Monthly Archives: April 2014

Cinque Terre

(Cinque Terre, Italy – 22-26 April 2014) There are many picturesque coastlines in the world, but perhaps none hold the same magical appeal as Cinque Terre. Literally meaning “five lands,” this stretch of high-cliffed and rocky shoreline sprinkled with quaint villages has become a magnet for tourists since some really smart visionary decided to link five of these beautiful towns with a walking path.

The towns are also connected by train and a regular ol’ highway, but that’s not what brings people like us (and thousands more) to Cinque Terre. The walking paths take visitors from one charming sea-side village to the next, through backyards and vineyards, above the surf, and sometimes through the woods, too. Paths start and end at whichever authentic Italian gem you come to next. The walking distance between the five towns varies from about an hour to almost two. This means it is possible to complete the Cinque Terre trail in one day. Though why anyone would have that as their goal is beyond me. The whole point of the Cinque Terre experience is…. well, the experience.


A Cabin in the Woods

Jessica and I could not afford to stay in any of the five Cinque Terre towns. Those $250+ per night rooms were for honeymooners and richy-riches only. Instead, we stayed in a small cabin at a campsite about 15 minutes away (by train and shuttle) from the northernmost Cinque Terre town. This put us away from the action, but what a fine choice we had made. So quiet and peaceful it was that our first night in the cabin we both slept for 11 straight hours.


The bathroom and showers were communal at the campgrounds, but our cabin had a little kitchenette so we enjoyed preparing our own meals. Which brings me to a topic that may spark intense controversy. The pasta dish I made in the cabin may have been better than any we’d eaten yet in Italy. It was simply Barilla brand pasta sauce (basil) from a jar over sautéed onions and bell peppers on penne pasta. The Italian food we’ve been eating in Italy has been good, but not quite as outstanding as I was expecting.

Ready for my complaints about Italian food? Well, here I go anyway. Italian pasta dishes don’t use enough sauce. The sauce is the best part so why not load it up? (That’s why my pasta dish in the cabin was better.) How about the pizza? Relative to other choices the pizzas here were not expensive. Which means, we ate a lot of them. But here’s the problem. A pizza “ristorante” can be found on every corner of Italy….and each one just as identical as the last. No creativity. Once upon a time, someone must have created the first pizza restaurant menu, and then passed out copies of it to every other restaurant in the country. We saw the same exact list of pizzas (e.g., Napoli, Capriciosa, Margherita, 4 Formagio (4 cheese), Siciliana, and about eight more) over and over again with no variation. The fact that there were 15 or so pizzas to choose from was okay, my complaint is only that every parlor served the same 15 pizzas.

Every pizza was thin-crust and they all came in just one size–> medium. Almost never were they cut into slices either; you had to do that yourself at the table. Awkward! Another thing that bugged me was that if your pizza had olives on it, they weren’t pitted. C’mon, people! Would it kill you to put olives without pits on your pizzas? And finally, the concept of build-your-own pizza does not exist here.

In conclusion, Italian food is good, but doesn’t match the hype it generally receives.

Trail Closed, No Entry

The five towns that make up Cinque Terre are: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, Riomaggoire. I have listed them in order from west to east only because that is the direction we hiked. Now for a little womp-waahh– not all of the trails between the towns were open while we were there. We were still able to walk from one town to the other because there are multiple paths- upper and lower -linking them together. The Monterosso to Vernazza lower path was perfect, but several of the other lower paths (the ones that you see in all the travel magazines) were closed for repair.

This meant that between Vernazza and Corniglia we hiked the longer and more challenging trail that climbed up and over the high hills dividing them. While it would have been nice to have all of the lower trails open, that hardly diminished our good time. Walking the upper-trails was extremely rewarding, too. From on high we gained spectacular vistas of the town we’d just left, and the next one we were approaching, (sometimes even the next two).

More views from the upper trail.


A short ways out to sea, small sailboats trade places, east and west. Though it looks like the one in the photo below is a resting speed boat.

Corniglia had a mesmerizing set of stairs that led to/from the train station. This is awesome!

From Manarola and Riomaggoire, the high trail was knee-achingly steep. For that leg, Jessica chose the train over hiking. We said our see you shortlies and headed off in independent directions. So close together were these two towns that I zoomed up the trail, over the pass, and down into Riomaggoire all in about 45 minutes. Weirdly, that was about the same amount of time it took Jessica by train, inclusive of her 40 minute wait before the train arrived.

For us, Riomaggoire was the last town in the series. For most, however, it is where the five-village hop begins. For that reason we found the place at the beginning of the lower trail where lovers place their locks on the railing. So romantic! It was clear we’d found the spot for many a marriage proposal. (Jessica and I were amused, but not swayed.)

We also found a spot for lunch.

Our lunchtime scenery.

