Tuesday, June 25, 2013

On My Own in Paris–Part 2


One thing at a time.
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The morning of my first full day in Paris, I grabbed a pastry at a local shop and walked to the Charles de Gaulle roundabout to catch the Red Bus for a trip around town. The stop there is on the Champs Elysees, just in front of the Arc de Triomphe. Other people had the same idea I did and there was a line, but everybody got on. I had an advantage, being on my own and not needing to find two or more seats together, and I didn’t hold up the line, because I already had my ticket.


Paris (78)I sat on top and was happy it didn’t rain, although the sky was overcast. The bus takes a circuitous route through Paris past the main attractions, making nine stops along the way where passengers can get off and on. I decided to stay on board and do the whole route once without getting off, then figure out where I wanted to go, one place at a time. While on the bus, I listened to a recorded commentary “revealing the city’s captivating history.” It was worth listening to, although I sometimes wondered if we were in the exact location where the recording claimed we were.


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My impression was that the Eiffel Tower is incredibly photogenic, and we are so lucky that is wasn’t dismantled and turned into scrap metal – as was the first Ferris Wheel. It was amazing to drive through the thing, and then imagine going up. I didn’t do it – I know, I needed to get out of my comfort zone – but I was more interested in putting my feet on the ground. But the Eiffel Tower was the Burj Khalifa of its time, and then some!





Paris (133)After finishing the tour and going back to the hotel for a little freshen-up, I decided to start at the Notre Dame Cathedral. It was the furthest from the hotel, in an area I hadn’t seen yet. It had the flying buttresses, a term that has stuck with me ever since my History of European Art class at College of Marin in 1977. And I was quite simply drawn to Notre Dame, having been raised Catholic. My museum pass didn’t allow me to skip the line outside to enter, but it moved very quickly and I wouldn’t have minded if it were a longer wait, because it was so amazing to be gazing up at one of the most famous churches in the world.

There is no fee to enter, but there are opportunities inside to light candles for a donation of 2 or 5 euros. I lit two candles, side by side. One was for my Mom, who passed away in 2011 just before Mark and I came to live in the Middle East, and one for my Dad, who is looking forward to when we move back. The woman from Ireland who was ahead of me stopped to have her confession heard, for a 10 euro donation.

Paris (247)Notre Dame has so much history, and so many architectural details. A person could spend an entire lifetime studying it. The church suffered extensive damage during the 16th century when “idolatrous” statues were destroyed and stained glass windows and tombs were removed during “modernization.” The church was used for food storage during the French Revolution, 1789-99. Restoration projects were undertaken in 1845 and 1870, and an ongoing cleaning effort began in 1991.



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After Notre Dame, I took a stroll along the Seine and browsed the artists and booksellers, before heading back to the Louvre for another leisurely look. More about the Louvre later.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you find your joie de vivre.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Abu Dhabi Sailing–2012-13 Season Wrap-up


“We’re fighting for inches.”
ADCA race #12 003

Going into Race 12, the last race of the season, Unwind was tied for first place with Idefix. Although the Mumm/Farr 30 is faster than the Pacer27 in Abu Dhabi conditions and the courses we sail, which favor upwind beats and downwind runs in light to moderate air, we had managed to hold our own thanks to a couple of heavy air races and a few lucky breaks. We had also spent a considerable amount of time and effort tuning and re-tuning the rig.



ADCA race #11 (9)


We had won Race 11, thanks to the right combination of breeze and waves to push us along – and a mistake or two on Idefix’s part. It go a little dicey at the end, though, when the dhow fleet suddenly appeared on the horizon, as they sometimes do. You see one huge white sail appear, and you know that there will be more.

As the dhows approach, their race committee sets the finish line – which they did, right between our next mark and our finish line! Obviously, there is absolutely ZERO communication or coordination.

ADCA race #11 (14)

The dhows don’t have motors, and they are not very maneuverable. After they finish, they have to take down their sails and their masts, and they are towed into port. We just needed to avoid them. 

