Sent Sunday 26 May from Rijeka, Croatia
Hello my friends, new and old. You would not be-LIEVE the trouble I've had trying to get on to the internet (literally...in a standing position) and send you inordinately long, sometimes humourous, sometimes puerile, messages.
But your prayers and rain-dances have been answered. Let the games begin.
Last time I left you, I was about to catch a ferry from the Greek island of Samos to Turkey. I must apologise for my last update, which was a little rushed due to the lack of time before my ferry left. It was vastly unfair of me to gloss over our experiences in the Greek Islands like I did, so here's a detailed report, complete with footnotes and a bibliography if you would like to undertake further reading in your own time. I'm actually currently in Croatia, but I'll be sending this update in two parts, this first one dealing with Greece and Turkey and the next one with Eastern Europe. I have personal messages at the end of this one along with important notices. Oh, what an adventure I've had! Prepare to be amazed....
PART THE FIRST (A) – GREECE
Back to Greece where, as George Dubya Bush said, the Grecians live, we were basically island-hopping around for two weeks with no clear idea of where we were going to next until each time we were standing at the ferry terminal. By the wayside (as obiter dicta, if you will) the ferries are a very cheap way of getting around and they're even cheaper if you elect to travel the Dodgy Brothers TM way. This involves buying a ticket to the next island that the ferry goes to, but staying on until whichever island it is that you feel like going to. Thanks Ronni for excellent advice, you thief.
The ferries are HUGE! I was particularly impressed with one of them, which had a large "HELLAS FERRIES" emblazoned on the side. As I boarded, I said to one of the crew: "You guys are hella stupid." He said if I kept that up I could get off the boat. I told him that hella sucks.
Santorini: Now basically a crater with souvenir sellers and hotels clinging to the rim.
Naxos: Apparently the site where, in Greek mythology, "Theseus disloyally dumped Ariadne", poor thing. After that, though, young Adne cleverly hooked up with Dionysus, the Greek god of wine. We celebrated this arrangement by drinking much of the afore-mentioned wine, and the Gods were glad.
Rhodes: Great old walled town, beautiful weather, good company. We also went to the supposed spot where they thought the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, once stood and where they now think it didn't stand. Meaning we just went to a spot. Any spot could be where the Colossus of Rhodes either did or did not stand. Anyway.
PATMOS: Site of the cave where St John ("Hi, I'm Saint John! You may remember me from such rollicking stories as "The Gospel according to John" and "John's Letters to my mates back home about Greek Island-hopping") wrote the Revelations. Also nice beaches and relaxed atmosphere.
Forgot to mention that, as we were about to board the ferry going from Patmos to Samos, while waiting for the cars and others to disembark, I cunningly placed my foot in such a position that, as the boat was rocked by the waves, the ramp the cars were driving on moved above my foot and then came down hard on it, crushing my toes. Actually, the only toe that got REALLY crushed was my big toe. Not funny if you're me, (not even the part where I then nearly toppled into the harbour) but I thought that you guys might appreciate it. I'm that kinda guy.
SAMOS: Site of the ferry that took us to Turkey.
Didn't get to Lesbos, unfortunately, so as to cavort with the Lesbians. My one regret about this trip...
PART THE FIRST (B) – TURKEY
Getting to Turkey was expensive. Especially after we'd paid port tax in Greece, only to be confronted with a Turkish guy wearing a Hawaiian shirt, asking us to pay him port tax.
'But we already paid the port tax in Samos...'
'Ahhh. That was Greek port tax, my friend. Now you pay Turkish port tax!'
And pay through the nose we did...
We thought that the Greeks were friendly - and they were. I'll always fondly remember the gyros guy who got so excited when I said "Veveos" ("absolutely") that he did, what I like to call, a little "Veveos Dance". But the Turks were, if possible, even friendlier. In fact, I never realised I had so many friends 'til I got to Turkey. Every single person in Asia Minor, it seemed, wanted to be my friend. 'Hello, my friend! Where are you from?' Australia was often the reply. 'Australia, uh? 'G'day mate!'' 'Um...you've already said hello...'