Different spots along the path.


Our enduring good memories of Cinque Terre will be split between the expansive, breathtaking views our eyes captured from the trails and the peaceful, cozy time spent in our little cabin at the campsite. We could live like this forever, we thought.

Our final stop in Italy was the home of our good friend Boris. The same Boris that we traveled with in New Zealand. The same Boris that lives in Perth, Australia. His home city is Padova, Italy. Though he won’t be anywhere near there, his family has welcomed us and there we will stay for a few days before heading to Slovenia. Stay with us.


(Rimini, Italy – 17-22 August 2014) From way before we left Austin, the one fixed date in our year-long itinerary was the Paganello Beach Ultimate Tournament in Rimini, Italy. It was many years ago when I first heard other Ultimate players talking about Paganello. Each year a handful of Austin Ultimate players would travel all the way to Italy just for this legendary tournament. Paganello is famous for being the largest (>50 teams) Beach Ultimate Tournament in the World and for having some of the best Ultimate parties ever.

Jessica and I arrived to Rimini by train from Assisi, Italy. I am typically not as demonstrative as Jessica when it comes to showing excitement, but the closer we got to Rimini, the more I started to “light up.” It wasn’t just the chance to play some competitive Ultimate, it was also the anticipation of meeting up with friends from Austin that we hadn’t seen since starting our trip.

Playing in the Sand

The Austin-based team I played on was named Texas Mustache Rides (“TMR”); you will easily see the logo on our jerseys.

All but a couple of our guys sported the best mustache they could manage. Seen chasing the disc below, I thought Joel’s stash was clearly the strongest.

Another look at Joel’s fine stash (front-right) at one of our fun team dinners. Did you spot Jessica and me?

On our way to the last tournament party. Jessica is such an outlaw!

The 5th Element

The sand we played on was fine-grained and super soft. Easy on the feet, but it sure made running a chore. Some players complained that their arches were taking a beating. I personally felt more soreness in the front part of my hips, a result of the different stresses put on my leg muscles….from running like a lizard across the sand, I guess.

We played a total of 10 games over four days, 4 on the first day, 3 on day two, then just 2 and 1 on days three and four. Of those 10 games, we won exactly half, but I guess we chose the right ones to win because we ended up with 5th place overall (out of 17 teams in the Mixed division).

One of our games was played in what they were calling The Arena– a pitch of sand surrounded by stadium seating and about six cameras to record the action. If you want to see the game, here is the link:

Contributing Factor

What I’ve found to be true is that even more important than whether your team wins or loses is how you as a player feel you contributed to your team. After 10 games on TMR, I’m feeling good, but not great. I played very conservatively on offense to the point at which my throws were coming out soft and weak. Not what you want on a windy beach. If you watch the game at the link above, you’ll see me throw a sure backhand score into the sand. Ugh!

The rule of thumb is that if the disc touches your hand, you should catch it. By this standard, I caught all but one pass the whole tournament. I had that going for me, but my lack of quickness in the sand meant that I wasn’t getting open as often as I would have liked.

Defensively, I had a medium-strong tournament. I’m generally better at covering the short cuts and get beat with greater frequency if my opponent cuts long…which they did all too often. I made up for some of the damage with a couple of highly visible and dramatic defenses. It feels good when you find yourself in a crowd of players all scrambling for an errant disc…and you come down with it in your hands. This happened once for me at Paganello and I’ll take it.

My biggest struggle was simply meshing with my team. Every one of my Mustache teammates plays ‘above my level’ so it was my challenge to gain their confidence. I’ve been playing with or against many of them in Austin for years, but being on the same team with so many of them at a competitive tournament is fundamentally different. I was intent on holding my own and I’m not entirely sure I succeeded, but at least I feel I came close.

I came close to this one, too, but didn’t quite get it.

Italian Elvis

Paganello’s opening night party featured an Elvis Tribute Band. They rocked that main stage like a 50’s sock hop. The singer (who resembled Kneau Reeves far more than Elvis) couldn’t match Elvis’ moves, but that was okay. His singing was solid and the variety of songs they played (more than just Elvis) had the crowd up and dancing.

The following night’s tournament party was located further away from where we were staying and only one or two from our team ended up going. Our good times were found hanging out and drinking in one of the rooms at the team hostel.

Each year the Paganello tournament chooses a theme. This year it was Abba vs. Aliens. (Yeah, I don’t get it either.) 20140606-105830.jpg

Having a tournament theme not only influences the music played between games, but it also dictates what people wear to the parties. One crazy team from England painted their faces and bodies green and stuck a large fake eye on their foreheads, literally mimicking the aliens from Toy Story– “We are eternally grateful….”

Other teams dressed in glittering Abba-era jumpsuits.

Jessica pauses her own dancing to snap a photo of Rebecca and me.