The last race, Saturday June 1st, was breezier than expected, and we were hopeful but not overly optimistic. Our dolphin friends weren’t there to cheer us on, probably having escaped to cooler waters. The course was simple – sail upwind, round a channel buoy to port, and finish downwind at the entrance to the Emirates Palace Marina. There were six boats racing that day.
ADCA race #12 009
We were able to stay reasonably close to Idefix all the way upwind, and after they rounded the mark it took a while for them to set the spinnaker. They were still within striking distance. Meanwhile, on our approach to the mark, we had a bad tack when Mark’s foot somehow got caught in the mainsheet as he crossed over, causing him to drop the helm. It happens.
The previous day had seen breezes in the high teens, and there was still a rideable swell, if there had been enough breeze to take off. But alas, we had just … NOT enough wind. We scooted along, almost but not quite keeping pace with Idefix.

They finished, and we finished 9 minutes and 3 seconds later. With no race committee, everyone reports their own finish time. Correcting out, Idefix beat us not just in this race, but for the overall season championship, by 48 seconds!

I have to admit that Mark and I were a little disappointed, but hey, we had our dignity. I saw it as a victory that we were even that close. But, we lost by inches … what if? … Ah, never mind.

ADCA prize giving 001

The next weekend was the annual ADCA Prize Giving cruise out and barbecue on Lulu Island, and just like last year, it was a great party. We piled a record-breaking 10 people onto Unwind for the sail over to the island. Mark and I had invited Pete and Terry Mercer, and Terry and I brought our stand-up paddle boards, which we tied up and dragged off the stern. The wind was great – if only we’d had that wind the week before! My board kept submerging under the stern waves as they overtook us. Fortunately, we made Lulu Island without having to tack!


The Abu Dhabi Cruiser Association is a keelboat club with a racing season that runs from September to June, with racing every three weeks, plus the occasional special event or regatta. It’s a great bunch of people, and you can learn a lot from them, not the least of which is the difference between the English, the Irish, the Scots, the Aussies, and the Kiwis. Oh, and why the French prefer to sail alone.

Mark and I have had a great season sailing with Emiliano and his crew, Paolo, Marco, and Mateo although, come to think of it, Emiliano was hardly ever on the boat – he was always on travel! Nevertheless, he is devoted to ADCA, and this year he is performing the duties of Commodore. The following prizes were awarded at the Lulu Island party.

1st Place – Idefix, Farr 30
2nd Place – Unwind, Pacer 27
3rd Place – Saeeda, 1720 Sportboat

There were two other prizes
Malcolm of Idefix was awarded the "Biggest Balls Up" prize (official name) for miscalculating a flex buoy rounding
Karen of the Lugger received first prize in the "Boats Below 900" (0.009 IRC TCC) class

Emiliano said it best: “No matter how it came out, this was the best season of ADCA racing.”

The highlights of the prize giving ceremony and party.

If you are interested in learning more about ADCA, we are on Facebook, or you can access the web page at this link. If you would like to receive emails about ADCA races and events, email Liz at adcaracingsecretary@gmail.com

Update: When I originally posted this story, I forgot to mention our sail from Lulu Island back to Emirates Palace Marina. It was dark when we boarded Unwind for the trip home, ferrying people and gear on the two paddle boards. We were the only boat to sail over -- the others had motored -- and we just needed to hoist the sails and go. The wind had held, and we had an absolutely glorious night sail, reaching along the shore  in a lively sea with the lights of Abu Dhabi illuminating our way. It was a big thrill for Pete and Terry, but the truth is that not matter how much sailing you've done, a perfect night sail like that is a treat. As I said to Terry, it's something that most other people never get a chance to do, being out there in the dark with the rushing wind and sea, scooting along toward your destination. It was the perfect end to a perfect day.


 

Sunday, June 23, 2013

On My Own in Paris, Part One


“I’m not leaving you alone in Paris!”
Paris (1)
That’s what Mark said when I suggested staying by myself in Paris while he went to his meeting in Strasbourg. Actually, it was his colleague Richard’s idea. They had a business trip there and were routing through Paris. The trip was supposed to happen last year but was postponed, and I had been visualizing a week in Paris ever since. Visualization, it works.