Sure enough, we had many new friends wanting to help us when we disembarked from the ferry in Kusadasi. But we, being Natasha, myself and our new Canadian friend Wayne, had our hearts and minds set on getting to Selcuk for the night. Suddenly, a new friend called Suleyman (like Solomon) materialised from nowhere saying that he could conveniently take us to a place to stay in Selcuk - saving us the cost and safety that a bus would provide.
We were a little wary of this new friend, so we checked out his credentials as far as we could. Sure enough, the place he said he represented was in the Lonely Planet and he was offering us a fair enough deal - plus the free transport there. We cautiously acceded to his request, ready to use ninjutsu on him if necessary.
First off, he asked us to follow him through a dodgy bazaar thing. We wondered - would it be here that he and his mates would accost us?
No, actually, they wouldn't. Once through the bazaar, we had to climb a steep hill to get to his car. He then ran off ahead, saying he'd meet us (us being the ones with the heavy backpacks) at the top. I called after him nicely to carry my bag, calling him 'garcon' and everything, to no avail.
At the top we waited for about five minutes, feeling increasingly uneasy. Perhaps, we thought, even now, he is amassing his army of professional scammers, who were on their way to do some accosting. Just as we were about to leave, and try our luck with a Turkish bus, a car screamed around the corner, being driven by what is known in the business as a 'strange dude'. He wasn't our dude. He also didn't speak English, but instead gesticulated wildly for us to get in the car. Tasha flat-out refused, expecting the worst (though what that was, we of course had no idea), while Wayne instead asked the guy where Suleyman was, which he didn't understand. Eventually, he satisfied us by giving us the name of the place in Selcuk we were going to, and we got in the car, Wayne and I fingering our swiss army knives (that sentence would have been A LOT ruder if I had mistakenly written 'wives').
We then drove for only a few minutes before we saw Suleyman, positively Lurking in a doorway. Was this the time when he and his mates would pounce on us, perhaps sexually abusing my person?
No, it wasn't. Suleyman took the wheel and we drove out of Kusadasi towards Selcuk. He seemed very friendly, but then, at a crossroads where the direction to Selcuk was clearly labelled, he took the other, less-used, dirt path - a path no doubt leading to our shallow graves, that we would have to dig ourselves.
Except that it was in actual fact a shortcut that apparently only Suleyman knew about and we then arrived in Selcuk and the pension was nice and everything was fine and I told Natasha and Wayne they were just being paranoid.
Wayne then asked Suleyman if he knew somewhere we could buy a carpet.
Point number one in my very long list of points: The money in Turkey is an absolute joke. One million lira is approximately equivalent to 1 euro, which is about A$1.60 or 60p. Their version of "Who wants to be a millionare" involves people just going down to the bank and taking money out of the ATM. Dead-set!!
Selcuk was cool. Known mainly as being the site of ancient Ephesus, one of the best-preserved Roman cities on the Mediterannean, it is also where, apparently, St John (of 'Revelations' fame) took Mary, mother of Jesus, after Jesus was crucified and so forth (for more details see John's bestselling gospel on the time) and where both of them are said to have died. In wandering around the town, we visited the ruins of St John's basilica, originally built in the 5th or 6th century and which are excellent, I must say, as far as ruins go (I'm becoming something of an expert on the subject, call my secretary for appointments). After our wanderings, we retired to the town square with some cheap beers purchased from the local milk bar, to watch the storks, get kicked out of our chairs to sit on the kerb and for Natasha to be abused in Turkish by an old Turkish woman (we assumed it was for sitting on the kerb of the town square with two men of possibly ill-repute drinking (gasp) beer). That or because it was cheap beer...)