Our team went pure cowboy!
[team pic]

Paganello Tournament. Check!

At nearly 50, I am clearly in the latter stages of my Ultimate “career.” To be invited to play at Paganello with a team from Austin was huge for me. For many years I’ve been carrying around (in my head) a short list of big tournaments that I’d like to play in before the day comes when I can play no more. Paganello was high on that list. I reserve the right to add more tournaments to that docket, but for now, only Poultry Days (annual tournament in Versailles, Ohio) remains.

After saying our good-byes to our Austin friends, Jessica and I turned to each other in quiet acknowledgment that it would just be us again. That’s okay. We’ve been having quite literally the time of our lives and there was no reason to believe that would not continue to be the case. Our next destination is Cinque Terre and one of the world’s most famous hikes that hugs a beautiful portion of the Italy’s northwestern coastline.

From top left to bottom right;
BJ – broke his arm in the first game of the tournament
Joel – currently living in Toronto, Canada
Dave Street – may have played his best tournament yet
Elliot – currently lives in Geneva, Switzerland with Hannah*
Allen – currently lives in Germany with Nat*
Pickens – loves Ultimate as much as anyone else alive (addiction)
Rebecca – great all-around player and more importantly, best dancer on the team!
Michelle – was certainly the leading scorer on the team (don’t get in her way when the disc is in the air)
Emily – always wins the award for fewest turnovers on the team
Gary – got two compliments on “my look” (sunglasses matching hair)
Tina – has better throws than Scotty B.
Steffi – currently lives in Germany and has the cutest little boy

* Hannah and Nat played on a Women’s Team called Super Hot Pot. They won the tournament in that Division.


Greece Is The Word

(Greece – 27 March 2014) – Our excitement about going to Greece had good reason to double. Not only would we be visiting some of the prettiest places on Earth, we would also be meeting up with family. Jessica’s daughter- Mallorie, her boyfriend- Brandon, and nieces- Leanne and Mickaela, scheduled a two-week vacation to coincide with the Greece and Italy portions of our year-long travel. (This post covers just the Greece portion.)

Our first visitors from the US! A concrete link to home! For so many months this was a piece of our trip we were intently looking forward to. Especially Jessica, who would be seeing Mallorie for the first time in eight months. So much anticipation and now….finally, the moment was upon us.

All Rhodes Lead to Greece

Our rendezvous with Mallorie and the crew was to take place in Athens. This meant Jessica and I would have a week to burn in Greece before their arrival. Our first landing on Greek soil was on the Island of Rhodes. Funny how the advertised 50 minute ferry from Turkey lasted 1 hour and 40 minutes, but whatever. It was yet another blue sky day and we were in no particular hurry.

We had only an afternoon and night to spend on Rhodes before boarding another ferry, so we took full advantage of our time. A short walk from our hotel we found a pebble beach. We thought the water was too cold for swimming, but those hardy Greeks did not agree. A dozen or more swimmers were frolicking in the frigid water like it was mid-August. Not willing to be outdone, I went in for a quick dip myself. Zowie! My chest felt like it was collapsing. Greeks, you win!


That is Turkey in the distance.

The water was cold and clear.

From the beach we wandered inside the fortressed walls of the old city.



The ferry from Rhodes to Santorini (our ultimate Greek island destination) was leaving at 6:00 AM the next morning. For whatever reason, the instructions on our tickets said to arrived 1 1/2 hours before departure. Are you serious?! That’s 4:30 in the painful AM! But it gets worse. That meant our wake-up time would come around 3:20 am or so. You people think traveling is all fun and games? Not always, my friends.

At least we were smart and upgraded our tickets to have a sweet cabin for this 23 hour voyage. As soon as we boarded, we went directly to our cabin and finished sleeping.

Island Hopping in Greece

This was no Carnival Cruise so there were not too many onboard “activities.” Our biggest thrills came whenever the ferry would touch ‘n go at any of its many ports-of-call. Picturesque fishing/vacation villages growing from tidy little harbors, planted on sloped hillsides like model miniatures.

These are all different Greek Island ports.

Almost worth framing? (Click on this, or any of the photos to enlarge)

The TV inside our room displayed a map of the Greek Islands with a blinking arrowed marker representing our ship. This enabled us to follow our progress from island to island across the Aegean Sea. We lost track of the names belonging to each island, but that didn’t matter. They were all living postcards.

After 12 hours crossing we arrived to the island of Crete, an island so large that we made stops at two of its ports, each separated by three more hours on the water. After departing Crete, we retired to our cabins for the final stretch and slept until 4 AM when a knock on our door announced Santorini was near.

Santorini- The Quintessential Greek Island

We all know that iconic picture of Greece- the white-painted houses with blue trim, clinging to steep cliff-sides that rise out of sparkling turquoise waters. Even though nearly every building on the Greek island of Santorini is painted white, it still took us several days before we found “the iconic spot.”