Mark didn’t leave me there alone, technically. I flew to Paris by myself, connecting through Istanbul, while his group flew Emirates Business Class direct to Paris, then caught another flight to Strasbourg. They would come back through Paris, stay one night, and catch a plane to Dubai. Mark would stay on to spend the weekend with me in the City of Lights. The best of both worlds!
With only about two weeks to think and plan, Mark consulted Richard, who has lived in Paris, and booked me a small single room at the modest Elysee Bassano Hotel near the Arc de Triomphe. I would meet them at the Sofitel on Wednesday, and Mark and I would move to another, less ritzy hotel for our last two nights.
Paris (379)
I decided not to commit to any tours this trip, but I purchased a Paris City Passport which included a 5 metro pass, 4 day museum pass, one day on the Red Bus tour and one Bateaux boat ride on the Seine, at a cost of 121 euros. Not only I could easily pick and choose what I wanted to see, but people who have the museum pass can skip to the front of the lines with no waiting to get in. I found this hard to believe; could it really be true? Why would anyone not have a pass?

Instead of sending the City Passport packet to Abu Dhabi, where there are no addresses or home mail delivery, I decided to pick it up in person at the Paris tourism office, about a mile and a half walk from my hotel. I would arrive too early to check in anyway, so it would be something to do, a walking intro to Paris.
Paris (592)


And so after dropping my bag at the hotel, I found myself in Paris strolling down the Avenue des Champs Elysees at 11:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning in June, starting at the beginning, the Place Charles de Gaulle traffic circle and the magnificent Arc de Triomphe, which from the very beginning became my anchor.







Paris (2)


The stores and the cafes were quiet,  although there was a lineup to get into the Luis Vuitton store. I had been warned about pickpockets, and was wondering how long it would be before someone came along and put me on the defensive.

Not long. In the second or third block a shabbily dressed young man in his late twenties came up next to me, bent down, and appeared to scoop a gold ring up off of the ground, showing it to me with a questioning look on his face. I distanced myself and kept walking, shaking my head. Again, he tried to give me the ring. "I don’t want it, it's not mine," I said, moving even further apart. "Fahhh youuu," he said, shaking his head and striding off.
Paris (4)

Fine, but this wasn't the pickpocket scheme I had heard of where someone bumps into or spills something on you in a crowd, then "helps" you while accomplices relieve you of your valuables. This guy was alone and we were in an un-crowded place. What was with the gold ring?

This same thing, with the same type of ring, happened again and again over the next few days and I realized that they were gypsies. They "find" an expensive looking but probably brass ring, offer it to you, and ask for some money. It’s a scam they've been working for years. As my well-traveled European-American friend Lina says, "I can't believe anybody falls for it."
Paris (5)
My route had me veer left off Champs Elysee before reaching the other end and the Luxor Obelisk, and I found myself walking along the Rue de Faubourg St. Honore, one of the most fashionable streets in the world, where all fashion houses have stores.  Richard calls it "the most expensive street in the world." It was Sunday, all the stores were closed, but I could still ogle the windows. What a great find on my first day in Paris! I also walked past the well-guarded Elysee Palace, official residence of the President of the French Republic.

Paris (9)

No trip to Europe would be complete without a protest or strike, or even better, both. I heard drums and chanting ahead of me, and a group of people were demonstrating for parental rights for estranged fathers, apparently an issue in several European countries. After a bit of research, I found this link to provide the best synopsis and a bit of legal history on the issue, although it is decidedly written from the men’s point of view.