We also met a guy who came up to us saying 'Hello, my friends - where are you from?' He gathered quite quickly that we weren't planning on buying an unplanned-for carpet, but he stuck around to chat, anyway. He told us he spoke 20 languages! Then he listed them: 'English, American, Australian, Canadian...' Haha. He also told us that he was married but was looking for another wife - a fat one because his current one was a little on the skinny side. 'Every man must have two wives,' he explained. 'One for winter and one for summer'. Good advice.
His mate came over and said, of course, 'G'day mate. Kangaroo', when we told him we were from Australia (instantly banishing any feelings of homesickness I may have had) and then turned his attention to Wayne when we made it clear that we weren't planning on buying an unplanned-for carpet: 'What's all that aboot? It's a beauty, eh, you hoser!' he said to Wayne, again astounding us with his knowledge of languages. After more beers and being forcibly detained by Fiona (an Australian cop) and Wayne we JUST caught our bus to Istanbul and arrived there the following morning. Then we finally hooked up with our tour group in a surprisingly nice hotel - we were doing a 15-day tour around Turkey that would end at Gallipoli on Anzac Day. We were a little concerned when we got our information pack from Fez Travel, mainly because it said that we were on coach number 34. NUMBER 34!!!! How many bloody coaches were there? 35 or something?!?!?!??!
There were 3, actually, doing our tour. And we didn't see one of them the whole 15 days. So, come to think of it, that was fine, too. Luckily we had a very cool gang, none of whom got embarrassed at the word "orgy". We then toured around Turkey, which was nice. OK, what else isn't funny?
Had a bit of a fright at the BIG NIGHT OUT we had in Cappadocia (an extraordinarily strange area full of weird landscapes and underground cities and, as to be expected in such an area, Christian stuff - apparently some of Star Wars was shot there (I know you want to know, but I couldn't find out which one, it was no doubt a Tatooine scene)). We went to a show in a cave restaurant which involved belly-dancing and various other kinds of dancing. At one stage during the show, the dancers encouraged everyone there to leave their tables and join in a big circle thing (you know - the thing?!?!) in the middle. Tasha then had a moment's panic and went back to our table to check that the digital camera was still there. Sure enough - it was not. I rushed over and started throwing jackets and other items of clothing everywhere, looking under the seats, searching through bags. I saw a German guy look at me suspiciously who must have been thinking I was trying to steal something. But I was just looking for our camera. Others from our group came over to the table and remarked that THEIR things weren't there, either. It was then that we discovered that it was not our table. Meanwhile, over at our table, all of our stuff was OK, being watched by another member of our group (who hadn't been stolen as we originally thought).
Very grateful and a tiny bit embarrassed, we apologised to the German's for going through their stuff and then drank lot's of raki and generally caroused, relieved nothing had been stolen.
Except for my CD player which was stolen from my hotel room that night...
Unaware of this at the time, we partied on and then checked out as much of Turkey as we could without the benefit of our heads the following day. It's hard to write about all the cool stuff in Turkey. But you know I'll try.
After Cappadocia, drove south to the Mediterannean coast and the eternal fires of Chimaera (mud bath pic after "Chimaera") at Olympos, where we stayed in full-on, Ewok-style tree houses. Then along the coast through Fethiye, Koggle-boggle (or something - I can never remember), Kusadasi and Selcuk again (where, incidentally, I reported, or tried to report, the loss of the CD player to the police, though I couldn't get them to look up from the computer games they were playing so that they could give me a copy) where we visited Ephesus, the Temple of Artemis (another Wonder of the Ancient World - that makes two, now) and the recently discovered Virgin Mary's house (as predicted by a blind German nun who had never been out of Germany and confirmed by the pope in the 1960's, barely 1900 years after the event), Heiropolis and the cotton castles of Pammukkale, Pergammon (ancient Hellenistic city) until we got to Gallipoli. We were staying in a place just across the Dardenelles from the Gallipoli peninsula, only an hour away from Anzac Cove in ordinary conditions.