Riding around the beautiful island on a scooter was tops on our list of to-do’s. We split the 24 hour rental over two days, enabling us to explore one side of the island in an afternoon and the opposite side the next morning. It worked out perfectly. We scooted up one of the highest hills to the ancient city of Thera; only dismal ruins remain, but my-oh-my what a view!


Of course, when the ancient Therans lived on this hilltop many centuries ago, I imagine fewer vacation homes lined the shores.

Jessica and I walked amid the ruins of the ancient city of Thera.


From the ruins we cruised down to the black sand beach below. The chilly breeze made sunbathing a challenge, but I enjoyed lying directly on the warmth of the black sand.


Finding the red sand beach proved tricky. It must be at the base of this rich red cliff, right? We saw no easy way down to the water, so we settled for this photo.

The Island of Santorini is crescent-shaped. Or more like a circular ring with some missing pieces. The Santorini islands formed after a cataclysmic volcanic eruption event some 3,600 years ago. In the center of the “ring” is the exhausted heart of the volcano. It rises above the water-line and still shows signs of a pulse; we saw (and smelled) the sulphur-laced steam that continues to escape from volcanic vents. The only excursion we did while in Santorini was to take a boat ride to this volcanic center of the caldera.

Another world.


Meet-up in Greece

Plans had been underway for many months. Mallorie, Brandon, Leanne and Mickaela were coming to travel with us for the next two weeks. They all flew together from LAX to Paris for a stopover, and then onward to Athens. Jessica and I flew from Santorini to Athens and were waiting at the airport for their arrival.

It was late at night when Mallorie and crew arrived, their bodies dazed and confused by the drastic time-changes. A good-sized metro ride later and we’d reached our Athens hotel for the first of two nights.

Our hotel was well-located for seeing Athens’ biggest tourist attractions- the Acropolis (that includes the Parthenon), the Forum and the National Archeological Museum. From our hotel we had just six city blocks to walk down (on Athena Street) before the downtown streets were taken over by souvenir shops and tourist-trap cafes. People from all over the world merged by the thousands at the base of the Acropolis…and it wasn’t even busy season yet.

The problem with Athens is that every part of it not in the immediate vicinity of the Acropolis doesn’t look good. There is graffiti written on top of graffiti and the interior city streets look mean and do-not-go-there scary. Thank goodness the historical sites are as awesome as they are, otherwise, I’m not sure anyone would ever visit Athens in its current state.

The acropolis is quite an imposing site from any angle.



Gyros for everyone!

Rebuilt building in the Forum doubles as a museum and fun house.



From Athens the six of us flew to the Greek island of Mykonos. We were met at the airport by the energetic and happy woman that ran our hostel. A German ex-pat named Kristina, she told us that 30 years ago she visited Mykonos on vacation and never went back.

It is easy to see how Mykonos could have that effect on someone. It’s beautiful. Panoramic vistas abound. There were six of us traveling together now so we filled up two adjacent rooms connected by a small common area. Our balconies were side-by-side, both facing the beach below. We were situated half-way up a hill so the view stretched quite a distance out over the sparkling blue waters.

Our balconies faced west so the sunsets were particularly awesome.



Leanne and Mickaela are lit up by the orange sunset.

To the Beaches!

To assist our exploration of the island, we rented one scooter and a pair of four-wheeled ATVs. It was quite a nervous riot getting everyone squared-away on their horses- Brandon drove with Mallorie on the back of ATV #1 and Leanne took the helm of ATV#2 with Mickaela excitedly hanging on for dear life. None of our machines were fast and we had to favor the right shoulder to let cars, trucks, and buses pass us up, but slower was better for this group of daredevils.


Exploring Mykonos meant visiting as many beaches as we could find. With our little map and my uncanny sense of direction, we rolled our little caravan up to one beach after another. For the most part, we had every stretch of beach to ourselves since tourist season was still a couple of weeks away. A friendly cat joined our beach party.

Beach jumping pics are always worthy.



Mickaela and Leanne were determined not to let the chilly blue water dissuade them from taking a dip. Not to be outdone, I took a brief turn in the surf, too. In the pic below, Leanne has already exited the water. Mickaela, who was especially fearless, swims calmly like it’s mid-summer.

At the next beach, I talked everyone into hiking to the top of a dramatic overlook.



Something about traveling pants?

Athens and Mykonos took up just half of the vacation time Mallorie and the gang allotted for their trip. Still ahead was Italy. Saying goodbye to Greece was challenging. We did the rounds among the group with the question, “Do you ever think you will come to Greece again?” I think everyone said yes, but for sure Mickaela’s yes was the most emphatic.