After losing my way to the tourism office, getting directions from a hotel doorman in French that I didn’t understand, and walking in a big circle, I finally found the tourism office. I picked up my packet and stopped at a cafĂ© where I learned my first obvious lesson: you can’t buy food from the take away counter and then sit down at a table and eat it. Chucking the pita sandwich I bought that wasn’t worth eating anyway, I ordered a camembert sandwich, which was some hunks of cheese stuffed into a split baguette, and a cappuccino, which tasted heavenly in the damp and chilly air, and chatted with a couple of young American women from Orlando at the next table, who asked for “la cuenta.” Having quickly learned a few useful French terms for the trip, I told them that the French call it “l’addition.”
Paris (31)
The Louvre was just a couple of blocks away, so I decided to walk over and look around. It was mid afternoon, and although I had spent all night on the plane I had slept, so I wasn’t that tired. What to do, activate my museum pass by entering the museum at 2:00 p.m., which would effectively waste most of the first day of free admissions? I decided to go for it. This was the first of three separate visits I would make to the Louvre, which I think I will write about in a separate post.

Paris (23)

After my low-key foray into the Louvre, I walked back to my hotel through the Tuileries Garden, the Place de Concorde, and back up the Champ de Elysees, dragging myself toward my anchor, the Arc de Triomphe.  I made it back to the hotel and checked in at 4:30, collapsing in my cozy room and breaking with our usual policy by opening the 375 ml bottle of white wine in the mini bar.


Later, I went to a nearby bistro and had dinner with a view of the Arc de Triomphe, and then used my museum pass to gain entry to the top of the arch. It was overcast, not great photo weather, but it was wonderful to be up there looking at Paris. I also spent a few moments reflecting on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where the flame was burning.
All in all, it was a very good first day.

Friday, June 21, 2013

An Emirati Wedding 2


Emirati wedding group photo

Yesterday morning Mark called and said, “We’re invited to a wedding tonight.” The son of Abdullah, one of the Emirati men on last week’s business trip to France, was getting married, and he’d invited Mark to the celebration.

It would be like the first Emirati wedding we went to, Yaqoob’s daughter’s, with men and women celebrating separately, but I wasn’t going in alone. Mark’s French colleague Alain and his family were also going; I would sit with his wife and daughter.
What to wear?



Syrian dress


I happened to be out passing through a Co-op store, and some dresses caught my eye. I’d been thinking of buying one of these fancy embroidered and jeweled caftan-type dresses just for fun, so on impulse I bought one. I was thinking that I might wear it to the wedding even though I knew it was more of a house dress and an Emirati woman would probably never wear it to a wedding.






Emirati Wedding 005

I didn’t feel like wearing the same dress that I wore to the first Emirati wedding, but I did have one other option – the dress I wore to the US Marine Corps Birthday Ball in November, 2011. It was tight, but I’m a scant few pounds slimmer than I was back then so I decided to try it on. It worked, felt right, I had the shoes and the bag, and a new red coral and gold necklace and earrings that Mark bought me in Dubrovnik. Since it’s so hot – topping 100 degrees F every day -- I decided not to bring a pashmina even though I knew the room would be air conditioned.






Emirati wedding invite


Mark had brought home the invitation, which was in a heavy embossed envelope decorated with a satin bow. Both of the Emirati wedding invitations that we’ve seen listed the names of the fathers and the groom only, and refer to the bride as “daughter of …” without mentioning her name.


Of course, this is curious to us westerners, who are used to seeing the names of all parents and both bride and groom, or sometimes just the bride and groom only if they are older, have been together for many years, or are hosting the wedding themselves.

Something like this, which seems strange to westerners, makes more sense when you think of it in terms of Arab customs and traditions. This is a patriarchal society, a very family-oriented society, and marriages are carefully arranged. The long names that Arabs have translate to “son of” or “daughter of” and then the tribe name at the end. When a girl gets married, she does not take her husband’s name, as we do in the west. She retains her own family name.

In a news story in The National about a double royal Emirati wedding in March, the two brides are referred to as “daughter of Sheikh …” and the wedding photos show only the men celebrating. This is just the way it is here. I didn’t take any pictures of the bride or her guests inside the hall during the wedding; only the professional photographers hired by the family were taking photos.

Emirati Wedding 009

We met Alain and his family out in the parking lot; the wedding hall, which is a permanent structure that looks like a fancy cluster of tents, was easy to find because of the strings of lights. Whenever you see an Arab house covered with lights, you know there’s a wedding. Alain’s wife Patricia and daughter Jeanne looked beautiful in matching caftans decorated with ribbons. The men wore coats and ties, which would set them apart from the Arab men who would of course be in national dress.