I must admit that I was unprepared for the Gallipoli experience. I was mainly unprepared for the fact that we needed to wake up at midnight (yes, you heard right - wake up! Mercy!!) to catch our ferry across the Dardenelles and be sure of getting to Anzac Cove by dawn for the dawn service. This was thanks to all of the other Australians and New Zealanders in their fancy tour buses who had the same idea of being in Gallipoli on Anzac Day.
Still, we got there with plenty of time to spare and huddled under a sleeping bag with tens of thousands of other antipodeans (not under the same sleeping bag) waiting for the service. The thing that hit us the most was how COLD it was. We couldn't help but think that, 87 years before to the minute, on the same stretch of beach, our ANZAC's were jumping out of boats into the freezing water to struggle up impossibly steep cliffs in wet clothes while trying to avoid being shot by the Turkish Army. Which they did remarkably well, that day. It was the following 8 months that REALLY sucked.
At least, I think that's what the Governor-General said (after astutely not answering allegations of covering up child-sex abuse). The Australian service, held about 6 hours later at Lone Pine, almost had a festival air about it. Still, despite drinking beers next to the war graves and all of the Mexican waves, everyone had respect for the seriousness of the occasion, giving each veteran a standing ovation and singing 'Advance Australia Woss-name' proudly and strongly.
That night, back at our 'hotel', we kept the feeling going by singing 'And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda...' (the Pogues version - my first gig in over 8 months!). A truly moving experience.
The next day, we visited the ruins of Troy, which I found interesting (setting myself apart from others in the group), having just finished reading The Iliad, and then we went back to Gallipoli to look around the various sites, battlefields and the museum before heading back to Istanbul and the end of the trip.
Istanbul is an amazing city. If it was a capital city, it would be my favourite capital city outside of Canberra, but it's not (anymore), so it's not. But STILL a fave. The Blue Mosque, Aya Sofia, Topkapi Palace - all amazing and beautiful (for buildings). In the treasury of Topkapi Palace we saw, according to them, the arm of John the Baptist (kept since Byzantine times, as you would) and the sandals of Mohammed, which I didn't have the heart to tell them didn't match the footprint of Mohammed they also had. Followed this up with a visit to a Turkish bath - famous for their massages, where I let a large, moustachioed Turkish man soap me up and then, basically, throttle me, for half an hour, in the interests of relaxation. A little different to, and fewer breasts involved than, the experience I was hoping for...
That night we went out for the last time as a gang in the Taksim area, on the way to which, in a taxi, we got to witness how the Turks celebrate their team winning a soccer game. Apparently, what you have to do is drive to the Taksim area with as many humans as possible squeezed into, and hanging half-naked out of, the car or, preferably, a flatbed truck, and clog up traffic, honk your horn continuously, fit four lanes of traffic into that 3 lane road, scream 'Galatasar-aaaaaaay!' and generally create gleeful chaos.
The next hazy day, our next-to-last in Turkey, and inspired by Macca, one of our new friends and a bargaining genius ('How much?' '30 million lira.' 'Nup. FIVE!' 'OK, 20 million...' 'Nup. FIVE!!' '15 million?' 'FIVE!!' '10 million is the lowest I can go' 'FIIIIIVE!!!!' He always got it for five (whatever it was, whenever he shopped)), we also went to, and bought stuff in, the Grand Bazaar, including a Q'uran (to go with my Bible I bought in the Vatican...). On following one of our new friends at one stage, though, I was forced to remark 'Not ANOTHER bloody carpet shop!!' He took it extremely well.
That night, not having any accommodation booked, three Aussie boys, with the good Aussie names of Macca, Wrighto and Tractor, said we could crash on their hotel room floor. We took them up on their offer, but just as we were getting settled in, the night guy at the hotel tried to get in to the room, claiming he'd seen a girl go in there earlier (that'd be Natasha). The boys outwitted him by telling him to 'F#ck off! and that 'If there was a f#ckin' girl here she'd be in my f#ckin' bed!!' However, despite Macca's claims that he'd handle it all, we couldn't go through with it. Here's the explanation we sent to the boys from Bulgaria after sneaking out at 2:30am:
"'Send 'em to Uncle Macca!'