The same happy host, Kristina, drove us back to the tiny Mykonos airport when our stay was done. Good-byes were traded and the dye was cast on Greece. Next up, Venice, Florence and Rome. Don’t go away.


Delighted by Turkey

(Turkey – 12 March 2014) We loved Turkey! As a travel destination, Turkey definitely has something for everyone- rich history, beautiful art, delicious food, eye-popping scenery, and cats. Yes, cats- the whole country is over-run with good-looking and (generally) friendly “house” cats. If all that was not enough to sell you on Turkey, here’s one more, Turkey is totally easy on the wallet.

It’s tempting to say, I’m surprised more people don’t go to Turkey. But the truth is that tons of people are going. Perhaps the number of tourists from the US is not high, but I can assure you that everyone else in the world is going. Hear me now and believe me later, book a trip to Turkey as soon as you can swing it. If Turkey joins the European Union, it could get a lot more expensive. Go NOW!


We had 18 days set aside for Turkey and few ideas about where to spend them. In the end, here is how it broke down: Eight days in Istanbul were followed by another five along the country’s southern coast at a beach town called Olüdeniz. Three more were spent in the interior town of Pamukkale, and another three in Kusadasi on the western coast. Our last night in Turkey was back down to the south in another coastal town called Marmaris.

Istanbul (Not Constantinople)

Our introduction to Turkey started in the largest city in all of Europe – Istanbul -so expansive that it straddles the Bosporus Strait and occupies portions of both Europe and Asia simultaneously. Conveying to you the true appeal of Istanbul will be a challenge. There are many interesting and impressive historical sites to visit while in Istanbul, but that’s only a small part of the attraction. It’s the vibe, man. There is an energy and excitement to Istanbul. Perhaps the large quantity of vacationing tourists everywhere brings up the happiness level, but I also got a sense that the residents of Istanbul know they live in a special time and place. Americans typically grow up believing that the US is at the center of the World. After spending just a little time in Istanbul, Turkey, I’m feeling grossly mislead.

Istanbul is not always an attractive city- pollution is a problem and many of the buildings look old and rundown. Yet, in some strange way, pollution in the air becomes the expected exhalation of a thriving, life-filled city, and old and rundown turns into quaint and charming.

So big and varied is Istanbul that we did not limit ourselves to staying put in just one location. Instead, we moved three times and therefore experienced three distinct areas of the city. Our first three days were spent in Old Town. Our hotel was tucked literally in the shadow of the great Blue Mosque, a stunningly beautiful structure that probably draws more artists and photographers to it than worshippers. A mesmerizing sight, especially at night.

Impressive by day, too.

Next to the Blue Mosque is the historically rich Hagia Sophia. 20140409-151754.jpg
Now a museum, the Hagia Sophia is about 15 centuries old and thus has many interesting stories to tell. The immense building began its life as the largest Christian Church/Cathedral in the world, back when Istanbul was called Constantinople. (You know the song, right?) In later centuries the Ottomans took over and the building was converted into a mosque (after a little creative remodeling). In yet another era, it functioned as a Sultan’s palace.

Christian mosaics, once plastered over, are revealed again.

Speaking of mosques, Istanbul has no shortage of them. From any angle, the city’s skyline is punctuated with the distinctive dome roofs common to mosques, and always they are surrounded by those missile-shaped minarets. Prior to the advent of the loudspeaker, minarets served as the calling platform when it was time for prayer. Today, the minarets only practical function is to be massive support posts for blaring gray loudspeakers. Imans sing their call to prayer 5 times daily for all to hear.

In the video below, I look terrible munching on a cob of corn, but the reason I took the video was purely for the sound. I was sitting on a park bench in between two different mosques, each doing their own call to prayer. The result is plain crazy.

Yes, we went to the famous Grand Bazaar and the spice market.


Food in Turkey was exciting and always seasoned with goodness. With every meal in Old Town we were served a big bread puff.

Pics from inside an ancient underground cistern (water storage tank)- the real-life place Dan Brown wrote about in one of the scenes from his most recent book, Inferno. The spooky upside down Medusa head provides support for one of the columns. Freaky!


Topkopi Palace is where the Sultans lived back in their heyday. It wasn’t their style to hang paintings on the walls. To make up the slack the elaborate walls themselves became the decoration.



Here’s a couple of broad shots of Istanbul taken late in the day.

Taksim Square and the Men in Black

After leaving Old Town we relocated to a lively area of Istanbul near Taksim Square. I am sure all of you have been following the International news so you know that Turkey has seen quite a number of political protests of late. The citizenry is none too happy with the current leadership and Taksim Square has become the primary public forum for voicing their concerns. We saw no large scale protests while we were in Istanbul, though we did witness several small marches.