Emirati Wedding 010


Alain knew Abdullah well enough that Patricia and Jeanne had been to the henna party, where the women decorate themselves with elaborate tattoos which last for two weeks or more.




As we entered the wedding hall, photographers were there to take pictures of guests. The three of us had our photo taken together, and we were told that we could each purchase a copy for 30 dh, or about $8 USD. Then we entered the main room, went though the reception line greeting the ladies, and chose a table near the back and against the wall where we could watch all the action.

Emirati Wedding 011

Even though this was my second Emirati wedding, I was still awed as I looked around at the ladies, especially the young women, and their over-the-top (to a Westerner) dresses, hair, and especially makeup. Without their abayas and shaylas the combined effect was truly theatrical. I wondered if many were wearing hair extensions, and Jeanne assured me that they were. There was no doubt that the eyelashes were false, the eyebrows heavily painted on, the cheeks rouged. The dresses, no matter the size of the wearer, were tight, glittery, flowing, and magnificent. And they danced. They danced on stage and they danced at the tables, twirling and swaying and glittering.




Not all of the ladies in the room removed their black abayas and shaylas. Many of the older or more traditional ladies kept theirs on, presumably because they only remove them at home and the wedding hall, even though it was filled with only women, was a public place. Others opened the front of their abayas and draped them off of their shoulders so they could put them back on quickly when the time came.


Fujairah 040


There were older ladies wearing burqas, the metal or shiny cloth face mask that is a sign of beauty among older, very traditional women.






Maq Crk Sharj Dubai Glob Vill 065


The term burqa is usually associated with the head-to-toe cover that women are required to wear in some Arab countries, but it can also mean the cloth or metal mask. My Emirati friend Wadha told me that these ladies feel that the mask enhances their beauty and helps hide the wrinkled skin and bad teeth that come with age.



We noticed a group of western women at a nearby table greeting the Emirati ladies and speaking English. They were teachers, as were the ladies they were speaking with. One of the Americans, a gorgeous young black woman from Texas wearing a red sheath, laughingly told us that she was having trouble recognizing her colleagues from work without their abayas and shaylas!

The wedding seemed to go by quickly. The bride proceeded to the stage, smiling happily and pausing for the photographers. Our table had been set with mezzes, Arabic appetizers, and we were now served platters of goat meat and rice, pasta with cheese, mixed grill with skewered lamb, beef, and chicken, and some side dishes. I told Patricia and Jeanne, “The men will be done way before us. They eat really fast, and then they all get up and leave.” Just a minute or two later, Jeanne received a text from her brother: “Fastest meal ever. 10 minutes.”

I have read a possible explanation for this, although I can’t say if it’s completely accurate. In the time of The Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, the guests would stay for many hours, and could not be asked to leave. This caused a problem for the groom, who needed to consummate the marriage within a certain number of hours or it would be null. So it was written that guests must not overstay their welcome, and it looks like the men have been adhering to this ever since. Apparently, though, the women are not so worried about it, because I’ve been told that they sometimes party far into the night.

Mark told me that he and Alain sat at the same table with Abdulla and as non-Arabs they were treated as honored guests.  After the meal was consumed, most of the men went outside while the hall was cleared of the leftover food, which was given to the needy. Workers who were waiting outside came swarming in and emptied the trays of meat and rice into plastic bags they had brought along with them. When the room was cleaned up, those who hadn’t already left returned, and a group of men danced the traditional men's dance.

Emirati Wedding 008
Back on the ladies’ side, the ululating began, which meant the men were on their way to unite the bride and groom on the stage. All of the ladies put on their black abayas and shaylas, tucking their hair inside.  We watched as the men proceed to the stage, greeted the beaming bride, and her new husband stood beside her.

Then it was time to meet Mark, Alain and the boys, who were waiting for us outside the men’s hall with Abdullah, the groom's father, speaking in French with Alain and his sons. Abdullah is Emirati, but he lived in France for 30 years.