Thanks again for the offer to stay with you guys and for minding our stuff. At around 2am, after not having slept a wink, Tasha and I decided to make a break for it and get a room in hostel while there was still time, so we snuck out (sorry for not telling ya's). We tried to walk nonchalantly past the night-guy, but he immediately recognised us and jumped up. The front door was locked and he came around to open it and glared at us, thinking in Turkish: "I f#ckin' knew it!!!!" So we felt glad we'd done the runner.
Got a double room in the Orient hostel for 20 million, which wasn't too bad for the piece of mind. We also didn't have a large Australian man snoring like a chainsaw on our immediate left. Gotta love that!
Caught the bus fine after getting our gear, which was a brand new crazy experience, but now settling into post-communist life."
And the next day, we attempted to settle into post-communist life by entering Bulgaria. Do we get there? Find out only by reading the next enthralling episode (or reading the reference to Bulgaria above)!!!!
I've been informed that someone got a virus from my firstname.lastname@example.org e-mail address, which I don't really use but which is linked to this one. Consequently, I've disabled the link, so I won't be getting e-mails to that address anymore. Soooo - make sure that all e-mails to me (that you want me to receive) go to email@example.com.
Sorry I can't reply individully to you all, but I have had REAL issues getting to the internet and, when I do, I waste all my time writing these big e-mails that no-one reads. But here's some semi-personal replies to some of you (if the message isn't for you, kindly refrain from reading it unless it provides good ammunition about someone you know intimately....). Some of them may be very old and, therefore, confusing...
Aaron A - you always send pure gold. I've included Aaron's e-mail at the end of mine. As noteworthy for it's incisive political commentary as for it's Star Wars-osity (saw Star Wars Episode 2 the day after it came out - not bad. Full review, next edition...)
Jacqui C - Congrats on your admission and I liked the Odyssey reference (though I only understood it 4 weeks later, once I'd read it...) Hope Euroa was as good as Gallipoli for ANYAC Day.
Pat M - Jacqui C says you’re doing OK. That's good.
Bessie A - Happy Birthday! (how the hell did I get a reminder about that?!?!)
Steve Legg - why don't YOU shave MY poodle?!?!?!
Clayto - it's just generally good. Keep an eye on that chicken.
Gav and Gill - see you in London.
Anne-Maree and Mike Lowe - thought I should probably let you guys know we're not in England anymore, but hoping to catch up when we get back. Every time you sent an e-mail, I thought "I won't send an e-mail, I'll just call them" and wrote down your phone number. I then, each time, lost your phone number, so thought it time to contact you. Hope everything's going well!!
Andrew O'C (and other interested parties) - Regarding my last e-mail and the unintelligible Greek stuff in it - Tell your mate John from Preston that my computer chucked a spaz when I introduced the Greek characters and they got scrambled over the ether. It was meant to say "Ola Ellinika Einai Yia Me" (from what I remember). And thanks for the "bonza little Aussie" comment - brought a tear to my eye...
Mandy J - Re: your Dad - tell him you'll run away from home. That's what I did when I wanted something!!!
Mum and Dad - that's clearly not true.
Amy S - Congrats on the home purchase and the business sale! You sound way-grown-up and I'm not sure if I can play with you anymore. However, as you're the one person who wrote: "Thanks for all the e-mail updates - I love receiving them!" you get to stay on the list. Just don't tell my Mum...
Dave-o (this is v. old) - You know I wouldn't let you miss out on a single word...
Lucinda - thanks for remembering me for strange, though beer-related, reasons. Hope the trip is going/went well...