There is a pedestrian-only street (trolley notwithstanding) called Istiklal that leads from Taksim Square down to the water’s edge. Istiklal was a busy street by day and even more so by night. Both name-brand and mom ‘n pop shops bracket the street while tourists, food vendors, and musicians occupy its paved middle. Interesting side-streets branched from Istiklal in either direction. Restaurants, bars and clubs were sprinkled throughout the area, too. I believe that happy, energetic Istanbul vibe emanates first from Istiklal. It’s a street with a heartbeat.


People-watching was a full-time sport on Istiklal. Among our observations, Turks love to wear black. It was chilly on the days we were there so most people wore coats, 99% of which were black. Underneath the coats you might find a black shirt, too. Or, maybe gray if you were lucky.

One joyful trait about the Turkish people is how enthusiastically friendly they are towards one another. Greetings between friends were always hearty, and good-byes were sealed with a double cheek-to-cheek tap, first to the left, then the right. It was very common to see two women walking down the sidewalks arm-in-arm, often you could tell they were family, but equally as often, not. We observed this simple gesture of warmth and closeness among men, too. Men of all ages (even teenagers), friends, buddies, walking down the sidewalk, one with his arm around the other or hooked into the other’s bent arm, not a big deal.

I always thought the Hispanic culture demonstrated an enviable amount of friendliness and warmth…who knew the Turks would demonstrate so much of these qualities, too? News to us and so very nice to see.

A trolley ride down Istiklal Street.

End of a Back-Breaking Era

20140410-211919.jpg Jessica had been giving thought lately to ditching her backpack and switching to a roller bag. For her size and strength, carrying nearly 30 lbs of weight was never easy. Over short distances, it was manageable, though still somewhat a struggle. The camel’s back finally broke when we had trouble finding our Taksim Square hostel located down one of Istiklal’s side-streets. Even if we’d gone the most direct route, it was still a 20 minute walk. Getting it a little wrong like we did nearly doubled that amount of time.

As mentioned, Istiklal Street is full of shops…including plenty of shops that sell roller bags. She ended up with a cute little hard-sided blue beauty. It wasn’t expensive so let’s hope it lasts at least the five months left on our trip.

Asia Side

Already I have mentioned that Istanbul straddles both the eastern part of Europe and the western part of Asia (on a land mass sometimes referred to as, Asia Minor). Our stays in Old Town and near Taksim Square were both on the Europe side. Not wanting to leave Istanbul and miss experiencing life on the Asian side, we booked our last two Istanbul nights in Kadiköy. Meh! Once we got over there it quickly became clear that there were few notable differences from one side to the other. Istanbul is impossibly huge, yet remarkably united.

We saw even more of Istanbul by taking a boat tour up and down the Bosporus Strait. Narration of the tour came via a rented audio guide that used GPS coordinates to prompt the next description. We needed only to sit back, listen, and enjoy the sights. Taking that tour introduced us to additional points of interest and intriguing stories from Istanbul’s rich history. Did you know the military hospital where nurse Florence Nightingale earned her fame is located in Istanbul?

One last fun tid-bit. Soon after arriving at the Istanbul airport we made our way down to the Metro. Buying the right Metro ticket is always a challenge, so we gladly accepted help from a couple of nice American students that were standing nearby. I think one of the pair saw Jessica’s UT jacket and initiated a conversation. Meg and Chloe were super helpful and even traveled with us for much of our journey towards the hotel. We told them our story and they shared theirs with us. All good.

One week later is when we were making our transfer over to our hotel on the Asia side. While walking down the sidewalk we heard someone dash up to us and say, “Hey guys!” It’s so weird to be in such a far-away place and have people know you. It was Meg, our old friend from day 1. Her and Chloe were eating at street-side restaurant when we passed by. Meg gave chase and Chloe caught up moments later. The truth was that we barely knew them, but it still felt like seeing old friends again.

Onward to Olüdeniz

Our travel schedule had been whirring in high gear ever since we entered China about a month prior. Slowing down the pace was something we were both craving. With that in mind, we reserved 5 straight nights at a little beach-side village called Olüdeniz, located along where Turkey’s southern edge meets the true-blue waters of the Aegean Sea. Getting from Istanbul to this beach-side gem was trouble like you wouldn’t believe.

Hearing about people’s travel problems is almost always supremely B-O-R-I-N-G! And still, I must give it three sentences. We went to the wrong Istanbul airport in the morning, had to change our flights, and figure out how to get over to the right airport. Once finally airborne, stormy weather at our destination forced our pilot to abort three landing attempts (those are scary) before re-routing the plane to an alternative airport 35 minutes back to the north. We refueled and then took to the air again; this time able to land safely since the harshest part of the storm had passed by then.

With our nightmare travel day done, it was time to relax and enjoy some serious downtime.

Where Is Everyone?