And that is, basically, what happens at an Emirati wedding party.
This news story in The National contains interesting details about Emirati weddings.

UPDATE:

Al Ain 001

 

We went to another wedding on July 5th. This time, it was the engagement of the sister of Abdul Aziz, who works with Mark and Tom. Dana was out of town, so the three of us went. The party was  about an hour or so from Abu Dhabi in Al Ain, the oasis city at the foot of the Hajar mountains near the Omani border. It didn't start until 9:30 p.m., so we booked a suite in a hotel for the night so we could relax, sleep in and enjoy the hotel pool and swim-up bar the next day.

 

 

Al Ain 008

The way we understand it, in Muslim weddings, the engagement is when all of the important business is conducted. There is a dowry paid to the bride and her family, and a contract is drawn up stipulating the terms of the marriage. The bride can require, for example, a certain amount of money per month, or that she be allowed to work, or that she not have to live with her mother-in-law. If the agreement is broken, it would be grounds for divorce.

 

Al Ain 005

 

Once the papers are signed, there is an engagement party which is almost exactly like the wedding celebration. The only difference that I saw was that the groom was brought to the stage and presented to the bride by the mothers of the engaged couple -- who happen to be sisters.

 

Al Ain 007

 

Yes. If you were paying attention, you noticed that this means that the bride and groom are first cousins. This is not at all uncommon in the Middle East, and it's increasing. In Saudi Arabia, where the groom is from, the rate of cousin marriage is upwards of 50%. The bride and groom undergo genetic screening in hopes of reducing the risk of genetically linked abnormalities and diseases, but it is still an increasing problem in the population.(Source: Wikipedia)

 

I sat at a table in the front of the room with the bride's co-workers from Mubadala, a large investment and development corporation established by the Abu Dhabi government. I sat next to a young American woman from New York but, unfortunately, the music was so loud I couldn’t really talk with her.

Al Ain 004

 

If the engagement follows the customary pattern, now that they are engaged, the bride and groom will be allowed to see each other during chaperoned visits, when they will get to know each other. In a few months they will either celebrate their wedding or decide to go their separate ways, but in reality they are all but married now. Although it sounds strange to us westerners, the way the Arabs we have talked with describe these marriage customs is very matter-of-fact.

I was, again, a bit underdressed for the wedding, but it didn’t matter. Some day, inshallah, if I attend a wedding where I know the bride, I will wear a sparkly gown worthy of a movie star.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Istanbul Stopover - updated


June 19, 2013 Update: The last lighthearted comment in this post is ironic, considering the events that were unfolding in Istanbul as we were passing through on our way home from Croatia. Little did we know, how could we know, that as we looked out the window and snapped the photo below on the afternoon of May 27th, we were probably taking one of the last aerial photos of a peaceful Gezi Park and Taksim Square, seen in the lower right portion in shadow, before violence erupted hours later when a group of citizens staged a sit-in to protest replacing the park with a shopping mall.
Gezi Park and Taksim Square, the circle at lower right. The tall building is the Gezi Park Bosphorous hotel, which has been sheltering people.


May 17-18, 2013
Airplane 025
Our flight from Dubai arrived in Istanbul at 10:30 a.m. and our plane for Zagreb, Croatia was the next morning at 9:10. We were thinking we could take in a bit of Istanbul. Mark thought we should get a hotel near the airport, but I wondered if we could get a little closer to the heart of the city and the famous waters of the Bosporus and the Golden Horn. Mark maintained that we were close enough, it was only a matter of a few kilometers.


There was a long Passport Control cue when we arrived in Istanbul, and we had to join the rapidly extending line. After a few minutes Mark said, "Why does that say we need a visa?" No, I checked, I said. US passport holders don't need one in Croatia. But oops, we're in Turkey! I forgot to check that. Fortunately it was just a matter of taking our passports to a nearby window, which didn't have a long line, and paying 30 euros which I could do with a credit card since I didn't have enough Turkish liras, euros, or dollars.

When I returned to Mark who was waiting in the line, things had changed. A mob of people who had emerged from other flights were pushing into the entrance to the cue, ignoring the lineup behind us. Nobody who had been waiting in line was saying anything to the bargers.

