a mosque.

Also, today we let ourselves be talked into a half-day Bosphorus cruise and city tour, which was probably one of the funnest things we've done so far. While earlier today we were bemoaning the omnipresence of tour buses, we soon found ourselves riding one toward the shore. It was amazing seeing just how huge Istanbul is, since its tiny neighborhoods easily mask the city's true size (pop. 12~20 million). Perhaps the most sublime moment was as we were sailing back to port past Old Istanbul as a hundred mosques all sang the call to prayer in near unison.

And oh yeah. Guess what woke me up this morning just before sunrise. *shakes fist*

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


Wow, Wednesday's already over. Today we ventured just a bit beyond what we knew yesterday, even daring the venture beyond the touristy area in which we are staying. Yes, although Sultanahmet (the section where our hotel is) is famous for the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and others, the entrances to those places are literally crowded with street vendors shoving crap in your face and the streets are lined with the same five souvenir shops over and over. Once you develop a thick skin, though, and focus on being amazed by the incredible architecture and delicious food, it all seems to melt away.

Istanbul was once the capital of the mightiest Islamic empire the world has ever seen, and it shows. There is nowhere you can walk without being in the shadow of the towering minarets of the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, or one of the other dozens of huge mosques in this area. There's an interesting blend of Greek, Turkish, Arab, 19th-cent. European and modern styles of architecture all within a few meters of each other, and the same could be said for Turkish fashion.
(Above: An iPhone ad, a 19th-cent. European-style building, and the Hagia Sophia in the background)

Later this evening, we took the tram across the Golden Horn (see map) to Beyoglu, a lively nightlife district. Hannah even found a trendy secondhand-clothes store and bought a shirt that Amelia would envy. Tomorrow we plan to tackle the legendary Hagia Sophia and perhaps other must-sees before venturing off to the Izmir-Ephesus area on Saturday. Oh shoot, we don't know how we're getting down there, nor do we have a place to stay on Friday night. Night bus, perhaps? More details to come.

Tomorrow (Thursday), I'll post a video that Hannah cut together featuring some footage of the Blue Mosque's interior. I'm too tired to wrestle with Turkish-language Blogspot's error messages at the moment.

Our First Night Here

Matt and I arrived safely after a 9 hour flight to Frankfurt. This was followed by a frantic one hour layover, which was spent running through the Frankfurt airport to catch our next flight. We then proceeded to a three and a half hour flight to Turkey. Our poor cab driver had to stop and ask at least four different people to find our hotel. He also managed to go at least 100 km in a 50 zone.

The hotel we are staying at is lovely. It had hostel prices, but feels more like a boutique hotel. We also got a complementary upgrade to a much nicer room. The picture to the left is the view from our room.

We were also lucky enough to meet up with some of Matt's former roommates from the Fish House. We spent the evening at the roof top bar on top of their hostel. We smoked hookah and talked about American politics.

Here is a video of Matt smoking hookah. I tried it too, and it makes your whole mouth and throat taste like green apples.

Today we visited the Blue Mosque and explored the streets of Istanbul. It's such a vibrant city. We will post pictures and a video later tonight. We miss you all. Thanks for following our trip.


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Our Travel Plans

Matt and I will leave for Turkey next Monday. I thought I'd give you an outline of our travel plans.

We plan to spend the first few days of our trip in beautiful Istanbul. We are looking forward to visiting Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque and the Grand Bazaar.

Photo: Hagia Sofia, photos by Oberazzi

Then we will travel to Izmir, a coastal city. The city is the country's second largest port after Istanbul. We will spend the day in Izmir, and then travel to the hostel in Selçuk. We also plan to visit Ephesus, which is known for its well preserved ruins. Matt will write a more in depth post later this week.

Photo: Library in Ephesus. Photo by shapeshift