One thing we learned quickly is that, for beach towns, there is a really big difference between high-season and low-season. In Olüdeniz, it’s the difference between weather that is hot vs. cold, businesses that are open vs. closed, and an atmosphere that is happening vs. ghost-town-ish. Our first indication of which season we’d arrived in was the swimming pool. Nope, that doesn’t look like the picture from the Internet.

Truly, we were not complaining. Olüdeniz is a beautiful place any time of year and we were mostly interested in taking it easy for a few days, anyway. I’m just saying that it was both amazing and amusing that so few people were there…other than construction workers. Nearly every business in Olüdeniz was undergoing renovations. Technically, we were there during low-season, but a better description for it would have been, construction season.

Refresher? Nah, I Got This

Our hotel window faced the sea. (We were even close enough to hear the waves!) In the skies above the beach, we could see a half-dozen paragliders coming in for their landings. About 18 months ago, Jessica and I both took some paragliding lessons (in Salt Lake City, Utah). Perhaps I could rent a wing in Olüdeniz and return to the air.

I told Joseph, the amiable character that coordinates the paragliding business that I had my beginners certification for pilot. Would it be possible for me to fly solo on a borrowed/rented wing? Liability concerns don’t seem to be a thing in this part of the world, at least not as big as making some money and showing good customer service. With a broad smile, Joseph said, Sure, no problem. While I was arranging my solo flight, Jessica signed up for a tandem ride.

Once we strided over to where all the pilots gather, I was asked to show my certification. I did. I also explained that I had only flown about 10 times within the context of my training. They looked a little hesitant, but ultimately shrugged their shoulders and said, okay. I wasn’t feeling hesitant….though, in retrospect, I most definitely should have. My training was over 18 months ago. At the very least, I should have asked for (and been given) a 30 minute refresher. This realization only became clear after my near disastrous first flight.

Jessica, me, and about six other 20140409-222337.jpg
tourists doing tandem rides crammed ourselves into the back of the transport truck that would take us and the pilots up the mountain to the launching site, some 3,000 feet above sea level. Once at the launch site, I needed help with everything from laying out my wing (which I initially had upside down) to getting myself correctly hooked into the harness. The pace at the launch site was rush-rush since the company has to stay on a tight schedule. The pilot that helped me (and flew with Jessica) was really calm and collected.

I should have been scared, but the excitement of paragliding at this stunning location on this beautiful day overwhelmed all fear. Once the pilot gave me the all clear for launching, I surged forward, pulled up the wing, and ran off the side of the mountain. Half-way into my launch I heard the pilot shouting for me to “Stop! Stop!” but I was in the air so quickly there was no turning back. Unbeknownst to me, I had a tangle in my lines on the left side of the wing. Look closely in the pics for the “pinch” caused by the tangle.

My pre-launch instructions were to tack to the right immediately after take off. I pulled on the right brake (that’s how you turn to the right), but kept drifting left anyway. I pulled harder, and then harder again, until finally the wing responded. The stress on the left side of my wing was causing me to pull to the left like a car badly in need of an alignment. Again, I didn’t know this at the time. I was simply doing what I had to do to fly.

Aside from the relentless leftward drift, my flight was a breathtaking thrill. I cruised over the lower ridges, did a few turns- always to the left- since that was what my wing wanted to do even without my input on the controls -and then headed to the town where I was to land on the beach.

Ahead of me was one of the tandem flyers. I watched how it flew over the little town of Olüdeniz and then turned towards the beach for its final landing approach. I reasoned that following the other pilot’s example was the way to go. Big mistake. Those pilots have been flying for years and know exactly what they’re doing. It was my first time and, although it was really cool, I never should have flown over the town. My lack of experience led to poor judgment of my own rate of descent and how far forward I could fly before meeting the ground…or a rooftop. I was drifting downward too fast. I saw trees, rooftops, green half-filled swimming pools, and power lines, all getting closer beneath me. I wasn’t going to make it to the beach.

My wayward flying had taken me somewhat near the main road into town so I tried to fly myself towards it. This required pulling hard on the right control to steer myself to it. Some scary power lines passed close beneath me, and then I spotted another wire crossing the road not too far up ahead. Thankfully, I dropped before reaching that one and landed awkwardly on the sidewalk. I put out my right leg to defend myself against the low sign I was careening into before flopping left onto the concrete. The wing above me deflated to my right and forward getting half-tangled in a small tree. It all happened so freakin’ fast.

Almost no one saw me land since, as I mentioned earlier, it’s low-season and the whole place is practically empty. The one guy that saw me was Joseph, the character that arranged for my flight. He was nearer to the beach, about a block away from where I came down. With a smiling shout he asked if I was okay. Though unsure if I was or wasn’t at that moment, I still said I was fine.

Jessica, who had been worried about me the whole flight, didn’t see me land… and I’m so glad she didn’t. When I turned the corner (from my street landing to where I should have landed), she ran towards me with such a great look of relief on her face.