When we got to the cordoned entrance, I spoke up and said, "The line is over there," pointing behind us. A man, who was close to me and pushing in, said something like, "Yes, yes, but our luggage is there." He pointed toward the Passport Control, and the baggage carousels beyond, and said, condescendingly, "Don't worry!" People looked at him and me with amusement. What a load of bullshit! I think maybe when a certain type of European man says "Don't worry!" to a woman who challenges him, he is finding a polite way to say "F--k off."

Mark said, "Just keep pushing," which we did, keeping to the inside corner to edge out the others as we rounded the post, just like rounding a mark in a sailboat race. You can gain, or lose, a lot at a crowded mark rounding.
A few minutes later a couple of young guys climbed over the metal and plexiglass railing, cutting into the line a few people ahead of us. Nobody seemed to notice or care, and the boys laughed and congratulated themselves, then climbed over again, the same way, and that was the last we saw of them. They probably went all the way to the front. "I wouldn't have let them in," Mark said. "I would have pushed them off." I was thinking exactly the same thing. I haven't forgotten the lesson I learned sitting next to the "Snakes on the Plane" last year, who slithered their way into the empty seats in my row until I eventually had their hair and feet in my face. I swore afterwards that I would always speak up and, if possible, prevent rude people from taking advantage of me and my accommodating nature. Plus, I'd spent the past two days substitute teaching, and so I was still in the "You can't take advantage of me, I've got your number, kid," frame of mind.

Airplane 044

Finally, through customs, we hailed a taxi, and gave the driver a map to our hotel, as suggested in the guidebook. He seemed completely stumped, like he had never been to that part of town, which was only 5 minutes from the airport. After stopping another taxi and conferring, we got on our way.




Istanbul (9)

But when we arrived in the neighborhood, which was a little fishing port south of the airport, he drove around for a long time, asking directions and showing the map. Meanwhile, we got a good look around, and we were both thinking that it would be OK to stay in this little town rather than trying to go sightseeing in Istanbul.


Istanbul (21)

Finally, after the sixth time asking directions, we found the hotel. When the proprietor heard our taxi story, he shook his head. "He didn't telephone?" he asked. I had offered the phone number, but our driver didn't seem to want to call. "We have been here for 65 years. He wanted a bigger fare." It was true; we had 10 lira on the meter when we got into town, and 15 by the time we found the hotel.



Our proprietor spoke very good English, although he still had a distict Turkish accent. "You are American? I'm from Chicago," he offered. There was a discussion about going sightseeing and he explained that, if we chose to do it, we would have to leave right away - it was 2 p.m. - and we could not return until 8 p.m. at the soonest. It was Friday. Our other option was to stay in town and relax.

There were a couple of things that made our decision easier, although I still felt pangs of regret. We had got up before 3 a.m. to get to the Dubai airport. If we had gone sightseeing in Istanbul, we would be too tired to really enjoy it.  On Friday afternoon, in a dense and dynamic city, a few kilometers can be a very long distance, and sitting in traffic wasn't an appealing idea.

Plus, the nearest major sights were the Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque. "I don't want see another palace," Mark said. We saw a lot of palaces in India, and by the time that trip was over we both felt like we needed a break from forts and palaces. And, although I would have liked to see the special tiles that the Blue Mosque is named for, I didn't want it that bad. There would be other tiles, and there is no shortage of magnificent mosques where we live in the Middle East. So we got settled into our room and then went out to explore the town and have a bite of late lunch.

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The harbor town of Yeskilov is a patchwork of old and new, with many of the older buildings in various stages of decay or retrofit, including our hotel, the Yeskilov Butiq Hotel, where two workers were on the front porch covering the old stone facade with a new, identical one. It reminded me of a gentrifying neighborhood in the USA, although the hotel owner told us that Turkey has such a good economy now, everyone is retrofitting.