Tim G - Am I still you? It does explain all of the women running up to me, shedding their clothes and screaming: "Do it to me again, the Australian way, you curly-haired Australian man..."
Dave-o - especially "thatch"
And to everyone else - thanks for the e-mails, keep 'em coming and I'll try and get replies in at some stage...
Love all of your works, however perverted though may be.
love the rilestar and tashar
And now, care of Aaron A:
"WAR ON TERROR NOT OVER YET" EMPEROR DECLARES
>CORUSCANT -- Presiding over a memorial service commemorating the victims of the attack on the Death Star, the Emperor declared that while recent victories over the Rebel Alliance were "encouraging, the War on Terror is not over yet."
"We will continue to fight these terrorists, and the rogue governments who harbor them, until the universe is safe, once and for all, and the security of the Neo-New Cosmik Order ensured."
It was one year ago today that the Death Star, perhaps the greatest symbol of the Empire's might, was destroyed in an attack by fanatic Rebels, who used small, single-person crafts to infiltrate seemingly impenetrable defenses. Thousands of mourners were on hand to remember and pay tribute to the victims and their families.
"We lost our innocence that day," reflected one mourner."I guess we thought we were immune from the kind of violence that happens in other galaxies. We were wrong."
"I lost hundreds of buddies that day," said one teary-eyed Stormtrooper. "Guys whose only crime was trying make the Universe a safer place."
Although the day was colored by sadness, the mourners found some relief in the news of a decisive victory over the Rebels. In an attack led by Darth Vader, Empire forces were able to rout hundreds of Rebels from a network of caves underneath the surface of the planet Hoth. "We're not sure we got them all," says a Vader spokesman. "There are a lot of places to hide in those caves. But we've delivered a powerful blow to the terrorist's infrastructure, that's for sure. Today, the Empire has struck back."
Initial reports are unclear as to the fate of Luke Skywalker, a hero among the Rebels, who is rumored to have delivered the fatal blow to the Death Star. Skywalker, a former desert-dweller from the planet Tattooine, became a part of the Rebellion after family members were killed. Skywalker was trained by a militant wing of the Rebels, known as "Jedi Knights." Fanatical in their religious beliefs, the Jedi Knights claim to derive their power from the mystical "Force." It's believed that Skywalker was specifically trained by infamous terrorist O bin Wankanobi. Wankanobi, occasionally called "Ben" and easily recognized by his bearded visage and long, flowing robes, achieved near-martyr status among the Rebels after his death last year during a spy mission. His more fervent followers believe that Wankanobi lives on within them today, some even claiming to hear his voice during times of duress.
The attack on the Death Star came shortly after the Empire's destruction of Alderstaan, a planet whose government was known to harbor terrorists. Responding to criticism over the total annihilation of the planet, Vader stated, "There is no middle ground in the War on Terror. Those who harbor terrorists are terrorists themselves. Alderaan was issued ample warning. The fight for continuing Freedom is often burdened by terrible cost."
The cost of this war can still be seen today in the continuing efforts to build a coalition government on Tattooine. Longstanding animosities among the planets various ethnic groups, including the Jawas, Tusken Raiders and scattered human settlers, have been an impediment to the peace process. The Empire continues to maintain a small peacekeeping force until a provisional government is finally in place. Much of the difficulty in fighting the Rebel forces stems from their lack of a central organizing structure. "They don't play by the traditional rules of war," complained one spokesman. "They come in all shapes and sizes, united only by their single-minded desire to destroy the Empire before it destroys them."
The Emperor closed his comments today by stating that "the cowardly attack on the Death Star left a deep scar on the Empire. However, we will not stop fighting until every last evildoer has been brought to justice." He paused for several moments, wiping away a tear and then added with determination, "We will never forget."
"I wish we could all just get along," said one of the mourners. "But it's hard to offer an olive branch to a cult of religious fanatics whose main tool is violence and who insist on calling us the Dark Side.'