Back into the Air

Back at the starting point, I was feeling a little shaky. Jay, the pilot that had been the most helpful to me, recommended I get right back on the horse and fly again. (I guess implying that if I didn’t, I’d forever be too scared?) It seemed like such a cliché, but I didn’t want to take the chance it was true. “Alright. Let’s go!”

My second flight was much better. Having no tangles this time, the wing operated like its supposed to. Catching a good bit of lift was easy as the light winds flowed up the mountain slopes. If I were a more experienced flyer, I could have stayed aloft for hours. (As it was I still flew for about 30 minutes.)

Once it was time to fly towards a beach landing, I happily steered away from the rooftops and instead favored an approach that swung out over the luscious blue sea before making my final turn. I flared my wing a bit too early and wobbled the landing, but otherwise this flight was a great success.

On our last day in Olüdeniz, we both flew one final time. This time I had a bit of trouble taking off, but the rest of the flight was fun and flawless. Jessica flew tandem again and shot enough video for me to put together this little recap.

Jessica takes a selfie.

A view from the top.

My third and final solo flight.

Jessica takes my photo as I glide out over the surf.

Cotton Castles

From the beach we travel inland to a special place called Pamukkale (Pa-MOO-ka-le), literally meaning cotton castles. Such a strange and surreal place it is.

Several years ago Jessica and I viewed a series of photos of this place on the Internet. We remember thinking, Is this place for real? And then years later there we are… physically walking among the steaming pools of the very same place. Trip of a lifetime, folks. It’s not lost on us.








Emphasis on Ephesus

Of all the ancient Roman cities, Ephesus stands out for its Biblical importance. News flash, I’m no Biblical scholar, but I learned that the city of Ephesus is mentioned many times in a section of the Bible known as Acts of the Apostles, (or simply, Acts). In fact, when we did our tour of Ephesus our guide pointed to a small stone structure atop a hill and said it is believed that the Apostle Paul wrote Corinthians from a jail cell in that very building. Trippy stuff!

Aside from Ephesus’ close association to the bible, it is a fascinating place all its own and truly came to life with the help of our excellent tour guide. Not all guides are created equal- sometimes they are drab and useless, and sometimes they rock. Our genuine rock star guide (named “Toro”) was supremely well-informed, had great English, and was funny. Such a shame that Jessica and I were the only ones that got his jokes. The others on the tour with us were either Japanese or Chinese and understood far less English.


This building used to be a library.


It’s still Turkey and there were hundreds of good-looking, healthy and friendly cats meandering all throughout the ruins. Of course, I had to stop and pet each one. “They’re so fluffy!”


Medium-strong evidence suggests that Mary (as in, the mother-of-Jesus, Mary), lived out her days in a small home near Ephesus. Our tour visited the very site many believe was her actual home. Whatever structure once stood on that spot of ground in her time is now gone. Today, what sits atop what is believed to be her old foundation is a tiny chapel.


Last Stop, Marmaris

The Turkey leg of our trip (no, I won’t apologize for that) was supposed to end in Kusadasi, the port city nearest to Ephesus. Our original plan was to hop a ferry from Kusadasi, Turkey to the island of Samos, Greece. The water that separates Turkey and Greece at this point is swim-able. They say you can hear Greek roosters crowing in the morning from the shores of Turkey.

So close and yet so far; despite the assurances of some that the ferries were up and running, once we attempted to buy tickets we learned it was not so. It was mid March and the ferry service didn’t begin until April 1st. This news left us scrambling to rearrange our plans- canceling hostels, booking new buses, and finding a new ferry.

Our hasty research found a daily ferry running between the Turkish city of Marmaris and the Greek Island of Rhodes. So, to Marmaris we went (by bus) and damn if it wasn’t a helluva nice place. We ended up with only half a day’s time to spend in Marmaris, but we really liked what we saw. It was a port city, but not of the industrial variety- think yachts and sail boats, instead of cargo ships. We were back at the Aegean Sea, so the waters were that rich beautiful blue again. Note to self, next time we come to Turkey, we’ll come back for a second helping of Marmaris.



During our 18 or so days in Turkey, we covered a lot of good ground and truly loved it. We leave satisfied but still wanting more, for now we know just how much more there is left to see and do. We would especially love to return to those splendid Turkish beaches in the summertime. It was wonderfully peaceful to walk the deserted sands of Olüdeniz in March, but we desire a return to see the beaches in full swing. And there is a place called Cappadocia that was too far out of our way to see, but everyone says it is a must to visit.

There is almost always a tinge of sadness when we depart from a country we’ve just barely begun to know. It is the nature of the beast. Leaving one place is the only way to create space for new experiences. Onward to Greece we travel.