Istanbul (48)The narrow streets in town are lined with small dry goods shops, fishmongers spraying water on their fish to keep them cool, colorful vegetable stalls, sweets shops and tiny restaurants serving flatbreat filled with roasted meats sliced from a large spit. Things were quiet in mid-afternoon, but people were beginning to gather in the cafes to sit and drink coffee and tea and watch passersby, which is a ritual in this part of the world. We could see that there would be a lively nightclub scene later.

IstanbulBeing thirsty as well as hungry, we stopped at a pub where Mark ordered beer and I decided to try raki, an anise-flavored drink with which the locals wash down their mezes, or appetizers. We had a little trouble communicating with our waiter, who didn't speak much English, and we had, regrettably, left the pocket guide in our hotel room. Doh!

We finally agreed on a meze platter he said was good.  It was cigara boregi (cigar shaped pastries stuffed with cheese,) breaded chicken strips, and chunks of hot dogs on a bed of fries, served with ketchup and mayonnaise. We must have been hungry, because it tasted pretty good.

Istanbul (14)After a nap of several hours, we managed to get going again at about 8 p.m. This time we took a twilight walk along the waterfront, which has a beach and small harbor. The locals were out, walking dogs and babies in strollers, and gathering in the waterfront restaurants for dinner. We walked past the row of small powerboats which were stern- tied to the wharf, with families and friends gathered around tables enjoying drinks, a meal, or a card game. It was so friendly and intimate that I could not even bring myself to intrude and ask for permission to snap a photo.

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We had to choose a restaurant, which wasn't easy since we were newcomers. Fortunately they all looked similar, with similar menus and prices, so we picked a place where we could be seated on an upper terrace, overlooking the harbor. It was lovely, if a bit chilly, which as a bit of a surprise -- but a harbinger of what was to come. It turned out that the restaurant provides fleece blankets, but it was a bit late when we learned about that.



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After much discussion with the waiter, and one false start where we ordered a fish that was no longer available, we ended up with our wine, fish, and side dishes. It was expensive, with the fish sold by the kilo costing us about $75 USD alone plus the wine and Greek salad, but what the hell.



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It was a lovely evening and we were in Istanbul -- sort of.

The next morning we got up very early to be sure we caught our flight to Zagreb, Croatia's capital city. As we were standing in the very long Passport Control cue, we noticed a young couple who were making their way through the line toward us, saying " Excuse me," as people moved aside to let them by. They were very tall, as we were beginning to notice is common for Eastern Europeans, especially Croats. Mark is rather shrimpy compared to his ancestral countrymen.

Anyway, this guy was boldly moving through the line with his girl friend in tow,  as she smiled with either amusement or disbelief, it was hard to know. Mark and I watched and as they grew near, I could feel the two of us, without a word to each other, moving into position : the Body Block, with the added advantage of Luggage.

The young man attempted to pass Mark, who blocked him, forcing him to say "Excuse me?" To which Mark stopped him in his tracks and asked, "Why didn't you get up earlier? Everybody else here did." Of course there was no intelligent response. After a few more comments from Mark about getting up in the morning and being on time, we let them push through but by this time the smiles had vanished, replaced with hangdog looks of embarrassment. As they worked their way through the people in front of us, I saw that there were actually three of them: the tall boy, the even taller girl, and a tiny Indian girl who was about half their size and shrinking by the second, looking like she would prefer to just vanish altogether. "Wow," I said. "This must be very embarrassing for you. Really. Not. Cool." By this time they were all looking properly stricken with embarrassment.

We normally don't make a scene like that, but for some reason we both just had to be buttinskis that morning. People around us were smiling quietly. "We're Americans, we don't give a shit," Mark said. "We believe in justice," I added, "and equality." Not to mention free speech!

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On the way back to Dubai through Istanbul, we were on a plane with a group of Azerbaijani football players who also thought they had a right to cut through. You can be tall, you can be young, and you can be good-looking. But I am American, and a woman, and you can’t cut in front of me.




We learned an important lesson here. While it may be worthwhile to do an overnight stopover, choose your destinations carefully. Do not plan a short stopover at a crowded airport in a tourist destination. It just won’t be doable.

Thanks for reading! And remember: stand up for your rights, and little venting is good for the soul.